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Artistic Action: Sex Worker Rights in Dublin

As part of our Arts Action Academy in December 2016 in Dublin, sex workers, artists and activists created and performed this creative action to raise awareness about, and fight against, laws that criminalize sex workers. All of this was conceived and implemented by the Academy participants in 24 hours as the last day of our intensive AAA training.

What we did

Steve Lambert Stephen Duncombe teaching

We ran a five day program in Dublin teaching artists and activists how to be more effective with their work. Two “classroom” days cover the basics of artistic activism including; history, theory, organizing, creative practice, and more.

Then we collaboratively develop, rehearse, and build a collective project so we can put the ideas into practice in the world.

Why sex work? Why Dublin?

At the Center for Artistic Activism we strive to work with the most marginalized groups and the most difficult issues we can take on. Amnesty International describes sex workers as an “extremely marginalized group of people, frequently forced to live outside the law […] they face discrimination, beatings, rape and harassment [and] are often denied access to basic health or housing services.” Sex Workers Alliance Ireland has made progress in Dublin and is in the midst of making legal changes that could mean improvements in the coming years.

At the same time, the topic of sex work ignites many deeply held moral attitudes and stigma that help perpetuate these human rights issues.

This is just the kind of legal and social mess we’re not afraid to jump into.

With the combined expertise of the sex workers, artists, and the Center for Artistic Activism we got to work.

We built a peep show

Sort of.

The group came up with a plan for a public action with multiple components. One was this public “Peep Show” that really worked as a holiday themed spectacle, just strange enough to attract people on the street, but familiar enough that they’d understand what was happening and how it worked.

The day we held our action was December 17th, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. All kinds of people approached the booth and talked to sex workers themselves about the day and it’s purpose, invited into real conversation in a way that was playful and fun.

Then we created our own “sting operation”

Again, sort of.

We were set up in the center of Dublin at a major shopping area and tourist attraction so there were plenty of passers by. These people saw signs advertising “1 Euro Massage” and saw people getting totally innocuous hand massages under tents.

These face-to-face interactions allowed our team to talk one-on-one about purpose of the action, the day to end violence against sex workers, and the laws the exist and are being proposed in Ireland that would impact sex workers. Then the guest is told “by the way, what’s happening here would be technically illegal.” The proposed laws would make two sex workers working together in Ireland – looking out for each other, working alongside each other, or helping each other in any way – a crime.

The guest was then invited to be “arrested”…

siobhan arrested

… and “have their mugshot taken with Santa!”

Guests left with their mugshot in a fun holiday card that had further information about human rights for sex workers and the laws in Ireland.

Our group was able to take a complex, volatile issue and make it accessible, experiential, and fun. So, of course, we held a graduation for the Arts Action Academy.

We’ve known activism is more effective when it’s combined with the arts. This training provides the intellectual background as well as some practical experience so that participants have the foundations of an artistic activist practice. From there we do ongoing consultation to help participants make the most effective work possible.

This is what we’ve been working at for the past seven years at the Center for Artistic Activism.

Words in Red Art Exhibition

Masterpiece Christina Fine Arts Foundation logo and header image

Never were or will there be again
words like  His…

Words in Red logo for the art exhibition presented by Masterpiece christian Fine Arts Foundation in 2017
The Direct, Uncensored, Provocative Words of Jesus

45+ Paintings and sculptures
19 artists  :   7 Cities

Experience a gallery of inspirational,  soul-enriching fine art in Portland.  Works by 19 contemporary artists from across the country including Ron DiCianni, Tim Botts, Chris Hopkins, Michael Dudash, Frank Ordaz, Glenn Harrington, Mick McGinty, Dan Chen, Melanie Cardinal and more

March 23 – 26th
Lakewood Center for the Arts – Lake Oswego, Oregon
Thurs.,  March 23rd
Opening gala event at  7 pm
$10  Advanced gala tickets online/ $12 at the door
Friday,  Sat. & Sunday admission  is free
Fri., Sat  10- 8 pm,  Sun. 12 – 4

