Article in the Kingston Times
On Rebecca Darlington’s work:
‘an amalgam of fragmented patterned forms suggest a wildly inventive fantasia.’
“Mixed Company”: Getting the Work Out There
by Lynn Woods/Kingston Times/Aug. 14, 2017
Christie Scheele’s minimalist landscape paintings and pastels are instantly recognizable: her fields, mountains, copses of tree, marshes, ocean views, and murky roadways, delineated by headlights, are reduced to tonal masses bathed in an atmospheric haze. Scheele, who earned her BFA at Alfred University’s College of Art and Design in 1980, has had much success. Currently she is represented by six galleries (five in the Northeast and one in Portland, Oregon), and her work has been collected by numerous museums and private and public collectors, including the Dorsky Museum of Art, Queens Museum of Art, and American Airlines; her paintings were featured in the films Broken Flowers and Perfect Strangers and have appeared on the pages of Architectural Digest.
Scheele, whose home and studio are located in Chichester, just outside Phoenicia, also teaches workshops, and as her reputation grew, she found herself fielding lots of questions from other artists struggling to get established. Twelve years ago she began a mentoring program and has since mentored approximately 60 artists. “Mixed Company,” this month’s exhibit at ARTBAR Gallery, features the work of 18 of those artists. Collectively representing a range of styles and media, the show (hung by gallery director Allie Constant) has a clean, elegant look that reflects Scheele’s expert eye.
There are many stand-out pieces, a testament to her guiding hand in helping the artists produce a focused body of work. Some artists have never shown before, while others have exhibited widely in galleries throughout the Hudson Valley and elsewhere. “Mixed Company” signifies the debut for Al Desetta’s large paintings of groups of seated figures, in which thin washes of color arranged in big, jazzy shapes on the drawn forms suggest cubist collages, convey humor and a psychological gestalt in the quirky drawing and off-beat harmonies. At the other extreme are the cut-paper collages of Polly Law, each featuring a paper-doll-like form of a single skirted woman flying over a copse of trees, suggesting the protagonist of a dark, mysterious fairy tale; Law’s highly regarded work has appeared in the region’s top galleries at commiserate prices. There are abstracts by Sandra Nystrom and Mary Katz, each emphasizing application of paint and color juxtapositions, stunning digital photos of flowers by Elizabeth Panser, and a large, glossy mixed-media piece by Rebecca Darlington whose over-the-top bright colors and amalgam of fragmented patterned forms suggest a wildly inventive fantasia. And, of course, Scheele herself is represented with a couple of small works and Dusk Road, in which a mysterious white light shines from a twilit wooded landscape with overcast sky and mountain ridge.
Over the years, artists would approach Scheele at openings and say things like “’you show at such and such a gallery. Can I use your name?’” she recalled. “There are five reasons why that wouldn’t be helpful to that artist. I realized all these artists in isolation were trying to reinvent the wheel. I had figured some things out that I could communicate, such as how the system works, how galleries work, how to move up with different types of venues, how to price your work, and also how to work with the artists’ particular body of work and refine it. You need to always go out and explore always new places.”
Initially Scheele’s mentoring “ran like a year-long college course,” which has since been simplified to a one-day required “intake workshop” meeting, which costs $100 and is held a couple of times a year, followed by three-hour meetings held every other month, which cost $30 a meeting. (Participants can attend as many meetings as they want.) She limits the group to six or seven artists. She also does private consultations by phone, charged by the hour. She has hosted the workshop and meetings at her studio as well as on Nantucket and Cape Cod and has attracted artists from as far away as Nova Scotia and Louisiana.
“Artists get stuck in fear, dread and anxiety,” Scheele said. “This is not a magic bullet, but rather a process to help overcome the resistance and hurdles to productivity. I really advocate support within the artists’ community, which is a nice feature about the Hudson Valley.”
The process begins by “looking hard at the artist’s work. Are you all over the place? If so, that makes it hard for the gallery to commit to any one thing you’re doing. Alternatively, are you painting the same painting over and over again? How could it be improved? Do you need a better technique or a better vision?” Scheele believes that every artist has the capacity for improvement. She delights in working with artists at different levels and in different styles and noted her reward is “seeing the satisfaction of the artists build a resume, sell work and become more professional.”
Knowing the difference between an artist’s statement and a resume, as well as becoming familiar with the standard pricing, is important in approaching galleries, she added. Temperament is another criterion that figures in a gallery’s decision to take on an artist. She noted that a curator and gallery owner in the area once said, “there are lot of really good artists in the community. I’m going to work with the ones I enjoy working with.’” Another element that counts in an artist’s favor is being articulate. “To get anywhere, you have to be verbal,” Scheele said. “We do a round robin at the meetings in which each artist puts up the work she or he has done and we all start talking about it. Everyone practices their art-analytical skills. We also practice how to have a conversation that is both truthful and kind.
