Josette Urso: Unexpected

"I am more interested in chasing something down, discovering, working back and forth between observation and invention, representation and abstraction." - Josette Urso

  Beach Day,  2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

Beach Day, 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

New York-based artist Josette Urso returns home to Tampa Bay, fall of 2017, with an assemblage of her newest works: dense, warm, romantic, evocative paintings that offer a view of a landscape that appears to fully unfold the more time spent with each painting. 

Well placed at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Urso’s paintings showcase her self-stated approach to painting involving “ ‘moment-to-moment’ extrapolation where the contrasts and cross-fertilizations are cumulative, non-linear, free flowing and interpretive.”  Urso’s landscapes are not representative but contain recognizable forms and shapes. The paintings capture a state of in-between with the viewer and the artist’s physical environment. Her titles -Sky Walk, Beach Day, Amber Sea - allow the viewer to evoke their own connection with a favorite painting. 

Urso still considers Tampa home after being raised and educated there through graduate school, but resides in New York, and travels frequently creating new works. Her artwork is full of energy and movement, much like the artist herself. Urso is a full-time artist, and prepares her environment to maximize creativity. Her studio design allows her to bring the outside in for inspiration; she keeps a collage at the ready for work, on a day when interruptions are too frequent for painting. 

Urso is committed to her craft, presenting a full palette of color and rich artwork in each show I have had the privilege to view. St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts curator Robin O’Dell labeled the work unexpected when we were together in New York, and the term still fits for these new paintings. The Morean exhibition paintings are smaller in scale, allowing for easy shipping and a full gallery of artwork. I noticed lighter more whimsical elements than I observed in a more rushed viewing in NY - more of the unexpected. Just enjoy Boo, pictured below, and its light hearted imagery.

Urso has a demanding, one might say, enviable exhibition schedule. A hurricane - delayed opening featuring her paintings in St. Petersburg, Florida will be quickly followed by an opening of her watercolors in Germany, and another exhibition scheduled for January of 2018 in New York.

Here is an edited Q & A with Josette Urso as she answers questions about her artistic process, how location influences her work, her studio and more:

JC: I understand you have an amazing studio. Has it changed your work?

  Dragons Only , 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

Dragons Only, 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

JU: I live beyond Williamsburg on the L train, and have been out here for about ten years. I love everything about being here. The studio has had a huge impact on my work. I have walls of windows so the outside really comes in. Where I live is up on a hill, so the city swoops down; it is kind of big sky country. It is the experience of being out in the weather and in the city when I am inside. Being in here when things are happening outside is pretty amazing. 

Everything about the scale of the windows has really influenced the scale of my paintings.  When I was in my studio in Chelsea, I usually worked with my collages. I always work on several projects simultaneously and I did make some paintings based on invention. At the very tail end of my stay in Chelsea, I began to venture up to the roof and start some landscape paintings by responding to my immediate environment. 

Moving here, all of the sudden, everything about the thrust of what I was doing in the city changed. I was just very compelled to start working with my immediate surroundings. 

JC: I notice there are repetitive forms in this work, basketweave for example. Is there a particular impulse or meaning behind any forms?

  Heart Throb , 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

Heart Throb, 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

JU: I think it was just what came up in that moment, perhaps there were some wire sculptures hanging in my windows. These are very dense paintings, they are more textile in a way. 

JC: Is the work at the Morean Art Center a series, a full body of work? 

JU: A chunk of these (Morean) paintings were (painted) back to back to back. I don’t think in terms of series, more sort of an ongoing series.  I am working on paintings for a show in January. I am sure aspects of what I am thinking about now will feed into the next painting; I don’t let anything completely go. When I travel to the country and have been in the city, I always bring a little of the city with me and when I return I bring a little of the country, there is always a flow. 

I am constantly working. There is usually kind of thread in the pieces; often they are influenced by time of year. I am constantly absorbing the colors around me.

JC: You returned to Spain this year. Is this work the fruit from that time period? 

JU:  it wasn’t. I finished these paintings prior to going.  But Spain was really important; it was so interesting to go back this year. The first time I started working outside was in Spain. I arrived in ’93 or ’94 and my studio overlooked a wall. It was crazy to be inside when I was in this charming fishing village. I had been working on these small imaginary oil paintings at the time, and I thought the work would be a continuation of what I had been doing in the city but I was in a new place and working outside. I started to really absorb the place, the sounds in the harbor, the shapes of found cacti. Insects would walk across my paper and influence what I was doing. Everything about being outside started to work its way into my painting, just by chance, because I happened to be in that environment. 

My third trip there, in 2010, was when I reactivated my watercolor practice which is running parallel to my oil paintings. This summer in Spain, I worked on water color paintings outdoors. They are based very close to my oil paintings in terms of absorbing place, but not a picture of a place. I am more interested in the sensation of the overall place.  I am more interested in chasing something down, discovering, working back and forth between observation and invention, representation and abstraction. 

