Hannah Holliday Stewart: Open-Ended Questions

Houston Chronicle's article on Hannah Holliday Stewart among her sculptures- Matthews Gallery

Our exhibition Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered
runs through July 24, 2014

Two weeks ago, Houston Chronicle arts editor Molly Glentzer appeared at our door with a camera around her neck and notebook in hand. We figured that if anyone could find answers to our burning questions about Hannah Holliday Stewart’s life, it would be a reporter from the city where she rose to prominence. Last Sunday her findings appeared on the front page of the Chronicle. Early on in the article, Glentzer outlines the challenges she faced in her investigation:

Stewart left Houston without saying goodbye in 1987, just as the art scene she helped establish finally began to blossom. Few friends knew where the pioneering sculptor went: not her most recent art dealer, nor her agent, nor people who’d been close enough to visit her weekly.

The beautifully detailed report lays out the highlights of Stewart’s art career. As Glentzer discusses Stewart’s accomplishments—from monumental public art commissions to solo exhibitions at prestigious institutions across the nation—she’s careful to outline the sculptor’s struggle for recognition:

Her success came at a time when women sculptors were rare birds in a man’s world. […] it was a coup when Houston accepted “Atropos Key” …. in 1972. Stewart’s sculpture was unlike anything else in the landscape.

When it comes to Stewart’s departure from Houston and the art world, Glentzer arrives at the same conclusions we did. Stewart first returned to Birmingham to care for her ailing brother, and chose the Southwest as a part-time home because she was drawn to the “light and open landscape”. However, her move to Albuquerque in the final years of her life hinted at grander plans.

“How many people do you know who at age 80 would move 1,000 miles away, where they had no relatives, and build a house and studio with 20-foot ceilings?” [Stewart’s nephew Rusty Stewart] said. “She wasn’t out there to retire.”

Sculptor Hannah Stewart with her cocker-poodle, Major, in 1967- Houston Chronicle

Stewart with her cocker-poodle, Major, in 1967; Photo from Houston Chronicle

And so the answer to one question opens up another mystery. What did Stewart plan to do next? Her friend Dayton Smith told us she may have intended to complete some larger projects and return to Houston. In her sketchbooks from the 2000s Stewart often mentioned a series of sculptures called ‘Harmonic Resonance’ that may have been her forthcoming magnum opus.

Other friends of Stewart who have called or visited us since the appearance of the Chronicle article had few answers. An acquaintance who took yoga classes with Stewart for years said he’d lost contact with her in the 1980s before she left Houston. Another friend who stopped by told us vivid stories from Stewart’s life in Houston, but had just as many questions about her Southwestern exploits.

Last week we switched gears and teased out some of the mysteries of Stewart’s artwork. As Smith told Glentzer, Stewart “always preferred her work be talked about rather than her life.” Perhaps she didn’t want us to know what happened in Houston, or what her future plans were. In a note from Stewart’s sketchbook dated 2007, the 83-year-old artist wrote,”Tired—work to finish FINALLY!! Move on to others in series…”


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Stewart with “Atropos Key” in Hermann Park; Houston Chronicle

Then, late last week, we received a call from Dr. Liam Purdon in Nebraska. We recognized his name from an elegant essay in Stewart’s files. In the 1980s, Purdon was working on a PhD in medieval literature from Rice University. He had seen Stewart’s “Atropos Key” sculpture in Hermann Park and was inspired to contact her.

“I literally stumbled upon it as I walked up the hill in the park,” he said. “You come over a rise and suddenly there it is in front of you. You’re startled by it, and the first question you ask yourself is, ‘What is it, and why is it here?’ When you read the name of it, then you suddenly realize it’s tied to Greek mythology.”

Purdon said the shock and curiosity he experienced was Stewart’s overarching goal. “She wanted to startle the observer into recollecting the whole mythology of a time when humans lived in harmony,” he explained. Stewart agreed to let Purdon observe her in the studio for three weeks, but kept a careful distance from the scholar. Later on they became good friends, and Stewart told Purdon her plans for the future.

“She felt that being in the Southwest… would be more supportive of her vision,” he says. “She loved the natural beauty of the Southwest. In some of her pieces, you do see it. In others you may not recognize it, but if you look at them for a while and meditate on them, it starts to become apparent.”

