AMY J. BARRY, Special to The Day
Published July 27. 2014 4:00AM
Joyful, whimsical, colorful, playful, radiating positive energy all describe "Give me Love: Hearts & Threads," now on view at the diane birdsall gallery in Old Lyme.
The show features the work of two artists - the paintings of Robin Halpren-Ruder of Providence and Westerly; and the stitched and painted dolls of Margarita Hernandez-Maxzon of New London.
"These are two artists who see their art as an extension of a creative life force," says Diane Birdsall, gallery owner. "Both bring a very vibrant palette to their work. Margarita being from Mexico, part of her culture is to use bright colors. Robin's personality is to be very upbeat and positive and has almost vibrating lines in the composition. Similarly, both of their messages are to elevate people's moods."
THE GLASS IS HALF FULL
Halpren-Ruder works in bright colors, accented further by electric and repeating patterns. Her subjects are vases of flowers, tropical greenery, fruit, beach and kitchen scenes - all accentuated with bold patterns of hearts, stars, swirls, polka dots, leaves.
Her frames are an extension of the canvas, painted in the same vibrant palette of acrylic paint. She gets her frames at yard sales, craft stores and donations from friends. She takes out old mirrors or glass, puts Masonite in the frame, primes the whole thing, and paints over it.
She finds inspiration in the paintings of Matisse, Rousseau and Frida Kahlo.
"Every vertical moment is a good one," Halpren-Ruder says. "We need to take advantage of that. We're bombarded daily by world events. There's also a lot of joy in the world we don't hear about. I want to do work that brings a smile to my face and to other people's faces."
She says she's always had an optimistic personality, which emanates from her artwork.
"I've always seen the glass as half full versus half empty."
Halpren-Ruder received her BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was there that a professor told her that her personality should come through in any materials she was using.
"He introduced me to visionary artists - people who in their gut needed to make art," she says. "I started to do what was most comfortable to me."
She went on to study sculpture with Italo Scanga at Tyler School of Art and Temple University; has been a fellow at The MacDowell Colony; and completed a residency at MacDonough 15 in New Orleans.
In the 1970s and '80s Halpren-Ruder was commissioned to paint wall-size murals in hospitals, municipal buildings and universities throughout New Orleans, New England and New York City.
About 10 years ago she began exhibiting her own work, encouraged by a very successful show in Stonington.
Three years ago, Halpren-Ruder and her husband sold their urgent care center business in Providence, which enabled her to focus full time on her painting.
Recently a pediatrician bought Halpren-Ruder's painting titled "Hearts" for her office, affirming for Halpren-Ruder the message she hopes her work expresses.
"She told me it conveyed how she feels when she's with the people she's taking care of," Halpren-Ruder says. "She wants patients to see that when they first come in. I thought that was so lovely."
EVERY DOLL TELLS A STORY
Originally from the small Mexican village of Tulancingo de Bravo, Hidalgo, Hernandez-Maxzon studied painting for four years at the studio of Alejandro Rodriquez Creel. She came to New London in 2006 after she met her husband, who is from Mystic.
She switched from painting to crafting dolls five years ago when her son Liain was born, to avoid using toxic oil paint and because she didn't have time to spend eight hours in front of an easel.
"I started sewing and playing with clay and plaster," she says. "By the time he was walking, I gave him Plasticine and worked with my own clay. I could be working and he could be playing in the studio at the same time."
Steeped in Mexican folklore and history, the dolls also became a way for her to pass on her heritage to her child.
There's a story behind every doll, Hernandez-Maxzon says.
"I get all these ideas. I see them in my mind and start playing with different materials to see which will work," she notes. "I'm like an engineer more than an artist."
She has crafted several variations of Frida Kahlo and elaborate skeletons in festive costumes, fashioned with her needle and paintbrush.
"I used to get homesick often, and these dolls made me think of home," she says.
Cats are her favorite pet and keep coming up in her work, including her old-fashioned button-eyed felines.
Her "Simply Sisters" multicultural dolls are made out of the same pattern and executed to look very different from one another.
"I used the existence of multicultural communities in the U.S. as a theme, and developed dolls from five different backgrounds," she explains.
She stained fabrics with a variety of tea and coffee to achieve different skin colors and wool yarn hair was styled according to their ethnicity. Their expressive faces were painted with acrylics and colored pencils.
Her "Heart Series" consists of three art dolls symbolizing different emotional states, which can be explained when the viewer explores their hollow chests, covered by hand-sewn garments.
"The Daughter of the Wind" represents open emotions, visible to all, with her heart totally exposed in the chest cavity.
"Tea Time" is an outgoing girl who loves good company. Her chest houses a tea set, which is ready when friends come visiting.
"Tenzin" is a Tibetan monk. His chest is empty and only shows the blue of the sky, because he's found inner peace.
Hernandez-Maxzon created her series of knights when her son was 2 years old and began playing roughly with the dolls. She decided to make soldiers strong enough to endure the occasional pitch and toss.
"I chose the time of the Crusades - I like the look of soldiers then," she says.
She made six prototypes before she came up with one sturdy enough to withstand playtime.
"It's like the structure of a building inside," she says. "It was a lot of fun for me to make them and to do the research to get them historically accurate."
Hernandez-Maxzon's dolls can sit on tables or hang on display or simply function as toys.
"I work to create strong and long lasting evidence of motherhood, childhood, fantasy and dream images," she says.