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Inside the Artist’s Studio: Joanna Kathryn Gifford

Inside the Artist’s Studio:

Slowhand – Stars, Strays and Ashtrays

Joanna Kathryn Gifford

By Derrick White

“There are songs you can never remember, songs that you cannot forget.” – Eric Clapton.

Eric Clapton’s “Stars, Strays, and Ashtrays” is a hidden gem of a song on Slowhand the 35th Anniversary Super Deluxe album (not the original 1977 Slowhand release). It is easily overlooked especially because it shares a track list with hits like Cocaine, Lay Down Sally, and Wonderful Tonight, but it doesn’t disappoint. The Meadows Gallery located inside the Cowan Center at the University of Texas at Tyler is also something of a hidden jewel of an art space often unobserved because it is not in a larger metropolitan area like Houston, Dallas, or Austin but the space hosts some of the keenest exhibitions showcasing many of the strongest contemporary artists working in the entire state of Texas. The experience of stopping by the Meadows Gallery to check out the latest art exhibition never lets me down.

The recent December MFA exhibition “Revealing the Metaphysical: Edges/Actions/Layers” by local artist Joanna Kathryn Gifford was an amazing occurrence of organic forms, powerful installation, compulsive dedication, and astonishing plays of light and shadow. Joanna explains, “It is difficult for me to designate a style for my work as they are driven by the actions and marks of my body, however in my exhibition, the work presents as sculptural installations.” Most pieces show evidence of the actions of the artist’s hands and there is a powerful authority in this type of act as explained in a blog post from the Mark’s Daily Apple’s website discussing creating things with one’s hands. He explains, “Anyone who’s spent significant time creating with their hands – whether it is painting, carpentry, knitting, carving, or building – can appreciate the distinctive satisfaction it evokes. Spending an hour at one’s own workspace, however plain or disheveled, feels like time in a secluded oasis. It’s in the craft you find focus. The brush or needles, chisel or knife, spade or hammer become an unconscious extension of self. The mind devises, but the hand itself thinks designs. We live in a society enamored by passive entertainment and increasingly invested in the virtual experience. Fewer of us have jobs showing us the tangible results of our efforts. The urge to create is deeply human. Something about it releases stress and brings us back to center.” Akin to this sentiment Joanna Gifford states, “I deal in mixed media, but have an emphasis in ceramics. My material choices are driven by my desire to envelop my biological experience as a human in my work, and so clay, dirt, and other earthen materials are deeply attractive to me.”

Joanna received an Associate in Arts degree from TJC in 2006, a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Texas at Tyler in 2010 and both a Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts from UT Tyler last fall. She has interned at the Tyler Museum of Art and taught beginning ceramics as a teaching assistant.

Joanna always leaned towards creative pursuits. When she was younger, she played instruments, danced, acted (and still does), and wrote. Gifford studied music but was distracted away from academia and dropped out of college for about a year. She remembers, “When I decided to go back, I wanted to do something creative I had never tried before, so I enrolled as an art major at TJC. I had never taken an art class. I was extremely insecure and frustrated about being a visual artist but I absolutely loved my classes and professors at TJC, they really helped pave my way as an artist.” Art has given her a way to communicate those elements beyond verbal language. Joanna believes art is language, and artists are philosophers whose thoughts are revealed through various media. “I have found my research has revealed to me the ether layer I believe to be present yet I could not experience or express through any other form of communication,” she expands. Adding, “I also feel art has given me another way to experience my life and surroundings. Physical interactions such as yoga, trail running, rock climbing, and other things allow me to experience my physical body’s connection to the mind, while art allows me to experience my mind’s connection to the physical body.”

Joanna addresses the frustration of creating artistic infrastructure. Explaining, “Many believe in the stereotypical artist as free spirits and not extremely consistent or reliable, yet in order to be a developed and successful artist, it is essential we build a foundation for our creative practice. As I was installing my exhibition, I realized that 80% of being an artist is infrastructure, time management, cleaning up, organizing, yet if I do all of it then the 20% of the time I get to really bring my work to life is so much more sustained and such a richer experience. For me, the process ends up looking like a pyramid with infrastructure taking up the main base, but it’s so worth it.” I concur with the artist. A lot of being a successful artist is the ditch digging preparation.

