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

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.

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.


8: Painting

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.

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.