Photo by Mary Lou Harris
Jeremy Newman and Allison Ciancibelli, glassblowers

By Ann McCreary

In a way, all art is “performance art,” according to photographer Mary Lou Harris, who spent four months taking photos of a dozen local artists in the midst of their creative processes.

“When the painter steps up to the canvas, or the blacksmith to the forge, the outcome is always uncertain,” said Harris, who will exhibit her portraits of artists at work in an exhibit that begins Saturday (July 1) at Confluence Gallery.

Perri Howard, painter

“Methow Artists’ Studios Close Up: Through a Photographic Lens” opens with a public reception from 4–8 p.m.

“Making art is a physical, dynamic and sometimes dangerous process — but for most gallery visitors, it is usually unseen,” said Harris. “With these photographs, I hope to foster a deeper understanding of the artist’s experience — both the outer experience of physical creation, and the inner experience of the creative mind.”

Harris, who works as a commercial photographer based on Whidbey Island, saw the opportunity to document artists at work as a creative challenge.

“I had a wonderful time doing this. In every case I spent a significant amount of time getting to know the person before we did a photo session, to bring personal perspective to my photos,” said Harris, who has a second home in the Methow Valley.

Nicole Ringgold, silversmith

After a preliminary meeting with the artists in their studios, Harris returned for a photo shoot. “I love this process of getting to know creative people and helping to tell their stories,” she said.

“I wanted to explore the artists’ motivations, passions and skills, and share the usually unseen process of creation with others. The dedication, expertise and effort that artists put into their work is so impressive, I think of them as heroes for doing what they do,” Harris said.

Appreciating the work

Blowing glass, for instance, “is stressful, and there’s no margin for error. It shows in the artists and the concentration they have to bring. It’s incredible to watch,” she said. The completed art piece, graceful and serene, “belies the effort that went into it,” Harris said.

“Through knowing the artist, we can better comprehend and appreciate their art. Making art requires dedication, passion and risk. Making art takes courage,” she said.

Barry Stromberger, metal artist

Just as creating art is a sort of performance, the photo shoot is also performance, Harris said.

“The light, the interaction between myself and my subject, are all of the moment — unique and unrepeatable. This is both exciting and intimidating,” she said. “I usually only have one chance to ‘get it right.’”

Artists profiled in the show include painters Caryl Campbell, Perri Howard and Paula Christen, photographer Ken Libby, clay artist Robin Nelson Wicks, glass artists Jeremy Newman and Allison Ciancibelli, silversmith Nicole Ringgold, metal artist Barry Stromberger, fiber artist Katie Swanson, woodworker Rick Swanson, and papercut artist Hannah Viano.

Also opening Saturday in Confluence’s Community Gallery is “Companion, Forest and Sky,” a mixed media exhibit by Seattle artist Janet Fagan.

Fagan, a frequent visitor to the Methow Valley, is inspired by her love of nature and the creatures she meets on her daily trail runs through the forest. In support of wild lands, a percentage of each sale will be donated to the Methow Conservancy.

Confluence also presents a solo exhibit by artist-in-residence Anna Dooley called “Living on Upside” in the gallery’s gift shop.

The show is a series of oil paintings, created both in studio and in plein-air style, inspired by the colors, forms and movements of spring in the Methow Valley.

The exhibits run through Aug. 5.