And at
Concordia University Library
April 3rd – 30th.
April 9th – Reception 2 – 4:00 p.m. (free)
Guided Tours available for groups call 503-493-6370
Admission is free
For more information see or call 541-601-7496


Coming soon to:
Eugene May 5 – 27th at Pacific Rim Gallery
Ashland July 1 – 23rd – Rogue Coworks

And experience the Music!
Listen now to the cinematic-esque original music score for the Words in Red exhibit by international composer Willem Van Wyk

Sanctus takes you on an imaginative journey with a blend of fusion and ethnic world/folk music, rich with haunting vocals (Clara Sorace, Celica Soldream and Victor Sordo) and orchestral grandeur that speaks to the heart. Inspired by the Words of Christ, these musical tracks accompany the Words In Red. Listen now!   And use coupon code: wordsinred and proceeds from the CD sales will help the travels of the Words in Red exhibit on its tour

2017 Empty Bowls Throw-a-thon

2017 Empty Bowls Throw-a-thon2017 Empty Bowls Throw-a-thon - Empty Bowls Pizza Party at Ashland Art Center on April 8, 2015! Make you bowl to donate to this year's Emty Bowls event in Ashland!

WHEN:  Friday, April 7th 2017, 3-7 PM

WHERE: Esther Bristol Education Center at the RCC Firehouse Gallery, corner of H and SW 4th Street in Grants Pass

FUNDRAISER BENEFICIARY:  11th Empty Bowls Project-Josephine County

Rogue Community College’s Ceramic Department will be hosting a 2017 Empty Bowls throw-a-thon to benefit the annual Empty Bowls Project. The event will take place at the Firehouse Gallery during April’s First Friday Live on April 7th from 3-7 PM.

RCC and local potters will be utilizing the Firehouse Gallery pottery wheels to throw bowls that will be donated to the 2017 Empty Bowls Project. Local potter Roxanne Hunnicutt will then trim, bisque and glaze these bowls at her studio. Two years ago Phil Fishwick, his RCC students and community clay artists participated in a successful throw-a-thon, as well. Clay is being donated by Southern Oregon Clay Distributors.

Empty Bowls, which raises funds for individuals and families facing food insecurity, relies heavily on community volunteers and local businesses to prepare and staff this special event. Soups and breads for Empty Bowls are donated by many local restaurants. Many of the handmade bowls are donated by members of the regional potter’s association, Clayfolk. This year RCC has generously offered to support the event again by hosting the Throw-a-Thon on April 7th.

Empty Bowls logoThe basic premise of Empty Bowls (an international event) is simple: Potters and other craftspeople, educators, and community members create handcrafted bowls. Guests are invited to a meal of soup and bread and have the pleasure of selecting a bowl from hundreds of one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted bowls donated by clay artists and Options’ clients. Guests keep their selected bowl as a reminder of hunger and food insecurity in our own community.

The 2017 Empty Bowls event will be held on Monday, October 9th. Tickets are $25 and includes the bowl of your choosing to take home. They will be available online or at the Options Administration building after July.

RCC, Options and local potters would love for you to join them for the throw-a-thon at the Firehouse Gallery on the corner of H and SW 4th Street from 3-7. You will be able to see expert potters create their masterpieces and learn more about the Empty Bowls Project. Hope to see you there! Visit the Empty Bowls Project-Josephine County Facebook page at

Central Art’s Ann Ebert at SOSA March 27 Meeting


The Southern Oregon Society of Artists March 27 Meeting will be at the Medford Public Library at 6:30 pm.  We are excited to have Central Art owner Anne Ebert and employees Laura Strazdas and Adam Bunch for our March program again this year. The fact that they have been in business here in Medford for the past thirty-six years is a testament to their importance to local artists. There will be a demo on the use of colored pencil which has recently come into favor.  New products will be shown and there will be time to chat with them regarding all the various products.  The world is quickly changing, and the new products for artists are changing, too.  New Toys for Artists!! Come find out about it.

