Autumn is a time of year for gathering. We harvest the last of the crops lingering in the fields, storing up supplies to get us through the winter. After a summer’s wanderings we return to our schools and our workplaces, gathering with our friends and colleagues. As the nights grow early and cold we gather in our homes with our families. And when the holidays come we celebrate with parties and feasts. Five Artspan artists explore their own idea of what it means to gather.
For Michael Harrison, we’re all brought together by the light. “The essence of Gathering at Sanctuary is that whether we acknowledge it or not, we all live in 'the sacrament of the present moment,' that reality of the momentous, which has always been evidenced by light. It is part of our very nature to be both drawn to and gathered up in that light. All works of art, whether painting or artifact, rely on the relationship and interplay of light. I would like to think that my work goes a little further in that the work, whether landscape or interior, is absorbed by and radiates it. By doing so the light attracts, engages and hopefully enriches the viewer.” Harrison leaves a space in the row of spectators so that “the viewer is invited (albeit subliminally) to occupy the space and participate in the enlightening experience.” He uses a palette range of brilliant tones similar to those used by15th century Renaissance artists and an impasto technique “layered to create additional sense of glorious immediacy.”
In Robert Beck’s intriguing painting Story, we feel outside of the circle of warmth, observing it from above, but this only serves to make the scene seem more intimate, intriguing and appealing. Beck says, “I’ve been intending to paint the image of an outdoor, night, farm-family dinner for a while - waiting to employ it with the right combination of challenges. The title, Story, refers both to how the people at the table are listening to the older man, and the way the image invites the viewer to piece together his or her own version of what is going on. Three generations gather in a timeless scene. It speaks to relationships, to family, to stages of life. The trapezoidal shape echoes and enhances the fan of third-point perspective verticals. The viewer is anonymous, in position to observe the quiet emotions of the eleven figures. The unconventional shape feels distorted and unsettling, almost a dreamlike out-of-body moment. It is not necessarily real. There is no one kind of family - they are all different in many ways - but there are universal truths as well. The painting has a number of elements to consider, and regardless of whether they resonate out of familiarity or contrast, it’s the consideration that is important.”
Deborah Stevenson’s piece, Mixed Company, combines wit and social commentary to bring us a gathering that spans centuries. She collects images to form an unlikely combination that provokes us to ask questions about pictures that have become so familiar we almost don’t see them any more. Stevenson “juxtaposes Renoir’s classic Luncheon of the Boating Party with an image sourced from a mid-century magazine ad for cigarettes. The fit was so perfect between the two, composing itself before my eyes and hands. It is the classic versus the crass. A lot of my work reflects my sense that there is an erosion of grace in our culture and in our sensibilities, so there is a note of nostalgia in this piece. The work I do in collage is highly intuitive, as was true with the great surrealists’ work, which I am continually surprised and inspired by.”
Ann Marie Whaley tells the story of people gathering for a formal occasion who share an unexpected, beautiful moment that brings them closer together in celebration than their original reason for coming together could have done. “The drawing, Torch Parade was made in response to a memorable evening at Lyme Regis, on the South coast of England. I joined a casual gathering of several hundred local people and tourists on the beach. People were spread out over a large area – some playing football in the sand, or finishing picnics and others, like me, were just waiting for the torch parade and lighting of the beacons. The date was 4 June 2012, high summer in England, when the days are long, and night never really comes. We were there to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, and there was a sense of shared anticipation. The colours began to fade as the sun set behind us and it seemed the only light came from the flaming torches. Suddenly the moon began to rise over the sea; it was huge and bright, and it took us by surprise. As a group, we moved cautiously toward the water’s edge, as if to test the reality of the unplanned spectacle that we shared.”
James Freeman’s painting Garden Sanctuary Pass shows no people at all, and yet it feels like a place of gathering, paths come together to create a space where you feel people might meet as well. The scene is inviting, full of potential and life, despite its quiet stillness. “Garden Sanctuary Pass reflects on the special spots that I find once in a great while on my hiking journeys, and is a compilation from memories and dreams. It is the kind of enchanted place that, although is the middle of intersecting pathways, hints at being richly storied and seems to invite passerby to gather, reflect, explore or share a meal in this outdoor livingroom with a view. I had a lot of fun creating the spatial terracing, the stone steps and ladders leading to an extreme foreground lawn terrace overlooking a juniper arbor through which to view a hilly prairie pond in filtered pre storm light. When on backpacking trips with my group, we’ve come upon a few of these rare views along the trail where we camped, had a fire and made good memories. Those are the sites I remember, the ones that also filter into my dreams. I don’t encumber these landscapes with people and narrative, instead inviting the viewer to be the person in the landscape, making their own narrative on the spur of my vaguely implied narrative.”
A humans, we gather images to create stories, we connect stories to make culture and history. We’re all connected to each other in surprising ways, just as we’re connected to the world around us. People need connections, and we will always find ways to come together, to gather.
Thank you to everyone who sent work for consideration for this article. I enjoyed looking through the submissions, and I’ve included all of them in a collection called Gathering. If you’d like me to add your work to the collection, send it to me at Claire@artspan.com.