  Cascade Sea , 2017, Watercolor on Paper, Josette Urso

Cascade Sea, 2017, Watercolor on Paper, Josette Urso

JC: How does working outside differ from your studio? 

JU: In my studio I am looking out the window, but I am also painting indoors, so it is like indoor/outside. I am manipulating the near and the far. I hang things in the window, I make a lot of objects that I place around the studio, I have a lot of plants. So I am manipulating the space; I work very intuitively, my process is very exploratory and open ended. I can begin anywhere and end up anyplace. 

Even when I am painting outside. I am happy wherever I am plopped down; I am not one of these painters that agonize over what is the right place. Because I don’t know what I am going to find when I arrive, I guess I thrive on being as lost as possible during my process. I thrive on not knowing and looking for something. 

JC: I can’t take credit for stating your work as unexpected. Robin O’Dell, curator at the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, characterized it when we were in New York. I do strongly agree with that element of your paintings. Particularly after having viewed two exhibitions this year. 

JU: I think that is why I paint a lot when I travel. It shakes me up a lot to be in a new place. Looking for that unexpected or finding a way to surprise myself. It is really good for my work to see the world for the first time. I like a location that is punctuated by human activity, not really as much about being just in the landscape, but something happening in the landscape. 

For instance if I am sitting by the river, I am painting and chasing, chasing, chasing something all day, and maybe a red kayak passes through, all the sudden I find something. It is that something happening, that something unexpected that comes and introduces itself in a very unexpected way. I like it when I am chasing something that is moving, not a still quiet. The surprise element that you can’t predict is what I thrive on. And you have to figure out how to use it, if it is useable. 

  Boo,  2010, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

Boo, 2010, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

JC: I really enjoyed the whimsical element in some of these paintings, the pumpkin and ghost? 

JU: Yes, that piece called Boo. It is all little objects that were in my studio. The little pumpkins; I like to put out little props. And that is humor, I am looking to surprise myself when I when working. I like to keep things wobbly and off kilter. I feel when the painting starts to make me laugh it is starting to become something. Looking for that surprise and wondering if I can get away with this has an energy and life to it. When that happened it was not something I would have ever predicted I would do, but it was just so right. It was something special. 

JC: When I was at your exhibition in New York earlier this year, the canvases were larger, perhaps a little more white space in the paintings. These are very dense, full of energy and exciting.

JU: I am always working in different sizes. Partially the reason we decided to show smaller paintings was because of the shipping. To pack a large painting is very risky, I am always working in multiple sizes. Usually for a show I mix them up a little more, so I have small and large, but the larger paintings are getting harder and harder to ship because they have thick paint. 

JC: I am curious about this show title, Josette Urso: More Than Before. A mutual friend, Marilyn Mars, suggested it means you feel you still have more to do. 

JU: It represents my ever expanding love of painting. But yes, definitely more to do, I like that. Painting becomes more demanding as you continue with it. The more you know, that you don’t know yet, the more you are discovering. 

JC: Again, in the New York exhibition I visited, your drawings were part of the show. I was really attracted to them. You said at that time, drawing played a big part in your painting process. 

  Daffodil Iris Tulip,  2017, Watercolor Shellac Brush Drawing, Josette Urso

Daffodil Iris Tulip, 2017, Watercolor Shellac Brush Drawing, Josette Urso

JU: I do make drawings along side the paintings. I don’t make drawings as preparatory sketches; but when I spend time drawing, I am much freer with painting. It gets me ready for the process of painting. Drawings require intense engagement with what I am looking at; it is pure engagement with the moment to moment experience. I especially love making them with ink, because ink cannot be erased. There is something important about spending time with that kind of intense time of engagement with the world. Drawing is seeing, seeing is knowing.

I am more disciplined with drawing when I travel; I do it every morning (sometimes I do collage) and switch to painting in the afternoon. Maybe because I know if I am in Spain for two months it is such a finite period and you want to get the most out of that experience;  the drawing helps me connect quickly to the place. 

JC: How does watercolor fit into your practice? Is it equally important? 

JU: Whenever I travel I work with watercolor. It is portable, I can take a lot of paper, it dries faster.  The paint is so luscious, I can layer and layer. They are easy to bring home; it has become my travel medium. The thrust of getting back into watercolor was an invitation for a show in 2010, titled Painting Paper

I had always worked in watercolor, but they felt different, more like my drawings. They didn’t have the exploratory quality of my paintings, but now it has become more important. I have a watercolor show opening in Germany.  I am toying with the idea of piecing papers together to make larger watercolors, somewhat similar to the way (Charles) Burchfield worked. But it has turned out for now, 12 x 13, was the perfect size. At some point I am going to start exploring larger watercolors. 

JC: I know you enjoy the dedicated time available for work in a residency. Have any residencies influenced your work in any particularly way? 

JU: This summer I had a residency in Steamboat Springs - a mono print residency with Oehme Graphics and a master printer. I made some watercolor mono prints that are larger in scale. That was very valuable. I feel like I had a very productive learning summer,  valuable experiences that are feeding my work. 