For more information call BJ at 541 414-4993 or Judy Grillo at 661-609-5837

How to Win #14: Learn from Hollywood

With a savvy entertainer in the White House, we need to really understand how entertainment works, and wield that knowledge like a flaming sword on a windy but beautiful hilltop.

What makes a hit show? What makes a bomb? And how can we help the Donald Trump show “jump the shark”? Friday April 7th, we’re going to talk to long-time screenwriter (Madmen, Smash) and activist Jason “Hollywood J” Grote and find out what artistic activists can learn from Hollywood.

The How to Win #14: Learn from Hollywood webinar will be on
Friday, April 7, 2017, 12:00 – 12:50 PM EDT. 

Sign up here

Some of our favorite jump-the-shark moments in Hollywood history, when the premise just goes too far:

– The end of LOST was a lazy mess, but experts say the end began with the flash-forwards in Season 3, when a beloved and weird idea was stretched to its breaking point.

– There are those who say that the Star Wars: Rogue One movie was the one that stretched the basic Star Wars plot too thin, but we can’t help but love it. Phantom Menace, on the other hand, may tell us something about the boredom that could set in when Trump has to deal with actual policy.

– Roseanne was a working class icon until she won the lottery. It was all downhill from there. Perhaps we don’t want our heroes to have it quite so good.

– And of course, Happy Days, where it all began.

There are lessons to learn here, so we can spot and exploit the critical moments when the fictions spun by the new administration reach a breaking point.

Join us Friday! It’ll basically be fun YouTube browsing on your lunch hour, but also secretly training for the resistance.


placeplace 3Still Life with Golden Raspberries, oil on linen, on view in “PLACE” at Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati. I was very pleased to be invited to show at Manifest again this year. All of the shows there right now look excellent. Photos courtesy Jason Franz at Manifest.


Contemporary Translation of Edward III by Ashland New Plays Festival

Ashland New Plays Festival Edward III playbill cover

Understanding Shakespeare through a Modern Verse Translation:

A contemporary playwright translates Edward III for today’s audiences, to be performed as a dramatic reading March 27 in Ashland, Oregon

By Kara Q Lewis

Afternoon light filters over the laptop of playwright Octavio Solis, who focuses on the screen, puzzling out ways to decipher a difficult verse from William Shakespeare’s play Edward III. After getting sick two weeks earlier, Solis began working from bed. His wife teases him about not using his brand new writing studio. He works intensely and relentlessly: “I get obsessive about it,” he says, “I work on it ‘til 1 or 2 in the morning and then it’s the first thing I do when I wake up.” He continues:

“I’ve enjoyed every second of it. It taps into the part of my brain that likes puzzles. I’m decoding something really intricate and special. The process has revealed Shakespeare’s craft as a writer. I’m getting into Shakespeare’s head, like when I try to think like Will Shortz so I can solve New York Times crosswords.”

Solis is part of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s project Play on! 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare. The playwrights have been paired with a dramaturg and commissioned to create modern verse translations of plays attributed to Shakespeare. The project aims to “bring fresh voices and perspectives to the rigorous work of translation” while making “39 unique side-by-side companion translations of Shakespeare’s plays that are both performable and extremely useful reference texts for both classrooms and productions.” Solis’ version of Edward III will be presented as a staged reading by Ashland New Plays Festival on March 27.

The Play on! project comes with controversy. For some, Shakespeare’s words should remain unaltered. The belief is that today’s audiences should intuit and grasp one of Shakespeare’s play’s meaning from skilled actors and directors in its original language. Another issue raised is one of funding. As one New York Times op-ed contributor, James Shapiro, writes, “I’d prefer to see [the project] spend its money…enabling those 36 promising American playwrights to devote themselves to writing the next Broadway hit.”

