Since 2014, the Arts Council of the Brazos Valley and the City of Navasota, through the Navasota Artists in Residence (AIR) Program, have provided artists the opportunity to put their everyday lives on hold for six months to focus on their art.
Current resident artists, Christine Holton and Jennifer G. Thompson, are wrapping up their stay in Navasota and their latest work will be on display at an open house Thursday, Aug. 4, at the Horlock House Art Gallery & History Museum, 1215 E. Washington Avenue. The event is from 4-6 p.m. and light refreshments will be served. Normal gallery hours are Thursday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m.
Christine Holton: Embracing the magical in the ordinary
Professional artist, art consultant and art teacher Christine Holton understood at a very young age that being an artist was not just an abstract idea. Influenced by a creative, glamourous aunt who was painter and American modernist artist Georgia O’Keefe, Holton was indulging her own innate desire to draw and paint by the age of 10.
Holton said, “I remember doing color pencil drawings of flowers and things. My parents told me I was talented. At that point, I felt encouraged in the direction.”
According to Holton, her subject matter isn’t motivated by social issues.
She said, “At the same time, it informs what matters to me - the beauty in the everyday, the magical in the ordinary. That is a deeply rooted way of being that I’ve always had. It doesn’t have to be amazing and special and glittery. This beautiful old door that’s falling off its hinges has really cool rust patterns on it. Anything nature has always been a favorite subject.”
A “body” of work
The 45-year-old Holton explained that she went through some rough times in her 20s and 30s which resulted in health issues.
She said, “I don’t have a problem telling that I went through some health struggles, recovered from a lot of them, and that informs the choice of anatomy today. It’s about finding joy and functioning in my body, or just being grateful to have it. I’ve treated my body with neglect. Not to judge it, I just didn’t care and I’m not perfect at it now. I love coffee and sugar! Anyway, that’s where anatomy came from.”
Holton continued, “I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition and decided I wanted to paint a thyroid. I said, ‘Why not?’ it was early COVID and I started playing around with the heart, the thyroid and people were interested. I started doing it with crazy colors and it took off. Other people connect to this for some reason and I started tapping into that.”
Holton speculates that the most challenging aspect of her career as an artist may be where she is right now but it may also be “the most rewarding.”
She said, “This anatomy theme, and I hate to even call it that because I feel like its motivated from something that really doesn’t have words, but also is not that special either. It’s about joy and healing for me and I think that it’s challenging sometimes to get real with my own body and its limitations, to really look at that.” Holton continued, “Facing limitations as well as possibilities with my physical health and my body’s capabilities, for example, not being able to have children is one. There’s art here that is about that. It’s a way for me to find truth in myself and express it. It may pass and I may move on to something else.”
Residency mission accomplished
Holton arrived with limited expectations and her accomplishments have far exceeded them.
She said, “I haven’t left home for this period of time since college. I’m married and picking up five months and moving to a completely different place, I had hoped I would have time to make art and be inspired. I didn’t know what it was going to look like. I knew I wanted to go out and meet people, get to know people, because that’s part of my experience. I’m not going to lock myself in the studio for days and days. I need to go out and connect energies with people.”
Holton continued, “That has happened. I’ve made friends here. I’ve been touched by people and the way everyone relates to each other, just by sharing each other’s growth and pain.”
There was the unanticipated – Covid and a stolen catalytic converter – but the botanical landscape, the natural world and energy of Navasota “helped me accomplish what I thought I’d accomplish here.”
In September, Holton will return to Durham, North Carolina, her studio near Duke University and resume teaching but she plans to structure her time “a little differently.”
Until her departure, her work will hang in the Navasota City Hall and Bryan’s Village Café. She’ll continue attending Navasota AIR alumni, Lisa Urban’s figure drawing classes, and enjoying the visits from locals.
Holton had a special “thank you” for the Navasota Garden Club.