“We look at the work and constantly question how to refine it. You also have to try to be realistic about where you are and determine where you fit in and how you can move up.” Whether the gallery advertises, the price range, whether it’s well lit and even whether it shows lots of jewelry—“usually that’s not preferable, since people are going to be looking at the jewelry”—are points to consider in approaching a venue. In a few cases, when she feels the work is strong, Scheele will recommend a mentee to her galleries. Some mentees are also experienced professionals seeking to “get back on track” after a calamity such as the 2008 recession, which caused a lot of galleries to close and sales to dry up.
Scheele classifies galleries into three types--emerging, mid level, and blue chip. Surprisingly, she considers mid level to be more desirable than blue chip. “The blue chip resale market is not ethical,” she notes. “The quality of work may matter much more at the mid level, while in the blue chip market the name is made.”
Once an artist has landed a gallery show, “you need to have a following and bring people to it,” she said. And whereas an artist can make more by selling work directly from his or her studio, since there is no commission, in the long run it’s better to direct sales to the gallery since the gallery will then be more committed to you, she added. The internet is another potentially lucrative source of sales—hence the importance of having a good website. (Scheele said she recently sold a piece on the internet after the buyer found her work by Googling “green landscapes.”)
Scheele also helps artists with the presentation. She points to a pair of small landscapes in “Mixed Media” in which she advised the artist to not use “yard-sale frames and move it up. She was working in a funky mixed-media style and painting on the frames. I encouraged her to work on boards and maybe a floater, which makes the pieces feel more contemporary. My taste does run toward elegance rather than playful and funky.”
Occasionally, an emerging artist comes along who might be able ”to leap frog the early stages of emerging” and get into a mid-level gallery. Al Desetta, the artist in the exhibition who has never shown before, is an example, she said.
Desetta, a book editor and ghost writer living in Woodstock who hadn’t painted since high school, started painting again two and a half years ago at nearly age 60 and signed up for Jenny Nelson’s abstract painting class at the Woodstock School of Art. “I work intuitively and can’t always articulate what I’m doing,” said Desetta, who started going to Scheele’s mentoring meetings after she was recommended by a friend. “She gives us a language for talking about your work, which reinforces whatever you’re doing. She gets you on the right track, and you also get to talk to other people what you’re doing. As a painter, you’re creating the work and not necessarily thinking about selling or getting it out there. Christie helps to build your confidence.”
Desetta added that he started painting because “it always nagged at me that I thought I had ability and hadn’t really explored it…I work from family photographs, some dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, and am very interested in the nuances of people’s expressions and the undertones conveyed by people alone or in groups. I draw attention to what I think is unnoticed.”
While “Jenny taught me about the elements of painting, Christie helped give me a language to describe what I was doing. She said my work is ‘psychologically taunt, that it occupies a zone of intensity between being provoking and soothing.’ That was very helpful.” Desetta is currently trying “to compile a body of work…and hopefully with Christie’s and Jenny’s help get it out there.” He’s gotten a lot of good feedback from “Mixed Company.”
Scheele said another artist who is “an inspiration in productivity” is Rebecca Darlington, who recently left the Hudson Valley and moved with her husband back to New York City. Darlington has been meeting with Scheele for nine years, after she got back from an artist’s residency in France and was “turned upside down” in the kind of work she was doing. “I needed some grounding, so I started attending these monthly meetings with Christie. It’s such a great cross-section of people, and you’re sitting in this beautiful studio with a brook babbling in the background. Christie is very matter of fact and full of knowledge, and it’s always a good refresher for me to go up there.
“I was trying different things, and Christie finally said ‘you just have to pick something you love and stick with it because you have to build a body of work,’ so I did and ever since with her feedback went merrily down a road,” said Darlington, a graphic designer who didn’t start making art until she was 45. She also learned “the importance of having a very simple website and keeping your artist’s statement up to date, as well as keeping a registry of where your artwork goes, the mechanics of setting up a show, how to keep track of your clients, and letting your audience know what you’re up to. “
Darlington was in an artist-run gallery in Cold Spring for three years and is now looking for galleries in New York City. Meanwhile, she is teaching a collage class at Inkpad, a store in the West Village, sold a set of stencils of her work, and is illustrating a gift book. She also attends many openings, “which is a great lesson in building relationships with other artists and could open a door.” A show of her work at the Brooklyn General Store led to the collage class, which in turn created the opportunity to publish the set of stencils. “I’m busy,” she said.