May 09, 2023

Artists connect with nature and each other

by: Jonathan Turner

Posted: Jun 5, 2023 / 06:20 PM CDT

Updated: Jun 5, 2023 / 06:20 PM CDT

A new unique outdoor art exhibit in Clinton reflects the ultimate artistic collaboration.

One year after the successful opening of The Grove in downtown Clinton's Pocket Park (125 4th Avenue South), the cozy park is hosting its second interactive art display.

Created by Harmony Eccles of Kansas City, Mo., the art forest consists of 12 free-standing, beautifully crafted wood frames created by Tim and Charlie from Retired with Wood that hold 12 colorful, abstract pieces made on convertible canvas tops from Upholstery Unlimited.

A 48-year-old Clinton native, Eccles is an abstract painter inspired by spiritual connectedness and beauty in nature. The exhibit is comprised of a dozen paintings ranging in size from 4 feet to 10 feet tall – using the same canvases created by the first artist from last year.

Clinton artist Gabriella Torres had the idea for the Pocket Park art forest in September of 2021, and her abstract art was the first exhibit, from June through October 2022. The Clinton exhibit is appropriately called "Connective Conversation" and was first unveiled in a reception on a beautifully sunny Saturday, June 3.

Eccles saw the first Grove paintings last fall, just about a week before Torres took them down.

"I loved that she created this sanctuary of art," Harmony said Saturday. "I felt this would be a privilege to create in the space she created."

She literally painted on the same canvases, which she requested, with the same paints Torres used. "To continue the conversation that you started," Eccles said. "I painted over it but along with it."

"You can get close to these and still see a lot of her original markings," she said of Torres. "I didn't cover any with white completely. I always started with where she left off. It would be like we were having a conversation and creating a new idea out of that."

Eccles said it was a fun limitation and challenge to see what she could do, following someone else's lead. She’d never done a project like this before and she didn't ask Torres for input on her designs.

"She trusts me and her and I have a similar mindset," Eccles said. "I knew I wouldn't compromise what she had done, by expressing my interpretation of what she had created. It became something new that we had done together."

Harmony also has not painted for outdoor installation before – it was new to use canvases and paints suited for the outdoors, so it could weather the elements.

The canvas is the same material used for convertible car tops, Eccles said, noting it doesn't absorb paint the same way as traditional canvas. She worked on them from March through May, in Kansas City.

"This is risky, to do something outside with materials that are unusual," Eccles said. "I think that makes it exciting. Because we both are inspired by nature, it makes sense to have an open-air exhibit, in nature, where we find the most joy ourselves."

Her father still lives in Clinton; her brother is in Fulton, and her mom lives in Des Moines. It's very important to have her art in her hometown.

"My dad has always been supportive of my artwork. I almost wanted to do it just for him," Eccles said, noting both her parents came for the June 3 reception. "So he could come down here and have a reminder of our family and how important growing up here was for me."

Connecting in friendship, art

Torres asked Eccles to be the second Grove artist; Harmony went to high school with her brother Rogo, but didn't get to know Gabi until 2020.

The Grove paintings are literally a visual representation of that connection between the two women. "I wouldn't want anyone else to collaborate in that way other than Harmony," Torres said.

She said it wasn't hard to see her original art go away under the new paintings.

"For me, this is rarely about ego, if ever," Torres said. "It's more about art and creating beautiful things and making that accessible to as many people as possible."

"I knew the second the city asked me to make this a permanent experience for our town, that it's like, Harmony was the only artist I trusted to be able to understand its purpose and the meaning, why this is so important."

"There are so many things I admire about Harmony," Torres said. "Her art and just her as a person, which I don't think are dissimilar things. She is so genuine and authentic and so loving and so kind and so connected to the deeper parts of what it is to be a human, and willing to fully embrace and dive into that experience."

"With Harmony's work, people look at them and feel something," she added. "Since I’ve known her, all her work makes you feel something. And I think that's really amazing and special."

Inspired by art in Clinton

Eccles was inspired to pursue art at Clinton High School (graduating in ’93), and she went to Iowa State University, majoring in graphic design.

The artist says she finds inspiration in the beauty of nature and the interconnectedness of all things. Her preferred medium is acrylic on canvas, which allows her to express through the use of textured layering, color interaction, and compositional balance.

At Iowa State, she also studied calligraphy but not painting, Eccles said Saturday.

"I kept experimenting more and more – watercolors first and eventually, I wanted to do larger-scale acrylics and still have them look like watercolor," she said. "I do use acrylics, but I use a lot of water too."

Eccles started painting as a way to make gifts for people, and more people commissioned artwork from her, over 25 years.

She and her husband moved to Bonn, Germany in 1998 (through 2003), where she worked as a graphic designer for a research center, and painted there as well. "I thought we might as well pursue the adventure while we were young," Eccles said.

After moving back to Ames for a year, they settled in Kansas City 16 years (she has three kids, now ages 18, 20 and 22), and then lived in Berlin, Germany for three years, moving back to Kansas City last July.

Eccles worked for a gallery in Berlin, where she showed her work. Her regular job now is frame manager for a Michaels store.

"When you live overseas and learn about another culture, you realize how special your upbringing is, and how meaningful relationships are," Eccles said. "That's something Gabi and I share, to have that deep friendship."

She prefers doing abstract art – "because it gives the viewer the chance to create their own interpretation. I love to incorporate symbolism in what I’m painting and it gives me freedom to do that."

"This group of work complements it by the color choices," Eccles said of how her art at The Grove reflects its surroundings. "I feel like any artwork would be an addition to this park that's inspiring."

Torres re-stained all the frames a darker brown for this year. For more information on Eccles, visit her Facebook page HERE.

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Connecting in friendship, art Inspired by art in Clinton