*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
We’ve all taken advantage of the unlimited instant access that the wired world claims to provide. So it’s not surprising that many artists are reluctant to contemplate, much less accept, any self-imposed limitations. Painters and sculptors who remain in their studios grapple with the fundamentals and fine points of representation or abstraction – worrying about Renaissance theories of perspective or Klee’s or Kandinsky’s ideas about plane geometry – can be accused of having their heads in the sand. But there comes a time when certain questions must be asked. What are the artistic traditions that mean the most to you? What is your artistic heritage? Where do you stand?
Between Abstraction and Representation by Jed Perl in The New York Review of Books, November 24, 2022
A: For my current series, “Bolivianos,” I am using as source/reference material c-prints composed at a La Paz museum in 2017. I began the series by picking my favorite from this group of photos (“The Champ” and later, “Avenger”) before continuing with others selected for prosaic reasons such as I like some aspect of the photo, to push my technical skills by figuring out how to render some item in pastel, to challenge myself to make a pastel painting that is more exciting than the photo, etc. I like to think I have mostly succeeded.
At this time I am running low on images and have not yet imagined what comes next. Do I travel to La Paz again in 2021 to capture new photos? This series was a surprise gift so I am reluctant to deliberately chase after it knowing that ‘lightning never strikes twice.’ Will travel even be possible this year with Covid-19?These are questions I am wrestling with now.
A: Behind me in the photo above is one of my circa 1994 50” x 40” c-prints, signed by both Bryan, my late husband, and me. The photo was my reference for a pastel painting titled, “Amok” (right, above).
I staged these photos in our Alexandria house (staged photography was popular then), refined the composition over days or weeks, and lit the scene using two tungsten studio lights. I was careful to accentuate the shadows, doing what I could to light everything as though it were a film noir set. (Film noir is still a favorite movie genre of mine).
In those days I knew nothing about photography soI considered these photos collaborations, since Bryan clicked the shutter. (He typically shot two pieces of film using his old Toyo Omega 4 x 5 view camera with a rented wide angle lens). Bryan was reluctant to take any credit- insisting that the idea, concept, etc. were mine – but I persuaded him to also sign the photos. (How I wish he were still around to fill in forgotten details about our collaboration).
People enjoyed and often asked to purchase the reference photos so I sometimes had them enlarged and sold them. The dragon in the foreground is significant because it was my first purchase in Oaxaca during our initial trip to Mexico.
If anyone is interested, please remind me to tell the (long) story about how I got it home on the plane!
A: I am often asked to teach, but I never have had the desire to do so. Because my work is extremely labor intensive, I am reluctant to give up precious studio time, either for teaching or for any activities that could be deemed a distraction. Consistent in my creative practice, I typically work in my studio five days a week, seven or more hours a day and am able to complete four or five pastel-on-sandpaper paintings in a year.
Teaching would divert time, attention, and energy away from my practice. Certainly it can be rewarding in many ways but since my process is slow and meticulous, I prefer to focus on making new work.
A: As I have often said, I left the active duty Navy in 1989, but stayed in the Reserves. The Reserves provided a small part-time income and the only requirement was that I work one weekend a month and two weeks each year. Plus, I could retire after 13 more years and receive a pension. (In 2003 I retired from the Navy Reserve as a Commander). The rest of the time I was free to pursue my studio practice.
For a short time I made a living making commissioned photo-realist portraits in soft pastel on sandpaper. However, after a year I became very restless. I remember thinking, “I did not leave a boring job just to make boring art!” I lost interest in doing commissions because what I wanted to accomplish personally as an artist did not coincide with what portrait clients wanted. I finished my final portrait commission in 1990 and never looked back.
To this day I remain reluctant to accept a commission of any kind. So I am completely free to paint whatever I want, which is the only way to evolve as a serious, deeply committed artist.
A: As artists each of us has at least two important responsibilities: to express things we are feeling for which there are no adequate words and to communicate to a select few people, who become our audience. By virtue of his or her own uniqueness, every human being has something to say. But self-expression by itself is not enough. As I often say, at it’s core art is communication. Without this element there is no art. When artists fail to communicate, perhaps they haven’t mastered their medium sufficiently so are unsuccessful in the attempt, or they may be being self-indulgent and not trying. Admittedly there is that rare and most welcome occurrence when an artistic statement – such as a personal epiphany – happens for oneself alone.
Most importantly, always listen to what your heart tells you. It knows and speaks the truth and becomes easier to trust as you mature. If you get caught up in the art world, step back and take some time to regain your bearings, to get reacquainted with the voice within you that knows the truth. Paint from there. Do not ever let a dealer or anyone else dictate what or how you should paint.
With perhaps the singular exception of artist-run cooperative galleries, be very suspicious of anyone who asks for money to put your work in an exhibition. These people are making money from desperate and confused artists, not from appreciative art collectors. With payment already in hand there is no financial incentive whatsoever for these people to sell your paintings and they won’t.
Always work in a beautiful and special place of your own making. It doesn’t need to be very large, unless you require a large space in which to create, but it needs to be yours. I’m thinking of Virginia Woolf’s “a room of one’s own” here. A studio is your haven, a place to experiment, learn, study, and grow. A studio should be a place you can’t wait to enter and once you are there and engaged, are reluctant to leave.
Be prepared to work harder than you ever have, unrelentingly developing your special innate gifts, whether you are in the mood to do so or not. Most of all remember to do it for love, because you love your medium and it’s endless possibilities, because you love working in your studio, and because you feel most joyously alive when you are creating.