It’s always such a pleasure to meet inspiring artists and be exposed to their wonderful work. Amber Henry is one of those artists who, aside from being an excellent painter, has highly admirable aspirations to assist charities and agencies supporting those affected by cancer. A former Laguna Beach gallery owner, she relocated from Southern California to Salt Lake City in 2011 to take care of her mother who was suffering from breast cancer.
Amber graduated from Laguna College of Art + Design with a BFA in Fine Arts and Illustration. She went on to show in local Laguna art galleries such as Fingerhut and Orange County Creatives. While in California, she was a leader in the Laguna Beach art community, served on various committees such as First Thursday’s Art Walk, and Laguna College of Art + Design’s mentoring and alumni committees. She recently featured in a solo exhibition at Alpine Art Gallery in Salt Lake City. Amber kindly agreed to talk further about her art, career and future objectives.
I love your artwork. What’s your story and how did you become an artist?
I have always been consumed by imagination and creativity. Wandering, wondering, sensitive to unique patterns in everything and the many levels of colour and beauty these created. As long as I can remember, unique stories and ideas would play out within my imagination. It was as though these stories were so real I could reach out and touch them. As the creative environment travelled with me, so did my crayons, markers, pencils and torn pieces of paper. My pockets would overflow with drawing utensils and various “fascinating” objects which had been collected throughout the day. At one point, the discovery that I could create a world with paint and canvas lead to the realization that art has always lived within me and that I was destined to share this with the world and make my impression.
Do you specialize in portraits or do you work on different commissions?
Though I am passionate about portrait painting, I have and will work on any custom art. I tend to pour my soul in whatever I do, so creating custom art that will make a deep impact on anyone viewing the art, is an important to me and a large part of what I do. All of my art must evoke some sort of experience in the emotional sense. Otherwise, I feel as though my work is not complete.
I had the privilege of first seeing your work via Twitter. Can you provide further insight on how you managed to develop a theme of patient portraits?
I feel that people make an impression on the world. Every crease, wrinkle, scar and expression, tells a story and reveals pieces of a unique journey. Eyes reflect all kinds of emotion, from love, joy, pain, passion, and in many cases more than we can ever fathom. For me, to tell a story is to create a portrait and capture every one of those details in that moment. Storytelling in a single moment in time. A moment that can appear to be only what you see on the surface, yet gives a glimpse into what lies beneath the surface. I want my art to inspire people to use their imagination to interpret a particular piece and its story.
It all began with a portrait of my mother who passed away of cancer. I used this as healing process for myself. I wanted to capture the inner light and positive outlook she most often carried. From there, my hope was to capture likeness in a deeper sense. Yes, likeness can be captured by the artist in the physical sense. One can take a photo of a person and create a version that looks just like the person on the outside, but how many are able to successfully capture the inner person as well? It is the little nuances that matter. A certain depth and twinkle in the eye, a slight turn of the mouth, an eyebrow raised slightly higher than the other.
I don’t wish to only go skin deep when painting people. Capturing the soul is what I strive for whether it be painting a portrait of someone who has passed or one that is still physically with us.
An impression of the soul and capturing that moment in time…the essence of a person.
Are there any charities or agencies you would like to work with to develop this project further?
I would love to work with any non-profit organizations which promote healing for those affected by cancer in some way, survivors, caregivers and family of those afflicted. Currently, I am looking to raise money larger organizations like Komen as well as smaller, community based non-profits. Since giving back is such a big part of what I am trying to do, for those who mention this interview when ordering any of my artwork, I will donate 25% of the proceeds to a charity such as Komen or one of their choosing.
Progress has been made in how the health sector uses art as part of the healing process. Do you have any ideas how this can be furthered?
I’m no doctor, but I believe that by raising awareness on how utilizing the arts can promote healing and can bring hope and joy to so many. There is so much focus on treatments in the physical sense, like chemo, radiation and nutrition, and exercise. What about the fine arts, music and dance? Even if it provides a creative distraction from whatever treatment a person is going through, I do believe our emotional health and personal fulfilment directly reflects our outlook and physical wellbeing. If someone can get lost in imagining the story behind a piece of my art, it’s certainly better than thinking about their battle with whatever illness or challenge they are facing. I believe anyone affected by any sort of physical challenge can be positively uplifted by creativity whether it is through their own, or experiencing and enjoying the creativity of others.
