Collection: Neil Fenton

My journey as an artist began as a child in my parents’ pottery studio. My father would engage and instruct me by squeezing a piece of clay in the cavity of his fist and, upon a moment’s inspection, give it expressions with another quick pinch, poking holes for eyes or embellishing features with a tool. Often resembling a horse or a duck, or a googly-eyed insect, we called them “squeeze creatures.” I continued to embrace my creativity in both three and two dimensions through my childhood and adolescence, mostly drawing and sculpting silly creatures. I drew frequently and enjoyed creating stories and assumed that comic books and cartooning were my dreams and artistic future. When I was thirteen years old, I became heavily influenced by the work and friendship of Doug Pedersen and Kelsey Hauk, artists who moved from New Mexico to my remote Colorado hometown of Saguache. Doug introduced me to the world of oil painting: Van Eyck, Rembrant, Goya, Velasquez, Vermeer and on… He had me stretch his canvases while having discussions about everything from Picasso and de Kooning, to mediums and methods. The work in this show is directly influenced by and a modest tribute and homage to their art and mentorship. Their work, mostly figures, heads and faces, would begin in a similar manner to my father’s squeeze creatures. Doug, turning his back to his canvas, would scrawl a mark or two with an oily rag and then work embellishing those marks until it became a masterpiece of emotive expression. Kelsey’s creations are elegant collages of colorful figures and faces from pieces of discarded and leftover paper, finding recognizable features and forms in randomness and chaos.

Seeing in something what is not there and elaborating on it has been a part of humanity’s creativity for tens of thousands of years: tracing the forms of rock cave walls with charcoal to make the back of a buffalo rise, finding a piece of driftwood that resembles a deer and carving it to appear more so. I am intrigued by our imagination’s capacity to create fantastic glimpses of human faces or give meaningful interpretation to the brilliance of nature’s chaos. I have found that much of my creative process has been to involve “pareidolia,” the term used to describe our brain’s proclivity to recognize familiar shapes in clouds or faces in the leafy darkness of forest trees or faces in everyday objects. Is this a creative impulse active in our biology or is the mind’s eye and ego relaying a primal rationalization for survival, identification, empathy, hope and fear?

Faces and Heads Artist Talk

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