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Inside the Artist’s Studio: Michelle Flanagan

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By Derrick White

It’s a small world, and the art world is even smaller. Be kind to those you meet; you will meet them again. Although it can sometime feel like everyone everywhere is crafting, blogging, painting rocks, or creating some kind of art, the truth is most people do not. If you are a creative person, congratulations, but understand as you stand in line in a big box store or get stuck in traffic most of the humans surrounding you do not regularly participate in creative, artistic activities. If you do not consider yourself artistic, the best thing you can do to change is to begin. Give it a try. Create something for yourself and for the therapeutic benefits and enrichments it adds to dealing with life. There’s no competition with anyone but yourself. Just attempt, improve, and grow. Today is good day to start. Right now is even better. “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms,” is a quote from the book “Zen Shin Talks” by Sensi Ogui.

While attending the University of North Texas, Denton in the 1990’s, I befriended a talented artist named Michelle Flanagan. The University of North Texas has an excellent visual arts program and makes a profound impact on the Texas contemporary art scene.Their graduates are often engaged in all aspects of the art world. Connections occur so often I am constantly reminded it is a small world, a smaller art world. In fact, half of the full-time faculty members in the art department at Tyler Junior College are UNT alums. So, when my art journey brought me to East Texas it was not surprising to come back in contact with Michelle Flanagan, a Tyler native.

Artist Michelle Flanagan was born in Tyler in 1971. Her primary discipline and field of research in art is drawing, but she also explores painting. She works predominantly in the media of graphite, charcoal, oil pastels, and acrylic paint. Michelle completed an Associate in Arts degree in Art at Tyler Junior College in 1991, a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art (magna cum laude) at The University of Texas at Tyler in 1994, and worked towards a Master of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art at the University of North Texas, August 1994–May 1997. She had a solo show for her MFA exhibit in Denton, Texas, at the Cora Stafford Gallery, UNT College of Visual Arts and Design. Flanagan lives and works in Whitehouse, Texas.

Michelle’s artwork is visually captivating, sensitive, and composed of multiple layers of almost ephemeral mark making. Her subjects are deeply personal, sometime autobiographical, but intensely universal providing powerful connections to the shared human experience.

“I typically use and combine graphite, charcoal, oil pastels, oil bars, and acrylic paint. I like the immediacy and control of working on paper. It’s easily accessible, which complements my spontaneous, expressive approach to art,” she said. “I have enjoyed working on stretched canvas as well but through my career as an artist, it’s been less available. Stretched canvas also has give to it, unlike paper, which has a flat surface and is more rigid,” states the artist.

She adds, “My work is figurative, typically portraits or torsos. Style is determined by the nature of the work. I’ve made graphite and charcoal portrait drawings using a realistic style. It is quite gratifying to see how far I can push techniques to have the end result represent the subject realistically. The work I do for myself is more expressive. One of the best descriptions of my autobiographical self-portraits came from my UNT professor in graduate school, cathartic. I look forward to the unexpected and spontaneous. I have such an enthusiasm for watching a work evolve. Through the interplay and control of variables surprise is inevitable.”

“I believe artists are just those who do not grow out of the childhood joy of creative exploration,” Michelle said. I have drawn for as long as I can remember. I was educated in the basics of art, and my skills and habits improved. I became very comfortable in the execution of representational, realistic images. I was given positive reinforcement throughout my childhood and teenage years. Positive feedback and encouragement from my mother, family, friends, and teachers enhanced my self-esteem and made me want to create more.”

Michelle has great respect and admiration for the ancestors of art. She will often visualize while creating Michelangelo or Titian (masters of the Italian Renaissance), Willem de Kooning (Abstract Expressionist), the group of Expressionists (artists concerned with manifesting feelings over observation).

“It is an amazing gift to reflect back on the legacy of art history and good company from which to draw motivation. I feel humbled, honored, and proud,” Michelle said. Her favorite artist is Pablo Picasso (Cubism and more).

The business of art comes with its own challenges beyond the trials of the creative process. “I created a website back in the early years of the internet,” Michelle explained. “A part of me believed collectors would immediately find me, flitter upon my doorstep, purchase everything I created, and offer to be my patrons for life. I still don’t know how people make it, whatever that means, especially in the digital age. And, marketing through social networking seems like a full time job. I never sought a business degree.” Michelle added, “Understanding through experience what “starving artist” means is rough.”

Being an artist does not mean one must make their living as an artist. You do not have to compete with anyone. Just bloom. Michelle stated, “Having to accept I had to get a real job was difficult. I entered the workforce around 2004 and had a full time job as an administrative assistant until 2015. My art productivity practically ceased through those years. The past few years have been some of my toughest in life, but things are changing for the better. I’ve created some new drawings and look forward to what awaits me in the future.”

I am looking forward to it too. Bloom.

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Gallery Main Street hosts First Digital Exhibit

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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