What other projects and activities should we look out for?
I’d like to further examine people. People affected by a variety circumstances, like homelessness, poverty, etc. Based on their story, I would paint them, striving to re-create the moment in time in which their story was told. Even if is a painting of a space with no people, this would reflect a specific experience or story told.
I wish Amber the very best for the future. For further info Amber can be contacted via the following links
The month has been quite a reflective one so far. I’ve spent most of it with relatives at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital, a hospital I’ve never been inside before. Of course, when visiting friends or relatives with health conditions, you focus on the most important things in life such as the people, relationships, the legacy you leave behind and the fulfilment of doing all you can whilst you can. We should remember some of the things we often take for granted someone else is praying for.
We remember those we meet along our travels, especially the ones that genuinely provide unconditional love for you, support your career unreservedly and appreciate your aspirations in life. Being in this reflective position once again only encourages me to focus on such people, my love for the arts and the necessity to continue enjoying, above anything else, the therapeutic fulfilment of being creative as and when I can.
Moreover, this week I’ve witnessed once again the power of music as an art form to stimulate patients and bridge communication. We cannot underestimate the power of the arts in general but particularly in hospitals. I’ve always been an advocate that everyone of us must seek and execute abilities to be creative in whichever discipline we lean towards. It is something every human soul needs because it provides therapeutic support and may combat the stresses of everyday life! I hope occupational health therapists will agree!
Always on the lookout for creative stimulation, one recent inspiration for me is Milstein OR#2 (114” x 152”), a marvellous painting by the artist Ellen Griesedieck. The work is displayed at the hospital and you can’t miss it as you approach the restaurant on the second floor. In appreciation to the skills of health professionals, the painting captures the teamwork required for the delivery of modern medicine and surgery. Unfortunately, this photograph doesn’t capture the size, scale and appropriate placing of the work but it is still is an eye catcher.
In summary, just put your life and the life of loved ones in perspective, pursue your dreams, no matter your current circumstances, find that creative therapeutic outlet and remember you are the architect of your life! Live it now, on your terms, because it’s not a rehearsal!
For well over ten years I’ve been working with architectural practices heavily involved in the delivery of public buildings. Equally, I’ve worked alongside visual artists working on community projects. Although I’ve witnessed a few collaborations between the professions, I do wonder why there hasn’t been more importance placed on developing such partnerships, particularly in designing schools and hospitals. One obvious answer is the need to reduce building costs. Limiting or completely removing arts budgets is common. This I guess is an economic answer but how different is art to architecture when they serve the same purpose in the public realm? Some of you may have heard me discuss this at length but I invited my guest blogger Livingstone Mukasa, Founder and CEO of Archibility, an online portal for the sourcing and outsourcing of architectural and design services, to provide an additional perspective on the importance of integrating art within the built environment.
Integrating art within the built environment.
Mankind’s instinctual desire to decorate habitants has been with us for as long as the need to have shelter. This creative process has, from time immemorial, given meaning to built spaces. Architecture, sculpture, and painting once belonged together. Indeed, they were admirably intertwined at various points in history—in the ancient cultures of East and West, and in the European Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. It is only during relatively recent times in human civilization that the separation of art and architecture has taken place.
When the architectural discipline began to align itself with the fields of science and technology, determined by functionality and rationalism, poetic, spiritual and humanising qualities were discarded as unnecessary. The modernist movement generally rejected everything that did not meet the demands of structural necessity or material functionalism. The idea that the building itself, through its shapes, relationship between solids and voids, became the art work, necessitating the elimination of any artistic expression applied to or incorporated into the building.
This lack of art in architecture contributed to the visual poverty and impersonality experienced in most 20th century cities around the world. The modernist trend helped create visual deficiencies of the environment in which we live. Particularly regrettable was the uninspiring appearances of school buildings, a misfortune still present today. Interest in art should be encouraged at an early age and a visually stimulating environment is of crucial importance in a place that serves the early development of personality and value systems.
Another contributor to the demise was economics. Buildings became real estate that often trades hands for money, as are paintings and sculptures. The rules of standardization began to apply, leaving little room for expressionism. Today, it is rare to find architecture, art, and sculpture united in any but the most tentative way.
