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Inside the Artist’s Studio: MK Northum Art, Tank Girl, and Anthropomorphism

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By Derrick White

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t,” is a quote attributed to Bill Nye (yes, the science guy). In my life I’ve found this to be true. My father-in-law used to be able to diagnose and talk me through how to fix the engine on my truck from my description of the problem over the phone, yet he needed me to get Netflix working on his television. There is so much information I don’t know, too much. It is overwhelming. The things I don’t know far outnumber the things I do. The world around us is changing so rapidly, who can keep up? There are new technologies, cultures, subcultures, and countercultures. I get confused.

MK-Northum-printFor example, I only know the name of one Pokémon character and there are hundreds of them. I am unsure about the correct pronunciation of the word Manga. Pokémon is an anime, a term used for Japanese animated cartoons, created by Satoshi Tajiri. Manga is an anime-style comic book you read backwards. However, I do know both are full of wild, imaginative mythology, unbelievable creatures, and intense fantasy quests and challenges. I know they are wildly popular with a wide ranging audience. I am unsure if there is any difference between an anime convention and a cosplay gathering, so if you are thinking of getting into any of this, please check out WikiHows.com – “How to Attend an Anime Convention in 14 Easy Steps.” I know embedded in this subculture of costumes and cartoons, among the weirdos and sexual deviants, are some of the most clever, intelligent, gifted, creative, uninhibited, and talented people on the planet – believe it or not.

MK-Northum-Venomous-BitchMK Northum is a local East Texas printmaker, illustrator, and designer. I do not know if she is interested in any of the examples listed above but she does have some eccentric colored hair each time I see her and she has dressed up as a very convincing Tank Girl (a British comic book character created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, originally drawn by Hewlett. Post-apocalyptic Tank Girl lives in and operates a tank, undertakes a series of missions for a vague establishment before going rogue. The story centers on her misadventures with her boyfriend, Booga, a mutant kangaroo).

MK Northum is a genuine, vivacious, and sociable person. Her interests are sincere and authentic and not trendy. She allows her attentions to permeate her life and her art. MK is not a poser, she is the real deal and she is an intelligent, gifted, creative, and talented person. Her natural gift for illustration is one of the most prolific I’ve ever experienced in my entire teaching career. Her artwork reflects a range from comic strip narratives with quick gestural attitudes to serious introspective self-portraits to anthropomorphic fantasy creatures giving human characteristics to animals, plants, or objects.

MK-Northum-Resent-RoyaltyCurrently, MK Northum is doing freelance art and design work creating posters and flyers for events around Tyler. Her experience with digital illustration and computer work is self-taught (i.e. Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.). Previously, she trained in both painting and printmaking at Tyler Junior College, where she was active as Vice President and then President of the TJC Art Club. She then transferred to the University of Texas at Tyler. MK earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from UT Tyler in 2015.

“Since carving my first linocut print under the guidance of Chris Stewart, former TJC art department chair, it stuck with me. I thought I was going to be a painter and do these large-scale paintings, but after a couple of years I realized printmaking was where I needed to be. For my senior exhibition at UT Tyler, all of my work consisted of linocut and mono-print collages,” states the artist. She adds, “I work in a variety of media, but now I’m fresh out of college, it’s hard for me to justify buying a printing press, solely for printmaking purposes. I am currently focusing on graphic design and digital art.”

When asked what started her on the path to becoming a visual artist, she replied, “Watching my dad try to teach me how to draw, except his drawing ended up being a somewhat silly and nightmarish rendition of the cover art on “The Lion King’s” VHS box. Afterwards, I was hooked. I drew every day, and a word of advice: it is the only way you can become better at drawing. Draw each day, even if it’s a doodle on a Post-It note, draw EVERY day. Right now I personally keep two sketchbooks, one small to take everywhere, and a large one for home, but I try to fit in at least one sketch or doodle each day.”

MK’s perspective of what an artist can be has changed dramatically over the years. When she was younger she imagined she would become a famous artist and work for Disney right after college. Now, after experiencing the competitive nature of the art world, she is setting pragmatic goals for herself, and staying on task until reaching them. “If I actually end up working for Disney, Cartoon Network, or a design firm, it would be fantastic, but it all depends on my skill level and how hard I’m willing to work to achieve it. I think I have a good perspective on the art world, but if you constantly compare your art to other people’s art, you’re wasting time,” advises MK.

MK goes through phases of favorite artists, but currently she is influenced by a wide variety including Joanne Nam (figurative, Korean artist living and working in Los Angeles), Sam Wolfe Connelly (nightmarish, illustrative artist from New York), Gary Taxali (vintage comics and advertising, graphic design), Frida Kahlo (surrealist, Mexican painter best known for her self-portraits), and Egon Schiele (Austrian, elongated figurative painter).

