In 1703 Rosalba Carriera started using pastels as her primary medium to paint portraits that became phenomenally popular in Paris, France. Flash forward 307 years to the Irene B. French Community Center Gallery of Art in Merriam, Kan., and the 2010 National Juried Exhibition spearheaded by the MidAmerica Pastel Society. The exhibit is up through Sept. 25.
The crowd flowed around the art hanging in the gallery, admiring color, texture, the play of light and shadows in pieces so diverse. There are landscapes, but even in that word, there is no justice in that diversity. There are images of pastoral farmland, forests in various seasons and distant lands. There are several portraits and images of flowers and fruit. However, these descriptions are just so basic compared to standing in front of them. It really is something that needs to be done, especially in light of how pastels are seen.
Again, the colors are rich, vibrant and sometimes startling. So forget what we have come to see pastel as. It’s not light, often-weak colors at the exhibition. A little more than 200 works from 83 artists were sent to pastelist and juror Lorenzo Chavez for judging. Chavez, considered by many art critics and writers, as the premier West pastel artist, narrowed down the submissions. He selected the “Best of Show” and other awards that need to be chosen in person. The exhibition features 75 works from 49 artists. Artists from Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Wyoming, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas and Missouri are represented in the gallery space.
Remember pastel paints can come in a rigid stick or a fine powder. Probably the most used are the soft pastel sticks that are easily smudged. Feeback say pastel painting and drawing is a tactile process. Harder pastels are often used for fine details outlines and adding accents. Examples of all these strokes and ideas are part of the exhibit.
At the awards reception, Chavez says he was so impressed with the high caliber of pastels submitted to the exhibition. “It was a very hard job to select among these works. You all are the ambassadors to the pastel medium. We are part of an art movement that’s coming into its own. The true capabilities of pastels are coming out now with new techniques, new colors and new approaches. I would venture to say that more people are working in the medium than ever before.”
The exhibition organizers, Karen Johnson and Loreta Feeback, presented 23 awards to the artists. Two of the top four awards went to two local artists. Angela Blanchard from Shawnee, Kan., took the Buttonwood Art of Life Award 2010 for her work titled, “Cael’s Nest.” It’s a trio of vibrant blue eyes settled in a nest of grays, browns, yellows, whites and reds against an elegantly and probably deceptively simple background that appears almost stone-like.
The Art Spectrum Donna Aldridge Award went to Rick Hines, who had three works accepted to the show. His work titled “Monk” captured the prize. Hines started pastel work seriously in 1996. “I have drawn since childhood. There was a time in high school I painted with oils, but really I have always drawn. So pastel just was natural for me. I like drawing and then the chance to take pastels to add that color … I love the vibrancy.”
By profession, Hines is a hairstylist. One of his clients’ sons travels all over the world and had shown some of the images to Hines. After a brief discussion, Hines was given the go-ahead to use the photos and create his work. “The Monk” shows a teenaged-looking boy in the bright orange of a Buddhist monk. The folds and creases of his robe are clear, as is the determined look. The temple behind him is detailed. “I am totally shocked to have won in a national show. It’s just wonderful. I renew some of my pastel supplies. It’s also encouragement to continue working.” Hines says he is currently working on several landscapes.
So the advice to all those art lovers out there, visit and walk away with a better and deeper appreciation of pastels. The gallery is open as part of the community center.
Here are the top 23 awards, artists and titles so visitors know what to look for:
- Lisa K. Stauffer, “Oasis II,” MidAmerica Pastel Society Award
- Elaine Lierly Jones, “Overlooking Kill Creek,” Images Art Gallery Award
- Marilee Means, “Snowstorm Bull,” Southeastern Pastel Society Award
- Loreta Feeback, “Flaming Mask,” Pastel Society of New Mexico Award
- Donna Aldridge, “The Sentinels,” Pastel Society of the West Coast Award
- Gary Baughman, “95 in the Shade,” UART Pastel Paper Award
- Richard Hayek, “January Thaw,” Pastel Society of America Award
- Donna Yeager, “Foggy Day,” Pan Pastels Award
- Michael Walsh, Home,” The Verner Strand Memorial Award
- Tracy L. Teeter, “All An Illusion,” Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff Award and Girault Pastels Award
- Gary Ozias, “Season’s Change,” Jack Richeson & Co. Award
- Tricia Kaman, “Scottish Hat,” Jack Richeson & Co. Award
- Sangita Phadke, “Black & Red Grapes,” Guerilla Painter LLC Award
- Beverly Nichols, “Chair No. 1,” Heilman Designs Award
- Beverly Carden Amundson, “Slice of Summer,” Canson Inc. Award
- Karen Lyman, “Winter Reflections,” The Ettinger-Roush Memorial Award
- Ray Hassard, “It’s So Hard to Decide,” Savoir-Faire Award
- John Roush, “One Mile East,” Great American Art Works
- Mary Pritchard, “Red Reflection,” Terry Ludwig Award
- Angela Blanchard, “Cael’s Nest,” Buttonwood Art of Life Award 2010
- Rick Hines, “The Monk,” The Art Spectrum Donna Aldridge Award
- Derek Wilkinson, “Self-Portrait with Coffee,” Best of Show