Questions and Answers : A Profile with Saya Behnam

Saya BenhamSay Behnam’s solo exhibition of paintings, Capturing the Vibrant, Transient and Eternal NOW is on display through November 4, 2018. We will be hosting a demonstration of the process that Saya uses to create her paints from plants, flowers, spices as well as stones and minerals next Tuesday October 30 12am – 2PM in the Forum Gallery of the Schlesinger Arts Center.

Please learn more Saya’s process with the Q&A profile below and plan to join us next Tuesday afternoon – 12am -2PM.

  1. At what point in your life did you realize that you were an artist?

From 13 or 14 years old. When I got so happy when copied an image from a cover magazine with a cheap watercolor box I had. I resisted considering fine art as a profession till many years after. I thought that cannot be considered as a real job.

  1. Was there a particular teacher that influenced you during your studies?

I had a teacher at age 18 who as my father cousin. His character influenced me a lot.

  1. Are there art historical influences that are particularly important to you?

Yes- I always was so impressed by the colors of Persian rugs and Kilims and miniatures was wondering how they produced the natural colors.

  1. What is the starting point for your process?

For using natural colors: it was a total accident. One day drinking a hibiscus tea and by accident I split it on my white paper. I kept looking at the colors and how those were changing. I decided to give it a try at my studio . That was the starting point.

  1. You call your work co-creating with nature. Can you talk a little bit more about how you are co-creating with nature?

I believe all the colors I use are existing in even one flower or plant I use. I am just a transformer. Some one who knows how to take them out and arrange them on the paper. Most of the time when mix or apply the colors on the top of each other I get a new color that is not what it was before. I believe I am not the only creator of my work. It is already in the nature and we co-create it.

  1. Is there a particular color that speaks to you over other colors?

I am very attracted to shades of red to purple and blues.

7. When did you first start creating your own colors and what was your inspiration?

Since my work is abstract, my goal was how the colors I create compose, interact and work together as a whole.

  1. The surface that you are painting on with the natural colors feels important. Can you tell us more about the quality of the surface you paint on – i.e. the silk, cotton and handmade paper?

I realized natural colors prefer natural surface rather than chemically primed.

For example natural silk and cotton and paper are the best. I normally use them instead of primed canvas.

  1. Do other art forms such as literature or music influence you?

I love poetry. I do write poems from famous Persian poets  like Khayam, Hafiz and Rumi in my art  . Listening to music is a big part of my day. I daydream with it. I get inspiration, become happy, sad and calm.

  1. What advice would you give to a young artist that is just starting out?

If you feel art is a big part of your soul, don’t afraid going after it and follow it professionally. It won’t be easy, but since artists’ reward is internal you can hang out there even when you don’t get result immediately.

Thank you for your time and please see additional works from Saya at her website at

Nine Dragons

Chen Rong. Nine Dragons (detail). 1244. Ink on paper. Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Chen Rong. Nine Dragons (detail). 1244. Ink on paper. Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Chee-Keong Kung – Notes on Nine Dragons

“For a long time now, I have been fascinated by Chen Rong’s Nine Dragons from the Southern Song dynasty (13th century). An exemplary work of technical virtuosity and ineffable grace. The brush-and-ink painting depict churning clouds, winds, and waves among jagged rocks while dragons mysteriously appear and disappear amidst the turmoil. Compositionally, there are large swaths of open space and dark shadows, recognizable elements and abstract shapes, and a sense of depth and movement through time. ”

“A small print-out of the painting (actual painting including inscriptions is 50 feet long) hangs on my studio wall as an inspiration and a reminder that the simplest of gestures can transport us to uncommon places. Most recently, I was looking for a way to start a new series of canvases and found that the light-and-dark patterns within the painting worked wonderfully as jumping-off points. The new canvases eventually became the black-and-white works that are currently in the Oblique Horizons exhibit at the Schlesinger Arts Center. ”

Oblique Horizons is on display through June 10, 2018 in the Fisher gallery . The gallery is open Monday through Friday 10-4PM and evenings and weekends during public performances in the wall. Chee-Keong Kung will be at the gallery Sunday May 20th, 2018 from 3-5PM. To find out more about Chee-Keong Kung, Please visit his About The Artist page.

A Conversation with Wayson R. Jones

Artist Wayson R. Jones

***The Margaret W. & Joseph L. Fisher Art Gallery at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center is currently displaying “Memory, Mostly Self” by regional artist Wayson R. Jones. His work will be on display through July 30. In an effort to give more insight into Jones’ work and why he was compelled to create these pieces, the Schlesinger Center spoke with him about his artistic process.

Jones recently received the Prince George’s County Arts and Humanities Council Individual Artist Grant. He received a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Maryland College Park, studied drawing fundamentals and intermediate drawing at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop and figure drawing at the Washington Studio School. In previous years, he has displayed his work in various solo and group shows in the D.C. metro area, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York and California.***

Schlesinger: Was there a particular experience that inspired you to pursue visual art (given your background in music and performance)?
WRJ: Yes, actually. When I lived on Capitol Hill, I did something I’d been thinking about for a while – making collages with the autumn-color leaves. So I was going to Michael’s craft store buying light box-type frames for them. Of course the collages turned brown in a couple of months, but by then I’d bought a few oil pastels, just out of curiosity. I’d done visual pieces since I was in my 20s, one every 4 or 5 years or so, so it wasn’t completely new. Once I started with chalk pastels, I started really getting into it and showing my work. Artomatic 2008 was the first time, and it’s just gone on from there.

