Putting petal to metal

Artists turn to studio work to re-charge creativity.

For Michele Van Slyke and Peggy Brunton, a joint exhibit at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, “Women Unleashed,” is a chance to let creativity emerge.

The pair – island friends, both noted Northwest artists – combine forces to show figurative metal sculpture and painting, merged with images of plant life.

Like many artists who make a living from selling work, they find that commercial success may come at a price, since public work must conform to public values.

“I think as artists we all start with a need to express ourselves,” Van Slyke said. “It’s a need, it’s not like one day you decide ‘I’m going to be a lawyer.’ But as you go on and you have to make a living, then you think, ‘well, I cannot just do it for a gallery.’

“So, public art is available. You end up doing things that people appreciate. But, it’s not self-expression.”

Therefore, both Van Slyke and Brunton say, periodically having an exhibit of studio work is a valuable, and perhaps essential, way to reconnect with one’s deepest personal vision, the reason most artists come to the practice in the first place.

To create work for the show, both Brunton and Van Slyke had to drop other projects to get into the right “mindset” to make the new work.

As soon as she let go of the commissions, new ideas welled up, Van Slyke says. That’s where the notion of “unleashed” comes in.

“It’s like, ‘I can do anything I want,’” Van Slyke said. “And all of a sudden this surge of ideas come up.”

Concepts for her sculpture grew in scale, while the larger-than-lifesize steel cutouts of human figures merged with plant forms.

When Brunton made a studio visit, the emerging pieces prompted her to think of ways to collaborate.

In several works, Brunton’s imagery of women in gardens is layered with Van Slyke’s free-standing sculpture.

Known for her attractive depictions of island gardens, Brunton cut loose with oil paintings of Marilyn Monroe, “biker babes,” and several nudes.

“I also have a gal who is quite modern, with tattoos and piercings,” she said.

The last-minute push to get work done is demanding, and as the opening date advances, the pressure mounts.

Brunton, who paints in slow-drying oils, says some works may not be completely dry by the time the show opens.

Van Slyke also wonders about the rushed pace and toll.

“On the one hand, I’m saying ‘why am I doing this, I’m killing myself smelling the fumes, smelling the paint, grinding, grinding – I can’t even move my hand any more,’” she said.

“And yet, if I didn’t have a deadline that short, these pieces wouldn’t have existed at all. There’s no way I would have done it otherwise, so maybe it’s worth it after all.”

* * * * *

Island painter Peggy Brunton and sculptor Michele Van Slyke are “Women Unleashed” at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, June 5-July 5. The friends present works of untrammeled creativity, and one large-scale collaborative work. A reception for the artists is 6-8 p.m. June 4 at BAC with a gallery talk at 2 p.m. June 5. Call 842-3132 for more information.

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