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Artist's awakening soul on exhibit in 'Revelation'

by Ellis Widner | December 1, 2015 at 2:43 a.m.
Land of Opportunity is a mixed media and pastel work by Virmarie DePoyster. The North Little Rock artist’s new exhibition opens Thursday at Argenta Gallery.

For artist Virmarie DePoyster, "Revelation" isn't just the title of a show of her new work.

It is the gift she received from creating it.


Virmarie DePoyster

Thursday-Jan. 4, Argenta Gallery, 413 Main St., North Little Rock. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.

Reception: 6-8 p.m. Thursday

(501) 225-5600

Arkansas will get its first view of "Revelation" starting Thursday at Argenta Gallery. Most of the 18 works in the show come from her curated exhibition at the American Embassy in Rome in September.

The embassy show came about because of a renewed connection with a friend from high school.

"We reconnected on Facebook," she says. "When he came to visit family in Little Rock, [he] saw my work in a show at the Butler Center. After he went to work for the embassy, he contacted me and asked if he could submit my name for consideration for a show at the embassy."

In December 2014, an invitation was extended and DePoyster accepted.

"I didn't have a lot of time to get ready; I put a lot of pressure on myself, I was worried ... 'How am I going to get this done in time?' I had to create a new body of work." The artist took four months off from her teaching job at the Arkansas Arts Center to create 18 new pieces.

Though she felt deadline and creative pressures, DePoyster's vision for new work was emerging.

"I had come to a crossroads. ... Artists are storytellers and I was struggling with just how much of myself I wanted to put out there in my art," she says. "You pour your soul into the work; people have a judgment on the work, on you. It can be very uneasy for me. But people seem to want that connection, a piece of the artist."

There are references in her past work about an inner struggle with identity, with spirituality, with the past and its influence.

"These new pieces make more of a statement," DePoyster says. "I came to realize my life is layers ... how I perceive myself and the things that happened to me on the way, it all affects how I am perceived and how I perceive myself.

"Written words make up a lot of my meaningful connections ... email, newspaper, texts. Words can hold me free or put me in bondage. I am using written words in my art because they helped mold who I am."

Sources DePoyster tapped included love letters, a house deed, the U.S. Constitution, the Bible. She layered written words, textures and pastels in creating her new work.

"I was raised in a strict, religious household," says the Puerto Rico-born artist. "I could only read religious material until I was 15."

After her parents divorced, DePoyster's mother moved Virmarie and her two sisters to Arkansas.

"We came here for a better life," she says. "A lot of people thought of me as an immigrant; I didn't speak English when we came. Puerto Rico is an American territory, but I felt I was viewed as a foreigner."

DePoyster says she has also become "more comfortable about being more open about my spirituality and my identity.

"It's been an awakening for me to realize that it's OK to have all these thoughts and issues going on and talk about them openly. When we moved here, we wanted to belong so badly. With that comes the idea that you don't want to rock the boat. I hesitated to take stands on things because I wanted to belong.

"In creating this work, I felt free enough to deal with that ... it's huge. I had never have admitted I felt like an immigrant."

DePoyster also did research on immigration, reading federal policies to gain insights.

A neighbor's rose bushes provided inspiration in the form of stems and thorns.

"They helped me tell how I felt about issues of spirituality, choosing my own path and being in the South," she says. "Arranged in different ways, the stems and thorns address the touchiness of a lot of these subjects. Jesus talked about pain, struggle, beauty. It can all be found in a thorn."

She arranged the stems in different patterns and studied them as she painted.

DePoyster painted her stems and thorns red "because it's warm, it's passion, love." They also appear in a work about her mother.

"We had a difficult relationship," DePoyster says. She incorporated some of her own writing about that relationship into Her Last Dance. "There were lots of emotions. As I worked on textures and with pastels, I covered up most of the writing because it was too close to my feelings. I just wasn't ready to show that."

DePoyster believes her students at the Arts Center will benefit from her experience of creating this new work.

"It has made me slow down and step back when I look at their work and be less judgmental of what they are working on. There is no telling what they are going through. Sometimes the students get very hurt, even with constructive criticism."

And the biggest revelation of all?

"I have more confidence," DePoyster says. "My family has been so supportive of me through this. I can say to them 'Tell me what you don't like' ... and I can take the response. I couldn't have a while back. It makes me look at the art, see if there is merit to their response. But in the end, it was what I think that counts. I'm OK with what I do."


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