The director of the project, Dr. Lue Douthit, has worked at OSF for over 20 years and says she is frustrated as a theatergoer. She understands the meaning of Shakespeare’s works, having discussed, written about, studied, annotated, and adapted the bard’s plays. And yet, she gets lost in the language. In a HowlRound forum, she writes: “I can hear it at 16 rpms, but not often at the zippy 78 speed that the language is designed to run.”

Solis responds to the controversy: “I understand why this project exists,” he says. “In scholarship, [the language] feeds the scholar’s soul to read and study it. But in performance there are some elements that are over our heads no matter what.”

For instance, he explains that there are many references and metaphors from Shakespeare’s time that have lost their impact, like those related to Ovid’s Metamorphosis and the lives of Roman generals. In one specific case with Edward III, Solis had to research the identity of “the queen of shades,” and upon discovering it, re-wrote the line to provide context that she is “Diana of the moon…”

Sidestepping the discussions and lively debate over the translations, we come face to face with the playwrights and their work. Solis is enthusiastic and passionate about this project: honoring Shakespeare’s poetry and getting to understand the preeminent playwright’s motives in order to clarify and strengthen his play’s power for today’s audiences.

“I’m trying to make myself invisible in this process,” Solis says. “But I’m a poet, too. And I think I bring some poetic clarity to the work. I’ve also been an actor, so I’m trying to make it more actable, to make lines more personal, rather than lofty and disengaged. I’m not inventing characters or story; I’m working from what is already there. Within that, there’s immense creative freedom. It pushes me to be the poet I know I can be, and I am comforted. We know more words than Shakespeare did, and I can access them so quickly.”

One of the most challenging aspects of Solis’ line-by-line translation has been Shakespeare’s use of chiasmus – a reversal of subject and predicate, usually with two parallel statements, as in this line from Act II Scene I, by Shakespeare: “Her beauty hath no match but my affection. / Hers more than most, mine most and more than more / hers more to praise than tell the sea by drops /”

Solis continues: “It’s a device that disengages – to not use ‘my, me, or I’.” One example of Solis making a scene more personal by using more direct language is in this intense speech given by Edward III in response to his son’s challenge to uphold a promise the prince made that contradicts his father:

Thou and thy word lie both in my command

what canst thou promise that I cannot break?

which of these twain is greater infamy

to disobey thy father or thyself?

Thy word nor no man’s may exceed his power

nor that same man doth never break his word

that keeps it to the utmost of his power.

Solis unpacked this verse multiple times and finally rested on this translation:

Your word and you fall under my command.

What can you promise that I cannot break?

Which of these two bring you the most disgrace,

To disobey your father or yourself?

Your word, nor any man’s, should not exceed

My power to break it, nor should you ever

Infringe upon your utmost word to me.

One of Solis’ most treasured discoveries during this project has been what he’s learned from dissecting Shakespeare’s writing process: his word choices, shortcuts, and creativity. “I am in awe of his particular genius, to fit so much into one line, and then make it rhyme,” Solis says. “With my tries, they’ll be one and a half lines – or two or three lines. I’ll agonize sometimes forever on iambic pentameter, and then I’ll go back to the original and find out – Shakespeare cheated! Some lines have one less or a couple more syllables than scan.” (Scansion is the process of scanning a line of verse to determine its rhythm, which is iambic pentameter in Shakespeare’s case.)

Separate from the controversy of translating Shakespeare, Edward III has its own unique discourse and disagreement among scholars as to whether the play was actually written by Shakespeare. It was officially added to Shakespeare’s canon in the late 1990s. Part of the evidence used to credit Shakespeare as the author came from computer software meant to find plagiarism in college papers.

Solis describes what convinced him Edward III must have been written by Shakespeare: “In two of the most powerful speeches, with messengers describing graphic sea battles and French refugees fleeing their villages – there is such a command of language and tone. They’re so vivid, with the poetry subverted to describe something that is truly horrifying.”

