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

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




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.



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.