JC: You are a full time artist, and have always had the opportunity to be an artist full time?

JU: Yes, I do teach part time one night a week at Cooper Union. Occasionally I do a visiting artist job or a workshop, but the main thrust is being in my studio. I have a demanding exhibition schedule. As an artist you are very resourceful, there were many projects along the way, but always related to my work. It is like a gift, a wonderful gift. 

JC:  I like your  website design, very exploratory as is your art work. It gave me the sense you would prefer the viewer would discover your work for themselves.

  Zero to Eight , 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

Zero to Eight, 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

JU: Exactly! I hope the paintings unfold themselves. I find when I am making them, when I know less about them, and they really surprise me and when the painting is never quite settling, it is many different kinds of experiences. Then, it is the most interesting for me and I hope they do that for the viewer as well. 

Urso has shown widely in the United States and abroad in galleries, public institutions, and museums including the New York Public Library, the Drawing Center, and the Bronx Museum for the Arts. She has had numerous grants and residencies including those from the NEA, Basil H. Alkazzi and the Gottlieb and Pollock-Krasner Foundations as well as the Camargo Foundation, Ucross and Yaddo.

All images included are courtesy of Josette Urso studio. View her representation, contact information and upcoming exhibitions here: 


I try to give myself over to whatever it is.” - Josette Urso

Rest in Peace James Rosenquist

“History is remembered by its art, not its war machines.”—James Rosenquist

 Images of James Rosenquist by Theo Wujck.

Images of James Rosenquist by Theo Wujck.

Theo Wujck and James Rosenquist were friends and contemporaries. Rosenquist was also a mentor to Wujcik. They are together once more. For more images click here

Janet Echelman, Early Paintings

  Image courtesy of Joanne Frazier

Image courtesy of Joanne Frazier

Tonight in Tampa, Janet Echelman will be honored by the Tampa Bay Business Committee for the Arts. An excellent choice. Echelman is an internationally known artist, creating ethereal, experiential sculptures, often immense in scale, that transform with wind and light.  She is also a hometown girl. Long before she became the artist now recognized for her aerial sculptures, she was a Gorrie/Wilson/ Plant girl. 

That hometown girl just happened to go on to Harvard, become an artist and receive a Fulbright scholarship. She also exhibited in Tampa. Around 1989, right about the same time that Robert Rauschenberg curated an exhibition of her work, she was exhibiting in Tampa at One Tampa City Center. My neighbor, Joanne Frazier, and her husband, bought two paintings from the exhibition . He had discovered Echelman's work on the way up to the Tampa Club for lunch.  

  Image Courtesy of Joanne Frazier

Image Courtesy of Joanne Frazier

Frazier had read my profile on Echelman and invited me to see the paintings. They feature some of the same vibrant colors Echelman uses in her aerial sculptures. Frazier knew Echelman's mother and Echelman personally delivered the works to Frazier's home, "Janet is an old soul, she was so mature even then, you could tell she was very talented," Joanne said. 

I thought Tampa readers would enjoy seeing these early works, from a hometown girl. Congratulations to Janet Echelman on her latest acknowledgement.


I take no credit for the background colors, the titles and dates are not available, but the talent is evident. Read my earlier profile on Echelman here

Josephine Sacabo: Lessons From The Shadows

I believe in Art as a means of transcendence and connection.  My images are simply what I’ve made from what I have been given.  I hope they have done justice to their sources and that they will, for a moment, ‘stay the shadows of contentment too short lived’ (Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz).”    —Josephine Sacabo

  El Arbolito,  Silver Gelatin Print, From Susana San Juan,  © Josephine Sacabo Image Courtesy Polk Museum of Art

El Arbolito, Silver Gelatin Print, From Susana San Juan, ©Josephine Sacabo Image Courtesy Polk Museum of Art

Josephine Sacabo is a New Orleans based photographer currently exhibiting at the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Florida. Sacabo uses poetry as inspiration for her photography, created with alternative photographic processes. Sacabo’s photography is included in the permanent collections of the George Eastman House, the International Center of Photography, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and la Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, France.

In person, Sacabo is remarkably humble and generous with her time and knowledge. I would note she is also self-deprecating and humorous. During a recent artist talk she shared her inspiration sources for the series of images on display at the Polk.

Sacabo named two women whose writings had inspired some of her photography: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a 17th century nun, self-taught scholar and acclaimed writer of the Latin American colonial period and a staunch advocate for women's rights; Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian writer acclaimed internationally for her innovative novels and short stories. 

“I have always tried to tried to walk the line between the secular and the religious," said Sacabo.

 Josephine Sacabo at Polk Museum of Art

Josephine Sacabo at Polk Museum of Art

Her talk was interspersed as much with these authors quotes as images of her own photography. Sacabo said of Lispector, “she speaks of the most obvious things that you see every day, I love her for that. As I read her work, I also began to notice the ordinary. And for the first time actually, I did something that is not a narrative of any kind. It is just photographs of things that I saw and loved. That is the secret. My kitchen window in New Orleans on a rainy day. A tabletop. The simplicity of my kitchen table, the light through my bathroom window. And I began to photograph these things.”

