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STREETSEEN  |  Bien HOward

Photo by Steve Roberts

Bien Howard: Increasing Art's Public Access

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Bienvenido “Bien” Howard, 34, was born in Panama City, Panama. He came to Memphis by way of several of cities in the United States, as well as Germany. He moved from place to place with his parents, following his father’s job in the Army, and subsequently his post-service career in logistics. Howard attended the Memphis College of Art for his undergraduate degree in painting.

“I enjoyed the small school campus of MCA. It is a very condensed place with an open-door policy that helps breed a nice sense of community and camaraderie,” said Howard.

For five years after graduating from MCA, Howard “did some living and some painting.” Now he is attending the University of Memphis, pursing a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting. As a graduate student, he has been provided with his own on-campus studio where he practices his craft and stores canvases and finished works. When not on campus, Howard can often be found in area coffee shops, including the Starbuck’s on campus and Otherlands in Midtown, where he sketches and completes watercolor paintings.

“I like the laid back atmosphere of coffeeshops and the opportunity to have spontaneous conversations with other people,” explained Howard. “That’s actually where I receive most of my commission requests while I’m sketching. People see what I’m doing and ask about having a painting done, usually portraits of children, pets and other loved ones.”

Howard recalled that he was always drawing as he was growing up. “My mother was an amateur artist and gave me my first drawing lessons,” said Howard.     “Her degree was in industrial engineering, so while not an artist in the way one might think, she incorporated drawing in her livelihood.”

Howard continued, “I hadn’t really painted much, but when I was 16, I had a girlfriend who was painting and entering her works into various competitions. I thought to myself, ‘Hey  maybe I should give that a try.’ I borrowed paints from her, and since then, I’ve never stopped painting. I started with acrylics and only found my love of working with watercolors about four years ago.”

“As an artist, you have to pick the medium(s) that best suit your life,” said Howard. “Watercolors work for me because they are very flexible—they can be painted anywhere, not just in a studio.”

While Howard said that he has taken a hiatus from exhibiting to concentrate on developing new techniques and concepts, his work has been shown in a variety of venues around town.

“Between stints in school, I wrote a grant that partnered Memphis in May and Arts Memphis for the first time,” recalled Howard. “The grant was through the Arts Memphis Accelerator Program. At the time, Memphis in May (MIM) was honoring Panama. Through the Accelerator Program grant, Arts Memphis endorsed me to MIM to allow me to go to Panama and photograph the Kuma and Embera native Indian tribes. MIM paid for my travel and supplies, as well as my studio, for when I returned to Memphis to work on this exhibit.”

Upon coming back to Memphis after a three-week stay in Panama, Howard painted those images in both oils and watercolors. His work and his photographs became a sanctioned show at Arts Memphis during the 2014 MIM International Festival. His work also has been exhibited in shows at St. Jude, Broad Avenue, the Memphis College of Art and the University of Memphis.

“Over the last 150 years, art has become more isolated from the reality of how people interact with art,” said Howard. “Now art is more for artists, not as much for the public, because it takes more background knowledge before you can understand what the work is about.”

“I have diverse interests, and I think that is what brought me to art,” said Howard. “I also think my appreciation for diversity is part of what helps me to connect with people of differing backgrounds. In turn, I hope that makes my work feel more accessible to a wider range of people.”

When asked if he had any favorite pieces, Howard was quick to say that his “Anomalies” are at the top of his list.

“I had this idea about portrait painting,” said Howard. “Typically, the person may change, but the portrait never changes. To address this, I have started making works that use canvas as a medium. It is not stretched and therefore, not ‘stuck.’ I create these portraits on the canvases, but every time they are hung they become a new piece due to the fluidity of the canvas. This technique allows the fabric to speak for itself and I hope it communicates the impermanence and frailty of our existence.”

Upon graduation from the University of Memphis, Howard hopes to stay in the Memphis area, with an emphasis on teaching people new ideas with respect to art.

To see more of Bien Howard’s work, visit his Facebook page, I AM BNVDO, or follow him on Instagram at IM BNVDO.

STREETSEEN  |  Dee Dee Gauthier

Photo by Steve Roberts

Dee Dee Gauthier: Nature-Inspired, High-End Jewelry

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Native Memphian Dee Dee Gauthier knew early on that she wanted to be an artist. She also knew she loved being outdoors. As an adult, Gauthier found a way to combine these two aspects of her life.

“I began exploring my creative interests during college,” recalled Gauthier. “I knew it was important for me to follow my passion to create.”

From painting to stained glass and sculptural ceramics, Gauthier tried her hand at a variety of artistic mediums. In the last few years, she has discovered a unique way to fully utilize her talents.

“I’m really excited that my art has become a tangible reminder of my youth and my family. My maternal grandfather owned a cabin on Pickwick Lake. He loved to fish and I loved being with him, so fishing was just a part of my upbringing.”

Gauthier continued, “I have a BFA in ceramics from the University of Mississippi and am a self-taught jewelry designer. My jewelry is nature-inspired, featuring natural elements such as pearls and leather. Hence, I brought my jewelry line ‘Gauthier’ to life and it all started with fishing lures.”

How did she get such common place items as fishing lures to be accepted as high-end fashion pieces? For years Gauthier has worked with fashion and interior designers and says that experience gave her the opportunity to hone her “artistic eye.”

“I use antique lures so my finished pieces are unique and always one-of-a-kind,” explained Gauthier. “That aspect alone adds greatly to their appeal. I use quality Italian leather strips to string my pieces together, as well as vintage and antique hooks to finish the necklaces. The overall effect is one that speaks of history and nostalgia, as well as a relatable way to repurpose what was once an everyday item into a really unique fashion statement.”

“My success has come from people like Cindy Gambrell, owner of Kitty Kyle, who has a broad appreciation for all things artistic,” Gauthier continued. “My fishing lure collection is carried exclusively in Memphis at her store in the Chickasaw Oaks Village Shopping Center. I haven’t gone viral yet because I still feel it is important for customers to see and touch the product; and, luckily the product has continued to sell itself. I love supporting local retailers and I will take on the Internet when I come to that bridge.”

Gauthier’s style continues to evolve because she prefers to make unique, one-of-a-kind items. And she certainly has been crafting a future for herself as she uses her artistic talents to fashion fishing lures into high-end jewelry.

When asked what has been her proudest moment, Gauthier says, “I am thrilled whenever I happen to spy one of my pieces being worn as part of an ensemble in a fashion magazine, or used in local shoots and recently, Memphis Fashion Week. It gives me great satisfaction to know that others understand that ordinary objects, like fishing lures, possess their own kind of beauty. Their original craftsmanship and attention to detail are some of the reasons that fishing lures can become a collectible.”

But in the end, for Gauthier, it is the history of the crafted pieces, their scarcity and their individuality that makes her prize fishing lures as components for her high-end jewelry.

“You could say I’m hooked,” concluded Gauthier.

For more information about Dee Dee Gauthier, follow her on Instagram (gauthierjewelry) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/gauthierjewelry/).