This past spring, artists and longtime friends Bonnie Cutts and Cynthia Starkweather-Nelson were up north hiking in the snow along the Temperance River. Cutts turned to her friend and asked, “What about us doing a piece together?”
Starkweather-Nelson agreed. This summer, the two spent a week at Starkweather-Nelson’s cabin in Wisconsin, where the Mendota Heights artist created a makeshift studio on her porch. They held what they called their “lakeside residency,” or “art camp” for adults.
At the cabin, they spent their days creating a hexaptych, a dynamic image that stretches across six canvasses, called “Something In Between.”
The 12-foot piece is the focal point of their joint show of the same name, which runs Sept. 4 through Oct. 12 at the Ames Center gallery in Burnsville. The show also features more than 20 new pieces by the two.
“I think it was a good experience as far as stretching the boundaries,” said Cutts of the collaborative painting. “It’s kind of like a collage.”
Friends, but unalike
The styles of the two artists differ significantly.
Cutts, of Cedar, Minn., who recently sold a group of paintings to Minnesota’s Ridgewater College, tends toward the abstract.
Her more recent work is inspired by “brainbow” images, in which brain neurons are lit up by fluorescent proteins. Her son, a neuroscience major, brought the images to her attention a couple of years ago because he felt they resembled her artwork.
She now consciously uses neuroimaging to inform her work, which has trickles of paint that resemble neural pathways and Technicolor cell-like structures.
Cutts, who teaches workshops on using various mediums to create texture, often layers her work with acrylic and pumice gels and thick layers of paint. She also likes to do incising, or scratching, into the work using a sgraffito technique.
“I pull things from the bottom, the back,” she said. “I love my texture. It’s like getting down, digging in the dirt.”
Starkweather-Nelson, who taught at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights for 13 years, is a member of Project Art for Nature, a group that uses artwork to promote preserving and restoring natural areas. Her most recent work is more representational than Cutts’ work, often depicting shallow areas of water and the layers of colors and shadows underneath the water’s rippling surface.
Starkweather-Nelson’s painting “Freeze Frame” just received Best of Show at Maple Grove Arts Center.
“It’s almost like a snapshot of the water,” said Lorrie Link, executive director of the arts center. “She has mastered a technique of painting the depths of the water, and the reeds going into the water.”
Starkweather-Nelson said she works from digital images she takes while kayaking in the waters by her cabin.
Though the two artists work from “two totally different influences,” said Cutts, “it creates this interesting conversation.” They both are, she said finding ways of “looking inside, underneath.”
Also, she said, “there is such a relationship palette-wise,” pointing to two of their paintings sitting next to each other with similar hues of pale green and indigo blue.
When working on the collaborative painting, their two methods of working sometimes clashed.
“Bonnie’s a very fast worker,” said Starkweather-Nelson, who tends to be more meticulous.
However, she said, the experience helped her realize that she had been drawing very tightly, and “it loosened me up a bit.”
They both found it interesting to ask each other permission to put paint in places on the canvas — adding a little red in sections, extending a reed across a couple panels — in order to make a more cohesive piece.
Every evening, they dissected the day’s work, and Cutts documented the conversation.
“It was nice to have a conversation with someone other than myself,” said Cutts. “To get permission and compromise together was a really good learning experience.”
“It helped me to be aware of what I was doing,” said Starkweather-Nelson. “If I talk about what I’m doing, it makes it richer.”
The two have been friends since they were students at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s. They both exhibited regularly with the Peter M. David Gallery.
They have booked the show out for the next two years at other galleries.
Would they collaborate again on a piece of art?
Yes, but “if we wanted to do it again,” said Starkweather-Nelson, “we’d want to go larger.”