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?
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!
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Interviewer: Well, to begin – do you feel that you were born in a place and a time, and to a family all of which combined favorably to shape you for what you were to do?
Wilder: Comparisons of one’s lot with others’ teaches us nothing and enfeebles the will. Many born in an environment of poverty, disease, and stupidity, in an age of chaos, have put us in their debt. By the standards of many people, and by my own, these dispositions were favorable – but what are our judgments in such matters? Everyone is born with an array of handicaps – even Mozart, even Sophocles – and acquires new ones. In a famous passage, Shakespeare ruefully complains that he was not endowed with another’s “scope”! We are all equally distant from the sun, but we all have a share in it. The most valuable thing I inherited was a temperament that does not revolt against Necessity and that is constantly renewed in Hope. (I am alluding to Goethe’s great poem about the problem of each man’s “lot” – the Orphische Worte).
Thornton Wilder in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited, and with an introduction by Malcolm Crowley
Comments are welcome!
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
There is no such thing beneath the heavens as conditions favorable to art. Art must crash through or perish.
Sylvia Ashton quoted in A Life in the Arts: Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists by Eric Maisel
Comments are welcome!