JOURNAL

Q+A: RENÉ SHOEMAKER + HOPE HILTON DISCUSS FRANCE, BEING AN ARTIST, INSPIRATION, CHANGE, THE dÉRIVE, COMMUNITY, THE SITUATIONISTS, + MORE

 
walt Whitman
 
 

I've been wanting to ask these questions of René for some time, and I was so very happy when our schedules allowed the time to make this happen. A little background: I knew René's work years before I knew René personally, and I quietly watched her work grow and evolve from the sidelines. As an artist and curator, a big part of what I do is pay attention to how creatives and thinkers are responding to the world. Watching the work happen is a beautiful thing to behold, and I draw from this collection when I put exhibitions together or pair artists up to collaborate. It's like being a composer, a poet, and a philosopher all at once! When I finally met René we were fast friends, and I always have her work in mind when I'm in the world and thinking about what the world needs - more slowing down, more curiosity, more dream following, more wandering, and more, well, hope. René offers this. Enjoy our Q+A! xoHope

Hope Hilton: I've always wondered - at what point did you know you were an artist?

René Shoemaker: At a very young age I was always creating and seeking inspiration. One of my earliest creations - way before I was 5 years old - was a horse that I pieced together from the cloth of my Mom’s sewing discards. I cut out the pieces and sewed them onto another piece of cloth (some might call that ‘applique’).

 

HH: When did you decide to pursue your art full time?

RS: Oh, man, this has been inside of me for a long, long time. I had a “master plan” to retire from The University of Georgia absolutely the MOMENT that I could - not because I didn't like my job as Library Director/ Librarian / Gallery Director (I did like it, tremendously) - but so I could practice my art full time. I had been making art all along, always, but became more serious about it in 1998 when I returned from a summer working in Cortona, Italy. I was in a job there surrounded by artists and art-making people (not to mention the gorgeous Italian hillside architecture and use of the land!) and was completely inspired. Once I began making art more intently, I also discovered how time-consuming the business of art is. Retirement allowed me this time.

HH: Ahhh, retirement... you are doing it right, in my opinion. Now that you have this freedom, you can go anywhere, do anything. I love that you've settled in France and cannot wait to visit! How has being an artist there differed from being an artist in the States? What is something that's easier to get accomplished in the States and vice versa?

RS: I have the feeling that the French have a different attitude toward artists here. It’s not different as much as it is in the States. Here it's just another job description, a part of life! I also discovered that being an artist, and having an exhibition scheduled and about to open so soon after my arrival, was a wonderful introduction to my new community. Who I was and what Harvey and I were doing there was open to the public. In our new place we seemed to be integrated into the community a lot quicker than if it were otherwise.

It’s easier to work here in France because there are less distractions. At home I have a schedule, I have friends, I have social obligations. Here, I have my studio, I have my house, I have Harvey, and the landscape that calls to me every day. Everything, everyday, is an inspiration.

HANDS DOWN it’s easier to find the art supplies I need in Athens, Georgia. I will never, ever, ever again take for granted the fabulous service that The Loft and KA Artist Shop offer to the artists and creatives of the region. I would not be where I am today without the support - and the supplies - from KA and The Loft.

Feeling spaces became something I noticed then,

and it has continued.

- René Shoemaker

 

HH: I think I take internet-ordering for granted, too, in terms of art supplies. And, yes, we have this amazing community here in Athens that supports artists through all levels of their work. I wanna talk about your new work, the work I respond to the most. Much of your new work is an investigation and commitment to a specific community, and because architecture has been a big part of your work (and life!) in the past, did this just happen naturally, or did you know that you wanted to encounter a whole city?

RS: I know I want to conquer the world, and what better way to do it than city by city? I’m not sure where my connection to place comes from... Well, now that I write that, I can imagine that it comes from exploring and the sense of place I created by living in the woods in a handmade house. Traveling in France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands gave me a sense that there are other ways of doing things, often the everyday things that we take for granted. (i.e.: architecture and living spaces and the differences abroad versus home). Christopher Alexander’s book “A Pattern Language” had a big impact on me and my viewpoint.

I also moved at age 17 from everything I knew (not so early in life, but a transformative experience for me) and this provoked new sensations, a kind of "feeling" of spaces. I was searching for the meaning of life then, and also tuning in to the details - loving the sound of the tires on the pavement as I traveled down the road - usually in a friend’s car or by hitchhiking. Later on, in my own car (an International Harvester pickup truck!), it was me and my Great Dane, Eric, having marvelous explorations. Feeling spaces became something I noticed then, and it has continued.

