When Carolyn Armstrong took a drawing class while in college studying to become a nurse, she discovered that she really enjoyed creating art, and pursued that passion while working in her chosen profession. Armstrong gained additional knowledge from books by famed portrait artist Ann Kulberg and then taking instruction and inspiration from local artist Sandy Cable-Barringer, whose mentorship continues to motivate Carolyn’s growth as an artist.
The lovely results of that pursuit are currently on display at the Anna Bier Gallery, located within Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall.
Although the Versailles-area resident has worked with acrylics and watercolor, her chosen medium is colored pencil which she believes provides her work with versatility and vibrant color. She began by creating floral drawings; one of her first, a simply elegant rendering of tiger lilies, is included in this exhibit, as well as a more recent work, “Mums the Word,” depicting lovely autumn-hued chrysanthemums lying on a lace tablecloth.
Another entertainingly titled work is “Fifty Shades of Gray,” which despite its title is a quite staid but enticing picture of an ornate doorknob enhancing a weathered old door done in multiple shades of gray. Her use of layers of color to achieve the look she is seeking is successfully demonstrated in “Old Ford,” an alluring picture of an abandoned, rusting-out car, its burnished body blazing in a last burst of glory.
Carolyn and her late husband were avid motorcycle enthusiasts, so it’s no surprise that that two-wheeled method of transportation is also represented in this show. In one picture, her great niece stands with the girl’s tattooed, Harley-riding step-grandfather in front of a motorcycle; each figure in this work looks ready for excitement and adventure. Another drawing, a close-up of a Harley Fat Boy entitled “A Beautiful Bike,” evokes the thrill of riding one of those inviting and exotic creatures.
Carolyn’s ability to create realistic portraits, which capture personality as well as facial features is demonstrated in several pieces, one of which brings to mind the Gerber baby who decorates jars of baby food. This picture of the artist’s “little sister” Charlene, now a resident of Arizona, sweetly depicts the child who her big sister says was “always so attractive.” Perky, self-confident “Veda” is another great niece, decked out in a bright pink tee-shirt and looking like the queen of her domain. A be-whiskered hardy pioneer in period dress surveys the world in “William Blevins,” evoking thoughts of the frontier, but in reality, the quite recent work pictures a re-enactor participating in “Prairie Days” at Shawnee Prairie Nature Preserve. All of the people depicted come alive under the viewer’s gaze, communicating vitality and emotion through their straightforward and direct rendering.
The timeless beauty of “The Vase” immediately captures attention, the graceful shape and deep, yet nuanced color of the title piece creating a sense of peace and calm. “Apples In a Bag” is an amazingly photographic depiction of ripe yellow-streaked red apples lying within a plastic bag; the transparent bag somehow adds luminance to the classic still life.
Always seeking a challenge as she continues to learn and grow as an artist, Carolyn chose to utilize black paper on which to create two of the works on exhibit.
“You have to use color to get rid of the black,” the artist explained when asked how the warm and colorful pieces were achieved.
In one, a scene evocative of Fall, a shimmering corn shock stands surrounded by charming orange pumpkins, and in the other a fetching red coffee pot is surrounded by a variety of red, green, and yellow peppers. An astonishing perception of depth is accomplished, creating realistic images that capture the eye and warm the heart.
Over 30 works by Armstrong adorn the walls of the Anna Bier Gallery, and will remain on display through Feb. 29. In addition to being open during upcoming DCCA presentations, the Anna Bier Gallery is open every day by appointment; to arrange an appointment or a tour, contact Gallery Director Tamera McNulty at 937-564-5863. All exhibits at the Anna Bier Gallery are free and open to the public.