East City Art Profiles—Artists of Breathe: Embracing the Uncertainties of the Human Condition

By Guest Author on December 14, 2021

Edited by Cheryl D. Edwards and Phil Hutinet

The following Q&A is compiled from questionnaires submitted to the artists of Breathe: Embracing the Uncertainties of the Human Condition which includes Jase Clark, Timothy DeVenney, Nestor Gil, Mary Welch Higgins, Curlee Raven Holton, Lisa K. Rosenstein and Michelle Talibah. 

The group exhibition is curated by Cheryl D. Edwards whose curatorial statement is included below as part of the profile as well as a statement by Gallery Director Lindsey Yancich.

The exhibition is currently on view at Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery through February 24, 2022. 



Jase Clark

What is your process? What medium(s) do you employ?
When I enter my studio to begin work, I always strive to create something new. I select colors that come to me intuitively. I have seen my work grow over the years and change in ways I never expected. Sometimes I can’t help but feel that the next thing I create will be better than the last, and that often leaves me feeling that I wish I could fast-forward to that next piece. However, I have come to realize more and more how important the process of building, layering and experimenting is in order to get to the next thing.

I was first attracted to printmaking, I believe, because I have the type of mind that enjoys the challenge of thinking backwards, which is necessary to various printmaking processes. The process, the steps, the various stages of making a print, are all exciting to me. I think printmaking not only fits my artistic needs but also my personality. It is possible to achieve such visual depth and you can control, reimagine, and explore a single image in so many different ways.

With printmaking, I can document stage after stage, and keep a record of my time and the evolution of a work with each proof. Having the ability to make multiples allows me not only to make my work more accessible to a wider audience, but it also gives me the chance to explore the full potential of an image. Having multiple prints removes the sacredness that creeps up around a one-of-a-kind painting and creates space for more experimentation.

At my core is an interest in the skill and technique of making objects. I want my work to show both skill and technique and have a uniqueness about it that makes the work engaging on many levels. I believe the first step of creating engaging work is to approach it from making an object that is aesthetically pleasing. To me this means that a work is able to convey a feeling through the technique. I approach the act of making art with this in mind. As a viewer myself, if I am not taken by the skill and technique of a work, I have very little interest in it.

What draws you to one particular medium over another? Why do you focus on paint/sculpture/photography/printmaking over other media?
Producing work specifically with the intent to make a print has influenced my drawing style over the years. I started out drawing with rendered tones in pencil and charcoal, but when I discovered printmaking, I began making marks in a more specific way knowing that the end result would translate into a print. Working on an etching with a needle gives you the smallest pen tip you have ever drawn with, which in turn gives you an ability to draw with a greater degree of detail. So, after testing this medium through many prints, I discovered the level of detail that could be achieved. Having the ability to render tiny details influenced the subjects I would draw because I knew the minute detail I could achieve. Following in the tradition of printmakers before me, I began exploring techniques like cross-hatching, aquatinting tones and bold outlines. These techniques influenced the way I drew on paper with a pen and influenced the lines I would then use to make serigraphs. Because of these methods of drawing and the subject matter that I was addressing it became clear that I was in many ways making a technical manual for reality. I was always fascinated with blueprints, sketchbooks, and manuals almost more so than the final products that such drawings illustrated. As tightly drawn and well executed as my drawings sometimes are, I still view them, in many ways, as references to ideas and catalysts to understanding the systems they represent.
Who has influenced your work?

I read and listen to many progressive thinkers dealing with major issues in society and life. I find that my greatest artistic inspiration comes from philosophers, scholars, and scientists—both contemporary and historical figures—more so than from other artists. I think it is important to tap into the collective consciousness of humanity, research our history, ask questions, and never stop searching for our own truths. By researching the mind and understanding that there can exist multiple layers of reality, we can better understand ourselves, unlock different channels, and feel a deeper connection to the greater reality that surrounds us. I think one of the most interesting parts of being an artist is the fact that you can continually surprise yourself and keep yourself on your own toes. Your own work can be a mystery to you. You can be a mystery to yourself. When you leave yourself open and allow yourself time, there is so much that can be discovered.

