ARTICLE: Michele Bledsoe in “The Labyrinth Beyond Time”

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Creatures Great and Small: Michele Bledsoe with her painting “Under the Pillow”

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I’ve written a number of times on the amazing creativity of my wife, artist Michele Bledsoe. 

Michele was recently the featured artist in an article in The Foothills Focus, a weekly newspaper focused on life in north Phoenix and its environs.

Read the article at this link: “The Labyrinth Beyond Time,” by Shea Stanfield.

The writer does a great job summing up the spirit of Michele’s painting by referencing a quote from Marcel Duchamp: “To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing.” Stanfield goes on to relay significant details about Michele’s experiences and attitudes towards art:

“She filled tablets with sketches and ideas that bound through her imagination. Creatures great and small would eventually be rendered in paintings as she taught herself the techniques. By all accounts, Michele has been successful on all fronts. Today, she paints in her home studio in Central Phoenix, her canvases supported on an easel her father gave her for Christmas 25 years ago. His passing a few months later added an extra portion of meaning to his gift and confidence in her, as well as Michele’s inspiration.”

The art of Michele Bledsoe does indeed navigate a special vision, her own enchanting world apart. It was a pleasure to read this article’s commentary acknowledging her achievements.

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From the article:

“Michele, over the last 20 years, has exhibited in various art galleries and venues.  Recently, she was invited to participate in an art show, at Skolkovo Art Gallery, in Moscow, Russia. The exhibit featured a number of international artists involved in the Remodernism Movement. As Michele would put it, ‘Who would have believed my painting “Forever,” a painting of a snail, is the one piece, out of all my work, that has ironically traveled furthest!’”

ARTISTS: Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning in Arizona

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Playing with Perception:

Surrealist Artists Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning in Sedona, Arizona

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“Painting is not for me either decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality; it must be every time: invention, discovery, revelation.”
– Max Ernst

In the late 1930s and early 1940s there was a mass exodus of artists out of Europe, fleeing expanding Nazi power. Many came to America and settled in New York City, and went no further. They kept aloof from the local art scene and showed little interest in learning anything about their host country.

Surrealism was the dominant movement at the time, and most of the leading figures were present; they spent their time playing cruel parlor games, complaining about their exile and marking time until the war was over and they could return to true civilization on the Continent.

One notable exception was the German Dada artist Max Ernst. After the Allied victory he didn’t go home-he headed west to Arizona.

Ernst had lived a stormy bohemian life. After serving in the German military during the First World War, Ernst had helped found the Cologne Dada group. He worked with many experimental techniques, and became one of the earliest visual artists associated with the Surrealists, which had been a mainly literary movement.

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A French Nickname for “Hobby Horse”: Dada Artist Max Ernst

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In Paris Ernst met the French poet Paul Eluard, and his Russian wife Gala. This relationship grew into a longstanding passionate ménage a trios. The wealthy Eluard helped Ernst get out of Germany by letting him use his passport. Ernst lived with them in their Paris home, covering the walls with murals. The three traveled as far away as Saigon together.

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Threesome: Max, Gala and Paul 

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After this trip Ernst moved out on his own, and within a few years the Eluards marriage ended. Gala went on to become Salvador Dali’s wife and muse, and Ernst and Eluard stayed friends for the rest of theirs lives.

As World War II began, Ernst’s position was becoming less stable. As a German with ties to the radical Surrealists, Ernst was arrested by the French as a hostile alien. The well-connected Eluard managed to get him released, but after France fell, Ernst was in jeopardy again, pursued by the Gestapo.

Ernst had been one of the artists singled out by Hitler’s Degenerate Arts exhibit, and he was in danger of being arrested. He fled first to the south of France, where he was taken in by the American heiress and collector Peggy Guggenheim. A romance bloomed between them, and Guggenheim took Ernst with her back to America. As the United States entered the war, they got married-“I did not like the idea of living in sin with an enemy alien,” Peggy joked.

This marriage also did not last, and in 1946 Ernst was married again for the final time, to the brilliant American Surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning. They fell in love when Ernst came to her studio to see her painting “The Birthday,” then stayed for a game of chess.

