Artists Robin Vanhoozer and Laurel Defreece found a common thread in their connection to nature. Their mixed media collaboration project, Fate, resulted in a seamless blending of the two artists’ styles and combined themes of nature, history and the future.
Introduce yourselves and talk a little about the inspiration behind the project and the decision to collaborate.
Robin: My name is Robin VanHoozer and I’m an artist, painter and maker of unusual things. Residing in St. Joseph, Missouri and raised with a background rich in nature and history, my work displays a love of dynamic movement and vivid color. I attended Missouri Western State Collage and later I received a MA in Studio Art /Painting from the University of Missouri in Kansas City. I am a 2017 Kansas City Artist INC Advance alum. I have experience as being both artist and art educator and after thirty-one years as both art teacher and artist, I retired from teaching in 2013 to make my artistic work my full-time career. I have exhibited both nationally and regionally. The collaborative exhibition Fate, with artist Laurel DeFreece, is the subject of recent exhibitions.
Laurel: My name is Laurel DeFreece. I can't imagine making art that doesn’t include nature. My inspiration comes from the prairie biome that surrounds my rural home in Plattsburg, Missouri. My work captures how beautiful as well as fragile nature and our planet are, yet how strong even a piece of paper can be. Trained as a graphic designer in the 1980's, I attended Missouri Western State University with an emphasis in printmaking, painting and photography. I have continued my education in papermaking and encaustic, educated at Arrowmont School of Arts and Studio Joy. My most recent bodies of work, Natural Elements and Fate, head into a bold new direction using native grasses, fiber, sticks and other found objects. With these materials, I make natural handmade paper for prints, collages and 3-D structures, which include encaustic. Natural Elements was the subject of my 2019 solo exhibition at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph, Missouri. Fate, a collaboration exhibit with artist Robin VanHoozer was the subject for an exhibit at MWSU which opened January of 2022.
Our collaboration began when we discovered how much we have in common while preparing for our back-to-back solo exhibitions at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph, Missouri. Laurel’s exhibition, Natural Elements, was January through March, and Robin’s Echoes Through Time, was April through June of 2019. Some of the things we share are love of nature, history and use of encaustic paint in our work to name a few. With so much in common, Fate is a natural continuation of both of our studio practices. We brainstormed several ideas and focused on nature and climate change. Through a lot of discussion, our next step was to decide on a title, Fate, an outline, and timeline for the work ahead.
Describe the process of the collaboration. Did you work independently or create custom pieces together?
We began the process of collaboration by writing down ideas we wanted to touch on in our work and the direction we wanted to go. Climate change is a global issue, so we knew we wanted to focus on the impact in the Midwest. We went into the studio and created individual works and came together for the collaborative pieces. During 2020 when the pandemic happened, we had to change the way we worked. We passed work back and forth, relying on our trust in each other’s abilities to make changes and add to the collaboration pieces. Since then, our work on Fate is ongoing and hasn’t stopped. We enjoy working together in the studio and the conversations that led to the creation of the work.
What message do you wish to convey with the exhibition?
Fate is a collaborative exhibition that explores the random riot of events that intertwine the common threads of our tomorrow. Encaustic, mixed media and collage techniques combine to depict themes of nature, truth, time and destiny in rural America. Climate and nature are at the forefront of issues affecting our world’s future. Fate portrays and documents the incremental temperature increases plus dramatic weather activity, such as flooding and drought, intensifying with time and how that affects farmers and rural communities. Our goal in Fate is to build community awareness of the issue of climate change in the rural Midwest region and our message is one of man and nature’s mutual destiny.
How has your collaboration influenced your individual work?
Robin: Our collaboration has influenced my individual work in several ways. Laurel has different techniques, although we both work in encaustic, and learning from her techniques has enriched what I do in the studio. While I have used collage in my work, Laurel’s use of collage has influenced my interest in having that be a bigger part of my studio practice. Collaborating in the studio is a joy and Laurel has been a great inspiration. The materials that each of us use has found its way into our individual work and enhanced how we work in the studio.
Laurel: Robin and I both work in encaustic, so our work fits together well. A natural collaboration partnership was easily formed. My work definitely has grown in many ways. Robin has different techniques and tools than I am used to working with. I learned a lot from her. She has been an inspiration and a pleasure to work with. My studio practices and encaustic tools have changed after having the chance to work in Robins studio. My collages have taken on new meaning, and I am painting more with colored wax than before. I believe we have both benefited from our collaboration.
What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
Robin: My most important artist tool is time. Time spent in the studio, time to build ideas and techniques, time to collect interesting lines, shapes, colors and textures, and time to explore the environment around me. However, my favorite tools in the studio are my irons and my torch. I have several irons that I use when working with encaustic and use the torch almost daily. I work with fire, and I draw with a torch and paint with an iron. I can’t live without either of these in the studio.
Laurel: This is a hard question. There are many things I can't live without in my studio. I must agree with Robin, time is the most important to me, also. Time to be inspired by nature's colors and texture for my art. And most of all the precious time in the studio which I have little of. Art is my passion and my love. It lives in my heart and soul. But if I must choose what I couldn't live without I would have to say my pencil and sketch pad where most of my ideas and thoughts begin and my paint brushes that I use to apply paint, paste and encaustic.
What books, movies and/or music have inspired you recently?
Music: Annie Lennox has always been a favorite of mine. Her powerful voice inspires me to always remember that I have an artistic voice also. I often have her music playing in the studio while I’m working.
Movies: I do love historical stories and movies where you can imagine yourself in a different time and place. Hidden Figures is a movie that is motivating to me. I am a child of the 60’s and my father took our family to Houston Space Center, and we were able to see one of the Apollo rockets being built and met some of the engineers. So, to see in the movie the contributions these women made that I hadn’t known about as a child is very inspiring.
Book: The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times by Michelle Obama is very inspiring and so relevant for today. I look to other women as role models for inspiration and motivation.
Music: I would have to say the Beatles songs inspire me more than any other music. Most of the words have meanings that are sometimes transferred to my artwork. I have all their CDs and listen to them while working in the studio. Many of my artworks are named after Beatles songs.
Movies: I love movies! I love a good story with scenic backgrounds that you just know, “an artist did that.” Trained as a graphic designer, I take pleasure looking at movie posters, book covers and album covers. I always look at the art chosen for scenes in movies and on TV. It's interesting what the set designers pick for over the fireplace or for a dining room. My favorite movie this year that inspired me is the same as my favorite book of the year, Where the Crawdad's Sing.
Book: Where the Crawdad's Sing was my favorite book of the year. I was so inspired by the story. I could put myself in the story so easily. It was all about living in nature.