"What I love about Clarice Spector is not only how Intellectual she was, but there was a tenderness to her writing: I offer these flowers to whatever hurts inside you. It is hard to imagine putting that more tenderly or more beautifully," said Sacabo.

She has an impressive photography career, she is a masterful storyteller, creating series/ portfolios of photographic works inspired by writings, the ethereal sound of music, or in one case, a fantasy architecture, an alternative to the physical architecture of a female’s confinement.

Sacabo’s website gives a description of her photographic processes, and how she transitioned through these processes: Her early portfolios are toned silver gelatin prints. Later and current works are photopolymer gravures printed on handmade Japanese tissue and chine-colléd on to velvet rag paper. All images are printed by the artist.

Sacabo’s transition from silver to gravure began as photography moved from chemical to digital. Her silver gelatin papers of choice were repeatedly discontinued. “From the moment I made my first gravure,” Sacabo explains, “I realized I’ve been trying to do this for thirty years in the darkroom…jumping through every hoop I can think of to come up with this effect. This is what I’ve been looking for. And there’s no way they can make it obsolete.”

  The World Beyond 2  , Wet Collodion Tintype, from   Juana and the Structures of Reverie  , ©Josephine Sacabo, Image courtesy Polk Museum of Art.

The World Beyond 2, Wet Collodion Tintype, from Juana and the Structures of Reverie, ©Josephine Sacabo, Image courtesy Polk Museum of Art.

First developed in the 1830s, photogravure is a print making process whereby light sensitive chemicals are used to etch a photographic image onto a copper plate. The plate is then inked and pressed on to paper to produce an image.

Photopolymer gravures, a modern adaptation of the 19th century process, uses UV light and water instead of chemicals to create the plate, which is then inked and pressed in the traditional way. There are many steps in creating the final print, all crucial to Sacabo’s manifestation of the image.

Audience questions gave even more insight into Sacabo’s photography and how she photographs, revealing again, her generous spirit; “I would love it if someone would ask me questions, I am open to telling you all the secrets.“

Of a projected image: “I found these two kids in San Miguel, who perform in the main square. They take people around for money, like the ghost tours they have in New Orleans. These two kids dress up like that and they take people and tell them the different sights and sounds of San Miguel at night. So I asked them if they would come to my studio and let me photograph them. And they did.”  

Why tintype: “It wasn’t hard enough to do photoengraving, I had to discover tintypes, which is the most difficult photographic process of all to get right. You can’t rely on it… if it is humid it has a mind of its own. So, you just save the ones you like and throw away the rest of them.

Normally a tintype is done in the camera itself, but what makes it a tintype is the collodion. It took me a year, but I developed a system where I can create images at home in my computer. I can put them on transparent film and I can take them in the darkroom, do the tintype but instead of exposing them in the camera I expose them in the enlarger, then do a contact print.”

How did you get to be so creative: “When I was young, I loved poetry and I studied literature in college. Photography nothing. I never took a photo class or had anything to do with visual arts. I was an actress for a while and had always been in that kind of group. Photography came into my life completely by accident, and it really hit the spot. I don’t know why.” (Sacabo was introduced to photography by accident, by an American neighbor, while living in France)

Have you ever considered digital photography: "I do now use digital photography on the front end of everything I do. I take pictures with a digital camera, with my phone a lot of the time, then transform them into whatever process I am working in. I have the best of both worlds because I have a camera with me all the time. Whereas before I used to work with a Pentax 6 x 7, a huge machine for a person like me. Digital capture yes, but I don’t care for a digital printing of my work. Some people can do it, I can’t."

Photoshop: “Yes, because when I used to put negatives together, in the darkroom, I would have to put one negative, then the other, make a picture, look at it… I would go through a whole box of paper. Now I can do all of that on the screen (in Photoshop) and then throw it away (laughter). It has been very freeing.”

How she discovered photography: “My husband and I were living in a tinyvillage in the south of France, where we had bought a house for fifteen hundred dollars, which tells what size house we had. We had lent it to a friend before we arrived and he had left his camera. I was an actress at the time, and had been working in London. My husband was writing and writing, me the actress, I was knitting. An English friend was near, a photographer living in the same village, he showed me how to use the forgotten camera; I wasn’t that interested until he showed me how to develop my first contact sheet. That was my only photography lesson, but he taught me technique. My husband made me a darkroom in our bathroom, with our bathtub underneath. I have a picture of him taking a bath with my enlarger and equipment above his head.”

Sacabo was equally generous after the talk, inviting some local photographers working in similar media to visit her in her New Orleans studio, and sharing titles from Clarice Lispector’s work. The Polk Museum exhibition is large; curiously there are no titles next to the images which are arranged by series. Several of her photographs have script below the image, etched into the plate before printing. The work is of exceptional quality, created by processes that are challenging. For those interested in these photographic processes, you will be impressed. For others, appreciative of quality artwork, the same. All works are printed by Sacabo.

