Delighted to be featured in the "front & center" section of the Sunday paper. Below are some excerpts. Here is a link to the full article "Canadian Artist Finds Inspiration in Arkansas".
Photos by William Harvey
Story by Tammy Keith
Sunday, January 21, 2018
“I am unusual in that I move between mediums a lot. I have one I’m usually in love with, but it shifts. Right now, I’m really interested in paper,” she said. “I’m super interested in cotton.”
The Canadian has lived in Arkansas since 2011 and loves her rural life; it’s why she came to Arkansas. She grows 30 to 40 brown Nankeen cotton plants on her eco farm, Wildland Gardens. She also uses the stalks of some of the flowers she grows to make paper. “Daylilies make great paper — not the actual flowers, just the leaves,” she said.
The recipe to make paper includes boiling the grass for hours outside in big pots, which she said reminds her of a witch standing over a cauldron. The mixture is strained and blended. “It becomes like a really gross garden smoothie,” she said, laughing.
The rest of the long process is so time-consuming that even she says, “it’s silly.” But it’s so satisfying.
“I think it’s important because we’re interested in localism now. … How do we connect to a place? It’s incredibly local to make your own paper,” Cowper-Smith said.
“So often now, we feel alienated from our things. We order on Amazon; things are made in China,” she said. “A lot of people are seeking a deeper connection to the materials in their lives and the products in their lives.”
Cowper-Smith said that although she won awards for art in high school, she first took science and math courses in college, planning to become a biologist. “I just didn’t realize art could be a serious thing to study,” she said. “I thought science was more worthwhile, so I didn’t study art. It seemed like a hobby.” However, she met serious artists at the University of Victoria, and she switched her major after a year.
“I belong with artists; I always have,” she said. “I like the way they think.”
In 2013, Cowper-Smith founded an all-female artists group in Arkansas called the Show & Tell Art Collective, now called Culture Shock. Although Cowper-Smith didn’t experience a huge culture shock in Arkansas, most of the nine or 10 women in the group are transplants to Arkansas, thus the name, she said. The women all have master’s degrees in art and are “currently making a body of art,” she said. They hold critiques and exhibit their work.
Cowper-Smith’s work was selected for the 31st annual Small Works on Paper touring exhibition at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, where it is on display through Saturday. The free exhibit is sponsored by the Arkansas Arts Council. Her piece selected is a pigment print titled Convention Fire on her handmade paper. “It’s a mix of lilies and cotton,” she said. “I made that paper while I was at Penland. “This work depicts a burnt-out version of the derelict convention center at Meadow Creek in Fox. It was an important meeting place for people concerned with the environment and global climate change in the 1980s-1990s.”
Cowper-Smith said her work is ever-changing. “I’ve always loved drawing,” she said. But pigment paper is getting her attention now. She creates it by taking digital photographs, which she uses to make paintings, “not directly from them, but parts of them, mixed up,” she said. She scans the paintings and uses Photoshop software to blend them together, something she has done for “years and years.” She also makes videos of the work using the “layers” of the Photoshop program, she said. “I make animations, a form of digital stop-motion animation, and prints,” she said. “When I have a show, I will have a projection of the video, and usually it’s the same scene.”
Cowper-Smith enjoys depicting scenes of nature through her pigment prints. Not long after her family moved to Arkansas, a deadly tornado tore through Vilonia and Mayflower. “That was new to me,” she said. “I started thinking about natural disasters. I started thinking a lot about how you can love the beauty of the landscape but also have this fear of it, and how it can almost betray you. It can take your life and destroy your stuff.”
She said Arkansas has been a good place to create art; it’s a constant inspiration.
"Now in its 31th year, Small Works on Paper is a juried visual art exhibition that showcases artwork no larger than 18 x 24 inches by Arkansas artists who are members of the Arkansas Artist Registry. The Arkansas Artist Registry is an online gallery showcasing the artwork of Arkansas artists. Membership to the Arkansas Artist Registry is free and open to all Arkansas artists.
