ARTS & CULTURE; COMMUNITY
By Pamir Kiciman
When it is late fall in Orange County, North Carolina, hundreds of visual artists open their studios for the public to visit as part of a tour held by the Orange County Artists Guild (OCAG). This has been going on for 28 years. This year, about 90 artist studios are on the tour, ready to receive the public to engage with their art and the artists themselves. Some studios have more than one artist.
A multi-page, glossy brochure of the tour with a fold-out map in the center is available at locations around Chapel Hill and Carrboro, such as The ArtsCenter, Ackland Art Museum and The Clay Centre. Each artist studio has a number assigned to it along the map.
The 2022 OCAG Artist Open Studio Tour will be available the weekends of Nov. 5 & 6 and Nov. 12 & 13 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays and 12-5 p.m. on Sundays.
“We have collectors on one end of the spectrum all the way to children who browse with their parents,” wrote Dawn Hummer in an email to The Local Reporter (TLR). She is an OCAG board member and the artist member liaison, as well as a textile artist and weaver (#64 on the tour).
“We’ve expanded our advertising to include Virginia and South Carolina. Some people actually travel from other states and enjoy a full weekend of studio visitation,” she said.
OCAG artists are visual artists across the entire range of mediums from sculpture and pottery, to photography, painting and jewelry. The guild estimates that there are up to 800 artists in Orange County. This does not include theater, dance and other performing artists, nor literary artists and musicians. In other words, arts in Orange County are brimming.
Giving visibility to such diverse and numerous artists is a challenge.
“We have 100s of purple signs which will go up now, to advertise the upcoming event,” Hummer explained. “Even more signs with balloon bouquets and studio numbers will go up for both weekends of the Tour.”
“Our brochure distribution is also a significant and massive undertaking—1000s are distributed throughout the state to advertise our Tour,” she added.
To provide a glimpse into this sweeping event, TLR focused on three artists working in contrasting and different mediums.
Mike Roig, Sculpture – Heartworks Studio
#43 – Carrboro, N.C.
When this writer walked into Mike Roig‘s mostly outdoor studio, he was reworking an old piece with a blow torch. There is a sizable crane (actually more than one), sheets of stainless steel, tubing and other industrial equipment and supplies. He works mostly in large-scale sculptures, which are dotted all over the property. He often invents or adapts the equipment he needs.
Once Roig settled on sculpture as his medium, he learned how to shape his own pieces of metal to truly create expressions of the “creative urges” that drive his work. “When I started out and didn’t know how to shape them, I’d go to the scrap yard and find shapes that looked interesting and collage them together,” he said. “Gradually, over the years I learned to make my own shapes.”
A big part of the visual appeal of Roig’ s sculptures is color and bringing out the qualities of the raw material. Steel accepts paint well Roig said, “But to get paint that really holds up outside has taken a long time.” Stainless steel also has its own patterning on top of which Roig does coloring.
Paint is not the only way to bring out the patterning in steel according to Roig. He pointed to some pieces and said, “All the color you see is from heat treating the steel; that isn’t paint at all. Steel will turn color as you get it hotter and hotter.”
Roig said the yearly Studio Tour inspires him to make smaller sculptures. Another time he will do that is to use the smaller piece as a model for the large sculpture he really has in mind (see photos).
“It’s fun. It’s a big puzzle,” Roig said regarding his creations. “Sculpting engages me physically, creatively and mentally. I like working with tools to engineer my work and strategizing how to move and place them.”
(Read TLR’s coverage of Sculpture in the Garden at N.C. Botanical Gardens where Roig also has his works.)
Alan Dehmer, Alternative Photography and Printmaking – WoodsEdge Studio
#40 – Chapel Hill, N.C.
This is the second year this writer visited with Alan Dehmer on the tour. In the conversation held on red rocking chairs on the porch of Dehmer’s little writing cottage, he recounted his involvement in civil/human rights work, photojournalism, time in Africa with his wife, theater photography (specifically, his time as company photographer at Durham’s Manbites Dog Theater), educator, and how he eventually settled on fine art photography on his own terms.