 Suggested reading from Josephine Sacabo

Suggested reading from Josephine Sacabo

Author's footnote: If you are traveling to the show locally: Because of an accident on the main highway, we traveled the back road, state road 574 which traverses Plant City, winds past the Publix birthday cake and candles atop the water tower, past large trees and churches. A photographer’s paradise.


Diane Fenster - Revisited

"Please show me a photograph that means something. That is what I hunger for, images I have an emotional response to, or I relate to the meaning, or that makes me cry or angers me, or evokes some sort of response in me."- Diane Fenster

  House ,  Secrets of the Magdelen Laundries  Series, Diane Fenster

House, Secrets of the Magdelen Laundries Series, Diane Fenster

It is my pleasure to view an artist’s evolution over a period of time. More often it is local Florida or southern artists, but I recently reconnected with San Francisco photographer and self-professed alchemist, Diane Fenster. If you read my most recent post, The Love (and Loss) of Polaroid, I write of her haunting installation of photographic images titled Secrets of the Magdelen Laundries exhibited in 2003, here in Tampa at the HCC Ybor Campus Art Gallery.

Fenster’s Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries is a photographic installation layered with the sound environment of composer Michael McNabb. Fenster designed the installation to lead the viewer into a maze of bed-sheets, printed with images, and surrounded by original music mimicking the whispering of the women of the laundries. Medium, upon medium layered and recreating the experience of the Magdalen Laundries in a powerful, tangible experience.  

 “My husband first told me about the*Magdalen Laundries,” Fenster said. I read about the history, they were like prisons, (the women) thrown into the church laundries, buried in unmarked graves. Tragic. At the time, it didn’t have as long spread an understanding as now, no one I had talked to had heard about it. The film has not come out (The Magdalene Sisters). When I starting working on the series - I felt the women were asking me to tell their stories.”


Fenster created the series photographic images with the 20 x 24 Polaroid camera using a variety of processes- her work is never one dimensional -  the images were printed on bed sheets purchased in thrift stores. She states, “I was creating a body of work for a solo show in a New York gallery, I knew I was taking a risk, the work was not going to be commercially viable. These were not pretty pictures to hang on a wall."

I beg to differ; they are exceptional images, as I have written, the end result was haunting, and I have carried the exhibition with me for a long time. Though I agree many patrons may not have wanted to buy images printed on bed-sheets.

The Magdalen Laundries series was one of three Fenster created with a 20 x 24 Polaroid camera. She created the blue images, pictured on this page, through a dye sublimation process. Fenster used the 20 xo 24 Polaroid negatives for the remaining images, pressing  slightly undeveloped negatives onto the bed sheets, before peeling it off. “Each one was one of a kind. Since they were slightly undeveloped, they are not perfect,” Fenster said.

The 20 x 24 Polaroid camera was not her main medium. Fenster began using the computer as an artistic tool as far back as 1989. It has been noted her artwork was an important voice in the development of a true digital aesthetic. Fenster's own view of herself is as an alchemist, using digital tools to delve into fundamental human issues. Her work is literary and emotional, full of symbolism and multiple layers of meaning. Her style is an innovative combination of her photography and scanned imagery; she is well known for her photo-montages.

In 2001, Fenster was the first inductee into the Photoshop Hall of Fame as recognition of her use of digital tools. The Magdalen Laundries and those 20 x 24 Polaroid series were a number of years ago. Fenster's work has taken on many form. She is now working with alternative photographic processes and alternative media (though one might suggest bed sheets were an alternative medium).

We discussed the many transitions her work had gone through since I had first viewed it and she was recognized for her photo-montages. “I have gravitated away from Photoshop at this time, but I have to stand up for what I feel is the most important thing: the image, not so much how it is made.” Fenster said. “There is an awful lot of snobbery about Photoshop. On the other hand, you do a blind test, you show the images, and it is about how one emotionally responds to an image, not how you respond to what version of software or process that was used. That is where I think people get sort of uber hyped up with how was it made vs. the image and what does it mean?”

 “A couple of years ago I did a photo Encaustic series – printed on translucent materials so I could build up layers -  it was like Photoshop but analog.” Fenster said. “I really enjoyed doing that.”

But she became discouraged when her transition from the digital world to processes and subject matter she was interested in (lumen photo processing, experimenting with toy cameras, and intensely personal subject choice) was not well received. “I actually became emotionally devastated by trying to make it in the art world and not getting past only being included in digital shows. Being one of the early practitioners became a blessing and a curse. I ran into a lot of brick walls and curators that didn’t understand what I was doing. I took a long time off from creating work in the last decade.”

“Fortunately and especially with my expansion into the Toy Camera world; I feel like I have found my people.” said Fenster. The toy camera world is most closely associated with Holga and Diana cameras. Fenster has created a new body of work, shooting images with a plastic Holga lens on a digital camera, and it has been well received. She has been exhibiting again throughout the United States and internationally. “I am fortunate to get into a good number of calls for entries.”

