Home Bodies – Christina Renfer Vogel

Christina Vogel Painting

Home Bodies
Christina Renfer Vogel

January 16 – March 23, 2017
Christensen Center Art Gallery

In Home Bodies, Christina Renfer Vogel depicts houseplants and lively patterns, seeking a balance between the mundane and the theatrical, while offering up pure visual pleasure.

Christina Renfer Vogel earned a MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and a BFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University. She has exhibited nationally and has been an artist-in-residence at the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. She is a recipient of awards including a UTC Research and Creative Activity Grant and a grant from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation. Christina serves as an assistant professor of painting and drawing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Houseplants, 2013, oil on canvas, 35 1/4″ x 30 1/8″

Q & A with J.M. Culver

J.M. CulverDescribe your creative process. How do you get started? Do you ever face an artist’s block? If so, what do you do to avoid/get out of it?

I like to work on multiple pieces at a time. If I feel stuck, I can just move on to the next. Each painting helps inform the other. It’s always interesting to see how it develops as a whole. I don’t have an artist’s block in terms of coming up with ideas for my work, but I have issues with motivation. It’s hard to always feel motivated in the studio on a daily basis. I think the most important thing is to find a theme that you really care about and can connect with. I think you have to remind yourself that it’s okay to make a bad painting. Just get up and paint. If it’s bad, then you can paint over it, try the same idea in a different way, or just move on to the next idea. The longer you procrastinate, the harder it is to go over to the canvas.

How many hours a week do you set aside to be in the studio?

I’m a full time artist so I work daily in my studio, including studio work and marketing. When I have a large project or overlapping deadlines, I work during the day and night with just a nap in between so I can efficiently utilize all my time. I work on both personal projects and commissions throughout the year.

What are studio practices you recommend to emerging artists?

For emerging artists, I highly recommend keeping a specific studio schedule. It’s a lot harder to motivate yourself to work in the studio when you are an independent artist. You have to make your own schedule and deadlines. Even if you have an outside job, set specific days and hours to be in the studio. Create project outlines and to-do lists. I personally like to use an annual planner for my yearly goals and break it down into monthly, weekly, and daily to-do lists. I also keep a dry erase board for the month and have my phone calendar to remind me of deadlines. I’d also recommend reading articles and books on marketing and the business of entrepreneurship. A former professor once said to me “There are 24 hours in a day; make it work!”

What challenges do you face when starting a new project?

I spend a lot of time researching and writing out my ideas in my visual journals. I have a new journal/sketchbook for every project to keep things organized and to revisit old ideas. It’s very helpful, especially if you work on multiple projects in your studio. I spend more time writing than I do sketching. I do basic sketches of my ideas and for the compositions. I don’t like to plan all the details or the work doesn’t feel fresh when I start on the canvas. For large work, I hire someone else to build my stretchers and do the prep work. Sometimes I’ll start paintings pinned to the wall, then I’ll figure out the specific size and have the stretchers made. Delegating the prep work allows more time for my painting and marketing.

Through your exploration of memory, are there any themes that tend to resurface in terms of how you express a certain situation/feeling/memory?

A lot of my work pieces together fragments of memories that I find connect with one another. Some of these fragments and images have become part of my own visual language and resurface in new work. I think that they can start to create a new narrative and possibly a new interpretation of the original memory or experience. Sometimes these characters and objects seem to take on a life of their own in the work where things come out on a more subconscious level. Sometimes it takes the viewer to even point these things out to me, or I step back and discover it after the piece is finished.

What new projects or exhibitions are you looking forward to next?

I’m looking forward to my work being in the Christie’s Auction at MCAD in May. I also have some commission projects lined up. My grant project has sparked a lot of ideas for future paintings and drawings. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore my current theme and see how it develops this coming year with both drawings and paintings.

J.M. Culver stands next to an artwork

Questions by Gallery Intern Johanna Goggins.


J.M. Culver Painting

January 11 – March 23, 2016

Reception: January 22, 6 – 8 p.m.

Large-scale paintings by J. M. Culver reconstruct the past and explore new perspectives in generational storytelling with narratives that vary from the mundanity, absurdity, gravity, and humor of life. These intimate paintings take a look into the transitory nature of memory, inconsistency of perspective with mental illness, and the ownership of stories and secrets.

