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

21: Houses That I Once Lived In

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” 

― Matsuo Bashô

When the peaks of our sky come together My house will have a roof.

Paul Éluard

The house is the first image that I can remember drawing obsessively as a 6-year-old child -- it was the stereotypical white square with the pointed roof, and sometimes a central door flanked high on either side with one, multi-paned window. Many children draw this pentangle house even when it has no resemblance to the house in which they live.

But I really did spend the first 18 years of my life in such a house -- a white, stucco bungalow -- the longest amount of time that I have ever spent in any single place. As a very small child, I remember this house as my entire universe in which to imagine and invent other worlds unlike my own.  When I started school, house and home were interchangeable words with the same meaning — a place of refuge and security.  Then later, like many teenagers, I could not wait to leave it.

I did finally leave this house as my permanent residence when I was twenty, but over the following decades as my childhood receded at an exponential rate, the house as an image remained within me, and I think will probably stay to be rediscovered and recreated.  Its significance to my creative process has expanded and contracted according to the needs of specific time in my physical, everyday life.

In my gallery slideshow video, the 30 images are arranged in chronological order over a 35-year period, starting in Princeton, NJ, as a newly fledged artist, to my present place in New Haven, CT. In between those two points were Baltimore, when I became a young mother of two babies, then Fair Haven, NJ, where I walked them to their little primary school, and then BlueBell, PA, where my close-knit family of four individuals each doggedly pursued and developed their own interests.

As I look back on these works of drawings, paintings, and constructions, I remember that some of the earlier house images are almost actual portraits of neighborhood homes, especially in Baltimore, where our first residence was a rowhouse and life was gritty. In a few later works, especially during the last couple of years in Bluebell after our children had fledged for college, the house becomes part of the constellations, with no physical walls.

I do not know what the house of the future will be, but I hope that I can continue to seek it out and live there awhile. For now, it remains a box of infinite possibility.

Vagrant (   ©2019 LSAuth   )   Painted Wood cutout mounted on painted wooden panel.

Vagrant (©2019 LSAuth) Painted Wood cutout mounted on painted wooden panel.








20: "...You can never go home again..."

And he never had the sense of home so much as when he felt that he was going there. It was only when he got there that his homelessness began.” 

Thomas Wolfe, You Can Never Go Home Again

“The only journey is the one within.” 
― Rainer Maria Rilke

I lived across the street from the Gothic architecture of Princeton University, which was very beautiful & serene but I also needed my gritty urban fix to create enough of an opposing force out of which to create. The train station was a short walk down the street from our apartment and I would try to visit New York once a week, spending a full day in the SoHo and Village art galleries.  I would always end my day at Pearl Paint in Chinatown and savor every minute while there, studying the organized chaos of new stock items, breathing in the turpentine, and talking to the employees who were always some brand of artist.  I still miss the informative social interaction that kind of store provided, which was so much more gratifying than the gallery scene.  

Pearl Paint on Canal in Chinatown around 1985 NYC.

Pearl Paint on Canal in Chinatown around 1985 NYC.

I walked everywhere in NYC and felt at home there as much as I did in the woods of Princeton.  But I think I loved the train ride between the two destinations the most.  It was always dark when I headed home, just like in Chicago times, and my legs & feet were tired.  I saw & learned so much in one day. The amount of visual stimulation in NYC was always overwhelming and I would jot down my reflections in my sketchbook-journal on the way home.   Everything seemed possible when I was moving, and I always equated train rides with hopefulness and freedom.  I must have realized (didn’t I?) that those feelings were an illusion, that train rides were more of an escape from reality — the reality that no one really cared about art but the artist who made it. I always had a mini-emotional let-down the day after these trips because it was always clear to me that there was so much good work hanging in unpeopled rooms, unnoticed, unappreciated, and unloved. Why did the world need another artist?

But then I would get back into my studio the next day, with my new brush or tube of paint, and focus in on the pieces I had to finish and the new ones I had to start.

The Princeton “Dinky” around 1985.

The Princeton “Dinky” around 1985.

On October 29th, 1985, after 17 months of living in Princeton, I went back to Chicago to exhibit my mixed media figures.  Concurrent with this show was a 6-week "workation" as a resident artist at Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois — 30 miles north  of Chicago. Michael & I loaded up a roomy & reliable one-way rental car with my carefully packed works, art supplies, and clothing, and drove for 2 days to Chicago.  When we unloaded my work at the gallery, I felt like a visitor rather than a returning native.  I missed Michael already as I left him at the airport for his flight back to Princeton.  I returned the rental car and hopped on a train to Lake Forest.  Through the window I watched the city buildings quickly metamorphose into trees.  My new surroundings looked more like Princeton than Chicago and I walked the short distance from the train stop to Ragdale, eager to meet my fellow residents and share my first dinner with them.

