Though its gallery hours remain suspended in response to covid-19, Fayetteville nonprofit Art Ventures perseveres in its mission to promote the visual arts in Northwest Arkansas through community and artist collaboration, education and offering art access to all with its virtual August exhibition, "The Ways We See."
Reflected in the layers of their work, artists reveal how their experiences and culture shape their perceptions of the world around them, or the realms of their imagination.
The exhibition can be accessed several ways, including a virtual reality option for those viewers with the appropriate apparatus. The experience takes one through a virtual gallery setting -- viewing each artist's works hung on walls throughout the space. Here, four artists offer a glimpse into the ways they see through their artistic lens:
Q. How would you describe your work to a viewer?
Brennen Duffield: I would describe my work as vibrant, colorful and lively -- just how I view nature and the breathtaking scenes I am blessed to see.
Shabana Kauser: I create contemporary, realistic oil paintings that are influenced by my shared experiences as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, and as an immigrant to the United States. My paintings of South Asian women explore memories of cultural, social, and economic transition. Through the descriptive realism, and heavy use of the dupatta (traditional South Asian scarf), I share not only my personal journey, but those of past, present, and future generations of immigrants.
Hannah Newsom Doyle: My illustrations are generally characterized by their use of color and their ability to convey a narrative. Much of my work is driven by my love of storytelling, character development and attention to detail, but it is also heavily influenced by my values. My artistic choices are often driven by my desire to further representation in the imagery consumed by the public.
My grandparents immigrated from Taiwan in the '50s, to study in the U.S., so I am a second-generation Asian-American on my mother's side, and white on my father's. I often feel disconnected from my heritage in both directions, which motivates me to represent diversity, especially mixed race and biracial individuals. I understand how important it is to minorities to be able to see themselves in the artwork and stories they consume, as validation that they are seen, and their dreams and concerns matter.
This is exemplified in some of my character designs like the knight, the bard, and the mermaids, which were meant to bring a more global cultural variety to classical "fantasy" roles, which are often exclusively Euro-centric in their depiction. Some of my pieces in this collection are also heavily influenced by current events as well, such as "#IAmNotaVirus" and "Stay Home" which speak to our current pandemic, and racist backlash towards Asian peoples that occurred as a result.
Rhee Reamy: Art is about invention and re-invention. It can reveal a certain truth or can change our view of things. Art can unlock positional thinking, shatter taboos and has the power to open our minds and souls.
My work centers on taking a normal view of something and finding the mystical or soul of the image, and exposing that insight into a new experience. For example, "Winter Trees" from the virtual exhibition, the entangled black, white and gray are like arteries in all living beings. On a closer look, it's very stylized, but quite organic in its shape and form -- a universal theme of life. Even more heartfelt are they to me, because they no longer exist, only in my childhood. The elm trees had finished their life cycle, and I wanted to save those memories in my mind.
As the trees grew older, so did I; my landmark is gone.
Q. What drew you to the medium and/or materials you work in?
Duffield: In college I was a graphic design major, but still had to take several semesters of another art. I chose photography because I originally wanted to work with magazines. But during the timeframe I was in college, we were still working with 35mm black and white film. This not only gave me a greater appreciation for digital art and the quick process, but also color! I will hardly ever create a black and white image nowadays.
Kauser: I love capturing details, so oils work very well for this. I begin a painting by using acrylic paint to establish the basic shapes and colors on the canvas, then I switch to oils to capture details, light and texture. Oil paint tends to dry a lot slower -- my details stage requires more time with room for trial and error. Each painting varies with fabrics, details, light and texture. I always learn something new with each painting I create.
Newsom Doyle: My comfort zone for many years was working in traditional mediums like watercolor, gouache and colored pencil. It wasn't until I started working in graphic design after college that I started learning how to use computer programs to emulate the styles I loved, using my knowledge of how those mediums behave in real life. I have grown to especially love using the Procreate program on the Ipad to create my illustrations, because I love the freedom and control it offers to manipulate an image, while still maintaining the natural flow of hand-drawing.
Reamy: When I was 18 and just starting college, I needed a part time job and I found one at the Boston Store in downtown Fort Smith, printing signs on an ancient press. I was intrigued by the process and product. That sparked my imagination to create more printed images in traditional formats. I continued my art studies in painting, drawing in and print making in college, and when digital Photography-printmaking became more prominent after college, with more options to explore, I was drawn to this new process. I am still exploring and learning.
Q. How do you hope having your work presented in conversation with other artists' pieces will impact the viewer's connection with the exhibition's theme or with your own work?
Duffield: I hope viewers will see what I see -- both the power and tranquility that nature exudes.
