Templeton's inner child


Who Makes the Sun Rise?

Story and paintings by Lois Main Templeton

Book design by Phil O'Malley

Hawthorne Publishing; $18.95

Picasso once said that every child is an artist; the problem is figuring out how to remain a child once one grows up. Picasso would have loved Lois Main Templeton. Her inner child seems to be alive and well and, at the same time, at 80-plus, her artistry continues to ripen.

Templeton makes this clear with her latest project, a self-styled children's book based on an ancient folk tale entitled Who Makes the Sun Rise?

Inventively designed by Templeton's studiomate, Phil O'Malley, Who Makes the Sun Rise? relates the old story of a young rooster who wakes up one morning, fluffs himself and lets out his first cock-a-doodle-doo. As he does this he notes the sun rising and leaps to the conclusion that dawn has broken because of his prodigious vocal gifts. Needless to say, a humbling comeuppance is in store, followed by a resolution that provides the young cock with a healthy perspective regarding where he really fits in the barnyard scheme of things.

A project like this might seem a reductive task for an artist like Templeton. She is, after all, one of our most accomplished abstract artists, known for large gestures that, like wings, still manage to provide cover for litters of brilliantly intuited details. Where some abstract artists' work can seem defiant, a game of hide and seek played behind a show of primal markings and starkly formal composition, Templeton's bold use of color, jazz-inspired rhythms and frequent use of suggestive calligraphy succeed in making her work simultaneously mysterious and approachable, rigorous yet warm.

So far so good. But it's fair to ask how the instincts of even an accessible abstractionist like Templeton might lend themselves to the illustrative needs associated with a book aimed at children.

The answer, it turns out, is revelatory. Templeton somehow manages to move into the country of representation without compromising her abstract aesthetic. Indeed, she seems to find inspiration in the possibilities provided by narrative. What follows is a kind of visual tone-poem consisting of 18 paintings, mainly oil pastels on paper. Remarkably, most of these pieces have the power to stand on their own, apart from their functional intention. In part, this is because no two pieces are alike; they are, rather, presented as variations on a theme. In this context, the rooster, Samuel in this telling, becomes iconic, a figure variously triumphant, forlorn, vivacious, flabbergasted.

Most of all, we find yet another side to Lois Main Templeton. An artist already at home with reflection, willing to gaze within and give form to what she finds there, has now turned her attention and considerable powers of observation to the external world. The result stands as joyous answer to the book's title question - a sun rises with every creative act.

The book is currently available for sale at Editions Limited Gallery and the Indianapolis Art Center. A teacher's manual has also been devised. For information or to purchase, write to beyondthebarnyard@gmail.com or call 317-370-5664.