The two stayed in contact after Purdon took a teaching job at Doane College in Nebraska, and Stewart expressed interest in applying for public art commissions from the Nebraska Arts Council. When nothing materialized, Stewart was discouraged.

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Stewart in 1960 with a sculpture she recently completed; Houston Chronicle

“I think that probably underscored the fact that she felt… uncomfortable revealing the work until the time was right, until we re-cycled into an age when we wanted to hear the narrative again,” Purdon said. “She would have to wait for a period of time to introduce her work to people who were ready to understand.”

That’s the closest we’ve gotten to answering the ever-shifting riddle of Stewart’s twilight years, but perhaps it’s enough to know that people are ready to hear the artist’s stories again. We’ve had a huge response from collectors in Houston who read the article, and art lovers from across the country have discovered her work as a result of the press coverage our show has received.

“In general, i think that people are wanting narrative more,” said Purdon. “It is so remarkably different, her work… That’s why it needs a narrative. There has to be a starting point.”

Come see Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered through Thursday, July 24, and learn more about the artist on our website. Make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more gallery news!

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Hannah Holliday Stewart: Letter from Houston

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Houston Studio- Matthews Gallery

Our exhibition Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered
begins with an opening reception on Friday, July 4 from 5-7 pm

“In a day in which so many things in Art are merely exercises in Media and devoid of any real significance, it is refreshing to discover an expression which transcends the cerebral prison of its own time and manifests itself in forms poetically germane to a more cosmic significance,” wrote Dayton Smith, with poetic flair of his own, in a typewritten statement dated March 22, 1991.

Smith was referring to the sculptures of his close friend Hannah Holliday Stewart (1924- 2010), whose monumental forms caught the eye of the nation in the 1970s and 80s. As chronicled in our last blog post, Smith and Stewart met in Houston in the late 1960s as Stewart’s career was taking off. He assisted Stewart in various ways for a number of years, and watched as the artist found success in galleries and museums across the country.

More from the note:

Her art mirrors a consciousness expanded beyond the pragmatic doctrinal limits of our milieu. Her commissions stand to prick our higher sensibilities in a world which, it would seem, affords little for the pursuit of what may be a neglected cosmic heritage. In an age in which “symmetry does not balance make” (but which, nevertheless seems to be the applied solution for everything), her bold compositions embody a superbly balanced abstract expression of form and function suggestive of the anthropomorphic with its attendant graces and imperfections.

More than two decades later, Smith admits with a chuckle that the write-up can be a bit “over the top”, but it survives as an illuminating statement about an artist whose cosmic creations were at times misunderstood. After we contacted him, Smith was inspired to return to the typewriter—or, keyboard—and draft another statement on Stewart’s work. His musings provide new insight into the life and artwork of the dynamic sculptor.

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Houston studio- Matthews Gallery

From Dayton Smith:

Hannah Remembered

It can be said with clarity and confidence that the monumental sculptural work of Hannah Holliday Stewart is cosmic in scope and spiritual in dimension and process. At the peak of her production in the 1970s and ’80s, there emerged from her studio great plaster forms, many well over ten feet in height. These graceful mammoths, cast in bronze, would weigh hundreds to thousands of pounds, and command public spaces in Houston and other cities. A major exhibition of these large plasters was mounted in January 1976 at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and another in the ’80s at One Houston Center. In the 1990s, she established studios in Flagstaff, Arizona, and later in Birmingham, Alabama, and finally in Albuquerque.

Born in 1924 in Marion, Alabama to a prominent family, she studied art in Alabama and Georgia (BFA), and at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan (MFA); studied ceramics in California with the legendary Bauhaus potter Marguerite Wildenhain; worked in foundries in Florida and Mexico; moved to Texas to teach at Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the University of Houston, and the University of St. Thomas. Her notable public works include Atropos Key, installed in 1972 on the hill at Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park; Libertad, a smoothly elegant birdlike bronze at World Trade Center Houston; works in Samuels Park in Dallas and New Harmony in Indiana; and Passage, at University of St. Thomas Houston. Her public commissions are claimed as example of landmark achievement by women in the arts. Respected among Houston architects and adept in various media she developed sand-blasted and sand-cast relief panels for specific architectural settings. Her works of smaller scale are to be found in notable private collections.

