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Studio Visit: Barbara Walton

Posted on 05/24/2019 at 2:28 PM

Barbara Walton’s studio is located in downtown Ames where she has been a professor in Integrated Studio Arts at Iowa State University for 23 years. After walking up a narrow flight of stairs, I saw Barbara’s open studio door at the end of the hallway. Although the day I visited was rainy and gray, the studio was still filled with light and felt like a space conducive to creating. After giving me a tour and showing me the remnants of the occasional two or three-person encaustic workshops she holds there, Barbara picked up where she had left off on a new painting and I began to photograph the studio while we talked more.

Barbara Walton studio view 1

O-L: What led you to primarily working with encaustic and why do you prefer it to other media?

BW: It was always the mystery medium in the museums or the occasional exhibition that one might encounter an encaustic painting. I decided to look into it and took a weeklong encaustic workshop in Santa Fe in 2001. The gauntlet was thrown down with its immediacy in dry time and the amazingly sensuous aroma of beeswax. There were so many techniques to explore and endless applications.

Barbara Walton studio view 2

O-L: While your subject matter varies quite a bit, you seem to work around similar themes encompassing the natural and spiritual world. What are some of your influences and what subjects do you find yourself revisiting or more drawn to? 

BW: I always found refuge in nature. Being in nature comforted me and afforded me a wildness and curiosity and it made more sense than any organized religious upbringing.  
It is truth that we ourselves are nature and not above or separate from nature. The work that I do is a way to honor, to meditate to, to pray to, to conjure, to heal, to evoke, to remember, this connection. 

  • The horse – I was a 13-year-old city kid when I asked my parents for a horse. When they said “no”, I said “yes” in my head and began mowing lawns, babysitting, working at the market and bought myself a horse by the time I was 14. Caring and keeping this big beautiful buckskin gelding kept me grounded and alive, in my angst filled teenaged years. The horse = my holy dog = my totem.
  • The Lotus – When I have been absent from my studio for too long, I begin with a mandala painting to re-acquaint, find my way, my rhythm in my studio.

Barbara Walton studio view 3

O-L: The way you speak about your interests is very poetic. Your artwork often includes words and individual letters, so I’m curious what types of writings and/or research you gravitate toward and how that started to manifest in your practice?

BW: Text allows a place to begin, a focus. Even so, by the time I have completed a work, most of the words can become completely obscured. This doesn’t negate or lessen the value of the underlying text but rather allows a history, a depth, an enigma. The various text I choose come from prayers, poems, songs, invocations, meditations, mantras, literature, all which express an honoring, a reverence of earth, of nature, of all beings. The writings come from all over the world, from historical to contemporary.

O-L: What’s next for you? Any major projects or goals you have yet to conquer?

BW: I am excited to be working on the 20 Artists/20 Parks Project, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Iowa State Parks in 2020. This project is supported by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa Arts Council. Pikes Peak Park is the park I have been assigned.
Beyond this, I have a dream to paint a large mural on a concrete wall using encaustic painting techniques and another dream to apply encaustic to sculptural forms that I would build.

Barbara Walton studio view 4

To experience Barbara’s work in person, be sure to come by the gallery on May 31st from 5-7pm for the opening reception of our ANNUAL LANDSCAPE SHOW

Photography by Alyss Vernon 

Studio Visit: Joel Elgin

Posted on 03/22/2019 at 1:56 PM

Organic materials and events inspire many of the forms depicted in our current exhibition, FLUID GROUND. In contrast to the “ground” portion of the exhibition title, printmaker Joel Elgin represents the “fluid” in this show. Elgin’s new series takes viewers to the brutal storms on Lake Michigan that he witnessed last summer. After the storms passed, Elgin took to his studio to translate his experience into his preferred printmaking process, intaglio. Elgin’s studio is at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where he is a Professor of Printmaking. We were curious to know more, so we posed a few questions to Elgin to give our audience a little more insight.

Joel Elgin Storm on Lake Michigan prints


O-L: Your previous work draws inspiration form Irish mythology. What was the thrust behind this new direction?

JE: I talk a lot when I teach. Last spring I decided to listen to what I say and I learned that I constantly tell my students to not be locked into content, be alive to being seduced by new experiences.So instead of being in Ireland last summer, I had an encounter with a violent storm on Lake Michigan near Escanaba. I couldn’t leave it. I stood like an idiot, up to my knees in the waves, I was forced by the “squall” of high wind and heavy rain, to slowly turn, to witness the sublime power and beauty of the storm as it lashed the lake from north to south.

Joel Elgin in the studio UW-La Crosse 1

O-L: Can you talk about your process in translating your physical experience of this storm into two-dimensional imagery? Did you take reference photos or have a specific plan while working in the studio?

JE: I don’t use reference photos because from my experience they tend to have too much information. It’s too easy for me to get lost in the photo details and lose a bit of freedom. Because I don’t illustrate an event, or story in the case of the Irish works, I am free to create what I witness. Of course this means I’m not the most reliable witness…

O-L: What’s next for you? 

JE: I don’t plan to stop the Irish works; I still have a lot to explore in that wondrous country that has been producing art and myth since long before the Great Pyramids or Stonehenge.  At the same time I need to continue to make etchings about my new obsession with storms on the water. I’m looking forward to standing in some deep violent water and taking another beating from a storm or two this summer. Do you want to come?

O-L: Yes! Thank you for the invitation and for letting us in on your practice.

FLUID GROUND will be on view through April 5th. Come by the gallery to see Joel Elgin's prints, paintings by Christopher Chiavetta, Crit Streed's drawings, and ceramics by Amy Uthus. Be sure to check out our next exhibition opening Friday, April 12th from 5-9pm celebrating Olson-Larsen Galleries' 40th Anniversary! We will be exhibiting work by all 55 of our artists; a party you won't want to miss!

Studio Visit: Christopher Chiavetta

Posted on 02/08/2019 at 3:07 PM

It isn’t everyday we get to visit an artist’s studio, so we were thrilled to visit Christopher Chiavetta to select works for Olson-Larsen Galleries’ upcoming show FLUID GROUND. Bright morning sun lit up Christopher’s studio, and the plants lined up along the windowsill created a wonderful setting for Christopher’s art. Christopher’s current works explore a new minimalistic direction that juxtaposes his previous works. Christopher described how he spent a long time exploring disintegrating spaces whereas now he is looking to explore the opposite: solid, grounded forms. 

Christopher explained this new direction and what he hopes to convey: “By emphasizing a sense of groundedness I wanted to convey the impression of being surrounded by and within these metaphysical spaces. This past summer I spent a week painting a mural in a NYC park, and it was really exciting to see it evolve and become part of the environment. I enjoyed that process a lot and wanted to see what would happen if I took the same approach in the studio.”

To see Christopher’s completed works, come to the opening reception of FLUID GROUND on Friday, February 15th from 5-7pm or stop by to see the show February 15th—April 6th.

–Kelli Emerson

For the month of January, Olson-Larsen Galleries had some extra help from intern Kelli Emerson. Kelli is a senior at Luther College, studying English. One of the items we tasked her with was writing a blog post about our recent visit to Christopher Chiavetta’s downtown Des Moines studio. We were able to see some of his works in progress and made selections for the upcoming exhibition.

Photography by Alyss Vernon

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