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Visual voices: Artists combine the verbal with the visual

the e: april 16-23

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In celebration of National Poetry Month, Studio262 in downtown Corvallis is taking the opportunity to demonstrate that the verbal and visual arts aren’t mutually exclusive — in fact, they fit together quite nicely. Through April, the gallery is hosting “Mystic Voices: dreams, journals, poems,” featuring the work of local artists Alexandra Schaefers and Rachel Urista.

“I’d describe the show as a contemporary response to poetry and painting together,” Urista said in a recent interview with The E.

“The theme is visual artists incorporating language into their work in some form or another, or visual artists using language in our practice,” Schaefers said. “My paintings combine writing very obviously into the work, and Rachel’s art journaling practices — it’s almost like writing feeds her work as more of an undercurrent.”

“I do a lot of concealing and revealing of images and symbols and words,” Urista said about her more abstract style of art.

However, the two aren’t just mixing the verbal and visual for National Poetry month — it’s pretty much just what they do.

“We both naturally work this way,” Urista said. “The exhibit highlights something we’re already doing, and it’s amazing to see it put together.”

“My paintings are built more around the content of the words,” Schaefers said. “Words are central to my work.”

Schaefers uses her own poetry in her pieces — typically about her experiences with and the beauty of nature, which in turn helps her connect to her own nature, she said — which is kind of why she paints in the first place.

“I consider myself a hybrid poet,” Schaefers said. “I can write just poems, but it’s not very fulfilling to me to just print them out on paper. Painting is how I make the poem — the poem has to be a painting.”

Combining her verbal and visual selves is challenging for Schaefer, who has been artistically inclined since childhood and recently went back to school to study art after taking a hiatus.

“It’s hard to make text into a visual element, at least for me,” she said. “I guess that’s part of what keeps me going — knowing that I have a lot more to learn about how to make that happen, and use text visually in a way that doesn’t totally distract from the painting. I want it to be a really seamless experience.”

“For me personally, it’s really natural,” Urista said about using both the verbal and visual in her art. “They are a natural element to my work, and I feel that poems and words and language is very abstract and elusive, and that’s kind of the way abstract painting is.

“They definitely work off each other. If I’m working and put a layer of words down, then the colors I choose to go with probably more likely than not come from the words that I’ve chosen and the feelings that come with that.”

Urista has also painted since childhood — as a baby, she would even paint using her mother’s lotions and creams on the wall, she said. While she incorporates some of her own poetry, she also writes about her experiences — often through art journaling, a way to visually express feelings or experiences, and uses that as the basis for a piece.

“I just write down experiences,” she said. “In my work, most of it gets hidden, so sometimes it’s just the process of writing something down and getting it out visually that helps me process things. And some of these things are friendship, love, nature.”

Urista said she will also often incorporates symbols — mostly, but not limited to Japanese symbols — into her art as well — which is another form of writing, she said.

Poetry and painting can be intimate portraits of one’s self, and entries in art journals typically aren’t meant to be seen, but putting one’s self on display for an audience is just part of the deal.

“I’m comfortable with it,” Schaefers said. “When something becomes a piece, it’s no longer something autobiographical for me. Maybe it came from a personal experience, but once I make it into a poem or a painting, I change it… It’s a character now, it’s not me.”

“For me it seems to be the proper step in creating art,” Urista said. “I had my experience with it, it helped me do something, process something, heal, or even just explore something — a poem, a feeling or emotion — and now it’s time to move it forward and have the wider audience experience it.

“I think a lot of my process of concealing and revealing is because of that aspect of being very open, of having something so personal in the artwork be so visible.”

Both artists have upcoming workshops at Studio262, and will be on hand for demonstrations at an artists’ reception at the gallery from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, during the Corvallis Art Walk.

Schaefers and Urista said they are excited to be exhibiting at Studio262, which recently expanded and now includes more open gallery space as well as a consignment shop.

“I feel really lucky to be able to show in such a nice space,” Schaefers said.

“The space is incredible. It’s a good asset to the community,” Urista said. “And the pairing of our work is so amazing and unexpected, and they seem to really complement each other — almost have a dialogue with each other.”

For more information about the exhibit and to register for upcoming workshops, see


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