Acrylic works in progress by Beth Bower
It’s the third morning, midway through Zoë Cohen’s Abstract Investigations: Color and Composition workshop, and some of the participants have snuck into the studio an hour early.
“I’m going to be bold and add another layer,” Louise Myers shares, studying her canvases in progress from the day before in fresh light. I hold back a gasp of delight as she charges her brayer with grassy paint and unhesitatingly applies a wide swath that evokes the sensation of lying down on a soft lawn and gazing up at the unknown.
The playful risk taking continues as Zoë welcomes everyone back and sketches out the day ahead, describing a threshold in the creative continuum between spontaneous, intuitive mark-making and more deliberate action, simplification and choice.
“When my daughter was in kindergarten, I got invited to help teach art,” Zoe begins. “The thing about kindergartners is that they don’t judge themselves or what they make… they’re free of those adult self-doubts we struggle to let go of. All painting is visual language,” Zoë continues," and abstraction is a language all its own. As painters, we have existential angst: why do any of us do this? For me, when I paint in the abstract, I’m creating a visual representation of the unseen world… the presence of all our senses. Whatever we make, we’re communicating something about unseen feelings and sensations.”
Later in the morning, reflecting on Zoë’s insights and looking ahead to the arc of my day which will include a visit to Sitka’s K-8 summer enrichment camp at Nestucca Valley Grade School, I ask adult workshop participant Erika Wolfe if she feels connected to her young self when she paints in the abstract. “Oh yes!” Erika affirms. “For a long time, I didn’t do art, and I had this… cowering feeling… like I had lost my excitement for life.” She goes on to describe how taking art workshops helped her to get back in touch with her imagination and inventive nature and to set up her own studio.
In the afternoon I visit Sitka’s youth art day camp in action where Sullivan, an eight-year-old at work on a mosaic, invites me inside his own artistic process. His words build on Zoë’s wisdom and affirm Erika’s creative rebirth. “At first I thought I’d try to make something that you could tell what it is, you know, like a fish, but then I decided to make an abstract,” Samuel explains as he spreads grout like frosting into the cracks of his design. “When I make an abstract, I don’t get frustrated. I just feel. I just do what I want, and it turns into a scribbly, color-y masterpiece.”
My colleague Nancy Newman wrote a beautiful reflection on her first Sitka workshop experiences and "creative bravery," which is included in this newsletter. Also included is a photo essay curated by Nicola Harrison with side-by-side images from our adult and youth workshops. (Donations supporting Sitka's Youth Arts program this summer will be matched three dollars to one through the Oregon Department of Education.)
Whether you have an active artistic practice or are finding the courage to play with paint or clay or words for the first time, I hope you explore the unseen world and make a scribbly, color-y masterpiece or twenty this summer, and I hope you are as proud as I am that Sitka is now serving artists of all ages.