Terence McKenna’s research in ethno botany, collecting and studying the effects of reality-altering plants and the potential they hold for mind-expanding experiences, is a major inspiration for my work. I find McKenna’s theories, writings, and his fearless lifelong quest into the unknown fascinating. He has written about the idea of the spoken word being a form of telepathy; our ability to experience thoughts and ideas, express them through sound and other forms of communication, and express them to others in a way that can influence their lives and creative paths is incredible. He thought our imagination is the true “alien” of our universe; that the human brain is merely a receiver and our bodies are tools that act out signals we receive. Our words and movements enable us to make physical manifestations of these ideas. I find this idea fascinating and see the questions of “what is the imagination, and where does it come from?” as another layer within the work. Everything I create is unique to me, because it was produced using the filters of my own imagination and my own perceived reality. The filter of my mind taking in the ideas given to me by the world around me allows me to produce work about the physical and metaphysical world and represent them as physical objects. These objects are then observed by others and processed and interpreted by them in a different way.

I’ve always found it a shame that society is designed in many ways to discourage creativity and cultivation of the imagination. When a child is referred to as a daydreamer or someone with their head in the clouds, I always feel like this behavior should be encouraged rather than ridiculed.


Timothy DeVenney

When did you first begin making art?

Making with my hands, creating from imagination has been a part of my life from the start. I have always been creative. I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t building something or completing a craft project. That said, it wasn’t until well into my adult years that I began to look at what I was creating as art, let alone label my pieces as such.

Who has influenced your work?
I draw heavy influence from Alexander Calder and Marcel Duchamp. Both artists’ sculptures are regarded as being amongst the earliest manifestations of an art that consciously departed from the traditional notion of art as a static object and integrated the ideas of gesture and immateriality as aesthetic factors. Calder’s work enlivens a simplicity and purity of material use, exposing an honest expression of evolving form which plays with light and shadow. Duchamp’s art of found objects or readily available material, lent a technical quality to his art, yet resulted in a quietly individual aesthetic. Both artists’ works contain a playful, yet immutability quality, aspects I attempt to incorporate in my own creations.

What is your preferred material?
My material of choice is glass. Over the years I have developed a fascination with glass and its many aspects. My first creations were glass jewelry, then household objects, and only more recently, sculpture. Currently, I limit myself to the use of castoff glass and found objects. I find working under limitations forces a broader use of imagination, my hand, into a process of reasoned, intricate use of artistic skill. I have grown to appreciate organic influence and the allowance of mistakes to bring life’s proverbial odds and ends to inclusion without superimposing perfection.

When did you first start making three dimensional pieces?
I remember taking a conscious step into three-dimensional work four or five years ago when I began to view my pieces as sculpture. My art has been a process of discovery and the transition from creator to artist to sculptor moves the journey forward.

What do you hope a viewer would take away from your work?
I want the viewer to see my hand and the creative process within each creation. I play with the impression of motion. I play with light and my works’ varying shadows of cast color and shapes are the painting my hand never bestows, rather, become the results of the ebb and flow in response to intensity and spontaneity of available light and the viewer’s perspective. My attempt is to establish a natural rhythm of unpredictable consequence to complete each composition. I hope viewer assumptions and expectations are challenged, that possibility exists in ways unexpected.

Cheryl D. Edwards (Curator)

The concept of ‘breath’ requires exploring  how it brings all things to life. Breath is an unmeasured paradigm and is not as simple as it may seem. “… (N)ot only must one breathe in before they can breathe out, but they must also breathe out before they can breathe in again. Superimposed on the breathing cycle, is humanity’s take on the second law of thermodynamics: Life must be lived forward but can only be understood backwards.” (“The Art of Breathing | European Respiratory Society”)[1]       The exhibit addresses the deeply emotionality of breath as it resonates to our shared humanity.

