October 3, 2000
by J. Green
The guest cover artist for this issue is Wanda Sullivan of Mobile. Wanda Sullivan is a busy lady. Not only is she a full-time artist, producing primarily oil paintings and occasionally drawings, she is also full-time director of the Eichold Gallery at Spring Hill College, and teaches painting and drawing part-time. In addition, she is involved in visual-arts portions of First Night Mobile, and is a regular contributor and consultant on visual arts to Southern Cities magazine.
Sullivan has lived in Mobile most of her life, and the "lush tropical gardens" of Mobile have crept into her work, as they creep into everything in the culture. She says that more and more in recent years, as she goes from painting to tending the flower gardens that she loves, she has come to see the two as variations on the same thing. She says that she sees "definite parallels between the two-dimensional organization of my paintings and the shapes and color combinations I carve out in my flowerbeds." In a larger sense, Sullivan says that the paintings she does now are all landscapes. Her large, brightly colored canvasses are certainly not representational images, and it is unlikely that anyone looking at them would see them as such, but to Sullivan's eyes, each of her paintings is her response to the "atmospheric essence" of an outdoor space. "I see my paintings," she says, "as conglomerations of weather, light, color, and texture [that] I endeavor to dissolve...into an abstract pictorial space that becomes a personal celebration of the land."
In her Gallery-Director hat, Sullivan mounts four to six professional shows a year, plus student shows to display the work of Spring Hill College art students, most of whom are also her students. Managing the gallery, she says, involves juggling three objectives: providing a space for student work, providing a space for local artists to show their work to the community, and bringing in current work by important artists from outside the area that Mobile residents might otherwise not have a chance to see. The next show in the gallery, for example, will feature recent works by New Orleans artist (but Mobile native) Raine Bedsole. She also looks forward to bringing in some installations to the gallery, something that is rarely done in Mobile. One of the few opportunities for Mobilians to see art installations, in fact, is the First Night visual-art projects -- which Sullivan has also been involved in for the past few years. The hugely successful orbs featured the last two years were her concept, and she has organized a same-but-different project for this year: It is the same in the sense that more than twenty local artists are creating variations on a single theme, and different in the sense that the form is not orbs but....wait and see for yourself New Year's Eve.
The other hat that Sullivan has worn for more than ten years is teacher, at all three local four-year colleges, and it is another part of her life that she is passionate about. Sullivan contends that pretty much anyone can be taught to draw, just as all students are taught to write. There are certain rules and techniques that can be learned, then the basic techniques can be improved with practice. After learning a few basic techniques, however, an artist must learn how to surrender control of their media and let their individual style find them, rather than imposing themselves on the media. Sullivan says that is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding part of teaching art. In her own work, she says that she is at the mercy of the paint itself, doing whatever it wants her to do, and that her best work emerges from the paint almost on its own, with her as simply the instrument of the paint, rather than the other way around. Writers and composers often express the creative process in the same way, but that abandonment is a very difficult thing to teach young artists. Sullivan says that students must not be afraid to produce bad art, because only by creating bad art can the artist learn to become an instrument capable of discovering true art.
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