A: I am drawn to each figure because it possesses a powerful presence that resonates with me. I am not sure exactly how or why, but I know each piece I collect has lessons to teach.
Who made this thing? How? Why? Where? When? I feel connected to each object’s creator and curiosity leads me to become a detective and an archaeologist to find out more about them and to figure out how to best use them in my work.
The best way I can describe it: after nearly three decades of seeking out, collecting, and using these folk art figures as symbols in my work, the entire process has become a rich personal journey towards gaining greater knowledge and wisdom.
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A: I am working on a 38″ x 58″ pastel painting. Rather than create and photograph a new setup each time, I sometimes search through older photographs to find ones that might spark a compelling painting. Photos that I haven’t seen in a while often have new lessons to teach. The one clipped to my easel above is from 2009.
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A: I grew up in a blue collar family in suburban New Jersey. My father was a television repairman for RCA. For awhile my mother worked as a sewing machine operator in a factory that made women’s undergarments, but mostly she stayed home to raise my sister and me (at the time I had only one sister, Denise; Michele was born much later). My parents were both first-generation Americans and in those days no one in my extended family had gone to college. I was a smart kid and showed some artistic talent in kindergarten or earlier. I have always been able to draw anything, as long as I can see it (i.e., I require a visual reference as opposed to drawing from memory). I remember copying the Sunday comics, which in those days appeared in all the newspapers. At the age of 6 my mother enrolled Denise and me in Saturday morning painting classes at the studio of an artist named Frances Hulmes in Rutherford, NJ. I continued the classes for about 8 years and became a fairly adept oil painter. Living just 12 miles from New York City in Clifton, New jersey, my mother often took us to museums, particularly the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Natural History. I remember falling in love with Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy” and being astonished by the violence and scale of Picasso’s “Guernica,” when it was on long-term loan to MoMA. I have fond memories of studying the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History. They are still my favorite part of the museum. I suppose it goes without saying that there were not any artists in my family so I had no role models. At the age of 15 my father decided that art was not a serious pursuit – he said it was a hobby, not a profession – so he abruptly stopped paying for my Saturday morning lessons. With no financial or moral support to pursue art, I turned my attention to other interests (ex. I learned to fly airplanes, becoming a commercial pilot and Boeing 727 flight engineer) and let my artistic abilities lie dormant.
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Given a small kernel of reality and any measure of optimism, nebulous expectations whisper to you that the work will soar, that it will become easy, that it will make itself. And verily, now and then the sky opens and the work does make itself. Unreal expectations are easy to come by, both from emotional needs and from the hope or memory of periods of wonder. Unfortunately, expectations based on illusion lead almost always to disillusionment.
Conversely, expectations based on the work itself are the most useful tool the artist possesses. What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. The place to learn about your materials is in the last use of your materials. The place to learn about your execution is in your execution. The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love. Put simply, your work is your guide: a complete, comprehensive, limitless reference book on your work. There is no other such book, and it is yours alone. It functions this way for no one else. Your fingerprints are all over your work, and you alone know how you got there. Your work tells you about your working methods, your discipline, your strengths and weaknesses, your habitual gestures, your willingness to embrace.
The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly – without judgment, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes. Without emotional expectations. Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child.
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear
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