The Small Works on Paper exhibition travels to 10 venues throughout the state in a yearlong show, offering Arkansas artists an extraordinary opportunity to showcase their artwork to patrons all over the state. This year’s entries were juried by James Phillips, an associate professor in the Department of Arts at Howard University in Washington, D.C." - Arkansas Arts Council
This year a piece titled “Convention Fire” was selected. This work depicts a burnt out version of the derelict convention center at Meadow Creek. Meadow Creek, located in Fox Ar, was an important meeting place for people concerned with the environment and global climate change in the 1980-1990s. This print is part of my most recent series “Traces Remain”.
This is my second time participating in the small works show. My work “Fire Start” was selected in 2016. It’s an honor to be included in a group show that is so widely viewed around the state
The exhibition will travel around the state to the following venues:
January 4-27 Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Little Rock
February 5-23 Harding University, Searcy
March 5-16 Arkansas Tech University, Russellville
April 2-30 Community Creative Center, Fayetteville
May 3-29 University of Arkansas Rich Mountain, Mena
June 4-July 13 The Arts Center of the Grand Prairie, Stuttgart
August 2-28 Henderson State University, Arkadelphia
Oct. 2-27 Batesville Area Arts Council (Gallery on Main)
Nov. 2-29 DeltaARTS and Arkansas State University Mid-South, West Memphis
This years artists include:
Lloyd L. Litsey, Little Rock
Jason McCann, Maumelle
Glenda L. McCune, Little Rock
Cheryl N. McMickle, Marianna
David McRoberts, Sherwood
Emily Renay Moore, Conway
Michael Preble, Hot Springs
Lynn Reinbolt, Searcy
Charlotte Rierson, Fairfield Bay
Jane Rockwell, North Little Rock
Steven B. Schneider, Fayetteville
Robert R. Simmons, Little Rock
Mitchell Skinner, Grady
Leslie Toler, Little Rock
Neilann Brown Verdell, Sherwood
Elizabeth Weber, Little Rock
Steven Wise, Rogers
Emily Moll Wood, Little Rock
Kathy Bay, Sherwood
Lynn Bell, Little Rock
Maria Botti-Villegas, El Dorado
Lyn Brands, Conway
Michael S. Church, North Little Rock
Brian Cormack, Little Rock
Melissa Cowper-Smith, Morrilton
Kristin DeGeorge, Hot Springs
Rex DeLoney, Little Rock
Terry Lynn Dushan, Fayetteville
Melissa Foster, Conway
Bryan Frazier, Little Rock
B. Jeannie Fry, Cabot
Elissa Gordon, Mountain Home
Diane Harper, Little Rock
Marion A. Hotz, Russellville
J. Kathleen Keefe, Little Rock
“Shelter-in-Place” is a group exhibition of sculptural installations by Culture Shock Arkansas Art Collective. The exhibition seeks to explore physical or mental spaces where one could dwell or find shelter or refuge. Each participating artist took their own approach in responding to the exhibition theme. Participating artists include Melissa Cowper-Smith, Melissa Gill, Sofia Gonzalez, Louise Halsey, Tammy Harrington, Dawn Holder, Holly Laws, Sandra Luckett, and Rachel Trusty. Not all Cultural Shock members are participating in this exhibition.
“Shelter-in-Place” will be on exhibition in the gallery at the main branch of the William F. Laman Library in North Little Rock, Ar from Sept. 11th, 2017 through Oct. 27th, 2017 . The opening reception will be held in conjunction with the Argenta Art Walk on Friday Sept. 15th from 6 - 8 pm.
Culture Shock Arkansas is a diverse group of women artists working in Arkansas. The Culture Shock Art Collective was founded in 2013. With an awareness that male artists continue to have greater opportunity and exposure, the Collective is committed to expanding the networking and exhibition opportunities for women artists in Arkansas. Other members of Culture Shock include artists Melissa Wilkinson and Jessica Mongeon.
