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Q: When did your love of indigenous artifacts begin? Where have you traveled to collect these focal points of your works and what have those experiences taught you?

Mexico City

Mexico City

A:  As a Christmas present in 1991 my future sister-in-law sent me two brightly painted wooden animal figures from Oaxaca, Mexico. One was a blue polka-dotted winged horse.  The other was a red, white, and black bear-like figure. 

I was enthralled with this gift and the timing was fortuitous because I had been searching for new subject matter to paint. I started asking artist-friends about Oaxaca and learned that it was an important art hub.  Two well-known Mexican painters, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo, had gotten their start there, as had master photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo.  There was a “Oaxacan School of Painting” (‘school’ meaning a style) and Alvarez Bravo had established a photography school there (the building/institution kind). I began reading everything I could find.  At the time I had only been to Mexico very briefly, in 1975.  

The following autumn, Bryan and I planned a two-week trip to visit Mexico. We timed it to see Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca.  (During my research I had become fascinated with this festival).  We spent one week in Oaxaca followed by one week in Mexico City.  My interest in collecting Mexican folk art was off and running!

Along with busloads of other tourists, we visited several cemeteries in small Oaxacan towns for the “Day of the Dead.” The indigenous people tending their ancestors’ graves were so dignified and so gracious, even with so many mostly-American tourists tromping around on a sacred night, that I couldn’t help being taken with these beautiful people and their beliefs. 

From Oaxaca we traveled to Mexico City, where again I was entranced, but this time by the rich and ancient history.  We visited the National Museum of Anthropology, where I was introduced to the fascinating story of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations; the ancient city of Teotihuacan, which the Aztecs discovered as an abandoned city and then occupied as their own; and the Templo Mayor, the historic center of the Aztec empire, infamous as a place of human sacrifice.  I was astounded!  Why had I never learned in school about Mexico, this highly developed cradle of Western civilization in our own hemisphere, when so much time had been devoted to the cultures of Egypt, Greece, and elsewhere? When I returned home to Virginia I began reading everything I could find about ancient Mexican civilizations, including the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, and Maya. The first trip to Mexico opened up a whole new world and was to profoundly influence my future work. I would return there many more times, most recently to study Olmec art and archeology. In subsequent years I have traveled to Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and other countries in search of inspiration and subject matter to depict in my work.

Comments are welcome!

Q: During one of the most gripping times of your life, you were personally affected by the 9/11 attack on our country. Your husband was killed on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Would you mind telling us about it and how it has shaped your work?

‘Mi Teleferico’ line, La Paz, Bolivia

‘Mi Teleferico’ line, La Paz, Bolivia

A:  In the summer of 2002 I was ready to – I HAD to – get back to work in my studio. I knew exactly what I must do.  More than ever before, learning and painting would become the avenues to my well-being.

Because I use reference photos for my pastel paintings, the first challenge was to learn how to use Bryan’s 4 x 5 view camera. At that time I was not a photographer. Bryan had always taken reference photos for me.

In July 2002 I enrolled in a view camera workshop at New York’s International Center of Photography. Much to my surprise I had already absorbed quite a lot from watching Bryan. After the initial workshop, I continued more formal studies of photography for several years. In 2009, I am proud to say, I was invited to present a solo photography exhibition at a New York gallery!

In 2003 I resumed making my Domestic Threats series of pastel paintings, something that had seemed impossible after Bryan’s death. The first large pastel painting that I created using a reference photograph taken by me confirmed that my life’s work could continue. The title of that painting, “She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” was autobiographical. “She” is me, and “it” meant continuing on without Bryan and living life for both of us.

Having had a long successful run, the Domestic Threats series finally ended in early 2007. Around that time I was feeling happier and had come to better terms with losing Bryan. While this is a tragedy I will never truly be at peace with, dealing with the loss became easier with time.

Then in 2007 I suddenly became blocked and did not know where to take my work next. I had never experienced creative block and especially for a full-time professional artist, this was a painful time. Still, I continued to go to the studio every day and eventually, thanks to a confluence of favorable circumstances, the block ended.

