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Open Studios Allows Visitors Another Glimpse Into Artist’s World

Painter Eric Fitzpatrick’s studio.

by Gene Marrano

For the 11th year, this time at nine locations around Roanoke, local artists opened their working studios and galleries last weekend for the Open Studios tour, where they met other artists, art aficionados and those that were just curious about a world they might not know much about.  Downtown Roanoke, the Raleigh Court neighborhood and South Roanoke hosted more than a dozen artists, many of whom have been on board with Open Studios since its inception.

C.J. Phillips, a mixed media artist, was welcoming visitors to her gallery space at 110 W. Campbell Avenue, where several other artists also have studios. “It grows every year. We see new people – people from out of town [as far away as] Winston-Salem and Greensboro.” Phillips likes to use recycled materials and was showing off a series of paintings mounted on pieces of discarded linoleum.  Other larger works out in the building atrium were products of her “dumpster diving” as she termed it. “Everybody can come [to Open Studios],” said Phillips, a board member for the annual event.

Across the hallway from Phillips, Diane Patton showed off her paintings, as potter Steve Mitchell “threw clay,” in one corner. Patton remembers when there were relatively few artists in downtown Roanoke. She and others kept spaces at Studios on the Square. “I’ve been painting somewhere in downtown Roanoke for 25 years,” said Patton, who likes to meet newcomers when Open Studios rolls around every spring. “Many people didn’t know we were here.”

Patton, whose paintings she said “are all inspired by nature … and growing up in the mountains,” welcomes people to come up and watch her work during the week.  She also has a particular way of going about things: “I take that point of departure and then don’t look at the photograph anymore … and I go from there. Color plays a big part in composition.”

Patton painted in a realistic style for 20 years before moving on to more abstract works after first tackling her fear of trying something new. “If you paint eight hours a day you evolve – you can’t stand still. As an artist if you are growing, people will follow you. It’s really painting from the inside out.”

Patton was happy to share her thoughts on abstract painting with Open Studios visitors; she termed her colorful work “Pie in the Sky” as being “bold and brave.” Other works were composed with paint-infused beeswax, a style labeled as “encaustic” by Patton.

While familiar artists like Eric Fitzgerald, Lucy Hazelgrove, Jamie Nervo and Barry Wolfe are Open Studios regulars, the annual two-day event also offers a chance for relative newcomers to meet local patrons of the arts.  Chris Gryder, a ceramic artist when he’s not working his day job as an architect, met the public at Ann Bondurant Trinkle’s gallery / working studio on Kirk Avenue.

Gryder believes he is the only artist in the area that does silt-cast stoneware, where he can infuse structure, geometry, pattern and tactile forms into his works. They all start with molds crafted out of silt, with painstaking precision.

The Vinton resident was working on a project in Arizona with another architect who had encountered Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1950’s. One of the construction techniques involved the use of silt. Gryder, who perfected his version at the Rhode Island School of Design, then developed his silt-cast or “slip cast” molds, where he pours clay into the molds created. The different shapes and textures that were possible with silt-casting fascinated him. “I’ve been developing it ever since.” Gryder often focuses on commissioned works requested for specific spaces.

Several national publications have shown works by Gryder, who also had an exhibit at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum on the Hollins University campus two years ago. Open Studios visitors last weekend had the chance to meet him and discuss his uncommon technique – one of the meet-the-artists goals for the annual event.

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