I had the pleasure of working with April Rimpo and Elaine Weiner-Reed in 2019 when they put on an ekphrastic art event at Slayton House Gallery in Columbia, Maryland. This year, they sponsored a similar event with the poet and activist Patti Ross of The Baltimore County Arts Guild. I hope you enjoy getting to know them and discovering more about their work.
Ann Bracken (AB): I’d love to know a bit about your journey as an artist. How long have you been painting and sculpting and what most sparked your interest in visual art?
April Rimpo (AR): I started drawing as a child. I was aware my father and grandfather both painted, so drawing came naturally. The first external motivation came in third grade when my teacher displayed my drawings in class. My first painting experience came in either late elementary school or junior high when I received oil paints as a gift. In junior high school, I brought a painting to class and my English teacher asked to display it. The painting remained on display for the balance of the year. I really got the bug at that point, but didn’t take painting classes until my early twenties.
Elaine Weiner-Reed (EWR)
I entered the world in a crowded womb. My almost fierce, independent, and creative streak was hard-wired into me from birth, and my path as an artist soon became irreversible and undeniable as I sought an identity of my own. I soon became the “twin who could draw.” Art was my first love. I have no memory that does not have art in it… I drew constantly and seemed to know that I was an artist from the time I was about 4 years old.
Because money was in short supply and paper was scarce, I quickly mastered the Etch-a-Sketch (my first sketchbook), drawing landscapes, people, and interiors. Every chance I got, I took art and creative writing classes in high school. In college, I majored in French, but took enough art and 3D classes to equate to an unofficial minor in sculpture and never looked back. My first foray into painting had me painting representationally in oils in the 1980’s. Wanting to be more expressive or “loose,” I studied and painted in watercolor during the 1990’s. I branched into acrylics in the late 1990’s out of a desire to paint on canvas, staying with that and latex or mixed media creations to date. I returned to my sculpture roots in 2014 when I was selected by-name for the first of two International Artist Residencies in Poland, and in 2018, my path led me to plaster and metal figurative sculptures and welded metal music-inspired assemblages.
AB: How would you characterize the style of your painting and who are your influences?
AR: My style has evolved a lot over the years. Originally it was quite tight, as in rendering a copy of the photograph that I worked from. But once I found watercolor in 1997, my painting began to loosen up, becoming more interpretive. Only in the last 15 years do I think my goal in painting, although still representational, is to communicate emotions about a place or culture that helps tell the story of the scene.
I love the Impressionists’ use of texture, color, light, and the dynamic flow in their paintings. Van Gogh and Monet are among my favorites starting when I was a young artist. On the U.S. front, I admire Winslow Homer for the sense of story in his paintings and Ed Hopper for his way of simplifying a subject to capture its essence. Current influencers are contemporary water-media artists Chen-kee Chee, John Salminen, Keiko Tanabe, and Joseph Zbukvis plus Nicholas Simmons who taught me what could be achieved in fluid acrylic, but sadly is no longer with us.
EWR: I am an action painter. My painting style can best be described as abstract expressionism. I love the physicality of painting and sculpting. I enter my studio and turn on the music, losing myself in the dance that is my creative process. I usually paint on the floor, literally walking around my work as I focus on the entirety of a piece, even while zooming in on one area at a time. Sculptures require a 360-degree awareness, so I am continually bending, turning, and interacting with my work – intellectually as well as physically. As for my sculptures, I would have to ask an historian how they might categorize my plaster or welded metal assemblages in a global context.
Life is complicated, and I sometimes experience the full spectrum of emotions in one day or week or month. In order to channel the emotions and experiences into my work when they are fresh (or “live”), I begin and sometimes work on multiple pieces simultaneously.
At the university, I discovered and fell in love with the works of Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi, Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepworth, among others. When I began painting in oils, I learned more about Rembrandt, Cezanne, and Van Gogh; later, I fell in love with the works of DeKooning (wife and husband), Diebenkorn, and DeNiro
AB: I’ve been lucky enough to participate in two of your Ekphrastic events and have written poems for each of your paintings. What sparked your interest in such a collaboration and what was most surprising for you?
AR: Elaine can explain her initial spark, since she started her initiative “Every Painting is a Song (EPIAS).“ I joined Elaine in her initiative in 2019 and suggest we expand her initiative for just musical collaborations to include poetry. Since I tell stories in my art and am overjoyed when others tell me the story they see in my painting, I thought including Ekphrastic Poetry in our events would be ideal. Elaine agreed and had always wanted to expand the concept to more than music.
EWR: The spark… Thank you, April. This is the 6th year of EPIAS and I am thrilled at the direction in which it is going.
