Cori Bartz lives a life filled with imagination. By day, she works in a school library surrounded by children’s illustrations and creative storytelling. In the evening or the weekend, she is in the studio sharing space with the fragments of imagination, memory and make-believe that come together in her paintings.
Bartz grew up surrounded by the Muppets, stuffed toys, Saturday morning cartoons, 80’s hair, clothing, and music. She remembers the start of MTV, electronics with dials, and email and the internet were as far away as a replicator on Star Trek. In college she found a love in art, where she could put the past and present together. This became the venue where childhood fantasy could flourish and where monsters, bugs, dragons and rabbits that talk (or smoke) could exist.
Bartz divides her artwork into two categories. The first is thematic and depicted in a pop or cartoonish style. For this work, she researches the theme by reading, finding photographic examples, and looking up background information to get a better feel or idea of what to include in the painting.
An example is the Houdini themed show that was held in Appleton during Mile of Music. Bartz searched photographic images of Houdini, read stories, and found a story about a magician’s card trick that stumped Houdini on how it was done. Houdini never did figure it out. Bartz portrayed this story by creating a painting showing Houdini emerging from a playing card, holding a deck of cards and a rabbit.
“These typically involve searching for reference photos to fit my ideas,” Cori said “I often have photos lying around my studio since I’m visual and usually need a reference picture to work from even if the final piece deviates from reality.”
Bartz’s big-eyed girls combine human and animal characteristics. Many have animal horns and furry ears sprouting from their heads and are frequently shown clutching a well-loved stuffed rabbit or teddy bear. Counterbalancing the “sweetness” of the image is a metal plate worn like a Band-Aid on the girl’s face, a pirate’s eye patch, or a cigarette with a long ash hanging out of the girl’s mouth.
Bartz’s building paintings originate from a love of old barn wood and metal buildings that have aged or are falling apart.
“My building paintings reference age,” Cori said “memory, and different aspects of life.”
Her paintings of buildings recently include painted images of paper cranes hanging from strings around the buildings. “I don’t always have a reason why I combine certain elements, but think of these natural and man-made elements relating to how we all live and work together.”
This year, the Trout Museum of Art purchased one of Bartz’s building paintings to include in their permanent collection for educational purposes.
In Bartz’s studio, her easel holds paintings of two “monsters.” These furry monsters sport fangs and hold a Popsicle or ice cream cone. They’re being painted for an online artist collective of surreal work Bartz was invited to join. October’s theme is “Monsters/Demons” and Bartz’s monsters are a friendly take on a scary theme.
Bartz’s creative process begins with notes, photos, colors, and layout in mind before painting. Themed images and big-eyed girls are sketched out in full size and then transferred onto the canvas or wood surface. She likes to let the wood grain show through the thin layer of oil paint to create a textured background, and then uses oil paint in multiple layers to build depth and dimension.
Her building paintings are drawn directly on the canvas, and thin color background is laid down before painting. In some of her works, she adds mixed media elements to the canvas such as paper and cold wax to give it a layered appearance.
Bartz’s work can be seen at coribartz.com, Etsy site “CrittersNCanvas,” online surreal art collective Strangedreamsart.com, Hang Up Gallery of Fine Art in Neenah, Art Garage in Green Bay, and Richeson School and Gallery in Kimberly.
Cori Bartz and Greg Bracken will be sharing the featured artist venue at the Hang Up Gallery for December and January.