After having wandered for over 10 years, and landing in Athens... You know, it's a very small town - only 10 square blocks in the downtown area - but it feels good. The spaces are intriguing, the juxtaposition of new and old architecture inspirational. I love looking at the old Otasco building (now the Holmes-Hunter) as I cross Broad Street to North Campus at the University. Harvey and I had a small business downtown and I spent 30+ years on North Campus, so downtown Athens was like a home... I had an art studio there, and I felt very happy to be there.

 

HH: And now MY studio is on the exact floor where yours was, years later! I loved the day you told me about that. I looked at the space differently, I envisioned it as when you inhabited it. Not a lot has changed but someone put carpet in the halls and painted the stairs... it's a different space now. But the same place. What prompted you to explore places to begin with and how has this idea changed for you?

RS: For my first solo exhibition at Clayton Street Gallery in Athens in 2001, I offered two proposals - one of exploring the town of Athens and one an exploration of my house (handbuilt, octagon-shaped, in the woods). The Director chose the house proposal and we named it “Ethereal Spaces.” We also decided to pursue the other proposal the following year, and “From Here to There” was born from my explorations of Downtown Athens and the University of Georgia. Then and there, my career was born.

Also, I don't want to forget that when I first moved to the Florida Keys in 1969, way before University, I took a drawing class from a local artist. He took us around to the various locations in the Keys, and what I remember the most - what had the biggest impression on me -  were the old weather-beaten structures on Pigeon Key. There I discovered the beauty of lines that are not straight. I learned how to draw perspective from that artist, and I also learned how to veer away from true perspective with confidence.

 

HH: I love that, when teachers share with you all of the levels of things, and everything involved, and how to just approach it with enough lack of fear to evolve it into a confident mark or gesture. How cool that you were exploring the Keys as part of a class! Now that explorations of place are revered in the art world, especially in prominent museums and galleries, your work is part of a large canon of artists that focus on community, history, and exploring.  One of my favorite movements in art history were the Situationists (in France in the mid 20th century!), and one of their best projects, in my opinion, was setting the intention to wander. They called it a dérive: to wander without knowing why or where you'll end up. How do you feel about connecting to this great idea of the past to now?

RS: I‘m happy to hear that explorations of place are now revered in the art world -- can we schedule a show of my work at a major New York City museum now? :) I love your connection of my sense of exploration to the Situationists’ quest for an “unplanned journey”. There are so many things that point to the fact that I must have lived in France in a former life, as in my name: Re =again né = born... there is no French blood in my family to invite a French name be given to me, yet here I am. Wandering... being alive...

To wander! This is the perfect way to exist. No maps, no guidebooks, only discoveries.

And the past? The Situationists were not so long ago. The past is connected to the present. Always.

A wonderful consequence of the work that I do - exploring a place through its spaces - are the stories I receive in return. This was an unexpected result of putting my art out into the world. My visual stories encourage others to explore, and see, and remember, their own discoveries of a place.

 

HH: In my opinion, the stories and connections are the best thing to come out of creating and sharing art. Why do you think we are craving work like this again, work that connects us? 

RS: Are we? In this life of disconnectedness (especially in the States), I believe there is a strong urge to connect. Families are changing. Nondescript strip malls have taken over America. The concept of “belonging” constantly changes. People wander. Others ask questions. I, myself, was disconnected and rootless for over 10 years, from my late teens to late 20’s. I haven’t consciously made that connection before (of my work related to place and my disconnectedness in the past), but maybe this question will lead to the answer for me?

I believe in the beauty and simplicity of line and color. This quiet beauty is what I am trying to share with the world.

HH: And sharing that with the world helps us rest, connect, recognize, wonder... And I want to understand, because you headed to France at such a tumultuous time politically (newly elected president here and there, immigration politics and terrorism, etc.), what are the conversations like about the States there, if there are any? How do you see us represented or generalized across the pond?

RS: I’m living in a very rural area, and am not completely fluent in the language, so I’m not sure I can say much about the mood of this country towards America. These days I don’t read the news, nor do I watch TV... Although people do shake their head in disbelief if the name of our current president comes up. Otherwise, I find that the USA is still well respected, and that there is still a memory that the United States helped France immensely in WWII. 