“The most frustrating thing about being an artist is getting into a mental block, and not thinking you’re good enough or making as much art as someone else. For three years I made crappy work, in order to make myself make artwork, but once I found my niche and felt like I was making good work, it was like an epiphany and everything came together instinctively. Getting out of that rut was the best thing to ever happen to me, art wise.”

“You must check out her website,” Booga says so: www.mknorthum.com.

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Bloom Where You are Planted, Buy Local

By Derrick White

Glasstire is an online art magazine covering topics in Texas contemporary art. They produce thoughtful art criticism and are the journal of record for our extensive Texas visual art community. The website’s name is a reference to the glass tire sculptures of East Texas native Robert Rauschenberg (1925 – 2008), who was from Port Arthur. Glasstire holds the belief that great art can come from anywhere. In the last few years the website has expanded into the realm of podcasts. In their podcast titled Art Dirt: The Personalities of Texas’ Art Cities, Publisher Brandon Zech and Editor-in-chief Christina Rees discuss what makes each of Texas’ distinct art regions tick and the potential for success for visual artists. 

Rees was the juror for the University of Texas at Tyler’s 34th Annual International Exhibition and witnessed some of the dynamic art aspects happening here. As you might imagine, the bulk of the podcast is devoted to the larger visual art market cities of Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Houston; but they also talk about the panhandle, West Texas, southern border cities, and East Texas gets a shout out towards the end.  

Christina states, “What happens if you go out to East Texas, with a place like Tyler, is you’ve got the universities, you’ve got schools, you’ve got faculty. They are there to stay. They make art and they are bringing up students through their programs and it’s sort of a ‘bloom where you are planted’ thing. Start your own art scenes. Have an art community, busy making work and making it for its own audience – you know, those aren’t necessarily places to move to if you don’t already live there but if you are there, there is a way to make something, however small, feel quite thriving and to have dialogue and to have a community, an actual working community.” 

Brandon Zech responds, “Or maybe they are places to move to depending on if you have this really cool idea as long as you can get local support and you can band together with people who also think your idea is awesome, especially if you are moving into a community you don’t know. But the real crux of this: it only takes one person to really change and make an impact on an art scene, be it in Tyler or in Brownsville, or really even in Houston.” 

Rees concludes, “Once you reach a certain age you will have friends who have moved to big art centers, New York or Los Angeles, and have burned out. They got up there and they had to work two full-time jobs and they stopped making their art because they were too busy making a living and paying rent. They want to come to Texas, or come back to Texas, or figure out a way to be able and have a studio and make work and live comfortably and be creative. I don’t think being completely stressed out by having to make a living all the time and not getting to make your work is necessarily ennobling. I don’t think it’s creatively inspiring, and I think this whole character building up exercise of moving to New York City and living in a (dump) and working sixty hours weeks and trying to get some traction is not necessarily the only way to go anymore. There are a lot of different art worlds and you can make your own art world. Things are changing rapidly.”

Things are changing rapidly. That statement struck a sympathetic chord with me and reiterated a belief I stated in a podcast interview with ETX Creatives founders Addie Moore and Lisa Horlander. “I like what is changing in East Texas and in our visual arts community and the arts community in general. It’s got legs and a driving force it hasn’t had before. East Texas, in general, is changing for the better and I think there are more opportunities coming for visual artists in our region than before. Sixteen years ago, if I had an aspiring visual art student in class, the best advice I could give them was … move. Go to Dallas, go to Austin, go to Houston, go to Abilene, all these different communities supporting their arts so much better than we used to. I really believe this is changing now better than it ever has been, and if we could introduce some of the money here in East Texas to some of our local creatives and get it all off the ground, then I think the sky’s the limit for what is coming in the future,” I declared. 

We are at critical mass for visual art. We have excellent regional museums, universities, and colleges with inspiring art programs filled with professional artists, and we have amazing emerging student artists who are sticking around and building supportive, innovative communities. We have support from new and established locally owned businesses and civic communes throughout East Texas giving opportunities to local visual artists. What we need is collector financial support, people willing to invest in budding talents here at home. Start buying original, local art.

There are many reasons original art brings fulfillment to those who collect. When purchasing art, you may think about décor and how it will fit into your home. Are you looking for an exciting piece, something comfortable and welcoming, or are you looking for something striking out as a room’s focal point? Whatever original art you choose, you will eventually find yourself enchanted by how it becomes a part of your home and a part of your life. By seeking out and supporting emerging artists, collectors may find the pieces they have bought increase in value as emerging artists become established. 

Owning original art enriches your life and has the potential to make you happy. You enjoy the satisfaction of having a good eye for what fits your personal aesthetic. You get the gratification of having helped and encouraged a local creative who may have depended on your purchase as sustenance they needed to keep going. You have added to the cultural enrichment of our region. You own one of a kind art not existing anywhere else in the world. 

