“I paint stories of the human experience,” says Michele Utley Voigt, “the soul of life depicted by figures interacting within a realm of time, realities, and with one another. I paint that that is seen and unseen, beauty that exists often after tragedy.”
Voigt set off on her artistic journey at the age of five, when she began professional painting lessons. Her youth marked by numerous juried shows and exhibitions, countless awards, mentorship from Howard Kanovitz, and recognition from many renowned artist organizations, Voigt seemed to have a straight and speedy path towards success in the art world. She received art scholarships to art institutes and universities across the U.S., and ended up attending the Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design and Parsons Art Institute in Paris, where she received her BFA.
But then Voigt’s path became blurrier. “After art school, I had a shocking revelation,” she reflects. “I thought I could change the world through art …. [but] I realized that I could not benefit people who could not access me. My influence was limited to those who participated in the visual arts.” Realizing that she’d need to work within society in order to change it, Voigt returned to school to study political science and pre-law, the beginnings of what would be a 19-year career in social services.
Voigt began teaching art to adults with developmental disabilities. Over the years, her exhibits grew to assist artists with all types of disabilities throughout the Los Angeles area. “I helped them sell their work,” Voigt recalls, immediately understanding how big an impact earning a paycheck and becoming economically independent had on their lives. She soon moved on to create employment for all restricted populations, including the mentally ill, welfare recipients, ex-felons, immigrants, refugees, and the homeless.
In 2007, Voigt moved to New York City to return to painting. Her time spent working with disadvantaged people now informed her work. “Howard [Kanovitz] patiently and consistently reminded me that I had to live life in order to paint it,” says Voigt. “My art tells the story of the human soul and experience. I paint it as I have faced it. I no longer merely paint to change the world. I am a material contribution to change, and my paints continue to tell the unheard, under-heard, and the unseen stories.”
Voigt’s artwork is currently exhibited in national and international galleries, and she participates annually in major art fairs. Many of her early works have been acquired by museums as part of their permanent collections.
Inspiration can come from many sources—dreams, life observations, other artists, or the esoteric creative seed randomly appearing at will. All these rich sources of influence provide Nick Fedaeff with elements that he valiantly translates to canvas. The slightly disorienting, the hallucinatory quality of a dream, the element of surprise, and the absurdity of life are cleverly layered into Fedaeff’s work referencing Surrealism and the Old Masters of the Renaissance.
Originally from Russia, Fedaeff now resides in New Zealand. He is an accomplished musician and writer, and has been painting from childhood. Using a combination of acrylics, oils, and mixed media to create his work, he interprets the relationships between men and women and explores the themes of life and death in his work, adding humor as tool of engagement. The observer is often left with the unsettling feeling that there is more to the stories than meets the eye. Fedaeff is often described as a soft-surrealist, and acknowledges Da Vinci, Dali, Bosch, and Picasso as influences on his work.
With a neverending source of creative inspiration, Fedaeff will continue to evolve as an artist as he discovers new techniques and explores different ideas. His paintings have been exhibited in collections in New Zealand, Australia, Europe, and Japan.
Elka Leonard lives in Bordeaux, France, and is exhibiting at Spectrum Miami for the first time. She describes her paintings as “short movies inviting you, the spectator, into my world of fantasy and dreams.” Using bold acrylic paints to create her intensely colorful and seductive works depicting “Aristochattes,” as Leonard has dubbed them, she entices the viewer and dares them to stay awhile.
Leonard’s subjects are “business women who transform themselves to courtesans to stir the emotions of their men. Powerful women, a bit manipulative, but their goal is to delightfully give themselves over to the targets of their manipulations.” She continues, “The Aristochattes disturb and fascinate. Installed in intimate settings, they suggest stories but never impose … Leaving room for the imagination of their audience, my Aristochattes are intended as a source of inspiration for everyone … Both submissive and rebellious, in between fantasy and reality, all showing something of me … but they also convey my emotions when I’m painting.”
For Leonard, the process of unraveling the story within her painting is an ongoing one as she creates. “From the first emotion that triggers my idea of painting, images are joined by words that come naturally or with a quick search. My imagination then sets up a short film by enriching the original image. With everything set in my head, I write the title. It´s not until this moment that I can start painting. This is my framing structure. I only paint a part of the scenario. My audience will guess what happens next; what he or she would like to happen. There are many possibilities in my universe. I often end up at a different destination than the one I had originally planned, because I let myself get carried away by the scene as it appears. Each canvas is a great love story, which I create in fifteen to eighty hours of work, in daylight settings. I can´t paint several stories simultaneously, as I can´t live several stories simultaneously.”
Born in 1953, Michael Shewmaker had loving parents and three siblings who instilled in him a strong joie de vivre, encouraging his early visual exploration. At 13, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, taking him on a lifelong physical battle and emotional journey that drove him to create, eventually resulting in his most recent sculptural output. Studying art and art history, he attained a BA from Southern Illinois University and did postgraduate work at the University of Florida and San Diego State University.
Shewmaker spent years mastering the craft of “raising”—an ancient technique for creating hollow metal vessels using only hammers and specialized anvils. Combining this love of forging with a lifelong passion for public art, he has crafted monumental abstractions that are statements of form. Aluminum, his primary material, was chosen for its ductile properties as well as its marvelous ability to reflect the moods and colors of the day. His love of the material has precluded much interest in most other metals, although he does work in bronze occasionally.
Residing in Pepeekeo on the Big Island of Hawaii, Shewmaker has recently completed a sculpture garden near his studio. Placing his work on huge stone pedestals, he has created a visual experience that is at once a celebration and a soul-baring personal statement.
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