Committing to one piece of artwork a day is a challenge for any artist. Knowing those pieces are going to end up in a gallery exhibit at the end of the month was just a bit more daunting for 200 Main Gallery co-owners Jody Balow and Jo Ellen Burke.
Completing 30 8-by-8 inch canvases each day of November started as a half-formed idea and grew into a challenge to prove themselves.
“It was an eye-opener to how committed you really have to be,” Balow said. “You’re forced to accept your limitations because tomorrow you have to start another piece. That’s what we said from day one: No matter what we came up with, it was going in the show.”
All 60 of those pieces are now hanging as part of 200 Main Gallery’s newest exhibit “A Month of 8x8,” which runs today through Dec. 23. An opening reception will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. today at the gallery.
This is the first time the two are showing their own work at the gallery instead of visiting artists since they opened a little more than a year ago.
Approaching the task was daunting, though each woman said she did so differently.
For Burke, she drew on inspiration that came to her each day.
“It was a question of how was I inspired that day?” She said. “What affected me, what did I do that day that was profound in my life? A lot of it is a reflection of this month.”
With that idea, the two agreed to display this exhibit as two large wall calendars, with each woman having her wall for the month. Burke and Balow both placed their 30 canvases inside squares they sketched in pencil representing a calendar.
“We presented it in a way that is loose, sketchy and spontaneous,” Balow said. “It’s a nontraditional way we feel enhances the art. Plus, it’s exactly who we both are.”
They are selling their canvases for $50 each, and 10 percent of the proceeds of each painting will go toward Family Support Center in Chippewa Falls.
Neither Burke nor Balow confined themselves to any process, using the 8x8 canvas as the only parameter of the project. Each used a variety of mediums, everything from painting to fabric work and drawing.
Exploring those processes was Balow’s motivation each day. She found herself transfixed with transferring photos onto a canvas, but also dabbled in a form of art she hadn’t pursued in several years.
“In my studio I have printmaking, painting, pencil, and as I looked around I wanted to use this, this and this,” Balow said. “Watercolor I haven’t touched since college, and I did one watercolor painting. That felt good.”
As gallery owners, the two women don’t spend a lot of time creating their own art. This was a reminder to Balow of what it means to be a working artist.
“That was the biggest thing for me, training in that,” she said. “It’s a job, and if you want to advance, you have to put those hours in.”
It also allowed them freedom to create, which Burke said turned out to be a sort of therapy.
As the month of November wore on she found herself drawing from her days as an art teacher.
“I was so inspired by artwork kids produced,” she said. “It really does teach you to be spontaneous, to explore and be bold about what you do.”
The project also taught them about acceptance, both women agreed. No matter what happened, at the end of the day the piece had to be done.
Burke said she found herself more inspired when she was creating for herself.
“Not only was it a confidence builder, but it is about really learning to accept what you're doing and not constantly worry about how it will appeal to others,” she said. “That's what can drive a lot of artists, commercially and otherwise.”
The final day’s canvas for each woman is an overexposed photo of themselves, which Burke said symbolizes how they feel about this project.
It is them putting them out in the world as artists, and she hopes in some way that’s what viewers think about when looking at the exhibit.
“Rather than gallery owners, maybe they see us as artists and that we took a chance and exposed ourselves,” Burke said.
More than that, though, Balow added it was a great exercise to explore who each of them are as artists.
“We exposed ourselves to ourselves, too,” Balow said. “It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done as far as self awareness.”
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