Her studies in literature, mythology, metaphysics, esoteric philosophy, religion, science, astrology, dance and yoga suffuse her output, revealing in form and textures. Her earlier smaller works reflect ineffable humanity, humor, elegant charm and always superb craftsmanship. She was disciplined, intelligent and well-read, possessed of an intense work ethic, compassionate and understanding and encouraging of others, and an inspiring teacher, respected and loved by friends in business, academia and the arts. Whether attired in her usual studio denim or occasional Dior, she moved among interesting people and was an accomplished host and gourmet. Music was her creative keynote and the atmosphere mystical, always stimulating and, on occasion, convivial. On so many occasions when I would assist her in some project: photographing, gallery installation and lighting, foundry, studio, even building repair, I was aware that I was only facilitating much greater work. I think she really did come to ‘see’ the wind, and must have stood in awe of that which materialized from her consciousness and hands. I can still hear her warm southern voice and motto – Nil desperandum!, and her memory, towering as her work, is quite, quite treasured.

D.A. Smith
Public Broadcasting, University of Houston, retired

Make sure to attend the opening reception of our exhibition Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered on Friday, July 4 from 5-7 pm. To learn more, check out our previous blog post and our Hannah Holliday Stewart artist page. For daily gallery news, connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Houston studio- Matthews Gallery

HANNAH HOLLIDAY STEWART: Cosmic Mysteries

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her studio- Matthews Gallery

It’s not a stretch to call Hannah Holliday Stewart‘s (1924-2010) sculptures cosmic. In the artist’s heyday, the bronze forms that emerged from her Houston studio were often over 10 feet tall and thousands of pounds. She aspired to create physical manifestations of complex ideas in science, mythology and other fields, a system of “pure [abstract] symbols as constant as numbers and letters of the alphabet,” as Paul Klee said in one of Stewart’s favorite quotes. The themes she explored were so vast that Stewart’s work was at times cosmically misunderstood.

In preparation for our posthumous solo exhibition of Stewart’s work this July, we’ve been digging through the sculptor’s carefully organized personal files. One folder marked “Press” holds a 1994 newspaper article from Stewart’s childhood home of Birmingham. By that time Stewart had lived far away from Alabama for a lifetime, building a reputation in Texas and the Desert Southwest as one of the first female sculptors to win competitive public art commissions. “Ms. Stewart talks of such abstract notions as harmony and energy and spiritual awakening,” puzzled the Birmingham Post-Herald reporter. Throughout the rest of the article Stewart scratched out or rewrote swaths of the writer’s analysis in black ink, clarifying concepts and modifying terms. “[I] always go back to classical order and laws,” she scribbled at the bottom.

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Artist Process 1- Matthews Gallery

Stewart was born in 1924 in Marion, Alabama. She studied art in Alabama and Georgia for her BFA, and completed her MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. After working at foundries in Florida and Mexico, she landed a teaching job at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and later at the University of Houston.

By the 1960s Stewart’s work had grown to a monumental scale, and a passionate group of Texas art enthusiasts rose to support it. In an era when female sculptors had to fight for recognition, Stewart’s bronze monoliths were popping up all over Houston—and beyond. In 1962 a swooping, Brancusi-esque bird form called “Libertad” appeared in the courtyard of Houston’s World Trade Center, and in 1972 an 11-foot-tall sculpture titled “Atropos Key” landed on a hill in Hermann Park. A commission for a monumental work in Dallas’ Samuels Park spread her name across the state.

“I found myself devoted to her work very early, I think,” says Dayton Smith, who befriended Stewart around 1969 when he was working for a Houston photography studio. “I realized the significance of it, the weight of it, shall we say.” Over the next few years Smith helped Stewart in various ways, photographing her artwork, transporting sculptures, and organizing a 1973 solo exhibition at Houston’s Jamison Gallery on Hermann Park.

