An ongoing exploration

After more than a half-century of creating and teaching art, New Mexico artist Signe Stuart still makes a habit of going to her studio every day.

Even if she doesn’t accomplish anything on a particular day.

“I haven’t run out of things to do,” she said.

Stuart’s artwork will be on display through Feb. 21 at the Southwest Minnesota State University Art Museum.

Stuart was the youngest child in her family and said there were always materials around to create items.

“I just grew up with an interest of making things,” she said.

She took the encouragement from her family and teachers to make art a career. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in Storrs and her master’s degree from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She taught at South Dakota State University in Brookings from 1972-1994.

“I entered shows that were juried shows, museum showsI just made sure I kept moving,” she said.

Although it’s hard to pick out one career highlight, Stuart said that receiving a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1976 was noteworthy.

“I thought New York galleries were going to be calling me,” she said.

Stuart said she started a series called Bookworks in the 1990s, that the open book form interests her because it alludes to duality, the body and revelation.

“I also experimented with the sketchbook – diagrammatic images with or without text,” she said. “The idea of language: word/sound and pause, word/sound and pause is a breath ritual creating mental images and meaning.”

She said she made texts by puncturing paper or a paper/canvas layer resulting in Braille-like or torn textural surfaces.

“Non-visual language references can be to words, mathematics, music, etc.,” she said. “I make images by drawing into silica layered on paper, painting on reverse sides of Plexiglas, sewing or collaging fragments of ‘reality.'”

In Bookworks, Stuart said her ideas about space and time are on a small scale, yet they are complementary to her larger acrylic on sewn canvas works.

“The book form has an intimacy of private and personal space; my larger works often have dimensions of public and communal space,” she said.

Stuart said she’s worked on Bookworks for about 20 years.

“I would add to it from time to time,” she said.

Her series of long scrolls (11 inches-by- 60 feet acrylics on unryu paper) began in 2000. The scroll form interested Stuart because even before it is painted, the paper roll incorporates a sense of time and movement.

“Historically, scrolls were used to record sacred writings, myths and historic events,” she said. “They are some of the earliest known landscape paintings and a traditional art form in Japan, China, India and the Middle East. In our popular culture, the comic strip is a version of the scroll predating animation and film.”

Stuart said most of her scrolls are compositional loops without beginnings or endings, having a cinematic quality like silent film and a rhythmic quality like music.

“My painting process is intuitive and improvisational, often initiated by tools and their marks,” she said. “The scrolls are abstract narratives telling stories of nature and the nature of thought.”

In 2010, she started painting shorter scroll sequences (11 inches-by-15 feet) Two of those scrolls are in the SMSU exhibit.

“Their narratives relate single events and do not require viewers to move back and forth to experience them in the same ways as the longer scrolls,” she said. “I think of short scrolls as an author might think of chapters.”

Lately, Stuart said she’s been experimenting with new materials. Last year, she was awarded a fellowship for an experimental glass workshop.

“I used it as an opportunity to see what I can do with glass,” she said. “I extended my thinking a lot.”