Trumpet - Read More
In the Spring 2014 Trumpet, we featured the work of alumnae artist Mira Gerard. She generously provided more information about her process than we had room to print, but we wanted to share it with you here.
Mira Gerard spent several years of her childhood living in the Sant Bani Ashram and attending Sant Bani School. She later went on to receive a BFA in Painting and Drawing from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. After that, she moved back to New Hampshire and taught art classes at Sant Bani before getting a MFA from the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. In 2001, she was hired at East Tennessee State University as an assistant professor in the Department of Art & Design, and she has been living and working there ever since. She has exhibited her work in numerous solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally, most recently at the William King Museum in Virginia, Terrace Studios and Gallery in London, and Gallery 304 in New York, NY. Her paintings were selected for publication in the 2012 Manifest International Painting Annual and she has presented papers at several conferences including Psychology & the Other at Lesley University and the Southeastern College Art Conference. She has received fellowships through several artist’s residencies including The Cill Rialaig Project in Ireland, The Hambidge Center in Georgia, and The Vermont Studio Center. She is on sabbatical in Spring 2014 and is spending the months of February and March in Vermont at the Vermont Studio Center. Her husband, William Stephanos, works for the City of Kingsport, Tennessee as a Cultural Arts Administrator, and she has two stepsons, Dembé and Silas, ages 20 and 17.
About My Work and Teaching
Painting is intertwined into every aspect of my life, not only as an activity but also as a philosophical inquiry. Utilizing pigment and a piece of cloth stretched over a frame and attempting to convey something is unendingly fascinating. It relates to my inner life as well—memory, dreams, desires, and relationships. In relation to my job, I carve out time to go to the studio on a regular basis so that I can relate to my students’ active studio practice through what I am doing in my work. I exhibit my work in the region whenever possible, and also in other venues nationally and internationally, as well as in juried publications, and online through various platforms. Recently, I curated a four-person exhibition entitled The Ghost in You at Gallery 304 in New York City. In 2013, I had a solo exhibition of my paintings entitled Two Way Dream at William King Museum in Abingdon, Virginia. I also travel to various places to paint for long periods of uninterrupted time. My most recent artist’s residency was at the Cill Rialaig Project in Ballinskelligs, Ireland. I spent a few weeks there in 2012 over winter break living in a small stone cottage on the coast, along with other artists and writers in neighboring cottages. Support from the Arts Council of Ireland and from ETSU’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and the College of Arts & Sciences made the trip financially possible. The landscape in Ireland is dramatic and incredibly beautiful, as is the landscape in East Tennessee. Traveling to remote locations provides solitude and uninterrupted time to paint, and I experience a heightened sensitivity to the landscape and surroundings, allowing the effect of it all to get under my skin and influence the way I work with light and space.
Teaching is very rewarding and challenging. In addition to exploring techniques, methods, concepts and having a lot of dialogue in the form of critiques, each individual student is asked to take those things and make meaningful work out of the process. My desire is to foster a classroom culture of inquiry, experimentation, and discovery. That includes following my own lines of intense questioning, not just demanding that students strive for that. It is easy to make a lot of assumptions about what art is and should be, and I work with students outside of those assumptions. Sometimes that includes a challenge to prevailing concepts about art, society or the self. Often, it is simply a process of finding a deeper or more profound way to communicate ideas that range from the relationships of color and mark-making to complex psychological narratives.
In art, if you attempt to exert too much control over what you are making, you can be in danger of creating images are rooted in skill and technique but lack courage and discovery. If you want to push beyond what you know, you must cultivate awareness, not dismissing anything out of hand, and follow ideas and impulses through, even if many of them result in dead ends. The repetition of coming back to the studio over and over again and being willing to fail and doing it with enthusiasm seems to be a universal key to making great art. I experience this every day in the studio: the work I exhibit is the result of everyday struggle, repeated failure, occasional bursts of clarity and beauty, and an unending sense of excitement and gratitude for the whole thing. For me, art functions as a contained narrative through which I can understand and paint my own life and the world.
I work with a variety of different materials, primarily oil on canvas, linen or panel. I also work on paper using collage and other materials, and occasionally I work with video and other alternative projects. This semester, I am on sabbatical, so I am very excited about doing a lot of painting and also working on a film project.
Recent Statement About My Work
The illustrated fairy and folk tales that I was fascinated with as a child never faded in importance for me. These stories usually involve a quest, struggle or journey, with lush images of characters framed by sweeping landscapes, forests, caves and mountains. My work was initially heavily influenced in that direction, but I always wanted it to be more expansive. For many years, I painted primarily from photographic and film-based images, mostly my own. Art school plus years of studio practice helped me expand my understanding of the language of painting as something profoundly complex and varied, and always evolving.
More recently I have started to paint without any visual references in front of me- instead utilizing impulses, dreams, and invented responses to shapes and passages of paint itself. I pay close attention to things that emerge in real time in the studio, and am willing to discard and invent and reinvent. Through this I have learned that mistakes aren’t mistakes at all, they are necessary experiments. Painting seems to act as a trigger that uncovers a range of responses in me from euphoria to sadness. I seek to describe the layers of complexity of being- therefore a painting necessarily needs to convey many things simultaneously. Consequently, my work has become increasingly encrypted and riddle-like, often even to me. I have found that the construction of visual fantasies has many limitations and dead ends, so I attempt to paint through the uncertainty, working over each painting and often changing and up-ending what is there until something I can’t deny surfaces through the process. When that happens, a painting becomes something that is more than an imaginary projection- it is a thing, alive somehow, conveyed through the made and unmade image, breaking down and forming itself, compressing fantasy into the real.