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Artist Process 2- Matthews Gallery

“As I got to know her, I became aware that she was a very literate person, very intelligent,” says Smith. “Her work really did relate to what she encountered in her learning.” Smith noted that Stewart explored many fields of knowledge, from science and architecture to music and mythology, allowing concepts in each field to influence her three-dimensional objects. In 1975 and 1976 she mounted her first major solo show at the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum, exhibiting a series of large plaster models (including “Adam’s Rib“, from the photographs in this blog post) that were based on smaller bronze maquettes. But even as Stewart’s legend grew, Smith says misconceptions about her work persisted.

“The word spiritual often comes to mind, but spiritual is such a misunderstood term in our society,” explains Smith. “If you look at the word itself, the Latin root of it is ‘spiritus’. That means ‘wind.’ We can see the wind when it carries things, when it moves things.” Stewart worked to bring the invisible—a musical note, kinetic energy or a wisp of air—into the physical world.

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Artist Process 3- Matthews Gallery

More mysterious still to many of Stewart’s friends in Houston was her abrupt disappearance from the art world. Smith last saw Stewart in the late 1980s, when she was teaching at St. Thomas University and exhibiting in an impressive array of art institutions across the country. A few years later Stewart packed up and moved away from Houston, settling in Arizona, Alabama and then Albuquerque, New Mexico. She never exhibited her artwork publicly again. Why would a woman who once showed at the Smithsonian Institution, the Getty Museum and prominent galleries in New York, New Orleans and many other cities suddenly leave it all behind?

Smith has a few hunches. Stewart often said that she was inspired by the Desert Southwest, and sent Smith an image of her working in her new studio in Flagstaff. The move to Birmingham probably had to do with the declining health of Stewart’s brother and two sisters, who lived in the area. When it came to her art career, Smith thinks Stewart may have needed room to spread her wings and find new inspiration.

“Once we were talking about something she’d observed,” recalls Smith. “That sometimes to make it in your own town you have to leave and come back with something big. That people could get too used to you, but that perhaps you could come back and be accepted. Maybe she was planning that.”

Follow our blog in the coming weeks as we unravel the mysteries of Hannah Holliday Stewart’s life and artwork, and make sure to attend the opening of HANNAH HOLLIDAY STEWART: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered on July 4 from 5-7 pm.  Also pick up the July/August issue of American Fine Art Magazine to read more about the show, and follow our investigations on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

CURATE THIS, CURATE THAT: Place your votes!

Collectors-Choice-Social1

The selection process for our social media-curated show COLLECTOR’S CHOICE is underway, and fans on Facebook, Instagram, TwitterTumblr and other networks have placed their votes. It’s time for some tie breakers on WordPress! Check out the match-ups below and vote for your favorites in the comments section. From January 31 to February 5, we’ll unveil your selections in the gallery and online.

JAMIE CHASE

Jamie Chase- Collector's Choice- Matthews Gallery blog

ROUND 1! Jamie Chase is known for his figurative work like image #1, and also his abstracted landscapes like #2. Which one should appear in the show? Take the curatorial reins!

WILLIAM LUMPKINS

William Lumpkins- Collector's Choice Show- Matthews Gallery Blog

Do you prefer William Lumpkins‘ careful watercolor brushstrokes (#1) or experimental wild felt-tip pen marks (#2)? Read more about the influential Santa Fe modernist here before you decide…

KATE RIVERS

Kate Rivers- Collector's Choice Show- Matthews Gallery

Curate this! Should we feature a Kate Rivers book collage in the show, or one of her nests? Read about her mixed media work in this blog post, and vote for #1 or #2 in the comments.

HANNAH HOLLIDAY STEWART

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Collector's Choice- Matthews Gallery Blog

These tall, spindly bronzes might be very different, but they’re both by powerhouse feminist sculptor Hannah Holliday Stewart. Figurative or abstract? Curate that!

PAUL GAUGUIN

Paul-Gauguin-Collectors-Choice

Two Tahitian myths inspired these woodblock prints by Paul Gauguin. Which do you prefer? Read about them in this blog post, and vote now!

Thanks for participating in COLLECTOR’S CHOICE! To place your vote on other social networks, connect with us through the links on our About Page.