The spark began an internal one that grew out of a need and an idea…. Sometime in about 2014 I grew tired of the fact that art exhibitions typically served as a venue focused solely on the artist’s individual achievements. It is nice to be recognized or receive rare accolades, but I wanted more from my events and myself. I wanted to turn the soliloquy into a dialogue. I wanted to know what others thought or felt that was rooted in or triggered by my work. How did my paintings and sculptures make people FEEL? What did it make individuals remember? How would someone write the beginning, middle, or end of the scenes I painted? I was determined to figure out how to do it… I envisioned pairing audio and more to my artwork, so I chose a musician’s template for my website because it allowed audio tracks. I began recording my own reflections to better relate to and connect with others, using the sense of hearing. Even before I began writing poetry again, I began writing what I call “reflections” associated with my work.
You (Ann Bracken) and Patti Ross are two of our most treasured discoveries and friendships resulting from that collaboration. I am humbled and truly honored with each creation written to one of my works.
What I found most surprising and delightful are the connections that happen between not only the creatives (artist, musician, poet, etc.), but with the guests at each of the events. Attendees and participants learn and bond in new ways – people who only minutes before were strangers are now connected…a community. We become part of each other’s stories! Each Ekphrastic event impacts me and pushes my evolution and my work in new directions. Each is an awakening.
Contrary to the philosophy in which I was raised, namely that art was superfluous, I believe art is necessary to man’s survival and a critical extension of our identity, culture, and humanity.
AB: You’ve each included a painting in this blog. What would you like to share about your work?
AR: As I mentioned earlier, I love to incorporate my emotions into my art by adding life to my reference photo and trying to communicate what I felt when I saw and photographed it. The image shared here is from a new series of paintings that I call “Inner Portraits” where my goal is to tell something about the person depicted. In this case, I wanted to tell some of the story of the subject’s Vietnamese heritage. The images around the edges include two sisters from 40 AD who led the army into war against the invading Chinese and won. They are celebrated in Vietnam to this day. The power of these women also symbolizes the subject’s strength. Since the border was derived from a piece she owed created with mother-of-pearl inlays. I also segmented her face and used similar colors for her portrait.
EWR: My painting “Stop Injustice” is the largest painting I have done to date – both in content and scale. It is, in fact, an Ekphrastic creation – at least in part. To explain: While I painted it in my studio at MD Hall, I listened to the music of singer/songwriter/musician Vanessa Collier, whose lyrics inspired and influenced my improvisational dance through the painting. Lines like “cry out against injustice” wove around and through me as I painted… I ached and cried over current events (2019-2021) and atrocities committed against humanity, notably the murder of George Floyd. My painting of an interior scene peopled by many figures in varying amounts of detail is my way of crying out… speaking out the only way I know how – in and through my art. It is my call-to-action to each and every one of us to be mindful and caring, to respect each other, and to stand up for what is right and good. Change begins with each of us in every situation and exchange. You, we, I, they, he, and she can make a positive difference in our world. It begins and end with each of us. It is my hope that the calligraphy and words (respect, harmony, il faut changer le monde pour le bien de tous [We must change the world for the good of all] ) will resonate. Should the painting sell, I will donate a percentage of the proceeds to charities benefiting women’s and children’s causes.
AB: Tell me about your upcoming projects and what you’re looking forward to in 2022.
AR: In Februrary, Elaine and I will be giving an Art Innovation Talk for the International Society of Experimental Artists (ISEA) about our joint collaborations. We’re eager to share what we’ve learned so that others can consider leveraging our knowledge. Our hope is that the attendees will also experience the overwhelming joy of hearing about our paintings from the perspective of others.
Last year I started teaching a Zoom-based Mentorship with the goal of helping other artists identify and explore their own unique voice. I found out how much I enjoy teaching. Not only am I able to help others move along their own path, but their questions cause me to research other concepts, which often brings a new idea into my own work. This year I also started to teach a Watercolor Studio class at HorseSpirit Arts Gallery where students can work on their own projects in watercolor and get my assistance along with demonstrations designed to help them further their work. This is a cross between a typical art class and my mentorship concept.
EWR: I am thrilled to share this news, so thank you for asking. In June and July of 2022, I will be having a solo show at the Montpelier Cultural Art Center in Prince Georges County, Laurel, MD. I have been applying to this juried competition on and off for the last 20 years or more, and I could not believe that I won, and I’m very honored. My exhibition, “Masks and Mirrors: Beautiful Reflections,” will include Ekphrastic and audio elements (if not more). The work honors the human spirit and its resiliency. One goal of mine is to try to challenge society’s preconceptions and definitions of beauty. It is time we remove our rose- colored glasses and ditch the search for perfection in order to really see the many perfectly imperfect beautiful souls we meet every day. If we listen, their personal struggles and stories of survival would bring us to our knees. In fact, perhaps our own messy story would in turn make others rock with pain…even as they would reach out to console us. Moving forward with our personal histories in perspective empowers us to become part of the positive change so needed in our world. Please join me for the opening reception on June 4th, 2022 and stay tuned for more news.
For more about Elaine Weiner-Reed’s work, visit her website and social media posts here:
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgTelephone: 410-551-5563FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/WeinerReed/
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCCOWgiFVseJGV0DZja5V-w?
If you want to find out more about April Rimpo’s work, check out her newsletter and website here:
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