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‘Flow together’

Young Oklahoma artists bring vibrant abstraction to the Equality Center

A Pep in Your Step” – Acrylic, pastel, and serigraphy on wooden panel (10 x 10 in)

Virginia Sitzes

Two artists who once shared a college studio will be sharing gallery space in December at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center as part of Oklahomans for Equality’s First Thursday art series.

Each October, the OKEQ art committee calls on artists from around the state to submit their work for a chance to be a part of the monthly show. Guests can expect food, wine, and captivating work by Oklahoma visual artists. The upcoming event on Thursday, Dec. 6, will feature works by Okahoma City-based artists Virginia Sitzes and Mycah Higley at the Equality Center, which provides services to the LGBTQ+ community in Tulsa.

Sitzes, who graduated with a BFA in painting and printmaking in 2017, co-founded the art collective called, simply, Art Group. Higley, whose BFA is in painting and drawing, is also a member of the collective. Since their days sharing a studio at the University of Oklahoma, the pair have sharpened their skills and refined their art, which caught the attention of the OKEQ committee.

“As to why these particular artists were chosen, it’s because of their outstanding work,” said Jose Vega, Pride Director at OKEQ.

Sitzes will display work examining the use of color and its impact on the viewer. “We were thinking a lot about how color affects how we perceive things, how color changes our mood or our attitude about something,” Sitzes said. “You hear a lot of [things] like, even the color of your plate can make you want more food, so color really has a big hold on people.”

One of Sitzes’ pieces, “Pep in Your Step,” evokes an ephemeral feeling. Red, yellow, and white brushstrokes creep across the page while blue squiggles and red lines dance on the edges, all before a pink canvas. “I was thinking of a light, springy day and how it’s carefree,” she said. “For me at least, I picture bare [feet] in flowers or grass, and you’ve got this nice little breeze.”

Sitzes described her creative process as experimental. She will start with a blank slate and gradually add to it. A screenprint, some paint—various elements as Sitzes’ intuition dictates. Sometimes she doesn’t need more than a day to complete a piece. Others may take months or even years.

This process of intuitive creation allows her inner world to make its way into the work. “Looking back, I can see the feelings and thoughts I was having that day emerge in them, so it’s kind of a history of what’s going on inside my brain.”

Sitzes explained how this process unfolded in “The Weight,” another piece to be featured in the OKEQ show. The painting came together earlier this year during the chaos and excitement of the first Art Group show. A dense conglomeration of broad brushstrokes fight for dominance at the center of the canvas while smaller figures and shapes sprout along the margins.

“I was just thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a lot of pressure. These are a lot of deadlines. This is a lot of stress. But totally not in the bad way,” she said of that first group show. “It’s this fun, exciting kind of stress and weight on the back of my shoulders.”

Higley will be displaying some works from her series, “Crumbles.” “I use these rock-shaped forms to make certain spaces on the canvas look really crowded or stressful, or to make all the forms look like they’re floating in an open, not-heavy environment,” she said. “I use color as well, but color is more of an afterthought to me, whereas form is in the foreground.”

Higley’s process is also based in her intuition. “I’ll try to cover the whole surface of the canvas with brushstrokes just trying to get myself comfortable with painting again. Once that’s done I pick and choose what I like from that and resolve the painting from there.”

Sometimes she surprises herself with the choices she makes. “It’s normally just colors I would never think would end up on this certain piece, or this piece ends up completely different than what I expected it to be. But that ends up being the most true reflection of what I was thinking about in the first place.”

In one of her pieces, “In-between,” short, heavy brushstrokes mass together, swirl and spread across the canvas, straining toward points of contact between warm and cool tones. “It definitely stems from experiences of being outside, and feeling like being in certain places outside makes you feel so full,” Higley said. “Those places are so busy with everything but they’re all cohesive, they all go together and they all flow together.”

After the First Thursday opening on Dec. 6, the artists’ work will continue to be on display at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center for the remainder of the month.

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