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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: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I am still in the early stages of a large pastel painting.  After visiting Peru and Miami for three weeks, it has taken a few days to readjust and get back into my work routine.

In case you’re wondering, the undistinguished gray shape, roughly center left, is a placeholder for a stone figure found at a shaman’s shop in Chinchero, Peru.  When I took this photo, the figure was at my apartment instead of in the studio (and I need to see the figure to paint it).

 

Comments are welcome!

Q: Would you speak about your first trip to Mexico?

 

With an amate tree at Chalcatzingo

With an amate tree at Chalcatzingo

A:  In the early 90’s my late husband, Bryan, and I made our first trip to Oaxaca and to Mexico City.  At the time I had become fascinated with the Mexican “Day of the Dead” celebrations so our trip was timed to see them firsthand.  Along with busloads of other tourists, we visited several cemeteries in small Oaxacan towns.  The indigenous people tending their ancestor’s 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.  On that first trip to Mexico we visited the National Museum of Anthropology, where I was introduced to the fascinating story of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations  (it is still one of my favorite museums in the world); 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. This 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 this past March to study Olmec art and culture.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 64

High Line, New York, NY

High Line, New York, NY

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

As soon as an artist has located the vital center of his activities, nothing will be more important than for him to remain within this center and never move further away from it (which is, of course, also the center of his nature, of his world) than the interior walls of his quietly and steadily expanding achievement.  His place is not, never, not even for a moment, next to the beholder and critic (at least no longer in an environment where all that is visible becomes ambiguous and preliminary, an auxiliary construction and temporary scaffolding for something else).  And one basically needs to be an acrobat to leap back safely and unharmed from this point of view into one’s inner center (the distances are too great and all the spots too destabilized to risk such an entirely inquisitive feat).  Most artists today use up their strength in this back-and-forth, and in addition to wasting their energy they get terribly confused and lose a part of their essential innocence to the sin of having taken their work from the outside by surprise, to have tasted it, to have joined others in enjoying it!     

Ulrich Baer, editor, The Wisdom of Rilke

Comments are welcome!

Q: What first intrigued you about Mexico?

"Myth Meets Dream," 1993, soft pastel on sandpaper, first painting that includes Oaxacan figures

“Myth Meets Dream,” 1993, soft pastel on sandpaper, first painting that includes Oaxacan figures

A:  In the early 90’s my husband, Bryan, and I made our first trip to Oaxaca and to Mexico City.  At the time I had become fascinated with the Mexican “Day of the Dead” celebrations so our trip was timed to see them firsthand.  Along with busloads of other tourists, we visited several cemeteries in small Oaxacan towns.  The indigenous people tending their ancestor’s 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.  On our first trip we visited the National Museum of Anthropology, where I was introduced to the fascinating story of ancient Meso-American civilizations  (it is still one of my favorite museums in the world); 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. This 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.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 5

Arizona storm

Arizona storm

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

Flying over the desert yesterday, I found myself lifted out of my preoccupations by noticing suddenly that everything was curved.  Seen whole from the air, circumscribed by its global horizon, the earth confronted me bluntly as a context all its own, echoing that grand sweep.  I had the startling impression that I was looking at something intelligent.  Every delicate pulsation of color was met, matched, challenged, repulsed, embraced by another, none out of proportion, each at its own unique and proper part of the whole.  The straight lines with which human beings have marked the land  are impositions of a different intelligence, abstract in this area of the natural.  Looking down at these facts, I began to see my life as somewhere between these two orders of the natural and the abstract, belonging entirely neither to one nor to the other.

In my work as an artist I m accustomed to sustaining such tensions:  A familiar position between my senses, which are natural, and my intuition of an order they both mask and illuminate.  When I draw a straight line or conceive of an arrangement of tangible elements all my own, I inevitably impose my own order on matter.  I actualize this order, rendering it accessible to my senses.  It is not so accessible until actualized.

An eye for this order is crucial for an artist.  I notice that as I live from day to day, observing and feeling what goes on both inside and outside myself, certain aspects of what is happening adhere to me, as if magnetized by a center of psychic gravity.  I have learned to trust this center, to rely on its acuity and to go along with its choices although the center itself remains mysterious to me.  I sometimes feel as if I recognize my own experience.  It is a feeling akin to that of unexpectedly meeting a friend in a strange place, of being at once startled and satisfied – startled to find outside myself what feels native to me, satisfied to be so met.  It is exhilarating.

I have found that this process of selection, over which I have virtually no control, isolates those aspects of my experience that are most essential to me in my work because they echo my own attunement to what life presents me.  It is as if there are external equivalents for truths which I already in some mysterious way know.  In order to catch these equivalents, I have to stay “turned on” all the time, to keep my receptivity to what is around me totally open.  Preconception is fatal to this process.  Vulnerability is implicit in it; pain, inevitable.

Anne Truitt, Daybook: The Journal of an Artist 

Comments are welcome.     

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