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Carol Dickerson: Sleight of Hand

Smoke 30" x 24" acrylic on wood panel by Carol Dickerson

Blues, grays, shadowy whites - the colors of mystery. Rectangles, loops, parallels - the geometry of intellect. Tones that shift with the daylight bring the hope of clear understanding in the soft light of morning. Assurance of comprehension comes with the strong light of noon, as one sees the rough edges of one layer upon another. Scratch marks appear, perhaps left by some unknown entity that brushed itself against the surface. There is wisdom in this mystery. Yet, with the failing light of evening, a mystery it remains as it drifts away - Smoke.

It is not every artist that tackles painting the ephemeral. Yes, we have Rothko, who takes the viewer inside deep inner space to the source of all things. His opposite, Jackson Pollock, moves us through the pathways of a painted nervous system. Dickerson tackles something else - the enigma of an experience. The artist speaks of "mysterious transmutations," which in her words she describes this way, "Sometimes there is magic in the studio if I just let the genie catch me working."

Journey 30" x 40" acrylic on canvas by Carol Dickerson

Here we have Journey. The very title sets the mind on a path of discovery. It is a path full of surprises, as it always is in life, for no journey is without the unexpected. The ballooning of an optimistic peach color holds within it dark veins, hidden figures, troubles? However, the consistent soft grays and whites in the background indicate that though the road might be made bumpy by a few surprises, everything will be all right. According to Dickerson, as in life, it's the knotty naughtiness of the unexpected that pushes forward the journey in this painting.

Dickerson describes her painting experience in this way. "It begins with despoilment...[r]andom lines in charcoal or drippy paint, automatic writing, textured mediums, stenciled patterns, and splashes of color. Pattern, texture, veiled shapes, and colors appear and disappear...undergirded by knowledge of design principles and color harmony. My basic question is always, 'Does it please me?' The trick is recognizing the good things that show up by accident."

Journey is also a good metaphor for Dickerson's life. In a household with three older sisters who all made things all the time, Dickerson grew up being a maker, doing crafts, quilting, and drawing. She took art classes off and on, but like so many with a talent for the image her life took her in the direction of the word. That connection between word and image that is recognized by old cultures like China's, where painting was known as silent poetry, manifested in Dickerson's life when she became a librarian. Her career path ultimately led her to Colorado Springs where she became the Director of the Library at Colorado College. Her visual aesthetics were called upon as she made the decisions for the furniture and interior design of that library. However, as with all things, change comes. Dickerson announced her upcoming retirement plans in 2011, giving the college a year to find a suitable replacement. It was during that year that she charted a new course.

Tenuous Connections 30" x 40" acrylic on canvas by Carol Dickerson

Delicate Balance 24" x 18" acrylic on wood panel by Carol Dickerson.

Tenuous Connections and Delicate Balance are terms that could certainly be applied to that period in Dickerson's life. Though these two paintings are among her recent works, they seem to hold the echo of those periods in life when she was reaching for a new and different way of being. These combinations of black, white, and gray with minimal contrasts of either blue or tan represent a type of stark reality. After a successful career of 32 years as a librarian, she had gone "off grid," maybe even "rogue." While she planned in detail and used her resources well, there was always that fear of hearing the limb she had crawled onto crack off behind her. In Tenuous Connections, one sees again that geometry of intellect, the use of rectangles, lines, and boxes that indicate a sorting out of related parts, the finding of meaningful, workable partnerships. Delicate Balance, on the other hand, is more organic. It feels like a tumble of rocks left after an earthquake. They sit for centuries grinding against one another until they somehow fit. It is the visual expression of the emotional experience of great change.

Dickerson used the year's notice that she gave to Colorado College to find her connections to art, for her goal was not to play around with it but to become an artist in the fullest definition of that word. She equipped her own studio. She took courses from Bemis Art School and from Chris Alvarez Art School. These courses got her used to everything from spending 6-7 weeks on a drawing to doing 6-second poses. Dickerson always expresses her appreciation for the local arts community, Cottonwood Center for the Arts, the artists in The Second Floor Art Studios, and supportive gallery owners like Abigail Kreuser, Gundega Stevens, and Valerie Surface Lloyd. She also has recommendations, such as a video on painting by Virginia Cobb and a current inspiration, a book by printmaker Anne Moore, Art Under Pressure. Moore's work seems to have inspired Dickerson's use of stencils in her own layering techniques as something to respond to. That certainly seems true for Codicil (below).

