key concepts connect work of Milwaukee painter, Eau Claire photographer
As I pored over paintings of quiet farms, I was taken back to my grandparents’ country home. Of the many memories nestled away in my heart, this is one that I’ll remember vividly for years to come: I’d spent the afternoon in my grandmother’s garden, pulling stems from her homegrown cherries. I remember looking down at my crimson-stained fingers; watching the tart juice seep into each intricate crevice. In that quiet moment, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of awe. I was alive. I was meant to be. The beauty surrounding me – all of it – was meant to be. Beauty isn’t a mere accident, but we sometimes forget it exists.
“The sky reminds me of the bigness and wonder that is all around us.” – Beth Stoddard, painter
I think that’s why I most enjoyed the opportunity to connect with Hope Greene and Beth Stoddard about Elegance & Simplicity, a joint exhibit of their work at the Janet Carson Gallery in Eau Claire. This show reminds us that beauty surrounds us even in the simplest forms.
Their pieces work so effortlessly together and sing what Hope compares to a “two-voiced song” that you’d think the two of them have known each other for years. In fact they met just a few months ago. Hope alluded to fate’s whimsy as she explained how both of them studied art in Philadelphia. “During that time we probably lived and worked blocks from each other but never met,” she said. Beth, a Milwaukee-based painter, shared that it wasn’t until the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council’s Visual Arts Committee contacted her about the show that she had the privilege of meeting Hope, a photographer from Eau Claire.
For the two artists, the wonder that becomes the focal point of each piece begins with finding moments to connect with natural beauty. Hope found her inspiration in the flower beds of Phoenix Park. As for Beth; when I asked her if there was a particular place she felt most inspired, she excitedly told me about Erin Meadows and Muskego Farms. Beth spent much of her life in the city. For her, spending time with the natural world is like a “mini vacation.” She also loves the sky, which plays an integral role in her paintings. “The sky,” Beth says, “reminds me of the bigness and wonder that is all around us.”
While connecting with nature can sometimes be a walk in the park or a sun-kissed farm field, the process that goes into each piece can take months, even years. Beth spends three to four hours with her oil paints as she captures the beauty of the countryside, but much of her time is spent in her studio where she gives weeks to the editing process, perfecting her vision. Hope’s process involves “wandering slowly around a landscape ... trying to find an arrangement of place, subject, and light that creates a resonance within. It’s like the humming after a bell is struck,” she says. When that moment arrives, she takes photographs to capture that feeling in a way that makes it available to everyone. This flows into the “printing phase,” during which Hope uses both antique and modern techniques to bring the “bell-hum experience” into visual form.
Now that Elegance & Simplicity is underway, Beth and Hope are focused on new challenges. “I’m always working with finding new processes and ways of doing things,” Hope says. Her next project involves using cheese to make photographic prints and employing color in ways she hasn’t approached before, a challenge she’s very much looking forward to. Beth is turning her focus from vast landscapes to smaller green spaces. Through her next project, she will highlight the beauty of Milwaukee County Parks (158 parks, 11 parkways). Beth anticipates that this new project will take five years to complete, but she hopes to “hasten her efforts as she continues her work each summer.”
Wherever their art leads them, Beth and Hope want to remind people of the “open doors beauty” all around. Hope also challenges us to remember that, “Mundane is only in our heads. ...We have such a slender opportunity to be alive and love the world.”
Beth Stoddard and Hope Greene: Elegance & Simplicity • Monday-Friday through Jun. 30 • Janet Carson Gallery, 316 Eau Claire St., Eau Claire • EauClaireArts.com