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Main Line Area Artists Find Fresh Inspiration Amid Trying Times

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Randall Graham’s “Peony”.

Through the past 12 months of lockdowns and uncertainty, three local artists have evolved and refreshed their work.

Browns, blues and grays have composed Agathe Bouton’s palate for years. The award-winning textile artist is known for incorporating those hues into prints that bear her distinctly French aesthetic. So Bouton was as surprised as her fans when she started producing work with bright oranges and reds. “I guess I needed a break, a creative rest, a gap in my work,” says Bouton. “I went red—and bold red.”

Agathe Bouton's "Red Nature"

Agathe Bouton’s “Red Nature”

The transition began a year ago, just as the COVID-19 quarantine was instituted. Restricted to her Wynnewood home and its adjacent studio, Bouton went on long walks around her neighborhood. She found herself going farther and farther. “It was the end of the winter, with its changing light,” she recalls. “I was looking carefully, really noticing nature as a rebirth after winter. I decided to be inspired by it, mostly picking the red color because I wanted a bright color with strength behind it.”

As for subject matter, Bouton focused on plants—not traditional florals or succulents, but those that are usually ignored. “They were not beautiful and decorative—they were fragile,” she says. “But they grow everywhere. That was my inspiration.”

Agathe Bouton’s “Soirée d’été”

That synced with Bouton’s frame of mind—one shared by many of us who’ve found new joy in the simplicity of quarantine life. She used monotype techniques, first in red hues and then blue. The prints are available on her website and social media, not via the galleries she works with. That, too, is a new way of connecting her art with buyers and collectors. “Even if it’s just to put art into the world, I like it,” Bouton says. “We’re in a time when beauty and creativity matter.”

Lessons Learned

A well-known regional artist and teacher, Randall Graham has a loyal following that loves his version of traditional Chester County painting—still lifes, portraits and landscapes. “We have to keep working, keep painting, drawing and creating,” he says. “It’s trite to say, but art matters.”

Randall Graham’s “Phoenix”

A resident artist at Malvern’s Gallery 222, Graham has adapted to virtual teaching, even finding a few silver linings. Students now screen-share their work, and he uses digital tools to draw his critiques right onto the pieces, indicating where shapes should change, something might be lighter or darker, and other edits.

Once he started announcing his classes on social media, Graham began to draw students from other parts of the country. “In a weird way, the whole experience has helped me grow as a teacher,” he says.

And he’s grown as an artist. Like Bouton, Graham has found new appreciation for life’s basics. “I dove into a lot of realism,” he says. “I wanted to find the truth behind things and pay attention to details.”

He also has to pay attention to his children while they do home schooling, cutting into the time he has to paint. Accordingly, he’s now doing smaller works, but producing a good number of them. They sell for less than his bigger works, which jibes with the current art market. “People aren’t spending thousands of dollars on paintings,” he says.

But they are collecting for their homes— and especially their home offices. Graham has also found success with his demonstration pieces— works that he starts in class. Although they’re unfinished and unframed, people want them. “It’s been unexpected but great,” Graham says. “They really are a part of my life, especially over the past year.”

Pop Art

A former server at White Dog Cafe in Haverford, Kate Geiger has had a lot of spare time during the restaurant’s multiple closures and truncated service options. Like Graham, she has young children at her Ardmore home. But she’s still found time to paint. “Having downtime actually got me out of a creative rut,” she says. “My process has changed and, somehow, I’m more focused. I have a clear vision of what I want to be painting.”

Commission business for Geiger’s colorful pattern-based portraits has grown over the past year, largely due to her expanded use of social media. She posts more of her art and shares works in progress. “It’s great to get feedback and encouragement,” Geiger says. “It’s nice to connect with people in that way.”

Paiting of a young boy in a striped yellow shirt.

A recent work by Kate Geiger.

Florals are another of Geiger’s favorite subjects. She’s working on a new collection, aiming for a summer release via her social media channels. “It’s definitely a tradeoff, because galleries earn those percentages,” says Geiger. “But this way, I can control the timing of my work, which still depends on my kids.”

Geiger’s husband is having his own creative renaissance. A chef at White Dog, he’s started building furniture for friends and family. “A lot of art has come out of the pandemic,” says his wife. “I think that’s how our brains process crisis and evolution. Maybe we see the beauty because we’re looking for it.”