One body of work is deeply personal, titled Asleep in the Arms of Morpheus, a social documentary series about the end of life experience. It is Fenster’s first social documentary in this medium. “Sometimes I feel like all the subjects I am interested in are weird. But all of my series are stories, something I have found about, learned about or have happened.”

She is also enjoying Lumen processing to create a photographic image, as always using her signature layering process and leaving some outside for two or three days to develop.

  Cassandra Listens , Diane Fenster

Cassandra Listens, Diane Fenster

“I understand the challenge of photographers that get caught up in a style or a method, and end up making it over and over because that is what the public wants. I care that bringing out something that is inside of me that is important to relate. I don’t do it to be commercially viable,” Fenster says.

She has spent nearly thirty years as a graphic designer for a university by day. While she appreciates the privilege of not having to support herself solely with her artistic endeavors, I doubt having to support herself would change the subject matter or style of her work.

“Commerciality doesn’t enter my equation.I am out to tell stories; that is really what is more important to me. I am not trying to support myself with my artwork, which is a blessing and a curse. I don’t have as much time, but the market does not drive what I am doing.

But I wish I had time to be even more focused than I am. I think that is why I like the combination of digital and analog, it allows me to work a little bit faster. I wish I was doing something like wet plate or something like that – but I don’t have a darkroom set up, but maybe in the future."

I’ll be following. or  ( 20 x 24 Polaroid)

If you are interested in learning more about Toy Camera photography, see photographer Matt Larson's website @

*These convent industries in Ireland existed from the mid-19th century until the late 20th century. The Magdalen Laundries institutionalized women who were smeared with the reputation of being immoral, or who were indigent, and kept them imprisoned through the social machinations of the Church. These misused women lived in punitive labor, lost to both their families and themselves. Henceforth, they became invisible, concealed beyond the margins of society. Several films documented or dramatized the story of the convent laundries including, The Magdalene Sisters, Philomena and The Sisters of No Mercy. Videos of The Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries exhibition, with sound, are available at


The Love ( and Loss) of Polaroid

When digital photography was introduced – in the late 1990’s – some photographers immediately embraced an enticing new format. Others were reluctantly dragged into new technology as favorite film brands went out of production.

 20 x 24 Polaroid Camera 

20 x 24 Polaroid Camera 

Now, years later, another cache of film stock is reaching the end of its life expectancy, 20 x 24 Polaroid. While not the first line of Polaroid film to be retired (along with the Polaroid company itself), the end of this film stock will trigger the end of 20 x 24 Studios which holds the remaining film stock for 20 x 24 Polaroid large format cameras.

The studio announced its scheduled close in 2017. The 20 x 24 Polaroid is the Grande Dame of the Polaroid line, there are only five of these large format cameras in existence. The camera produces the instant gratification of a Polaroid on a very large scale. But as with many grand things, there are obstacles that put it out of reach for the average photographer. First and foremost, Polaroid long ago shuttered its doors and 20 x 24 Polaroid film is no longer produced.

 20 x 24 Polaroids

20 x 24 Polaroids

Now if you are a photography buff along the lines of Brad Pitt, and you have a favorite film – in his case Kodak Tech Pan - which also hasn’t been produced for many years, you simply buy up the remaining stock. (For a W magazine project, a film editor located 40 rolls of the film and had it hand-carried to Pitt in France. When Pitt wanted more, thirty more rolls were located and again couriered the same day.) 20 x 24 Studio Executive Director, John Reuter, also bought up the up the remaining 20 x 24 film stock in existence from Polaroid in 2009. He expected the remaining film would only last a few years.  The studio’s fact sheet attributes care and proper storage of the film will allow it to remain viable for about year, establishing the closing date for the studio.

Reuter states, “The Polaroid 20×24 camera stands apart from all other large format experiences because it delivers an instant finished photograph. The artist is able to react to the subject matter in a manner unlike any other photographic experience. Digital technology may rival it in resolution and instant playback but it cannot match the experience of having the final complete artwork on the wall in ninety seconds for all to see.”

“Our hope now is that we can work on some great projects with many of our legacy clients as well as new artists who have yet to experience the ultimate in instant analog image making,” says Reuter.

 Brad Pitt, Chuck Close 

Brad Pitt, Chuck Close 

Venerable artists have created series or images with the 20 x 24 Polaroid: Robert Rauschenberg, Ellen Carey, Anna Tomczak, Neil Slavin, Jeff Enlow, William Wegman and Chuck Close (who photographed Brad Pitt, as well as images from the Portrait of a President series).

The scarcity of remaining film has driven up the cost of 20 x 24 images. Reports of image costs of $3500 puts this product out of range of most photographers.

