Eastern Flair exhibit opens at Aspen’s Red Brick
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Patricia Neeb expresses great admiration for Japan’s geishas. Geishas, who appear frequently in Neeb’s recent art, keep alive long-standing forms of theater, music and the tea ceremony.
“I believe they are the holders of the cultural traditions of Japan,” Neeb said. “They’ve been doing it for centuries. After World War II, Japan was so devastated – and to have these people hold onto that culture, that’s important. They preserved it for Japan.”
Neeb is serving something of a parallel function. Her art features old photographs – geishas from late-19th century Japan, as well as Western horses, cowboys and Indians, and fashion images from Europe and the U.S. in the 1920s and ’30s. The photos, which she finds on Amazon.com – “I’m an Amazon junkie,” she says – are generally in lousy shape: scratched, colors faded to nothing. Neeb preserves the photos by hand-tinting the worn images and digitally removing the blemishes.
Neeb’s Japanese-oriented pieces (as well as two works that feature Buddha images) are included in the Eastern Flair exhibition at the Red Brick Center for the Arts. The group show – which also includes pottery by Tammie Lane and Michael Bonds, watercolor and ink drawings by Virginia Morrow, and works on paper by Calvin Lee – opens Thursday with a reception at 5 p.m. It shows through Nov. 25.
Neeb goes several steps beyond simply fixing up old photos. A former clinical psychologist who has been working in photography since childhood, she combines the restored images with her own photos, often of flowers. Many of the pieces are triptychs, with an old image sandwiched between two of her original photos, though several pieces have Neeb’s images blended in with the vintage photos. For most of the works, she then creates a color scheme that runs through the combined images, making for a cohesive tone that unifies the old and new photographs. It is her way of giving new life to old art.
“I’m kind of in love with these old times, and I love bringing forward the qualities of these those old times with light,” Neeb said. “When they’ve got no color and they’re not repaired, they’re flat. You couldn’t see what it is. But you subtly hand-tint them and they open up this door to a mystery world. It’s magical. It’s like buried treasure that’s tarnished. I feel like I’m preserving these artists of the past.”
The geisha images inspire Neeb to look for other ways to add an Asian feel to the work. She says the pieces are set up like haikus – in fact, some of the pieces have haikus that Neeb has written to go with them, though they are not being included in the current exhibition. The way she color the images creates a consistency and a calmness in the work.
“The quality of Oriental art is so peaceful,” she said. “It evokes a state of meditation and peace. Which I love to have around me.”
• • • •
Virginia Morrow’s Eastern flair comes largely from her materials and techniques. A watercolorist who has exhibited frequently in Aspen, Morrow took an Anderson Ranch workshop two years ago in sumi-e, an ancient Japanese painting technique that utilizes black ink. In her latest works, Morrow combines ink with watercolor elements.
Like Neeb, Morrow enhances the Asian-ness of her work with additional touches. The paper she uses is stained with tea. Several images of orchids have, instead of a signature, a chop – an ink-blot stamp with Chinese characters that represent Morrow’s name. (Or presumably they do; Morrow confesses she has no idea what the Chinese symbols mean.)
In one piece, the Eastern qualities are more in the foreground. “Cherry Blossoms” features a fan-shaped pattern; the pattern was borrowed from a Persian carpet. The work also features images of a cherry blossom branch and a carving by Steve Hatcher, a woodworker whom Morrow met at Anderson Ranch.