Diane Amato Joins FRANK Gallery's Board of Directors

Diane Amato

Photographer, Philanthropist, Community Leader

Massachusetts native and photographer Diane Amato has joined FRANK Gallery's board of directors. After moving to North Carolina in 1996, Amato became involved in art and philanthropy and opened a photography studio, photographing artwork for local artists as well as making and exhibiting her own work.  

Amato works at Preservation Durham and is currently the chair of the board of Liberty Arts. She served on the board of Durham Habitat for Humanity Restore as treasurer and then president and also joined the board of Chatham County Arts Council as treasurer. In 2009, she founded The Art of Giving, a giving circle committed to granting money to Triangle non-profits with programs benefiting women and children. Since its founding, The Art of Giving has awarded $120,000. FRANK is delighted to welcome Diane Amato to our board. With her rich experience and dedicated involvement in non-profits and the arts, she will be a great asset as FRANK moves forward in the new year and in a new location.

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Nov 2017: Jean LeCluyse

Jean LeCluyse

Complex Works of Symbol and Narrative

Kansas-born Jean LeCluyse has a fine eye for detail in her drawings and mixed media pieces, honed by years of working as a freelance scientific illustrator, among other jobs. “My drawings are richly detailed windows into ‘secret’ narratives,” LeCluyse explains. “The most successful images are ones that people can relate to and that remind them of some story in their own lives.”

Her representational drawing uses personal symbols to illustrate an idea, experience or memory. “I’ve been thinking a lot about family lately,” says LeCluyse, “so most of my work has to do with personal interactions - universal stuff in the end. While objects are recognizable, the context is not anything you would see in real life. There is a surreal or dream-like quality [in the work].”

When asked what memorable responses she’s had to her work, LeCluyse lets us in on a secret: “a child found a hidden object in a tree drawing,” she says. “I had been putting hidden objects in my work for a long time. No one ever noticed, and I never talked about it. It’s just a gift for the people who are willing to take a real look at my work.”

Her work comprises mixed media as well as graphite drawings. Says LeCluyse, “my mixed media pieces are most often acrylic, colored pencil, collaged elements and graphite over randomly textured surfaces that seem to serendipitously play into and enhance the imagery. The fun is the sense of adventure and discovery inherent in the process.

“My most detailed works are done in graphite. My background in scientific illustration really takes over when I am working on a graphite drawing. The mixed media pieces require constant decision-making and moment-to-moment engagement. The graphite drawings are a break from this. They are more meditative and relaxing to do.”

The daughter of a nurse and a police officer, LeCluyse and her older sister spent a lot of time with nearby paternal grandparents because of their parents’ work schedules. The birth of her drawing life dawned “under grandmother’s dining room table. Typical of a little girl,” she recalls, “I was drawing ballerinas and horses over and over again on a little pad of paper. I guess under grandma’s dining room table was my first studio,” LeCluyse chuckles.

Though her journey as an artist took some detours, LeCluyse notes that all of her experiences have in some way influenced her work. At different times she supported herself as a farm laborer de-tasseling corn and as a cannery worker “putting the pork in the pork-n-beans.” She earned a BFA in printmaking at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and followed her interest in printmaking during her time as a printer’s apprentice at a lithography workshop. She honed observation and drawing skills during her years as a freelance scientific illustrator. She eventually obtained a BSN and became a nurse, primarily as a means to help support her family.

Over time, LeCluyse’s work shifted from abstraction to representation. “When I was studying printmaking as an undergraduate, my work was all abstract, but I can’t do that anymore,” LeCluyse emphasizes, adding that she really learned to draw when she was a scientific illustrator. “I took a class from a herpetologist at the University of Kansas’ natural history museum. I don’t know how many hours of my life I spent drawing the human figure from life, but I didn’t really learn basic principles of drawing until I drew a frog under the tutelage of a professor of herpetology. That is when I switched from abstraction to representational art, which was just more interesting to do. I love amphibians to this day.”