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Dorothea Tanning “The Birthday”

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While traveling across country to California, the couple drove through Arizona, and Ernst was amazed to find himself in a rugged landscape that could have come out of visionary world he painted.

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Max Ernst “The Entire City”

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The couple ended up moving to remote Sedona, Arizona, where they remained for the next seven years. Ernst said Paris and Sedona were “the only two places in the world that I would want to live.” Sedona was incredibly isolated at the time, very different from the upscale resort community it has become. Ernst built a cabin for a home, and they continued to paint.

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A Cabin in the Mountains

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Still Playing Chess

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Influenced by the Hopi Indian culture he encountered, his work came to show new geometric forms. He used cast concrete and found objects to make sculpture that showed Native American elements. Ernst also used his time in Sedona to write his manifesto, “Beyond Painting.”

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Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning evoke the spirit of the land

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During these years Ernst traveled extensively, which led to complications regarding his US citizenship. In 1953 Ernst and Tanning moved to France, where they lived together until his death in 1976.

Dorothea Tanning died in New York on January 31, 2012. She was 101 years old.

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“Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity. I don’t see a different purpose for it now.”

-Dorothea Tanning

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Dorothea Tanning in her Sedona studio

 

 

STUDIO: A Full Day in the Studio

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Richard Bledsoe “The Crystal World” acrylic on canvas 20″ x 24″

My first completed painting of 2016

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2016 and suddenly we find ourselves inundated with projects. I always say there’s nothing like a deadline for inspiration. Well, Michele Bledsoe and I have lots of inspiration right now.

This past Saturday, having so many time sensitive requirements pending led to a wonderful event: pretty much a full day in our studio, painting together.

Michele and I were both accepted into Inglorious Arizona, an upcoming exhibit co-sponsored by Artlink (a downtown Phoenix arts organization) and the Arizona Republic newspaper. We’ll be part of an upcoming Art Detour 28 group exhibit commemorating some infamous Arizona history. I’ll share more details on the true story I was assigned to depict in a future blog post.

Pieces for this show are due by early February, so we are in a real time crunch to get them done. Michele especially takes a long time to craft her elaborate and detailed imagery, so she has already been in extreme painting mode for days now, ever since we were notified of our acceptance.

On Saturday, when Michele woke me up at 7am she had already been at her easel for hours. Before I joined her I had to take care of some typical tasks and errands: exercise, shower, an abbreviated internet news and Facebooking session, then a quick run to the grocery store for the week. But by about 10am I was done and at my own easel, where I more or less spent the next 12 hours.

There will meals long the way, and even a brief nap. But the majority of the time we were both blissfully painting away.

Did I say blissful? You might not think so if you heard the way we act when painting. There is cursing sometimes. And screams of horror.

As we are intuitive artists, working out our own imaginations, we are trying to create something never seen before. Sometimes the struggle to get it right leads to some raving. We are passionate people, very engaged with a complex task, and occasionally we need to vent. Loudly.

However, the appearance of being upset is misleading: we are having the time of our lives. Like the Stuckist Manifesto counsels, “Painting is the medium of self-discovery. It engages the person fully with a process of action, emotion, thought and vision, revealing all of these with intimate and unforgiving breadth and detail.”

Like usual in the studio,  we played music to keep our energy up. Yesterday’s play list included:

Woven Hand – Woven Hand

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Soundtrack

Mark Lanegan – Blues Funeral

Electric Light Orchestra – The Essential ELO

Kaizers Orchestra – Maestro

Paul McCartney –Ram

Rimsky-Korsocov – Scheherazade

Inglorious Arizona is just one of the projects happening now. Another is a show I’m curating at the Firehouse, one of Phoenix’s leading alternative art spaces. The exhibit is Epilogue: Contemporary Literary Art.  It’s kind of a sequel to Booked, a previous literature inspired show I assembled at the Trunk Space.

I’ve been working on my own contribution for this show, and during yesterday’s painting frenzy I completed it: a work inspired by author J. G Ballard’s strange apocalyptic novel The Crystal World.

I’m looking forward to many more days like this in the upcoming months as we keep making art happen.