The story of Edward III follows the personal and political struggles of pivotal characters at the start of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France in the 14th century. The five-act play features the English king’s love for a married countess, brutal battles for power in France, and personal struggles of honoring oneself versus honoring a king or country.

Solis found that promises resonate in the play: “Promises, swearing oaths, these are big: when is it okay to break a promise, what is the value of your word, from both a personal level to a cosmic level to everything in between – a country to the army and towns? It’s interesting to see how they play out.”

Also of interest for Solis were the impactful correlations between parts of the play and present-day political events, including Brexit, Syrian refugees, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Solis says, “I’m drawn to the way the war, the political situation then, echoes to the present day. Edward III – England – chose to invade France and then they wondered why the French didn’t embrace them. They wanted to win hearts and minds, as they were going through burning villages and killing people.”

When Edward III was written in the 1590s it was a propaganda play, showing the royalty and their praiseworthy wars. “But,” Solis says, “It doesn’t put a gloss on it. Yes, it was patriotic and enormously popular, but there are some dark things that Shakespeare is mindful of exploring, like how to be a good ruler, a good conqueror.”

In a pivotal scene at the town of Calais, it is the king’s wife who helps change her husband’s mind not to kill French men who surrendered voluntarily to save their town. However, the king wants to raze the village and kill the men to show his power. Queen Philippa then says, “Those who fall under the sword and turn to ash by fire, offer you no homage. Only living can pay you homage.”

Another strong female character is the Countess of Salisbury, whom the married Edward falls in love with and propositions, expecting her to fall under his command. He is then humbled by her response. “She had to stand up by herself and make a solution all by herself,” Solis says. “She’s more honorable than I could imagine. She forces [the king] to come to his senses. It’s resonant on so many levels.”

As Solis labored over individual words and phrases, working line by line through the five-act, 103-page, 19,000-word play, “tweaking confusing parts to make it better for contemporary audiences,” he was also translating the characters, giving audiences a stronger connection to the lives and lessons played out in the story.

In addition, the play needs to work as poetry. Solis asked himself constantly, “If Shakespeare were alive today what would he do?” For Solis the poetry was as demanding as the story. “Shakespeare’s poetry is just gorgeous, and I’m a purist.” He quotes the Play on! playwrights’ first rule, “to do no harm.”

When choosing Edward III from the list of available plays to work on for Play on!, Solis was excited. “I found it at the bottom of the list,” he says, “I didn’t know the play, so I was going at it with virgin eyes, and it will be the same for the audience.” When he gave his selection to Douthit, the project’s director, Solis says she was pleased.

“Why?” he asked.

She replied, “Because, you’re a poet.”

The special, one-night-only dramatic reading of Solis’ translated version of Shakespeare’s “new” play is being produced by Ashland New Plays Festival, a nonprofit organization that assists playwrights in the development of new works through public readings and offers educational forums to the community through discussions and workshops.

Solis looks forward to the performance. “This is a fresh script, newly done, and I am working in a mode that is entirely new to me.” He also hasn’t heard the play out loud yet. “It’s imperative that I hear this with the most qualified Shakepearean actors,” he says, “in order to know whether I am going in the right direction. ANPF is giving me first shot at this. The importance of that cannot be minimized.”

The performance is Monday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall.

Tickets are $20 and $25, reserved seating, available online or at the door, subject to availability.

Visit s-e3/ to learn more.

It is directed by Dawn Monique Williams and features a cast of 12, including: Armando Duran, Devin White, Sam Osheroff, Tamra Mathias, Jamie Peck, Jon Cates, Jordan Barbour, Kyle Haden, Robin Goodrin Nordli, Nancy Rodriguez, Stephen Michael Spencer, and Vilma Silva.