My next pastel painting series was called Black Paintings. I viewed the black background as literally, the very dark place that I was emerging from, exactly like the figures emerging in these paintings. The figures themselves were wildly colorful and full of life, but that black background – one critic has dubbed it my “blackground” – is always there.

Still the work continues to evolve. In 2017 I began my third pastel painting series called Bolivianos, based on a mask exhibition encountered in La Paz at the The National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore. Many people have proclaimed this to be my most bold, daring, and exciting pastel painting series yet. And I think they may be right! Continuing on the journey I began 30+ years ago, I am looking forward to creating many new, striking pastel paintings!

Comments are welcome!

 

Pearls from artists* # 330

At Tiwanaku, Bolivia

At Tiwanaku, Bolivia

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

To take the time to look and analyze the city or a building or an object is of the same nature as owning it, except that ownership is not a satisfactory feeling – but understanding is a form of complete assimilation.  To really work and produce, there must be integration of your work in your life, or the integration of your life in your work.  

Louise Bourgeois:  Destruction of the Father, Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and interview 1923-1997, edited and with texts by Marie-Laure Bernadac and Hans-Ulrich Obrist

Comments are welcome!

Q: What more would you wish to bring to your work?

Tile worker in South India

Tile worker in South India

A:  I tend to follow wherever the work leads, rather than directing it.  I have never been able to predict where it will lead or what more might be added.

Travel is essential for inspiration.  Besides many Mexican sojourns, I have been to Bali, Sri Lanka, South India, Guatemala, Honduras, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, and other places.  A second trip to India is upcoming, to Gujarat and Rajistan this time.  

Last year I had the opportunity to go to Bolivia. In La Paz I visited the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, where a stunning mask exhibition was taking place.  As soon as I saw it, I knew this would be the inspiration for my next series, “Bolivianos.”  So far I have completed six “Bolivianos” pastel paintings with two more in progress now.  This work is getting a lot of press and several critics have declared it to be my strongest series yet.

Comments are welcome!

Travel photo of the month*

 

 

Near Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Near Santa Cruz, Bolivia

*Favorite travel photographs that have not yet appeared in this blog

Travel in Peru and Bolivia is life-altering.  One takeaway:  I adore clear, cool, crisp Andean light!

Comments are welcome! 

 

 

Pearls from artists* # 321

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

This is Bolivia, a country rich in cultural expressions.  Here many great civilizations have flourished, all of which, fundamentally, are bound to the soil from which both fruits and gods emerged.

As part of the expression of these cultures, masks are not mere accessories to conceal the face or represent a character for an artistic performance.  Neither are they simply for diversion.

Their roles as objects of art and diversion make sense only as part of a ceremonial act.  Then, masks can be understood as the remembrance of history and myth, the externalization of collective life.  They are seen within the context of a religious or social ceremony whose meaning is embedded in the past as well as present of a people.

These collective acts, without being set apart from daily life, are special celebrations where many distinct elements must be taken into account:  music, dance, costume, mask, food, drink, theatrical representation, work, history…    

Masked Dances of the Altiplano, by Manuel Vargas in Masks of the Bolivian Andes, Photographs:  Peter McFarren, Sixto Choque, Editorial Quipos and BancoMercantil

Comments are welcome!

Travel photo of the month*

Potosí, Bolivia

Potosí, Bolivia

*Favorite travel photographs that have not yet appeared in this blog.

Comments are welcome!

Travel photo of the month*

On the ‘Mi Teleferico’ line, La Paz, Bolivia

On the ‘Mi Teleferico’ line, La Paz, Bolivia

*Favorite travel photographs that have not yet appeared in this blog.

Comments are welcome!

Q: How much of your work is autobiographical?

"The Champ," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

A:  I suppose all of it is, in the sense that often I can look at a particular pastel painting and remember what was happening in my life when I made it.  As I get older, however, it’s becoming more difficult to remember the circumstances surrounding my earliest work.  Certainly, the cultures of an ever-expanding number of countries – Bolivia last year – are influencing my imagery for the better.

Comments are welcome!  

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I continue working on a large pastel painting based on another of my photographs from La Paz, Bolivia.

Comments are welcome!

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