Wednesday, Jun 26 2013 10:19 AM

Eye Gallery Chapter One: Linda Hyatt starts our story

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    Eye Gallery artist Linda Hyatt, whose mixed-media work appears at left, is an art teacher at Stockdale High School.

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    Linda Hyatt's piece for Eye Gallery.

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BY JENNIFER SELF Californian lifestyles editor jself@bakersfield.com

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the works in this year's Eye Gallery art series are worth a hundred, max.

But that's no judgment on the quality of the work itself. It has more to do with an interesting twist we've introduced to the annual series, begun in partnership with the Bakersfield Museum of Art six years ago:

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Claire Putney of the Bakersfield Museum of Art set out to freshen up Eye Gallery this year by introducing another element: a story, both in images and words, told by our 10 participating artists. Putney explained the inspiration for the project and the spirit behind it in an email Q&A with The Californian:

Tell us about the new storytelling element of Eye Gallery this year:

Although much of our time as artists is spent creating bodies of work that we will show independently, we depend on a community to engage with and support our endeavors. This year's Eye Gallery exhibition is a visual narrative collaboration between our 10 contributing artists. It celebrates the creativity and style of each artist through their individual artworks, while engaging in a community effort toward a greater goal. In the end, we have one collaborative work of art that can be examined as a whole, as well as admired for the beauty of each individual page.

Where did you get the idea?

I was involved in a similar project in San Diego back in 2002, working with 33 local artists. It was an amazing experience to meet and be inspired by so many people within that community whom I had never met before. When I returned to Bakersfield in 2009, this project seemed the best way to re-engage with the arts community here, so I organized and curated Weston and Emmaline: The Pumpjack Prophecy, which exhibited at Surface Gallery in 2010. While brainstorming themes for the upcoming Eye Gallery exhibit, (BMoA curator) Vikki (Cruz) and I thought this approach might be a fresh way to bring a cohesive voice to the exhibit this year.

Do you feel, having seen all the completed work, that the story is interesting and self-contained? Were you surprised at the direction it took?

The greatest challenge in watching this story evolve piece by piece is to not project one's own desires and expectations into the process, but that is the beauty of it as well ... letting loose the reigns and letting the artists do what they do best -- respond and create. It is an interesting story due to its diverse range of contributing voices and artistic approaches, yet it remains cohesive through written narrative and character development.

We asked 10 artists to create short "chapters" -- in words and pictures -- as part of an overall narrative. Each artist built on the imagination and momentum of the chapters that came before to create a shared story. They were given a 20-by-20 inch canvas, 96 hours, the loose theme of "music" and reproductions of the preceding viusals and text. Except, of course, for the first artist.

And that brings us to Linda Hyatt, the Stockdale High art teacher who had the distinction (and pressure) of laying the foundation for the entire series.

"A few years ago I had the privilege of participating in the same kind of narrative project at Surface Gallery," Hyatt said via email.

"This time, I feel, was a bit easier because I had creative freedom as the first artist and writer. However, I would say there are a few challenging considerations I tried to keep in mind: First, I needed to set the mood and setting for the story, but I wanted to keep the text to a minimum in order to leave an opening for various interpretations."

Hyatt consciously avoided the temptation of merely becoming an illustrator for the text, and succeeded.

Though the artist's chapter references a "gibbous moon" and other imagery in her mixed-media work, the most obvious correlation between the visuals and text is the disquieting mood and sense of mystery evoked in both. The swirling music notes are Hyatt's nod to the theme.

"Music is an amazingly powerful artform. I wanted to convey how music affects me on several levels; physical, emotional, inspirational and psychological. By its very nature, sound, frequency, timbres are physical properties that resonate through our bodies and create visceral as well as emotional and psychological responses. I think it's a bit mystifying how music can instantly trigger detailed memories, for example, so I thought a mystery would be perfect for the narrative."

Hyatt layered paper collage, acrylic mediums and paint and used paint pens.

"My thought was to create spaces on the picture plane for separate dimensions -- an area for physical, psychological, emotional and imaginary space."

Hyatt, who was born and raised in Bakersfield, is a Foothill High grad, received her bachelor of fine arts degree from Otis College of Art and Design and her teaching credential from Cal State Bakersfield.

The mother of four adult children and granddaughter, Bowie, took some time to answer more of questions about her passion for art, family and the honor of writing the first chapter of our story.

"I wanted to keep writing, but the reality is the end of my story must be left to others. It isn't my story after all."

Your earliest memories as an artist:

I've made art all of my life really. When I was very young, I would "entertain" my family and friends by drawing caricatures of everyone at the dinner table -- sometimes my subjects were not amused.

Artforms of choice:

I always begin by drawing, in graphite and/or ink. I love printmaking and sculpture and video projection. I occasionally paint. My choice of medium is usually driven by my idea or concept. I guess I might be categorized as a conceptual artist, although the constant in my process is drawing.

Tell us about your family:

I have lived life backwards. I married young, and had four babies in five years. Needless to say, I worked very hard at family life -- much less so on art-making. Once the nest was mostly empty, I continued my education and tapped back into my craft. Now I am single with four adult children and one fantastic granddaughter.

What kind of art speaks to you?

I can't think of any art that doesn't "speak" to me in some way. I love looking at everything. Old masterworks are like windows to the past. But I am especially intrigued by contemporary art that seems confusing at first, art that stops me in my tracks, makes me stand and ponder its meaning or the way it is made. I enjoy art installations that engage multiple senses by the use of space, sound and materials. I also appreciate outsider art made in public spaces with its social/political content. I think street art is the contemporary version of the French impressionist or pop artist of the early '60s.

Work you're proudest of:

I can't point to any one work or group of works I am proudest of, because once I have explored an idea I am already on to the next. Like most artists, I am often not completely satisfied with my own work, and when I look back, find things I wish I could change.

How hard is it to find a place to show your work publicly?

For me, the challenge is in carving out time to make work. Making work is like child birth for me, stops and starts and sometimes painful. I am envious of artists who "pop out" work at mind-bending speed -- like women who deliver babies in two hours.

Memory of the first time you sold a piece of work:

I was 17 years old and had been invited to put some drawings in a small gallery across the street from Mexicali on 19th Street. I think it was called Renaissance Gallery. I was amazed that someone was willing to pay for my work.

What does your art say about you?

Hmmm. I think you'd have to ask my art that question.

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