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!
A: I am pushing soft pastel to its limits, using it in ways that no artist has done before. I want people to see what is possible to accomplish with this medium. Because I have experienced unspeakable heartache – the loss of my husband on 9/11, onboard the high-jacked airplane that crashed into the Pentagon – when viewers learn about my life story, I hope to serve as an inspiration to keep forging ahead regardless of what tragedies life may bring. These are the main reasons that I wrote my eBook.
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Q: In light of the realities you discussed last week (see blog post of Aug. 24), what keeps you motivated to make art?
A: In essence it’s that I have always worked much harder for love than for money. I absolutely love my work, my creative process, and my chosen life. I have experienced much tragedy – no doubt there is more to come – but through it all, my journey as an artist is a continual adventure that gives me the ultimate freedom to spend my time on this earth as I want. In my work I make the rules, set my own tasks, and resolve them on my own timetable. What could be better than that?
Furthermore, I know that I have a gift and with that comes a profound responsibility, an obligation to develop and use it to the best of my ability, regardless of what it may cost. And when I say “cost,” I do not mean only money. Art is a calling and all self-respecting artists do whatever is necessary to use and express our gifts.
In “The Gift” Lewis Hyde says, “A gift is a thing we do not get by our own efforts. We cannot buy it, we cannot acquire it through an act of will. It is bestowed upon us. Thus we rightly speak of “talent” as a “gift” for although a talent can be perfected through an act of will, no effort in the world can cause its initial appearance. Mozart, composing on the harpsichord at the age of four, had a gift.”
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* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Those who would make art might well begin by reflecting on the fate of those who preceded them: most who began, quit. It’s a genuine tragedy. Worse yet, it’s an unnecessary tragedy. After all, artists who continue and artists who quit share an immense field of common emotional ground. (Viewed from the outside, in fact, they’re indistinguishable). We’re all subject to a familiar and universal progression of human troubles – troubles we routinely survive, but which are (oddly enough) routinely fatal to the art-making process. To survive as an artist requires confronting these troubles. Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how to not quit.
But curiously, while artists always have a myriad of reasons to quit, they consistently wait for a handful of specific moments to quit. Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail. And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work – for the place their work belongs.
Virtually all artists encounter such moments. Fear that your next work will fail is a normal, recurring, and generally healthy part of the art-making cycle. It happens all the time: you focus on some new idea in your work, you try it out, run with it for awhile, reach a point of diminishing returns, and eventually decide it’s not worth pursuing further. Writers even have a phrase for it – “the pen has run dry” – but all media have their equivalents. In the normal artistic cycle this just tells you that you’ve come full circle, back to that point where you need to begin cultivating the next new idea. But in artistic death it marks the last thing that happens: you play out an idea, it stops working, you put the brush down… and thirty years later you confide to someone over coffee that, well, yes, you had wanted to paint when you were much younger. Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again – and art is all about starting again.
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear
Comments are welcome!