Embracing new circumstances, the event still allows an inside look at how art is created
(Somerville Wire) – This year’s Somerville Open Studios (SOS) will have some newfound flair. Now in its 23rd year, the event that previously allowed visitors to step into an artist’s studio will be adapting to suit the restrictions of the pandemic, following a hybrid model that incorporates both virtual and outdoor components. The celebration of Somerville art will be formally held on May 1 and 2. According to president of the SOS Board, sculptor Hilary Scott, the format will have its own unique twist.
“[It’s] very different from last year, when we had to make it up on the fly and pivot, from a 21 year tradition of artists opening up their personal spaces to an entirely online experience,” said Scott. “But this year, we’ve had more time to think of our options. …We are going with a virtual marketplace, BoothCentral, where artists and the public can interact in real time, which is the essential part of what SOS has always been about. It’s been about discovery. You walk into a private place, and you get to discover. This year, we’re able to get a little closer to that ideal.”
The virtual side of SOS will have several platforms. Through BoothCentral, visitors can view individual booths with artwork displayed and talk with the artists themselves. There will be a YouTube channel, where artists have prerecorded videos of themselves speaking about their processes. On the SOS website, over 250 artists will be sharing images of their recent works and their own portfolios. In addition, there will be a “surreal garden” with “virtual flowers” on the site Topia. Participating artists will also have set-ups outside of their homes, in parking lots, porches, or on the sidewalk. There will be outdoor community spaces with art set up in tents at Arts at the Armory and at SomerNova’s Frost Alley, for guests wearing masks and social distancing. Finally, there will be an exhibit at the Inside Out Gallery in the Davis Square CVS window, a Small Works Show at Bow Market, and a Powderhouse Pop-Up Gallery.
“For most people, they’re not going to be in their studios,” said SOS Co-Timeline Manager and Producer Terry Dovidio. “It is a big change, when you’re an open studio event. So people can’t come in and smell the turpentine. They can’t come in and watch you do a letterpress or something. You just don’t have that hands-on knowledge about how an artist works. But you can see their work, but not the work process. So it’s very different in that respect.”
Photographer Stan Eichner will be participating as an artist for his tenth year. He typically photographs landscapes and scenes of nature, with the intention of calling people’s attention to the natural beauty of the environment. The idea of protecting and preserving the earth is a theme that is often carried through his work. Eichner keeps in mind a few guiding principles: be true to what the eye sees, show detail but do not overdetail, and think about the feeling or message that you want to pull out from the scene that you are approaching.
“One of my teachers or mentors said that composition is a headline of your image—that’s what pulls you in,” said Eichner. “You want to design it so the eye goes in and moves around in a particular way. You guide the trip of your eye through that image. It should be arresting enough that you’re drawn to it, but then once you’re drawn to it, there’s composition, leading lines, contrast, all those things that make it interesting for your eye to travel through and visit the image.” He added, “You want them to feel like they’ve had a special experience that they wouldn’t otherwise have had.”
Artist Heather Balchunas, who is also the office manager and art coordinator at the Somerville Arts Council, first participated in SOS in 2008 and curates the Inside Out Gallery. In this year’s SOS, she will be exhibiting a series of watercolor and ink illustrations called “Colorful Critters,” whimsical, detailed drawings of insects and animals, with impressions of bright spots of color. She describes her creative process as being similar to a dance.
“It is mixed media, so it starts off with watercolor. I take watercolor pigment and let it spread to get those splotches, very random,” said Balchunas. “Then I look at it and see what kind of animal inspires me and what it kind of looks like to me, and then I got from there. So that’s usually how I work. Sometimes it’s a little bit more intentional, where I know what I’m going to draw, and then I’ll just put the pigment on over the drawing. That isn’t always the case. Then I’ll go over it with ink and sometimes acrylic pens, then sometimes colored pencil.”
While the pandemic has changed the way artists work, it has served as both an inspiration and catalyst for growth and change in many, said Scott. He explained that the conditions imposed by the virus influenced his process as a creator.
“I turned inward,” said Scott. “My work turned more colorful. Whether it was the enforced isolation that made me turn more to things that were brightly colored was my personal take on it. Things that had been waiting for inspiration suddenly came to the fore and said ‘finish me.’ And you don’t have an excuse anymore. That was what it was like for me: a lot more color and forcing me to face the pieces that had been left wanting.”
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.