As I’ve spent hours and hours in the dance studio, reshaping poses, finding muscles I didn’t know were there and working them to the brink, I’ve come to a simple conclusion… Dance is Eternal. Ballet especially (though not “better” than any other forms, but foundational), is one of the most complex languages I’ve ever encountered – and it speaks only from the soul. With literally thousands upon thousands of possible combinations of steps, jumps and turns….Most people have no idea what goes into the making of a dance – nor do they know why or what it makes them feel, they just know they love it. And this is as it should be. However, it’s my theory that the greatness of ballet is actually in the perfection of body usage that it encompasses. Most sports require usage of a key set of muscles, with the rest as supporting players. Ballet, however, relies on a controlled usage of each and every usable muscle in the body. Ballet, when done properly, allows a person to exercise each and every body part with a series of movements, muscle pathways, that – when complete – enable a dancer to take on any movement he/she could possibly be asked to do. This language means that a simple hand gesture can be formed and reformed to any and all specifications by a choreographer. It lets a dancer.. SPEAK. Choreography in and of itself is rich with history, meaning.. and the unique stamp of every dancer who performs it. The reason the world’s most talented dancers have brought audiences to tears is because their bodies are telling stories that their mouths could not even begin to share. And most dancers go about their entire lives with little recognition, and even less stage time or credit. But the dance is written on their soul. Or so says I. Here’s my tribute to the dancers that make my head spin and heart leap… <3 Jackie
When I was young, I remember a specific trip to the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in NYC, where I asked my mom in front of a giant abstract Jackson Pollock painting – WHY? The whole thing was so striking. Golds and blacks strewn everywhere, in a rhythm that somehow made sense, in spite of its chaos. I remember the gold, and its incomprehensible “message” stuck with me. I got no answers that day, but for years I kept the question tucked in a mental corner. Having studied modern art in college, I felt exposed to some possibilities but still no answer. When I pursued my own artistic career, I finally began to move closer. It started to make sense.
Abstraction means something different to everyone, because that’s how it should be. It’s a cloak of disguise for a message that sometimes the artist doesn’t even know they’re giving. But they’re compelled.
To create a work of art is to “abstract" something, in the first place – as true “photographic replication” is impossible – even photographs have their viewpoints and biases. We’re constantly interpreting reality. Our hands put their stamp on things. But a funny thing happens as art becomes less and less representational – it leaves room to be understood. By a viewer who might need some sort of message that day. The gaps in the meaning of a work are exactly what is needed for the work to “work.” I don’t believe that the purpose of art is literally to throw meaning at people. To me, it’s rather like a crystal clear lake on a sunny day, or a cloudy day. In it, you find your own reflection. When an artist speaks their truth, someone else’s truth shines back.
My work has taken an abstract turn lately and I can’t say I mind. I find that in colors there are emotions, and in brushstrokes there are bents, moods. I know how the story felt as I created it, but the art seems to transcend all that in some way – to hold the potential for a “greater sum of its parts”. It’s a great mystery but I’m glad that it speaks to people at times, in ways they seem to like. I know I’ve loved the works of so many artists before me. For more abstractions, follow me on Instagram - J._Heloise - as I share it haphazardly;) Here are some recent ones:
I fell into doing commissions by accident. My grandfather, many years ago, asked for a bookcover for a self-published novel and offered some pay for it. I would have done it out of the goodness of my heart, and I did… he commissioned several more after that. At first, I found the process to be upsetting – my first draft was rejected! ;) It was the beginning of a long long process of working with my own ego, and I’m glad that art gave that to me, and still does. In a Buddhist sense, the ability to work with one’s own mind is paramount. And the teachings regarding compassion encourage people to take on new challenges and work for the benefit of other beings.
No other medium offers me as much possibility to work towards helping others than art. In particular, the commissions I have taken on have brought me such joy, simply by being able to provide for the communities I have been part of, and to serve others. And so much learning. Commissions take time, because they require a lot of focus, and research/study. For a recent commission, I helped Vermont non-profit Lake Champlain International create a watercolor that would embody their mission: protect the lake & Vermont’s water supply through advocacy & partnerships with the local community, fishing and farming communities. The phrase “Clean water, healthy fish, happy people” was a rallying cry for the organization, and a unifying message that I had hoped to capture in the work. I used the Burlington VT library (& UVM) as a resource and found books to teach me more about lake ecology, environmental impact, and the Brook Trout – Vermont’s state fish, a symbol for the organization. When I learned that the Brook Trout can only survive in incredibly healthy waters, and no longer exists in Lake Champlain, I realized that we have LOST quite a lot to pollution. So the artwork I created by seeking historical imagery of maps, fishermen, the brook trout itself, and the boats that grace our lake, was intended to show a vision.
