Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Studio Visit with Tenaya Sims

It's not often I get to stop in to visit an artist while they're working on a show for me, so I took up the offer to come by and take photos of Tenaya Sims while he worked on one of his oversized paintings.
"Lysandra", oil and gold leaf
Tenaya is both an old hat and a rising talent. Inspired by his time with Jeff Watts (it seems that all of Jeff's young students move on to big careers!), Tenaya packed up his car and traveled from California to Washington to train under Juliette Aristides in her newly established atelier at Gage Academy. He quickly became a protege of hers - he even has examples of his work in her Drawing Atelier book - and soon after graduating her atelier, he struck out on his own and built up his successful school, the Georgetown Atelier, which takes up most of his time. The fact that he's been able to work on his monumental paintings, run workshops, AND teach classical drawing and painting is pretty amazing, but he's lamented that all this activity caused his pursuit with gallery work to come to a virtual standstill.
In his studio
I totally get it. Being an artist myself, I have to sacrifice my painting and drawing to keep running the gallery. When I get home, after I feed dogs, feed myself, interact with the husband, walk dogs, clean up some kind of doggie mess, go through mail, check messages...honestly I have little energy left to do my creative work. I'm spent, and as I grow older, I have less of that spontaneous up-all-night-painting energy I had when I was younger. Tenaya is younger and far more energetic, but he's also very devoted to his students and their education in the arts and willingly sacrifices his time to ensure they get good training. The resulting effect is twofold: his students are out-of-the-box engaged in their professional pursuits (many have proven solid in the art world), but he hasn't had a show in nearly ten years.
"Maquette", oil on panel
That's about to change for him.  He's actually shown with us a couple of times (his "Maquette" painting was part of our 2014 Pain show) and received a really positive response, but this show is a landmark solo show and he's put everything out there for it. He wants to prove that he's more than a good instructor, that he's more than just "talented" or skilled as a realist painter. He wants to prove he's more than just a realist painter, that he also has that genius qualifier called "vision". It's not just that his paintings are big and grand, that he can render out a beautiful figure, that he fully understands the science of composition; there are lots of painters out there that can do the same. In this show, he examines his own relationship with the feminine through the mythological looking glass, opening himself up in the process. The results are beautiful, and in some ways very raw and vulnerable.
Working on his newest painting. The painting transfer is at the left.
These are dangerous times for artists with vision. With public shaming at an all-time high and a make-it-or-break-it attitude of the general populous, it can be a career-killer for an artist to express themselves to society in an honest and authentic way. Being a male artist, and expressing oneself using the nude female figure in context, is even more daunting. Many realist painters go the safe route: they do figure studies in classical style, avoiding as much connotation as possible. Tenaya can whip those puppies out in a heartbeat, mostly because its a technical drawing from a live nude model, and he works alongside his students on a regular basis. While you can clearly see he enjoys the process and addresses the figure with respect and love, it's not his vision, just an exercise.

Working from reference, Tenaya makes his first pass on the painting of a lion-man
You can really feel his love for the craft in his work, but even more so, you can feel a deep love for the female figure. He really connects the viewer to the subject and it would be slightly uncomfortable result were it not for his incredible talent with the brush. He works very gingerly, mindfully, and engaged, each brush stroke thoughtfully applied. His figures are rendered with strength and while sexually alluring, they are not just bodies placed in space for decorative effect or titillation. He's telling their story and does it well, and he knows he could be scrutinized over it, especially by a female audience. He and I have talked about that many times over the years, about him walking that fine line. My advice is always to do what you love, the love will shine through. Sure, someone might toss the "objectifying the female" comment out there, but good art transcends, and folks, this is good art.
"Semillas", in the studio
"Semillas", oil on panel
I'm honored that he let me stop by and take pictures, that he lets me in to his thoughts on his work. I hope I can make this a habit with more artists in the future!
Poppy the cat approves
Tenaya will be showing his new paintings at Krab Jab Studio in June 2016, and will be lecturing on his process at a ticketed artist talk/reception June 10th (our website/social media will roll out more info on that in the next week).


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