Female artists join collective, show works in Little Rock

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published May 22, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.
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Carol Rolf/Contributing Photographer

Works by several area artists are included in the exhibit Culture Shock: Shine Your Rubies, Hide Your Diamonds, which is on display at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock through Aug. 27. Among the members of the art collective Culture Shock are Sandra Luckett, from left, Rachel Trusty, Jessie Hornbrook, Holly Laws, Tammy Harrington and Melissa Cowper-Smith.

When Melissa Cowper-Smith moved to Morrilton from New York City a few years ago, one might think she experienced some “culture shock.”

“After moving here in the fall of 2013, I really missed my all-women critique group tART and felt generally culturally isolated,” said Cowper-Smith, who is an artist and an adjunct faculty member at Hendrix College and the University of Central Arkansas, both in Conway. “As an adjunct, I had the opportunity to meet more art faculty than the full-time faculty. I started asking around and found interest in starting a critique group.

“I, and many of us in the group, do struggle with culture shock,” she said. “Most of us are from elsewhere and have lived in many different cities. Each place has a different feel — a way of being, a culture of values.”

Cowper-Smith soon started a local critique group of women artists and originally called it The Show and Tell Art Collective. The group is now called Culture Shock.

Culture Shock is a multidisciplinary collective of Arkansas artists committed to exploring significant contemporary issues through the use of varied artistic practices to engage each other and the public.

The members of Culture Shock have joined together for a collective show now on display in the Concordia Hall Gallery at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock.

The exhibit — Culture Shock: Shine Your Rubies, Hide Your Diamonds — features work by several female artists who live or work in the River Valley & Ozark Edition coverage area. In addition to Cowper-Smith, other local artists in the group are Melissa Gill of Little Rock, associate professor of drawing and printmaking at Hendrix College; Tammy Harrington of Russellville, professor of art at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville; Jessie Hornbrook of Conway, assistant professor of printmaking at UCA; Holly Laws of Mayflower, associate professor of art at UCA; Sandra Luckett of Conway, assistant professor of art at UCA; and Rachel Trusty of Russellville, gallery coordinator for the William F. Laman Library system of North Little Rock.

Cowper-Smith said Culture Shock meets about once a month to look at one artist’s work.

“We talk at length about the artist’s work, including her use of materials, the subject matter, the meaning, inspiration and cultural context of the work,” Cowper-Smith said. “We try to come up with ideas and solutions for issues the artist has been struggling with.

“We support each other as creative people who are making art,” she said. “I very much believe in the all-female critique group as a conducive environment to support an individual’s art practice.

“I am part of the collective because I truly believe in the power of women artists to make brilliant work. This show is proof of that.”

Cowper-Smith is a native of Canada. She earned a bachelor’s degree in painting from the University of Victoria in British

Columbia before moving to New York City to complete a Master of Fine Arts degree at Hunter College.

She has 10 pieces of art on display at the Butler Center, most of which are digital prints on handmade paper, made from homegrown cotton.

Following is a look at the other local members of Cultural Shock:

Melissa Gill

Gill is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice includes intaglio, lithography, serigraphy, relief, mixed media, drawing, collage, embroidery, artist books and installation. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Indiana University at Bloomington, a Master of Arts degree from Purdue University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Arizona.

“I am so grateful to have been invited as a member of Culture Shock,” she said. “As a professional teaching artist, I highly value the opportunity to talk with my peers about our creative pursuits, give and receive feedback on projects, and establish a community together. Artists really thrive on support from a community, and we have intentionally created this one to be a source for growth, challenge and camaraderie.”

Gill, who is a practicing Buddhist, has five works on paper in the exhibition. She said they are a series titled Metta Series because each one is based on a line from a traditional Buddhist prayer for loving-kindness — the wish for all sentient beings to have what they need and to prosper. She said “metta” is the Pali word translated in English as “loving-kindness.”

Tammy Harrington

Harrington received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from the University of South Dakota and a Master of Fine Arts in printmaking from Wichita State University in Kansas. She has six pieces in the show; some are paper cuts, and others are reduction relief prints.

“I enjoy being a part of this collective because this group is a great way for female artists to meet in a social setting while still engaging in critical art discussions of each other’s work,” she said. “Friendship and connections are important to maintain in an artistic professional life, especially after graduating from school. I am glad that this is one of the ways that I can discuss art and art making.”

Jessie Hornbrook

Hornbrook is a printmaker and multidisciplinary artist working in intaglio, lithography, silkscreen, relief and experimental photography. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Central Michigan University and a Master of Fine Arts in studio art (printmaking) from Louisiana State University.

“It is an inherent characteristic of printmakers to belong to a community,” Hornbrook said. “Due to special equipment needs, processes that are more easily done with multiple hands and the history of printer and apprentice, printers do not work alone in studios. This is a tradition going back hundreds of years, and as such, we are probably the most social creatures of the art world.

“I love collaborations, collectives and the give-and-take that occurs with cohorts,” she said. “Being a non-Arkansas native, I was craving a like mind and an art and social scene that I was missing since moving to the state. These women are all working in different areas of our field, offering a broad perspective, not just for critique of work, but also to help each other find creative solutions.”

Hornbrook’s pieces in the current exhibit are from her work The Aesthetics of Decay.

Holly Laws

Laws has a bachelor’s degree in sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

“Being an artist, especially one interested in contemporary issues and processes, I feel a bit out of place in the middle of Arkansas,” Laws said. “I joined Culture Shock to have the opportunity to discuss my artistic work, and the work of others, with other women artists throughout the state. For an artist, having other artists available to give you honest and constructive feedback is invaluable. Plus, we all tend to understand one another’s creative struggles and share common goals and interests. The group helps me feel less isolated.”

Laws has five pieces in the show that form the body of work titled Disunion.

Sandra Luckett

Luckett earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.

She has several pieces in the exhibit, each of which is composed of various mediums and concealed in some way with sheer fabric, vellum or a constructed “peep hole.” She titles her installation Secret Spots.

“More than anything else, I see my participation in Culture Shock as an opportunity to be a part of a creative community that focuses on female talent in Arkansas,” Luckett said. “I honestly feel that we have gathered together some of the most talented women artists in Arkansas. I’m honored to be a part of this group.

“We support each other through thoughtful critique and sharing of experiences. It goes way beyond that, though; these are wonderful individuals with talent and interests beyond art-making. I am thankful to Melissa for taking the initiative to gather together this group.”

Rachel Trusty

Trusty has eight pieces in the show at the Butler Center. They are part of the Bouquet series — acrylic paintings on wood panel — and are part of a larger body of work she calls Floral Collection.

“I was invited to join the collective last year by Tammy Harrington. I know her and her husband, Neal, because we all live in Russellville,” Trusty said.

“The collective is a fantastic group. Once one is out of graduate school, there are few opportunities to have others look critically at your artwork and give you advice,” she said. “I have not been a part of this collective very long, but I have already found the advice of the women invaluable.

“The group is very diverse, and the artists in the group all have a large amount of experience with different media. If you want to experiment in new media, there is someone there that can lead the way. You get suggestions on artists to look at, brands to use and actual hands-on directions on how to work with the materials.”

Culture Shock: Shine Your Rubies, Hide Your Diamonds will remain on display at the Butler Center, 401 President Clinton Ave. in Little Rock, through Aug. 27. Admission is free. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with extended hours to 8 p.m. during the 2nd Friday Art Night event. The next 2nd Friday Art Night will be June 10.

For more information, call (501) 918-3033 or visit www.butlercenter.org/art.