* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
A painter friend of mine once told me that he thought of sound as an usher for the here and now. When he was a small child, Adam suffered an illness that left him profoundly deaf for several months. His memories of that time are vivid and not, he insists, at all negative. Indeed, they opened a world in which the images he saw could be woven together with much greater freedom and originality than he’d ever known. The experience was powerful enough that it helped steer him toward his lifelong immersion in the visual arts. “Sound imposes a narrative on you,” he said, “and it’s always someone else’s narrative. My experience of silence was like being awake inside a dream I could direct.”
George Prochnik in In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise
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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.
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Q: Your pastel-on-sandpaper paintings are very labor intensive. Do you typically have just one in progress at any given time?
A: For many years I always worked on one at a time because I have only one or two ideas – never more than that – about what I will make next. Also, I believe that “all art is the result of one’s having gone through an experience to the end.” (It’s on a note taped to the wall near my easel). So I would work on one painting at a time until all of the problems in it were resolved. Each piece that I undertake represents an investment of several months of my life and after nearly three decades as an artist, I know that once I start a piece I will not abandon it for any reason. When it is the best painting that I can make – when adding or subtracting anything would be a diminishment – I pronounce it “finished.” In the past I would start the next one only when the completed piece was out of my sight and at the frame shop.
But a few years ago I began working on two pastel paintings at a time. When I get stuck – or just need a break from looking at the same image day after day (I am in my studio 5 days a week) – I switch to the other one. This helps me work more efficiently. The two paintings interact with each other; they play off of each other and one suggests solutions that help me to resolve problem areas in the other. I’m not sure exactly how this happens – maybe putting a piece aside for awhile alerts my unconscious to begin working deeply on it – but having two in progress at the same time is my preferred way of working now.
A note about the painting on the left above, which was previously called, “Judas.” I happen to be reading “Cloud Atlas,” by David Mitchell and came across the word “judasing” used as a verb meaning, “doing some evil to a person who profoundly trusted you.” I’d never heard the word before, but it resonated with an event in my personal life. So the new title of my painting is “Judasing.” This is a good reminder that work and life are inextricably (and inexplicably) woven together and that titles can come from anywhere!
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