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Barbara Ernst Prey

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A Behind the Scenes Look Into Putting an Exhibit Together: An Artist's Perspective

Posted: 08/18/2013 5:54 pm

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Meeting House, Watercolor and dry brush 32" x 40"


Every year for the past thirty, I travel to Maine to paint during the summer where I have an annual exhibit of my paintings. It is different than, say, my New York exhibits, but the same amount of energy goes into the preparation. This year's show, East Meets West, just opened at Blue Water Fine Arts in Port Clyde, Maine (although at the end of a peninsula, it has become a destination over the years for many). This year's exhibit explores the connection of my artwork painted during my year as a Luce Scholar in Taiwan, with my series of new work. The Luce Scholars Program selects young future leaders with the intent of developing a greater awareness of the importance of Asia to our country. It was a unique opportunity for me to paint in a completely different setting, to explore Chinese Traditional technique with a master painter, and to incorporate the different papers, pigment and brushes into my work.

Putting together an exhibit is, frankly, an exhaustive and exhausting undertaking. Creating the body of work, selecting a theme (or thread) -- so many little things go into making the final exhibit. Even titling the paintings for me is important -- I have spent days trying to come up with just the right title for some paintings.

This year in particular, I ran up against quite a few snags. Due to the state of the economy, my molding suppliers have discontinued my favorite frame stock (I make the frames for my artwork). My longtime framer who makes linen-wrapped mats for me became disabled and left his position. My photographer, with whom I have worked for many years and who takes all of the new photos for my archives, had a baby and could not photograph my work. The relationship between the artist and all of these people is very important. When it comes to the photographer, I have worked closely with them to get the colors just right, which takes time to develop. All of these provide little hurdles to getting the exhibition finished. Rather than "the show must go on," in this setting, the show must get hung.

The placement of the paintings in the greater context of the exhibited work, and the overall hanging of the show (what most curators already know) -- which paintings go where and next to what other works -- is the next important consideration. Oftentimes the juxtaposition of paintings creates a wonderful conversation, energy and dialogue.

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Fireweed, Watercolor 32" x 40"

Once it is all put together, it is time for the opening. This year's East Meets West opening was a champagne reception adding a festive feel to the evening. After executing all of the above, effortless though it may seem, there is still more.

While this is happening there are often interviews, writers curious about the new work, and other contacts with various media outlets. I just spent a morning with a Public Radio interviewer for a piece on creativity, followed up with a Maine Public Radio roundtable program panel on the Arts. I enjoy these interviews because they are benchmarks for me and help me, as I reflect, to formulate what I have done and where I am going with my work. Throughout the exhibit there are calls about doing an interview. This combines with other activities, such as a dinner with collectors who have come to see the exhibit or a night out with museum directors who came to see the exhibit.

When everyone is gone I look forward to walking through the exhibit alone, reflecting on the artwork as a body of work. I then begin the process again and look forward to returning to the work of being alone with the canvas. Because, when it comes down to it, it is all about the work.


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Nocturne, Watercolor 30" x 22"

If you are in Maine stop in at Blue Water Fine Arts gallery in Port Clyde to view the exhibit East Meets West through the end of August. New works can also be viewed on my website www.barbaraprey.com. As Edward Hopper said, "If I could say it in words there would be no need to paint."

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Coiled, Watercolor and drybrush, 22" x 30"
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Before opening reception with Poster from Paris Exhibit Barbara Ernst Prey: An American View

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