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Meet local artists, Brianna Joy Seipel and Hannah Ribbens, and visit their art at our Menomonee Valley branch (art opening, March 11)

Written by Urban Ecology Center
    Tuesday, 01 March 2022
Meet local artists, Brianna Joy Seipel and Hannah Ribbens, and visit their art at our Menomonee Valley branch (art opening, March 11)

As an avid hiker, Brianna Joy Seipel believes in the power of wild spaces to heal, inspire and transform. Inspired by backpacking trips with her husband, Joel, her vibrant oil paintings reveal the expansive beauty of national parks, forests, and wilderness areas. Her work invites us to consider landscapes as “places of refuge” and time outdoors as restorative care for the spirit, mind, and body. 

Urban Ecology Center: Brianna, tell us about your work. What inspired the ideas behind this exhibit?

Brianna Seipel: I’m currently in a season of painting national parks, forests, and wilderness areas. My husband and I love to backpack, so all the paintings in this exhibit are inspired by photos we’ve taken on our hiking trips. Specifically, I’ve been exploring the landscapes that have shaped my story – places of wonder, refuge, inspiration, and joy. 

There is a certain kind of magic you can only find in the backcountry. Extended time outdoors allows the spirit, mind, and body to deeply rest – stripped of the trappings of our modern, busy lives. Hiking reminds me how good it is to be alive and how to be present at this moment, right now. With food, water, and shelter in your pack, the only job for the day is to put your boots on, embrace the physical challenge, and enjoy whatever adventures find you on the way. 

When we return from these trips, I see painting as a sort of “gratitude practice.” It allows me to capture the landscapes I’m grateful to have witnessed and share that sense of wonder with others.

UEC: Tell us about the paintings - are there any specific stories or memories that inspired these pieces?

Brianna: 

  • Blueberry Season at Cascade Pass - There is nothing more incredible than the taste of wild blueberries - especially when you’ve been hiking all day. I took the reference photo for this painting at the top of Cascade Pass in North Cascades National Park. We were completely overwhelmed by the joyful color of the meadows and mountains. 
  • After the Rain - this painting was inspired by our most recent trip to Olympic National Park where we hiked 65 miles over six days. One afternoon it rained for a couple of hours, covering the landscape in raindrops and fog. While it made navigating the terrain a little more difficult, it was magical to hike through the rain.
  • Stillness - A friend of ours took us to the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming several years ago. I was struck by the quiet beauty of the place - the startlingly blue sky, soft clouds drifting off the mountain, and the snow-covered prairie.

UEC: Can you describe your art-making process? What are you most excited about right now in your studio practice?

Brianna:  I enjoy oil “sketching” on paper - these pieces are loose studies that take between 3-5 hours each. The small format is a perfect place to play with color and composition before I paint something large-scale. Because they take less time, I also tend to be more creative and courageous with these smaller pieces - taking risks and experimenting with ideas that may or may not work.

I’m often asked how long it takes to create a larger painting. Because of the texture and drying time of oil paint, the 2x3ft panels take anywhere between 30-40 hours each and 1-3 weeks to dry depending on how thickly the paint is applied. I tend to have several pieces going at once so that the painting can dry between layers.

I’ve been challenging myself to work larger this year, and I’m thrilled to include three larger panels in this show. I recently moved to west-central Wisconsin, and something I’m excited to explore this spring is integrating more plein-air painting into my practice as I explore the landscapes of our new home.

UEC: At the Urban Ecology Center we connect people in cities to nature and each other. Our vision is to inspire generations to build environmental curiosity, understanding, and respect. We restore hope and heal our urban natural world, neighborhood by neighborhood. How does art play a part in our lives and this mission? What do you hope visitors to the UEC will take away from this exhibit?

Brianna: When Hannah and I first met we quickly realized that we both create from a place of WONDER.  I think we want viewers to remember what it’s like to have childlike wonder - to be in awe of the natural world around us. Can we return to that place of innocence and even practice it as adults? We hope these paintings provide a moment of reflection that inspires visitors to reconnect to the landscapes of their own lives.