Gifford finds inspiration from many artists including, Janine Antoni (contemporary artist creating work in performance, sculpture, and photography) and Richard Long (English sculptor and land artist). “Both of these artists are the best examples of sustainable, present, essential, intelligent, curious, honest, and innovation without being derivative or transforming into entertainers. I also love their connections to the earth and their experiences as humans on this earth,” exclaims Joanna.

The artist adds, “When the edge of one idea meets the edge of another, there is an entirely new layer to the universe and, in turn, creates infinite possibilities, and the only way to unfold these new possibilities is to observe and create action. This idea is continually manifest in the physical and metaphysical. If we can be more sensitive and contemplative of our edges/actions/layers, like vast antennae, we can possibly interpret and intuit the work with so much more understanding.”

More understanding, I like the idea.

“Just like stars, strays, and ashtrays, they’ll never let you down.” – Clapton.

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Art

Gallery Main Street hosts First Digital Exhibit

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Gallery Main Street will host their first digital exhibit from May 1 to July 7. While facilities continue to be closed or with limited hours due to COVID-19, pictures and virtual tours of this exhibit will be available at www.DowntownTyler.org. Art will also be available for purchase online.

The spring exhibit is an open theme to allow local artists an opportunity to spotlight their different mediums, methods, visions and experiences.

“Art never stops,” said Main Street Director Amber Varona. “Now more than ever it is important to create innovative opportunities for artists to display and sell their art.”

This will be the first juried exhibit in the new gallery space inside the Plaza Tower. The space provides the artwork to be visible beyond the hours of the Main Street office and by patrons visiting the new first floor retail bays. The gallery serves as a valued centerpiece to the beautifully furnished atrium that serves as an inviting gathering spot.

For more information, visit www.DowntownTylerArts.com or call (903) 593-6905.

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Online UT Tyler MFA and BFA Art Exhibits Now Available

The University of Texas at Tyler has announced online art exhibitions featuring the work of students who graduated this spring with Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees.

Traditionally held on campus, the exhibitions were modified for online viewing as a safeguard in response to the coronavirus. The work of four MFA and eight BFA graduates can be viewed at uttyler.edu/meadowsgallery/events.

“While we are heavy-hearted about the inability to celebrate our student achievements face to face, we recognize the importance of taking precautionary measures during this time,’’ said Merry Wright, professor and chair of the Department of Art and Art History. “We are pleased to announce our online exhibitions, and we are incredibly proud of the students featured. They have remained steadfast in their commitment to creating and have approached the unfolding events with the highest caliber of professionalism.’’

MFA Exhibitions

Artists featured in the MFA exhibitions include:

Jessica Sanders of Tyler makes delicate-looking ceramic sculpture. Her exhibition is titled “Attach | Manipulate | Respond.” “This body of work deals with form, space, and visual accessibility,’’ Sanders said. “The pieces are made up of small, individual ceramic pieces that are attached together with wire, making flexible ceramic sheets.”

John Miranda’s exhibition, “Pan Dulce in the Sauce,“ features sculpture and paintings inspired by his hometown of Del Rio. “My work is a visceral response to a lived reality, an abstraction of space and memory,’’ he said.” Inanimate entities become communities within space as I try to find a balance between cultural history and personal experiences.”

Laminda Miller of Gladewater makes animal sculptures of epoxy clay and mixed media. Her exhibition, “Intentions,’’ features deceptively whimsical works that are allegorical representations of the social, psychological and literal constructs of identity.

Nora Schreiber of Tyler explores a curiosity of the world around her in her exhibition titled “ALL IT CAN BE IS WHAT IT WAS NAMED.” She asks her audience to step into a visual exploration of the mundane in their daily lives, with a theatrical twist.

