Two by two, artists at BR Gallery influence each other

Photos provided by Baton Rouge GalleryEleanor Owen Kerr's photo, left, is paired with that of Paul Caponigro in the June exhibition at Baton Rouge Gallery.
Photos provided by Baton Rouge GalleryEleanor Owen Kerr's photo, left, is paired with that of Paul Caponigro in the June exhibition at Baton Rouge Gallery.

The place, the time, even how they met doesn’t mean as much as the fact that they did, indeed meet.

And Mary Ann Caffery and Dennis Siporski were friends from the beginning, fellow artists with different visions.

So, the collision was inevitable.

You can see it in the subjects. even in the colors, in Baton Rouge Gallery’s June exhibit, Under the Influence.

That sounds a little ominous, doesn’t it? But influence can have different meanings.

And it’s all about art in this case, how one artist’s work influenced another. The show runs through Thursday, June 27, and some of the artists will discuss that influence in the gallery’s ARTiculate Artists Talk Series at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 9.

“We usually showcase exhibits by our new gallery artist members in June, but we brought in only one new member this past year,” Jason Andreasen said. “That was Katie Knoeringer, and she showed in March, because she wasn’t going to be able to show in June.”

So, Andreasen asked artist members to talk about what they wanted to do. Their discussion resulted in Under the Influence, a group exhibit of 24 works by gallery artists. Each of those pieces are accompanied by a guest artist.

And each set tells the story of how one artist’s work influenced the other. Sometimes it’s the guest artist who wielded the influence; other times it’s the gallery artist.

“And a lot of times, the artist is influenced by a professor or a mentor,” Andreasen said. “But sometimes, the influence is from a friend.”

This is the story behind the Caffery-Siporski connection.

Caffery is the gallery artist member; Siporski is her friend. And Caffery spotted Siporski and his wife, sculptor Ruth Siporski, at the 2011 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival when he suggested she sign up for his photography class.

“He and Dr. Gary Lafleur were heading to the Louisiana coast to photograph the disappearing islands and changing landscapes, to document what it looked like down there at the time,” Caffery wrote in her artist’s statement.

“I hadn’t photographed since college and had always enjoyed it.”

Siporski not only photographed the terrain but painted it on site. Caffery was watching him work outside of Port Fourchon one afternoon when she mentioned that she hadn’t painted in 10 years.

She’d wanted to return to it but hadn’t. That is, until that moment when Siporski handed her a piece of gesso-covered paper, a board and a paint brush.

“He told me I could use any of his paints, but I had to paint a painting,” Caffery wrote. “I just stared at the paper for a few minutes but eventually put paint on the brush and made a small painting. It’s not like my painting was that memorable, but the fact that I picked up a brush and made a marks on paper allowed me to get over that initial fear of failure. I returned from the trip and was so inspired by what I saw and experienced that I began a series of paintings.”

She’s since made three more trips to the coast to continue her documentation. And her series continues with one of her latest works, “Ghosts of the Past: Sulfur Mine (before Hurricane Isaac).” It hangs next to Siporski’s painting, “10 Snakes.”

Their painting styles are different, but the connection is there.

As is the link between gallery artist member Kathleen Lemoine’s work and that of Janice Sachse.

Sachse was an artist member in the early 1970s, when Lemoine met her. The gallery changed exhibits each month, as it does now, and Lemoine rarely missed a show.

“I already knew Sachse’s work from an exhibit of contemporary art that traveled to Baton Rouge in the late ’60s, featuring work by nationally known contemporary artists,” Lemoine wrote in her artist’s statement. “The exhibits were sponsored by Sears, and the well-known actor and collector Vincent Price. Along with the traveling exhibit, a juried exhibit was open to artists in the host cities. Sachse’s paintings won awards in 1966 and 1967.”

And that’s really no surprise, considering the fact that Sachse was an established artist, having studied with Conrad Albrizio at LSU and William Woodward at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans.

“When we met, I was a young wife and mother, and our friendship had to cross the divide of age, social standing and my lack of formal art training,” Lemoine wrote. “Her early and generous recognition of my talent and desire to paint was huge. A woman painter to emulate in that time and place was no small thing.”

Sachse eventually gave Lemoine one of her paintings. It’s an oil-on-canvas titled “Objects on a Shelf.” It hangs in this show beside Lemoine’s acrylic painting, “The Sea.”

“Janice Sachse worked in all media and drew on the Southern landscape and way of life for her subject matter,” Lemoine wrote. “For this exhibit I am sharing an oil-on-canvas painting titled ‘Objects on Shelf.’ It was a gift from the artist in 1976. I especially love the palette which is typical of her work. This painting has hung in my home for years but only recently has it hung next to a landscape of mine and I was delighted by the synergy.”

And then there’s the story of friendly rivalry, one that’s all about fun.

It’s where artist member Tom Richard and his friend and fellow art professor Scott Lykens find inspiration for their work.

Richard’s drawing, “3 Peeps Explaining Organizational Theory to M&Ms” hangs next to Lyken’s earthenware majolica, “Peep Parallelism.”

“We are both professors in a two-person art department at the University of Arkansas at Monticello,” Richard writes in his artist’s statement. “Our building that we teach in is quite strange (which seems to be the norm for university art spaces) as there are no hallways.”

The ceramics and drawing spaces are bunched together, so Richard and Lykens are constantly running into each other. And their families spend a lot of time together outside the university.

So, it seems only natural that they appropriate imagery for their work.

“Peeps, the Pillsbury Doughboy, ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors,’ hand-puppets, poppies ... are some of the images that manifest themselves in both our work,” Richard wrote. “He works with a lot of yellow. I hate yellow but still manage to use quite a bit of it. While I am a painter and he is a ceramicist, we often have discussions of color combinations, surface and textural effects in both our chosen media. In other words, we are constantly critiquing, haggling and blaming each other for our shortcomings and/or failures.”

Now, if Richard were actually talking in front of his work, he’d pause here, before offering a final, tongue-in-cheek footnote.

“Also that SOB was awarded an Arkansas Governor’s Fellowship a few years ago,” Richard wrote. “ I’ve never received one, even though MY work is better.”

Can’t help laughing at this point, because this rivalry truly is all in fun. And one artist’s influence can be seen in the other’s work.

Through the Peeps.