My Chronicle as an Artist

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot

14: Interiors

So it is now 1982.  I have my master’s degree.  I taught a life drawing class & am now teaching a painting class.  I also have a part-time job working for a dentist pouring plaster models in his lab.  I am painting every day but the days are never long enough.   My beloved studio companions, a parakeet & 4 canaries, are often my models — and when they are, I travel inward, to a quiet but endlessly expansive world.

13: Unglamorous but real...

After moving my work space out of the Institute into my apartment, I managed to complete two 10-foot long paintings by tacking them onto the available wall space in my home studio.  These canvases completed the body of work I created during my first 5 years in Chicago.  These years were the foundation upon which I built my convictions about how to keep learning what I needed to learn—what I needed to keep, what I needed to change or reject, what I needed to seek out.  Besides learning from visual artists, both the living and the dead, it was the poets who gave words to my feelings back then --and now.   

“ and every attempt

Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure

Because one has only learnt to get the better of words

For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which

One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture

Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate

With shabby equipment always deteriorating

In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,

Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer

By strength and submission, has already been discovered

Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope

To emulate—but there is no competition—

There is only the fight to recover what has been lost

And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions

That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.

For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business

Excerpt From: T. S. Eliot. “Collected Poems, 1909-1962.”

As my new work environment changed from an urban & more public space to my more private living space, my vocabulary of images grew to incorporate recognizable objects— wax bird statues on my worktable, rooftops from my studio windows, trees at the end of my street.    I became more aware of particular interior spaces, and specific places & objects in my more local surroundings.  These images became my sources of inspiration for my next body of work.   For practical reasons, my paintings became more moderately sized  ( 4-5 ft as longest dimension).  Here are Anchored Spirits, Portal, Birds of a Feather, and Nests of Waves.

12: My Chicago home studio

The most difficult aspect of graduating from the program at the Institute was giving up that luminous, sky-lit studio.   I knew I would miss the early morning train ride downtown and the inky night ride back home — and so many things in between.  I have nothing but a bottomless well of gratitude for everything I learned from the School and the amazing, adjoining Art Institute in which I lived so many hours.  But all great situations must eventually be left, and I was ready to go.  

Chicago in the 80’s had many large & affordable places for rent.  Michael (my husband) & I lived in a very spacious north-side apartment, with very few pieces of furniture.   My evening 3-d figures moved out of the backroom "office" and into the 400 square ft living room which became my new studio. I quickly adapted to working at home. From that time to the present, I have never lived physically separated from my work--and all the pleasures & problems that come with this way of living.  

Here is a pic of my studio—the southeast quadrant— complete with my beloved studio budgie, LittleGuy, on his "playground" (marked with green box).  The feathers he molted ended up in many of my pieces.

My Chicago home studio

11: Waiting in the Wings (when I was not painting...)

I had large skylights over my studio at the Institute, and I would get downtown early in the morning to take full advantage of the natural light.  Oil paint comes alive under filtered daylight.  Cold winters and darkness were long in Chicago.  When light left my downtown studio, I would pack up to train home.  I still had some time at night to work so I started creating 3 dimensional figures.  I had been collecting tree branches for some time in my apartment and started assembling characters according to what gesture the branches suggested.  I added objects to my figures by carving wood and molding clay.  I would also layer tiny mosaics of painted rice papers to create a vellum-like "fabric" to make structures such as wings.  Many of my first inventions referred to the Greek & Roman myths (still some of my favorite stories).  For the most part, these are detailed and intimate works, created in the quiet nights of my home studio—an interlude before the noisy day started.

Here are Birdman, Hermes (back), Hermes (detail of front head), Daedalus, and Icarus.  These photos are old but my only record of them.  Only Daedalus is still in my possession.

10: ...and Larger.

I had to use the full length of my wall space.  BreakingThrough is roughly 9 feet long and BlueWave is over 10 feet.  

9: Painting...large.

My first paintings were small—often not more than 14"  wide.  I was working in a variety of mediums with prints, drawings, and paintings, so I chose a smaller format as a constant — it was a practical way to create a larger body of work.

When I started to paint exclusively, I moved upstairs to the painting department and had my own 12 foot square studio space.  One of my mentors said "why don’t you scale these up in size — you might not get another chance to paint this large for a long time…"

For the remainder of my time at the Institute, I did just that—large brushes, lots of oil paints, and a step stool to stand on.  I built my own stretchers  in the wood shop.  I stretched, primed, & gessoed my own canvas.  I learned so much from my colleagues and reading Ralph Mayer’s  The Artist’s Handbook ( the bible ).  I also had to work totally differently— I could no longer sit but had to stand and walk back & forth just to see.  And as my working method changed, my imagery evolved.