ACID JAZZ AND WABI-SABI: Michelle Y Williams

Artist Michelle Y Williams- Matthews Gallery- Santa Fe, New Mexico
Michelle Y Williams

Being “cloistered in” may be key to Michelle Y Williams’ process, but that doesn’t mean she’s a recluse. Solitude is what the Houston, Texas artist needs to focus her mind and  tune in to her subconscious. Her mixed media works are equally inspired by measured decisions and the pure emptiness of the blank surfaces before her. They’re conglomerations of the figurative and the abstract, and boast a subdued palette that echoes the artist’s fascination with rust, crumbling concrete and peeling paint.

When Williams isn’t in her studio, she’s not afraid to step into the spotlight. In September she’ll be featured in Luxe Magazine, and last week she granted an interview to the Matthews Gallery. Michelle told us about everything from her many materials to the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, a worldview that has taught her to accept her flaws and create with abandon. Here’s what she had to say:

Michelle Y Williams- Petit 28- Matthews Gallery
Petit 28, Michelle Y Williams

You write in your artist statement, “Inspiration for my work is both selective and completely random.” Is the same true for your choice of materials for a particular piece? How do you select a medium? 

The primary medium in my work is acrylic (very quickly after I began as a painter using oils, I realized I have an aversion to cleaning brushes). Pigmented inks have also proven to be an often used medium for me (applied with a dropper, then floated across the canvas using my palette knife).

The choice for other materials, indeed, comes more randomly. Whether I incorporate sand or oil bar or even attaching a piece of torched metal with wax string to the canvas happens naturally & intuitively as the work progresses.

You also talk about a “relationship that develops” between you and your work. Does this change your notion of when a work is completed? Is it sad to say goodbye?  

I suppose it’s more of a short-term relationship…shall we call it a fling.  I invest energy into a piece which is then reciprocated upon completion, but the real gratification comes when someone has made a connection with my work, which couldn’t happen unless I surrendered it readily.

Michelle Y Williams- Cut 12-532- Matthews Gallery
Cut 12-532, Michelle Y Williams

You prefer to work in solitude. What are some other important parts of your process? Do you listen to music? Do you work on multiple pieces at a time, or just one?

My preference for sequestration is actually paramount – in order to maintain the integrity and authenticity of my work, I eliminate most outside influences that could dull my own creative process. Diverse genres of music can be heard in my studio – from acid jazz to classic rock to classical – while I move between several pieces in various stages of completion.

You mention the importance of seeking a balance in your work. How does that connect with the tenets of wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic that embraces the transient self?

Rather than trying to exert control over a painting, my pursuit of aesthetic balance, (while maintaining my penchant for asymmetry), transpires more instinctively. The absence of obsessing over that quest for balance and the capacity to “let go”, relates to the principles of wabi-sabi.

Michelle Y Williams- Petit 18- Matthews Gallery
Petit 18, Michelle Y Williams

I found this part of your bio particularly beautiful: “In a stain, we find understanding; in a dent, our ability to heal; in a blemish, an unchained beauty.” Embracing your flaws can be a difficult process. How does your work help you do this? 

Quite simply, the alternative to embracing flaws requires far too much negative energy. For me, perfection is boring and I truly find immense beauty in flaws – chips & cracks in tea bowls used in Japanese tea ceremonies or uncut & unpolished rough just-mined diamonds – these things excite and inspire me.

I hear you’re quite the humanitarian. What projects are you involved with? 

I am an “equal opportunity donator”, giving my work with abandon to many different charitable organizations throughout the year.

Click here to see more of Michelle’s art, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for updates on her latest work.

 

SECRETS OF THE WAREHOUSE: Hannah Holliday Stewart

Sculptor Hannah Holliday Stewart, Matthews Gallery

It’s just across town, but the complex that houses our storage unit seems universes away from the cheerful adobe utopia of Canyon Road. We punch in a code and roll through the gate into a desolate world of sharp edges. Seas of asphalt release masses of hot air and long rows of dull aluminum doors form the impenetrable walls of an industrial fortress.

Sculpture by Hannah Holliday Stewart, Matthews GalleryAs the shadows grow longer the sun’s rays swing sideways and those doors become enormous reflectors. The forbidding barrier transforms into a glowing, many-paneled modernist painting—Gerhard Richter’s Strip series in metal. At this time of day, it’s easy to imagine the units as a series of chests concealing mysterious treasures. What secrets hide behind this shimmering force field? Luckily, we have one of the keys.