Schlesinger: What are your artistic inspirations?
WRJ: Most of it comes from my immediate environment, mostly the sky and the street. Clouds, stars, frozen salty winter streets, stained sidewalks, roadkill. As far as fine art, abstract expressionism, particularly Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Jean Dubuffet. Artists who are really invested in materiality, like Sam Gilliam, Lynda Benglis, Chakaia Booker. Those who work at large scale, like Martin Puryear, Leonardo Drew.

Schlesinger: The surfaces of your paintings are very textured and multi-layered. What can you tell us about your creative process?
WRJ: It’s intuitive, with no preliminary sketches. I’ll start with just knowing what sort of piece I’m going to do, as in this figurative series. Most of the pieces in this show (e.g., Swirling, Beautiful Flower, Judger) are done by pouring acrylic gloss medium on the surface, using it to draw the figure and gestural marks, then sprinkling powdered graphite and working it with a palette knife. The acrylic creates a resist that leaves the drawn lines more or less the white of the paper. The uneven blending of the materials gives the illusory depth. I like that the result of a fairly simple process can be visually textured and complex.

Swirling, powdered graphite and acrylic medium on paper, 22” x 30”

Schlesinger: When people look at your work, what do you hope they get from it? What kind of reaction were you going for when creating this body of work, and what kind of conversation do you hope it provokes?
WRJ: I want them to feel a sense of presence, a feeling of energy directed toward them from the figure. I don’t consider that I’m teaching, but creating an experience for the viewer. The main reaction I want is for people to not just look at but to see the work. I guess I don’t have goals in terms of reaction or conversation. That there’s reaction to and conversation about the work is a good thing in itself; remarks are almost always interesting and sometimes illuminating.

Schlesinger; Compared to your other work, how are the paintings in Memory, Mostly Self different?
WRJ: Mainly in that they’re among the most intentionally figurative pieces I’ve done. But the techniques and materials are the same as my more abstract stuff.

Schlesinger: A lot of artists say that a piece is never really complete. If anything, what would you change or do differently about this body of work?
WRJ: I find almost the opposite. There’s a pretty defined point at which the piece lets me know it’s done, and going beyond that is nearly always a mistake. I wouldn’t change anything about these particular pieces; I’m very pleased with them overall. If I go back into a piece, it’s usually to completely rework or paint over it.

You can find so much history and culture that inspired the black community over the decades in the pages of Jet and Ebony. Why were the male images from these magazines important to include in your creative process for this show? What role did those magazines play in your childhood?
WRJ: The identification with the Ebony/Jet images was a post-hoc thing, coming after the pieces were finished. It’s what resonated for me when I looked at the images. So I wouldn’t really say they were included in the creative process, more so the titling and what the images suggested. Several of the pieces are self-portraits based on an old family snapshot, when I was around 6 or 7. I think the tie-in with the magazines is very much about memory of those times more so than their cultural significance, which I didn’t really understand as a kid.

What can viewers and art lovers expect from your work in the future?
WRJ: If this series continues, it will probably go bigger and on different surfaces: canvas, wood or aluminum maybe. I’ve also started a series of collages that were inspired in part by this figurative work. I’m using laser prints of the same childhood photo in some of them.

Wayson R. Jones’ “Memory, Mostly Self” will be on display in the Fisher Gallery through July 30 with an artist’s reception 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 8. Read another Wayson Q&A with East City Art here.

Mary’s 2016 Reflections

***Tackling real and imagined hurdles for the sake of art***

Schlesinger Center Galleries Exhibition Director Mary Welch Higgins (left) with NOVA professor and photographer Aya Takashima
Schlesinger Center Galleries Exhibition Director Mary Welch Higgins (left) with NOVA professor and photographer Aya Takashima

This past year of shows at the Schlesinger Center have been an eclectic showcase of our regional talent. The design of the galleries at the Schlesinger lend themselves to a visual dialogue between the artist’s exhibits. It’s been a joyous blast to be an exhibition organizer and bring these shows to the arts community but also to the students and staff of Northern Virginia Community College.

Shanthi Chandrasekar
Much love to the brilliant and hardest working local artist  Shanthi for the loan of four paintings in January and February of 2016. The works created a seamless transition to Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. Shanthi’s show “Cosmic Design” also ended our 2015 season.

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here – “Storytelling/Global Narratives”
This was a group show that showcased some local arts leaders behind the D.C. Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Festival. I called it the “blizzard” show since our drop off times for the work were scheduled right as the blizzard of 2016 landed in Washington. But we made it work!