 

These, BeverlyRevisited ( 4’ x 6’), and Firefly ( 90" square) were a couple of my first smaller, large  canvases. 

8: Painting

I started my artist life thinking that I wanted to be a printmaker.  This love started as an art history undergraduate, writing a research paper on 2 Picasso etchings, which I just loved( The Frugal Repast & The Dance of Salomé).  My professor suggested that I take the one & only studio class in printmaking (at that time) so that I could more fully understand Picasso’s works from the artist’s point of view.  Her suggestion was life-changing.  From that first studio class on, I dropped the idea of becoming an art historian in order to devote full time to making art.

I loved learning the magical technical processes of revealing and building an image.  As I mentioned previously, printmaking felt so analogous to my tailoring and needlework projects.  But the technical process didn’t sync well with my visual needs, which were still at an incipient stage.  I knew that I needed to start with more open ended chaos and then find my way to a unified ending. For me, it always felt more natural to start a work with an idea which developed intuitively throughout the entire time of its making. In printmaking studios, I felt increasingly frustrated because  my technical skills were more orderly, & more linear, than my rather circuitous creative process.  I envied some of my colleagues who started their etchings or silkscreens with a finished prototype, the color and tonal issues fully worked out, and then went on to complete their editions perfectly, just like their original model.  I tried working like this, more methodically, but most of the time I ended up dissatisfied with the end point.   Too often, I could not arrive at the right balance between technique & finished image.  Although I began my Chicago studies in both printmaking & painting, I gave myself permission to let go of becoming the MasterPrintmaker.

7: Printmaking

Today, when people speak of prints, often they really mean reproductions of original art, in any medium.  But when artists make prints, each one is an original,  no matter how large the edition.  Before I started painting exclusively, I was making a body of work in the printmaking shop. Some of these were woodcuts, linocuts, etchings, & lithographs. I loved each one for its unique properties & process, but my real focus was silkscreen.  Like painting, silkscreen is a layering process of color over color, shape over shape.   At the time, it most suited my way of seeing and building an image.  Initially I made my stencils by cutting numerous marks into tracing paper, but I soon switched to a photographic stencil method—which was still tedious but much more stable and expedient. I learned so much about mark-making and building a surface in printmaking, technical issues that I carried over into my painting.  But after several years, painting stole my time...totally.

6: Patterns

It took about 2 years for Chicago to feel like home.  In this period of time I produced many small works on paper as paintings, drawings, and silkscreens.  My technical approach of layered & obsessively thin lines with small brushes and delicate tools matched the hermetic introspection I was experiencing as a newcomer.  But now my new world was expanding and I instinctively needed a larger scale and different approach.   I started cutting out paper images of fish, birds, and other natural objects, and interwove them with bits of sewing notions such as ribbons, hooks, pins etc.  I also dyed my own transparent rice papers to cut up and collage with these other objects.  These resulting works, some examples shown here from the CutOutSeries, were an important growth spurt, pushing me to try bigger brushes & larger fields of canvas,  and  oils—for the first time. 

5: Threads

I knew I wanted to create a body of work which was essentially about landscape. The pieces here are from a series called  "The Lake is Not the Ocean".   As I worked,  I imagined flying over all the places I had loved and tracked my movement with a vocabulary of marks--wavy & straight lines, verticals & horizontals, dots & dashes.  I used a paintbrush like a pencil, and the works were small & intricate.  Chicago & Virginia melded together into unique places.  Looking back on these & other works like them from this time period, I realize that my technical approach was not unlike the sewing & needlework projects  of my teen years.

3: Chicago...

My life in Chicago and art school were inextricably bound for 7 years.  Each had an immeasurable influence on my work.  My map drawings, like those shown in the previous post, developed from colored pencil & conte materials into oil paintings.  I thought of these as internal travel logs -- with a bird's eye viewpoint.   The natural landscape of my East coast past combined with the architectural footprints of city buildings that I now saw looking out the window from the elevated trains that I rode daily. 

2: Preparing for art school...

After leaving university, I set off for Chicago, with a conviction that I wanted to study art....How i would enter this great institution and with what means, was still rather vague.  I worked odd jobs and, for the first time in my life, rode many elevated and underground trains .  My point of view changed.  Over the next 2 years, I created a portfolio of works on paper to submit for graduate school admission.  These works started in black and white and evolved into color, and I assuaged my homesickness for the Virginian Blue Ridge by intertwining their soft  graceful curves with the pulsating city lights and linear midwest plains.

1: My beginnings,,,,,

I always loved coloring and drawing from the time I was a child, so it is no wonder I continued that love into art school and beyond.  Childhood drawings of trees, animals, houses, and people developed into more "realistic" versions of the same imagery as I honed my skills.