Moments of Awe
Beauty in imperfect materials, in nature & how to capture everything
When June Martin sits down at her table to create art, she works with parts that are smaller than Abraham Lincoln’s head on a penny. On the other hand, Gary Grossman is dwarfed by standing in his art and most likely spent a few hours in his car getting there. Gary is a landscape and wildlife photographer. June specializes in micro-mosaic art, applying its techniques to create distinctive earrings, bracelets, pendants and rings.
When everything comes together
“I have always been a keen observer and deeply affected by the environment around me,” explains Gary. “Being in the presence of a wild animal or a great landscape when the light is right is awesome and life-affirming and fulfilling. I am trying to capture that both for myself and hopefully to share with others.” It’s a moment of awe when “the elements come together: Subject, composition, light. When all of it comes together like tumblers in a lock.”
“I look for ease and harmony,” says June. “If I can fit things together that way, that is great. I learned that if I can’t, if I torture it, it just doesn’t look good.” If people walk away from her art with a sense of being pleased, if they admire the colors and texture and have an appreciation for detail, then she knows she has achieved that harmony. Her goal is to help people “see the art in it” and not “just pieces thrown together.”
Gary strives to get people to “feel inspired about the natural beauty of the earth, and the animals and creatures in it, and to work to protect and conserve it.” For him, art is a celebration of the natural world and human beauty. Either in the world outside of us or within, art is life. June adds that “art feeds me. It is my calling; it feeds my soul.” She feels very lucky to be able to live off her art and works tirelessly to have enough pieces for the various galleries that display her jewelry, and for the Saturday Market, where she is a regular.
For Gary, art isn’t what pays the bills. With now-grown children, he finds that he has finally more time for photography, but still it is something that is mostly relegated to a weekend. “Now ... I am finally able to give in to what is clearly an ongoing need. I need to be out in nature exploring,” he explains.
Becoming an artist
Gary grew up in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. He spent a lot of his adolescence outdoors, first trout fishing and then more and more taking pictures. When his work was shown in college newspapers, “it became a lifelong hobby.” He continued taking pictures and hanging the work in his house for friends and guests to see. What surprised and motivated him was the fact that people liked it, some even inquired how to purchase his photographs. “I got the idea that what I do could have broader appeal than just for my own personal pleasure.”
On a trip to Bangladesh, he took pictures and the West Linn Tidings wrote a story about it. That led to an exhibition in the West Linn library. Eventually, he noticed Alberta Street Gallery and applied to join the cooperative. “It’s very fulfilling to share my work with others and see them appreciate it.” Even so, he is not sure about the moniker artist. “I am a translator of natural beauty on to the printed form.” And, as Gary points out, “photography has a long-running debate about whether it is a craft or art.”
June has always had something to do with art but was also pushed to learn a profession that would allow her to make a living. Looking at her success, one wouldn’t think it was a roundabout way that led her to where she is today. Initially, she learned shorthand and how to type to be able to support herself as a secretary if needed. She worked in the design department of a retail clothing store and more recently finished an education as a therapist.
“When I was a kid, I used to say that art is how I would earn my living. It just didn’t happen right away.” For June, the moment she realized that she was an artist happened only four years ago. “I always had to do something artistic but then only recently took it very seriously,” she says.
“Everything shifted once I realized that I wanted to do art every day. Things happened to me in a sense that my work started to support my ability to do art. I didn’t have to have another job to support me. Now that my art is self-supporting, it just makes it easier to be more creative because I can focus. It has taken on a life of its own.” For that, she is “thankful and humbled.”
Looking at June’s art, one can see the influence of the landscape and colors of the Southwestern United States, Costa Rica and Mexico. “The colors and textures, and the light is different in those places.” She is influenced by Mark Rothko, Frank Lloyd Wright, Wassily Kandinsky and German expressionism. Sometimes, people trace elements of color and structure from these sources to her jewelry and mention it to her. “That makes me very happy.”
Before all else, Gaudi and his work in Barcelona was a great inspiration. So much so, that she went on an impromptu trip to the city and spent a month very carefully studying everything. “Back in the US, I wanted to learn how to do mosaic and so I took classes.” While initially she did larger mosaics, she soon had the idea to combine micro-mosaic techniques with jewelry making. “A modern twist on an art form that has been around for hundreds of years, but mostly depicted floral designs and landscapes.”
Looking at Gary’s landscape photography, the influence of Ansel Adams is visible. Although Gary also worked in black and white at one point, he is now “addicted to color.” “The world is colorful. The more color the better, as long as it is realistic.” Realism is also what he strives for in his art. He explains that he loves the creative process, finding and memorializing that special moment. And, he seems to have a great sense for it too. “I usually know at the moment of capture. There are these serendipitous moments when a scene presents itself, when fog lifts or settles. Something that wasn’t there before suddenly appears. Sometimes something is fleeting. Capturing that moment is a feeling of elation.” He says he almost always knows that this is going to be great shot. Adding, “I live for those moments!”
You might encounter Gary and his Canon 7D Mark II in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge about an hour north of Portland. He also loves Bandon, Oregon, for its scenic beauty, Yellowstone for wildlife and landscape and the Zumwalt prairie in Eastern Oregon. “It’s beautiful high country with great vistas and, by the way, the largest population of breeding raptors in North America.”
June gets materials for her art from a variety of sources. “My tile I get predominantly from Morocco and I love, love, love it. She also uses specialty glasses from Italy (i.e. Millefiori and Filati). She explains that the Moroccan tiles come cut to her but that she has to cut them down further or shape them. “Pieces are sometimes only 3mm long and so I am sitting there with rubbing stone or rotary nippers that cut tile and glass, making everything even smaller.” She says that she has the most fun “when I find color compositions that I haven't done before. Trying and playing is great.” While she is getting her pieces cast mostly to keep costs down, she fashions all her own ear wires and jump rings. She adds, “My main focus in on the actual mosaic.”
Looking back and forward
June realizes that it took a windy path to get here. “In retrospect,” she adds, “I would have liked a more direct path, but didn’t believe in myself enough. So [if you are an artist starting out] believe in yourself and just do everything you can if that is really your goal to make it happen. And also build a community, enjoy the community and surround yourself with people who are making it happen in your life.” After some reflection she adds, “Do all that without starving.''
As mentioned before, Gary had to wait for a point in his life to be able to devote serious time and effort to his photography. His advice to budding artists is to “Stay the course,” and “Keep working at your craft.” “Don't let the idiots get you down.” He also puts value on views from the community: “There is nothing quite like feedback from other artists and the public.” Other than in galleries, he also frequents online communities like Flickr, Instagram and 500px to look at the work of others and get inspired.