Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thumbnail:Chelsea Herman

Alrighty boys and girls, girls and girls,boys and boys! Hands above the table,smart phones on and minds open. Today we are going to look at the work of a young graduate student in the School of Art,Design and Art History at San Diego State University, Ms.Chelsea Herman.
Her work will be shown in the upcoming exhibition at the Oceanside Museum of Art, Into the Light:SDSU Graduate artists. Included in the exhibition are five of her colleagues, Jim Cavolt, Rizzhel Mae Javier, Alexis Archibald, Kyleen Jeans and Christina Updegraff. The exhibition opens November 20th at 2pm, starting with panel discussion led by the graduate adviser for Art, David Hewitt.

As a lecturer in Art at SDSU, I occasionally have the opportunity to meet with, critique and talk about contemporary art with current graduate students. Ms Hermans and I managed to carve out one and a half hours in our schedules to talk specifically about her work and her short time at SDSU. I will attempt to paraphrase our wide ranging discussion.

Seep Spring. 94"x 88".
watercolor crayon, ink,charcoal,graphite and oil on paper 2010

Growing up along the rugged, rural central coast region of Santa Cruz ,California, Chelsea favored long walks and horseback riding into remote coastal chaparral and native forests of the region. Enthralled with the mystery of nature, and the natural environment, Chelsea relies on her memory of these places, rather than a photographic image, as a touch stone for her picture making.

"Seep Spring" completed in 2010, and exhibited in the Oceanside Museum show, is a large scale work on paper, that evokes the quality of "land" without the specific grounding of a "landscape". Lacking any discernible horizon line, the viewer can shift points of view from birds eye perspective to worms eye in a Santa Cruz minute. Figure and Ground, Positive and Negative, shift and build tension, creating a composition that relies more on perceptual faith to hold it together than any adherence to well balanced formal aesthetics. The slippage here is not Tectonic, but it is an occult slipping and sliding of potentially catastrophic compositional consequences.

Blind Creek. app. 45" x 204". Mixed Media. 2010

Blind Creek is another very large scale mixed media piece, employing memories of land or geologic formations. The large scale format and presentation without picture frame or glass, bring the viewer into the atmosphere of the two dimensional construction. After talking with Ms. Herman, this seems important not only for the obvious reason of engaging the audience through immediacy, but also referencing the intimacy, we as humans have lost with the natural environment. Any contrived separation of viewer and the picture at hand, would only enforce that estrangement.

Read Fields. Handmade book. 2010

Books are another significant output of Ms. Herman. Utilizing a variety of print processes and then working back into the final print with additional media, such as charcoals and ink, these small scale objects, allow for an even closer reading of seemingly geological processes.

When I queried Chelsea about that lack of color in the large works and books, she looked at me rather quizzically and said "But there is color". Upon closer inspections, I could see extremely subtle uses uses of what could only be called stains. These stains of "color" are perceived more as temperature change, rather than hue difference. The abstraction from nature and the proposition of a human disconnect form the natural environment, is supported by this removal of color information.

Painters have a tough row to hoe in these days of their proclaimed postmortem. Although not strictly a painter, Ms. Herman is taking on many of the visual and conceptual problems associated with two dimensional fine art. Each "painter" must believe that they are somehow contributing to a new discourse on picture making, or otherwise they would be doomed repeating the same conversation as their predecessors. Certainly there is a yearning and earnestness in Chelseas work, after just a year in graduate school. I look forward to more conversations with her as she ploughs landscape of painting.

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