The home of painter Yvonne Studevan and her husband Russell is elegant and traditional, complete with earth-toned walls, a stone fireplace and leather Chesterfield chairs you can sink into. Hardly bohemian, it is remarkably different from many of the Athens area artists’ homes featured in WUGA’s Artist in Residence series in the past. Yet, like all of them, the house, which was on tour last Saturday to benefit the station, reveals the artist’s unique vision and testifies to her craft, passions and beliefs.
Antiques passed down from generations of family add depth and personal meaning to the spacious suburban home. Double height ceilings offer opportunities to display these treasures, along with crafts collected on travels to Africa and Japan, art by friends and mentors and the work of Studevan herself.
As Studevan writes at the desk she inherited from Fanny Jackson Coppin, she can reflect on Coppin’s accomplishments, including becoming the first African-American superintendent of a school district in the U.S. As she sits in her family room, she can look at a print of the portrait of Rev. Richard Allen, which she was commissioned to create by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The artist is a descendant of Allen, who founded the church, which was the first independent black denomination in the U.S. in 1794.
And in the master bedroom of the home, Studevan can admire portraits of herself and her husband created by Abner Cope. Since retiring as an art educator and administrator, Studevan now has the time to devote herself to art making; portraitist Cope has served as her teacher and mentor.
Viviane Van Giesen, a watercolorist who met Studevan through the local Plein Air Painters group, gave a presentation on the artist’s work. She shared a quote from Studevan about the importance of creating. “A painting is not just a matter of putting pigment to paper. It’s not merely about line and shape or value and contrast. Art is, at its roots, one of the most essential ways we have to communicate. The best offerings convey an idea, share a mood, express a feeling, provoke a response.”
The artist is clearly an educator. She also creates rhythmic compositions in paint, often by depicting lines of human figures. In one work inspired by her visit to Africa, four young boys sit together on a bench. Their subtle variations in posture and expression, along with bold and repeated colors, lend energy to the work. The effect is much like a pattern in the global fabrics she has collected. Studevan also exhibits skill at controlling the viewer’s eye, Van Giesen pointed out, creating pathways into the compositions with the manipulation of line and shape.
Studevan’s studies with Cope were no doubt helpful when she was commissioned by the St. Philip Monumental A.M.E. Church in Savannah to create a large-scale painting of Jesus entitled “Come Unto Me.” Van Giesen shared the surprise of the model when Studevan approached him, asking, “Would you be a black Jesus?”
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