When perusing a piece of art, it can be fun to figure out which famous forerunners had the greatest influence on the artist, or which movement best defines the artist’s work.
But, when creating it, the artist may not even be thinking in such pigeonholing terms; he or she may just be trying to make something beautiful and seeing where it goes.
Take the work of Spencer Reynolds, the oil painter from Brookings, Ore., featured at Archimedes Gallery during Cannon Beach’s 15th annual Spring Unveiling Arts Festival, held citywide May 1 through 3.
His unfinished, untitled painting of colossal, crashing waves — whose orange ripples Reynolds meticulously traced with a pinstripe brush during a demonstration — has shades of surrealism and 1960s-era psychedelic poster art. It is also reminiscent, he noted, of Katsushika Hokusai’s woodcut “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”
But this kind of reference-based appreciation is helpful only up to a point. Reynolds said his style is pretty hard to nail down; he likes to joke that the work in progress, like many of his other paintings, falls into its own special category called “pinstripe impressionism.”
Reynolds, in fact, has a background in impressionism and, after graduating from the Art Institute of Seattle, studied for a couple of years under Henry Stinson, the Russian impressionist. But, though that experience does inform his work, Reynolds finds that his pieces touch on several movements at once.
“I love everything, from minimalism, to abstract, to impressionism, to whatever,” he said. “I just love art.”
Because media consumers now live in an age when visual art flies at them from countless directions, a great deal of it probably seeps into artists’ work without their knowing it, he said. It would be a heady exercise to tease apart all of Reynolds’ sources of inspiration.
In the moment of creation, however, he just focuses on what feels right on the plywood canvass before him — what it takes to elicit an emotional response from viewers as they gaze at an ocean turning in on itself beneath a dark, foreboding sky, while a mysterious unseen light casts the fearsome waters in a fiery glow.
The ceramic sculptures of John and Robin Gumaelius unveiled at White Bird Gallery during the arts festival also defy obvious labels.
The pale figurines are “dressed” in motley patterns and tiny paintings. Their frozen expressions are eerily inscrutable, their bodies posed to suggest important human stories trapped in media res.
“You look at it, and you think, ‘There must be a story going on,’” Robin Gumaelius said.
And all around the sculptures are birds that she described as “little messengers” whispering in their ears.
Allyn Cantor, owner and operator of the White Bird, said the figurines look rather like French marionettes. They remind Cara Mico, a White Bird employee, of the strange, otherworldly art in Tim Burton’s film “Beetlejuice.”
So what traditions are the doll-like figurines tokens of? What neat little boxes can one place the Gumaelius’ work inside to make it easier to approach?
Don’t bother asking such questions: pedantic classifications have no place here. Theirs is pure, unadulterated art, crafted for its own sake, intuited rather than intellectualized.
John, a metalworker, and Robin, a ceramicist, combine their gifts — which they honed as students together at Brigham Young University — and absorb all manner of influences, including the books they read to their four children. J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series and Edward Gorey’s illustrated children’s books come to mind, Robin Gumaelius said.
The Gumaelius children — Ruby, 12, Eliza, 10, Carmella, 8, and Cecil, 5 — get in on the action, too. Sometimes they will copy their parents’ drawings, then the parents will copy their children’s copy, and so on, Robin Gumaelius said. From this back-and-forth collaboration come pieces that are utterly unanticipated.
“A lot times, we don’t even really know what it’s going to look like when we’re making it,” she said.
In their artist statement, the Gumaeliuses, who live in the unincorporated community in Brooklyn, Washington, don’t credit a movement, tradition or artistic figure (except Joni Mitchell) for their inspiration. They credit the elements of life itself:
“Radio stories, history books, biking adventures, gardening notes, neighbors spied, strangers watched in stores and parks and cars jangle in our heads and come so freely to our fingers that when we see the pieces finished we are often delighted — as if we are not their creators; they just come to talk with us for a while and then leave again.”
“We’re not necessarily trying really hard to be original. That’s not our end goal,” John Gumaelius said. “We just go with it, you know?”