My painted paper freeform collages are a visual interpretation of sound and energy in motion. They draw from my early training in music and a curiosity about the intersection of physics and the arts. When a chaotic jumble of papers are glued together but not solid, I’m often surprised at how the original pieces seem to change as they are merged, echoing what physics tells us about resonance: when two or more things vibrating at different frequencies come close to each other, they often start to vibrate together at the same frequency.
Image at top: Kathryn Shagas, Windward, painted paper freeform collage, 27.5 x 26.5 in., 2023.
The process of creating is more critical for me than the result. As a trauma survivor, the work tends to reflect my personal experiences surrounding poverty, childhood abuse, and sexual assault. I push my practice to encapsulate my past experiences as I work to integrate them into my life. I am giving myself a platform to ask difficult questions surrounding topics from my journey as a mother, a partner, and a woman in today’s society, while trying to overcome shame and self-resentment.
I explore everyday items and push the boundaries of traditional mediums to create a space of self-expression that allows the opportunity to lead to personal growth while creating something unique and meaningful. I find much of my inspiration in the natural world. Building organic forms from inorganic material constructs a complex storyline that I find compelling, relevant, and relatable.
The use of endless mediums in my work has allowed me to create not just a work of art but an entity that I build from my experiences in life and evolving experimentation with materials. “Trust the process” is a common phrase I whisper to myself as I work. These sculptural paintings amass a feeling of controlled chaos. The pieces are a mishmash of ugly, beautiful, and everything in between; they’re complicated, just like the mind of a trauma survivor.
There is an ethics to beauty, a natural ecology, and I try to move toward this in my work.
Vulnerability, the skirting of irreparable imbalance, and space for reflection (regaining of balance) are, I hope, all felt elements of this painting. I began with blocks of color and as usual fell in love with this stage—so balanced, spacious, filled with possibility. I contemplated the color field for a number of days before proceeding slowly, and then quickly, to make the painting. Then I found it was too chaotic/imbalanced/loose and had to slow my painting hand down a bit to work with greater intention, deciding where more definition was needed, or another layer of paint, or more contrast in value.
I live in the woods, and I look at trees closely every day. In the process of painting Mother Forest, trees became figures and figures became trees. Light and figures emerge from the in-between spaces. I am a mother. The forest is a mother, filled with children and mothers, light and darkness. It’s a lot to balance.
For me, photography is a form of writing that is not translated in words but in other more complex ways, because photographs appeal to emotions and feelings. Intuitive, I meander about with my analog camera. When a subject finds me, I click the shutter. On film, the negative itself will have formal elements of balance and/or imbalance, which generally is not my concern until I see the contact sheet. The challenge is printing a black and white negative, being aware of the light and its variations, and making decisions concerning size and/or toning. Magic happens in the darkroom when creativity and process come together.
During several visits to Venice, I often returned to Castello, a quiet neighborhood where laundry hangs on drying lines stretching from the windows across the courtyards. The balance and the energetic imbalance in this narrow space is apparent. There’s a lot going on in this photograph. Caught in time, we move with the shapes and shadows in the wind.
It seems that we are living in an era in which we have lost the ability to listen and to compromise, resulting in stress on communities and the environment. Listening is a constructed landscape inspired by the weather and the entanglement of plants and trees near my home along the seashore. The imbalance in the composition and the contrast of the bold bloom dropping from a dark sky and the adjacent delicate flowers present a metaphorical confrontation. As in 19th-century Romantic landscape paintings, this work aims not to record an actual landscape but to present an atmospheric image rife with symbols of mortality and drama for contemplation.
The natural tree next to the industrial “tree.” I felt upon seeing this scene that it was about the natural giving way to the industrial. A tree’s glory has been truncated by the march of progress. It felt to me that the tree was acting repulsed by the power/telephone pole. We have the grassy meadow on the left and the hard asphalt on the right to finish the theme. Having it as a black and white image dehumanizes the scene a little bit more.
