“The way it has worked out,” says Martin, “is that the repetitive use of image/subject deepened our relationship with that image, evoking memories. Improvising with media and the formal art elements facilitated a deeper meaning. While that is happening individually [in the studio], together we tell stories, reflect, watch, listen, encourage, and deepen our friendship” – a friendship that began six years ago when Martin wrote a story for 15 Bytes about her now collaborator.
Both artists returned to school later in life – Vorm after a career as a dental hygienist (“so not me”) as well as becoming known as an excellent weaver (“I didn’t know that was art,” she says); Martin after a career in corporate training and public relations.
Vorm remembers going into art stores and not buying anything because she wasn’t an artist. “I had crayons as a kid, but we’re all that generation where if you went outside the lines . . .”
Martin’s husband was an industrial designer who had, of course, attended art school where he received harsh critiques from his instructors. When Martin took a few night art classes, he gave her work the same treatment, crushing her aspirations. She decided to get a BFA (on top of her BA and MA in theater and graduate certificate in public relations) in part to validate what she was creating in his eyes; in part because she had joined a co-op gallery in Salt Lake City (Art at the Main) and wanted formal training to get some “credibility.”
Vorm actually planned to sign up for an art history degree but wistfully told the U of U secretary that she wished she could take an art class. “Why don’t you?” was the reply. “Because I can’t draw,” said Vorm honestly. Next thing she knew she was learning how to from John O’Connell and John Erickson on her way to a BFA.
O’Connell and Erickson were Martin’s main instructors, as well. And she did impress her husband with the work she took home.
Vorm titled her portion of the Alice exhibition “I Don’t Do Flowers,” something that emerged when veteran encaustic artist Jeff Juhlin invited her to rummage through some junk in the yard behind his studio on Salt Lake City’s west side for stuff she might use in her own encaustic pieces. As she was leaving, he held up a rusting mold of a dozen or so very basic flowers, the kind often painted in Day-Glo on a hippie’s Volkswagen bus in 1967 (OK, so maybe you’ve at least seen a photo?).
Vorm instantly replied, “Jeff, I don’t do flowers.” But she took it, and now has made it her own, working flowers into her work in encaustic, ink, rust, and collage. “I am so insecure about these flowers -- I have second-guessed myself over and over,” Vorm says. “I was trying to create something that didn’t scream ‘flower’ and then I finally gave in. Now I have tons of flowers. Tons of flowers.“
The flowers are her iteration, she says, those and the struggle she is having with them. “It pushes me because I do more non-rep-type work. I have fought it all the way trying to make my work with these – I mean it’s the most common commercial type of flower, such a cliché.”
For her part of the show, “Erosion,” Sue Martin took a single photo in Zion National Park, and went from there. She painted the same scene of rock formations and a bit of sky over and over and over again. After about the third painting, she put away the photograph, preferring to work with the image in her head. Then she dumped the people in the image. (Nancy liked the figures; Sue loved a work of Nancy’s that was her least favorite. So they bounced things off of each other.)
“I was trying to get a feel for the geology and the layers and the patterns,” Martin recalls. “I did about 28 paintings altogether and only about 15 are going to be in the show. I’m starting with the very first little 5x7 watercolor I did while I was at Zion. Then I did a whole lot of just crazy experiments with acrylic and stamping and some figures. Not everything was exhibit worthy but I wanted everything in the exhibit to show the progression.”
Martin recalls that after deciding she loved that image from Zion she started thinking about all the times she had been to the park, and realized she had probably stopped at that very place to take pictures “who knows how many times. But, you know, fuzzy memory. And I started thinking about the erosion of the landscape, the geological formations and the erosion of memory as well — and so that’s why I called my series ‘Erosion,’” she explains.
Martin got to work with variations in both media and processes (mostly oil and cold wax). “Nancy and I are total opposites in techniques and mediums. Our processes are so different,” Martin observes. “She has to really do a lot of upfront playing with design and materials before she commits to that wax; whereas I can be very improvisational and waste paper and paint.”
Cold wax, she says, is a medium that is sort of like Crisco that you mix with paint and then you can do all kinds of things. “You can blot it off, you can let it dry, you can put on another layer of paint and wax, you can dig into it . . . and so some of the things that I played with were layering the oil and cold wax on top of a panel that had been prepped with red or black acrylic so that I could scrape back and get those colors peeking through. And then I used Japanese paper, blotted the whole painting, took that off, let it dry and collaged that to another panel and used it as kind of a mirror image of my image and painted on that.” Though they are a kind of diptych, they will be displayed together but not necessarily purchased together.
“I made this [comb-like] stamp because the most interesting thing to me was the layers in the rocks,” Martin says. “And so I decided to use this as a motif that would carry through everything. So I stamped it on rice paper and collaged that on with wax in different areas. I used the same motif to cut a stencil and I used the stencil in a bolder way and this also has some of Nancy’s [flower] imagery on top of it. I gave her some stamped images of mine, and then I created my own stamp of her [flower] motif.”
