FIRE IN THE BELLY (Masterworks 2013)


The Envelope Series: Journey Gift

mixed media assemblage, 16X12 X2 inches

“A fire in the belly”……..that’s what I’ve been looking for in the 678 paintings I have examined over and over in the past week or so. I’m serving as a juror for the  “Standard Fine Arts” 2013 MasterWorks Exhibit. (The exhibit also includes a Miniature Fine Arts section.)  It’s mission is to “create a venue for the excellence in visual art in New Mexico.” Barbara Lohbeck is the visionary director, coordinator, and all-around devoted laborer for presenting this superb show.  I’m working along with other jurors: Woody Gwyn,  and  Ralph Greene. The judge of awards will be Maggie Price.  It has been a delight to look at all the paintings which have been submitted through three very important New Mexico arts organizations:The New Mexico Watercolor Society, The Rio Grande Arts Association, and the Pastel Society of New Mexico. Much of my jurying, initially, was separating the skilled works  from the unskilled, developing works.  The next step for me was determining if the skilled works went beyond skill and reached for creative expression.
In a conversation with noted painter Bob Burridge a couple of years ago, he told me he looks for the “fire in the belly” when he juries a show.  I tried to pin him down and get him to describe what he sees when he encounters a work that comes from that “fire in the belly.” He replied with something like, “you know it, Helen, when you see it.” It’s true, I do, but it’s a concept that I struggle with.  I want it to be definable, I want it to be an idea that  can be communicated to artists who long to be more expressive.

Circle of Friends

acrylic and combined media, 20×20 inches

          The “fire in the belly” is an esoteric quality that makes an image memorable, that causes it to be more than skillful and creative.
I’m not sure but I think it is possible for a beginning artist to spontaneously paint such an image, but I also think that it would be an extraordinary and rare phenomenon.  “Fire in the belly” paintings come after years of skill building, experimentation, struggle with expressiveness and generally after artists have experienced a variety of life’s challenges. A new richer fire of spontaneous expression rises up on these foundations.
My advice to artists who yearn to make their paintings more expressive is to paint steadily, regularly, and with a focus that may cause you to miss meals or sleep.  Experiment, reach for the exact element, color, “found object,” texture, shape, composition that fits your fancy. Noted international artist, Katherine Chang Liu says if you will paint long hours for three weeks you will have a break-through. She says she wrestles her paintings “to the ground.” Indeed, I think she often literally paints on the floor.
It’s a privilege to look at such an expansive range of paintings and to make selections based on my aesthetic bent.  Lohbeck has made an honorable attempt to be fair and just in all the jurying. Each juror looks at the digital reproductions of the  works alone and ranks them on a scale from one to six in three different aspects.  When we each send in our rankings, they are compiled and tallied. One hundred and forty (plus or minus) paintings will be selected into the show based on the rankings. After the show is hung, the judge Maggie Price will have the task of selecting award winners from the actual works of art.
My applause, is a standing ovation for New Mexico painters. You have worked, you have been inspired and you have been bold to put your work out there for us to see. You make me proud to be a New Mexico painter.
Opening day for the show is Friday April 5, 2013, 5 – 8 pm. Hispanic Arts Building, Expo New Mexico  (State Fairgrounds), in Albuquerque, NM. Awards ceremony at 7 pm. I hope to get to Albuquerque to see the show. I would love to see which paintings were selected into the show and which pieces Maggie chooses for the awards!





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