With one great heave, we send the door to our space skittering up into the ceiling and find ourselves peering into another, much more fanciful, metallic landscape. We’re here to take stock of the life’s work of Hannah Holliday Stewart in preparation for a visit from some interested collectors.

Polished, patined bronzes large and small cluster on shelves, tabletops and patches of cement between stacks of cardboard boxes. They’ve accrued a thin layer of dust since we last visited, but it hardly dampens the strange energy that seems to simmer just beneath their surfaces. Stewart’s graceful abstract forms hold all the power that they possessed when we first laid eyes on them last year in Stewart’s studio, where they’d been sitting quietly since her death in 2010. It’s jamais vu: the feeling of encountering something you’ve never seen before.

Sculpture by Hannah Holliday Stewart, Matthews GalleryStewart was born in Marion, Alabama in 1924. She received her graduate degree at Cranbrook Academy of Art, moved to Houston and swiftly embarked on rapid rise that was uncommon for female artists at the time. At the crest of a new wave of social changes, Stewart and other artists such as Ana Mendieta and Carolee Schneemann revived old legends and symbols that identified the woman as a powerful creative force capable of crafting her own destiny. Under Stewart’s paradigm, Nefertiti reclaimed her throne, Icarus had feminine curves and the symbol of the Aquarian Age was a densely muscled female torso.

Much of Stewart’s work is in bronze, a medium that set her apart from some of her female contemporaries who worked with fabric, wood and mixed media. It was a material that allowed her to look to the promise of the future as well as the legends of the past. In one corner of our storage space is a stack of boxes filled with overflowing folders. Along with the career-spanning work that was left in Stewart’s studio, the artist’s family gave us access to all of her personal files. That’s how we found an artist statement she once scrawled in a notebook:

[My] early interest in natural forces has sustained me throughout my life as a sculptor. My goal is to render visible the hidden realities of pent-up contained energy. The direct fields of reference are Sacred Geometry, Astronomy, Myth & Physics … Each Sculpture is an energy form, the movement arrested in space, a form sustaining an energy. My work is a response to these patterns and delineations and communicates with viewers through the universality of symbolism and form.

Sculptor Hannah Holliday Stewart, Matthews GalleryTo contain these gargantuan forces, Stewart was often compelled to produce her work at a monumental scale. Photographs in her files show her roaming through a forest of many-legged monoliths in her studio, or manipulating their twisty canopy atop a spindly ladder. In 1972 she was commissioned to create a monumental sculpture for Houston’s Hermann Park, a rare honor for a female sculptor—especially one who was known for her non-objective work.

The spotlight shone bright on Stewart for many years: she exhibited at the Smithsonian, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Then, 20 years before her death, she abruptly left the Houston art scene without saying goodbye.

Sculptures by Hannah Holliday Stewart, Matthews GalleryAt a studio in Albuquerque that we would visit after her death, the artist spent the remaining years of her life producing sculptures in solitude. The mystery of her departure from the art world has yet to be cracked. Many of her friends from Houston were still puzzling over it in her obituary.

Perhaps there are clues to the more shadowy parts of Stewart’s life hidden in her files, or in the beautiful invented language that she often etched into her sculptures. It’ll take more dusting than we have time for today to unravel the intricacies of her life and work, but one thing is clear: Stewart helped pave the way for a new generation of women sculptors.

As we reach for the long rope hanging from the door, we take one last look at Stewart’s peculiar menagerie. A bronze self-portrait peers out from a tangle of supernatural creatures on a tabletop, its eyes blazing in a shaft of sunlight. Then the treasure box slams shut.

Click here to see more behind-the-scenes images from the warehouse, and make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for updates on Hannah Holliday Stewart’s work.

NEW IN THE GALLERY: The evolution of David Grossmann

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“Almost” by David Grossmann

David Grossmann always knew he wanted to be an artist. Even before his first painting lessons with his grandmother at 10 years old, he was an avid sketcher, filling notebooks with intricate drawings of dragons and the floor plans of medieval castles. By 16, David was taking portrait commissions and doing book illustrations for a publishing company. Still, he couldn’t quite discern a path that would turn his passion into something more.