This camera does create unique and memorable images. I first became familiar with the 20 x 24 Polaroid Camera in Tampa, in conjunction with Diane Fenster’s Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries Photo Installation comprised of images created with the 20 x 24 Polaroid and printed on bedsheets. It was a compelling and haunting exhibition which I write more about in a profile of Diane Fenster. Tracy Storer, director of Mammoth Studio in San Francisco, which houses another of the 20 x 24 Polaroid cameras, worked with Fester on the Magdalen Laundries series. Storer brought the camera to Tampa – not an easy feat with the temperature restrictions and weight of the camera - and allowed students at HCC Ybor Campus Art Gallery to work with the camera. I wonder if the students knew what a treat they were getting.

The loss of more Polaroid film, particularly for this 20 x 24 unique format film, is another chapter in the history of photography. Unless Brad Pitt comes through.

Happy Fourth of July

Three Flags, Jaspar Johns

Happy 4th of July

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. John F. Kennedy

  Three Flags , Jaspar Johns

Three Flags, Jaspar Johns

Danny Lyon - Outlaw Photographer

"It is a very weird thing to be a photographer." - Danny Lyon

                                                                                   Three Young Men ,                                                                                              Danny Lyon

                                                                                 Three Young Men,                                                                                              Danny Lyon

The Tampa based Florida Museum of  Photographic Art (FMOPA) current exhibition: Danny Lyon: People presents an assortment of the artist’s photographs culled from The Ringling Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The collaborative exhibition showcases the Ringling Museum of Art photography collection and offers visitors to the FMOPA a body of photography work that represents the marginalized and outcast members of '50s and '60s American society. 

Lyon was "an examiner of American identity and community." He has been Identified as a "documentary photographer known for working in the style of New Journalism, an intensive immersion based approach to reporting, and is heralded as a vital contributor to 1960’s documentary photography and by extension 20th century cultural history."

 Danny Lyon   

Danny Lyon


As with all exhibitions, a curator or artist talk offers visitors a deeper understanding of the work beyond the viewers first impression. Chris Jones, Ringling Museum of Art Curator of Works on Paper, did not disappoint during a recent talk at FMOPA. Besides sharing perspective on Lyon as an artist; Jones detailed the societal impact of Lyon's photographs, which changed the flow of information and perspective on the civil rights movement. 

Lyon's was a student, then graduate, of the University of Chicago, when he became interested in the civil rights movement. Lyon's perspective on photography was as "tool to connect with people. You put a camera in my hand, I want to get close to people," he said. "Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it. It is part of the process. It is a very weird thing to be a photographer."

He was the photographer of choice for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  Lyon followed the organization and was present at almost all of the major historical events during the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Once the movement's focus changed from forms of protest, to voting rights and voter registration, Lyon moved on to his next subject. 

Jones presentation elaborated the role Lyon's photography in magazines such as Life, along with other photographers of the era, illuminated the Civil Rights Movement and other causes. Jones explained, "Photography was used to present causes and issues like the Civil Rights Movement. Images had become as important as the written word; magazines like Life were designed to be read through quickly. The photographs were being presented as photo essays." (Photo essays are groups of photographs, of the same subject on a page, often with little text.) "These photographs gave visibility to issues people did not see in their everyday life."

  The Bikeriders , Danny Lyon   

The Bikeriders, Danny Lyon




Lyon's subject matter changed from Civil Rights to a new disenfranchised community during the mid '60s. Continuing with his New Journalism style of photography, Lyons became a member of the Chicago Outlaws motorcycle club; he traveled with them, shared their lifestyle and documented their activities. Lyon self- published his Outlaws motorcyclists photographs in The Bikeriders. According to Lyons, "the photographs were an attempt to record and glorify the life of the American bike rider." The photographs were very popular. 

Yet another interesting fact offered during the presentation by Jones, who displayed an in-depth knowledge of the era: the Outlaws moniker originally came, not because of society's label, but because they did not respect the rules and regulations of the motorcycle association.

Lyon's photographs were influential, he continued to use his camera to connect the public to subjects that interested him as an artist.  As the decades went on he continued to publish more books: documenting prison life in Conversations with the Dead; photographing and publishing the large scale demolition of lower Manhattan, and the aftermath, under the title The Destruction of Lower Manhattan. The FMOPA exhibition photographs include Lyon's photographs from Chicago. These images feature "deadpan" faces, similar to the straight on presentation seen in Farm Security Administration photographs. The Chicago portraits again document the plight of the improvised and disenfranchised: migrants from the south seeking employment in Chicago. 

He stated, "No one else is going to tell the story for them." 


Danny Lyon:

Perhaps like me, you were not aware the Ringling Museum of Art had a photography collection, let alone one large enough to warrant a Works on Paper Curator. Jones stated, "while the museum had photography works for a long period, during the last decade or so it has been bequeathed additional works including the Danny Lyon photographs." 

The exhibition will be on view through June 30, 2016 at the Florida Museum of Photographic Art in Tampa. 