Edward III actors

More about Octavio Solis:

Author of over 20 plays, Octavio Solis is considered by many to be one of the most prominent Latino playwrights in America. With works that both draw on and transcend the Mexican-American experience, he is a writer and director whose style defies formula, examining the darkness, magic and humor of humanity with brutal honesty and characteristic intensity. His imaginative and ever-evolving work continues to cross cultural and aesthetic boundaries, solidifying him as one of the great playwrights of our time. Learn more at

octavio solis





All art is contemporary now

Libica, Elise Ansel, oil on linen

Libica, Elise Ansel, oil on linen

During my tour of the L.A. Art Show in January, a glimpse of Elise Ansel’s work from a distance reeled me into the Ellsworth booth about as quickly and effectively as anything I spotted in my tour of the entire fair. It was a small study based on a Poussin painting, reducing the original image to an abstract expressionist composition full of perfectly harmonized, intensely saturated tones with areas that looked as if the paint went straight from tube to canvas. If I had seen Ansel’s work before, and I may have, in a more absent frame of mind, it didn’t draw me in. This time, as I stood before that little study, I felt about as pleased as if I’d just stumbled upon the largest chocolate egg in a hunt on Easter morning. (Most of the work in the fair was a lot less stunning, therefore exceptional work tended to stand out even more powerfully than it would have done in a curated show. I had the same reaction to Kim Cogan’s small paintings a few booths away.) Barry Ellsworth, the gallerist, was staffing his own booth and told me a little about Ansel when I asked who’d done the painting, and he mentioned that she was also represented by Danese/Corey where, about a week ago, I discovered that Ansel has a new solo show. For anyone interested in seeing her work first-hand, the work will be on view in Chelsea for another ten days and includes some paintings even more remarkable than what I saw in California.

Ansel’s images are compelling for two reasons. First is the luxuriance of her rich, intense color, creating harmonies that feel both inevitable, yet freshly unpredictable, and sensuously felt. Her color is both inviting and beautiful. Matisse would have enjoyed these paintings, though it was Picasso who was more inclined to rework the occasional Old Master in his own idiom. She reprises images from Rubens or Veronese or Michelangelo, taking the original painting as an occasion to build a spontaneous, rapid translation of the historical painting’s colors into a contemporary calligraphic abstraction, freeing the colors of the original to overwhelm the original artist’s intent and completely define the new image. What she retains, though, is the original painting’s spiritual energy submerged into the libidinous pleasure of her color—the lyrics of the source are gone, as it were, and only the melody remains.

Second, she works essentially as an abstract expressionist, building flat patterns of various tones, and yet she’s able to convey a sense of great volume and space, a depth of field that has nothing to do with the flat plane of the canvas. You see into the painting as powerfully as you would a conventional landscape. She tends to favor scenes that include at least a glimpse of sky, which often helps to anchor and orient everything else in her paintings. This isn’t remotely like De Kooning, say, whose figures seem to depict a claustrophobic act of violence remembered in tranquility. Clement Greenberg, with his insistence on flatness, would have been puzzled about how to justify Ansel’s reliance on this convention of representational painting—the illusion of looking through the surface of the work rather than simply at it. She gets that three-dimensionality simply by juxtaposing indistinct forms and huge gestural swipes of paint. One might say the same of Turner, or Matisse, but here the color has been unleashed almost entirely from its representational parent and is asserting itself for its own sake, in relation to other colors, not primarily for the purpose of building a vaguely recognizable scene. In that regard, she’s closer to Howard Hodgkins, but the hints of representation in his abstractions feel completely different, enclosed, confined, and concentrated into boxes of paint, and there’s something a little suffocating about the intensity of his color in comparison with the balance and even restfulness Ansel achieves. If you could inhabit one of Ansel’s paintings, it feels as if you might grow a pair of wings and simply float around—which incidentally would enable you to blend in, socially, since you would be sharing some mythic space with winged figures from the original paintings.