LeCluyse’s work is richly symbolic, with recurring images of ropes, barbed wire, gloves, crows and jacks. “I use ropes, branches, vines and barbed wire in my work most of the time,” LeCluyse explains. “These represent the entanglements of family. They can represent binding up, ensnaring, tangling, or they can be seen to be coming undone, releasing and setting something free. I’m constantly playing with these ideas and trying to figure out how to use them in effective, powerful ways in my images.

“I used gloves in this series of drawings to represent family members. Some of the gloves are empty and some seem to be animated by invisible hands. The crow is in most of my work lately. The crow is usually me or about me. Crows are potent symbols: They are spirit guides, symbols of wisdom or symbols of bad luck or death. For me, though, they animate my drawings with ideas of flight, intelligence, curiosity and persistence. They also have a strong presence in a drawing simply because they are large and black, and the beak is big enough to carry objects so they can engage with a rope or a ball, for example. The jacks represent a vehicle for people to interact and be together in a fun way. The child’s game invites us to remember the wonderland of childhood; it’s nostalgic for me and maybe for others.”

What drives her? “I draw to learn how to draw, to get better and better at it, LeCluyse explains. “I like drawing because I like the precision and energy of it. I like the flow in the process of making a drawing - first the struggle with the blank page, then the hesitation in the beginning stages and finally, it’s just a fight, erasing or covering whole sections, sometimes even sanding the surface. The process is predictable, but the emotion and struggle are just as intense with every drawing.

“If it’s a good drawing, I finally get to the polishing stage, my favorite part. I start by going a couple days without looking at the drawing. Then I go and sit in front of it for a good while with fresh eyes. I find the relatively small things I can do to make it better. I go back into the drawing and balance the darks and lights, making the darks darker and adjusting the grays. I clean up edges, add detail, play with things a bit. I often use the rule of thirds in my work, so when that is operating in a drawing, I make sure those points of interest stand out by intensifying the contrast or putting a highlight on an object or increasing the amount of detail in that spot.”

As to what keeps her going, LeCluyse says she simply enjoys doing the work. “It’s a meditation; it keeps me thinking; it brings me interesting friends and acquaintances, and it is purposeful work. As with all creative work, it is an expression of what is essential to being human. I like being involved in ‘holding space’ for future artists.

“I love being inspired to do art, but you can’t rely on inspiration. It comes down to spending time doing it even when it’s hard, even when you are discouraged, even when you think your work isn’t any good. You just keep doing it.”

SEPT 2017: Shelly Hehenberger

Shelly Hehenberger

Cold Wax Is Her Obsession

For Shelly Hehenberger, it all started when a friend gave her a small container of Dorland’s Cold Wax Medium, which lay dormant in her possession for years until Hehenberger started working in oils again and experimented with incorporating the wax into her paintings. “I decided I would get to know this new material and see what I could do with it,” recalls Hehenberger. And the rest, as they say, is history. Cold wax has been Hehenberger’s focus for the last 15 years.

Having grown up in Bloomington, Indiana, Hehenberger remembers a childhood spent in the woodsy outdoors of the Midwest, which triggered a lifelong interest in, and passion for, all things nature. “Since then,” says Hehenberger, “I have studied natural sciences and learned about how things grow and exist in the physical world. That knowledge became a deep influence on my work. This influence can not only been seen in the themes I choose, but also in the layer-based working process I use to make my highly textural and organic looking surfaces.”

After earning a BA in art from Indiana University and an MFA in painting from the University of Cincinnati in 1994, Hehenberger formally began her art and art education career, one that’s been ongoing for two decades now. “During my time in graduate school,” explains Hehenberger, “I became interested in working abstractly. I heavily identified with my abstractionist professors, fellow students and artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Terry Winters and Robert Motherwell.

“At that time I was working in acrylic media, discovering the vast potential of large scale collage. After graduation, I continued with collage but also revisited the simplicity of drawing, all the while teaching art to all ages at the Cincinnati Art Academy.”

In the early 2000’s, Hehenberger and her husband relocated to North Carolina. Having grown up in a college town, Hehenberger says Chapel Hill felt like home. It was then that she revisited working in oils, which she had done in high school and as an undergrad at IU. That was when the old container of Dorland’s Cold Wax Medium reappeared.

