“Double Take: Artists Respond to the Collection” at the KIA

When asked if I’d like to be part of Double Take at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, I was more than happy to participate. A show in which I get to pick a piece from the collection and create my own work in response, and then the two would hang side-by-side? Of course I wanted to do it!

Subsequently browsing the collection on the Institute’s website, then visiting the vault to see my possible selections in person was a treat. There is some really great art in the KIA’s collection. In the end, I chose a watercolor by Philip Jamison titled “Milkweed” as my companion piece.

Philip Jamison, American, b. 1925 Milkweed, ca. 1950-1960  Watercolor on Paper  Collection of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Donald S. Gilmore  Copyright Philip Jamison, image used by permission of the artist

Philip Jamison, American, b. 1925
Milkweed, ca. 1950-1960
Watercolor on Paper
Collection of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Donald S. Gilmore
Copyright Philip Jamison, image used by permission of the artist

The quiet atmosphere and solitude in Milkweed immediately made me think of a special place just a few miles from home, though I planned to paint my scene in a different season that was more personal to me.

As part of the exhibition, we were asked to write a short text speaking to the relationship of our work to our chosen piece, which would display with the paired art.

To me, Milkweed has a certain sense of quiet isolation, a solitude, which I am often looking for in my own work. When I manage to catch that mood in a scene, I feel like I’ve done something special with the painting. I can only imagine Philip Jamison must have the same sense of satisfaction when he captures a deep feeling in one of his own works.

There is a prairie tallgrass field north of Kalamazoo, and in early Spring, gentle breezes tickle last year’s dead stalks to create a quiet, pervasive whisper. If you stand for a while – with nothing but that dry rustling and the occasional bird song all around – and feel the changing vernal light and the zephyrs on your skin, you begin to get a sense of magic; it’s as if the whole world is whispering something unknown, yet deeply important.

"Whisper", 2014, Acrylic on Alupanel, 18 x 30 in.

“Whisper”, 2014, Acrylic on Alupanel, 18 x 30 in., by David Jay Spyker

I wrote to Mr. Jamison to tell him about the exhibition, and to ask if it would be alright to use the image of his painting for this article. What a thrill it was to read Philip’s letter in response! At 89 years of age he writes that he has been “unusually busy” lately. I hope to one day reach that age and still be busy making art.

"Whisper", 2014, Acrylic on Alupanel, Detail

“Whisper”, 2014, Acrylic on Alupanel, Detail, by David Jay Spyker

He also writes “I have used milkweeds in many of my paintings simply because they are so prevalent in my part of Chester County…. I have vases of them in my studio…. and they have been there for over forty years”. That got me thinking of when I was a kid wandering the woods and empty fields near my house in Rochester, New York, and how each year the milkweed pods were such a source of fascination.

It was irresistible to pluck them and pry them open; I’d get the sticky milk all over my fingers, and explore how the seeds were packed inside with their silky threaded parachutes. Later in the year, when the pods would eventually split open on their own, I just had to blow handfuls of those seeds into the air.

Even today, on walks through fields, it makes me happy to see milkweed plants, and sometimes I still stop to play with the pods.

Study for Whisper, 2014, Acrylic on Gessoed Paper, 12 x 17 7/8 in., by David Jay Spyker

Study for Whisper, 2014, Acrylic on Gessoed Paper, 12 x 17 7/8 in., by David Jay Spyker

“Double Take: Artists Respond to the Collection at the KIA” is at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts from 8/16/2014 – 1/18/2015. The show features the works of thirty area artists displayed with their corresponding selections from the KIA’s permanent collection.

Jamison's Milkweed and Spyker's Whisper_KIA-1000px

Philip Jamison’s “Milkweed” with David Jay Spyker’s “Whisper”
hanging at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
Photo courtesy of the KIA

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, 314 S. Park St., Kalamazoo, MI 49007
www.kiarts.org


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