The inability of mainstream modernist architecture to establish a more humanised environment gave rise to the postmodern movement. The eclecticism of this movement attempted to counter the alienating abstractness of modernist architecture — among others — by means of reintegrating imagery, ornament, colour and various visual art and craft practices into the architectural design.
An Awakening Emerges
But what started out as a powerful critique of the shortcomings of Modernism, quickly lapsed to the level of a fashionable style, more concerned with the production of a striking image that would enhance the building’s commercial value, than with the creation of artistic beauty and the celebration of poetic, subliminal qualities. These qualities — universally admired in the most magnificent structures of the past — have clearly become marginal pursuits in mainstream architectural production of the present.
Today, many urban environments are perceived to be alienating and even hostile, while most public buildings project an authoritative, inaccessible, or at times dehumanising image. Contemporary architecture benefits immensely from artistic content. The use of art helps create a humanising, scale-giving and psychologically benevolent factor. Also, the vast majority of people never see original paintings and sculpture in an art galleries or museums. This provides substantial reason to equip public buildings with art.
Given the architectural discipline’s established alignment with the `hard’ rather than the `soft’ sciences, and the absence of serious research and verifiable data about the effects of art on the users of buildings, the necessity of art is often given little consideration among clients, local authorities and even architects. The separation of art and architecture in mainstream architectural practice and training is moreover conspicuously out of touch with the recent shift towards more interdisciplinary teaching and research in most other academic fields. Art is no longer taught and not generally presumed to be an integral part of architecture — neither among architects, nor among the general public. Most often architects blame either the cost factor for the absence of art in their buildings, or the negative attitude of an unsympathetic client. Artistic adornment is perceived to be expensive and inessential.
A wide range of artistic embellishment, however, cannot only be achieved at very low cost, but its execution can also easily be performed by virtually untrained craftsmen. Costs for such projects are thus hardly excessive; they could be motivated for on the basis of job creation and skill’s development and built into the project budget for community engagement and training.
The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Centre
One outstanding example of this integration is The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Because hospitals are often accessed only during times of crisis, the design of the building and the integration of artworks specially created for the Bloomberg Children’s Center is integral to the mission of the institution, which seeks to bring comfort and healing to both the pediatric patient and their loved ones. The Bloomberg Children’s Center serve as a blueprint for other facilities interested in adopting a similar approach. Working together, the team from Johns Hopkins, the architecture firm of Perkins + Will, landscape architects from Olin, along with consulting architect Allen Kolkowitz, and art curator Nancy Rosen, worked together with over 70 artists to create a state-of-the-art medical facility and featuring more than 500 custom works of art. The project was a tremendous opportunity for this diverse professional to work collectively using their broad vocabulary to create something unique. The architects had to learn to allow the artists a certain freedom and integrity to express their art in the architectural space. And the artists had to learn how to incorporate elements into the architectural core that integrate rather than explode out. Working together, they all became parts of a complex chorus.
The Ever-Changing Language of the Colour Alphabet
The collaboration is clearly visible, even miles away. Covering almost the entire exterior of the building in a seamless bond is a massive and intricate multi-colored work of art by Spencer Finch. Each panel of the shadowbox-like work is made out of two layers of glass through which shines one of Finch’s color alphabet—a carefully distilled palette of 26 shades—with blue as the dominant color—inspired by Claude Monet’s Impressionist landscape paintings and Finch’s visits to Monet’s studio outside Paris. The result is a shimmering exterior that captures the light of the sky, allowing the building to change in sync with the environment, establishing it as a natural and inviting presence. While the glass and color accentuate the curves and dimples of the building, its transparency beckons the community.
