Susan Cummins has been involved in numerous ways in the visual arts world over the last 35 years, from working in a pottery studio, doing street fairs, running a retail shop called the Firework in Mill Valley and developing the Susan Cummins Gallery into a nationally recognized venue for regional art and contemporary art jewelry. Now she spends most of her time working with a private family foundation called Rotasa and as a board member of AJF and California College of the Arts.
Group shows are tricky things. Taboo Studio has had a number of them in the past, with titles like Structure and Purpose, Color and Form, and Perspective and Invention, so a show called Out of the Blue isn’t surprising. The hard thing to do with a group show is to make an observation about something, anything really, that the artists or pieces of jewelry have in common, come up with a theme, and then assemble a grouping that makes sense within the theme you have chosen. Taboo has done this numerous times over the years and is practiced at it. For this post, I spoke with Jane Groover, one of the gallery’s owners, as well as with a number of artists who participated in the show.
Susan Cummins: Jane, in the exhibition Out of the Blue, you asked the following artists to interpret the theme as it relates to the sea and sky:
Brooke Battles • Marilyn Brogan • Susan Chin • Petra Class • Jane Groover • Sydney Lynch • Wendy McAllister • Christina Seebold • Cindy Sumner • Myung Urso
Did you imagine this to be mainly about landscape or color?
Jane Groover: I initially thought that the work in Out of the Blue would be about both landscape and color, while acknowledging that blue certainly means different things to different people. It felt like an intriguing title because of its ambiguity. And since it is common knowledge that the majority of people claim blue as their favorite color, I imagined the work for this exhibition would probably focus primarily on color.
The phrase “out of the blue” is an English idiom that even has its own Wikipedia entry. It refers to “an event that occurs unexpectedly, without any warning or preparation. The ‘blue’ refers to the sky…” Does this show title of Out of the Blue refer at all to the idea of the unexpected?
Jane Groover: Although we began with the idea of landscape and color, we opened the door to the unexpected when we chose the title Out of the Blue. We knew that artists might interpret this phrase in a very personal way and we were curious to see the resulting work. With few exceptions, however, the work in this exhibition focused on the color blue. Petra Class and Sydney Lynch use spectacular gems of lapis lazuli and aquamarine, and Brooke Battles and Wendy McAllister both fabricate work with blue enamel. Myung Urso’s work includes blue fabric, thread, and blue rubber bands, and Christina Seebold’s work incorporates blue pearls and abalone shell. Marilyn Brogan uses red coral and pearls, referencing Out of the Blue as it relates to the sea. The most unusual interpretation of the title came from Cindy Sumner, whose mysterious stacks of rings in wood, acrylic, and mixed media images are truly out of the blue, unexpected and delightful.
I asked the following artists who participated in the show these questions: What did the theme of Out of the Blue mean to you? How did you approach your work with this idea in mind?
Petra Class: The color blue has long fascinated me for many reasons. It is one of the rarest colors in nature, as far as fauna, flora, rocks, and general material manifestations are concerned. Yet sky and sea are enormous empty spaces full of any shade of blue imaginable although neither air nor water actually are blue. It is ethereal and fluid. It is mysterious. It is deep.
So, since I am a goldsmith and jeweler, I work with blue stones and lately more and more with lapis lazuli, the rock of the ancients and of Yves Klein. I grind it and slice it and make patterns with it and mosaics. I am trying to get to the bottom of the color, but I get nowhere, since every slice of a single big rock reveals a different shade of ultramarine.
I collect its dust. I set it in gold because it feels so precious. I enjoy the meditative quality of being immersed and surrounded by it.
Frankly, the theme Out of the Blue was not a reason for making the work. The work was there first. I have been addicted to lapis lazuli for a long while now …
Wendy McAllister: Taboo Studio’s stated theme for this show was colors of the sea and sky. As I envisioned it, the intent of the show was to focus on the color BLUE; however the title Out of the Blue is also an idiom used to describe an unexpected or random event. An example often given to explain this expression is a thunderbolt striking from a clear blue sky (“a bolt from the blue”). The intense blue of a midday sky with low humidity comes to mind … “the wild blue yonder” and “blue skies are here again.” Continuing along this line, I thought of “once in a blue moon”, an idiom for a rare event. Hence, my brooches, Blue Moon, Blue Leaf, Blue Hydra, and the dream-like assemblage, Blue Chariot. The latter brooch contains a blue wheel spinning through blue flowers under a blue cloud in the blue-black night sky, illuminated only by the light of a blue moon. For me the most luminous and expressive blue is International Klein Blue. My enameled blue brooches, with their gritty, under-fired glass surfaces, are my best attempts to emulate Yves Klein’s formula, which preserved the rich granularity and intense color of the dry powdered pigments. During the many hours I spend immersed in enameling, I experience this saturated pure blue as hypnotic and euphoric, even spiritual.
Myung Urso: As I am from a non-English speaking culture, I found the expression “out of the blue” to be quite poetic. However for this show I responded to the color blue as an indicative mood. I never used the color in my jewelry work previously so for me it was “out of the blue.” I have also come to realize that this expression could refer to my personal pursuit of unexpected material and compositional forms for my creativity.
The composition Blue Suds is an example where wood material was adopted as an extension of fiber applications with intertwined silk cord. To be led towards unexpected consequences is a most curious way to create works of art. This happens when I release and open myself to be spontaneous rather than planning and manipulating in advance.
Sydney Lynch: Though I’ve always been highly sensitive to color and love working with a wide range of colored stones in my jewelry, I have never been especially drawn to blue. Then, a couple of years ago, there was a sea change, a shift in my responses, and I became almost obsessed with certain shades of blue.
I began wearing blue, painting my toenails bright blue, and inevitably using more and more blue stones in my jewelry. The stones I chose for Out of the Blue include some less typical materials, which I find beautiful and fascinating in a magnetic way.
I’ve lived in Colorado, and then Nebraska, all of my adult life, and for decades my vista has been an enormous blue and changing sky. I design intuitively without a lot of advance conceptualizing. As Georgia O’Keeffe famously said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for.” For me, color is a feeling, and in this instance, blue is doing the talking.