In Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything. That’s also another magic quantity: the number of artists exhibiting in Bunnell Street Arts Centers 10×10 art show.
Considering the wide variety of themes, media, subject and styles, a good hunk of the universe gets explored, all in the confined space of 10-inches squared or cubed.
Up the hill from Old Town on West Pioneer Avenue, the Homer Council on the Arts also has its own version of 10×10, taking the format even smaller — a 5×7 show of works 5-inches-by-7-inches, about the size of coffee table photographs. Both shows offer emerging and established artists the chance to work in a form that in its small size can be liberating.
“Five-by-seven is something that’s so small anybody can do it,” said Kathleen Drew, one of the artists at the council show. “You don’t have to fill a huge canvas. It’s nonthreatening. It’s sometimes you painted something else that day, but you still have paints left. Why not do something small? It’s kind of freeing.”
The shows also offer something not usually seen at a First Friday opening of a solo show or small group show: a bunch of artists standing around talking about their art. The 10×10 artists talk is like a master’s class forum, where artists enthusiastically speak about their work.
“To me, when the artists stand up to talk about their 10×10, it’s beautiful,” said Sharlene Cline, an artist who has a Chinese brush painting in the 5×7 show and who has exhibited at prior 10×10 shows. “It’s a sense of community.”
At last Friday’s opening of the 10×10 show, an artist new to the Homer scene, Alex Rydlinski, noted how big a crowd it seemed. Even before the artists talks, artists gladly struck up a conversation about their work. Rydlinski showed three encaustic paintings, including a scratch-board work where he had incised layers of wax laid down on wood.
“I’m trying to get into etching. It’s helping me out,” he said of that piece, “Sea Monk.”
That’s one attraction of the small-scale format, how it can allow an artist to focus on just one thing.
“I like working in any scale,” Cline said. “… Every scale has its own pluses and minuses. … It’s doing something interesting at that scale.”
For her work, “Peony,” Cline painted just one flower.
“I had never done peonies before,” she said of the flower that has become a thriving local agricultural market. “I live in Homer. I have to learn to do peonies.”
In Chinese brush painting, artists don’t sketch before they paint. They have to paint again and again to figure out the strokes.
“I think I did 13 paintings before I got those two,” Cline said.
Some artists use the small-format shows to start out exhibiting or return to careers after a hiatus away. Briana Lee said she intended her 10×10 painting, “Cipher,” to be more exploration than anything else.
“I approach it as nothing predetermined,” she said.”When you go to that place, that subconscious, what is it telling you?”
Carla Cope also brought a new technique into her work, something the fiber artist Amy Meisner also has done: work off the creative work of your children. Cope’s daughter, Nova, 3, is listed as co-artist. Nova painted background images and lines and Cope then worked from that.
“I stared at what she had done for a long time,” Cope said. “…It takes awhile to find the right image to go with the background.”
In “Abrupt Edge,” Nova also is the subject of the painting both as a girl and a baby.
With tight deadlines when works are due, artists also have to do something they sometimes find difficult: finish their works.
“Because it’s one piece, that’s what I love about the show,” Cline said. “… They know it’s going to happen. They have something to work toward. You can try something new.”
Although many works sold out quickly, others remain on sale and priced for $300 or less. To look at and purchase 10×10 works, visit the online store at https://squareup.com/market/bunnell-street-arts-center.