While it’s the smallest state in the country, members of the Art League of Rhode Island (ALRI) say the Ocean State is the most concentrated state per capita with artists.
Local artists Saberah Malik and Nancy Gaucher-Thomas are two of them. They are also among 14 Ocean State artists being showcased in the Rhode Island Art Archive Project Premiere Screening Thursday at 6:15 p.m. at Rhode Island School of Design’s Metcalf Auditorium at 20 North Main Street in Providence.
According to a press release, the Rhode Island Art Archive Project is a four-part documentary film series that promotes not only the arts, but also “brings the local arts community together to show their pioneering spirit and relevance to topical issues. It explores and examines how artists are shaping the creative landscape of the state and preserving that story for future generations of artists, scholars, students and the community.”
Malik was thrilled when Holly Gaboriault, who conceived the project, as well as produced, directed and serves as the Archive’s curator, asked her to be involved in the first film.
“I feel very humbled and privileged to be part of it because I am a comparatively recent newcomer to the art scene,” she said.
Malik grew up in Pakistan and studied art and design at the Punjab University in Lahore. After graduating with a BFA and MFA in Graphic Design, she journeyed to America to study in New York, where she graduated from Pratt Institute with a Masters in Industrial Design. These days, she and her husband reside in Cowesett.
By 2003, when her children were older, she immersed herself in art. She said the city is an inspiration for her work, as is her home, which has a “great view” of the Bay.
“If you live by the water, it moves you,” she said. “It makes you think and reflect. You see the moods of nature. It’s so totally home for me. I can’t imagine living anywhere else at this point. Lots of people in Warwick don’t realize how much there is here.”
Malik recently discovered Arnold’s Neck, an area in Apponaug that also overlooks the Bay. She was amazed to see the large population, many “lovely” homes, and “beautiful” views of the water.
“At first, I thought it was just a little dirt road, but it’s so peaceful,” she said.
Seeing the value of Warwick, as well as the rest of the state, as the perfect place for artists is one of the main points of the documentary. It highlights what draws artists to Rhode Island, why they stay, as well as how local art institutions provoke artists and the community.
Gaucher-Thomas lives a few blocks away from Malik in East Greenwich. She founded the ALRI in 2000 and is president emeritus of the organization.
After living in Massachusetts and New Jersey, she moved to Rhode Island in 1991. She creates watercolor paintings, as well as works with charcoal on mylar. She’s honored to be a part of a group of artists she admires.
“It’s really awesome,” said Gaucher-Thomas, a nationally recognized and awarded painter and member of the National Watercolor Society. “This film will archive and continue to archive not just artists, but a dialogue that opens up within the arts community and beyond. It’s a bigger voice that the Rhode Island Art Archive Project is trying to promote.”
Gaboriault, the second vice president of the ALRI, and an artist in her own right, is happy to be promoting the local art scene. She created the Rhode Island Archive Project, beginning the effort in June 2012, because there wasn’t much information available on the web about several Rhode Island artists.
“There are many times that I’ve been astonished to find out about someone that I didn’t know of,” she said. “And some of the artists don’t know each other and they are showcased in the same galleries and museums. Rhode Island attracts some of the best artists in the world.”
For Gaucher-Thomas, the large community of “wonderfully talented and creative” artists in the state makes Rhode Island appealing. Their desire to thrive, matched with their passion to help fellow artists, impresses and inspires her.
“Every time you turn around, there’s another artist,” said Gaucher-Thomas. “And I’m not just talking about the fine arts – painting [and] sculpture – I’m talking about fashion, illustration and photography. It’s a close-knit community. You could be just starting your career and be side-by-side with someone who is nationally or internationally known. These artists are very accessible and giving of their time and encouragement. That’s what really makes the state so wonderful.”
Gaucher-Thomas, who graduated with a degree in Advertising Design and Photography from the New York Phoenix School of Design in New York City and later formed an advertising design studio, mainly depicts portraits, figures and landscapes. She’s working on a series of cloudscapes, and has a show coming up at the Providence Art Club in April.
In addition to her work with the ALRI, Gaucher-Thomas has helped multiple Rhode Island non-profit art organizations thrive. According to her website at gaucher-thomas.com, her work has appeared in numerous national exhibitions, including the National Watercolor Society Annuals, the National Association of Women Artists Annual, the Academic Artists Annuals, and the American Artist Professional League Annuals, where she is an elected artist member. She has received numerous awards from prestigious art groups.
As for Malik, she crafts mostly sculptures using transparent textiles. She tends to include silk and polyester in many of her pieces.
“I’ve done a whole series of stones that I’ve picked up from my backyard, as well as the beach across from us and beaches of Rhode Island,” she said. “I use the stones as a metaphor for creating borders and boundaries.”
Not only has her work been showcased in Rhode Island and New York, it’s been viewed outside the country in Canada and Pakistan. She’s had exhibits at the Newport Art Museum, Providence Art Club, University of Rhode Island, Courtyard Gallery of the World Financial Center, Danforth Museum of Art, and the Lahore Arts Council, as well as part of Fidelity Investments Permanent Collection.
“I keep joking that if I had been living in New York, I don’t think I would have made it this far because I have so much support here,” said Malik, who like Gaucher-Thomas has won several awards.
Gaucher-Thomas and Malik are looking forward to Thursday’s event. Other artists included in the 50-minute documentary are Deborah Baronas, Howard Ben Tre, Gretchen Dow Simpson, James Montford, Leo Narducci, Sal Mancini, Kenn Speiser, Ilse Nesbit, Brian Shure, Howard Newman, Peter Geisser and Morris Nathanson.
“I think it’s important for viewers to see that this is not about any individual artists,” Gaucher-Thomas said. “It’s about a community of artists that have a continuing dialogue because that’s what makes Rhode Island so special to artists who come here and stay here. It’s all about educating the public about what the art is. It’s not fluff.”
The project also provides an online Vimeo channel at Vimeo.com, which highlights individual artists.
“That can also be an educational component for teachers, for collectors who are interested in sales,” Gaboriau said. “We wanted to make sure there was a virtual audience, as well as a general audience.”
Three other films, respectively, will focus on emerging women artists, as well as successful female artists; curators, museum directors and gallery owners; and art collectors. Learn more at http://riaaproject.blogspot.com.