Historic Greek philosophers explain this clearly in the story of Anaximenes. “Anaximenes was a student of Anaximander. He believed that everything in the world was a level of different densities of air.” When they spoke of air, in Greek “aer”, it was with the understanding that air acted with the soul (psyche) and breath (pneuma). In Pre-Socratic Greek, the Greeks understood that aer {air} and pneuma{breath} are interchangeable and synonymous with one another.[2]

The work presented in this exhibit explores the value of breath as a metaphor to examine human existence and personal views of multidimensional manifestation. The work delves into themes of philosophy, emotion, physicality, mourning and celebration.  The exhibit asks the viewer to consider breath to be understood as fundamentally and comprehensively intertwined with human life and experience.

Remarkably diverse, the work includes printmaking, drawing, sculpture, new media, installation, painting, and performance art. The viewer is presented with a range of visuals to ponder, consider and contemplate.  The exhibit is wide-ranging in topics of poetry, theater, environmental issues, health, and media studies.

For example, in Faith Ringgold’s work there are acts of the importance of breathing in the creative process, which interrelates with social environments. One of her works illustrates how pneuma is interactive with the psyche as it relates to imagination, dreams, and creativity. Curlee Raven Holton’s work examines the psyche of emotionality as he seeks to understand life experiences of surrender, acceptance, and release. Mary Higgins’ artwork revisits the memories and messages of her life journey. Michelle Talibeah’s art speaks to the experience of mourning and honoring a life that has transitioned. Tim DeVenney takes a different approach to structural examination of gratefulness and intrigue through utilization of objects from the past, while repurposing into the present. Jase Clark presents us with an understanding of the complexity of the psyche found both in the abstract and existential organic forms. Nestor Gil’s work assesses the density of belonging and self-identification. Lisa Rosenstein is experimenting with the manifestation of ethereal portals.  Each artist individually applies breath as an inspiration and in some instances as a meta-metaphor in their work, thus the exhibit “Breathe – embracing the uncertainties of the human condition.”

[1]  https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/48/6/1569

[2] https://matthewoneil.medium.com/the-love-we-breathe-c02d3cca6fa6


Nestor Gil

Who has influenced you work?*

[Editor’s note: these are the artist’s intended responses]

When you are not in your studio, what serves as inspiration for your work?
I am never not in the studio. I bring it with me wherever I go. It packs up easily and isn’t too heavy, and it helps to have it with me. The studio helps me filter the rest of my world. I walk a lot. I bake a lot of bread. I am close to a lot of my family. I teach. How can I communicate the rusty auto part on the side of highway 611, or the few words from a song playing while I cook some eggs? The whole of every lived moment contains potential. To point at any one detail would ignore the way they all assemble together—a process over which I have no understanding or control. So, I carry the studio around with me and I try to pay attention.

What is the relationship between the environment in which you live and your work?
They are inseparable. My work exists in the same environment as I do.

What is your preferred material?

When did you first start making three dimensional pieces?
I was 30 years old when I started looking at visual art as a possible space for me to work through ideas. The immediacy and directness of an object in front of you, but more importantly, of materials as vehicles of meaning, brought me to sculpture about then.

Why use performance as an expressive means?
The body is the tool we use every day to measure our environment and our experience in it. I have a body, and you have a body too. When I do something using my body, your body can understand or interpret it, your body can imagine itself in that position, circumstance, or condition. When my body moves through space, this is the same space through which your body moves. Still, the space can fail to see our bodies as the same, which makes it a fraught space. Fraught spaces are good for expression.

When did you shift to performance art?
I work in the shifting. I am not sure what I do and I rely on that unsure feeling. It keeps me open to follow ideas into materials, to follow ideas into forms, images, and action. Performance, sculpture, printmaking, writing, video, they are all sexy as hell to me. I am materially promiscuous.

DC has been described by local critics as one of the leading centers for performance art. Do you agree?
DC’s reputation as a leading site for performance art certainly informs my own thinking, both because it appears a vibrant and receptive environment, and because to make performance in such a place is to step into a conversation already in progress. A painter in the 21st century is painting into and out of a history so vast and long as to render full understanding impossible. But there that history remains, its weight and depth. Preparing to do performance work in DC feels like painting in the 21st century. I like being in the position of naïve ignorance for all the unknowns it presents, all the unintended possibles it generates, because I work to relinquish control of the image.

Mary Welch Higgins

What is your process?