While Smoke expresses a mystery that seems definable yet remains an engima, Codicil has teeth, like the black and white print on a legal document. It has a title, and there are important clauses in a script that seems incomprehensible, not unlike legalese. Yet, it definitely tells the viewer, "Read this. It is important." Dickerson says that she wants her work to be intriquing to the viewer. Codicil certainly fulfills that goal.

Codicil 24" x 30" mixed media on wood panel by Carol Dickerson.

"Creating during a period of personal sadness, social division, and a war, I sought solace in creation, hoping to ignite bits of light in the darkness. I was unsure of my direction but tried to remain open to the process and allow the paintings to reveal themselves through experimentation and exploration." Carol Dickerson.

Dickerson's words bring to mind that period we all suffered through in 2020-2021. The world seemed topsy-turvy, and we all had to reach deep down to find resilience. The possibilities offered up by exploration and experimentation shake up the old way of seeing things and offer addendums, codicils if you will, to our normal way of viewing life. Dickerson says that abstract painting causes her to dialog with her painting. The painting tells her things, and she responds as one does in a good conversation. The artist is patient with her process and resists the temptation to gesso a piece out. Rather she waits. She layers oil and cold wax over a failed acrylic painting, adds a stencil, and perhaps some script. It requires hard work and diligence, but most of all patience, though at times she has heard herself say, "This painting is trying to kill me!"

Buongiorno 48" x 30" acrylic on canvas by Carol Dickerson

On the happier side of being an artist is the wonderful expressions of joy that come when one captures the mood of a voyage. Buongiorno has about it the feeling of a creamy cappucino with lots of foam on top, imbibed while sitting on a lovely terrace overlooking Venice's Grand Canal. It is a happy morning filled with the promise of a relaxed day of wandering among the Serenissima's wonderful, colorful, old buildings, until finding oneself lost at the end of some strange connection of tiny streets. The only solution is to sit in a small neighborhood café and have a glass of wine until the map you brought with you finally makes sense. (Wine always helps with that.) Once again, Dickerson has captured an experience.

Moonbeam 18" x 24" mixed media on panel by Carol Dickerson

Who can know what strands of intuitive information come to us on the silvery/blue light of moonbeams? Here Dickerson seems to have received a communication of the interior construction of a moonbeam, complete with an antenna downloading thought bubbles of information. Moonbeam seems to be a tribute to the magic of imagination and creativity often associated with the moon. Dickerson gives her beam a pale blue color like that of a charge of electricity. Yet, she gentles the color by calming that blue with a dose of hazy sleepiness, so as not to wake us up before the transmission is complete. The painting has the ephemeral quality of a dream, like the ones we wake from feeling that our unconscious has downloaded an update. Those updates, as we go through our waking lives, come forth in the form of new ideas.

Carol Dickerson with her paintings. Photo Credit to Allison Daniell for Surface Gallery

Here she is surrounded by some of her recent works. She is the librarian who moved from the world of the books to become an artist, a Scribe of the Shape as the Ancient Egyptians called those who painted images. Perhaps like that moonbeam, she is sharing the wisdom of the books in the mystery of her paintings. Sleights of hand, they are her magic tricks which show the ephemeral quality of experiences. Pay attention!

Carol Dickerson will be showing her work for the month of April at Surface Gallery, 2752 West Colorado Ave., Colorado Springs, CO. If you are in the area on Friday, April 7th, during our First Friday Art Walk, stop by the gallery to meet the artist.

Otherwise, enjoy her art by visiting her art website:

Should you be interested in articles on art history combined with a discussion of wines, go to my other art blog, Also see my author page at

© Marjorie Vernelle 2023

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