PHOTOS AND TEXT BY DON WODJENSKI
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
April 6, 2016
Standing in Rob Schouten’s studio last June—with the smell of oils, turpentine and fresh air from the open door, sunlight streaming through the southerly windows and KPLU playing jazz on the radio—I felt very much at home. We were visiting prior to a collaborative photo session of Schouten as he worked on his latest painting. As he moved from palette to painting and back, I circled around the small space, photographing the process. He’d paint, I’d photograph, we’d converse. On the radio, Miles played “So What?”
With one year and 12 artists completed in my photo series, “Artists of Whidbey Island,” I feel that reflection of what I’ve seen is in order.
Initially, in this self-designed project, I sought to create a series of simple photo essays of artists and friends at work in their studios. Having previously photographed musicians in performance, I believed I could photographically represent the essentials of studio time: work and contemplation. The series, to date, has been an examination of the making and meaning of Art.
Studios are created in all kinds of spaces—spare rooms, basements or dedicated buildings. Studios are a manifestation of the artist’s sense of space and utility. Artists are workers. Tools, supplies, storage, work surfaces all have their places.
Studio spaces are also cluttered with the ephemera of creative effort. Walls are covered with remnants of past work and souvenirs; bookcases and shelves are filled with Art titles and inspiration. Working materials are arranged by color, size and frequency of use. Lighting is from a mix of sources: natural, artificial, direct and ambient. The focus of each space is the easel, table, wheel or bench where the real work happens.
Capturing these artists at work—for instance, witnessing them engaged in the creative process, contemplatively squinting at a canvas, loading the palette and brushing the surface—is an experience of both technical and philosophical consideration. Each environment presents unique circumstances for photographic capture: working out exposure in mixed light, finding unique angles, being mindful of space limitations, not stepping on the cat.
Conversations during the photo sessions are about processes, experiences, the origin of ideas and what it means to be an artist. These inventive individuals briefly share their journeys through contemplation, conceptualization, expression, and exhibition. Each artist’s attention drifts between the work at hand and our conversation, engaging in each. Familiar routine mixes with discussion. Passionate opinion momentarily stills the brush. Quietude restores focus on the work at hand.
Artists most often work in solitude; time is needed to define concepts, realize ideas, refine their techniques and contemplate the scope and direction of their creative output. As an artist, photographer and advocate of the arts, my engagement with professional artists in their working environment continues to inspire my respect and admiration for the dedication, discipline, desire, vision and talent each brings to the island arts community. Although I’ve initially focused on painters, my plan is to eventually expand “Artists of Whidbey Island” to include sculptors, weavers, glass artists and ceramicists.
Folios of featured “Artists of Whidbey Island” are on view at http://www.wodjenskicreative.com.
Editor’s Note: Don will be contributing blogs with more photographic explorations of artists in their studios to Whidbey Life Magazine; stay tuned for who’s next.
Don Wodjenski, a Whidbey resident since 1979, is an artist, photographer, teacher and musician living in Coupeville. He recently retired after decades of teaching, including 20 years with South Whidbey Schools. He is the current President of the Whidbey Island Art Council. Although never without an opinion on art and culture, he is new to blogging.
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