Sunday, March 22, 2015

Alfredo Arreguin's "pattern paintings" charm in the details

Alfredo Arreguin at March 14 CQA meeting
"When I paint, my problems disappear...so I paint a lot!" laughed prolific Seattle artist Alfredo Arreguin as he spoke about his work to members of the Contemporary Quilt Art Association at the group's March 14 meeting. Arreguin's paintings can take up to four months to complete. And, given the amount of details contained in each work, that's a whole lot of problems that can just go away!
This kind of detail can take months to complete

Born in Mexico,  Arreguin admits to being a bit of a bad boy in his early years. When his mother created a series of small drawings for him, he took them to school to exchange to other students for candy. When she learned of these transactions, his mother balked and said he should learn to create his own art.  His father took a different approach: When young Alfredo was doing poorly in school, his father sent him out into the jungle to work on-site with engineers. The discipline of creating his own art obviously took root, and  scenes and animals of the jungle became an ongoing theme in his adult paintings.
Elements of the jungle appear in many of Arreguin's paintings
One can spend hours finding interesting details!

Arreguin arrived in Seattle in 1956 at age 23, to enter the School  of Architecture at the University of Washington. The choice  of major was more that of his father's than his own, and after a couple of years he switched to Interior Design in the University's art department for a year, finally coming to rest in the school's painting program, where he earned his BA and MFA degrees.
One of Arreguin's early works, where he adds pattern to the tablecloth to tie elements together

During his senior year at the University he began to develop what would become his signature style--very detailed, pattern paintings that offer the viewer almost endless possibilities to discover nearly hidden elements. "I love painting scenes from nature," he says, "and the use of pattern allows me to hide things in those scenes, like behind leaves."
Birds and forest elements are common themes
There are two large cats worked into the pattern....
(Above and below) Large cats are favorite elements

His favored format is four by six feet, and he prefers working in oils rather than acrylics as the latter dry too fast for the type of detailed, overpainting work he does on each piece. He was once asked why he chose to work pretty consistently in the 4x6 format, and the reason is quite practical: When fellow artist Alden Mason was leaving Seattle for Europe, he put up for sale a large quantity of cheap stretcher bars in that size, and Arreguin snapped them up!
Patterning on floors often appear as tiles
Closeup of a pattern portion showing the "fill" is often faces
"Deep Time," with graceful pterodactyls, is in the collection of the National Academy of Sciences

To achieve the over-all patterning that characterizes Arreguin's work, he will start with a grid of, say, one-inch squares, which he then fills in, often working on a detail in a square on the left side of the painting, then moves to the corresponding square on the right side to create a similar or matching detail. "It's organic," he says. "Often I discover new things by changing a few details as I work back and forth on my grid." He frequently creates "ghosts" by covering his first drawing with another on top. For his striking portraits he will first outline the face realistically, then add patterns to  crowd around the image and sometimes work patterns on top of the face.
Except for the eyes (above) and the red lips (below), the faces are almost hidden

"I paint what I love," he says, "and I love people, women, flowers, birds, gardens...everything that lends itself to patterns." Many of the combinations reflect designs of the tapestries and crafts seen in traditional markets in his native Mexico. Other frequent subjects include religious figures--St.  Francis  of Assisi for  one--and some important in Mexican observances, including madonnas and La Malinche, mistress of the conqueror Cortes. And for a time, he created a series of portraits featuring the noted Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
Mexican-heritage themed piece

St. Francis of Assisi and his beloved birds
A completely patterned madonna
A madonna in a more typical "halo" setting...but look at the background!
A very Mexican madonna
Above and below, two very different treatments of a Frida Kahlo portrait


Arreguin's pieces may now be found in countless museums and private collections, and his resume of solo and selected group exhibitions covers several pages. Some of the achievements of which he's most proud include having two pieces in the Smithsonian (one in the National Museum of  American Art, the other  in the National Portrait Gallery); winning the competition for the 1988 Washington State Centennial poster from among 200 applicants; and having pieces selected by the U.S. Department of State for the embassy in Karachi, and for the collection of the San Francisco's Mexican Museum.
Arreguin's portrait of Emilio Zapata is in the Smithsonians's  National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Arreguin's "Washingtonia," selected for the state's centennial poster from among 200 applicants. When asked why he painted the cat in the foreground, he replied, "It was there!"