And, being a writer, Martin naturally kept a journal. “Every morning I was writing about what I was doing and reflecting on it. I’ve written I don’t know how many pages over the last five months about the process and the vision and what I liked and didn’t like,” Martin says.
She muses: “A lot of times when people do two-person shows people do things in their own space at their own pace – I think a lot of art is ‘what if,’ and that’s where creativity comes in. So we asked ‘what if’ we worked side by side. How would that be, how would that affect us?
“In the very beginning we said what if we actually collaborated on the same piece, but . . .
“Well, we have a week,” Vorm says brightly. “If we worked in acrylic . . .”
Process Points: Torrey
Cold Wax Craze
Nancy Green quits her job and discovers the joys of whipped wax
Remember that hackneyed joke where the guy tells his artist friend, "Don't quit your day job"? Well Nancy Green quit her day job when she settled in Torrey to make art full time.
She and her husband discovered Torrey while on vacation, drawn by the beautiful redrock cliffs. The initial visit inspired Nancy to go to the nearby ranger station, purchase some paper and children's crayons and spend most of the rest of the trip drawing the redrock formations. The couple returned from California often over the years, finally deciding to build a cabin, which evolved into a permanent house and separate studio. He had wanted to start working for himself, and she agreed to leave her job if she could devote all her time to art—she had been attending workshops ever since visiting Torrey for the first time. "As I gained confidence and improved my skills I felt more drawn to abstraction and oil. I paint mostly abstractly [now] but often there is some reference to or element of reality in the piece." Green's focus now is on cold wax work combined with monotype.
Cold wax painting involves mixing the medium —whipped wax and mineral spirits—with tube oil paint, using a stiff gessoed surface onto which many layers are applied. The mixture stiffens, gets tacky, which is a wonderful way to create three-dimensional texture, and allows one to remove parts of layers to expose what is underneath. The mixture is not such that you could brush it onto the surface, but Green uses all sorts of devices to create shapes and designs—it could be a comb pulled through the medium, a scraper, a brayer, raffia straw, a piece of wire mesh, a wedge, a Q-tip. Over time, the mineral spirits evaporate and the oil paints stiffen so one ends up with a hard surface. "You basically end up with a pigmented beeswax."
In the years before moving to Torrey, Green’s artistic education included an adult education watercolor class, then a University of California extension program in studio arts, where she continued learning drawing, design, watercolor, etc. In Torrey she moved into oils, on to etching and creating monotypes, and finally discovered the cold wax medium. "I kind of cobbled together my education in the arts," she says.
Her formal education included getting a master's degree in library science, and another in Spanish and Portuguese. "I'm kind of a perennial student." She did a residency in Spain with acrylic paints ... "Oil was too volatile, and difficult to get." Here in Utah she took workshops from Doug Braithwaite, Paul Davis, and David Dornan, and when she discovered Wisconsin artist Rebecca Crowell's cold-wax work in a gallery in Santa Fe, looked her up and attended several of her classes. "I took to [the medium] right away." She learned that Crowell and a friend are writing a book about the cold-wax medium, which will be published this December. "Cold wax work has been out there for a while but not in much use. Crowell is the one who really has gotten it going. When I took classes from her there were only a dozen or so students, now thousands go to her workshops."
Green's approach to creating cold wax pieces is interesting and unusual. In the first layer of the piece she might "sketch" some loose images of dancers, or of tree branches or leaves and in subsequent layers partially cover them, or scrape down to reveal some parts, add more layers, see what happens.
Dancing is important to Green. She had applied for a master’s in dance but an injury to her spine ended that plan. She is interested in nature—trees, birds, nests. These elements of reality in her work are the essence of inspiration for the finished piece. To this writer, it is like a subconscious process, a reaching deep into herself to connect with what is important to her. Coincidentally (or not), when she took a class in abstract painting from David Dornan, he suggested that she get herself well-grounded in realism before going on to abstraction.
As Green was delving into cold wax work she started thinking about how monotypes might work with that medium, and began to experiment. "I’ll make a monotype, then add a cold wax layer and run the piece through the press again. It is fascinating to see how beautiful the translucence of the paper and the ink on it 'cooperates' with the cold wax layers." She plans to experiment with this process further, but eventually wants to create a series in cold wax medium only. Green's work has been shown in Kayenta and Tropic, and the Gallery 24 in Torrey carries her work.
Green belongs to a blog site of cold wax artists, oilandwax.ning.com, and has her own blog spot which she describes as basically talking to herself, but readers seem to appreciate. You can see her work at ngreenstudios.com, and her commentary on cold wax process and some images of her pieces will be in the book coming out in December - Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations by Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin. For pieces by other cold wax artists go to coldwaxpainting.com.