by Nancy Helle — A Sense of Place is the theme of the Wilson Avenue Loft Artists (WALA) in their annual exhibition and open studios weekend in South Norwalk, kicking off with a public reception tomorrow Friday, Oct. 28, from 6 to 9 p.m. and continuing with open studios on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29-30, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The event not only provides an opportunity to view a great variety of creative output, but also to see the studios where the work is produced. WALA’s former factory building has spacious studios, soaring ceilings and tall windows which have drawn artists from Darien, Sono, Rowayton, New Canaan, Wilton, and Westport, as well as Pound Ridge and New York City. WALA was founded in 2007 by two Darien artists, Britt Bair and Lori Glavin, when Bair’s neighbor, David Genovese, had an empty factory building available for rent, and liked the idea of it becoming a workplace for artists.
Curator Sophia Gevas says, “Collectives like WALA provide stimulating opportunities for artists to discuss their work with other creators. In addition to making art, they often teach or volunteer, and with free public events like open studios, contribute to making Norwalk the culturally vibrant city it has become.” Gevas is former director of the Gallery of Contemporary Art at Sacred Heart University, current outreach education director at Silvermine Arts Center and an adjunct faculty member at Housatonic Community College.
Artists have interpreted A Sense of Place in many different ways. “Place is a mindset of being in the moment; it can refer to a specific location or a specific state of mind,” says Nancy McTague-Stock of Wilton, co-chair of the event with Lori Glavin of Darien. McTague-Stock’s archival pigment prints are “environmental studies, focused on perpetual illusions through movement”, created this year in Amsterdam.” Another artist, Erin Dolan is inspired by the colors, mood and textures of New Mexico. Her painting Return to Taos captures the contrast and connection between natural and urban places.
The sea captivates several artists. Darien artist Vicki Smith says, “I seek to convey dramatic emotion using complementary colors, soft and hard edges and a variety of brushes and palette knives to create movement and texture.” Julie Van Norden is in awe of the endless blue created by the horizon where the sky meets the sea, saying, “If we all realized how tiny and insignificant we are in the scheme of things, perhaps we would treat the earth with more respect.” Maryann Jones says, “The stillness of water moves me as an artist to a deeper and quieter space within – a sense of freedom to create harmony.”
Britt Bair, expresses A Sense of Place from a cow’s perspective: “happy and complacent” in a sunny field and “steadfast, confident and unencumbered” by snowfall. Another Darien artist, Diane Weeks, has created a mixed media collage documenting her young daughter’s growing self-awareness and love of color.
Lori Glavin gets her sense of place “from the visual clatter of the mundane places I know best – the domestic environment or the tilted landscape of my weekend garden.” Like selective memories she retells her story with embellishments and edits in her personal explorations – an abstract interpretation of her world. Kathryn Glover is also inspired by everyday objects – a china teapot or a vase of flowers – in her representational still life paintings.
Wilton artist Ruth Ipe’s Morning Fog photographs come from the natural world, but she does not attempt to recreate it. “Using photographs I am able to consolidate or deconstruct the images of nature, drawing from it to express the feeling and sense of place in my paintings.” Plein air artist Leslie Concannon, who has a home in Wilton, also works from life. Her paintings are “a response to a particular location and moment, created through careful observation and choices of the formal structure, light and color.” In contrast. Claudia Renfro’s Night Riders is a totally imaginary carnival scene. “The whimsical images and fictional characters that make up this bizarre dreamlike carnival are my own sense of place.”
Julie Jansen of Darien has traditionally painted what she sees but has recently been “playing with random forms synthesized in my imagination, drawing with paint pen to make spontaneous, free-associative shapes and objects, although they are derived from nature and my experiences in the observable world.”
New Canaan artist Susan Cutler Tremaine’s expressionistic paintings reflect her thoughts about the dining table as “a place where we may convene to examine and define relationships, issues and outcomes, conversations and unspoken thoughts that create alliances and alienation.”
Two artists who are both immigrants to the United States create art that reflects their personal experiences. The focus of Isadora Machado Lecouna’s series of self-portraits is her long, convoluted 30-year path as an immigrant – from Spain to Mexico to the United States — in trying to become a US citizen. She says, “My sense of place has been ‘Permanent Immigrant’ but my love of making art is the one constant in my life.” Since 2003 she has been the senior head art teacher in the Horizons programs at the Country School of New Canaan and has won many awards in the annual Carriage Barn Spectrum competition.
Farnosh Olamai Birch grew up in Tehran before moving with her husband to Darien. She spoke no English when she arrived but graduated cum laude in art at SUNY Purchase in 1996. She says, “My art is all about integrating perceived opposites: the traditional and the modern, East and West, blending the beauty of my two cultures, Persia and America. In my latest works, my canvas is a Persian rug, beautiful and luxurious. On top I paint my American story: blue skies, white clouds and sunlight. I call my style Persian Fusion.”
Gevas says, “A Sense of Place is an ideal theme to celebrate the innovative and singular ways we all think about our own ‘places’, whether a personal interpretation or a particular location in our world. Viewing this exciting group of diverse works will open up our minds to possibilities which is what all good art experiences ensure.”
WALA at is located at 225 Wilson Avenue but the entrance is behind the building, off Ely Avenue. For more information: email [email protected] (Nancy McTague-Stock) or [email protected] (Lori Glavin).