I had to use the full length of my wall space. BreakingThrough is roughly 9 feet long and BlueWave is over 10 feet.
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.
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. The tools of my trade were 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.
I started my artist life thinking that I wanted to be a printmaker. This idea took root 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.
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.
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.
The immense and vibrant city of Chicago and the close-knit, secluded life of art school were the two poles of my world for the next 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 and I developed a personal vocabulary of mark making which became a legend for all the landscape maps I was to create for the next body of work. The natural landscape that I left behind on the East coast combined with the architectural footprints of my new city life.
After leaving university I set off for Chicago, with a conviction that I wanted to study art. How I would enter a great institution and with what means, was still rather vague. I worked odd jobs and, for the first time in my life, rode trains every day. My point of view changed. From the elevated train windows I was starting to see the world from an oblique angle often looking down — a bird’s-eye view. When the trains went underground I became acutely aware of the difference between blackness and night. When we shot out of the subterranean tunnels, the night sky was luminous.
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. I assuaged my homesickness for the Virginian Blue Ridge by intertwining the soft, graceful curves of their hills with the pulsating dots of city lights and the lines of the Midwest plains.