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Terry Arena: Symbiotic Pictorialist

In silence Terry Arena works with a graphite pencil constantly sharpened to allow for the figure to come to realistic life, a figure that is less than half an inch long.  These figures are Honey Bees, the reason is because she is driven to do so, and the purpose is to make us more aware.

What would we do without the produce we purchase every day?  How would we cope with the loss of plants and fruits all awaiting the pollinating support of the Western Honey Bee?  Arena’s work, titled ‘Symbiotic Crisis,’ delves into this dilemma, the official name is ‘Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)’ in which the worker bees disappear and leave behind a queen and her nurses to fend for themselves and raise the immature bees to hopefully support the queen.  Now considering how complicated this topic can become how would an artist create work that would shine light on such a dire situation?  Arena’s work took all the right turns when she knew CCD must be part of her work.
            “I had been making still life drawings of GMO fruits and vegetables and multi- generational recipes. In addition, I was thinking about the cycle of plant life… seed         transfer, fertilization, and how it is all handled by nature’s design through the balance of     very complex relationships. Initially, it struck me as odd that bees, mere insects, were        being shuttled around the country to support a faction of the agricultural industry. I       knew that I wanted to investigate CCD at that point.” Said Arena

            To give an even deeper layer of metaphors Arena uses a variety of lids from jars some of which once held the very produce that was pollinated by Honey Bees.  During her research Arena found “that the initial comb form is round and the heat of the wings almost instantly causes the wax to settle into the hexagonal form we recognize in honeycomb.” Combined with this repurposed material Arena preps her lids that she sands and primes multiple times to get the right ‘canvas’ for her art and once they are displayed they appear as a modern day hive on the gallery wall. “Working with many individual parts, or surfaces to make a whole, reiterated the hive mentality of community and lent itself to the idea of symbiotic relationships and the ripple effect.” Said Arena. 

The presentation of Arena’s work also gives rise to a deeper contemplation as she has incorporated transportation as another element with ‘Symbiotic Crisis: a series of mobile installations.’  Arena rented a moving truck, and with the help of her contractor husband, created a mobile exhibition showcasing her work that could then travel much like the Honey Bees.  “The project was definitely outside my comfort zone, as I didn’t know if I would be asked to move the truck by a gallerist or other officials, and its creation was a major investment.” Said Arena.

Another aesthetic to Arena’s work is the process by which it is created as well as how it is experienced.  Arena works by the same method of the ‘Slow Food Movement’ that dictates ‘good, clean and fair’ a movement that also ‘advocates for sustainable foods and promotes local businesses.’  Arena says her work is “slow to make and slow to see,” a process that has the potential to pull the viewer into her work in opposition with the fast moving high technology world many of us live in today.  “Eliminating the seduction of color and using an overlooked media such as graphite seemed to be the best way to represent the notions I was investigating.” Said Arena

An upcoming opportunity to see Terry Arena’s earlier works in person will be this coming Thursday January 28, 2016 at El Camino College Art Gallery in Torrance, CA.  The opening reception runs from 7pm-9pm and the exhibition will run from January 19th-February 11th.  Gallery hours are Monday & Tuesday 9am-4pm Wednesday & Thursday 12pm-8pm.  

Terry Arena on the creation of a new piece involved in her 'Symbiotic Crisis' project in her studio in Ventura, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Graphite pencils are sharpened to a fine tip in order for Arena to create her detailed drawings.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Reflected in the glass of her back door, Arena meticulously sands her painted lids until the texture is just right and ready for her graphite drawings. Photo © Aimee Santos

Finished lids hang on the wall Arena's studio waiting for her hand to apply them with the plant and/or Honey Bee to make them modern day canvases.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Using a magnifying glass, Arena lays down tracing paper to help guide her in the creation of a new piece this time on a painted silver platter.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Terry Arena shows how her pieces, grouped together, create a modern version of a Honeycomb.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Using a large magnifier, Arena draws with a graphite pencil and tracing paper to prevent smudging.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A rejected honeycomb lays on a plate in Arena's studio to give her inspiration for her work.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Taking advantage of her backyard to work on sanding a new 'canvas' Arena appreciates the fact that she can be home and work on her art at the same time.  Photo © Aimee Santos

While sanding after one of many layers of primer, Arena inspects a plate to see if it has the texture she needs to draw on it.  Photo © Aimee Santos

An observer stepped inside the moving truck that was transformed into a mobile gallery for Arena's 'Symbiotic Crisis: a series of mobile installation."  Photo courtesy of the artist.