This exhibit is dedicated to Pat, Gen, and Alice – my grandmother and her two best friends who hiked and bicycled their way through the western national parks in their twenties. I will always remember your adventurous spirits and your stories of “America the Beautiful.”

Enjoy this slideshow of pictures of Brianna and her trips as a source of inspiration for her paintings:

Photo Descriptions:

  1. Brianna’s first backpacking trip in the mountains (Capitol Creek Trail, Colorado). 
  2. Joel & Brianna backpacking in Olympic National Park. 
  3. A quiet moment after a long day’s hike.
  4. An oil painting is in process.

Hannah P Ribbens’s work draws inspiration from her years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small Ecuadorian fishing village where she spent most of her time by the ocean and where she learned to see the world with a renewed sense of wonder. Her work seeks to share the awe and joy she experienced living by the ocean and now as a mother, the wonder she observes in her young children as they explore, experience, and learn to love the natural world around them. Her paintings are colorful and cross freely between the real and the imaginary.

Urban Ecology Center: Hannah, tell us about your work. What inspired the ideas behind this exhibit?

Hannah Ribbens:

I began by asking myself some questions-  “How do I connect with the world around me? Am I taking time to be still? Do I allow myself to be present and joyful? ” It’s easy to become so busy that we forget about the natural wonder that is happening all around us. As a mother I love and I have been fascinated by the honest and intuitive way young children move through the natural world. In my work I am drawing from that vulnerability of being totally new whether in childhood or learning a new language and a new way of life and how these experiences can lead to perhaps, a deeper appreciation of our world, an increased sense of wonder and awe. 

UEC: Tell us about the paintings - are there any specific stories or memories that inspired these pieces?

Hannah:

Seeds is based on a photo I took of Marcelo, a friend and leader of an incredible youth group with who I partnered within the Peace Corps. The image of Marcelo’s arm clutching a fist full of mangrove seeds is an image that speaks to the strength and resilience of not only the mangrove ecosystem but also the youth of Palmar, Ecuador. They taught me that rising up to defend and care for our environment is a revolutionary act.

Early Riser- is a memory of my oldest daughter Harriet waking early last summer while visiting her grandparents in Door County, WI. The joy of being the first kid up, running outside, and exploring a new space. I remember the cool, late August air with just the hint of color on the trees, drinking coffee with my mom and watching the light on my daughter’s hair, and the feeling of peace and calm.

UEC: Can you describe your art-making process? What are you most excited about right now in your studio practice?

My studio practice is in a state of transition as I have recently returned to work after staying home with my daughters. I’m learning how to balance full-time work, being a mother and also being an artist. I am currently working on preparing canvases and materials to take to my first artist residency where I will have a week to focus on my painting while staying at a farmhouse in Tennessee. 

UEC: At the Urban Ecology Center we connect people in cities to nature, and each other. Our vision is to inspire generations to build environmental curiosity, understanding, and respect. We restore hope and heal our urban natural world, neighborhood by neighborhood. How does art play a part in our lives and this mission? What do you hope visitors to the UEC will take away from this exhibit?

Hannah:

Art has the power to spark thought and discussion about everything from the environment around us to what makes us human. When I first met Brianna it was clear that we both felt such astonishment and wonder for the natural world around us. We hope visitors leave empowered to slow down, experience and love the world around them. 

This exhibit is dedicated to …

My daughters- Harriet and Fiona Joy as well as the youth of Neo Juventud, Palmar, Ecuador.

Below is a slideshow of pictures of Hannah:

Photo Descriptions:

  1. As a volunteer with the Peace Corps Hannah spent her days working in her community, a fishing village on the southern coast of Ecuador. 
  2. Hannah with her youngest daughter draws while her youngest daughter naps. 
  3. Hannah’s family hiking with their puppy at Kohler-Andrae State Park.

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