On blustery February afternoons, white with leftover snow rearranging itself into mountainous drifts outside the office, I look forward to reading residency applications from visual artists and writers for the Jentel Foundation. I especially enjoy looking at the work samples from the visual artists, who select 10-20 digital images of their best artwork from the past two years. For almost two decades now, I open each portfolio of original work with eager anticipation and curiosity. What ideas are influencing the artwork? What questions are artists asking in their studio practice? What are the challenges the artist faces in making provocative artwork?
Over the years, I noticed changes in concerns or interests in art making. With its setting in the foothills of the Bighorns, a mere 20 miles from Sheridan, I discover many of the landscape artists from other parts of the country are easily swept away by the expanse, the light, the openness and raw beauty. I wonder how this experience of seeing an uninterrupted horizon line will have an impact on their future work. Or they may take back to their home studios, set in familiar dense woods with wet forest floors, a change that moves them personally.
Certainly, the change in climate and concerns for the environment emerge in some of the work samples. Whether stark photographs of land degradation, mixed media drawings referencing pollution or massive sculptures made up of recycled materials, the underlying message is present and ever-ready to ooze into my subconscious.
Family, a sense of place, home, gender, heritage and ethnicity are likewise sources of inspiration, research and fuel for art-making. The quest also is constant for expressing feelings and emotions through the language of art with the gestures, use of color and marks in abstraction. The variety among the work samples excites me and the personal expression gives me cause to think, to feel, to respond and to be in awe.
Of course, at some point, I eventually use the same criteria and guidelines as the panel of outside reviewers: originality, aesthetic sensitivity, importance of work and developed vision. The review process of the artwork, absent of any information about the artists and their professional accomplishments, levels the playing field for emerging, mid career and mature artists. Who will the reviewers recommend?
Once the successful resident awardees arrive, Jentel offers a spacious, private studio, but no equipment. No equipment? Nope! During orientation, the staff remind the visual artists that what is created, made, developed or destroyed in the space is only limited by their imagination. Most residents claim that they take back to their home studios ideas and solutions to creative problems that will fuel their art making for two years, sometimes more. What a good return on a month long investment of time that focuses on the process of developing ideas, rather than seeing all ideas to a final product.
For those of you who are curious to see the artwork and hear a bit about the ideas and creative process of the four visual artists and two writers, who are successful in earning high ratings from the reviewers, please join us on the first Tuesday of every month at SAGE Community Arts in Sheridan for Jentel Presents. The residents will take about 10 minutes each and share their art-making through digital images, actual artwork and readings. With questions from the appreciative audience, the event is scheduled for 5:30-7 p.m.
Welcome back to our regulars who already have discovered that Jentel Presents provides an inspiring and thought-provoking evening and often reflection through the week. Please mark the first Tuesday of each month on your calendar. Looking forward to seeing you!
Mary Jane Edwards is the executive director at Jentel Foundation.