In a more recent development, as Arreguin related, he hadn't been known in Mexico for his art as he had been living in Seattle for so long. Now, however, he's pleased that his work is being shown in a San Antonio, TX, gallery as one of the "Mexican Masters" alongside Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
A young Arreguin, right, with the late writer Raymond Carver and his wife, poet Tess Gallagher. Carver's short story "Menudo" was written about Arreguin.
Arreguin's portrait of Carver features a poem by Gallagher , the words of which the artist painted over the entire image.
A portrait of Carver barely emerges from the typical Northwest fish

Noting that he recently turned 80, Arreguin is not looking to mount big exhibitions any more. "A big show drains you," he says, "and I now have just enough energy to paint every day." Given the amount of creative inspiration and just plain detailed work that goes into each of his pieces. that seems just about right.
This piece combines Arreguin's signature patterns with the "big wave" typical of many Japanese paintings. The artist was in Japan during his Army duty as well as on later trips: "I am like a sponge," he says, "I soak in everything I see!"

Arreguin's impression of Washington's Rialto Beach on the Pacific Coast

More about Arreguin and  his work may be seen  on his website--www.alfredoarreguin.com/. He is represented by Linda Hodges Gallery in Seattle, where his bio and resume may be found at http://www.lindahodgesgallery.com/#!alfredo-arreguin/c18o6. University of Washington Press published a book on Arreguin and his work, "Alfredo Arreguin: Patterns of Dreams and Nature," now in a second edition--http://www.washington.edu/uwpress/search/books/FLOALP.html.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wendy Orville's monoprints may look like photographs, but...

Bainbridge Island artist Wendy Orville
There was a lot of close-up inspection of Wendy Orville's sample monoprints at the February 14 CQA meeting as the attendees discovered that these very photographic-looking pieces...were not photographs at all! An artist residing and working on Bainbridge Island, Orville spoke to the group about her artistic journey, inspirations, and methods in this informative program, enlightening the many of us who knew little about monoprinting.
This monoprint triptych is not a photograph!

Orville came to appreciate art and nature at an early age, with her scientist parents (father=geology professor; mother=high school biology teacher) encouraging her and her siblings to experiment. For fun, she would draw and paint birds and animals from taxidermy specimens her mother brought home to use as school samples. She traveled extensively with her parents during school vacations, and when her parents' sabbatical years would come up, the travels--usually to other countries--were lengthy enough that she was put into local schools in those countries, experiencing total language immersion!
The above image and the two below are among the "15 paintings in 5 days" Orville produced while at Yale, using blobs of pure color.  A similar type of abstraction is an element in some of her present-day works as well.



She found herself drawn to oil painting early on and studied art at Yale University. One of her first class assignments was to create 15 paintings in 5 days! She settled on using bold chunks of pure color to capture the essence of the scenes she chose to depict. "I was painting faster than I could think!" she said. "During this same period, in creating a number of black-and-white tempera drawings, I made up a rule of my own: I could draw the landscape with only the 'tools' I found on site, meaning sticks, rocks, and so on. The resulting work was very similar to what I'm doing now...the pendulum swings between abstraction and realism." In playing with hard edges as a major element of these quick paintings and drawings--"abstracting as much as possible"--she often confused anyone watching as to exactly what she was capturing on the surface!
Titled "Trees I," this tempera drawing was done with sticks and twigs Orville found on site.

Orville took a 4-day intensive workshop in monoprinting from Taos, N.M. artist Michael Vigil, above.

Above and below: Two of Orville's early monoprints, inspired by Taos scenes

Orville received a BA in Fine Arts and an MFA in painting, then, unfortunately, her career as an oil painter ended when she developed a severe allergy to oil paints. A move west to Taos, New Mexico, set her on her current path. Here she took a 4-day workshop in monoprinting with local artist Michael Vigil, and found her new medium. The vast open skies of the southwest gave her new themes and inspiration--as, in 1996, did a move north to the moody skies, wetlands and dense forests of the Puget Sound region.

Puget Sound wetlands represented in a monoprint...a big change from Taos scenes!
Above and below: Picturing her kids' toys was a fun way for Orville to keep her hand in while busy with child-rearing.