I work in series. When I have an image in my mind, I begin with rapid fire sketches. I don’t care if lands or not. It’s a matter of warming up. There is a lot of repetition of the imagery until I feel right and then I transition to the final drawing.The drawing in the show called “Broken” is an anomaly. I drew the composition out while watching the breaking news of the riots on January 6th. While I spent time finishing the drawing, the composition is as it initially laid down on paper.

Who has influenced your work?
There are a lot of artists that have influenced my work. In terms of drawing I’ve been influenced by Jim Dine’s work. I like the fact that his work is emotional but also representational. He plays with iconic imagery but some how make it his own. His printmaking and drawing has a kick. It’s an interesting energy. You get the feeling something is going on right below the surface and that thing could explode at any moment.

When I was younger, I studied the drawings and paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas – really to learn how they used line. There is a large pastel painting of a woman coming out of the bath by Degas at the Phillips Collection. I looked at it a lot when I worked there. I love that drawing.

When did you first begin making art?
Art was in my life early. I started learning how to draw by watching my Mom work. I received gifts of pastels and sketch pads for holidays and my birthday. Art and artists were just around in my youth. I never questioned our family’s artistic environment or thought it was unusual.

I was proficient with drawing tools by high school. I would say that my work transitioned to art making at the Corcoran School of Art. I was going through some pretty heady stuff from age 19 to 25 or so. It all came out in my work. People started buying my work from the Phillips Collection staff shows but I was not that confident at the time. I wish now that I had clued in.

When you are not in your studio, what serves as inspiration for your work?
Reading and looking at art serve as my inspiration when I am not in the studio. I love books and going to see exhibitions of art. Right now I’m reading “The Long Front of Culture, The Independent Group and Exhibition Design” by a Kevin Lotery. My husband and I have been collecting art for years. During the quarantine last year, I was able truly live with the art that we’ve been collecting over the years. Our art collection became an inspiration in lieu of being able to go and see new shows. I didn’t realize that we had been creating a haven of art. Our little house was a good quarantine bubble. I’m starting to go out and see more exhibitions now.

Have you shifted the direction of your work and if so, why?
I am shifting thematically. I am more comfortable with being directly autobiographical in my work. While art history has always been an inspiration, there’s always been a veiled personal iconography. It’s no longer veiled. My work is more direct.

Curlee Raven Holton

When did you first begin making art?
I began making art as a child growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. I used to observe my older brother, Homer drawing and decided as a child that I wanted to do this as well. As I grew older into a young adult I went into the military, served my term and went back to Ohio got married and worked in a job that I had no interest in and went to art school at night. I received my B.F.A from the Cleveland Institute of Art, my M.F.A. from Kent State University, and an honorary PhD from the Institute for Doctoral Studies.

I have two studios in Easton, Pennsylvania; one is dedicated for painting (an historic brick schoolhouse) and the other for printmaking.

What can viewers expect to see at your exhibition?
I have four works in the exhibition, ‘Breathe’: two ink drawings and two paintings. My recent works reflect the times of global upending threat, with survival as the central theme. However, the broader message is one of the tenacities of the human spirit in the face of peril.

In Release, the act of letting go is difficult to do. The moorings of our temporal life are powerful and seductive. We enter this world by being defined by external reflections that offer emotional, physical, and psychological validation. These experiences often bring pleasure and comfort. As our consciousness and understanding of what is essential and needed rather than being driven by our selfish wants, we become liberated from the tyranny of status and object worship. Releasing things that bind us frees us to accept the frailties and unpredictability of life. The Buddhist saying, have less and have more, have nothing, have everything represents the growth and understanding that as we have fewer possessions, we make both physical and spiritual space for a deeper appreciation of what is truly important. While in Memories of Two Moons, I explore memories to manage challenges in life that otherwise would render us paralyzed with doubt and anxiety. Memories we possess or those given to us by family members aid us in negotiating new realities with stories of survival and triumph. These memories, often multi-faceted and multi-layered with meaning, provide us with illumination and understanding of the dark waters as they rise to engulf us.