A vision for a healthier, cleaner lake. One that James Ehlers, the organization’s founder, has been championing for years. And one which, I think we can all agree – is worth it. Look for the image to soon be sold on T-Shirts & goods to benefit the organization. And also look out for James Ehlers as he runs for Vermont Governor this year, so much good luck James!! Support his campaign - find him on Facebook .
A recent review of my files reminded me of commissions past. As a young artist in Burlington, VT, much of how I built my experience and portfolio was taking commissions. Each one helped me gain skills and, through a research process introduced to me at my alma mater Parsons School of Design, I "got into it," as they say… (& forgive me, libraries, for keeping a few books too long!)
Here is La Llorona, a tribute to the Mexican-American folklore character, so rich in history. The beautiful cultures of the different regions where the story has been told & retold, came vividly to life for me as I read tragic accounts of colonization, communities ripped apart by violence, and then incredible strength and survival. So much inspiration came from the works of Latin American artists and artisans (quite diverse in nature!), and the peoples themselves who have forged beautiful ways of life together, in spite of all obstacles & suffering. The story of the Weeping Woman took on more and more meaning, which I hoped to convey in the work. Both images below were displayed in UVM's exhibit for Día de los Muertos (2011). I felt priviledged to be a part of it - thank you to Tomas Sanchez for this opportunity!
And the Garamon commission (2012), which brought new meaning to the phrase “post-war experience.” It was never a question in my mind that the atomic bomb did enormous damage, but it wasn’t until I studied this Japanese TV/Animated character (kaiju) that began as a 60’s TV series, that I understood what sorts of feelings can be evoked, and how long-lasting they are, after something so devastating. While Garamon first seemed like a simple “monster-that-destroys-a-city”, I quickly realized that he was quite a complex figure, in a time when people were still trying to understand & express the gravity of what had happened to them in the war. And his creator had used him as a symbol of the atomic bomb – a giant destructive force that arrives unannounced to wreak havoc on innocent inhabitants. Garamon in and of himself is somewhat adorable – a bit awkward in his movements and covered with leaves(!). But in his wake is always some sort of chaos. He has been such a beloved character worldwide that after 50+ years, he is still going! I researched the development of the bomb, the war and post-war experience to prepare and create the work. A great lesson in how art can help a society to heal <3Thanks to Michael Nordstrom of VT & his blog Garamania for this great learning experience!
I’m so excited to share these new additions to Camp Eagle Island, whose story is detailed in a previous blog post. Volunteers were busy all summer working to repair and maintain the beautiful buildings and assets of the island. We’re hoping to have it running for summer 2018! The organization also got some great press, check out the webpage. My contributions on two separate weekends included: hand-painted vintage-looking signs for the bathrooms/unit house, a freshly painted picnic table, and two watercolor art pieces that will most likely be used for T-shirts and merchandise next year (one pictured below). Keep an eye out for those!
The camp has a very rich history, from its original occupants - Native American tribes - to the families of Levi Morton, and Henry Graves, who commissioned architect William Coulter to design the buildings that still stand..and finally Mr. Graves who donated it to the Girl Scouts in the 1930's. I wanted to pay tribute to that history in my art, and also the incredible feeling of one-ness with the land and water that comes from the camp experience. The art piece (below) has a canoe/longboat & paddle, plus hidden figure of a diver (with bathing cap on), inspired by an antique book about Juliette Gordon Low, the original founder of the Girl Scouts -- an incredibly influential figure & leader.
