Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Finding a Meaning Outside of the Frame

by Sarah Harford

If there is one recurring image in my mind these past few weeks, it’s a great wide-open field. I know this sounds cliché, but this mirage has been inspiring my college graduate soul in the world of art and it isn’t even imagery in one of Peter Manion III’s pieces, which I recently discussed and analyzed with the artist in Art Saint Louis’ recent exhibition "Under The Influence." In fact, this image of an open field is one that my yoga instructor gives us during savasanah, and even though my mind should be clear during this part of practice, all I can think about are the endless possibilities of my future in art.

"Under The Influence" at Art Saint Louis was a juried exhibition showcasing various St. Louis regional artists’ inspirations when it came to their works. Among the pieces selected for the exhibit by Jurors Kit Keith and Tim Liddy were Conversation and Judith II by St. Louis artist Peter Manion III. These artworks stood out to me because of their large size, use of media and subject matter. The two paintings are allusions to historical masterpieces by Henri Matisse and Amerighi da Caravaggio.

One might suggest that famous painters are Manion’s muses. But something else triggers this artist to draw what he does and it wasn’t until we spoke in-person about what it means to be an artist that I truly discovered what his real muse is: going the distance.

Peter Manion III. Conversation. 2012. Enamel, Colored Pencil on Paper, 55”x81”.

In his artwork Conversation, the artist’s style manifests itself in the execution and planning of the piece. When you look at this drawing, you see two large opaque figures in the foreground of the piece and a realistic rendering in the background. After inquiring about the purpose of these two figures, Manion informed me that he used his own speculation about the original’s meaning, “The figures in the a painting look ominous, so you don’t know what they are talking about. They could be fighting or they could be lovers. They are two people discussing something for good and for bad.” The two intertwining figures in the background are done in colored pencil, which is a nice contrast compared to the strong and thick application of enamel for the foreground imagery.

Manion rearranges these elements throughout his work and enjoys the diversity of his audience’s reactions to the multiple outcomes. I mentioned to Peter how the differences between mediums was often under discussion. For example, in my own work, I was known for bringing in dyed pieces to my painting class and the majority of my peers’ critique questioned the qualification of my work as a painting. He responded, “As an artist you need to take away these barriers and open up to these different ways of making art. Like mixing fibers with other mediums.” Peter slightly smiled as he remembered an important lesson he learned in his sculpture class where a student brought in a three-dimensional drawing. He became enlightened by the professor’s reaction to other student’s questioning. “It is important [for students] to learn because you would be narrowing the possibilities of what you are doing. As an artist, I work best taking those barriers away and moving in between these medias.”

Peter Manion III. Colossus. 2013. Oil, Enamel, Mixed Media on Paper, 12”x60”.

When Peter was young, his mother often displayed pieces from well known painters in their own home. And like many other artists, he refers to these home memories when it comes to creating work. “You just do it. You need to go to your past and write what you know and understand.” But what Peter demonstrates through his artwork proves that being an artist means that you shouldn’t stop there. When you look at Conversation you notice the heavy amount of mediums applied to some areas and the delicate colors and lines used to form imagery behind them. The same concept is applied to Judith II with wide and free brushstrokes covering the canvas with a pencil sketch lying underneath. “I can make something interesting without using stuff that people said I had to use. These materials are less intimidating, which means you are more free with the work.” These works provoke the viewers’ interpretation and they do so through the application of non- traditional techniques.

However, there comes a time when investing in materials is necessary. “You take it more seriously. Before you just make work because you knew that you were supposed to and then you realize that it is your duty as a full-time artist.” A good presentation is key, so when it comes to taking risks or spending money, it is the responsibility of the artist in order for their piece to be successful.

The artist Peter Manion III with some of his smaller works on paper.