“I didn’t know how to get there as far as making a living as a professional artist,” the 29-year-old says. Finding that bridge would take a while, but it’s safe to say that he’s officially crossed it. We’re proud to be the first gallery to represent David and his work. It’s just the latest high point in an already impressive artistic career.

David was born in the United States and moved to Chile when he was two years old. It’s a place of stunning, harsh natural beauty that would inspire in David a lifelong passion for the outdoors. His grandmother was a landscape painter who lived in El Paso, Texas. When they saw each other, she would teach him oil painting techniques with a brush and palette knife.

When David was 14, the family decided to relocate to Colorado. It was a move that the teenager fiercely resisted.

“When we left, I didn’t say goodbye because I hadn’t accepted that we weren’t going back,” he says. “I’m sure for anyone, being 14 is probably a tough age. On top of that, adjusting to a new culture and new everything was really difficult.”

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“Away” by David Grossmann

The move marked a big shift in David’s art. Not long after he arrived the young artist started receiving requests for commissions, and he enrolled in his first formal drawing classes with artist Valorie Snyder. His grandmother was an art director of a Christian publishing company and gave him a job illustrating Bible study curriculums.

“It became more of an outlet for me than it had been before,” David says. “It was a lot more serious, a lot more figurative works. I also started drawing more landscapes at that point.”

Despite his early success, David still didn’t see art as a viable career. In college he studied business and Spanish, focusing primarily on his studies instead of his artwork. During his last year at university, struck by the fear of being trapped in a cubicle, he finally committed to giving art school a shot.

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“When Leaves are Falling”, David Grossmann

At the Colorado Academy of Art, David learned classical painting techniques and took his first plein air painting class.

“I’ve always loved the outdoors, but until I took that class I felt like I couldn’t contain the landscape. It’s so huge, and I didn’t know how to make it into a composition,” he says. After he learned how to capture the beauty of nature on canvas, he knew that he’d be doing little else in his work. “That combination of being outdoors and painting, which were two of my favorite things, were just perfect for me,” he says.

Three years after David enrolled at the art academy, it abruptly closed. The artist once again found himself full of doubt; he’d learned a lot about painting, but he wasn’t sure how to sell his work. That’s when he started an apprenticeship with artist Jay Moore.

“In art school, my training was very much based on technique but not a lot on the professional side of things,” David says. Being in Moore’s studio gave him a window into the life of a working artist, and showed him that a fine art career was possible. “I didn’t know how long it would take to get there, but I knew that I could get there,” he says. “I remember being so excited. I’d been thinking about and dreaming about this for most of my life.”

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“Over the Aspens”, David Grossmann

Since then, David has developed a unique style that the artist calls “visual poetry”. Using a gentle, glowing palette, he paints abstracted visions of forests that are melodic in their focus on rhythm and symmetry. Sprawling swaths of landscape transform into flat, smooth planes while scattered trees lend a profound sense of depth. These contrasting perspectives set the works slightly off-balance, sending the eye on an endless quest to consolidate them. The compositions may seem serene, but they contain the same mysterious kinetic energy that tugs our eye from one stanza of a poem to the next.

“I think both poetry and paintings can capture an essence of something and stir emotion and imagination at a very deep level,” David says. “In some ways it’s very simplified and thought out, but hopefully it reaches to that level that connects with someone’s heart.”

David has since shown his work in many exhibitions, including national shows sponsored by Oil Painters of America, the American Impressionist Society, and Salon International. Southwest Art Magazine featured him as an “Artist to Watch” and his work has been featured in Plein Air Magazine and American Art Collector Magazine.

The artist is also an avid traveler, and has journeyed with sketchbook in hand through the Western United States, Eastern Europe, Africa and Central America. In 2011, he finally had the chance to return to Chile. He saw old friends and spent 11 days backpacking through Patagonia in Southern Chile. It was the first time he’d brought along a full painting set on a trip.

“It’s very rugged country and I was carrying a backpack that weighed over 60 pounds,” David says. “Having to paint under those circumstances where there’s just forceful gusts of wind nonstop, it really made me appreciate that every painting is a miracle. It brought out a new level of confidence in my work.”

David had come full circle. He left Chile as a child and returned as an artist.

Click here to see more of David Grossmann’s work, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for subsequent updates.