BFA Exhibition

Artists highlighted in the BFA exhibition, titled “Nascent,’’ include

Lidia Alvidrez of Dallas – Avridrez’s work as a ceramic artist is influenced by her life experiences and dealing with a mental disorder.

Katherine Emmel of Overton – Emmel’s work is focused primarily in painting and reflects

 

several dystopian and emotional narratives found within everyday society.

Willow Lanchester of Tyler – Lanchester works primarily in clay and metal sculpture. Her art pieces are focused permutations of form that explore themes of concealed information.

Maggie Pierce of Tyler – Pierce uses photo-based printmaking techniques to create highly altered versions of desert landscape. Her work examines the landscape and our relationship to it as something that is mediated by various technologies.

Payton Poole of Tyler – Poole works with multimedia, three-dimensional sculptures, both interactive and wearable, that open conversations about mental illness and the stigma against it.

Grace Richardson of Troup – Richardson uses screen-printing methods to create non- objective forms that render familiarity through their interactions and emphasis on color. A vocabulary of shape and color is established through these arrangements, creating a relationship and language between form and viewer.

Justin Witherspoon of Kilgore – Witherspoon is a printmaker who works in both relief and mono-type. His current body of work is focused on contrasting hard lines and stark objects with nebulous color, inviting exploration.

Teresa Young of Marshall – Young is a sculptor whose works incorporate disposed items such as shipping material and objects from nature. The items signify abandonment and reincarnation.

For more information about the exhibitions, contact Michelle Taff, UT Tyler gallery and media coordinator, at 903-566-7237 or mtaff@uttyler.edu.

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Historic Tyler Celebrates with 26th Annual Photo Contest

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May is a time when thousands of individuals around the country join in a nationwide celebration of National Preservation Month, sponsored annually by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This May, Preservation Month is going virtual.  Even though many historical places are physically closed right now, we hope to excite current preservation supporters and introduce new audiences to the preservation work that makes our community special by opening a window to a world of adventure online.

The National Trust created Preservation Week in 1973 to spotlight grassroots preservation efforts in America.  Since then, it has grown into an annual celebration observed by small towns and big cities across the United States. Due to its popularity, the National Trust extended the event to the entire month of May, which was then declared Preservation Month to provide more opportunities to celebrate the diverse and unique heritage of our country’s cities and states. The hope is to introduce more Americans to the growing preservation movement.

Here at Historic Tyler, we will celebrate Preservation Month by virtually highlighting preservation efforts made here in our own beautiful Rose City, and by hosting our annual Photo Contest.  Historic Tyler’s Photo Contest has been a Preservation Month staple for over twenty-five years, and this year’s theme is Beyond Your Basic Brick. We have picked historic properties throughout the Azalea and Charnwood historic districts that feature interesting bricks, brick patterns or brick details.

To enter the photo contest, identify each photograph by its address or name and submit answers to Historic Tyler, Inc., P.O. Box 6774, Tyler, TX, 75711, send an email to historic@suddenlinkmail.com or private message us on social media.  Entries must be submitted no later than end-of-day, Monday, June 21, 2020.  The entry with the highest number of correct answers will be awarded a family membership in Historic Tyler, Inc. and $50 cash.  In the event of ties, a drawing will be held to determine the winner.

To enter the photo contest, identify each photograph by its current name or address and submit answers to: Historic Tyler, Inc., P.O. Box 6774, Tyler, TX, 75711, Send an email to historic@suddenlinkmail.com, or Private message us on social media.

Entries must be submitted no later than end of day, Monday, June 21, 2020. The entry with the highest number of  correct answers will be awarded a family membership in Historic Tyler, Inc. and $50 cash. In the event of ties, a drawing will be held to determine the winner.

Historic Tyler, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, was founded in 1977 with a mission “to promote the preservation and protection of historic structures and sites through advocacy, education, involvement, and private and public investment.”  It is a membership-based organization with many preservation accomplishments to its credit.  Executive Director Mrs. Washmon invites you to visit their website:  www.historictyler.org for more information on the organization, which is located in the Charnwood District at 110 E. Charnwood Street.

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