She began to incorporate northwest scenes in her work, then came a hiatus when a lot of  her time was taken  up with raising a new baby. Much of her art during this period consisted of small, quick drawings of kids' toys "just to have a good time." Perhaps it was these drawings, or perhaps a mental return to her drawings of the taxidermy specimens in her childhood, as Orville found herself wanting to seriously concentrate on animals, but with a high degree of abstraction.


Her more serious work depicting animals was sometimes done  "on site," e.g. sitting in a pig pen to  capture the porker above.
Achieving a hard edge on the sides of the sheep, above, came as Orville practiced a new technique. This image became the logo for a local eating establishment.
In creating this image, Orville tried to ignore the dog's personality and just show patterns of light and dark.
"I actually sat in a pig pen to make one drawing," she laughed, adding "I wanted to show just patterns of light and dark and not get hung up on the animal's personality. How much could I take out and still have a recognizable form."
Vast skies over Washington's Palouse region

With the first child and, later, a second one under control, Orville returned to works from nature with an emphasis on skies: "I found that unlimited space could be found just by looking up," she said. "Clouds represent a moment in time. For me, it's about paying attention to the abstraction of form--I can get lost in an image." She spent several years with landscape and sky subjects "trying to find my language," she said, adding "sometimes I invented landscapes...I've learned not to question myself if I'm having a good time!"
The rock, tree and clouds were all printed from different plates, and the rock itself came from Orville's imagination.

Much  of her work is in black and white, but other pieces include as many as 8 to 10 layers of color. She will lay down some under layers of bright colors and then add complementary colors on top until she achieves the desired effect.
Some of the color monoprints have 8 to 10 layers of colored ink applied.
Orville's "inspiration/test" wall...photos, sketches and test prints
Sketch with design notes form a record of a particular piece

So how does Orville achieve monoprints that look like photographs, but aren't? As a guide, she may start with one of her own photos or drawings created on site, parts or all of which may end up in the finished print. Then, using a range of values of non-pigmented ink (which allows the light of the printing paper to come through) on a sheet of glass as a palette, she uses a thick, heavy roller and rolls back and forth over the inks until she achieves the desired blending of tones for the over-all piece.

Non-pigmented inks are laid out in a range  of values
Inks on the glass palette ready to be rolled and blended
The first rolling....
...then continued rolling, until the inks are blended to her satisfaction.
This "base" is then rolled onto a plexiglass plate and the detail work begins. If the work features clouds, Orville will take a small stick and draw a sharp line, delineating the edge of a cloud as the line of ink is removed. Then, using a small wad of paper, cloth or even her finger, she will proceed to remove more and more ink until a perfect cloud appears: "It's a subtractive process," she explained, adding that the inked plate can be worked on for as long as a day before the ink dries too much to be worked. The paper to be printed on is soaked and blotted before being put on the press as wet paper absorbs the ink in a more saturated way. And as the name implies, only one print can be pulled from the plate.
The final blended ink is rolled onto a plexiglass plate, ready for creation of the image. A photograph (upper right) serves as a general guide for the desired shape of the cloud.
A sharp line delineates the edge of a cloud...
...then rubbing with a wad of paper, cloth or a finger removes ink to create the cloud itself.
Soaked, blotted printing paper is taken to the press where the final plexiglass plate is mounted, ready for printing.
The completed monoprint of the sky and cloud comes off the press. Any trees or other landscape features are added later from different plates.

She may print only an area of clouds one day, maybe not knowing what, if anything, she will print on top of it, and return at a later time to add trees or other landscape elements from a different, separate plate. To achieve the often very thin and "spiky" portions of trees, grasses and other forms that mark a number of her pieces, Orville will employ parts of credit cards, toothbrushes, Q-tips and other everyday items to make fairly sharp lines--"anything that pulls the ink off," she explained.

The moody, ethereal quality of Orville's work is wonderful on its own...but it's even more enjoyable when you find out how this artist achieves her unique images!
Monoprint of old pilings at the site of the former Port  Blakeley mill on Puget Sound. "As a younger artist, I often exaggerated elements in the landscape. Now I seek out forms that are weathered and shaped by nature," Orville says.

For more views of Orville's pieces and information on the artist, go to www.wendyorville.com.