Artists get asked a lot of questions, but one of the most common just might be: What inspires you to create? In preparation for In the Mood, Rowe Fine Art Gallery’s latest show, which opens with a reception on Friday, August 4, at 4 p.m., the gallery posed that very question to its own family of painters, sculptors and jewelers. As it turns out, inspiration can result in either a specific artwork or just the drive to spend time in the studio.
Navajo stone sculptor Alvin Marshall gets in the mood to create by waking up early, a practice his ancestors taught him. “As a Native American, I was told to rise before the sun, to welcome the sunrise and give the evening light blessings that you might awake in the morning and start all over,” says Alvin. “In my tradition, my work reflects the songs and the prayers that were set by my ancestors’ grandfathers’ grandmothers. I turn those songs and prayers into sculptures – living stones, living stories. And I’m always motivated by the activities of the seasons: the weather, the people and nature itself.”
Spending time in nature is what sparks painter John Rasberry to create, too, which isn’t surprising given John’s subject: landscapes. “Being outdoors and seeing the wonders of nature – light, shadow, color, contrast, and interesting, out-of-the-way places – always inspires me and stirs my creative spirit. There are so many artists who I admire, old masters and newcomers with representational and contemporary styles. Seeing their work inspires me to work harder and strive to perfect my own style.
“I’m a musician too,” John continues, “so music, all styles from French cafe, Americana, country, rock, etc., is definitely part of my inspiration and daily painting process.”
Painter Julie T. Chapman, whose work has gone through a dramatic transformation over the past few years, says she used to be inspired by nature and wildlife, too. But sometimes inspiration changes as artists evolve. “Back when I was doing more representational work, I could point to the weather as inspiration,” Julie says, “but nowadays I’d be hard-pressed to do that, given the disruption in what I do. Now, it’s more like the chaos in the world/politics/our relationships to one another and the natural world that drive my work.”
Likewise, sculptor Shirley Eichten Albrecht says her urge to create comes from more of an internal source. Shirley has to be relaxed – and fearless. “First and foremost, I can’t be stressed,” says Shirley. “I find having music playing helps me to relax and let my creative juices flow. My first figurative gourd sculpture is a very good example. A friend gave me a long slender gourd. I had never worked on something shaped like that. It sat in my studio for a year and each time I looked at it, I wondered what I would create. I began to see something figurative and Native American.
“The scariest part is always making the first cuts on the gourd,” says Shirley. “Once I did, I was committed, and I was so excited to see how I progressed. Once I got started, I found I could not stop. I became immersed in Native American culture, from weaving to clothing to the significance of various colors to storytelling. Thus, the Butterfly Maiden was born. The final piece of art was beyond my expectations.”
Other artists point to specific moments – happy and sad – that inspired artwork. For sculptor Liam Herbert, the passing of his mother-in-law completely changed the course of his life.
“As an artist, I have explored many mediums to express the entire gamut of life’s emotions,” reflects Liam. “Originally, my sculptural mediums included wood, mixed-media and bronze.
“That expanded when my wife’s mother passed away unexpectedly. Overwhelmed with grief, Sylvia and I attended a bereavement group for six weeks. I mentioned to the group that by the time I finished the course, I would create a wearable sculpture expressing what we were experiencing.
“I began carving a very small sculpture in wax, based on a seventeen-foot-tall sculpture I carved in wood in 1969. I had no idea where or how to produce this as a pendant. Months later, Sylvia and I were at a friend’s home for a celebration of life gathering where I mentioned to one of the guests that I was creating a wearable sculpture. As it turned out, the man I was talking to owned the Kick and Cast jewelry foundry in Sedona. He said, ‘We can make that for you.’
“And so my first pendant was created. I named it Rising Joy. My jewelry would not have been born if it were not for the loss of Mom.”
For several of the gallery’s artists, experiences they had in their formative years were eventually expressed as artworks. “As a young person, I remember having an unbelievable experience in the greater Yellowstone area,” reflects sculptor Joel Petersen. “I actually watched a grizzly bear catching and eating cutthroat trout on Soda Butte Creek. At the time, I thought grizzlies only dined on salmon. It was quite an amazing experience. Fast forward years later, and my bronze, Breakfast at Soda Butte Creek, is a direct reflection of that morning in Wyoming.”
Joel’s son, painter and sculptor Erik Petersen, also mentions Wyoming as having an impact on his creativity. “I’ve been going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a couple of times a year for the last few years,” he says. “Seeing the mountains and rivers instantly makes me think about painting. I love being in Yellowstone with no cell phone reception and thinking about nothing else in life except finding a moose or a grizzly bear or a bull elk standing in front of the Tetons.”
Painter Jen Farnsworth couldn’t agree more. “Observing wildlife always puts me in the mood to paint,” she says. “I try to start each day early and outside, just quietly observing and listening. These morning observations and the beauty all around us here in Sedona inspire me to paint. It was on one of these mornings that I watched the small coyote who I call Diana (after Wonder Woman) as she quietly slipped into the yard for a quick drink of water. Her beautiful and shy demeanor immediately inspired me to paint her.”
Sculptor Ken Rowe also treasures the opportunity to get close to the animals he sculpts. “There’s an amazing array of animals I’ve had the absolute honor of working with, from wolves to grizzlies to mountain lions to rhinos,” he says. “In many cases, I’ve been able to handle the animal and then sculpt as I observe it right in front of me. It’s hard to describe how amazing it is to handle an animal like a grizzly, to feel its strength, see the texture of its hair, to feel the power of its breath on you.”
It’s not a grizzly that comes to mind when we ask Kim Kori about moments that put her in the mood to sculpt. Instead, she’s thinking about flora. And she explains that sometimes several moments of inspiration find expression in a single work of art.
“I have always had a fascination with mushrooms,” Kim admits. “Living in the dry Arizona climate, I don’t get to experience them often. But when we have steady rain, I find several different types growing under the trees where I live. I have a special memory of traveling through Italy and seeing a little old man emerge from the forest with a basket of huge portobello mushrooms and a big smile on his face.
“I use mushrooms often in my sculptures,” Kim continues. “Mushroom Hugger depicts a tree frog hugging a mushroom, just as a tree hugger might hug a tree. I was able to combine my love of mushrooms, frogs and trees in this piece.”
And then there’s painter Lynn Heil, who says these days he’s gaining a better understanding of inspiration by putting down his paintbrush instead of picking it up. “Lately I’ve been exploring creativity by not creating anything,” he says. “I’ve found it refreshing and at times necessary to step back, clear the mind and just observe while considering some ‘what ifs’ in the artistic process.”
Come meet some of the gallery’s artists and see their latest works during In the Mood. The show runs through August. It’s the continuation of a year-long celebration of the art of storytelling. When you come right down to it, artists are storytellers, using paint, clay and precious metals the same way a writer uses words. There’s a story behind each of the paintings, sculptures and pieces of jewelry in the gallery – stay tuned as some of those stories are told throughout the year.
Rowe Fine Art Gallery represents traditional and contemporary southwestern artists. The gallery, located under the bell tower in Patio de las Campanas at Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village, is open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 928-282-8877, visit rowegallery.com, or find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.