Mors Negra contemplates Black Death as a natural process; however, during Covid, it is accelerated. As blacks, we are the least able to protect ourselves, the least able to have quality health care, the least able to afford to stay alive. Is this the natural order of selection, or is it the removal of the weakest? New Adam & Eve is a visualization of our new world that is now perilously close to being poisoned by humans. We have soiled the garden; we have altered natures from our provider to our assaulter. Our air, our water, our lands have become corporate enterprises. What was once our breadbasket has now become ovens that cook biologically altered artificial ingredients packaged as food. All intimacy is lost, and we now express our innermost feelings while wearing a protective gas mask. The purest of nature’s embrace embodied by the story of the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve is perhaps forever lost to us.

Have you shifted the direction of your work, and if yes why?
My earlier work was about political issues and current events. I found myself responding to occurrences that were not deeply a direct part of my own personal experiences and the underlying reasons of the actions of others. My work began to shift many years ago as my interest grew in understanding what lies beneath the surface of a human to function in a manner without regarding the humanity of others. The other basis of this shift is attributed to traveling globally and observing how others live and function in society. An addition contribution to this shift is inspired by my personal life and my reflections of the world. I became very interested in philosophy and psychology, in addition to American Art History. I am a classically trained artist, and my work is based in the figure. It is my belief that everything stems from the figure. I am a Master Printmaker and Painter. My mentorship was born from Robert Blackburn, Faith Ringgold, and David C. Driskell all whom are and where personal friends and colleagues.

What do you believe is value of painting in the 21st Century?
Painting is one of the major foundations of art. It is important for an artist to perfect their techniques; but what is more important is the message that the artist is painting visually for the viewer. For example, I have been fortunate to have lived as an artist in both the 20th and 21st Century. What I have come to understand about painting in my own practice is to state a clear message in my work; while attempting to perfect in my techniques that issues that I cannot perfect in my life. Painting is important because it is one of the sole mediums where a viewer can see the artist hand in the work. This imprint is also seen in the media of printmaking; but not so readily shown in other genres. It is for this reason that painting will always be in the forefront of the art making practice.

What draws you to one medium over another?
I am a classically trained artist and I majored in painting. I became interested in printmaking while in art school when I was asked to create a poster for the ANC organization ( an organization that was protesting against Apartheid in South Africa). I was fascinated about the democracy of this practice and the ability to create multiples which allowed a larger audience to own and collect a piece of artwork. I never stopped painting; I have always engaged in creating work using both mediums. However, printmaking allowed me to build and in engage in community. We as artists, do not do this alone, it is important to engage with other artists and continue to learn as you go through your journey.

Lisa K. Rosenstein

1.When did I get started making art?
As a young person growing up I was always happiest when I had art suppplies and time alone to experiment and create. Having left home quite early, my main- focus was on supporting myself. I continued to draw during this chapter of my life, my medium was a ballpoint pen. When I was in my 40’s I took a watercolor class which led to me taking drawing classes at the Washington Studio School. This led me to take classes at the Corcoran College of Art and Design where I eventually applied to the AFA program. I spent 5 years at the Corcoran and took classes with Anita Hinders, Marisse Riddell, Annette Pollan, Raya Bodnarchuk, William Christenberry, Steven Cushner, and Tom Green. I learned a lot from all of them and that knowledge is the foundation of my work.

2. What Media do I use?
In the past I made exclusively white dimensional paintings that incorporated strings, threads, and found objects. Many of the paintings contained repetitive marks, or were meditatively wrapped. I have always made collages, and small drawings. Around 5 years ago I began experimenting with plastics, mostly dis- carded plastic bottles and newspaper delivery bags which come in an array of colors. I would sometimes make small assemblages combining the plastic with natural materials.

3. When did I make the transition to larger scale sculptural work?
For the past few years I’ve been making large installations using the newspaper bags. My recent inspiration is my reaction to the injustice I see in the world. My first two large plastic installations, one titled Sanctuary and the other titled Wel- come, were made in response to the horrific separation of families at the border by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

4.What is my process?
My process is repetitive and meditative. I often use discarded newspaper bags that I tear, stretch, then tie together. Deconstruction and reconstruction. The world springs from cycles of beginnings and endings. So often we humans cre- ate and then destroy. Growth comes when we are cognitive of what has hap- pened as a result of our actions and we then use that knowledge to build more mindfully for the future.