 

HH: That's really good to hear in so many ways, as I've received emails from friends across the globe offering help and support. I like focusing on the local, on my small town and my amazingly diverse state, and doing my best. I also haven't been the best at keeping up with the news. Perhaps this is showing up in our art? I have noticed changes in your work since you were in France! Being in new spaces often brings along a shift that's usually quite strong, and often quite brave. So you're in this new place, and it's yours so you can settle in, and just... do your work. It sounds like a dream! I've watched your work shift in the exploration in and around other new spaces - from working in pencil and pastel at your Penland Residency to working HUGE at the Columbus Museum… and I'm not the only one who is noticing! This question is from your dear reader Maureen:

Maureen: My question is about the use of threads sewn onto your work. What inspired you to add that touch?

RS: Moving to France gave me the freedom to release myself from any boxes I had placed myself in, even before the move actually happened. There was something about the fact - in my head - that the people here were not familiar with my work, and that I could be free to try any method, medium, idea - there were no expectations of who I was and what my work had been in the past. The only person who had any idea of my previous work was M Wilfried Celerien, the Adjoint au Mairie of Felletin, whom I had made the original proposal for my current exhibition to - and I am happy to say he was delighted to see my new direction(s).

Thank you, Maureen, for always asking such thoughtful questions! I have been considering adding stitching to my silk paintings for quite a while but was unsure of how I would approach it, and how I could make it “different” from other artists’ work. My framed silks always have an element of stitching, as I hand stitch the silk to the mat board - but often these stitches become invisible to the eye.

When I arrived in France and was faced with a deadline to create and complete a body of art for an exhibition in a short period of time, my resources were (very) limited and I was free to experiment with new materials. I located embroidery threads with the right colors at the local recycle store. There are two layered silk paintings in the Felletin exhibit, and as I didn’t have an embroidery hoop, I had no way of keeping the fabric taut while I worked on it. I stitched through the mat board to add texture to the flowers in one design, and to highlight the wooden shutters and metal door slats on the other. It seems crazy, because it was only a few stitches, but I really could go on for hours discussing the reasons behind my actions!

And as a side note - I have always had an element of working large with my art. From my senior BFA exhibit when I had weavings, embroideries, and monoprints at a 6’x6’ size, to motion drawings I created at Penland that were 4’ x 6’, to a silk painting installation at the Ramsey Center at UGA that was 4’ x 12’ (x3). I feel comfortable working large, so working small here was also a new experiment.

The Short answer? 

I wanted to add texture and color to a simple design in a subdued way.

 

HH: So, are you afraid of anything?

RS: Rien. If I am afraid of something, I try hard to identify in and overcome it. Consciously.

 

HH: Any advice for young artists?

RS: Work hard. Never give up. Look inside and don’t forget who you are. Trust your instincts.

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 9.48.26 PM.png

HH: And what's next for you?

RS: Taking over the world. Exploring new media and pushing the boundaries of the work that I do. A museum exhibition in Mississippi in 2019. An art show in Bordeaux, France in 2017. I am always searching for opportunities, and I look forward to exhibiting again in Athens!

 

HH: What is your life’s force?

RS: 1. Perseverance furthers.   2. A sense of constant amazement at what I experience, and the fact that I am constantly amazed by the NEGATIVE SPACE shape of the sky against a building’s roofline.

HH: Any questions for us?

RS: I love feedback and stories. I’d love people to respond to this interview by writing about their experiences with my art. This helps me more than they can ever know.

 

HH: It really is such a huge part of it all, that conversation and that community. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Dear readers, please feel invited to share below any stories or inspirations. Let René and I know where you wander, or what currently inspires you.

 

 

RS: Thank you, Hope Hilton!

 

- René Shoemaker

July 17, 2017

La Creuse, France

 

 

 

New Beginnings in the Studio

As work in my studio begins for the new year, I’d like to invite you in, show you what I’m working on, and invite your feedback. Let me know what you think about my designs for this new series, and what advice you have for me. (Select any image to enlarge)

I have an exciting new project: An art exhibit in France! The exhibit opens June 21st in Felletin, midway between the cities of Limoges and Clermont-Ferrand in central France, at the heart of the French tapestry production area. Felletin is located on the river Creuse, dating back to before medieval times. 

I have already visited this area several times (and fallen in love with it!), so I have a collection of photographs and sketches to work from. I love exploring its streets, traveling on foot or bicycle from the main square down the hill towards the river, where an old railroad station sits amid a budding arts district of studios, workshops, and restaurants. Fewer than 2,000 people live in Felletin, so it is a cozy if sprawling town. Meander up the hill from the square and you’ll find sheep and cattle grazing in beautiful open fields. In a section of town called Beaumont (“beautiful hill”) one hilltop offers spectacular views, while another hill’s narrow, winding streets feature small houses with doors and shutters in beautiful muted colors.