She said, “They allowed me to plant a vegetable garden in the middle of their flower bed and I have veggies out there I’ve been harvesting for three months. I love it!”
Holton said, “I’m grateful that people have welcomed me and support the artist in residence program. The town knows about it and accepts it. People have made a point to come by the Horlock House and I want to thank them for that.”
She laughed saying, “Welcoming an anatomy artist? They may be like ‘Why are you making that? I don’t know but I support you.’”
Jennifer Thompson: Connecting with people where they are
Texas-born, Mississippi-raised artist Jennifer G. Thompson’s affinity for art didn’t begin with a box of crayons or a paintbrush. It started as a youngster with dancing and the connection to music and then transitioned to art in middle school. Encouraged by her high school art teacher, Thompson applied to art school, and now an assistant professor at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, this former pupil teaches others.
Thompson considers herself a generalist in the world of art saying, “I love creating. I love creativity and pursuing that in whatever medium fits what I’m trying to say at that moment, or that time of my life. As the doors open, I try to step, or run, or push my way through to figure it out one way or another.”
From drawing in high school, Thompson moved on to graphic design in college and then to painting. Becoming an art teacher led to other mediums, drawing, sculpting and ceramics, which influenced her own practice.
She continued, “After teaching for a while, I decided it was time to get my Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and I applied to a couple of programs and got in a few places. I had to make a decision, so I stayed local in the Dallas area. They had more of a graphic base in MFA pedagogy which led to what I’m doing now. I’m a professor over graphic design and printmaking.”
The fabric of life
During her Navasota residency, Thompson has concentrated on collage and printmaking.
She said, “Those are my focuses at the university so I thought this would be a really great time to set some time aside and delve deeper into those.”
When asked about the incorporation of embroidery into her printmaking, Thompson said, “I love the tactile quality. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts but my thesis show didn’t have any paint. It was all fabric. I used fabric as my medium and my process was actually collage.”
She continued, “The tactile qualities of items, the memories that we have with them, what we were thinking conceptually – the fabric of life or the life we live in the fabrics we wear – really speaks to me and I like to use that as a continuous medium in my work.”
Asking an artist about their favorite project is like asking a mother which is her favorite child. Each one is unique but a standout memory for Thompson, however, involves her MFA thesis.
She said, “I focused on a promotion and platform where women artists from Texas could find a place to connect, a place to add to their resume, a place to find opportunities for themselves.”
She continued, “The development of that has been really important to me because, even in my own practice, it’s about communicating and speaking to what I feel is important, or what I want to create visually but inherently, you want to have helped someone else in some small way. So, in that, I find that my art practice, my training and my graphic design skills have led to an intersection which is exciting and a new way to approach my work in general.”
According to Thompson, art always has a message but she doesn’t always want to voice it.
She said, “Everyone’s life experience and view is valid and I want people to connect with my work wherever they are. I’m happy to talk about my work but I don’t want to force my thoughts of why I created it on someone. If someone gets something out of it, I want them to enjoy it for that reason.”
Juggling teaching with creating art is no small challenge. Assistant Professor Thompson’s time is committed to her students, developing curriculum and everything else involved with her professorship.
She said, “Stepping into academia at the collegiate level has brought a new level of challenges, which is great but finding time for my own work is even harder in a way that I couldn’t have foreseen or known. But it’s a fun challenge.”
And this challenge is why the Navasota AIR Program is significant for Thompson.
She said, “That’s why this was so exciting to me, to be given a small chunk of time out of the year that I really focus on – as much as possible after getting sick and time never being as much as you want – on my work. Just having this space has allowed me so much more creative time in my practice and ability to pursue things that would have taken me so much longer during school. It was such a blessing.”
Reflecting on her stay in Navasota, Thompson said, “This place is such a treasure. It’s been so nice to meet people that come in, their willingness just to chat with you, people being open to connect with us artists even though we’re here for a short period of time and feeling like part of the community.”