“Through trial and experimentation, I grew to know the medium well and have been working with it ever since,” Hehenberger says. “I still use acrylic and drawing mediums, especially in my collaborative work with artist Luna Lee Ray, but the potential of the cold wax medium continues to fascinate me. I’ve used it nearly every day for more than 15 years and am still discovering the exciting potential of this versatile medium.

“Until recently, I knew of no other artists using cold wax, so I learned its applications through my own working and experimentation. Whether I’m mixing it with oil paint, sand, crushed wax, chalk or other materials and building it into deep layers, or if I am carving into the highly workable surface it creates, I enjoy the cold wax, which requires no heating (unlike encaustic) and has a slow drying time, allowing for long-term working.

“I want to continue to create with the cold wax medium, to keep going with my exciting collaborative work with Luna and to expand into other mediums such as clay and autobiographical writing. This current show is a good example of my most recent work, which ties together ideas of process with biology and human psychology. The cocoon-like imagery is most compelling to me for its deeply textural quality, collage based construction and rhythmic patterning. It combines many of the forms and imagery I’ve used in the past and feels to me entirely fresh and comprehensive.”

SEPT 2017: Luna Lee Ray

Luna Lee Ray

Artist, Teacher, Mentor, Gardener

Beloved art teacher (teaching five days a week at the Arts Center in Carrboro) with a loyal following, mentor, founding FRANK artist and curator, Luna Lee Ray moves seamlessly between flora and fauna and abstraction in her paintings.

Her acrylic-based mixed media paintings usually incorporate collage, graphite and charcoal. Explains Ray; “I build up a rich, layered surface, allowing the image to develop a history and a mysteriousness. 

 “My process is a combination of being inspired by the world around me, maybe even having a specific image or moment in mind, and also allowing for the exploration of materials and the element of chance,” she says.

Before landing in North Carolina, Ray led a peripatetic life. She grew up in Queens and Long Island but, at 16, headed west to Portland, Oregon, to live with her uncle. She took art classes there and earned her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts at The Pacific Northwest College of Art, majoring in printmaking and also studying painting and photography. In college, Ray says she was more influenced by her exposure to art studies and learning different techniques than by any particular teacher or artist.

She was, however, inspired by Georgia O’Keefe and Man Ray, as much for their gutsy decisions to move to fertile artistic ground and pursue their art, as for their art itself. For O’Keefe it was New Mexico; for Man Ray, it was Paris. For Luna Lee Ray, it was a small home with a garden in North Carolina.

After Portland, Ray adventured to Kauai, Hawaii, and lived and worked on an organic farm, sleeping in a tent for the six months she was there. “It was heaven,” Ray says - but not so much the sleeping in a tent part.  From Hawaii, Ray successively lived in Eugene, Oregon, and Bisbee and Tucson, Arizona, as well as Albuquerque New Mexico – all the while making art, teaching and working at health food stores as the resident herbalist. She still raises her own herbs and makes herbal tinctures. Ray’s location hopping was in the service of finding the right place to settle and make art. “I loved the desert southwest,” she says, “but I couldn’t garden there.”

“I came to North Carolina,” she explains, “because I heard good things about Asheville.” This was the Asheville of 20 years ago, and Ray was not impressed, so she traveled the state and found her art oasis in Carrboro. Once she bought her Carrboro home with a bit of land, she put down roots, both figuratively and literally. An avid gardener, she turned her yard into a small paradise of flowering plants, shrubs and herbs. Ray’s new NC home inspired her crow and deer paintings. “The crows always came to my yard,” Ray says, “so I started painting them. Usually I have to have an experience with an animal before I can paint it. Sometimes that can happen in a dream.

“I always did botanical and abstract work,” says Ray. But a visit to a Florida bird refuge took Ray in a new direction. She says of one visit, “it was overcast, misty, and the light would be filtered through the air, so my current interest is in air, moisture and light and how these elements interact and change with the weather and the time of day. There are two main explorations in the current show: summer rain, experienced morning, afternoon and evening, and the waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge, inspired by my most recent trip to Portland.”