For Manion, the sophisticated display choices do not stop with the artwork’s mediums. In our discussion, Peter noted that Art Saint Louis’ new gallery on Pine Street isn’t a typical square Gallery space or cube as many gallery spaces are, but instead is more of a platform with corners, long walls, moving walls, and nooks. “Sometimes I display my smaller works along with my larger works so that the viewers have that freedom to move in closer to the pieces and as far back as they like. They then really utilize the gallery space much better.” The way that Peter discussed a gallery’s impact on an artwork reminded me about Alfred Steiglitz’ dual display of Pablo Picasso’s works and his Iberian influences.

Peter Manion III. Aye. 2012. Enamel, Mixed Media, Colored Pencil on Paper 60”x 86”.

Peter Manion III’s life as an artist changed when his wife accepted a job at the Saint Louis Art Museum. It was there that curators and art collectors were introduced to Manion’s work. One collector in particular shed light for Manion on what it meant to be an artist and having collectors admire and buy work. “As an artist you have to have confidence in your work. You get this feeling that you have to make work that people like or they just buy it to help you. But, they buy it because they actually find it appealing for them.” In Manion’s case, he realized that it wasn’t the charity of the buyers, but their admiration for the arts and its discussion. Peter’s advice for a full-time artist is letting a gallery find you, and not the other way around. Often times, artists get rejected, yet it ultimately resolves itself as the artist is a solid producer and makes work for art’s sake. As a result, you will develop a style and you will be discovered. You learn to take control of your career and find ways for a balanced life.

“You are an artist or you are not. If you do make something and don’t sell it, it doesn’t mean you aren’t an artist. If you make something and it isn’t good it doesn’t mean you aren’t an artist. It’s better than killing someone, you make something that is harmless but adds to the well being of the community. Any artist cannot deny the feeling of motivation whether it is money, fame or the love of it. It’s great to get noticed, but that isn’t what motivates me. Making work does. If you're not making anything, it doesn’t count.”

Peter Manion III’s work will be exhibited at SOHA Studio & Gallery in September 2014. His work is currently presented and available at Niche Furnishings + Design, Frill Home, and The Collective.

This is Sarah Harford’s second article for the Art Saint Louis/Art Dialogue Blog. She is currently serving as a Fall 2013 Intern for Art Saint Louis. A visual artist, she earned her BFA in Studio Art from Truman State University in 2012.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tao Te Ching: The Art Edition with Natalie Avondet

by Sarah Harford

Whenever I talk to another artist, the conversation usually involves how late we had to stay up or the hidden innuendos in the imagery that we used in our most recent pieces for advanced studio classes.  However, fresh out of undergrad and writing my first artist interview as an Intern for Art Saint Louis, I recently found myself inquiring St. Louis area artist Natalie Avondet as if she were my future self. Her artwork, That’s My Thing, featured in Art Saint Louis’ current exhibition "Under the Influence," was the basis for our conversation regarding mood, writer’s block and other hobbies besides art.

Natalie Avondet, That’s My Thing. 2011. Acrylic with Glaze, Silver Leaf, Varnish on Canvas, 18”x24”.

After looking at the artwork, the first thing that came to mind was the length of time needed to complete the piece. I asked Natalie, “Do you have any perceived notion before creating?” And in the most calm informative manner, she informed me that she usually starts out putting something on the canvas and simply goes from there, adding and subtracting by applying layers that work together and also stand alone. “I like subtlety but I also like the clash between feminine and masculine. Taking something soft and subtle and combining it with something a little more rugged and then, sitting back and watching how the two complement each other is very soothing to me."

When you look at this painting, you see both horizontal and vertical brushstrokes. There are some dry brush in some areas, some heavily layered parts with saturated color and then there is an area of silver leaf. It is interesting for me, because there is a sudden juxtaposition between the application of paint and the application of silver leafing. Dry brushing versus glue application seems to work well here. Especially since the focus of this piece is the rustic application of the silver leafing, something we familiarly see with antique furniture or frames. However, the element unexpectedly goes well with the crime-scene tape orange bordering the more subtle brown and green shapes.