Jessica Kallista‘s “Dear Suburbia”
A solo exhibition by a mixed media collage artist and arts instigator behind Olly Olly. Jessica’s show was gives the viewer a mysterious, at times humorous but ultimately, devastatingly beautiful look at the shadow side of suburbia. Art is everywhere.

The BunnyMan Bridge Collective 
The Schlesinger Center galleries were delighted to bring this Northern Virginia collective to the Passage Gallery. They were a surprise show and debuted during the reception for “Dear Suburbia.” Keep a look out for Toni Hitchock, Javier Padilla, Abner De Jesus and Jason Davis. You never know when you will find them.

Greg Braun‘s “Rhythm and Hues”
Greg brought in our first site-specific beauty in the Forum Gallery. His musical splash of color and inspired engineering of the installation lit the place on fire. I found out during the installation that Greg was a former Norther Virginia Community College student. We are both Corcoran graduates as well, so there is always that connection.

Catherine Day‘s “Ambit”
Catherine’s photographs moved me from the first time that I saw them at the Greater Reston Arts Center. Every day of her show, I saw the haunting landscapes on fabric floating in the Forum Gallery. There are mysterious images that draw you in and hold you. I particularly liked the use of antique fabric for the works. My favorites of Catherine’s work include the carnival images.

Aya Takashima‘s “In Passing”
Photographs from Aya’s series are brash moments in time where you can feel the silent gaze and exchange between Aya and her subject as she passes through the environment. She is a passenger in a vehicle capturing and activating a moment in time. It was a great feeling for me to bring her work to the attention of the local arts community.

The Small Collective’s “Defining Spaces” 
We are all on some level engaged in the digital world. Russel Creger Barajas, Megan Leary and James M. Locke pursue their visions and dialogue of their environments using analog photography. The results are haunting moments of landscapes and interiors about family, home and the rural environment. Their personal memories entered our collective memory after viewing their work.

Mark Howe‘s “Precious Metals: Precious Visions”  
Mark’s work displays a serious dedication to craft and a passion for the beauty of gold. Initial worries about displaying so much gold was overshadowed by the beauty and elegance of the pieces.  The gallery glowed as we moved into summer and his work turned our second-level Fisher Gallery into an actual jewel box of unique treasures.

Color8art‘s “A Game of Consequences” 
Our largest group show was an innovative approach. Color8art is a group of six women artists who are friends and professional artists. Their inspired concept was to apply the childhood activity – Game of Consequences – to a collaborative art project. I loved the idea of one artist placing a mark on a blank canvas and another artist taking that blank canvas and building on the mark to the point of completion.

***Showcasing the Power of Drawing***

Raye Leith‘s “Blueprints”
Raye’s show was the blockbuster of the summer. This was work of complex draftsmanship and beauty that yes, disorient the viewer, but compels them to look. The themes addressed include climate change, seismic activity and the industrial age’s impact on the person. “Blueprints” was a collection of large multidimensional works done in a highly charged blue palette.

Tanya Ziniewicz‘s “Évoluer”
Évoluer is a collection of ethereal works that came from direct observation of the natural world and evolved into otherworldly environments. Where did these tangled plant-like forms come from? Are we above ground or below?

***Multimedia Painting***

Casey Snyder‘s Physical/Ephermal
Casey Snyder’s solo exhibition explored spaces and materiality. I loved how elements would slide off the picture plane yet remain completely integrated.  She  called into question how we look at the gallery space with the corner painting  “Turn” and also blew visitors way with her use of transparency. Photographic quality was also used to describe these works. 

Matthew Grimes‘ (IN)MATERIAL
A big thank you to Matthew for joining Casey and John to enhance the conversation about materiality, space and contemporary painting. I was  excited at the opening to hear visitors go, “Mmmm…there is a conversation going on here with these show.” (A little fly on the wall action) These large-scale collage paintings echo the works of Robert Rauschenberg but also spring from a highly personal connection to the landscape of Matthew’s day-to-day experience. #matthewgrimesrevealed

John M. Adams‘ “Current Interrupted”
John’s abstract works in the Forum Gallery are inspired by his love of the natural world and perhaps the chaos and enchantment of being a new dad. His transformation of the gallery is a perfect transition to his site-specific piece that will come in early 2017.

***NOVA Fine Arts Professors***

Jessica Gardner‘s “Raising: Motherhood in Modernity”
Jessica works as a full-time art professor next door to the Schlesinger Center in the Tyler Building. We had several conversations over the year about how her work was changing. As an artist, it can be frightening to see your work change.  One of my roles was to encourage her as she worked on the exhibit. We are both very excited by the success and resonance of this exhibit. Thank you to the community for your support.

Sherry Trachtman‘s “Life Cycles”

Sherry’s sculptural works flow along the Passage Gallery. Oh, we have stories behind the installation of this work. All exhibits have a story. Each of Sherry’s spiral collages is a story of a particular stage of life. I have my favorites. and you will too. This show will cycle us into the New Year and will be on display through Jan. 29.

Special shout out to our small yet nimble team including the talented but “who me?” – technician/engineer, Nathan Devonshire – our lighting guru and installation consultant!

Thank you to the arts community. See you in 2017!