ARTISTS: Fred Tieken and the AZ45

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Fred Tieken “Bad Hair Day”

I first met artist Fred Tieken when my wife Michele Bledsoe and I were in an art show with him. It was February 2013, and “Changing Lanes” at Larry Ortega‘s Obliq Gallery was a memorable beginning to a new phase in all of our artistic careers.

In the years since that pop-up gallery experience, I’ve see Fred’s work continue to pop up all over the place here in Phoenix. In this he demonstrates the dynamic of a passionate artist: he is prolific, and he’s an exhibitionist-in the artistic context of the word. Art is a form of communication. It’s meant to be shared. Until a piece is experienced by viewers it remains unfinished in a way; the circuit is incomplete, the energy can’t flow. A responsible artist not only creates art, but does the necessary work to get their vision out into the world. Fred has expanded beyond the Valley of the Sun, also exhibiting in Miami, New York, and California.

Fred’s distinctive paintings, mixed media and installation pieces are exuberant, while at the same time built on solid compositional foundations. They also display a sense of humor, which is all too rare in the super serious visual arts. The joy and playfulness that went into their creation comes across without undermining the poise and craftsmanship of the work.

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Fred Tieken “Prickly Pair”

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Fred and Gail Tieken

Fred and his wife Gail Tieken have also been great supporters of the artistic community as well. Recently they invited 44 other Arizona artists to take part in a November show in their new Paradise Valley venue, the Tieken Gallery.

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The Tieken Gallery

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In between getting ready for this landmark event and preparing for an upcoming Los Angles solo show, Fred took some time to answer a few questions about art and life.

It seems your creativity led you explore many different forms of art in your career. What is your background, and when did you start making your current body of work?
Fred Tieken: I never had any art classes in high school but I did take drafting. I started right after graduation as a draftsman at an engineering company and worked there until I got fired for missing too much work. I had a popular rock band and we played on the road a lot so it was hard to do both. Getting fired from that job was the best thing that ever happened to me! I heard about an advertising agency that was looking for a commercial artist (that’s what graphic designers were called in those days) and applied for the job. I really hit it off with the agency owner and he taught me everything he know about graphic design. He was also a fan of my band so he didn’t care that I didn’t always show up for work so long as I got the projects done on time. So I worked as a commercial artist for the next 35 years, eventually starting my own firm along with Gail. We sold that business a few years back.

In 2010 I found out that my kidneys were failing and I would soon have to go on dialysis. The thought of that terrified me. Then Gail asked to be tested as a donor and we were a perfect match. During the time building up to the operation in which Gail gave me one of her kidneys I went out and bought some canvas and started painting to relieve the anxiety. My first painting was a kind of fantasy about the actual operation. A good friend brought the painting to my hospital room and the surgeons really got a kick out of it. I’ve been painting and making art ever since and can’t imagine not doing this.

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Fred Tieken “Pass the Mayo”

How do you create your paintings-are they improvised, or planned out in advance?
FT: Both. Sometimes I do some sketching first, either by hand or on my iPad. Other times I have a really good idea of what I want to do and I just start laying it down. I think I have a good year’s worth of ideas in my head at any given time.

When is a painting complete?
FT: I usually quit when it feels right but sometimes I’ll come back the next day with fresh eyes and add or change something. It helps just to have the painting around so that I can walk by it and take a look every now and then when I’m not thinking too intensely about it. Occasionally I’ll just start all over after a few days.

How did you get inspired to create the AZ45 show?
FT: Gail and I wanted to do something special for the grand opening of our gallery. We kicked some ideas around and decided a group show of Arizona artists made the most sense. It’s our way of acknowledging all the talent in this area and the vibrant art community here in the valley. We invited 46 artists to participate, thinking that about half of those would be interested. Within two days we had 44 artists confirming participation! So, with myself included, that makes 45. Somewhere along the way the AZ45 identification just came to mind. I saw it as a logo in my head and started using it. I think the other artists like it too. It’s a visual that can be used going forward. It reinforces for  posterity that at this one point in time we all came together to celebrate art!

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What does art do for people?
FT: I like the quote “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” I’m not sure who first said that but I can’t say it any better.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as an artist?
FT: I always try to channel my inner child. Children are all natural artists. Then we grow up and have people telling us that we can’t do certain things.

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Fred Tieken “Bla Bla Bla”