Reflections from the 20/20 crowd
Exhibit spotlights 20 artists with 20+ year careers

“20/20 Vision: A Retrospective”is currently on display at the Durango Arts Center./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Jules Masterjohn

Artist. The label brings with it a mirage of images: black berets, personal suffering, cigarette smoke and impulsive actions. These romantic notions are easy to conjure up, thanks to some truth and much fiction that is rooted in our understanding about artists. What is it really like to dedicate oneself to art-making throughout a lifetime? I queried a number of the artists showing in “20/20 Vision: A Retrospective,” the current exhibit on display at the Durango Arts Center.

The exhibit is the brainchild of DAC Volunteer Coordinator Jeannie Berger and presents work by 20 artists who each have 20-plus years of involvement with the DAC. Here are some of their thoughts – from more than 400 collective years of artistic experience – about being artists.

How have your attitudes and expectations changed about being a practicing artist?

• Mary Kay Shellman: “When I was young, brazen and gutsy, I did not realize how much life would get in the way of being an artist. I was under the impression that I could just go through life painting away, showing and selling enough artwork to get by. Three decades later, I’ve realized that it is a treasure to seize that precious time, uninterrupted and totally focused on my artwork.”

• Maureen May: “I have become comfortable and accepting of myself, and in turn, have become more willing to put myself out there in the public’s eye through my work.”

• Barbara Klema: “When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I thought that being an artist was the most romantic and desirable of careers. While there is still a romance involved with art, it is a structure that now defines the framework of my life. When I first started being a ‘real artist’ I disciplined myself to working in the studio for a concentrated three hours a day, no matter what. Now working in the studio is as natural as breathing, exercise, eating, etc.

• Rod Craig: “I used to be more controlling. The reason my earlier watercolors are realistic is because my life was chaotic. Now, my life is less chaotic: I have cleaned up, and my work is much freer. As a result, I am understanding abstraction.”

What are some of the important things you have learned?

• Maureen May: “I have learned that a true artist is always learning. Being static and safe does not feed the soul.”

• Barbara Klema: “One of the biggest things that I have learned is that creativity is always the most important aspect of the artistic process. It is so easy, especially when young, to get caught up in emotional highs and lows determined by various praise or criticism of your work. I have observed how destructive the judging mind can be, and how important it is to be detached from the final marketplace outcome while creating and even displaying your work.”

• Mary Ellen Long: “That my life and art are intertwined and the same.”

• Sharon Abshagen: “One of the most important things I have learned is that being an artist is not something you can learn in four years of college. The more work that you have behind you the more you learn. Each piece takes you from one stepping stone to another.”

• Karyn Gabaldon: “Above all, to listen to my intuition, my guiding voice. Doing art for so long teaches you this.”

• Ron Fundingsland: “I’ve learned quite a lot about the business side of being an artist, the myths and realities and that the business side is, essentially, irrelevant.”

• Mary Kay Shellman: “I have learned to keep painting no matter what happens. The best advice I’ve been given, 26 years ago, is that ‘it is not important who gets the best reviews today, but who is painting 20-30 years from now.’”

• Rod Craig: “Being an artist is almost like having an affliction for me – there is nothing in my life that is not colored by making art. I have begun to see my life as an art project, of seeing myself as something that can be shaped and molded, asking, ‘What kind of person do I want to be?’”

What is most surprising about having created for more than 20 years?

• Margaret Pacheco: “I was surprised by very little as I was well prepared by my professors to support myself as an artist by teaching or doing graphic arts, all of which has proven to be true. I don’t draw or paint ‘pretty pictures’ or work for a market. My best artwork has passion in it, and that is where my heart/art mind is most invested.”

• Karyn Gabaldon: “That I have been able to make my living in Durango as an artist – no sugar daddy, no trust fund … just hard work that I love.”

• Barbara Klema: “It is so interesting how one thing leads to another, and if you stay present with what you are doing and where you are, suddenly you look back after over 30 years, and the body of work that you have created is amazing. Not necessarily in how wonderful it is, but the journey it has taken you on.”

• Ron Fundingsland: “I’m surprised that the ‘arts’ continue to be so tragically underfunded – nationally, regionally, locally and particularly in education.”

• Maureen May: “I never run out of ideas.”

• Mary Kay Shellman: “I started painting at age 19. I’m now confident in my style, use of color, themes and techniques, but doubt still has a way of creeping in through seams that I haven’t even acknowledged exist. Remarkably, this vulnerable part of me is a part of what I express in my artwork and I intrinsically know that it makes me a better artist.”

• Mary Ellen Long: “It is most surprising that, after more than 40 years, I continue to have the ‘ah ha’ moments in the process of creating.” •

“20/20 Vision” is on display through Sept. 4 at the Durango Arts Center, 802 E. Second Ave. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.