The image of yin and yang depicts the perfect order and balance of all things in the universe. When an individual undergoes illness, stress, or unwelcome instability, every part of their being—physical, mental, psychological—changes and transforms as the being begins breaking down what holds them together. That is what my images represent.
I have always been fascinated by birds and their flight.
Birds were considered omens in Roman and Greek mythology and were thought to be harbingers of good or bad luck and the messengers of the gods’ will.
Recently, when I photographed a flock of birds ascending over a copse of trees against a gray wintry sky, I did not see it as an omen of any sort. I saw an interesting black and white pattern and grabbed my camera to take a photo. I was more interested in the contrast between the grounded trees and the airborne birds. Later when I printed the picture, I realized that the silhouetted birds appeared black like crows, when they were in fact white gulls. When I printed it as a negative, the roles were reversed, and it became a flock of white birds instead, and the balance shifted. I was seeing the very same scene with two very different interpretations.
I decided to print the same picture positively and negatively and hang them together, in an experiment to see how other people reacted. The meaning of the birds, of course, hangs entirely in the balance of how one chooses to read the signs.
New Day is a painting I created in 2023 during the time my son was in Colombia riding his bicycle to fundraise for Water1st. He was also trying for the Guinness World record of Fastest Time to Cycle Across South America from North to South. He is the current Guinness world record holder Fastest North (Maine) to South (Key West, FL) crossing by bicycle. Though we knew it would be tough, we had confidence he would accomplish his mission. Little did we know he would be caught in the middle of protests, destruction, roadblocks and violence, stopping his mission and not allowing him to travel.
During this period, painting was what gave me resilience and hope. Daily, I felt unbalanced, when I feared for his safety, and rebalanced when I felt hope and knew he was safe. The straight lines represent looking at things from all angles, direction/point of view, while inside showing waves of unpredictability. The sun represents a new day holding the belief that somehow all would be well.
My painting, Kick with the Left Heel, is a self-portrait practicing taiji (also called tai chi) on a beach. One of the benefits of my practice is finding balance, even when kicking, turning, or pushing. I am always aware of my position in space and how I am moving my body. The practice lends itself to metaphor: expansion and contraction, shifting weight, using intention for ease of movement and avoiding muscular force. Being centered. Taiji is physical, concerned with gravity and lightness, the sequence of movements. The practice also has emotional and spiritual benefits, part of the whole, and are areas where I also seek balance.
Here is a translation of the Tenth Tai Chi principle: “Seeking Stillness in Movement: even in movement there is a sense of stillness. When practicing tai chi there is always a state of tranquility in the mind . . . From this serene perspective it is easier to focus the attention completely aware and open.”
It is no surprise that when I am sensing an inner stillness, my physical balance is improved. It also impacts my art. When I find the quiet balance, I tap into creative forces, and find more ease with my materials to achieve what I’m after.
Joyce Ellen Weinstein
For me, life is a balancing act: a lifelong series of balancing opposites to find a working “happy medium.” My figures in The Dance of Life are illustrating this balance in a literal sense.
Mary Becker Weiss
Though my intentions have remained constant, my work has dramatically evolved through the years. When I first started simple non-objective drawings in 2010, I was determined to create something that no one had seen before. I was motivated by Robert Mapplethorpe’s “I’m looking for the unexpected. I’m looking for things I’ve never seen before.” Hah! I do admit that some of my early “barbaric yawps” are still floating around out there
It took me a while to get there, but the unpredictability of the outcome, particularly with my abstracts, is one of the most exciting aspects of what I do. I grew up in the military where everything was clearly defined and delineated. Everything was black or white. No gray. No play. No creativity or “interpretation.”
It took me years to unlearn that rigid structure, to let go of the reins in my artwork and in my life. As I relinquished my obsession for precision, balance and control, surprises came my way. At first, it was frightening to let go, but now I have learned to embrace the unexpected and its perfect imbalance, exhilarating imperfection!
The Portland gallery of the Union of Maine Visual Artists (Portland Media Center, 516 Congress Street) hosts a July show on our theme, In Balance/Imbalance, whose participants are all included in this issue in three Showcases.