Want your photo to have a Picasso-like manipulation? There’s an app for that. Don’t feel like waiting weeks to properly frame and hang an image in order to share it with the masses? Bring the art to everyone, and post to Facebook or Instagram for the perfect of-the-moment response.
But for Helen DeRamus, who has expressed herself through a mix of painting, sculpture and photography for four decades, getting there has been — and always will be — half the fun. And the 70-year-old artist and instructor is always working to perfect her craft.
“I feel like my painting right now is better than it’s ever been,” DeRamus said. “That’s another drive, is to find that perfect painting.”
The Atlanta-based DeRamus is showcasing 20 images from her ongoing series of landscape encaustic paintings, drawings and monotypes in a new show opening at JSU on Thursday titled The Deep Song. The ancient process of encaustic painting involves melting damar resin and beeswax and adding color to make an image.
“You use a torch for a heat gun in order to melt each of the layers into one another,” said DeRamus of the carefully-detailed form. “The process — it’s mesmerizing. You’re not dealing with a lot of toxicity. I think of it as being more like sculpture than I do painting, because it’s very tactile, and you can actually touch it.”
The collection of landscape paintings that DeRamus has assembled for the exhibition are part of an ongoing series she has been working on for several years.
“It has more to do with the layering of the images so that you are looking into the past as well as looking toward the future,” she said. “I think of them as being passages in my life that I am discovering, and I want to communicate those to the people who are actually viewing the work.”
DeRamus has never considered herself a “Southern” artist, until now.
“That is the landscape that means the most to me, that I connect with,” she said.
Her affair with artistry began as a child, when she would spend time watching the process of her father, an amateur painter and photographer.
“I think that that inspiration — I knew probably around 7 years old or so that that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. Once she began studying art history at Emory University, however, DeRamus put her passion on the back burner, thinking she might be an art historian instead. “I didn’t think I was going to be actually a studio artist. But once I touched oil paint, that was it.”
DeRamus finds much of her inspiration in family and music. Her mother was a singer, said DeRamus, and her husband and stepson are both bass musicians.
“It’s exciting when we all get together at the holidays, believe me,” she said. She also reads a lot of poetry, and was particularly inspired by the rhythm of the words of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca for The Deep Song.
“I’m looking for rhythm, usually, when I start to paint. I sort of disconnect from everything and then start to make marks on the board, and it’s the rhythm of the written word. And it’s also the rhythm of the music that I usually have playing in my studio that actually starts to form the images,” she said, citing the “very rhythmic” music of composers Philip Glass and John Adams in what helped her create this series.
DeRamus has heavily embraced technology to communicate her work. The blogger and regular-user of Twitter and Pinterest said she believes that maintaining an Internet presence is very important. “It’s a good way for me to communicate with my students, communicate with collectors, with my gallery, with the general public.”
Next, her sights are set on trying her hand at video recordings, and possibly creating an installation using a camcorder. Ideally, she would like to begin another residency, having completed her first just a few years ago.
“That usually leads to a new series of some kind — I don’t even know what it will be,” she said. “I’m open to that.”
But whether she’s paid to paint or not, DeRamus has no plans to stop creating art. Her passion won’t let her.
“When I get up in the morning, there isn’t even a question of what I’m going to do. I feel like that I have more images that I need to express. I think that’s the overarching passion is to produce these images. There are just so many — I don’t know whether I’ll ever find them all.”
The Deep Song will be on display from Feb. 7-28 in the Hammond Art Gallery at Jacksonville State University. DeRamus will host an artist talk at the opening reception at 7 p.m. Thursday and an encaustic painting workshop Feb. 28-March 1. Those interested in the workshop should contact Jane Greene at 256-782-5626 for details.
Helen DeRamus online