The town slowly reveals itself to me. I love the feeling of discovery as I peek into backyards and courtyards. Is that a goat living in the middle of the city? A horse in the front yard of that small chateau? What a beautiful garden hidden behind that sturdy stone wall! There are monumental buildings and modest ones, historic churches, homes belonging to workers, artisans, and bishops. I am excited to meet the people of Felletin through this new project and exhibit, and to learn their stories along the way. And I look forward to sharing them with you.

Thanks for coming along for the adventure!

MORE GOOD NEWS:

NEW WORKSHOP Saturday, March 11th @ KA Artist Shop

Hand painting on silk is an ancient art with a rich history from India, China, and Japan. The process of silk painting begins with stretching silk on a frame, sketching / transferring the design onto the silk, mixing dye colors, and painting. This is exactly what we will do in the class together. Silk painting is a fabulous technique that makes the silk come alive with color as you apply the dye to the silk.

Each workshop participant will create (and take home) a painting on a 22” square hemmed silk that can be worn as a scarf or displayed as a wall hanging.

All supplies will be provided & no experience necessary

Click HERE to sign up!

 

NOW ON VIEW

 

Gratitude, Thanksgivings, & Plans for the New Year

I love the New Year.

I love New Beginnings.

I love the anticipation of something marvelous just around the corner, and I love setting goals for the new year. 

In 2017, my goals include entering a number of juried shows, both here and abroad. I plan to contact art galleries with the intention of finding one to represent my art. I intend to make art all year long, while keeping a schedule and finding a work/life balance that allows me to do what I love and minimize stress. And I intend to become financially stable as an artist, selling enough art to keep buying supplies for my new work – and to fund travel, of course. 

As much as I love looking ahead, I also love looking back: reflecting on the year that has ended and taking stock of what worked, what didn’t, and what happened in my family, my art, and my relationship to the world. Reflecting allows me to express gratitude for all that I have: my family, my friends, my health, and the ability to share my art with the world. I am grateful for my team, those who support me and help me pull together the many strands of the life and career I am trying to create. I am grateful to live in a beautiful house in a beautiful place, and to call the woods my home. And I am grateful and excited to have purchased a modest house in rural France that will become a satellite home and studio for Harvey and I. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - >

So, you may ask: 
 What HAVE I been doing all year? 

This, my dear reader, is my artistic year in review:

MUSEUM PERMANENT COLLECTION

1a+b. My art is now in the permanent collection of the Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA
       

EXHIBITS, AUCTIONS, FUNDRAISERS, & RECEPTIONS

Clockwise L-R                                                                                                                                                            2. The year-long exhibit of Discovering the Chattahoochee Valley: Silk Paintings by René Shoemaker continued through July 2017 at the Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA                                                                                         3. Columbus Museum Discovering the Chattahoochee Valley closing party
4. Unveiling party at a collector’s home celebrating her acquisition of work from the Columbus Museum exhibit
5. Exhibited prints on paper in New York City at Grand Central Terminal, NYC, and Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY
6. Invited to exhibit at the 10x10 Art for Education exhibit and fundraiser at the Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA       7. Exhibited in the Portrait exhibit at KA Artist Shop Gallery, Athens, GA
8. Invited to exhibit at The Cultural Landscape Foundation annual fundraiser in New Orleans, LA
9. Invited to exhibit at the All About Art fundraiser for the Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, GA

 

SALES, COMMISSIONS, & SPECIAL ORDERS

Clockwise L-R                                                                                                                                                         
10. Large Columbus silk paintings purchased by collector and patron                                                                          
11. Holiday cards commissioned by Columbus resident
12. Nano, a bird portrait commissioned by his human "grandmum"                                                                          
13. A Double Bass instrument portrait created for a Professor of Double Bass and his special family

 

RETAIL LOCATIONS

Clockwise L-R                                                                 
14. Columbus Museum gift shop, Columbus, GA
15. Aurum Studios, Athens, GA                                                 
16. Avid Bookstore, Athens, GA                                               
17. KA Artist Shop, Athens, GA
18. Jittery Joe’s Coffeeshop in 5 Points, Athens, GA
19. Jittery Joe’s Roasters, Athens, GA
20. Treehouse Kid & Craft Handmade Artist Market, Athens, GA                 
and always: reneshoemaker.com/shop

 

