Carol Hart took the road less traveled -- and loved every minute of the journey. But now, she's in a hurry to make up for lost time.
After completing a degree in fine arts at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, Hart was ready, she says, to begin her journey as an artist.
"However," she says in an introduction to her latest exhibit, "Painting In and Painting Out," "life sometimes presents unimagined changes." Instead, Hart found herself in Northwest Arkansas, where she got a job at the first version of the Elizabeth Richardson Center. It was called the "Washington County School for Trainable Children," which says everything about where those with disabilities stood in the world at the time. But Hart immediately knew there was so much more they could do -- and she wanted to help them do it. in 1976, she started Life Styles based on the belief that "all people belong in communities," and gave her time and her heart to that effort for 36 years, until her retirement in 2012.
"Even though I didn't paint during my [career] at Life Styles, I always knew that I was drawing on my creativity in program design and innovation, and daily problem solving," she says. "Developing the Blair Art Center was an opportunity to expand our services to supporting the people we served in expressing their own creativity and watching them grow as confident, productive artists. So from them I learned to approach my own art with joy, not take myself too seriously or to become stressed in producing my art.
"And while I didn't create paintings during those years, I painted every day with my eyes, savoring the colors and compositions in nature, the movement of the clouds across the sky and the negative shapes created by the tree branches in the winter, and the ongoing inspiration of sharing the making of art with those we served," she says.
When she retired, Hart says, "I knew I wanted to start painting again, but was at a loss about what to paint and wondered if I would remember how. Several artist friends advised me to just paint, do the work.
"I began painting with a sense of urgency, striving to capture and share through painting those images I collected over the years. Whether I am painting figures, landscapes or abstracts, I realize how much I love the painting process. I use bright colors, bold brush strokes, and create texture by drawing and collaging onto my paintings. I enjoy exploring the push and pull of paint and collage work, painting in and painting out, adding paper, sanding it out, working back and forth until the balance, movement and complexity of the painting is achieved.
"I have tried to be open to art challenges, and grateful that I have this opportunity to paint, to create, and to share my work with others. While my subject matter varies, my methods are consistent, emphasizing an abstract approach and striving to capture a feeling or emotion. I find that after painting landscapes for a while, I am ready to move to abstracts or figures."
"Painting In and Painting Out," an Art Ventures exhibition showing at the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce office, showcases Hart's landscapes, some of them clearly inspired by road trips with her husband.
"Bill and I love to travel and are anxious to be able to safely do so soon," she says. "We love visiting museums as well as the natural beauty of places we visit. I believe that all of my experiences find their way into my paintings. Sometimes it is the shoppers at a market in Italy or the amazing natural beauty in Spirit Island in Canada or the colors in Canyonland."
Still, she adds, "it is the painting process that I love the most. I start with some idea of what I plan to paint. If it is a landscape, I am often inspired by something specific -- a turbulent sky, or sunlight through the trees. In my figurative work it may start with a specific number of women and their environment or culture. In either, I try to be mindful of the composition, the movement and patterns through the painting.
"My paintings change a great deal during the process, and I have found that I need to trust the process and see where it goes. I have learned to be bolder in my actions. This is the painting in and painting out process for me. As far as the vibrant colors, I think that is a reflection of how I feel and how grateful I am for my experiences, my time with Life Styles, my family and my health! I am grateful, and I think that comes through my paintings that others describe as joyful."
‘Painting In and Painting Out’
WHEN — Through April 30
WHERE — Art Ventures at the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, 21 W. Mountain St. in Fayetteville
COST — Free
INFO — artventures-nwa.org, carolchartcontemporaryart.com