Q: How has the use of photography in your work changed over the decades?
New York, NY
A: From the beginning in the mid-1980s I used photographs as reference material. My late husband, Bryan, would shoot 4” x 5” negatives of my elaborate setups using his Toyo-Omega view camera. In this respect Bryan was an integral part of my creative process as I developed the “Domestic Threats” pastel paintings. At that time I rarely picked up a camera, except to capture memories of our travels.
After Bryan was killed on 9/11, I inherited his extensive camera collection – old Nikons, Leicas, Graphlex cameras, and more. I wanted and needed to learn how to use them. Starting in 2002 I enrolled in a series of photography courses (about 10 over 4 years) at the International Center of Photography in New York. I learned how to use all of Bryan’s cameras and how to make my own big chromogenic prints in the darkroom.
Along the way I discovered that the sense of composition and color I had developed over many years as a painter translated well into photography. The camera was just another medium with which to express my ideas. Surprisingly, in 2009 I had my first solo photography exhibition at a gallery in New York. Bryan would have been so proud!
For several years now my camera of choice has been a 12.9” iPad Pro. It’s main advantage is that the large screen let’s me see every detail as I compose my photographs. I think of it as a portable, lightweight, and easy-to-use 8 x 10 view camera. My iPad is always with me when I travel and as I walk around exploring New York City.
It is a wonderful thing to be both a painter and a photographer! While pastel painting will always be my first love, photography has distinct advantages over my studio practice. Pastel paintings are labor-intensive, requiring months of painstaking work. Photography’s main advantage is speed. Photographs – from the initial impulse to hanging a print on a wall – can be made in minutes. Photography is instant gratification, allowing me to explore ideas much easier and faster than I ever could as a painter. Perhaps most importantly, composing photographs keeps my eye sharp whenever I am away from the studio. I credit photography as an important factor in the overall evolution of my work.
Comments are welcome!
Pearls from artists* # 436
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Cassirer’s partial definition of art as symbolic language has dominated art studios in our [20th] century. A new history of culture anchored upon the work of art as a symbolic expression thus came into being. By these means art has been made to connect with the rest of history.
But the price has been high, for while studies of meaning received all our attention, another definition of art, as a system of formal relationships, thereby suffered neglect. This other definition matters more than meaning. In the same sense speech matters more than writing, because speech preceded writing, and because writing is but a special case of speech.
The other definition of art as form remains unfashionable, although every thinking person will accept it as a truism that no meaning can be conveyed without form. Every meaning requires a support, or a vehicle, or a holder. These are the bearers of meaning, and without them no meaning would cross from me to you, or from you to me, or indeed from any part of nature to any other part.
… The structural forms can be sensed independent of meaning. We know from linguistics in particular that the structural elements undergo more or less regular evolutions in time without relation to meaning, as when certain phonetic shifts in the history of cognate languages can be explained only by a hypothesis of regular change. Thus phoneme a occurring in an early stage of language, becomes phoneme b at a later stage, independently of meaning, and only under the rules governing the phonetic structure of the language. The regularity of these changes is such that the phonetic changes can be used to measure durations between recorded but undated examples of speech.
Similar regularities probably govern the formal infrastructure of every art. Whenever symbolic clusters appear, however, we see interferences that may disrupt the regular evolution of the formal system. An interference from visual images is present in almost all art. Even architecture, which is commonly thought to lack figural intention, is guided from one utterance to the next by the images of the admired buildings of the past, both far and near in time.
George Kubler in The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things
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Pearls from artists* # 396
* 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 summarize, art is expression. Expression is nonutilitarian and has no purpose beyond itself. Early on this led me to define works of art as things whose only function is to be perceived. Since the appearance of such things in everyday life breaks the drift of habit for which we have been hard-wired by evolution, art always occurs as an interruption. In the course of time, humans have produced innumerable works of art, subordinating them to innumerable ends according to the needs of the hour, yet all art exhibits a primal quality that exceeds those appropriations. Because the inherent multivalence of art threatens the desire to reduce things to clear significations, human societies have a tendency to overlook it, with the result that a great many aesthetic objects are called art when they are perhaps something else. To clarify this distinction I called art designed to serve instrumental reason “artifice.” In its worst forms, artifice amounts to aesthetic manipulation of a kind that is indisputably hostile to the ideals of openness, plurality, freedom of thought, and rational disclosure that we were told were the cornerstones of modernity. Art, on the other hand, is innately emancipatory, being itself the affirmation or sign of freedom.