What struck me immediately in that little Poussin study was the way in which her seemingly arbitrary and lyrical arrangement of pigment on a flat surface seemed necessary, without my being able to analyze what gave rise to this impression of necessity. Even as I was walking by and had simply caught a glimpse of the little painting, I could see she had solved the one central problem every painter faces: how to arrange colors and tones in a certain compelling and individual way on a flat surface, first of all as a celebration of nothing more than the pleasure of the paint’s formal properties. This spot of color next to that spot of color—it’s easy to put them down in a way that gives pleasure for a while, but how to make them seem absolutely right, correct, and ordered, no matter how many times a viewer returns to the image? This is enormously difficult, and Ansel makes it look easy. This imperative—to make the paint itself your primary concern, not simply what it will induce the viewer to see—is just as important in representational painting as it is in abstraction.

When I visited the Richard Estes retrospective at the College of Arts and Design two years ago, I got as close to the paintings as I was allowed and detail of estesthat proximity revealed how much one of his paintings relies on small, uniform areas of color, with minimal blending across edges, similar to the way Neil Welliver would construct an image using a far more narrow range of colors. This isn’t apparent at all in reproductions nor when you look at an Estes painting even a few feet away, which is where you would normally stand in order to take it all in. In a way, he creates something analogous to a digital version of an analog image—sometimes breaking it down into simple constituent and almost modular parts at a level that isn’t noticeable. This works as a way of making the arrangement of paint in a certain pattern, without any reference to what the paint represents, seem to be at the center of his actual concern as a painter. The fact that this myopic attention to these carefully crafted marks accumulates into a stunningly complex and realistic visual image seems even more magical when you note how much he simplified what he was doing inside, say, a square inch of canvas. He had solved the core problem: how to give himself a pretext for arranging areas of color in a certain way on a surface. The realistic image offers the pretext for putting one mark here and another mark there, with a consistent quality in the application of paint; the challenge for Estes and other realists is how to find a personally compelling way to use an image for that purpose, as an excuse for applying certain qualities of color, with certain kinds of marks.

This is exactly what Ansel has done, but with an entirely different vocabulary of marks. By improvising on an Old Master, she gives herself a pretext for making what appear to be incredibly loose strokes of paint, any way she likes, and yet she’s constantly, strenuously referring to the source image, just as any representational photo-realist would study his shot—but with her own rulebook. She is straining to echo the armature of color in the original, not the actual appearance of the source painting; the way Bill Evans or Miles Davis, say, had their way with a song. The personal guidelines she’s devised for these re-interpretations are entirely hers, and probably impossible to articulate in an exhaustive way, but the original image and the rules together create the core of necessity—the sense when you look at the finished work it’s exactly right. This isn’t always the case, of course. A few of the paintings don’t hang together as coherently, or as powerfully, as her best work, but these are exceptions. The most stunning work: Venus and Adonis, with its little white dog in the foreground reminiscent of Louisa Matthiasdottir’s grazing sheep; Revelations XI; Cornbury III; Medium Study for Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt; and most of all, Libica, based on Michelangelo’s Libyan Sybil—an alchemical transformation of its source into something that, for me, comes as close to capturing the spirit of early spring as effectively as the opening of The Canterbury Tales or a poem by e.e cummings.

A brief Q/A conducted this past January, admirably devoid of pretention, serves as the introduction to the show’s catalog. In it, Ansel offers some instructive observations about the way she works, with hints about why she paints:

I have been surprised by the extent to which the spiritual or mythological content of the historical paintings I work with has revealed itself during the process of painting.

My initial attraction to Old Master painting often has to do with color harmony, composition, and structure. Beyond the formal characteristics, I search for . . . a certain quality of sincerity, resonance and sensitivity.

I would say one important thing is how to communicate spiritual truth visually.

I look for formal brilliance, emotional depth, spiritual energy . . . and a certain kind of erotic energy. I think we see this in the work of Matisse, Titian, Rembrandt, Picasso, Joan Mitchell, de Kooning—many great artists.

Spontaneity, improvisation, instinct, and intuition eclipse rational, linear thinking during the process of making the studies. My paintings are most successful when the entire surface is worked ‘wet into wet’ in one long session.

