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

19: Building Trees

I was fortunate that I had begun the 3-dimensional figures at the end of my time in Chicago.  It was the body of work that was the most creatively stable, that could weather this big disruption of being uprooted. I was excited about developing them further.

Neptune    ©1984 LSAuth

Neptune ©1984 LSAuth

In Princeton, these figures became my largest body of work. Drawing and painting, although always important, were not my main focus in those 3 years. I am not sure why this was so, because my canvases  were so vital in Chicago. But now, in such a different nature-filled landscape, I found it more difficult to paint inventively, and the mixed-media assemblages seemed to come more easily. Creative blocks are inevitable, but always so difficult & frustrating to go through.  When they occur, I have always been able to rescue myself with another medium. My canvases had to wait until I was ready to reconcile them again.  Works in various stages of completion were set aside for what seemed like an interminably long time.

PrincetonSketchbook: In the Corn    ©1984 LSAuth.

PrincetonSketchbook: In the Corn ©1984 LSAuth.

Into the Woods    ©1984-5 LSAuth.

Into the Woods ©1984-5 LSAuth.

Tree branches filled every view from every window dormer in our attic apartment. There was a very large window in our bathroom that dropped down to a roof overhang that looked out to the treetops. In the afterglow of twilight, Michael and I would step out onto this landing and lie back to watch the little brown bats, not that high above us, in a beautiful display of flight & feeding. It was like being caught up in this arabesque of movement between bats & insects against a backdrop of intertwining branches and leaves. To experience this frenzied dance was pure joy. Such moments were my most profound source of creative inspiration.

NightWindow    ©1985 LSAuth.

NightWindow ©1985 LSAuth.

I decided to create my figures in the spirit of all the folklore that I loved and remembered from my youth, from mythology to fairy tales. As I mentioned earlier, our apartment was like a treehouse, and the the woods were part of my daily walk.

It therefore seemed totally natural to build more trees.

Here are some of the first ones from left to right: WellWisher, Giver, and CrownBearer.



17: A Brief Flight to the Present

StarlingNight ©2018 LSAuth. 36” x 48” oil.

StarlingNight ©2018 LSAuth. 36” x 48” oil.

One of the motivations for starting this blog was to go back and organize years of my work so that I could reflect on the themes that have remained constant over time. It also gave me the opportunity to post old work as a visual backdrop for viewers to see how I arrived at my present.  

I think StarlingNight has been in the making all my life. The image of the starling has significance to me on so many levels starting with my childhood.  Even as an 8-year-old, I knew many people detested this flock bird, and my father was no exception.  He loved the cardinals that frequented the feeders he so faithfully filled.  The starlings would swarm in occasionally, chasing the polite & lovely songbirds away.  My brothers were instructed to shoot at "the black devils" with their BB guns. Before they could set their sights I would run outside and scare them away.  

I always thought starlings were beautiful—not really black but magically iridescent, with sprinkles of turquoise, ochre, and alizarin crimson, like holiday cookie decorations.  And in the winter, the markings became white polka dots like heavy snow flakes and distant stars.

WinterStarling    ©2015 LSAuth.

WinterStarling ©2015 LSAuth.

Later at age 20, in a summery 3000 mile drive across the country, I witnessed my first murmuration somewhere in the Midwest.  I was transfixed — I thought I was seeing a tornado, only the darkness lifted off the ground and swarmed in magnetized clouds of swirling designs.  It was as if the sky had become an immense Wooly Willy backdrop and some invisible force was holding the magnetic wand. These formations were in continuous movement which never repeated in design until it floated away out of my field of vision.  It still ranks as one of the most spectacular natural wonders that I have ever experienced.  

When I realized that this is what starlings do,  I felt even more validated for loving them for their beautiful plumage.  Why murmurations occur and how they perform in such seamless perfection is still not precisely understood by scientists.  It remains a mystery. Even when the why of this event is fully known, it will remain magical.

Murmurations    ©2015 LSAuth.

Murmurations ©2015 LSAuth.

In StarlingNight,  the 14 starlings are iconic of my parents, my 11 siblings, and me.   Even as a child I felt very protective of them — of the starlings, as well as my family.  We were like a flock of starlings — noisy, noticeable, & numerous. 

I wanted the landscape setting to be suggestive of the present walk I take almost every evening, even though it is generalized to represent all the tree-lined streets I hold in my memory. Past & present, birds and setting, are interwoven by the network of dabs & strokes of opacity & transparency. This painting was difficult for me to say: You are finished, release me. 

I have often thought that my life can be measured by the number of miles I have walked, especially in the moonlight. I have never ceased to marvel at the everyday natural world and its fragile & sometimes, malevolent, balance. There is so much beauty in the ordinary, and the continuous movement of all living things sweeps me along in the knowledge that I must keep moving & changing also. In the process of living, I often lose hope & inspiration which I need desperately in order to be productive. But then, sometimes, I discover something serendipitously— like seeing that a black starling is full of color & light—or that on a fortuitous, star-filled walk, all my feeling for life can be distilled into one smoky & luminous night.