For more information about Culture Shock Arkansas including member information or other events, please visit the Culture Shock Arkansas Facebook Page.
For this show, I've made a new work titled "Unremember". "Unremember" is a cuboid black box covered in three large sheets of paper made from summer dresses and plant fibers. (Imagine Tony Smith minimalism with Robert Rauschenberg gestural assemblage) Looking through a small peep hole on the short front side of the box, you can see a video projected within.
These two works from Traces Remain have been added to the permanent collection of the Historic Arkansas Museum
Curator, Carey Voss, writes
"Melissa Cowper-Smith is enamored with memory, with forgetting, with the fleeting nature of everything around us. Her recent work is filled with markers of anxiety: abandoned building projects, roads made impassable by fire, domestic spaces empty of inhabitants, a sense of urgency and constant movement. Bright, saturated hues reminiscent of Color Field painting and sinuous gestural marks may initially turn the viewer’s attention toward surface and form, but delve deeper into the layers of atmospheric space created by collaging photographs digitally, and the work as a whole pushes toward an exploration of content. Melissa’s multimedia art is trapped between worlds: the past and its love of analog processes and handwork, and the present/future with its preference for the slick digital surfaces of high-definition photography and video. Cowper-Smith’s 2D pieces begin as acrylic paintings collaged with photographs and manipulated using specialized computer software. The resulting images are then pigment-printed onto paper made by hand from cotton and other plant fibers grown at Wildland Gardens, Melissa’s eco-farm. Each still image, each print, represents only a single moment in Cowper-Smith’s stop-action videos, multimedia projections that play with the representation of time’s passage and the ephemeral quality of memory. Melissa Cowper-Smith grew up in Canada where she received a BFA in painting from the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Later, she received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Hunter College in New York City. Melissa and her husband moved to Morrilton, Arkansas in 2011."
Press Release from Henderson State University:
Henderson State University’s Russell Fine Arts Gallery will host the works of 32 female artists from across the nation March 1-31.
The exhibition, entitled Nasty Woman, celebrates the female voice in art. It will be held in conjunction with women’s history month and will open with a reception March 1 from 2-4 p.m. The public is invited.
Nasty Woman explores topics dealing with the woman’s perspective, from reflection on historic female figures, to contemporary issues surrounding the female body, the political climate, and varied iterations of the experience of being a 21stCentury woman.
The title of the show stems from recent events plastered throughout the media. While it was first mentioned in a derogatory context, it has become a uniting force among women across the globe. For many, it represents strength, unity, and the ability to use one’s voice to be heard. The participating artists interpret their reactions through a dynamic use of photography, printmaking, painting, sculpture, and video pieces.
The gallery is located on the first floor of the Russell Fine Arts Building. It is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Admission is free.
The artists included in the show are Zina Al-Shukri, Heather Beckwith, Darcie Beeman-Black, Megan Berner, Cynthia Buob, Beverly Buys, Melissa Cowper-Smith, Norwood Creech, Nancy Dunaway, Margo Duvall, Melissa Gill, Mia Hall, Diane Harper, Tammy Harrington, Heidi Hogden, Robyn Horn, Erin House, Jeanie Hursley, Catherine Kim, Kimberly Kwee, Joli Livaudais, Angie Macri, Hannah May, Rosemary Meza-DesPlas, Catherine Nugent, Emily Rogers, Dina Santos, Kasten Searles, Katherine Strause, Brittany Wilder, Kat Wilson, and Miranda Young.
I spent two weeks learning about handmade paper from Mary Hark at the Penland School of Crafts. Filled with gratitude to have been awarded a Horn Scholarship to cover all tuition, accommodations, and meals giving me the opportunity to concentrate fully on making paper.
The Topography of Handmade Paper
Soft and airy or tough and bark-like, paper can carry a smooth-as-glass surface or become a field of lush texture. This workshop will begin with a thorough investigation into paper-making fibers and traditional tools. Production of high-quality papers suitable for use in books, printmaking, and sculptural forms will lead to a personal exploration of surface, texture, color, and the use of natural dyes. Each person will find ways to fuse the materials that address their own aesthetic concerns.
