By Betsy DiJulio
James Warwick Jones, gallery manager of Charles H. Taylor Arts Center, took an hour or so to engage with me via email about “Artists Who Teach,” the Center’s current exhibition. As a practicing artist, teacher, and curator, Jones brings a unique perspective to this popular long-standing show that recognizes educators for their studio practice.
BD: The “Artists Who Teach” (ATW) exhibition includes both public and private school K-12 art educators, as well as college professors, public and private. Generally speaking, what differences, if any, do you perceive between the personal studio practices of the elementary educators, secondary educators, and college professors. How about between educators in public vs. private institutions?
JWJ: I think the challenge for almost all artists is finding the time and energy to devote to their own art making. When I was teaching in the public schools I spent practically no time in my studio during the school year, and then for the summer break I spent many long days into the night in a flurry of painting. Now I tend to work an hour or several at a time, either before or after my full time job or on weekends as life allows. I don’t really have any hard data but I believe the practice is probably the same for many of the educators out there. Generally I would think the college professors might spend more time in the studio.
BD: I know this show has continued for many years at CHTAC. Will you tell us about when it began, as well as sharing what general trends you’ve noted over the show’s lifetime? I’m interested to know, in particular, how the work relates both to the context of the local art scene as well as the larger contemporary art world.
JWJ: I found files for a version of our Artists Who Teach Exhibition going back to 1992, so at least twenty-four years. During my ten year tenure it has grown from an open exhibition with 80 artworks by 80 artists to a juried exhibition with 159 entries by 89 artists and $850 in awards. As the art departments in both the public schools and the colleges and universities have become larger and stronger over those years, so has the breadth and quality of the artwork in AWT. Quite a few of these artists/educators are included in other curated and juried exhibitions and garner awards here at Charles H. Taylor Art Center (CHTAC) and other venues in Hampton Roads, not to mention faculty exhibitions at their own institutions. Several also exhibit statewide, nationally or even internationally in juried or invitational exhibitions or commercial galleries.
BD: In terms of media and strengths, how does drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, digital work, etc. stack up against each other among these educators?
JWJ: In terms of media, paintings represented almost 40 % of the entries. There is a wide range of style and content including some painters showing here for the first time. Photography is another strong category and represented the next largest number of entries. This is always a strong category in almost all juried exhibitions. For me, I especially enjoyed the drawing category, which had almost as many entries as photography. Three were recognized by the juror with awards.
BD: James, in addition to managing CHTAC, you have an active studio practice while also teaching painting to adults in the CHTAC studios. Will you share your personal perspective on the relationship between making art and teaching others to make it?
JWJ: For me, painting is solitary and introspective, working quietly in the studio, creating and expressing what I am thinking and feeling, looking inward, lost in my own world. It’s my time.
It’s very personal. On the other hand, teaching is a group experience, almost constantly talking, imparting information and ideas either with the class or an individual student. Asking questions, what are you trying to express, what do you like, what do you think? It’s about the students and helping them learn and achieve what they are after in their painting. Conveying what I have learned over the years in classes, by studying, from art history, by painting, and by teaching.
I like to tell stories that communicate an idea or make a point. I stress originality, finding your own voice, content and style, whatever it may be. I am very interested in composition in my own painting and stress that in my classes. I also like to make it enjoyable and fun; but my goal is to help each student to be the best painter she or he can be. As a curator and gallery manager, I also like to talk about practical things like matting and framing, photographing your paintings, and installing hanging hardware. For me, one of the attractions of painting is leaving something that will last in the future, and teaching is another way to do that. I like to think of a teaching thread running from the cavemen, though Leonardo, Thomas Eakins, and Joseph Albers to today’s students and into the future. Over the years I have loved all my careers in the arts, but for now, teaching has become my favorite.
BD: This popular show has continued for over two decades unchanged, but CHTAC decided to cast the net a bit wider this year. Will you explain what you did and why?
JJ: This year, for the first time, we invited the art departments at the colleges and universities on the south side of Hampton Roads to participate. To include them we also changed the process. In the past, any instructors at the peninsula’s four institutions could each submit up to three artworks to be selected by the juror. Because of the anticipated increase in the number of entries, we invited each of the art departments to select seven entries to represent their schools. We wanted to expand the artist base and include more and new artists and the range of the artwork.
BD: How did this change alter the overall look, feel, and quality of the show?
JJ: It gave the show a new look with new faces by adding pieces from 22 south Hampton Roads faculty members in addition to the 23 instructors from the peninsula. Several were exhibiting here for the first time, which met one of our goals of attracting new artists. In terms of media, we had works in glass and letterpress for the first time in this show. The contingent from south Hampton Roads raised both the diversity and quality of the artwork in an already strong exhibition.
BD: What three or so pieces are standouts in your mind and what sets them apart?
JJ: This year, I thought drawing was one of the highlights. I echo the juror’s selection of Barbara Hennig-Loomis’ The Garden, The Wall for First Place. This masterful silverpoint drawing shows a command of this very early drawing media and technique and gives a nod to art history and Flemish artists like Jan Van Eyck yet at the same time has a very contemporary feel. Barbara Stephenson’s accomplished drawing, Five Stages of Grief, has a Tromp L’oeil effect with a mysterious combination of praying mantis, bees exploring five mysterious bundles wrapped in drapery and tied with twine, vines or string. What does it all mean? A couple of my other favorites were Robert Oppecker’s Kiddush Cup, handsome, flowing, and organic swirls of forms hand crafted in Argentium silver; and Nikki Webb’s miniature twin cabinet of drawers faced and filled to over-flowing with Asian patterned papers. Special mention also to the works by Brian Kreydatus, Michael Gaynes, Mary Lee Ruff, Christi Harris, Clay McGlamory and Greg Henry.
BD: Is there anything else you would like VEER readers to know about the show?
JJ: I wanted to mention the John A. Lee: Defeating the Studio exhibition as a result of his first place award in last’s year’s AWT. Visit our website for more information about this, other upcoming exhibitions, and our spring and summer art classes. Plus, we offer free admission!
WANT TO SEE?
Artists Who Teach
Through May 1
Charles H. Taylor Art Center
4205 Victoria Boulevard, Hampton, VA
757-727-1490 / www.HamptonArts.net