Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Bob’s Art Blog: Out of This World Art & “I’m Fine”

Class, repeat after me: “syn-es-the-sia”

“Now you say it, clap it out-syn-es-the-sia.”

“Very good class! Now Natalie, please tell us about your experience when you first realized you were a synesthete.”

Ms. Dohman (pictured) stepped to the front of the room to explain. The word you just spelled refers to a neurological condition, and it is taken from the Greek, synesthesia, which translates to mean “together perception,” referring to the senses’ abilities to cross over, in that, one sense stimulates others simultaneously in unexpected ways. It becomes a blending and, in my case, I feel color, whereas usually colors are seen in numerical or lettered form by a synesthete—that is, for the 4% of the population affected by this phenomenon.

Other examples are seeing music as colors or tasting textures like round or pointy objects when they eat food. For Natalie, it is akin to feeling color intensely, which only expands her abilities and interpretive skills as an artist. Synesthesia has opened a universe of possibilities as viewed in her “Planetary Series.”

The results of all of this are displayed artistically in her one-woman show, “Au Revoir An Intimate Showing,” over the weekend of April 24 to 25 at the Carlisle Ribbon Mill. She will unveil paintings inspired by music in her new series, “Playlist,” which promises more hits from an artist truly hitting her stride. As an additional bonus for Saturday’s opening festivities, live music will be provided by Unity Drummers. Sunday afternoon will feature multi-tasking musician Jonathan Frazier from Harrisburg providing the perfect accompaniment to Natalie’s art. Also taking place Sunday afternoon will be the artist’s talk at 2:30 p.m.

Ms. Dohman’s art is fairly well known in central PA from the West Shore at the Carlisle Arts and Learning Center (CALC), where she taught classes, to works shown at the Art Association of Harrisburg (AAH) and points in between.

Natalie refers to her synesthesia as a gift for an artist. Blessed with neural connections above and beyond the norm, she responds to the over-stimulation as giving her greater access to color and interpretation as it finds its way to the canvas. Oftentimes, the results are bold and bombastic, while others take on a depth of dramatic detente, subtly easing tensions portrayed in the paintings. What is felt in the moment of creation is what sparks the choice of template, texture and treatment. Perhaps the best example of Dohman’s depth of range can be seen in her studies of the planet’s surfaces as details emerge, felt by her brush while in sensory overload. The textures often are a direct result of the almost subzero temperatures of the paint she applies to the canvases. Thick and gloopy, the paints extend beyond the canvases themselves creating a universe of their own, unconstrained by their borders. She refers to the paintings as “sculpture wrapped canvas.”

In capturing her unabashed nature of color and context, Dohman creates a universe worthy of intergalactic space travel. The aspect of synesthesia becomes a personal power boost like a spaceship’s thrust with the afterburner delivering the payload. For Natalie, she experiences liftoff when the senses explode overlapping each other in a visual valediction. Her studies of the Earth (pictured), Uranus, Venus and Neptune all provide out-of-this-world combinations best contemplated in person. Is it any wonder that Natalie is a member of the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg? In total, a score of paintings will be featured at the show.

There are more stars in the Dohman universe than just her paintings. For starters, the event space, The Carlisle Ribbon Mill at 320 E. Louther St., is a dream destination enhanced even more so by its owners, John and Nancy Leonard. A historic landmark, the building was erected in 1918 and the venue provides a “loft style atmosphere” both regal and romantic all rolled into one. With its rustically rich appointments, the layout is perfect, featuring brick walls, exposed wood beams and maple floors worthy of atmospheric accolades. Normally used for wedding receptions like those featured in the Knot, it is the perfect backdrop for any out-of-this-world event, like an art exhibit, for example. State-of-the-art cocktails will be available over the weekend from Jacob Sailer, and the party will also showcase Marie’s Haitian Cuisine as well as No Forks Kitchen Personal Cooking and Catering. Among otherworldly morsels, you will find Sarah’s delectable macaroons. Vendors will also be on hand as part of the community continuum.

If all that isn’t cause enough for a round of applause, then the news Natalie recently shared with the community certainly is noteworthy. In a brief announcement in my early February art blog, Natalie was recently accepted as an artist-in-residence at the Chateau d’ Orqueveaux in France. This is quite an accomplishment, and she is anticipating her departure at some point in the future when international travel restrictions become less stringent and it is safe to fly. Whenever that day arrives, we wish Natalie well in her endeavor, broadening her horizons and advancing her skills as an artist on a global stage. For now, we salute her au revoir from our universe to France, joie de vivre, Natalie. For more info visit nDesign Art Haus.



I am still in a Carlisle state of mind traveling from Natalie Dohman’s au revoir across town to the Carlisle Arts Learning Center at 38 W. Pomfret St. to view the newly opened art exhibit in conjunction with the CALC Collaborative in the Upper Gallery, titled “I’m Fine.” As a declarative statement, it appears to reaffirm a positive and yet somehow seems to imply a question mark. I’m sure I will learn the answer to that soon.


CALC Collaborative: “I’m Fine”

As far back as the ancient Greeks, dating from 500 to 300 BC, masks have been worn to dramatize emotions spanning a wide range from tragedy to comedy. More often than not, life is a balance between the two in that art often imitates life. CALC puts out a clarion call to artists near and far over the course of the past year for their project “I’m Fine,” creating and collecting masks sculpted like those of yore. Over 250 ceramic masks depict the faces of mental health Illness during this time in history. Exigent factors have taken their toll and then some. The power of art can be such that it stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away. A defining moment of that magnitude is felt when first gazing upon the wall of colorful masks in the Upper Gallery. The faces run the gamut of emotions from panic to pathos depicting a wide range stirred by mental health illness. The rising incidence worldwide of mental health issues makes it among the most Googled topics on the internet.

“I’m Fine” at the Carlisle Arts Learning Center features a wall of masks.

The genesis of “I’m Fine” stemmed from conversations shared by Carrie Breschi, co-founder of CALC, and Maureen Joyce, ceramist/sculptor, regarding mental health and how society views it. Over 20 group workshops were conducted with artists last year discussing mental health awareness in creating the assembled masks. Joyce and her husband, Kevin, lost their son, Patrick to mental illness in 2018, and the exhibit is dedicated to his memory. It is their fervent desire that this project will bring a much-needed spotlight for opening up dialogues regarding treatment and society’s response to how mental health issues are perceived. The exhibit, co-curated by Breschi and Joyce, does just that in shining a necessary light on a subject that has been portrayed and dealt with by hiding behind a mask for far too long. Photographs of community members showcasing their masks can be viewed at Denim Coffee located at 1 S. Hanover St., and along 36 downtown windows at 120 W. High St.

Ceramic busts by Maureen Joyce

The “I’m Fine” exhibit narrows mental health awareness down to stories shared that accompany a portion of the masks in this artistic endeavor. Breschi shares, “We are not art therapists but believe in the power of art to heal, to ignite change and create new perspectives.” Joyce added, “Mental illnesses have been stigmatized for too long. Our intent is to start a conversation, an open conversation about how people deal with their mental health struggles.”

So, be a part of the exchange and join the dialogue at CALC. It may help more than you’ll ever know. The universal truth is to some degree all of mankind has experienced moments of despair and hopelessness at some point in their lives. Empathy for others is integral to the human experience called Life. The exhibit runs through May 29.

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