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!
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!