Silver Anniversary: Hidden in the Hills artist studio tour returns
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Hidden in the Hills is celebrating its silver anniversary the last two weekends of November with free, self-guided tours featuring 191 artists at 45 private studios in the Desert Foothills communities.
Coordinated by the nonprofit Sonoran Arts League, the event is Friday, November 19, to Sunday, November 21, as well as Friday, November 26, to Sunday, November 28.
by desert landscape
Michele Corsini has always loved to create. She was born in London and was influenced, in part, by her Italian father, who was a skilled mosaic craftsman. She “ran away” to art college in 1983 and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in fine arts, painting, from St. Martin’s School of Art in London in 1987.
Then, in 1988, she joined her high school friend, Mark De Simone, in a true adventure. They moved to the United States.
“I ran away again, this time to Phoenix,” she says. “And upon arriving with Mark, my first thought was, ‘What was this land?’ I was enthralled by the harsh beauty of the desert landscape. I was only in my 20s, and here I was in this wonderland of majestic landscapes, harsh vegetation and resilient animals. It was truly an adventure like no other.”
She and Mark spent much of their first year in the United States exploring the Southwest and Mexico. They bought an old Volkswagen bus and traveled to remote areas to hike and mountain bike.
“In those early years, we would brew our own dark beer and make our own whole-grain bread because we couldn’t find it in Phoenix,” Corsini recalls.
Eventually the two good friends fell in love, married, and had three children. Early in their marriage, they bought 18 acres by Lake Pleasant and began learning about sustainable living systems. They built a straw bale house on the western edge of Cave Creek. It’s been their home for 21 years.
“America has been very good to us,” she says. “It has been a liberating experience, and we have learned that there are huge opportunities if you can prove yourself.”
Corsini’s career has evolved since she moved to America. She had a successful faux finishing business in the 1990s, and she indulged in elaborate projects, including byzantine mosaic murals, large-scale commissioned oils and sophisticated wall finishes.
She scaled back on her business when she had her children, but her passion for painting was reignited when she began working on small plein air pieces in 2011.
“I had been volunteering in the school, but I wanted to get back to painting,” she says. “I worked out a schedule where I would drop my kids off at school, go paint outside, and then pick them up. I love the immediacy of the format, and over this time period, I have honed my skills. I’ll set up anywhere a scene entices me — on the side of the road, balancing on rocks, in a wash or on a rooftop.”
The Sonoran Desert and central Mexico inspired Corsini. Years ago, she and her husband bought a second home in Guanajuato, a city known for its colonial architecture.
“We fell in love with it because it reminds us of Europe,” she says. “We spend our summers there because it is a higher elevation and much cooler. Our yard is full of giant agaves and other beautiful plants and trees that I love to paint.”
Corsini’s work ranges from large-scale oil paintings and charcoal drawings to small, soft pastel plein air paintings and abstract mixed-media pieces.
“I very much see my work, over the years, as a coming back to familiar themes, but every time with new eyes and expertise. The wonder of coming to this desert land from a very tame, conquered landscape has never been lost on me. That our trees and plants can survive this harsh environment and still sing with color every spring is a marvel. I love to celebrate that and probably always will,” she says.
During Hidden in the Hills, Corsini will exhibit her new work at Judy Paxton Bruce’s Studio No. 4 in Cave Creek. And her daughter, Anna Lucia De Simone, will exhibit watercolor paintings during the event at Youth Art Studio No. 1, at the Sonoran Arts League’s Center for the Arts in Stagecoach Village.
Pivoting to paper collage during pandemic
Mimi Damrauer returns to Hidden in the Hills for her fifth year, energized by her time in her studio. The talented mixed-media collage artist creates large, bold, colorful wall art from small, hand-painted pieces of paper fabric that she paints and sews together into a whimsical or abstract design. Her vibrant pieces often resemble primitive folk art.
Damrauer grew up in Ohio surrounded by creativity. She credits her mother for teaching her and her sisters about art and cooking. By age 9, she was teaching herself how to sew at home and taking art lessons at the Toledo Museum of Art.
“The inklings of a business were planted,” recalls Damrauer, a North Phoenix resident. “That lead to my whimsical style of painting, stitching, drawing and hand-cut wobbly designs.”
The self-taught artist moved to Arizona in 2016 and is inspired by her surroundings, including everything from sidewalk cracks to scenery from road trips.
Recently, she felt the need to get back to basics and simplicity.
“As I go through my life, I appreciate how to edit and make my life less complicated. I see objects in their simplest forms, and my style is all about editing what I see down to recognizable images,” she says. “I am simply striving for good design. In a world that can be so busy and overwhelming, I hope that my artworks are pleasing and joyful to look at.”
The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound, positive effect on her work, as it forced her to spend more time in her studio.
“I was ready for a change, and during the lockdown, I tried to make the best of the situation by taking classes online, exploring new techniques and just playing,” she says.
“I had so much fun that I developed a completely new technique of making my own medium to sew, which I call paper fabric.”
Damrauer experimented with acrylic paint on a strong construction-like paper and created fabric to sew on a sewing machine.
She cleaned out her studio, which was full of fabric from all over the world, and she spent time learning more about the tools she had accumulated over the years. She even took the time to create her own tools and homemade stamps.
“My hand-designed papers are painted, stamped and resisted to get a wide variety of color and designs,” she explains. “Each piece of paper has at least two to four layers of colors.”
She adds that she uses stamps to pull color and shapes out or put lines and squiggles back in.
She then cuts the paper into 3-inch squares to create her background.
“I like the scale of that, and I find it to be fun because it’s always changing. There is always something interesting to look at in every square,” she says.
With dozens of hand-painted paper squares to choose from, she then begins to sew.
“I am able to control the color and shading as I build my final design,” she says. “The end result is a simple design that is more complicated when you look at the composition.”
When her designs are finished, she mounts them on wood panels and applies varnish with sun protection.
Her obsession is “Arizona Barnyard,” which includes animals and scenery that she is surrounded by — horses, chickens, cactus and mountains. She also recently added Matisse-inspired shapes to create abstract pieces.
During Hidden in the Hills, Damrauer will exhibit her new work at Sandy Pendleton’s Studio No. 21 in Cave Creek.
“I believe my work resonates with others because it is happy, bright and simplistic. I’m having so much fun creating my designs,” she says.
“I just want to share that joy with others.”
Hidden in the Hills
WHEN: Friday, November 19, to Sunday, November 21; and Friday, November 26, to Sunday, November 28
WHERE: Desert Foothills communities
COST: Free admission
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