I am a firm believer that titles for artworks work in mysterious ways. Even as an artist who holds a degree, I still don’t have a formula or a method of contriving a title. So this issue led me to my next question for Natalie: "Why the title?" I kept thinking about sandwiches, because the forms in the piece are literally sandwiching each other, so I was trying to connect that with her title, That’s My Thing. "Do you like sandwiches?" "No," the title, Avondet claimed, simply came from her husband’s choice of the song “That’s My Thing” by Elvin Bishop.

Natalie Avondet. Follow Your Soul. 2012. Mixed Media on Canvas with a High Gloss Finish 32”x32”.

For me, as an artist I feel as though I sometimes I strive to look for the most complicated ways to create work. Is it to show my endurance as an artist or is it an excuse to work longer until I can say what it is that I am finally trying to convey in the first place? Either way, sometimes creating work and talking about work can just plainly drain you of all energy. Which is why the next subject under discussion was artist’s block. In the same calm manner, she assured me that she certainly has encountered the illness with no excuses. Of course, how could I ask something so inevitable? It made me realize that I just got out of college and pretending that you are on top of your game to your peers and to your professors was just everyone’s way of trying to look calm and collected when really we were all freaking out. Natalie gave me the same advice that my fiber arts mentor gave years ago when I had a bad semester, "Just start working on something." You don’t have to create a masterpiece today or tomorrow, you just have to create something. “I am constantly experimenting and learning. I think that is important as an artist and as a human being.”

All of Natalie’s pieces share a similar process due to the artist’s concept of what she believes to be a painting. If you haven’t noticed already, Natalie gives us three dimensions in the sizing of her pieces. Since she includes the emergence of the painted canvas from the wall, this immediately makes a statement about the layers of the painting being included both separately and all together as if you can comprehend one on its own. Conceptually, these layers reflect each new day, memory, smell, or experience so that the piece itself can offer the audience a different and fresh meaning at any point in time that they choose to perceive it.

Natalie Avondet. Follow Your Soul. 2012. Mixed Media on Canvas with a High Gloss Finish 32”x32”.

Natalie Avondet earned her Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri-Colombia. She then started working for the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, California. In 1999, however, Natalie traveled to Frankfurt, Germany to expand her experience in the fine arts in the "Frankfurt Art Faire." After moving back to the Midwest, Avondet was featured at the Apex Gallery in Kansas City’s renowned Crossroads Art District in 2008 and 2011. Soon thereafter, Natalie was featured in multiple venues and galleries in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

She currently is signed with a publishing company that sells her works in originals and prints throughout the country as well as internationally. You can find and purchase her works through sites such as and and décor pieces at Spiegels and JCPenney. She works hard to market her artworks in as many ways as possible. Natalie and her husband now live in St. Louis where she continues to be a prolific artist and is also a well-disciplined yoga teacher. In addition to her work currently on view at Art Saint Louis, Natalie's work will be featured in "Figure It Out," a group exhibit at Clayton Fine Arts Gallery, 21 N. Bemiston Avenue in Clayton, MO, opening with a free reception 6 to 9 p.m., Friday, September 27, 2013. "Figure It Out" remains on view through November 11.

Talking about art with Natalie Avondet was a strong and refreshing starting point as a new Intern in the art world. Further into my career, I see myself problem solving with other artists so that both whom I am conversing and myself may benefit from shared philosophies. I may stick to my intricate processes or my tiny mark making, but one thing for sure, I know that I am supposed to make art and that art will happen from me or another artist at various points in the fabric of time. It might not be a masterpiece but it is art nonetheless.

"Under The Influence" is on view at Art Saint Louis through 5 p. m., Thursday, October 10, 2013. Gallery is free and open to the public Mondays and Saturdays 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Sundays and holidays. Art Saint Louis has a NEW Gallery and cafe, Mississippi Mud Roasters located in the Gallery at 1223 Pine Street, St. Louis, MO 63103. 314/241-4810.

Sarah Harford earned her BFA in Studio Art from Truman State University (2012) and is currently serving as a Fall 2013 Intern at Art Saint Louis.