Art evokes a Trove of memory and humor
Most visual artists wish to evoke emotion when viewers see their works.
Local oil painters Ben Steele and Wendy Chidester are no different. Although their pieces are different in appearance and philosophy, their works touch both their longtime fans and newcomers on different levels, and the public will get a chance to have their own experience with their works when the painters team up for a new exhibit that opens at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 17, at Trove Gallery.
Steele mixes classical and pop
Ben Steele, who will have nine paintings at the Trove show, feature his trademark style of showcasing significant and historic works from the history of art with modern scenes — like when he puts the “Mona Lisa” on a crayon box.
“I started just by painting boxes of crayons, and then I thought I should paint coloring book pages, but I didn’t want people to mistake the works for kids images,” he said. “So I decided to make it more interesting and paint the ‘Mona Lisa’ on a crayon box. Of course, I chose the ‘Mona Lisa,’ the most famous painting ever and put it on the crayons.”
From there, things started to snowball.
“I remember going to the store and while I was waiting in the check-out line, I noticed some PEZ candy dispensers,” Steele said. “I thought I could put a famous piece of art on a PEZ, and then I thought, ‘what if I put a famous art-history image on a barn?’ And things kept expanding until I realized I could do all kinds of images.”
One of the new works is a painting of a pine tree car air freshener that sports the face of the late painting icon Bob Ross.
“I told my wife I was going to do one with those pine-tree air fresheners you have in your car, because I think those are funny,” Steele said. “I liked that I could paint an air freshener that would substitute one of the real trees in a landscape. Then I thought it would be funny to paint Bob Ross’ face on one of those air fresheners. So I did that.”
Like Chidester, Steele is an oil painter.
“Oil paint is a tricky medium to get used to because there are a lot of variables … it doesn’t dry quickly,” he said. “On the flip side is that it has tremendous workability, because I can work on a painting for several hours. But if I wanted to dry it quickly, I can set it in the window and have the sun bake it for a while.”
While Steele doesn’t sketch before he begins to paint, he does look for references when he starts a work.
“I usually see the images in my mind and I try to do it,” he said. “I will set up a still life and then paint an image into it. Sometimes I’ll see a scene on the internet and I’ll paint it and paint a famous image into it. Hopefully that concept behind my work gives it a theme that holds it all together, rather than the images looking all the same. That helps me because I don’t get bored and people can’t really pigeonhole me, because I use all kinds of styles.”
Chidester destroys and rebuilds
Wendy Chidester’s inspiration comes from objects from days gone by.
“The objects in my paintings have been lost and forgotten throughout time — typewriters, old tricycles and things like that,” she said. “So I try to resurrect these items and give them a new life. In doing so, hopefully I evoke some memories in the people that see the work.”
The painter uses color and shadow to create an emotional impact.
“I try to stage the work so it looks as dramatic as possible from a single light source, and I think the biggest challenge is to find a background color that works,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll try different colors and then go to black, which really adds to the drama. Sometimes dark colors touch a person’s history. The image seems to emerge out of a memory.”
Chidester also relies on highlights to bring the object into focus.
“I want the image to sing,” she said. “Even though I’ve been painting the highlights throughout the process, I really want them to really pop and give the painting a sparkle at the end.”
The painter doesn’t start a work with sketches or drawings, which adds to her creative process.
“I just change things and try to get the right composition as I go along,” Chidester said. “Some artists are direct painters, but I’m one who layers and glazes and then layers some more. I’ll try to destroy the surface and bring it back to life and destroy it again.”
A Wendy Chidester work can have up to 10 layers of paint before the artist deems it finished.
“In doing so, I give age and wear of the object I’m painting,” she said. “My paintings are realistic, but when you get close to them, you can see how abstract they are.
“There are scratches, flecks of paint and other mark making that is done on the canvas during the process.”
Chidester enjoys this process.
“It’s fun to destroy and inflict pain on the work and then bring the highlights back,” she said.
The artist said the Trove exhibit will feature some surprises.
“I’ll sometimes feature several of the same objects in different paintings, but this show will be different because there are some paintings that have items in my collection that I haven’t painted before. So I’m having fun and hope to surprise people who are familiar with my work.”
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