Butler Center, Concordia Hall
APRIL 8TH - AUGUST 27TH 2016
OPENING FRIDAY, APRIL 8TH 5-8 PM
GALLERY HOURS: MONDAY-SATURDAY: 9 A.M.- 6 P.M.
Here are some of my thoughts after a day spent installing the show:
I very much believe in the all-female critique group as a conducive environment to support an individuals art practice. I have noticed how members become more confident about their work. Having other people take the time to create dialog, to interpret, and to look deeply at your work is very important for an artist. Too often artists work in isolation, without really knowing what their audience thinks of their work. A viewer in a gallery setting might be quick to say nice things, but a deeper conversation which includes criticism or difficult concepts is often not possible. Within the safety of the collective, we have the opportunity to really push each other to make the best work we possibly can. We still live in a culture where it's almost impossible for women to be seen as creative equals to their male contemporaries. The narrative of the brilliant male artist continues to make it more difficult for women artists to receive exhibitions, opportunities, employment, critical press, etc. (Just look at the stats of the Delta Exhibition over the years- mostly men. And you know, it's mostly women graduating with MFAs....)
I am part of the collective because I truly believe in the power of women artists to make brilliant work. This show is proof of that. I want to support these amazing people. To share in their success and walk with them through their failures. I feel deep gratitude for each of these women. For the time they take to drive for our meetings. For the investment they are making in the arts. For our shared struggle to make deeply felt, skilled, inspiring, and culture shaping art works.
Culture Shock is a multi-disciplinary collective of Arkansas artists committed to exploring significant contemporary issues through the use of varied artistic practice to engage each other and the public. Artists featured in this exhibition include Melissa Cowper-Smith, Melissa Gill, Tammy Harrington, Dawn Holder, Jessie Hornbrook, Holly Laws, Sandra Luckett, Morgan Page, and Rachel Trusty.
Honored to be included in the second exhibition of this inspiring thematic group show curated by Matthew Lopas.
Painting 360°: A Look at Contemporary Panoramic Painting
This exhibition features works in a variety of media by artists who explore the possibilities of looking at the world beyond the edges of a viewfinder as they create images on curved surfaces.
Artists whose work is featured in Painting 360° include Marcia Clark, Nicholas Evans-Cato, Christopher Evans, Amer Kobaslija, Jackie Lima, Matthew Lopas, Carrie O'Coyle, Dick Termes, and Melissa Cowper Smith.
Butler Center Galleries
February 12 - April 30, 2016
Reception for First Friday Art Walk
February 12, 5 – 8pm
401 President Clinton Ave.
Little Rock, AR 72201
Monday-Saturday: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
"Now in its 29th year, Small Works on Paper is a juried visual art exhibition that showcases artwork no larger than 18 x 24 inches by Arkansas artists who are members of the Arkansas Artist Registry.The Arkansas Artist Registry is an online gallery showcasing the artwork of Arkansas artists. Membership to the Arkansas Artist Registry is free and open to all Arkansas artists." -- Arkansas Arts Council
2016 Touring Schedule
The Exhibition will tour the state through different venues all year.
January 5-29 Batesville Area Arts Council
Feb. 4-26 Hendrix College, Conway
March 4-30 Arkansas Tech University, Russellville
April 1-30 University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
May 6-27 University of Arkansas, Fort Smith
June 4 - July 9 Searcy Art Gallery
July 19 - August 27 Delta Cultural Center, Helena
Sept. 1-29 Art Center of the Grand Prairie, Stuttgart
Oct. 6-26 University of Arkansas, Monticello
Nov. 2-28 University of Arkansas, Hope
This was the first time I have applied to be in the small works on paper show. I am thrilled to have been selected. 2015 was great year for me showing in Arkansas. I had a solo show, titled Fleeting Gardens at the Batesville Area Arts Council Gallery in March (2015). In the past year my work was selected for the Delta and the Art of the South (Memphis). I hope to carry this momentum into 2016. In addition to having a work in the small works on paper show, my critique group, Culture Shock will have a show at the Butler Center Concordia Gallery from April-August 2016. Press about the show in the River Valley & Ozark edition Arkansas Online.
