Vermont Arts Council

Notes on Conduits

Three artists (Liz Hawkes deNiord, Richard Heller, and Rachel Portesi) made pieces for a new show opening September 6 in the Spotlight Gallery. All worked to channel inspired expression: Liz with multi-layered paintings and clay forms, Richard with patterned rhythmical oil pieces. Rachel employed collodion print photography. Let these words and images from each of the group whet your artistic appetite.

Liz Hawkes deNiord

If I am paying close enough attention to what is happening in the process of painting, decisions are made, either with deliberate thought or intuitively. One recurring practice is elimination―where what I have painted, particularly my “favorite parts,” are covered over, simplified and reduced to the essential elements or the energy of the painting.

Painting, the physical and the psychological experience, is both difficult and exciting. It regularly takes the imagination to coastal edges (the other shore), demanding an attention and endurance through countless wipe outs, rebuilding of textures and composition, and through unconscious encounters with iconography or emotional color.

Layers and layers of applied paint, scraped back to reveal undercoats and spaces, require a suspension of expectation. In the end, the painting largely presents itself as a finished whole.

This triptych began as a single painting, the center one, as an exploration of pure color emanating from an inner source. Created with a palette knife, the process of applying paint to wood with almost abandon was both meditative and playful. The panel was rotated many times pulling the energy of color and texture off the edges. A second panel was added and later a third. All three are thick with paint and underpaintings, tactile and with a certain emanation. Paramita II, “crossing to the other shore,” corresponds to a personal awakening. Each panel has its own title: “Of the Body,” “Of the Mind” and “Of the Heart;” each piece could stand alone although together they coalesce on a wider emotional spectrum.

Richard Heller

At the center of this work is the exploration of an expressive language that looks to creating new spatial orders, visualizing concepts such as biological structures, patterns from various cultures, and information networks. To keep the process open to improvisation I have used printing as a basis for creating these works. I created a number of stamps culled from different sources that can be employed that I improvise with, as needed in the development of the work.

Most of these works are layered with different prints. This does not use printmaking in a conventional way. The prints, made from rubber are used in place of brush strokes and mark making. There is no formal registration when printing. Chance, juxtaposition, and intuition all play a part. Most pieces are hand colored with gouache and acrylic. Given the small scale and directness of the process many of these become both studies and rehearsals for larger works.

Rachel Portesi

Making art is work. I can find a million reasons not to. Whenever it feels impossible to work and life gets in the way, I start to feel depressed, like something is missing. Like a fool, I forget every time what that something is. The cycle reminds me of how it feels to eat well and exercise. When I’m doing it, I feel wonderful, the world makes sense, I make sense. I promise myself to never stop, only to find myself months later back off the wagon wondering why I don’t feel quite right. I admire Louise Bourgeois for her hard work.


“It is not so much where my motivation comes from but rather how it manages to survive.”
―Louise Bourgeois


My images are similar to journal entries. They are feelings that I am sorting out that don’t necessarily make sense at the time. My first interpretations are not always accurate, because my thoughts and feelings are subjective, like song lyrics or a book, the meaning changes with time and perspective. I have an entire body of work that I made as a celebration of womanhood, only months later to realize I was dressing up fear and insecurity. Now when I look at them I can see the vulnerability in them and the lies I was telling myself at the time that enabled me to endure the difficulties until I felt strong enough to face them.

In many of the images I make, I am reparenting myself into the strong woman I wish to be. My experiences in early childhood have led me to have complicated feelings about women. As result, I am uncertain about my relationship to myself as a woman. I have always been drawn to women who prefer the company of men. Clusters of female friends terrify me. They feel gossipy, back stabbing and unsafe. I like women who talk about thoughts, ideas, and themselves and less about other people.The women I let in have little to no filter. They make me feel safe because I know their true feelings are not hiding behind a veil.

―Images top to bottom: Paramita I (acrylic 36 x 36 in.), Paramita II (acrylic on wood panel 18 x 54 in.) by Hawkes deNiord; untitled (printing ink on paper and canvas 12 x 12 in.) by Heller; Homage to Bourgeois (wet plate collodion tintype 10 x 50 in.), Goddess (wet plate collodion tintype 14 x 14 in.) by Portesi.

more about the exhibit
opening reception is September 6, 5-7 p.m.
read other featured stories