Let’s Talk Art Eric Dever Leads ‘A Visual Conversation’ - 27 East

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Let’s Talk Art Eric Dever Leads ‘A Visual Conversation’

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Museum educator Wendy Gottlieb times a student during

Museum educator Wendy Gottlieb times a student during "A Visual Conversation," a workshop led by Eric Dever at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

A student contributes to a painting during

A student contributes to a painting during "A Visual Conversation," a collaborative workshop led by Eric Dever at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

A student works on an artwork during

A student works on an artwork during "A Visual Conversation," a workshop led by Eric Dever at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

A student works on an artwork during

A student works on an artwork during "A Visual Conversation," a workshop led by Eric Dever at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

A student works on an artwork during

A student works on an artwork during "A Visual Conversation," a workshop led by Eric Dever at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

Artist Eric Dever leading students in

Artist Eric Dever leading students in "A Visual Conversation," a collaborative art workshop held recently at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

Artist Eric Dever lines up the student works created during

Artist Eric Dever lines up the student works created during "A Visual Conversation," a collaborative workshop held recently at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

Artist Eric Dever leading students in

Artist Eric Dever leading students in "A Visual Conversation," a collaborative art workshop held recently at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

Artist Eric Dever leading students in

Artist Eric Dever leading students in "A Visual Conversation," a collaborative art workshop held recently at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

Artist Eric Dever leading students in

Artist Eric Dever leading students in "A Visual Conversation," a collaborative art workshop held recently at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

Completed student paintings from

Completed student paintings from "A Visual Conversation," a recent collaborative art workshop led by artist Eric Dever at the Parrish Art Museum. TOM KOCHIE

authorAnnette Hinkle on Jan 24, 2022

Artist Eric Dever recently led East End students in “A Visual Conversation,” a workshop at the Parrish Art Museum in which students create art collaboratively. Each participant begins with his or her own paper and has one minute to make marks on it using one paint color and one painting or colored drawing tool. The paper is then passed along to the next person and the process repeats. The students work collectively on each piece by “conversing” with what’s already been put onto the page by previous participants, and then passing the paper on to the next person until each artist’s own original work comes back to them.

The final project will result in a mural of over 300 participants from area schools and organizations that will be exhibited at the annual Student Exhibition running March 12 to April 10 at the Parrish Art Museum.

Q: The process is much more collaborative than many art projects in which students work exclusively on their own pieces. How does working as a group change the dynamic and the interaction between the students?

Participants are sometimes a little confused at first, letting go of their own work, receiving another’s page, it’s a knee jerk reaction. But this is temporary, exchanging and completing others work leads one very quickly into a flow state. For individual artists, it can take hours to find an optimum working rhythm. We are not especially concerned with making anything representational, the project is also a fast track to a pure drawing and painting experience,

Q: The workshop is called “A Visual Conversation” and is based on a technique you learned as a high school student from your teacher Mary Jane Slike, an artist and educator at Westchester High School in Los Angeles. What do you remember of the process when you first experienced it as a student yourself? How did it affect you as an artist?

I had never experienced anything like it. Our days of post elementary education were punctuated by constant ringing bells, warning bells and speaker announcements. The school, the physical campus, the pleasure and apprehension of having so many classmates was exciting enough; but a calm overcame the classroom studio as we entered this project.

Mary Jane Slike began her demonstration with another student and explained how this might be something we could also do at home with pens and colored pencils, siblings too. As she continued, everyone became quiet, there was an unusual calm as the entire class participated. Students who seemingly had few interests in common became engaged in another kind of communication, and this sometimes continued casually afterwards. Personally, I was grateful for the time to go inward and communicate with others nonverbally — visually. Looking was encouraged and so was the use of cut out paper view finders to help us crop images from magazines to further abstract.

Q: Mary Jane Silke had learned the method from Sister Corita, with whom she had studied as a student at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles. Can you share some insight into her work and background, and describe the influence she had on you as a teacher?

Mary Jane Slike was an art major and Corita Kent’s service worker in the college art department from 1952 to ’56. She recalls the great collective and noncompetitive spirit fostered by the nuns where art and innovation evolved organically, which she also likened to a medieval guild. At intervals, still life and life drawings were exchanged and completed by the students with enlivened and unexpected results.

Following graduation, Mary Jane Slike carries and adapts these ways of working into her own high school classrooms developing a purely abstract collaboration, which she titled “A Visual Conversation.” “Mrs. Slike” encouraged me to seriously consider becoming an artist as my own vocation. She believed that I could really do it. And this was all the encouragement I needed exactly at the right moment. This is what great teachers can do.

Q: Coincidentally, Sr. Corita also worked closely with the late Sag Harbor playwright and Parrish collection artist Joe Pintauro on collaborative art and writing projects. You knew Joe as well, how did that connection come about and who did you know first?

By the 1960s Corita Kent was exhibiting pop art serigraphs at the Morris Gallery on Waverly Place, New York. She was a pop artist with a humanist edge who incorporated quotations by poets, writers and innovators all kinds. In 1965, Joe discovered Corita’s work in the same Manhattan gallery, and her use of his own poetry in her prints — of course he wanted to meet her. Between 1968 and 1971 Corita Kent and Joseph Pintauro published three popular and well collected illustrated books of poetry published by Harper Row.

Mary Jane Slike was interested in integrating text into paintings and kept an index card box filled with quotations including Joseph Pintauro, William Gaddis and Antonio Porchia, which we all mined for text. Some 30 years later I came to know Joe on the East End of Long Island, who spoke lovingly and often of Corita. He said that he owed her a lot.

Q: What was the age range of the students at the Parrish Workshop and do you find that the different age groups reacted to the process in distinctly unique ways based on their age?

Fourth grade through high school, each session lasted about 60 minutes or a single class period. The youngest participants seemed to create the most paint saturated results. Some of the students worked toward completing each other’s paintings and drawings, which was unexpected and equally welcomed. We are grateful for everyone’s contribution and looking forward to displaying this work together in a mural format at the museum.

Q: The workshop calls for participants to choose just one painting or drawing tool and one color to represent their voice throughout the process. Tell me about the importance of the selection of each in the process and how that affects the choices the participants make.

The color selection, brush and knife or color infused paint stick, become for each participant their unique mark, imprint or signature, usually distinguishable throughout the exchanged process of painting, drawing and mark making. Self-expression varies and is activated in this project, which holds true for individuals from different language backgrounds, cognitive experience and ways of learning — this is a community project.

On Friday, February 5, from 1 to 3 p.m., Eric Dever leads “Mixed Media 3D Elements and Painting Strategies,” a Creative Studio for adults and teens at the Parrish Art Museum. Learn strategies to incorporate 3D elements into paintings. Special exhibition artists John Torreano and Virginia Jaramillo will serve as inspiration for creating artworks. The workshop will be held in the museum’s Lichtenstein Theater to allow for social distancing. Materials will be provided. The cost is $25 ($15 members). To register, visit parrishart.org. The Parrish Art Museum is at 279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill.

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