Though the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours (POST) began earlier this October, they are finally coming to the local West Center City and West Philly areas this weekend. A program of the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, it spans 20 different Philadelphia neighborhoods and engages the arts community from a refreshingly different perspective. POST grants viewers the unique opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the works of over 300 local painters, sculptors, photographers, printmakers, and other artistic visionaries. Don’t miss it.
If you were to walk into Cheryl Smith’s studio now, you would see images and scribbles of ideas that do not present women as equals, but rather as caricatures derived from media expectations. The pieces are still works in progress, but Smith is confident in her craft, which is heavily influenced by her studio space.
“An artist’s space can inspire or limit their work, so these two elements are very important to me,” she says. “Walking into my studio is like walking into a sanctuary: it is my safe, holy space.”
Smith discovered her passion for art at a very young age and received her BFA at Penn in 2011.
“[Art is] my best way of communicating how I truly see and feel, and I find inspiration all around me,” she said.
Her paintings discuss the way women are understood in American society by questioning traditional female roles and suggesting more positive interpretations of women.
“Even though we don’t want to believe it, the unfortunate reality is that women are still considered to be inferior to men in many facets of our society,” she says. “It is something that we are raised within, and, so, we don’t really notice it.”
Smith strives to point out these sexist cultural elements.
“Right now, I am working on a body of work that paints women the way our culture really sees them: as sex objects. The goal is to make the viewer immediately reject that role and create for themselves a positive replacement.”
“POST creates a casual venue for artists to share what they create with the community,” she says. “As an artist, I tend to be reclusive about my work, and I appreciate and benefit from organizations that encourage artists to share what they do.”
Penn Professor Deirdre Murphy, who graduated from Penn’s School of Design and has taught fine arts at Penn for over ten years, recently displayed her own work, titled “Murmurations” through POST. Murphy stated that POST is “a great venue for artists that are not represented by commercial galleries or are in between solo shows.”
Encouraging Penn students to partake in the event, she also stated that, “It’s a great way to see if the life an artist is for you.”
And indeed, some of the participating artists are Penn alumni who chose that path.
Philly artist Linda Dubin Garfield jokingly calls her studio “a holy wreck.”
“[Working in] mixed media means not too much gets thrown away, because you might use it for something!” Garfield says.
And Garfield’s media certainly is mixed. “I took a printmaking course in the early 90’s and fell in love with the press and the process,” she says. “It’s magic, and I love the squish of the ink!”
A few years later, Garfield took another course in mixed media and used the papers as if she were, in fact, painting.
“Once I got a computer and Photoshop elements, I began playing with photos from travel and started some prints with those images. Then, I used traditional printmaking techniques on top of the digital images. Layers on layers.”
Garfield loves the number of possible outcomes with her prints: “Each series has something special about it. Usually, the last series I make I call my favorite…until the next one comes along.”
Garfield plans on giving visitors the chance to do some printmaking during POST. She enjoys interacting with other budding artists, and encourages them to learn their craft, develop their body of work, and follow their dream.
Sun Young Kang remembers the moment she first seriously considered becoming an artist.
“I realized I would not have to stand in front of many people to talk or to do any presentation, because my art would represent me,” she says.
While such an epiphany may seem silly or childish to some, for Kang, this decision was an act of desperation.
“I was finding the way to have my voice out and to have my existence in the world. I didn’t realize this until I moved to the U.S.A. [from Korea]. I had to experience losing my voice and had to gain confidence again as a grown up.”
Kang has since found her voice in her own special practice of book art and paper installation. Initially trained in Korean painting, Kang was drawn to the beauty of ink spread on paper, leading her to the art of making books. As a book artist, she became both an author and a publisher of her thoughts and feelings. Paper installation was a further extension of Kang’s book art, inspired by the idea of the book and its three-dimensional structure.
“Paper is delicate, yet, a lot stronger than we can imagine,” she says. “It can be torn easily, but can last over a thousand of years. Paper is very thin but has two sides in it. This duality of paper and its physical structure fit perfectly into my concept: to visualize the invisibility, to perceive the idea that our world is composed with two antithetical ideas, the Presence and Absence, life and death.”
Kang admits that she was hesitant at first to be involved in POST. She says, “I do not have a studio that is worth sharing with people, and sometimes I am too shy to make connections in the art field.”
But she encouraged herself to participate, knowing that even if she works in solitude, she wants to actively connect to the world.
“I have realized that art and artists cannot exist if they are not in the community. I have shown my work pretty actively, but rarely presented myself to the public, so POST is both a challenge and an excitement for me. Hopefully, it can be my small contribution to the community.”
Similar to Kang, artist Lucy Pistilli sees the value in art as a connection between individuals and groups.
“Working in art education, I have come to see therapeutic and social value in art and how it creates connections for those who otherwise might struggle to overcome superficial or societal differences,” she says.
In addition to her work in painting and mixed media, Pistilli has a fulltime job as an art and life skills instructor for adults with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities.
“I think of art-making as a compulsion,” she says. “Some people, when not making art, begin to feel incomplete or unwell. I have always felt driven to observe and collect these experiences and to channel them into creating things that reflect combinations of these experiences.”
Pistilli’s work explores simultaneous strangeness and familiarity. She works largely from found imagery, such as family photos and discarded objects, and plays with changing its thematic context or texture.
“I am exploring what an object or picture is, what it captures, and why it interests me,” she says.
POST presents a special opportunity this year for Pisitilli, who hopes to include some of her visitors in her artistic process: “I am in the process of collecting stories through audio and visual media I hope to invite visitors to share some of their own stories, and to take something with them and to leave something behind.”
Genevieve Coutroubis looks at art through a camera lens.
“I started photographing when I was 15,” she says. “I had an amazing teacher that really supported me. I loved photographing and being in the darkroom.”
Coutroubis studied Photojournalism at Boston University. She also went on to receive her MFA in anthropology from Penn in 2001, where her emphasis was on both the ethnographic and visual study of social justice issues in urban areas of the U.S.—a concept that inspired later documentary projects in Boston, New York, and Chicago.
Her most recent work, however, is fueled by her passion for her homeland, Greece.
“Photographing in Greece is both my longest project and the most complete,” she says.
However, Coutroubis still thoroughly enjoys the artistic opportunities abundant in the City of Brotherly Love. She agrees that “POST is an incredibly valuable asset to artists and audiences in Philadelphia. I love to open my studio once a year to share what I am working on.”
Mixed media artist Burnell Yow! never decided to be an artist. Inspired by the work of the early Dadaists and Surrealists, Yow! does not let rules get in the way of his creative assemblages of objects.
“For me, it’s important to experiment and explore, to mess with the materials, to try things, to keep an open and childlike mind as if I was using paint for the first time and just wanted to see what I could do with it without being told how to handle it,” he says.
Yow!’s studio certainly lets him experiment to his heart’s content. Plastic bins spill over the entire room, filled with wonderful mysterious odds and ends.
“My studio is a sacred place where nothing is sacred,” Yow! says. “It’s where anything goes.”
Yow! begins his pieces by selecting items from his stash of objects that, for whatever reason, happen to catch his eye on that particular day and moment. Then, the playing starts.
“I begin moving the pieces about,” he says. “This one here, that one there, and I watch and feel how the relationship of one object to the next changes. I have no qualms about tossing something out and replacing it with something else until I arrive at an ‘aha’ moment. It’s quite thrilling.”
Yow! aims to be surprised, and he usually is.
“Making art is a solitary activity,” he says. “It’s also about community, both the artistic/creative community of other artists and the community at large. I love POST because it works to bring the two together.”