It’s a great cause that will support girls as they gain leadership skills, life-defining experiences and education in the outdoors. Who doesn’t love a great wilderness camp? ;) I do! You can make a donation & help the camp at: www.friendsofeagleisland.org
P.S. Artists' Note: when I first set out to create a work that would represent camp, I hit a stumbling block -- Camp is somehow part of everything I do, paint, draw... and also, I wasn't there. It's hard to experience true inspiration unless you're surrounded by it, I often feel. So, my recent trip up helped me to really define what elements would be most meaningful. And I got to spend some time with some amazing human beings!! Thanks Friends of Eagle Island. <3 <3
A prominent gallery curator in Burlington, VT had come to a show of commissioned fashion drawings I had done, a mix of newer more 'polished' figures and then older ones in black and white, from my New York days. He was kind, but he said something quite honest and blunt, to the extent of: These are nice, but can you do something more interesting? Something gutsier?
Words that were, of course, hard to hear… But which were transformative.
I thought my fashion-school fashion things were good enough. But as I reflected on it more and more, I could see that I had never really done something completely raw, self-determined with my fashion drawings. They were tame.
And so, I began again. One afternoon, after a difficult phone conversation, I sat down to paint -- this time combining sharks with a female face, bubbles, and simply color. I painted it all at once, step by step, working with the fluidity and the imperfections. And out came Shark Tank.
I'm not necessarily convinced it's any sort of "best work" but it pushed a boundary for me, which is I think all you can do. Venture into new territory again and again.
I hope to finish the series of 'Fifteen Fashion Faces' in the upcoming year. Until then, see the current works here.
I am not at all leaving Las Vegas… but somehow it seemed like the most fitting title! (Thank you, Sheryl Crow, for gifting us that song -- and frame of mind). I'm leaving Vermont.
Before leaving, however, I was able to collaborate with photographer Lauren Mazzotta on the beautiful product and profile shots you see on the new website. It was an incredibly fun shoot, held on location at a friend's family barn/studio/office. You'll see the magical castle-like feeling it seems to hold, in photo #1 (pardon the camera-phone grittiness). A cross between an English barn, Adirondack Retreat, and stunning Chateau… This is the workspace of the Garrett's, the creators of the new Ivy Hotel in Baltimore. Chic and glorious. It was inspirational, to say the least!
We photographed greeting cards galore, and enjoyed the August day in Vermont - sun shining, mountains in full sun, and animals roaming. I'm leaving Vermont for New York City, where I hope to pursue some new creative projects.. I'll miss all this terribly, but I'm looking forward to a new pace, a new sort of sunrise. :)
P.S. Don't worry, I will keep you posted! P.P.S. Thank you so much to the Garretts!!
It is documented that within Burlington VT's history, numerous buildings have served as factories and warehouses for production of textiles and various textile goods. Perhaps that explains my decision to make some textile designs out of my watercolor habit, just about 4 years after arriving and setting up shop as an artist. Or maybe it's the years spent surrounded by calico fabrics while my mom and aunt quilted during childhood… or the time in the fashion industry where, as an intern with Diane von Furstenberg, I collected her printed dresses like they were going out of style -- which, they are not now or ever. ;)
Regardless, I set my mind to this new project and came up with the following. Prints for homes, clothing, fabrics… possibilities. See more at the ART page.
It's Throwback Thursday and I've just taken out my favorite Taekwondo T-Shirt.. Initially I went to Taekwondo class in 2014 out of sheer curiosity, wanting to kick things -- and also draw things (a strange combo, I know!) What I found there was an amazing group of people who were so devoted to their discipline -- and so supportive as a community. It was truly inspiring.. I spent a year there drawing each week - also worked my way to yellow belt and designed a commissioned t-shirt from some sketches I did. My roundhouse kick made some progress too ;)
Here are the photos from the Blue Wave summer camp, which took place in Tunbridge Vermont. Sweaty and fun. Much of the camp walked around in my t-shirt design (even up to three days without washing;)), which was exciting and slightly surreal.
** Also, some notes on the figure drawing: Taekwondo, like many martial arts, seems to be based both on building body strength and coordination for offensive and defensive moves/stances, but also on knowing the opponent and working with their tactics continuously throughout the match. I found that the better I understood the sport, the easier the drawings got. [And of course, the observation done in drawing fueled the learning]. My approach is as follows: I tend to [visually] block the body into segments, head, chest, hips, legs… But then to find a defining movement to capture, as a starting point for the drawing, one that goes through the whole body. And working from there. An adaptation of fashion drawing.. It took many drawings to make progress!