This was to be my home for the next 6 weeks.

Portal to the Ragdale grounds

Portal to the Ragdale grounds

Ragdale was such a gift at the right time in my life.   It provided a beautiful setting of woods and autumn foliage for my self-imposed limbo.  After drawing all day in the studio, I would leave the grounds in the late afternoon for a quotidian walk to Lake Michigan.  It occurred to me that my life was not all that different than the Princeton one that I had temporarily left behind.  The primary difference was that I did not feel as solitary because almost everyone at Ragdale was an artist — even many of the staff and maintenance people. This collective connection was comforting to live around.   We shared an enormous respect for each other’s needs of time & space.  At night we all came together to sit at a very long dining table for supper and conversation.  We talked  about everything —  except our work.  Often it was the only time I spoke to anyone for over 12 hours.  It was a true break from our inner demons and we laughed easily. After dinner many of us would go back to our private studios for a few hours and then meet back around the fireplace to listen to readings by the resident writers of their works in progress before going to bed. 

Ragdale quarters.

Ragdale quarters.

Several of the residents came to my Chicago show which opened a couple weeks after I arrived in Ragdale.  The reception was very festive and my co-exhibitor, Alex, & I were elated to have such a large crowd and enthusiastic response to our work.

Night of the Chicago opening November1985.

Night of the Chicago opening November1985.

( Below are some of my works included in this show: Barabbas, Vesta, Cornstalker, and StarGazer. .  

Of course, there was the late night train ride back to Lake Forest, and then the letdown the morning after the show.  I learned that if a body of work that took several years to create gets you a party and an audience for 3 hours, then that may be as good as it gets in terms of recognition.  I was back in my studio the next morning, facing lots of virgin white paper tacked onto the walls.

I am grateful to Ragdale and the people I met there.  This particular residency provided me with the security of belonging to a community which I thought I needed at that time, to tacitly affirm that I was real.  When I moved away from Chicago, I had not been confident that I could create totally on my own, every day, away from a particular locale, and away from other artists.  I had not realized that I had already developed beyond that fear.  Ironically, going to Ragdale brought me farther away from Chicago and closer to Princeton and other towns I would live in subsequently. Everything I needed was within all the layers of myself — not in a geographical location. 

I had been making a life as an artist all my life.  That is what I realized at Ragdale.  

In The Wake Of Clouds    ©1985-6 LSAuth. oil/linen

In The Wake Of Clouds ©1985-6 LSAuth. oil/linen




18: Walking Back

"A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened."

-   Albert Camus

All But the Blue Heron    ©1985 LSAuth.

All But the Blue Heron ©1985 LSAuth.

My Princeton life was somewhat monastic—at least in the first year of 1984. After filing several applications for teaching positions in various local art centers, I set my focus on creating a body of work for an art show which was scheduled to open in Chicago the following year of 1985.   It was to be a show of my 3-D figures.  I had  also received a 6 week artist residency  30 miles north of Chicago which spanned the time of this exhibit.    As I looked forward to these events in the ensuing months, I was acutely aware of how much I missed Chicago.

In the Clearing    ©1985 LSAuth.

In the Clearing ©1985 LSAuth.

In the the meantime, nature beckoned outside my studio window.  Princeton had these  dark & lovely, leaf-lined paths through the Institute Woods, and I walked into them almost every day.  This is when I saw my first GreatBlue heron wading in a pond in the clearing, and many songbirds of  which I was to learn the names  over the next few months.  Families of ravens & herds of deer were always indignant over my coming upon their thievery in the fallow corn fields where my woods walk terminated.

Princeton Crows & Corn    ©1985 LSAuth.

Princeton Crows & Corn ©1985 LSAuth.

Reluctantly, I had to  turn around and go back home to work.   Often, I would find some treasure that caught my eye lying on the understory:   a fragile  chrysalis,  or  a whitened, sere & delicate, animal bone, or a perfectly gnarled tree branch.   I would take these gifts home with me — models to draw & paint or to incorporate into my figurative assemblages.  Although I was often solitary, I was never lonely.

Keepers of the Corn    ©1985 LSAuth.

Keepers of the Corn ©1985 LSAuth.

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

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.

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.   

“…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.”

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.

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. 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. 

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.

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...

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.