Artist Statement: My paintings reconstruct the past and explore new perspectives with generational storytelling. They are personal interpretations of my grandfather’s stories, both lucid memories and surreal moments skewed by his altered mental states from schizophrenia. My large-scale paintings explore the transitory nature of memory, the ownership of stories and secrets, and the inconsistency of perspective with mental illness. These narratives depict scenes that range from mundanity, absurdity, gravity, Continue reading “WHERE BACK WHEN by J.M. Culver”

Studio Visit: Tara Sweeney

Tara Sweeney has two studios: a formal space for large scale, solitary work; and just about anywhere else she can create smaller scale drawing, painting, and writing in her visual journal. This includes places like her garden, kitchen table, neighborhood, the city, the banks of the Mississippi, a farmer’s market, and music in the parks. At the moment, she is working in her front porch at an old farm table where two objects have her attention, alongside a pot of tea, and life outside the open windows.

Tara Sweeney Studio

Working on an almanac-style visual journal of around 70 entries for her upcoming exhibition, she is in completion mode. But drawing and writing for this series began in 2008 and has proceeded throughout the seasons for nearly six years. One long ago November morning, while making a journal entry in bed, Tara spilled ink on the page and the sheets. It was the start of writing about the “messy, but real stuff in life.” She stopped trying to find subject matter and started letting it find her by closely observing the everyday objects and rituals that caught her attention.

Tara Sweeney Studio

The finished work is a combination of ink and watercolor drawing and original text in a reflective voice. Part prose, part poetry, each entry spreads across two 8.5” x 11” sketchbook pages and includes the spiral binding. Her process starts intuitively and proceeds organically. When something begs to be sketched, she trusts her instincts and begins. Today she is completing text for a drawing of Russian nesting dolls begun the day her grandson was born. Frequently a drawing is completed first and the text is then drafted longhand in a project notebook. Holding up five notebooks from this past year, she says, “I overwrite and pull out what I need when I need it.” She moves on to the next drawing when inspiration strikes and eventually returns to revise and hand letter the text for each entry, sometimes months or years later. “Life happens so I have to be flexible and place mark. It allows me to be present to the moment of inspiration and also to bring work to completion by using the increments of time I have.” Enough was completed on that busy day that fifteen months later she revises the text and discovers a connection between the matryoshka dolls and a missing family story that defines the origin of her grandson’s name.

Tara Sweeney Studio

After 15 years of leading undergraduate travel programs in plein air sketching to France and Italy, Tara has honed her skills for drawing and painting on location. But until the “Close to Home” visual journal series she had never really kept a consistent sketchbook here in Minnesota. Six years later the results are ambitious and original. She jokes about her process, “I have a high tolerance for ambiguity.” But she is very serious about sequence when it comes to completion. On the table sits a calendar listing all the entries with notes about what each needs for completion. “At this point I work chronologically.” She explains that it helps pace the effort and focus required, “That way I don’t finish all my favorites first and leave the tough ones for the end.” In May 2014 she calculated that finishing three entries per week would prepare the series for her solo exhibition opening at the end of August. However, after an unexpected trip to Paris for her son’s marriage, and planning to host their Minnesota party in her backyard, it’s now more like five entries a week. “Oh, this one is actually done,” she exclaims, drawing a big X through the date. “The list keeps me honest.”

Tara Sweeney Studio

Releasing an intimate body of work like this is both exhilarating and terrifying. “Creating an intimate series like this is essentially agreeing to be naked,” she explains. Through experience, she has grown used to the challenges of making really personal work visible, but it is still terrifying. “I have great support in family, friends, and gallery directors.” Plus, she loves making this artwork. When asked what has kept the series going for this long she says without hesitation, “It’s fun. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had creating. Maybe it’s because I am letting my artist and writer work together for once.”

Tara Sweeney Studio

Connecting with others has also motivated her to complete the series. It was exhibited in progress in January 2013. She notes that the viewer response was a complete surprise to her. “I never expected people to stand in the gallery and read every word.” They did, and then shared stories with each other that the artwork triggered.

Tara Sweeney Studio

The objects and rituals that inspire Tara’s artwork are ordinary but the insights she reveals are anything but. We recognize ourselves in this work. It’s this bridge between the personal and the universal that makes the work so engrossing. Browsing through the intimate seasons of her visual journal entries, we share the humor, the pain and sorrow, the joy, the gratitude, and the hope that inspires this work. We are, as the title suggests, close to home.