"Fire Start" is printed on homegrown, harvested, and hand-prepared Nankeen Cotton paper. I grew the cotton on my eco-farm, Wildland Gardens. The image is printed digitally using HP Vivera pigment-based inks. The imagery in "Fire Start" originates in both painting and photography. The print represents a forest edge and vast desert. In the forest a small fire has started. The work comments on the monumental environmental changes caused by removing and burning trees. The loss of trees results in top soil erosion, greater daily temperature changes, and an increased likelihood of drought and flood. I seek to capture our environmental anxiety- the feeling of dynamic changes in the land and our memories of natural places.
Participating Artists - Marcia Clark, Christopher Evans, Nicholas Evans-Cato, Jackie Lima, Matthew Lopas, Amer Kobaslija, Melissa Cowper Smith, Dick Termes, Carrie O’Coyle, and Sanford Wurmfeld In this show contemporary artists work with the possibilities of looking at the world beyond the edges of a viewfinder. Their processes require each artist to turn their head as they make their image. The level and plumb pictures we are so accustomed to give way images that are either on a curved surface, or have curves and turns incorporated into them. Location: Art A LobbyDates: September 7th to October 30th, 2015 Reception: Thursday September 7th from 5:00 to 6:00pmGallery Talk: Matthew Lopas, Thursday September 7th from 5:30 to 6:00pmPublic Gallery Hours: 3:30 – 5:30 Monday to Friday
My work will be part of this group exhibition, now open at Hyde Galleries in Memphis. The reception is this Friday evening. I will be there! Hope to see some of you!
From Juror Wayne White:
I was recently asked to look at the work of 166 talented artists and pick 40 for a show. The results? 126 disgruntled artists muttering “What does he know?” And they’re right! What do I know? Please keep that attitude, my fellow artists. You have many victories ahead. As for the rest of you, please savor. This is a wonderful show. Inspire each other, secretly know you’re the best one and keep trudging out to that studio every day. I’m very happy to see such a perfect storm of creativity roaring across the South.
Art of the South 2015
Opening Reception, May 29 Trolley Night
May 20 – July 31, 2015
Memphis College of Art
477 South Main
Solo Show March 9- April 25, 2015 at the BAAC Gallery in Batesville Arkansas. Artist talk on March 20th at 6 pm. The show includes 18 new prints on cotton paper and two video works. Click here for photos of the reception.
I would like to thank all the Arkansas farmers who let me tromp around their fields, climb fences, step through their greenhouses, and distract them during the height of their July 2014 growing season. I appreciate you!
Dripping Spring Garden, Huntsville,
Cedar Rock Ridge, Conway,
Laughing Stock Farm, Sheridan
Green Acres, Atkins
Little Rock Urban Farming, Little Rock
Rattle's Garden, Vilonia
Dawn Holder (artist and window sill gardener), Clarksville
Show & Tell Art Collective, January-February 2015, Stephens Gallery, University of the Ozarks, Clarskville AR
The first group exhibition, August 18 - September 19, Kresge Gallery, Lyon College. Show & Tell Art Collective members Dawn Holder, Melissa Gill, Tammy Harrington, Holly Laws, and Morgan Page.
Quote from the Bronx Art Exhange Blog Review of Looking In/Looking Out at The Bronx Art Space, November 2013
"Another stand out piece is Melissa Cowper-Smith’s, Arkansas Landscape a digital animation involving layering and freeze frame techniques to render a mélange of imagery that is transparently layered over one another... The layered and disappearing landscapes with setting suns, ethereal clouds, trees, snow, mountains—all appearing and then fading away evoke a powerful melancholy of longing and nostalgia."
Full page commentary and image in Arkansas Life Magazine, August 2013