Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Spelman Evans Downer, Stephen Jennings & Robert Morris

The first weekend of the Art Tours has come and gone, and we are gearing up for the final weekend.  Mike Lipsitz writes about one of the venues this coming weekend.
Turquoise South - Spelman Downer's studio.
Spelman Evans Downer sits at or very near the top of Morongo Basin’s art scene. This is true both figuratively and literally as anyone who’s ever had the good fortune to visit Turquoise South his hilltop studio on the Mesa will attest.  Downer traditionally exhibits a sampling of his most recent works for Hwy 62 Art Tours, and he taps one or two of the area’s most promising, newer artists to spotlight as well. Showing alongside Spelman Evans Downer at location #39 this year are Robert Morris and Stephen Jennings.

Spelman Evans Downer 
A visual artist, art educator, and mentor, Professor Downer is head of the Copper Mountain College Art Department. His creativity is expressed through his paintings, photography and large-scale earthworks; some pieces are a combination of these. They are priced between $100 and $4,000 with most pieces falling in the middle of that range.
To label his stunningly beautiful and original paintings “landscapes” would be misleading. Landscapes connote an interpretation of the world seen at ground level. Downer has spent more than 30 years studying and photographing geography and topography from the air and then expressing his impressions in poured enamel.
Spelman Downer.   Proto Colorado River, poured enamel.

The results are reminiscent of high altitude satellite images. They connote organic landforms that simultaneously appear both static and fluid. I am reminded of looking down from a passenger plane and experiencing the illusion that rivers, highways and cities appear both completely still and dynamic.
Downer spends summers at his studio and gallery, Turquoise North, on the banks of the Kenai River in Cooper Landing Alaska. Among the newer pieces he’ll show on the Hwy 62 Art Tours are poured enamel paintings inspired by running and fishing Alaskan rivers. They are studies of deep blue currents, cool and swift; so intense is their attraction, the waters seeming flow off and away from the medium. Among other recent work is a grouping inspired by the Transverse Ranges, coastal mountains of southern California than run from Santa Barbara to San Diego in an East-West orientation. They are part of what he envisions will one day be anchored by enormous, museum scale works.
Spelman Downer.  Southern California, poured enamel.
Spelman is also showing new pieces from his widely admired ‘Earth Mother’ body of work, photographic nudes in framed collages that encompass expressions of his earthwork techniques. Prolific, beautiful and technically superior, do not overlook this stop.

Stephen Jennings
Stephen Jennings is one of two guest artists showing this year at Downer’s Turquoise South. A recent student of Professor Downer and two-time winner of the Copper Mountain College Art Department’s RGB Multimedia Competition, photographer Stephen Jennings began exploiting his creative aspirations only last year.  He has never shown in the Hwy 62 Art Tours; aside from the college, he’s never exhibited his work at all.  He says he’s experiencing some pressure associated with this first exhibition.
The 58-year-old recalls his early artistic expressions, “I used to ditch high school to go down and paint the beach,” says Stephen, who was raised in Huntington Beach.  “I always wanted to be an artist,” he adds. 
A carpenter by trade, he moved his wife and daughters to Joshua Tree in 1981 and made a living working his craft mostly in the lower desert. The progressive effects of rheumatoid arthritis forced Jennings to retire a year ago.  He saw the sudden luxury of free time as an opportunity to explore his interest in art more deeply.
“I’ve always taken photographs,” Jennings explains. “But now I can concentrate on it.”
Steve Jennings.  "Duchamps."  Digital photography
He has completed two of Downer’s digital photography courses. He uses a Digital Nikon D80 and shoots nearly every day. He then uses Photoshop to stitch individual frames of nature into great panoramas, some of them in vertical format, an execution we’ve not seen before. "Photoshop amazes me,” says Jennings. “Part of the plan is not to be obvious.”
Among Stephen Jennings beautiful photographs is a mixed media collage he calls “Worn Tools.” It is hideous, fascinating and is in juxtaposition with his photographs. The piece incorporates a severed arm, construction hardhat, worn hand tools and other unfinished elements. He tries explaining the concept.
 “I want to capture natural beauty, but there’s so much baggage contaminating it,” he explains. “I can’t ignore that. The piece is an expression of the contamination I find in everything beautiful.” 
Steve Jennings "Worn Tools"  Assemblage.
At the time of our interview, his works had not yet been hung for the exhibit. Jennings tries again to explain the contamination theme. For me, the concept remains elusive; perhaps I am too thick to get it. The plan is to “contaminate the exhibit with other elements” prior to the studio tours. Perhaps you will “get it,” I remain quite content with the beauty of Stephen Jennings’ photography prior to contamination.

Robert Morris 
Robert Morris is the other guest artist invited to show this year at Spelman Downer’s Turquoise South. A lifelong resident of Santa Barbara, Morris relocated to Joshua Tree five years ago when he retired. He takes pictures in a standard medium format which he scans, adjusts using Photoshop, and prints at home on an Epson 2200.
Robert Morris.   Digital Photography.
His technical skills are self-taught; while his love of art and his degree in art history are reflected  in his photographs. Robert Morris has done some freelance work for publication, and has previously shown at The 29 Palms Inn and at the offices of the Hi-Desert Water District. This is his first time exhibiting on the Hwy 62 Art Tours; he will show two series all representing subjects photographed throughout California and Arizona over the last five years. All of his works are matted and framed in a 16 x 20 format and are offered for about $250 apiece.
The series he calls “Singular Structures” is a delightful collection of architectural oddities, mostly structures built between the 1930s and 1950s. The subjects include mostly exteriors of cocktail lounges, theaters, motels, and gas stations. Many are art deco style, all share brilliant, still and capture cool color motifs of the period.
Robert Morris second series are works that he calls collectively “Idiosyncratica Deserta.” Inspired by his regular hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, this is a series of composites.
His own description captures their essence quite well:

I see things that other people don’t. Not infrequently have I discovered artifacts such as stone temples, tombs, statues, pleasure palaces, or even industrial buildings, some of them intact and some in ruins. The sound of splashing water might lead me to a lovely fountain adorned with sculpture. Occasionally I’ll come upon a naked goddess in her glory, a nymph lurking amongst the rocks, or perhaps a priestess performing strange rites. Saints, angels, and other portentous personages peer down at me from their perches in grottos hewn from granite walls. ... Sometimes these desert visions recall myths of various cultures, or they bring to mind themes from well-known or obscure works of art or literature.
Robert Morris.  Digital Photography

 Morris goes on to explain how he sees it his social responsibility to expose these apparitions to others in hopes they will offer others “a modicum of edification, bewilderment, or amusement."  He says that "some are sublimely spiritual whilst others are supremely silly.” He stresses that he must leave it to the viewer to decide which ones are which.

Spelman Evans Downer, Stephen Jennings and Robert Morris will show their works on the second weekend of the Hwy 62 Art Tours, October 30th & 31st.  Don’t let the final weekend pass you by without treating yourself to the delights that hang in Turquoise South, stop # 39.

written by Mike Lipsitz

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