Dehmer’s artistic practice and expression is the painstaking process of making gum bichromate prints from original photographs. He was drawn to handmade prints and did research at the Library of Congress, reading technical photography books from bygone eras, especially the 19th century, to learn about the muted and soft look of how those photos presented.
“I fell in love with early photographers and especially the way they printed their photographs,” Dehmer said. These included printing methods such as cyanotype, Van Dycke, albumen, wet-plate, platinum—and gum bichromate, his choice for his own work.
Gum bichromate printing is a lawless, variegated and slow method. At least in Dehmer’s case, it produces evocative images open to interpretation and imagination, with faint hues and foggily defined forms, where known subject matter goes through an alchemy that makes each print timeless and authentic.
The multi-step, layered process begins by transferring an original photographic negative to paper using several steps involving the application of gum arabic and other chemicals and exposing the paper to light, then adding pigments, leaving it in water and hanging it to dry. Many of these steps are repeated the next day—this time with different pigments, with most images taking a week to finish. You can read how Dehmer prefers to make his prints here.
“For the most part I use earth minerals,” Dehmer said when it comes to pigments that give gum prints an indefinable quality. Typically, these are ochres, siennas, cobalts, and ultramarines.
“I have 18-20 new prints for the tour that I haven’t shown before,” Dehmer said. “This is framing week!” But he was still waiting on glass to frame the matted images protected in plastic, as seen in the darkroom.
On the walk to the darkroom under tulip poplars and pines, Dehmer explained that he makes his frames from tulip poplars and a lot of the cabinetry in the darkroom is pine. He also exquisitely hand stains the frames in gradated colors to match the subtle colorings from the pigments in his prints.
“Tulip poplar is kind of soft so it makes it easy to work with and it’s a very white wood, so my pigments have an effect,” Dehmer said.
Rose Warner, Woven Paintings – Rose Warner Art
#62 – Chapel Hill, N.C.
Rose Warner is neither a weaver, nor a painter. She is both, combining the two in her art. Walking into her studio, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the two looms. Warner finishes a painting and cuts it in strips to weave through with threads on a loom.
The hybrid format produces works that are both fabric art and painting, which Warner stitches onto framed stretched canvas. The final canvases exude a sense of comfort and warmth. With clean edges all around, the intricate centerpiece draws the eyes. The woven paintings leave an indelible impression and can be felt in the room.
For example, this writer felt as though there were more than two people in the room during the conversation, and kept thinking about the art on display after leaving the studio. Even without remembering specific details, it was still meaningful after the fact.
“One day I cut up one of my paintings and wove it on my loom and I thought ‘now it makes sense!’” Warner said. “I thought ‘now I’m home.’”
Originally trained as a nurse, she is a self-taught painter and weaver (except for a 6-week weaving class).
Warner does not get to step back and look at the work emerging on the loom because it shows only so much.
She builds fail-safes into the creation process such as making pieces a little too big in order to crop them for better composition, as well as following Pascal’s triangle (a set of proportions often used in probability and combinations) to determine the thickness of each slice of a painting.
This makes the finished work look interesting but not chaotic, Warner explained.
“When I put my strips in [the loom], I don’t want to recreate my painting exactly. I choose what to cover with threads and what to leave showing from the painting. And I don’t line up the strips as they were painted. I slide them a little to the right or left.”
The weaving is simple enough that Warner has visiting kids weave on the tour.
The newest direction in Warner’s work is to have the threads curve and weave honeycombs around the painting strips, rather than a grid of threads.
The value of experiencing art this way
Visitors on the tour will come away with a greater appreciation that artworks are not merely decorative; art is a living thing with a strong relationship to the space it is in and the people who are there. All three artists here encounter, embrace and play with chance in their artmaking processes. Ask the artists you are visiting how chance shows up for them (and what their response to it is). Because it surely does.
Pamir Kiciman is a writer/poet, artist/artisan, photographer, healer, and meditation teacher. To learn more, visit https://liinks.co/reiki.wordsmith or contact him by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.