Earlier this month, The Queen’s Garden exhibition featuring the work of Dallas-based mixed media collage artist, Brenda Bogart debuted at the ANFA Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina. Brenda, who is also the author of What to Give Up for Lent That’s Not Chocolate, and I recently had the opportunity to chat about her latest exhibition, her process, some of the most amazing antique documents and paper ephemera she’s found over the years, including one from the most surprising of places.
The exhibition which is on view through April 23rd is the first exhibition featuring Brenda’s work at the ANFA Gallery and features two life sizes queens Magnolia and Willow along with a host of forest creatures and two trees of life with colorful birds, animals, and insects, all featuring hidden details that are such a delight to discover. While the queen titled Magnolia was my favorite (because of my love of hummingbirds) I highly recommend visiting the gallery to see Brenda’s work in person.
When did you first become interested in collage aka painting with paper?
It happened about three or four years into my journey into art which I started mid-life. My daughter went to art school at Parsons in New York City, and after graduating and coming home she was doing collage art. I would just watch her work and found it so intriguing, so I knew I had to try it because it looked like so much fun and way more fun than cleaning oil brushes.
Once I started doing collaging I never really went back. It became my medium of choice.
You hold a degree in Interior Design from TCU and studied painting and drawing at SMU extensively under Mary Vernon and Barnaby Fitzgerald. What is one of the greatest lessons you learned during your studies?
So many. I still hear their voices in my head and my last class was ten years ago. One of the things that Mary told me is that you want to make art that makes someone want to walk across the room to view it. To draw the viewer in in such a way that they want to walk across the room just to see it up close, that it’s that intriguing.
I learned so many things from Barnaby as well. He was such a classical instructor and he taught me about the chemical reaction of paint, how to layer, how to make rabbit skin glue, and how to make your own stretcher bars for your canvas and what would and would work. I still feel like I could learn so much if I were to take that class again.
Some of the hand-lettered antique documents and paper ephemera you use comes from antique shops in Paris. What are some of the oldest (or) most interesting papers you’ve found?
I find some of the most interesting papers in the oddest of places, it doesn’t have to be from Europe specifically. I found a chartreuse fertilizer bag in a Lowe’s hardware store parking lot. It was a cold rainy day and I spotted it across the parking lot I made my husband go and pick it up and put it in the back seat of his clean car. I used that bag in my work for years, it was the perfect shade of green and it had just the right amount of wear and tear/character.
There’s also this one shop I like to go to in Paris. I usually like to spend at least two days there. I’ll go through everything on the first day and then on the second day, I’ll decide what I really need. I’ve found some of the most beautiful handwritten marriage certificates from the 1700s and 1800s. I can’t read much French, but I know enough to know that it’s a marriage certificate. Many of them are legal documents and old maps. I found one map that was over 300 years old and I used that in different pieces.
When I look at a piece of art it brings back memories of the places I’ve collected those papers and it also brings back memories of what I was listening to and reading at the time I was creating the art. So these things going on simultaneously in my brain because I listen to books on tape, lectures, and podcasts while I’m creating art.
Tell me about the idea process behind your work.
It starts with an idea. I was inspired to do a tree of life because I was at Anderson Ranch in Colorado which has been around since the 1950s and I call it my 5-star hippie art camp. It’s the only place in the world where I can just be an artist and I’ll be there for 2-3 weeks at a time.
I was up there in January 2020 for a three-week art class and this guy in the studio next to me had this tattoo on his ankle that was the tree of life he and his son had the same tattoo and I had been interested in creating art focused on birds, as I see so many of them from our home that overlooks a park. I thought, “Wait, I can put the birds on a tree.”
He was Jewish and I’m a Christian and we all had our roots back in Genesis in the Bible that he calls the Torah. I had fun chatting with him about that and exploring the idea of the course of the next year with birds and trees and what it would look like and we’re still doing the trees with birds in them.
A year and a half into it, I started thinking beyond just having birds in the tree, there could be a nest, a chipmunk, a squirrel, insects, butterflies. We then started creating bigger animals like owls, raccoons, and foxes.
So the one idea of a bird expanded into a tree and expanded into medium and larger-sized animals.
The forest creatures were inspired by the inhabitants of the forests of North Carolina. What is the best part about observing these animals in their natural habitat?
I have a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that I like to sit in each morning looking out at the park in our backyard and it’s just a natural habitat for all kinds of wildlife. There is a family of raccoons and pairs of cardinal and a mating pair of barn owls that we have right now.
How long did it take to create Willow and Magnolia, the two life-size Queens?
We started those in August of 2021 and they were completed in January 2022. It takes at least a month after a piece of art is complete to get it sealed, varnished, scanned, framed, and shipped. So it took 6 months, but we didn’t work on them every day. They were just always there so we could add this or that.
Which of the pieces has the most ‘hidden’ details to find?
Oh, goodness. I don’t really know. All of the pieces have details to find. Magnolia, the blue queen has little fairy children hanging from flowers and swinging. There are always words and bugs and butterflies and things like that in all of the animals and I think one of the chipmunks has a band of horses. We try to do a lot of hidden things with dates, words, and images. This makes it more challenging creatively and more interesting for the viewer.
What did you enjoy most about working with the team at the ANFA?
They are some of the nicest people that I have ever worked with. Every one of them has unique gifts that they offer and they are just a delight to work with.
During the process of creating the pieces for the show, one of the highlights of our day was getting an email from Cassandra. She is just such a ball of energy and she calls us her ‘Darling Dynamos.”
Out of all of the pieces you created for The Queens Garden, do you have a personal favorite?
I think Willow, the pink garden queen. I also like the one with the chipmunks, the little wrens that make me so happy, and the owl on the tobacco leaf brown background. That’s the owl that’s in my front yard right now. I love them all though and I’m really proud of the collection. It came together so well and it told a complete story. Those pieces just brought me so much joy.
I have a team of two artists, my daughter Stephanie and my other assistant Blair and we work on all the pieces together. It was so much fun to work on such a large collection to be shown in a large space like the ANFA.