PUBLICATIONS

Clockwise L-R                                                                                                                                                           21. Compendium of Craft & Creativity included my artwork with an interview, Uppercase Publishers, Calgary, Canada
22a+b. Published art review of Scott Pope exhibit, Flagpole Magazine, Athens, GA; with the artist Scott Pope
23. Published blog posts all year, the most popular being about travel and adventures, i.e. Brooklyn Bound!Bonjour de France!, Why I Love France, Part II, and A Sense of Place: The Completions of a Museum Exhibition

 

TEACHING, ARTIST TALKS, AND PRESENTATIONS

Clockwise L-R
24. Featured artist at Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance for High Museum members, Atlanta, GA
25. Reading at Avid Bookshop from Compendium of Craft & Creativity, Athens, GA
26a. Professor Spooner, host of my visiting artist lecture at the University of Georgia’s College of Environment & Design: “Ways of Seeing”    
26b+c. Me lecturing and an image from the presentation
27. Taught Silk-Painting Workshops at the Columbus Museum, GA   
28. Taught quarterly Silk-Painting Workshops at the KA Artist Shop
29. Taught private Silk-Painting classes
30 (left). Taught Silk-Painting at the University of Georgia Lamar Dodd School of Art, Athens, GA            

GATHERING OPPORTUNITIES

31. Co-founded a new hand-sewing club                                                                                                             
32. Joined a new artist studio round-robin information exchanging club        

 

OTHER CREATIVE ENDEAVORS

33. Designed and hand-painted a silk dress, delivered to a patron in Paris
34. Created a beautiful hardcopy portfolio in French (with help from my friends) 

 

Opportunities for Which I Applied But Was Not Selected

35. Cité Internationale des Arts Residency in Paris, France

36. Lyndon House 41st Annual Juried Exhibit, Athens, GA

37. World of Threads Festival, Toronto, Canada

TRAVEL

Clockwise L-R   
38. New York City, NY
39. Asheville, NC
40. Paris, France
41. Felletin, Limousin, France

 

UPCOMING EXHIBITS

42. Scheduled exhibit in Felletin, France - Summer 2017                                                                                           43. Scheduled exhibit at a museum in Mississippi, USA - Summer 2019

 

It’s been a great year, but this was only the beginning! Stay tuned for more events and news. 

Wishing you a prosperous, creative, and healthy New Year, 

 

 

 

 

The One Thing You Need to Know

The One Thing You Need to Know to Get Started in Silk Painting

Painting on silk is a joy.

It is not difficult.

It is quick.

And it is rewarding.

The thing I like best about silk painting is the swiftness of seeing results – the colors, the beauty, and the immediate gratification. You can paint a scarf one day and be wearing it the next! Or hanging it on your wall for all to admire.

Personally, I love to take an image or design and simplify it down to a few lines and shapes. The color then becomes the main focus of the design. Silk soaks up the dye like magic, and it is a beautiful and stunning process to watch.

I'll be teaching a Silk Painting class in Athens in April, and I will send out more details in a few days.

Oh – and that one thing you need to know to get started in silk painting? It doesn’t take any special talent or skill. I will guide you through the process in our class.

Take care,
-René 


Beginning Silk Painting Workshop

This last Saturday I led a Beginning Silk Painting class at Loft Art Supply in Athens, Ga. It was tremendous fun and it was so exciting to see how the 6 participants approached the design process and to see how their completed designs turned out. I was so worried that our three-hour time frame was not going to be long enough (I had visions of people trundling home with half-finished silks), but everyone finished their paintings -and they were all very beautiful! Here is a photo essay of the experience:

1) The supply table set up.

2) Describing the process.

3) Beginning to design.

4) Consulting on design ideas.

5) Rene describes the process of drawing with resist to keep the colors from mixing together.

6) Transferred design on silk.

7) Amy applying the resist for her design.

8) Mary begins to paint with dye.

9) Jon’s color choice matches his shirt!

10) Rene and Amitabh discuss creating colors.

11) Ken decides on purple.

12) Alice brought flowers for inspiration.

13) Jon’s koi in process.

14) Amitabh’s architecture - almost finished.

15) Mary is proud of her finished silk!

16) Amitabh’s finished design.

17) Amy’s finished squares. She may color the background - we’ll have to wait to see!

18) Alice’s flower scarf - complete!

19) Ken’s purple design - finished!

20) Jon’s koi is ready to swim away!

Now the artists will take their stretched silk home and set the dye the next day. The colors will be even more vibrant once the silks are washed and off the frames.

Wouldn’t you like to come paint silk, too?