Kauser: My work represents real Pakistani women and immigrant stories, with no media bias or outside influences. It's a vision from a British Pakistani immigrant artist now living and working in Northwest Arkansas.
The carefully selected fabrics, the way the dupatta is draped or placed in each painting, the natural skin tones, the strong poses held by each model, all derive from my memories and real life. My work is there to encourage dialog within the community, to share immigration experiences, history and culture.
Reamy: I certainly hope that my art images are accepted, appreciated and that it is in harmony with the other artists' works in this forum. Please note, that foremost, the opportunity via Art Ventures to be invited in a gallery exhibition is sincerely appreciated. This is a new experience, and my hope is that the "viewer" will see new works that may inspire them.
Q. The exhibition description explains that the details in the "language of art" are "keys to ways of seeing the world and our travel through it." How do you see the world? And how is that reflected in your work presented in this exhibition?
Duffield: I view the world as a never-ending place to be explored with blessings to be seen around every corner. From the smallest of macro details to the ever-expansive night skies, there's magnificence all around us; we just have to look.
Kauser: Our roots, major life events such as immigration, the culture we are born into, shape the ways we view and experience the world.
My parents left Pakistan occupied Kashmir in the 1970s and emigrated to England. With the longstanding history between England and Pakistan, they took the opportunity to set up a new life. Dealing with complications of the immigration system in the 1970s, they made a tough decision to follow their journey with the hope of change. I am one of five children they raised in Surrey, which is on the outskirts of London, U.K. I grew up in a working-class family; my father was first employed in the steel industry and later at a bakery. My mother started a sewing business from home. My mother used the skills she learned in her family home in Pakistan and applied that to create a business, all while raising a family. Yards of fabric would be dropped off to the home, and my mother would create traditional shalwaar Kameez (tunic top, pant and dupatta) for the South Asian community. Today, the traditional fabrics and dupattas run throughout each painting to tell a story.
My oil painting titled "Bahin" is inspired by my sister Samina's story. The word "Bahin" translates to "sister" in Urdu (official national language of Pakistan). When my parents moved to the U.K. in 1975, my older sister, Samina, was a baby at the time. She was forced to stay behind, [being] raised by my grandmother and family in Pakistan. In 1985, Samina was finally granted legal status to reunite with us in the U.K. I met her for the first time when she was 10 years old. She didn't speak English and ... had been raised as the only child. While my three siblings and I had grown up in both the British and Pakistani culture, her only connection was to Pakistan. I remember her wearing traditional Pakistani clothes when she first arrived. We had completely different upbringings -- the way each of us viewed the world varied drastically.
Newsom Doyle: I would say I see the world as very broken. Especially right now. I don't know that my work generally conveys that brokenness, but rather the hope that always shines through. At least, that is my desire. Because despite its brokenness, I think it remains beautiful, and nothing really represents both its beauty and its ugliness as humanity. Maybe that's why I love drawing the human figure and characters. I believe the story of the world is reflected in both those aspects, and each of those stories needs to be told.
Q. Would you say your work is created for you or for the viewer?
Kauser: My work is created for the viewer, myself, the women who inspired my work, the models, future generations of immigrants, the community and so much more!
Being a Pakistani woman in America, where I can express myself through my art, has been very powerful. Each one of the stories behind my work has a universal message of strength, courage, determination, uncertainty, belonging and acceptance. That resonates with people regardless of their gender or background. The community has really amazed me with their interest in my culture and work. America is a nation of immigrants, it important for people to connect with the raw immigrant experience and remember the journey of their family and ancestors.
I also think it's crucial for more Pakistani female artists to exist and succeed. The percentage of women artists who make it big in the art world has traditionally been low -- now imagine how many Pakistani female artists are included in that small percentage. Female artists and POC are slowly being recognized in the art world. In order to see change, it's important that young South Asian girls see someone with the same skin color as them in the art world. They need to realize at an early age that they can be future artists, there is a place for them. A visual representation of that is encouraging.
Newsom Doyle: I would definitely say it's both. Drawing has been a way of life for me for as long as I can remember. The practice is something that somehow keeps me sane, keeps me centered and keeps me motivated. Much of it is motivated by my own intrinsic need to create something, but I usually have something in mind that I want people to take away, however subtle or secondary. I have had followers of my work tell me about how my illustrations have brought them joy and inspiration. I love hearing that. I think most people need art in their lives to bring them encouragement, advocacy and a voice for those who don't have a way to articulate their thoughts and feelings. People have the opportunity to find something familiar that they connect with in art that might bring them a connection they would not have otherwise had.
Reamy: I would say for the artist first.
I see it, feel it and have to create it and allow it to form as other ideas develop.
Yes, I think there are some images that spur ideas and feelings with viewers and some pieces just develop creatively for my eyes only.