J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice: A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action
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Q: Would you speak about the practical realities – time and expenses – involved in making your pastel-on-sandpaper paintings? What might people be surprised to learn about this aspect of art-making?
A: I have often said that this work is labor-intensive. In a good year I can complete five or six large (38″ x 58″) pastel paintings. In 2013 I am on track to make four, or, on average, one completed painting every three months. I try to spend between thirty-five and forty hours a week in the studio. Of course, I don’t work continuously all day long. I work for awhile, step back, look, make changes and additions, think, make more changes, step back, etc. Still, hundreds of hours go into making each piece in the “Black Paintings” series, if we count only the actual execution. There is also much thinking and preparation – there is no way to measure this – that happen before I ever get to stand before an empty piece of sandpaper and begin.
As far as current expenses, they are upwards of $12,000 per painting. Here is a partial breakdown:
$4500 New York studio, rent and utilities ($1350/month) for three months
$2500 Supplies, including frames (between $1500 – $1700), photographs, pastels (pro-rated), paper
$2000 Foreign travel to find the cultural objects, masks, etc. depicted in my work (approximate, pro-rated)
$3000 Business expenses, such as computer-related expenses, website, marketing, advertising, etc.
This list leaves out many items, most notably compensation for my time, shipping and exhibition expenses, costs of training (i.e. ongoing photography classes), photography equipment, etc. Given my overhead, the paintings are always priced at the bare minimum that will allow me to continue making art.
I wonder: ARE people surprised by these numbers? Anyone who has ever tried it knows that art is a tough road. Long ago I stopped thinking about the cost and began doing whatever is necessary to make the best paintings. The quality of the work and my evolution as an artist are paramount now. This is my life’s work, after all.
Comments are welcome!
Q: How do you organize your studio?
A: Of course, my studio is first and foremost set up as a work space. The easel is at the back and on either side are two rows of four tables, containing thousands of soft pastels.
Enticing busy collectors, critics, and gallerists to visit is always difficult, but sometimes someone wants to make a studio visit on short notice so I am ready for that. I have a selection of framed recent paintings and photographs hanging up and/or leaning against a wall. For anyone interested in my evolution as an artist, I maintain a portfolio book with 8″ x 10″ photographs of all my pastel paintings, reviews, press clippings, etc. The portfolio helps demonstrate how my work has changed during my nearly three decades as a visual artist.
Comments are welcome!
Q: Why do you need to use a photograph as a reference source to make a pastel painting?
A: When I was about 4 or 5 years old I discovered that I had a natural ability to draw anything that I could see. It’s the way my brain is wired and it is a gift! One of my earliest memories as an artist is of copying the Sunday comics. Always it has been much more difficult to draw what I CANNOT see, i.e., to recall how things look solely from memory or to invent them outright.
The evolution of my pastel-on-sandpaper paintings has been the opposite of what one might expect. I started out making extremely photo-realistic portraits. I remember feeling highly unflattered when after months of hard work, someone would look at my completed painting and say, “It looks just like a photograph!” I know this was meant as a compliment, but to me it meant that I had failed as an artist. Art is so much more than copying physical appearances.
So I resolved to move away from photo-realism. It has been slow going and part of me still feels like a slacker if I don’t put in all the details. But after nearly three decades I have arrived at my present way of working, which although still highly representational, contains much that is made up, simplified, and/or stylized. As I have always done, I continue to work from life and from photographs, but at a certain point I put everything aside and work solely from memory.
Comments are welcome!