Like Matisse, who said he was aiming merely to give a restorative pleasure to his viewer, but later maintained that his aims were spiritual—as he made explicit in the work toward the end of his life—Ansel is consciously driven by spiritual preoccupations and yet her pursuit offers mostly a subtle, intense and calming pleasure. The sly ironies of Kehinde Wylie’s appropriation of Old Masters is absent here: this work isn’t driven by a postmodern agenda, but absorbs its influence and internalizes it the way Blake internalized Milton. She’s refreshingly and unabashedly modernist in her aims—there’s no trace of sardonic postmodern commentary on the earlier work, even though she claims that her study of historical art gave her some feminist pause in reaction to how women were depicted, consistent with John Berger’s thesis about Western art’s objectification of women in Ways of Seeing. But one doesn’t feel the weight of this nod to postmodern deconstruction of the male gaze in historical art here at all, other than to note, perhaps wistfully, an absence of bare breasts. This is earnest modernist painting, with no regard for the silly notion that modernism is over, or ever could be. Her work, in more ways than one, serves as a quiet assertion that no school of art can ever be over. Art history doesn’t work that way anymore.

5 Ways to Up Your Artistic Action Game

Here are 5 things you can do if you want to make change in the world:

1. Steal from the Past

Borrow from successful creative movements (video). Make time to be inspired by others (check out Actipedia).

2. Know How to Manipulate Change Minds

Use cognitive and behavioral science to understand how to make change starting with people’s brains (videos).

3. Put Culture in Your Quiver

Mine pop culture (video) and learn from how Hollywood works (upcoming March 10 webinar) to exploit the current cultural terrain.

Check out our popular series of podcasts with our seriously fun fieldwork into everything from pro wrestling to the Rock and Roll Megachurch to examine and reveal lessons from pop culture for artistic activists (podcasts).

4. Be Savvy about Your Process & People

Learn how to make your creative process work, and how to best collaborate with others by making your action meetings effective and inventive (videos).

5. Choose a Powerful Message 

This last one is clearly so important! And yet often this is where activists get off track. Do we inform people about what they should do, show them how bad things could get, or present a beautiful alternative? This is where you can think about whether artistic activists should use our work to hold a mirror up to reality to make the invisible visible, or should we use our talents to imagine new possibilities of what reality could be? We have some thoughts on what you can learn from art history and cultural theory in order to make change through art.

5 Ways to Up Your Artistic Action Game

Here are 5 things you can do if you want to make change in the world:

1. Steal from the Past

Borrow from successful creative movements (video). Make time to be inspired by others (check out Actipedia).

2. Know How to Manipulate Change Minds

Use cognitive and behavioral science to understand how to make change starting with people’s brains (videos).

3. Put Culture in Your Quiver

Mine pop culture (video) and learn from how Hollywood works (upcoming March 10 webinar) to exploit the current cultural terrain.

Check out our popular series of podcasts with our seriously fun fieldwork into everything from pro wrestling to the Rock and Roll Megachurch to examine and reveal lessons from pop culture for artistic activists (podcasts).

4. Be Savvy about Your Process & People

Learn how to make your creative process work, and how to best collaborate with others by making your action meetings effective and inventive (videos).

5. Choose a Powerful Message 

This last one is clearly so important! And yet often this is where activists get off track. Do we inform people about what they should do, show them how bad things could get, or present a beautiful alternative?

This is where our upcoming webinar will help:

How to Win 11: Recalibrate Reality

Should artistic activists use our work to hold a mirror up to reality to make the invisible visible? Or should we use our talents to imagine new possibilities of what reality could be? Or can we do both? Join us, Steve and Steve, as we give a brief course on the latest aesthetic and cultural theory, and discuss what artistic activists might learn from the academy and put it into practice in the real world.

Sign up for the webinar. It’s this Friday, March 3rd from 12-12:50 EST. If you sign up, you get a reminder and also an email afterward with a link to the video, even if you don’t attend. It’s free, as usual. And your donations make it that way.

We’d love it if you would tell your friends about this too.