Friday, January 22, 2010

Sevilla Granger

I'm biased by my own study of history, but my conversations with Sevilla Granger about her paintings of trees left me contemplating the subject. History is a complicated subject, spanning time, space and topic. It cannot easily be modeled in two dimensions. In telling a history, we often eliminate variables to explore a single point in time from many angles. On to Ms. Granger's history...

Growing up in North Carolina, Sevilla Granger was surrounded by the creativity of her sister, now a dancer, her friend and cousin, now a designer, and even a good friend's mother, Sallie Middleton. Painting was a standard form of recreation in the Granger household:

"I've been playing with art materials as long as I can remember. Back then my mom was a teacher, so instead of TV she would sit me down with paints and paper. I would paint stacks and stacks of watercolors."

Even as she reconnects now with childhood friends, she is reminded of how strong her identification with art was to her peers. But at the time, she had reason to doubt that it would lead her anywhere:

"Southern culture wasn’t generally very supportive of art as a pursuit, so to imagine it as a profession was almost unheard of." 

At first, Granger took inspiration from a family acquaintance who seemed to validate the endeavors of creative professionals:

"My Aunt befriended a distant British relative who was a successful costume designer in the film industry. I thought that must be the coolest job on the planet!"

Granger then started her career in the film industry with an Oscar-winning team on the set of Last of the Mohicans. Through that experience, Granger embraced the notion of quality and developed her sense for posterity:

"I learned so much from them about the value of good craftsmanship and taking real pride in ones work. From them I learned to build things that will last, which adds to their beauty on many levels."

But much of the day-to-day work was managerial and after 15 years Granger was looking to transition from costume design towards fine art. During that transition, she visited her brother in Milan and saw an Amadeo Modigliani retrospective exhibit. The part of her that had been seeking inspiration was completely engaged:

"It just stopped me in my tracks. The beauty and sublime depth of his portraits was just shocking.

Now committed to painting, Granger happened upon a subject for her work within a few weeks, while in Rome:

"When I saw the trees on Palatine Hill, it really struck me what staggering ancestral knowledge must be locked up within their bark! The history they’ve witnessed and even made!"

These trees, rooted in space, but transcending human lifetimes hold a unique appeal, both visually in their organic shape, and spiritually in their symbolic reflection on the natural world. Granger was no stranger to beauties and mysteries of the outdoors:

"Growing up in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains surely had a big influence on my love of nature and the pursuit of its portrayal."

Like a historian focusing on a group of people or region, but seeking understanding about the greater questions of humanity, Granger focuses on trees as a "creative connection to ancient wisdom". She begins her process scouring photos taken of trees, primarily Monterey Cypress, until she finds one whose "pose" matches the sentiment in mind for the work. After grounding the canvas in an orangey tone, Granger begins adding texture and loose sketches of the tree, as well as other subjects:

"I build up several layers, some of which are never visible in the finished work. There will often be texts/subtexts, color fields, textures, unfinished/ abstract pieces, and even prayers and porn supporting the visible surface."

Whether or not an observer of the finished work makes a connection with the invisible subtext of the work, the emotive quality of Granger's trees communicates ideas of peace, family, isolation, strength, and intimacy. By eliminating variables and focusing on her arboreal subjects, Granger is able to find depth, both literal, in the layers of paint and images that build up like histories under the surface, and conceptional, in the subtle distinctions in her emotive messages, backed by unseen subtexts: 

"Knowing they won’t be seen is very liberating. It allows me to really put down, in a loose, raw, fluid way, what I want to “say” in the piece. Sometimes it’s sacred, sometimes it’s sensual, often it’s an attempt to discover and expose that place where they meet."

Find works by Sevilla Granger on display at Bayshore Studio from tomorrow through April 19 (appointment required) and at the Monterey County Center through October. She will be hosting an open studio April 23-25.
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