Marginalized artists bloom later in life at Bill Lowe Gallery
by Nedra Rhone
As early as she can remember, Donna Horn, had an affinity for art. As a child, she would draw, paint and craft all sorts of artistic things. But other than a few courses in college, Horn grew up and left the past in the past.
She built a career in marketing, working for banks and advertising agencies. She got married. She had kids. And at some point she realized she was no longer satisfied with what she was doing. When she and her family moved to Atlanta in the early 1990s, Horn took a new path. She went back to school to get a degree not in art, but art education.
"I was trying to do something that I thought was practical," said Horn, 59, of Buckhead. "I finished the degree and student taught, and I realized I don’t really want to do this."
Horn, who was in her 40s at the time, had to face destiny. She wanted, she needed, to be an artist.
Today Horn's work is on view in the exhibition "Irascible Muse" at Bill Lowe Gallery, featuring the work of 17 artists, all members of the Fine Arts Atelier. The two-year-old group is run by artist Michael David, a painter and photographer who has exhibited at Bill Lowe Gallery since 1999 and whose work is part of permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York among other institutions. He said the atelier resonates with an overlooked group of artists.
"What I tapped into was this demographic of women who were 40 to 60 years old. Previously, this demographic had been marginalized as hobbyists, part-time painters or Sunday painters, but they are not," David said. "As soon as they were taken seriously ... the work becomes very strong."
The group of mostly women have immersed themselves in art, painting 30 to 40 hours a week, encouraging one another through critiques and friendly competition, and being open to David's method of instruction. When an artist demonstrates a particular tendency, David exposes the artist to other artists with a similar style. He gets to know the artists at the atelier intimately and helps them uncover the process and materials to match their internal motivations.
"I have had people teach me technique. I’ve done critiques with other artists, but nobody really communicated a level of seriousness about the work that wasn’t B.S.," said Horn. "I have watched [David] with each artist, helping them develop their own style."
Horn's triptych, inspired by her study of sunflowers, reflects the confidence she has acquired under David's tutelage. "I realized that I could express myself in a way that was not totally abstract or totally representational, but somewhere in between," Horn said.
Also in the show is Barbara Brenner, who once used garbage, gift wrap, seashells and copper pipe as materials for creative expression before she discovered encaustic, a method of painting that uses heated wax mixed with pigment. Years ago, the former executive for Coca-Cola began collecting art. She first encountered Michael David's work at Bill Lowe Gallery and developed a fascination with encaustic. She took some of David's workshops and ultimately became a founding member of the atelier group.
When Bill Lowe came to the gallery to critique her work, they were both nervous, said Brenner,60, of Sandy Springs. How could she introduce her self as an artist to someone she had known for years as a gallery owner? The critique proved painless; Lowe appreciated her work and today Brenner is one of seven artists from the atelier under contract with Bill Lowe Gallery.
"Being at this gallery is truly validation that I am an artist," Brenner said. "And it is something I have always wanted to be." Those feelings of validation have also come in the form of sales. Several featured artists have seen their work sell at prices ranging from $5,000 to $14,000, an unprecedented amount for emerging artists in Atlanta, David said.
Erika Page, 39, who has sold several pieces from the exhibition, had no formal exposure to art until her 30s. The warden's daughter from a small-town in Louisiana would tell anyone who asked that she wanted to be an artist when she grew up. But after witnessing her mother struggle to raise three kids post-divorce, Page went for a more stable career in the health care industry.
She arrived at the atelier last year, having painted on and off through various jobs and motherhood solely to satisfy her own urges. Her work, inspired by her life, begins with journal entries, which she then translates into abstract organizations of colors and patterns using paint and cold wax mixed with oil. "A lot of it for me as a woman is wanting to have a voice for people who do the same thing over and over -- the grinding sameness of a task that you get little appreciation or money for," Page said.
That kind of life experience is a rich source of inspiration for the women in the group, and one of their greatest assets. "All the life skills they developed made them able to multitask, organize and work hard, so much better than any 20-year-old college student trying to find his way,” David said. And reconnecting with their passion for art has also transported many of them back to their younger selves.
Ellen DeLoach, 56, of Acworth, recalled her first painting in high school – a bowl of fruit, which she still has today. "I keep it as a reminder of where I've been and where I am today," DeLoach said. The Cobb County native married young, had children and took 13 years to find the courage to leave a life she knew wasn't working. Making strides in her career helped propel her forward, as did conquering breast cancer at age 34. "I feel like what I am painting right now, what I am doing right now is helping me tell my story," DeLoach said.
She hopes gallery visitors see strength in the figurative females that comprise her Book of Ruth series of paintings. "I hope my viewers see these women not as victims, but as survivors who may have seen tough things in their lives but have overcome it and grown and moved on," she said.
And hopefully, like their real-life counterparts at the atelier, they have transitioned into the women they were truly meant to be.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 20,