For an art professor at a college within walking distance of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, it is only natural that trips to the institution are a staple of Kathy Soles' courses at Emmanuel. While the primary purpose of such excursions is to educate her students, they can also prove equally beneficial to Soles' own artwork.
On one such occasion, as she and her students discussed the Greek and Roman marble statues that stood before them, a question was asked about the origin of the beautiful, white stone. As they delved into the history of the Greek island of Paros and its contributions to the world of art, Soles began to see the historic location in a different light - not simply as an explanation to a student's question, but as a priceless destination for her own artistic inspiration.
During her sabbatical in spring 2010, Soles served a residency in the town of Parikia, the capital of Paros, through the Apothiki Art Center, thanks in part to a faculty development grant by Emmanuel. She obtained the residency through TransCultural Exchange, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting international art and the understanding of world cultures through high-quality art exhibitions, cultural exchanges and educational programs in Boston and throughout the world.
Restored in 2004, the Apothiki Art Center is located in the Kastro, "the historical heart of Parikia," and offers a vibrant cultural scene for artists of all kinds. Through membership in the worldwide network of art residential centers, RESARTIS, the center established its artist-in-residence program as a means of inviting artists from around the globe to experience the island through a creative and reflective environment. The program provides studio and gallery space for each artist in residence for up to four weeks, in addition to access to the variety of cultural and artistic activities and exhibitions the center - and island as a whole - have to offer.
For an artist interested in the ocean and "the mystery of what exists below the surface," it is hard to imagine a more ideal location. Soles' studio was located within the center's renovated 600-year-old buildings, which offered a view of the Aegean Sea from the gallery's rooftop balcony. With the center's goal of further developing Paros as "a meeting place for creative people around the globe," she had the opportunity to meet a number of international artists who have made the island their home, present and attend lectures, and find inspiration from a locale that has served that role for artists since antiquity. As part of the residency, she was required to maintain open hours during which fellow artists and members of the greater community could stop by her studio and see the artistic process in action.
Soles' work is firmly rooted in the landscape tradition. Over the last five years, the ocean has been a recurring theme as she further explored her interests in currents, navigation routes, the junction of land and sea, the vast expanse of sky in relation to the sea and other related topics. Formally, she says, such investigations feed her ongoing interest in contradictions and dualities.
"Water takes different forms, it is always moving and changing," she said. "Water is a substance in transition. I enjoy working with the tension between movement and stasis, light and dark, depth and shallows and what happens at the edge of a form. The idea of unexplored ocean depths offers a lot of fuel for the imagination."
At the time Soles applied for the residency, she says her work was transitioning from a body of work entitled "Soundings," which loosely referred to the idea of measuring depth. The opportunity in Paros offered an ideal outlet for helping her shift from one body of work to another. Realizing she would be limited to certain size and material restrictions due to traveling, Soles worked on a number of drawings prior to departure, allowing her to use her time in residency for investigative purposes. She worked solely on paper with black and white acrylic paint as well as gouache paint on the island, fully knowing that the work produced in Paros would be transformed when she returned to her studio in the U.S.
Soles tends "to work in series in order to stay on an idea." While she works abstractly, she draws from observation daily in addition to taking photographs and videos to inform future work. She also reads both fiction and nonfiction books exploring the idea of landscape and memory, specifically. Such research served as reference points for both color and light in the paintings she produced on the island and afterward, all of which include nautical references. While in Paros, Soles completed a series of working drawings called "Navigations," which were exhibited at the art center upon completion. The drawings served as the foundation for a much larger series of abstract oil paintings she completed after her sabbatical entitled "Water Marks."
Reflecting on the residency, her first international experience, Soles said: "It was an opportunity to explore the island, which is so geographically different from one part to the other. Art research is investigation. It is open-ended. I like being somewhere where I do not know the solution. [The residency] opened up a lot of possibilities within my artwork."