Some photos courtesy of:  Edwynn Houk Gallery,, and Magnum Photos; Gift of Sally Strauss and Andrew Tomback, 2012, Collection of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art


Herb Williams: The Subtext of Crayons

“My intent is to continue to seriously create art that looks at itself unseriously.” – Herb Williams

Herb Williams

A large dog, featuring contour labels, created in crayon was my first sighting of a Herb Williams sculpture. Across the gallery, the medium of creation was not immediately evident. There was a pointillism affect, but closer examination revealed the crayons tips.

Crayola Crayons are the first choice medium for Nashville, Tennessee artist Herb Williams. However, it was a rough road discovering this medium. Trained in sculpture, Williams reports, “I tried everything, in every medium I could think of - I could not find it. I really felt I had no way to go." 

Perhaps another artist would have made themselves happy picking a medium and simply moving forward; Williams was unwavering in “finding my own voice. How you set yourself apart as an artist is only relevant if what you are saying is unique.” On William’s website his words are captured in a short documentary, The Call of the Wild, by Jeremy Adams, describing a dream   where Williams saw a giant sculpture created out of crayon. He had found his voice.

  The Ripple Effect,  Herb Williams

The Ripple Effect, Herb Williams

Williams works out of a studio in downtown Nashville, where he creates sculptures and bodies of work, often in large scale. Using his skills from summer construction jobs and years studying and creating bronze castings, Williams uses a child’s tool to create sculptures that explore iconic images and sometimes darker themes: “sexuality, religion and social hierarchy. I like to explore man’s place in the world of nature.”

His themes are representative in the titles of his bodies of work: Call of Contour, Call of the Wild, Plunderland, The End of Nature, The Color of Luck. Williams likes titles and language and he often incorporates words into or onto his artwork.

“Word play when done right can transform into art.” But color plays an equally strong component: “The sculptures are childlike in their curious approach to the object as icon, but beguiling and satisfying to me in the use of color as pure form.”   

Color is also part of the communication. I asked his favorites of the Crayola colors. Season is one he is working a lot with right now. Love Dandelion is a favorite. Carnation Pink, “it is amazing what it can do in small batches.” Color can be unspoken“communication.” The stripes of color adorning his animal sculptures, are also representive of animals hiding in plain sight. They can only be seen (or saved) by paying attention.

Williams speaks often of paying attention. And what we can see and discover if we are paying attention. He states, “I often revisit the same themes again and again. If I pay attention and really look at them again, I can see there is more work to be done. I am never finished.”

Creating the larger scale sculptures is a process. Wall sculptures are mounted on panels of wood, to support the weight (“crayons are heavy”). Large sculptures are sculpted with clay, then brushed with fiberglass paint. “It is an arduous process, but I love it – It is like therapy. I get a lot of ideas when I am working, so it is a real commitment to a sculpture to finish.”

  Louis Vuitton Doberman,  Herb Williams

Louis Vuitton Doberman, Herb Williams

The clay must be hollowed out to reduce the weight. Then the crayons are added. Williams rarely uses full sized crayons. Usually the tips. As always, artists discover unique tools, for Williams dog toenail clippers work best; each crayon is cut by hand. The crayons are bonded to the art by the paper – wax is a release agent. William's dog sculptures sell in the neighborhood of $7500. - a reflection of the time and skill needed to create one sculpture.

Crayola crayons are the best. Williams is the only individual wholesaler of crayons. “I’ve tried them all, I have even cast my own, and Crayola is what I use, and it smells the best.” Do not underestimate the added sense of smell in relationship to Williams work. Crayons smell wonderful in mass. “Crayons are a gateway drug,” says Williams. I agree. The smell of crayons is one of the most nostalgic, if not the most nostalgic smell that brings you back to childhood.

The Plunderland exhibit, at the Rare Gallery in  Chelsea, an enclosed gallery installation piece, must have smelled somewhat magical. Plunderland was created after the recession, and focused on “finding your place after loss.”  

Williams is a prolific creator of artwork.  A recent show at the A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery in Ft. Pierce, Florida exhibited so much work I initially thought it was a retrospective. Williams admits, “I don’t sleep much.”

I always ask any artist working in an alternative medium, "Are you concerned about the permanency of the material?" Williams pondered, "Crayons are more permanent than we are; they will last as long as we will. It is not about the medium - it is the idea that is worth doing." 

A Few More Facts:

Website: Herb Williams is the co-founder and curator of The Rymer Gallery in Nashville. "I love my job, if I have to have a title artist/curator is pretty good." He is a Dad and a musician. He is also a painter, though he often uses it simply as inspiration for sculptures. He sometimes “tags” his paintings on locations around Nashville. Crayola has purchased one of his sculptures. Williams likes to say he is from L.A. – lower Alabama. A fun part of this interview was hearing some honky-tonk through the phone as Williams walked from his studio to his next appointment. Was it Printers Alley or Broadway, or simply a studio with their door open? I don’t know. 

  Foowolf                           Herb Williams    

Foowolf                          Herb Williams 


Special thanks to Andrew at The Rymer Gallery. If you were not doing your job so well, this article never would have been written.