What do metalsmithing and painting have in common? Valerie Ostenak, an artist who releases the physical into her metal work and the emotional into her painting. Inspired by the natural world within her reach and beyond the stars, Valerie is as comfortable with an anvil as she is with a paintbrush.
How did you come to be an artist?
The earliest memory I have of being an artist was drawing with crayons. I remember sitting on the front porch with blank sheets of paper drawing and coloring three princesses. I even remember the colors: purple, orange, and pink. The Crayola 64 box of colors was the best present ever! I knew colors in nature because of crayons . . . periwinkle, spring green, and indigo.
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I loved drawing and crafts in first and second grade, making valentines on Valentine’s Day, then turkeys by tracing my hand on Thanksgiving and candles with a flame for the holidays. Then in the fifth through eighth grades, my best friend and I designed and made all the class bulletin boards. Sometimes we did 3D ones with elements that stuck out, i.e. the dresses and hats of Pilgrims for Thanksgiving.
The older I got the more I explored. Still exploring!
What do you hope to communicate with your art?
My work is about the energy and movement in objects, and ideas. The Flow that occurs when thoughts become reality, the movement inherent in everything from growing vines and budding trees to water and the wind moving the clouds.
Movement and Flow show that change is constant. Nothing is static, so where you are now is not where you will be 10 minutes from now. Within that change is Hope. Hope is ultimately what I want to convey with my art.
Who or what are your greatest artistic influences?
The artists whose work I’ve admired and been influenced by for one reason or another are Helen Franenthaler, Louise Nevelson, Georgia O’Keefe, Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, Salvador Dali, Leonardo daVinci, Albert Paley, and Christopher Ray.
Each one standing in the space of doing their creative work above and beyond what everyone else around them was doing. They each showed me that I, too, could create exactly what was in my heart to do while not having to cower beneath the opinions of others. That to create as I was led to do was to speak for myself instead of as another wanted me to.
They gave me independent thinking about the mediums I was experimenting with and learning to use. In doing so, I realized that my art was Me.
I am inspired by the way vines and tendrils grow over everything in their path, the way water flows over rocks and pebbles, waves roaring into a shoreline or cliffs . . . each changing the landscape. I connect with the energy that each of those things is a part of.
And I find images from the Hubble telescope expansive and mind-blowing! Colors created by the wavelengths of the materials that a nebula or cloud cluster is made up of, shapes created by star matter and dark matter and the lighting from stars . . . the universe entrances me!
What role does meditation play in your work?
I meditate most mornings though not specifically for my artwork, rather for my well-being.
Painting and metalsmithing are very different media. What draws you to each? How does each allow you to express what inspires you?
Each has a different property for me to be able to tap into and then create what is in my head. The painting digs deeper into my emotional energies, metal deeper into my physical energies. I need to experience both to feel complete as an artist.
How do you make the leap from the ideas in your head to the art your produce?
For me it is not a leap, it is a realization, a bringing into reality, of my ideas. I have way more ideas and emotions than I can ever produce. When I do produce a piece, it is something that has called the most strongly to me at that time. Truly, I simply start to make it . . . It won’t let me NOT make it.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
I like a very organized studio because I want to be able to pick up exactly what I need at that moment. I do not want to search and wonder where something is because it breaks the creative flow for me. It’s like running into a brick wall! With organization comes total freedom of expression, continuous and productive.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
A small polished anvil made from a railroad tie was my first hammering surface. Given to me by a neighbor, I’ve had it for 45 years. I reshaped and polished it to a mirror finish . . . it is indispensable indeed. A large wood easel that has a step I can stand on that I’ve had for 35 years. These pieces define my studios for me.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
If I listen to music, I like very ethereal music, Celtic vibes, 60’s & 80’s rock . . . but it totally depends on the moment. Carlos Nakai, Brian Eno take me out of the physical reality and allow the creative in the universe to flow through me.
Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
I love series work! I can develop ideas and explore various changes while keeping a distinctive thread connecting them. So I can experiment with more ideas in the same realm instead of being stymied by thinking I have to choose which idea is the best. It allows for creative freedom, which seems to be a running theme with me.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Specifically, my metal art is based on long tapering tendrils that are then woven together as vines and tendrils grow. I don’t do any welding or soldering to hold pieces together. I like the synergism of individual elements working together to create a whole without forcing them with a weld or solder joint. A concept I like as a way of living life as well. Whether sculptural jewelry to be worn or 6’ wall sculptures, each has started out as a round piece of metal that I’ve hammered into long sinuous tapers that are then formed into sensual curves using an oxyacetylene torch.
My paintings are cloud-like, ethereal and atmospheric with gold or silver leaf amorphously applied.
Abstractly, because my work is primarily about the unseen or an abstraction of the seen, it is coming from my feeling and vision, not what others may be seeing as their reality. These are my reality. My way of relating to metal which I see as flowing and soft. It’s my way of applying paint that creates the space of shadow into light. So my pieces are Me, not reconstructions of reality as most people accept reality to be.
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
Every piece has its challenges. It’s what keeps me excited about it! I love solving problems, and I am happiest when my pieces have solved every problem that I see in them in the process of making them.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is primarily a portfolio of my artwork. I have defined my collections and series hopefully to give people an insight to my creative process. One that I hope they can connect with, that will speak to them and stir their dreams. Perhaps give them a space to meditate, to consider quietly the flow of nature in the micro- and macrocosms.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think that creativity comes naturally to people. But it’s in varying degrees and presents itself in many different ways. I had a dear friend who was a physicist in the aerospace world, briefing world leaders on various subjects. He once told me he envied my creative abilities and wished he could create as I do. I told him he was very creative, that his creativity expressed itself in a far different way than mine. He was able to take information and ideas from many different sources and create systems that would pull everything together so it would work together. Creativity is everywhere, in everything.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
Simply keep doing what makes you happy. Don’t try to do what you think makes others happy. Stand up for what makes you happy, and don’t argue with others or listen to what others may say is not worthy.
If it is true to your heart, then it is exactly what you should be creating. If people tell you you’ve made enough of those type of things and you need to do something else, don’t listen to them! Keep making whatever it is until you are satisfied! Your work will change over time whether you want it to or not. We are changing, growing, and as we do, so does our art. Just make things.
How do you seek out opportunities? How important is gallery representation in sharing your work with the world?
If you want your work into the world, then you must seek ways to get it out there, to have it seen. Gallery representation can have a lot of people seeing your work, as well as shows and exhibitions. So take advantage of all that you can afford. See everything as an opportunity to share. Perhaps it’s an in-home show with friends with wine and snacks, or perhaps it’s an exhibition in Italy. Do it for the experience . . . You will grow as will your art.
Where can people see and purchase your work?
My work is available online at www.valerieostenak.com at the link for My Store, as well as at www.artfulhome.com/artist/Valerie-Ostenak/7904 and www.saatchiart.com/valerie_ostenak. The Gallery of Modern Masters in Sedona is also representing my art, www.galleryofmodernmasters.com/artist/valerie-ostenak.
Interview published March, 2020
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