Writer’s note: The Art Guys, a collaborative performance art duo based in Houston, sadly lost Michael Galbreth, who died in October 2019. Galbreth was married to Rainey Knudson, the founder of Glasstire. Condolences.

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Burning Love, Mary Ann Post: Inside the Artist’s Studio

By Derrick White

“My career as a Tyler artist and teacher has brought me much joy and deep experiences from which to create my art. Art has brought me contentment and happiness. I love to talk with people about art. I learn what is in their heads and in their hearts. Moreover, I love to teach art. For two decades I have watched students challenge themselves to draw, paint, or sculpt in creative explorations that end up thrilling them. I continue to encounter adult students I taught when they were in elementary school. They remember me and recall my lessons. I feel I chose the correct profession for my life,” states local artist Mary Ann Post.

She continues, “My experience creating art spans many decades. I have painted people throughout my life. My earliest memory of exhibiting my artwork comes from the first grade when my tempera paintings of George and Martha Washington were framed and displayed in the hallway of Bluebonnet Elementary School. During my later elementary years, I took art classes three times a week at the Museum of Science and Natural History in Fort Worth. I continued to make art as I completed my high school years and started college at The University of Texas at Austin where I received a Bachelor of Fine Art degree.” 

After college, Mary Ann moved to Tyler to start a career as an artist. She accepted a position at an advertising agency and designed advertisements and illustrated furniture. Mary Ann Post later married, and she and her husband raised a family of three daughters. During this time, she completed her Texas Teaching Certification in Art for grades pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. She put this certification to good use by teaching art in a public elementary school for seventeen years and in a middle school for about two. “Presently, I am attending The University of Texas at Tyler where I am a graduate student. In the spring of 2021, I will have completed my Master of Art History and Master of Studio Art degrees. I will celebrate this milestone with a solo exhibition to be held at the Meadows Gallery located within the R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center on the campus of The University of Texas at Tyler,” she states. I encourage you to seek out Mary Ann Post’s artwork whenever and wherever possible and make note of this exhibition next year in 2021 because these are works of art you are going to want to see up close and in person.

Mary Ann’s work is figurative, and she commands her materials with exquisite detail and skill. Her works reveal a real sense of her subjects’ personalities coming through her process and having a powerful connection to the shared human experience with the viewer. The works are executed with great attention to small details, tremendous patience, and obvious love for both technique and subject. The artist explains, “I focus on a person’s essence. The essence is one’s unique characteristics, the tilt of the head, the posture of the body, the expression of the face, the gesture of the hands, and the objects included. Additionally, I usually only include a single person in my work. I place him or her in a setting defined only by a single color or the grain of the wood. This setting serves as a metaphysical space, thus inviting the viewer to imagine the place and to focus primarily on the human form.”

Post uses two main mediums, painting with acrylic and oil, and pyrography, the art or technique of decorating wood or leather by burning a design on the surface with a heated metallic point, creating beautiful subjects onto the plane of plywood. She describes, “First, I paint the under layers of my figures with acrylic and paint over some of this area with oil. The acrylic paint provides vibrant colors for shadows and local color of clothes. Next, I paint the clothing, skin, and hair using oil paint. The thickness of the paint depicts the heavyweight of the clothes and the velvety appearance of the skin. Secondly, I burn images of my friends and family into various kinds of plywood. The grain of the wood and figure hold equal visual importance. The layers of the wood grain symbolize the passage of time, especially when it passes through the face, creating wrinkles. Thirdly, I occasionally combine paint and colored pencils with my pyrography, or wood-burning. I carefully control the use of color so that it does not overpower the merging of wood grain and the figure.”  

Mary Ann Post draws inspiration from skilled old master artists like Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). She expounds, “He was the master of painting the spirit of the people in his portraits. Not only did he paint each person’s unique characteristics, but he led his viewers to focus on the people by his use of dramatic lighting. Occasionally, he mixed sand in his oil paints which acts like glitter to sparkle when the painting is illuminated by candlelight. Moreover, Rembrandt documented his own life by painting numerous self-portraits. They show his audiences throughout the centuries the mystique and mastery of painting.”

Let us conclude with a speed round of artist facts. Mary Ann says she has dyslectic tendencies, which serve her well for making art, but torment her when she writes or speaks formally. Impressively all three of their daughters were valedictorians at Robert E. Lee High School. Mary Ann enjoys riding bicycles, both touring and mountain. Her favorite national park is Sequoia National Park, CA and her favorite state park is Caprock Canyons State Park, TX. Mary Ann and her husband have been married for thirty-five years. She has known her two best friends for fifty-six years and they talk and get together frequently. Finally, Mary Ann’s cocker spaniel, Penny, is thirteen years old and has the supernatural ability to read Mary Ann’s mind and the dog snores loudly.

For more information about the incredible art of Mary Ann Post, visit: https://maryannpost.weebly.com/

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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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