5. What do I hope a viewer would take away from my work?
My contributions to this exhibit, are Portal and Reconstruction. The designs were both inspired by my experience walking through many torri gates during a trip to Japan. A torri gate marks the entrance to a sacred space.

Reconstruction is a mixed media woven tapestery and is symbolic of struggle. Namely a struggle to pass through a painfully difficult time in our present history. Along with rusted metal, dead orchid, tulip seeds,broken eggshells, straightpins, deconstructed clothing, repurposed plastic, dried reeds, shells, wood, found glass, raw silk, string and thread, there are 2 melted white candles. These can- dles are a memento of prayer, disbelief and grief during the days of horror over the killings of Breaonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmad Aubrey and so many, many more.
Portal is a tapestry made from recycled newpaper bags. The empty space of the portal invites you to take time to stop, breathe, and imagine going forward into a world of compassion and respect for self and other.

Michelle Talibah

My practice has engaged mixed media painting, public art, and printmaking.  I am also the founder and curator of New Door Creative, a gallery in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District in Baltimore since 2004.  

When did you first begin making art?
As an adolescent, I used to experiment with “things” now known as mixed – media materials, and created compositions with a range of form and texture. The concept of “metaphoric content” was not part of my mental conversation. I was fascinated with the use of material other than the manner for which it had been formerly designed. I seem to be wired to experiment with the cross application of use for materials.  I began to study painting in college; rather late.

What medium(s) do you employ?
My foundation is Painting.  I have also worked in mixed-media, discovered media, and printmaking.

Who has influenced you work?
In the mid 70s, I met a group of very sophisticated painters known as AfriCobra.  At the time, my style and palette were closely aligned with the AfriCobra aesthetic.  I would say that significant aspects of my understanding of the process of creative expression, and the very unique context in which the African American artist resides, was greatly influenced by AfriCobra.  This influence was invaluable as a young artist.  I was intrigued by the creative work of artists such as Camille Billops and Barbara Chase- Riboud.

My first exposure to creative printmaking came from a studio mate, the late Terry Adkins.  Terry was a master printmaker, and continually included printmaking in his evolution as an interdisciplinary artist. It was my first opportunity to think about printmaking outside of the bounds of convention. From observation, I was able to discern how the application of layers were achieved differently than in painting, creating a specific environment in a composition, and allowed for surface treatment unlike what I was able to acquire with brush.

What is your process?
My process begins with the inspiration from a wide range of influential assets.  In particular, nature, literature, and the dynamic of visual relationships are central to my process.  I often will begin drawing with eyes closed; being guided intuitively.  I will then examine what has occurred, and begin thinking about what the composition wishes to become.

What draws you to one particular medium over another?  Why do you focus on paint/sculpture/photography over other media?
I was able to actually experimentally explore first – hand the printmaking process in 2009. During an intensive week of immersion into the printmaking process I realized that the mental dynamic of printmaking was quite different from painting.  In painting my approach was to begin with a mental concept, and make decisions throughout the sequential process toward an imagined tone, and atmosphere, structured by a composition that was often engineered along the way.   In printmaking, one must think both sequentially and in reverse or reflectively.  One exciting aspect of printmaking I discovered was the ability to examine the impact of compositional direction through variable options of visual context, that can be derived more quickly that in painting. I enjoy the physical aspect of printmaking similar to the satisfaction of working with so called found materials. One’s entire body is engaged in the process.


Lindsey Yancich (Gallery Director)

The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, established in 2008, affirms that art has the rare ability to mend social, psychological, and physical ills by building community, inspiring change, and celebrating life. The gallery is dedicated to exhibiting fine art that explores the connection between creativity and healing. Through a rotating exhibition schedule, the gallery features contemporary artists that address significant themes, including spirituality, social change, multiculturalism, health, environmentalism, and community. Located on U Street in one of the most vibrant arts districts in Washington, DC, the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery serves the diverse population of the area – including residents of every ward in DC and the surrounding areas of Virginia and Maryland (DMV) and provides opportunities for our community to explore art as a tool for healing.