by V.A. de la Huerta
R Gallery’s opening of the third annual Student Art Show at Arlene’s Artist Materials on Friday, February 2, was abundant in connections and camaraderie between artists, their guests, instructors and Arlene’s staff. The group exhibition features artwork made by participants in classes or workshops held at the Atelier. The show is on view through Saturday, February 24, 2024.
Three of the featured artists chatted about their work, influences, future direction and focus in an informal, wide-ranging discussion.
The essential need for artists to engage in professional development and push beyond perceived boundaries and limitations emerged as a common thread in our conversations. Instructors were noted as being pivotal in providing expertise and inspiration to other artists’ processes. The power of participating in the arts as a path to self-invention and re-invention, was made undeniably clear by the artists’ stories of how they have arrived.
From left to right, the artists featured are Tracy Loring, Venlue Williams-Leonard, and Althea Pestine-Stevens. It's important to note that Tracy received the Best in Show award, Venlue was honored with the Diana Bangert-Drowns Memorial Creativity Award, and Althea was recognized with the Albany Center Gallery award. Additionally, Stephanie Pirrone, although not pictured, received an Honorable Mention.
When were you first impressed by artwork, and which piece stands out in your memory?
Tracy Loring: I was elementary school-aged, and my parents took me to see everything. I saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night on a touring exhibit outside of San Francisco. Being in the presence of its texture and color really got me.
Venlue Williams-Leonard: I’m having a full-circle moment when I can draw and paint like I did as a little girl. I’ve been a lot of things: a writer, a columnist for the Star-Gazette newspaper in Elmira, and owner of a public speaking business. My piece in this show merges several techniques to represent the way we did our hair up when we were young (I still do it up). I wanted to create a portrait of a black girl with authentic hair- this artwork represents all the things a little black girl can become, and can still be, even at 75 years old!
Althea Pestine-Stevens: I remember seeing Picasso at the MOMA. The work awakened emotion in me that made a deep connection, even at a young age in elementary school.
What is your focus for upcoming work?
Venlue: I will keep following my heart to art. I’ll keep creating, combining media and exploring methods and materials such as Suminagashi, alcohol inks and collage.
Althea: I’ve only recently begun nurturing the creative side of myself, so I plan to continue developing my skills. This is the first time my work has ever been shown publicly. The process behind what the viewers see involved eight different drafts of my needle felting piece.
Tracy: My three key concepts for upcoming work are: bigger, textured, deeper. I plan on continuing to explore cold wax and oil, carving and building layers in my work. I intend to reach deeper in terms of the expression of emotion and of who I am.
How do you stay connected to the art community?
Althea: I took a class at Arlene's with Aly Parrott and love how this store helps nurture creativity for those in a creative headspace. I look forward to continue seeing beauty in the mundane, as inspired by Ottavia Huang, and to keep developing pattern and using color as encouraged by Maria DeAngelo, both of whom teach at the Atelier.
Venlue: I made a promise to my son, that I would not waste the surprise membership he gifted me to Albany Center Gallery. That membership resulted in my initial group show, where my first painting sold. His gift was a turning point in my life. I intend to be part of the art community as an act of faith- for promising my son I will not stop.
Tracy: I found my tribe here after coming from the art community of Bastrop, Texas, outside of Austin, and relocating to the Capital District during the height of Covid. I joined a Makers Market at Arlene’s, met the store’s artists in residence, and instantly felt at home.