The art and design of the Bloomberg Children’s Center also has practical functions. Spencer Finch’s palette for the building exterior is composed primarily of a range of blue tones. The presence of the colour blue is used throughout the interiors—in all of the elevator lobbies, along the patient floors, even on the walkway of the bridge that leads into the building, immediately letting visitors know that they are in the children’s section of the hospital or on a path towards it. There is a unique work of art in every one of the twelve elevator lobbies, each inspired by a different book. This idea of linking reading and healing continues throughout the building’s reception and waiting areas and along its main circulation routes. As patients and visitors navigate through the building, they will discover unique works of art that become memorable landmarks that help with way finding. Setting the Stage with Playful Sculptures The airy bi-level lobby and its four-story atrium reinforce the feeling of accessibility and openness that permeates the building. When considering how artworks could enliven these entry spaces, curator Rosen proposed reaching out to set designers. In the natural course of their activities, these magicians of the stage are experts at dealing with active, populated spaces, and are thoroughly accustomed to working collaboratively. Based on a series of enchanting concept sketches, stage and set designer Robert Israel was brought on board. Rather than just filling the space, Israel’s work transforms the area to continue the sense of delight sparked by the shimmering glass of the building’s exterior. Swimming above the broad stairway that connects the ground floor and the main level lobbies is a family of giant puffer fish. And suspended beyond the main level information desk is a flying cow with a nine-foot wingspan, heading towards a ring of the 28 phases of the moon. Just outside, a very colorful huge rhinoceros, with a baby rhino on its back, both built out of block-like cubes, stands at over 20 feet high at the entrance to the Bloomberg Children’s Center’s Emergency Department. The craggy, uneven pavement at its feet is evidence of its weighty stature and rootedness in the community. Israel did not get to see the final building before he designed the sculptures. He worked with architecture plans and models and tried to figure it out.
Every form of Architecture ought to be an Art
In many parts of the world, where the encouragement of more accessibility to art and the promotion of cultural self-expression have high priority, individuals from local communities are given the opportunity of getting involved and collaborating with the architect on the artistic embellishment of the new building in their midst. This is a scheme easily adapted. Themes for art works — be they murals, mosaics, relief works, or sculptures — can be generated in community meetings. Local narratives can provide specificity to broader and more general themes and issues, allowing the artwork to become a focal point of shared memories or aspirations. People thus become active producers of the building rather than passive consumers and the process of engagement may contribute to public responsibility, ownership, and the prevention of vandalism. Artistic decoration is also the easiest way of involving the future users of the building — who might be children — hands-on in shaping their own built environment. Art can describe a building’s function; it can imbue a space with a spiritual quality; it can visually enlarge a space by creating an illusion; it can confer status; it can demonstrate wealth; it can convert a neutral space into one suited for a particular ritual; it can ascertain claims about a building’s owner or users; it can establish links between cultures or attempt to recover values of the past; in short: art plays a vital role in shaping a building’s identity.
Architecture is not the making of an exquisite object for the select few, but has a much broader function in society. Human beings have a fundamental need to experience their existence as meaningful. In this context the ability to identify with one’s environment — be it natural or built environment — provides a sense of belonging. Architecture often falls short of providing this sense of belonging, of truly capturing the genius loci. Art can play an important role in this regard, because it is more accessible and can be experienced on a more immediate, emotional level, thus allowing people to relate to a building through art. Art must once again be understood to be an integral part of architecture, as it always has been until fairly recently. Only when architectural students are taught that art is part of architecture just as plumbing or wall finishes or landscaping, will budgets be established accordingly and architects will not be forced to `hide’ costs for murals under the codes for paint or landscaping. The general public, from which clients emerge, can hardly be expected to revise their established understanding of architecture if professional architects themselves do not understand the integral unity of art and architecture. The challenge lies with the educational institutions to revise their curricula and reappraise the role of architecture and the role of the architect in society.
LeCorbusier, the famed modernist architect who represented a movement to integrate art and architecture once said: “You employ stone, wood, and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces: that is construction. Ingenuity is at work. But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good. I am happy and I say: ‘This is beautiful.’ That is Architecture. Art enters in…”
All architecture has the potential to reach that state. And any architect, planner, or designer working in collaboration with the owners or the public, can do what Corbu is describing.
Touching base with you all. Paintings in Hospitals, a registered charity using art and creativity to reduce sickness, anxiety and stress in UK healthcare facilities, presents an evening lecture by British art historian Dr Richard Cork. Richard Cork discusses his new publication, which takes a detailed look at the extraordinary richness of art in hospitals and its ability to alleviate clinical bleakness and leave a profound, lasting impression on patients, staff and visitors.
The event takes place at the Henry Wellcome Auditorium, Wellcome Collection Conference Centre, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE this Tuesday 19 June 2012 from 6.30 – 7.30 pm. The lecture will be followed by a book signing and question & answer session. The event is free but there is a suggested donation to Painting in Hospitals of £10. If you are around and interested in the therapeutic benefits of art in public places I’m sure you’ll have a good evening.