TransitionStarling    ©2015 LSAuth.

TransitionStarling ©2015 LSAuth.

16: Princeton

Map of a World    ©1980-1984 LSAuth. Collagraph, collage, acrylic.

Map of a World ©1980-1984 LSAuth. Collagraph, collage, acrylic.

Out the door in ’84 was our moving slogan to get motivated to clean out 7 years of accumulated stuff in our spacious apartment.   Michael received the call from Princeton University to be on their faculty in the coming fall term. Knowing that our next apartment would be much smaller, the necessity of downsizing was mandatory.  The flurry of activity helped me to bury the aching feeling of loss over leaving Chicago — emotions I knew I would have to deal with later.

We embraced our dear landlord-owners, Roger & Dorothy, who had lived below us on the 1st floor, and knew we would probably never see them again.  They waved us off in our loaded up ’74 AMC Matador, recently purchased from a car garage mechanic for the sum of several hundred dollars, and we drove the 800 miles to a new beginning.

Exodus

The drive back East felt more like driving back in time to my Virginia girlhood.  It was May and all the trees were in their full springtime glory. The Midwest endless & changeable sky sunk below softly rolling curves of earth.  Gone was the urban, vertical, cityscape which had overwhelmed & scared me 7 years before.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to be back in a place that made me feel like Chicago had only been a dream.   I felt rootless & disconnected. 

Princeton Home 1984-87.

Princeton Home 1984-87.

Our garret-style apartment on the 3rd floor of a Victorian house was romantically idyllic with its sloping dormers  and 4 large rooms, one of which was my studio.   Tree branches and dappled light were the view from every window, and it felt as if we were living in a tree house.  My work’s imagery would eventually respond  to this environment.  How do I transition from where I thought my work had been?  This was the first time that I was fully conscious of how big an impact this change in location would have on my creative process.  

Princeton was a very self-contained & sleepy college town back then, and when you got past the University, you could walk a long time and never see another person.  I started walking at least 5 miles a day, stopping to draw portions of what were becoming my favorite models — the huge, ancient trees.  As a child, I loved to play in the woods and trees were always necessary to any game of strategy or make-believe.  I had forgotten about them in Chicago because there was too much urban newness to absorb.  And to my eye, Lake Michigan & snow eclipsed all other forms of Mother Nature.

I filled my sketchbooks those first 6 months. Against the backdrop of this historic town, the trees had no competitors for my attention. They became my spiritual sages, steadfastly pointing to my past & its relevance to my present. Just by being a rich source of detailed imagery, they helped me find a path to productivity . I began to feel less alienated and ready to build a new body of work.

Princeton Trees

Princeton Trees

15: Leaving Chicago

The time remaining, 1982 until May of 1984, was productive for me.  I exhibited in several shows and was creating some of my best work, free from the constraints of art school.    I was happy to sell many of my 3-D figures and some paintings as well.  I had even found a terrific buyer for 4 of my very large canvases — an entrepreneur who wanted them for his new restaurant that he was about to open in Chicago.

And then tragedy hit hard.  AIDS.  It became the plague of my generation.  So many colleagues, especially those in the arts, were affected—either by developing the disease themselves, or having loved ones who did.  I lost a beloved cousin and many childhood schoolmates.

The restaurant that was to be home to my large works never opened.  They were rolled up and put in storage.  To this day I think of them as shrouds for those who did not survive to celebrate their business adventure.

I left Chicago with the memory of an image that I had created when I had first arrived there 7 years before as a youth with goals and desires.  My Nocturne in Black & White was now a visual elegy for those who had died —  hope had gone full circle to meet up with sorrow. 

Nocturne in Black & White    ©LSAuth 1978.

Nocturne in Black & White ©LSAuth 1978.


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.

I kept numerous sketchbooks at this time. I knew that my days remaining in Chicago were probably numbered — Michael was finishing his doctorate and would soon be interviewing for academic positions at universities all over the country. I wanted to document my neighborhood surroundings as much as possible, from inside & outside. I was to have 2 years in this home & studio after leaving art school, and I wanted to take note of every day before saying goodbye to my beloved Chicago.

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 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.

1: My beginnings,,,,,

I always loved drawing and coloring from the time I was a very small child. My older & beloved sister, Linda, was very influential in encouraging me to create with an absolute freedom from academic constraints. I don’t think I “chose” to become an artist over many other choices. I just eventually grew up realizing that art was the most meaningful way for me to live my life. I just didn’t want to talk about this avocation openly. It has never been popular with rational thinkers to say “I want to be an artist”. When I was 22, my boyfriend (who became my husband) said to me, “why aren’t you doing this all the time? It’s clear to me that this is what you should be doing…”. Today, only one thing is absolutely clear — I married the right person.