Saturday, October 13, 2012

Creating Poetry

2 Open Studio artists make digital art worth seeing
Originally published October 12, 2012 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

When I was a journalism student at Fresno State, professor Flynn—a quirky, straight-talking veteran of both the navy and the Miami Herald—started his reporting class by drawing a list on the blackboard. Flynn’s “Hierarchy of Writers” placed poets at the very top. They were the loftiest, most respected of all writers. Below poets were novelists, playwrights, essayists, advertisers, publicists, etc., and at the very bottom were reporters, the lowliest of all writers, commonly associated with the word “hack” if they did it for too long. I did well in the class, but Flynn’s “Hierarchy” certainly put that into perspective.

"Celeste" by Bonita Diemoz
As a photographer, I have sometimes sensed a similar unspoken ranking for visual artists. At the very top level are, or course, painters—presumably what all artists would aspire to be if only they had the talent. Below painters in significance are sculptors, architects, printmakers, designers and all sorts of crafts-persons. Photographers are nowhere near the top, and, like journalists, probably somewhere near the bottom—or maybe even in a category all their own, separate from art. Why else would photography be excluded from juried art shows, or share the home arts building with the county fair apple pies and postcard collections?  (To be fair, I hope this has more to do with the popularity of photography and the volume of entries, rather than a snub at photography.)

"Rhoda" by Bonita Diemoz
As you might expect (and I love to demonstrate), I don’t know much about poetic writing. But I would refute a hierarchical view of artists. The most talented among us don’t automatically become painters and the rest of us take what’s left over. Being an artist is all about finding your voice, and the best way to express yourself may not necessarily be through dabs of color on canvas.

Those led to photography can be just as brilliant and talented as any other artist. And these days, digital processes have given photographers many more ways of expressing themselves. In the Open Studios Art Tour calendar for 2012 you’ll find 38 photographers and 13 digital artists. Some digital artists further subcategorize their media as collage or mixed media, and print on surfaces as varied as paper, metal, glass and fabric.
Bonita Diemoz’s surreal digitally altered
 photographs are a treat to see, as well
 as her beautiful Victorian home in
 downtown Santa Cruz.  

"Magdalena" by Bonita Diemoz
Bonita Diemoz, who creates digitally altered photographs, will be participating in her seventh Open Studios Art Tour this year. A former weaver and casual photographer, she took a digital photography class at Cabrillo College from Ted Orland about 10 years ago just to learn how to use her new digital camera. But when she also learned how to use Photoshop, she was hooked. “Once I discovered what I could do in Photoshop, I found my niche.” she says. “I love it. I spend hours and hours and hours even though I work fulltime. If I ever get to retire I’m going to do Photoshop all day long every day.”

Diemoz describes herself as the “Cemetery Queen.” Her favorite cemeteries are in Italy and France, where larger-than-life marble statues adorn the graves of the wealthy. On her website, she shares maps to guide others to Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa or Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. “From about the 1880s to about the 1920s there was a real renaissance of people hiring famous sculptors to make their one-of-a-kind monument,” says Diemoz. “Today, that’s just prohibitively expensive.”

"Metamorphosis" by Bonita Diemoz
"Rosebud" by Bonita Diemoz
Over the years, she has amassed a large collection of statuary imagery from visits to her favorite cemeteries—angels with impressive wings, lovers kissing, a mother feeding a baby, a woman sleeping—and has combined these emotive images with dramatic scenery. Local residents will recognize the cliffs, surf and beaches along West Cliff Drive as backdrop for many of her photos. The results are startlingly beautiful and otherworldly, more surreal and romantic than tragic.

Diemoz says people either like her images or they don’t. “I know I don’t appeal to the masses. I used to work for one man that won’t even look at them.” She says she gets a good cross-section of visitors at Open Studios. “The young women seem to like the angels.”

"Domenica" by Bonita Diemoz
Linda Cordy’s paintings and digital collages are
 displayed in her living room, as she gets ready for
Open Studios, with her dog, Bailey. 
Another digital photographer taking part in Open Studios is Linda Cordy, who says she has been an artist “as far back as I can remember.” She started oil painting when she was five with her grandfather, an inventor who owned his own photo studio. “He was so patient and wonderful. He was like the perfect English grandfather,” she says. A photograph of one his inventions—the “Mobilopter”—is featured prominently in one of Cordy’s digital collages, looking like a cross between a huge, bloated insect and a helicopter, and very steampunk. “It really did fly,” says Cordy, so proud of his dream-fueled ingenuity.

"Jelly" by Linda Cordy
Cordy was also a student of Ted Orland’s at Cabrillo College. Her collages are a fascinating combination of objects and places she’s photographed, and she enjoys pointing out local elements in her work that people will recognize, such as the roof of the Rittenhouse Building or the top of the Boardwalk Merry-Go-Round. In addition to combining layers of her own photographs, she uses digital images of her paintings to create texture and subject matter. She also scans real objects such as flowers and feathers for her collages. “I have to go through thousands of photos. There aren’t many photos you can make collages out of,” says Cordy.

"Wonderland" by Linda Cordy
Much of Cordy’s work is personal or family-related. She has a large portrait she painted of her paternal grandmother on the wall of her living room, with words and phrases floating around her head such as “suffragette,” “union organizer,” and “seamstress to the queen”—so her legacy would be remembered. Cordy has also created a digital family tree collage, with biographical photographs of her relatives. And, above her fireplace is a painting of a seductive scorpion fish—a personal and political statement, she says, about her bank. “They have my loan and they have been evil,” she says with a laugh.

"Velocity" by Linda Cordy
As both a painter and a photographer, Cordy might be the first to tell you that there is no way to rank various artists’ mediums. She says that what appeals to her about painting is the “hands-on process, the more organic connection to the work.” But being a digital artist at the same time, gives her a sense of balance. She spends just a many hours on her digital collages as she might on a painting. But, time spent (or not spent) isn’t really the measure of a successful work of art. “Art has always changed to reflect the current culture,” and new art forms like digital photography “always seem to be under scrutiny,” she says. And photography—as popular as it is—isn’t necessarily the tool of artists who can’t paint. “It is not cheating to take a photo. It’s just another way of seeing.”
"Legend" by Linda Cordy

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