Thanks so much to Blue Wave of Burlington VT for letting me be a part of it :)
When Farm to Ballet began, it was just a twinkle in the eyes… of several devoted adult ballet students, and one inspiring, adventurous teacher - Chatch Pregger. I was lucky to be a dancer in the first and second seasons, 2015 & 16 -- and created the artwork & logo to launch the state’s very first annual traveling outdoor ballet show. For the artwork, the executive team for the project had requested “a dancer with mountains and farm. And maybe some vegetables. Can you do that?”
Of course I said Yes. :) The work took longer than expected, as the perfection needed to get a ballet dancer “just right” is a bit maddening (The lines ARE everything!). Fortunately I had already spent several years intermittently studying/drawing dancers in the adult classes, and about 6 years of taking class myself. [Admittedly somewhat in love with the inherent capacity for beauty that the body seems to possess, made so visible through ballet..]
The inspiration for the mountains and farm views came from books, as it was mid-winter. Artwork was hand-done in watercolor, as well as a black pen version that became the logo. The colors were shifted in photoshop to create richer, deeper tones.
And a star-filled show was born. The real magic was left to the dancers and choreographer ;) I was glad to be able to help out and give back a little piece of Vermont, the state that has so inspired me!
To check out the show & find out more, visit http://farmtoballet.org. ALSO, pick up a T-shirt or totebag and support the project.
Those who grew up with me know that I spent many long hours in piano lessons -- and exhilarating (occasional) nights in performances of school musicals, All-State Choir, and voice recitals. Somewhere around age 20 my hands were restless from being away from the ivory keys, and I took up guitar. I brought my first guitar with me to France on my post-college year of teaching English abroad, and I taught myself (slowly!) all the songs I could think of. Knowing I could never compete with the likes of Eric Clapton and so many others, I was fairly content to imitate Bob Dylan at low volumes while roommates were sleeping.
About a decade later, I realized I could write songs. It was a wonderful revelation… My hope, in writing them, is that I might be able to contribute to the miraculous treasure-chest-thing that is American music. I’ve tried to write songs that I might want to hear - or to sing. Some are more “catchy” than others, most have a distinct folk bent to them. Looking forward to seeing where it all goes...
Here is album #1, Songs for Sea - Demo, written in Burlington and recorded on iPhone (May 2015)
It's always amazing to see a past project come to life…
I was so excited to see the models of April Cornell grace the catalog and website this season. The photo shoot itself took place in Hinesburg Vermont, at Hidden Gardens B & B, last year in the spring. We had many hands to get the job done - I handled makeup (natural), hair and a fair bit of styling. It was a group effort, and such a fun, creative one! Here are some of my favorites...
P.S. Shop April's adorable dresses, tops & girls' clothes at aprilcornell.com - plus amazing linens and housewares. Be warned, it's quite addictive stuff ;)
Nothing better than a 4th of July weekend spent on the island I grew up on… painting!
Summers from age 9 were devoted to a Girl Scout Camp in the Adirondack Mts. of New York State -- a gorgeous tree-covered spot with lake views all around. This weekend, my mission was to create new signage for the camp, transforming traditional brown wood planks with text into welcoming scenes.
We managed to scrounge up varnish in the woodshop, some blue, green and white acrylic paint -- and then a terribly old (prewar?) tube of red oil. The resulting works were a fun experiment in a new medium, dotted with sailboats and little flag posts. The inevitable oversight? Oil paint takes days or weeks to dry! So our little red buildings will need some extra time in the sun:)
P.S. The camp is undergoing a huge revitalization effort -- it has recently been bought by the Alumni and Friends of Eagle Island after a major fundraising campaign to save the camp from being sold. If you can contribute, PLEASE DO. www.friendsofeagleisland.org
The latest artwork has taken a form all its own… tigers that went rainbow. Inspired by both the magnetic energy of the animals themselves, and also the power of movement that they carry, I found some inspiration -- and explanation, in the following quote. From "Tigers in Snow" by Peter Mattheissen,
"If you want to hunt the tiger, first you must make sure the tiger is not hunting you. And to know that, you must first hunt within yourself." -- Mochtar Lubis
Art seems to be one of the best ways of hunting one's inner tigers… To see one's mood right there on the page, transformed into colors & shapes when all is said and done.
The vibrant energy of the dancer pictured here [Eleanor King], controlled yet free, seemed to drive the work forward. It's no surprise that the art itself took a turn towards the abstract and an unexpected color palette. Hopefully it becomes a fierce textile design soon;) --Jackie