Q: What is your central philosophy as an artist?
The reason I paint is because much of what I feel cannot be spoken. It flows from my effort to observe and reflect what I see and feel. The components are experience and the related reaction. My philosophy is simple: the artist’s life is made visible through his or her expressive work. Each painting is like a song, or a poem, a condensed reflection of that person’s inner and outer landscape, and a glimpse into the artist’s observations of the world at a particular time and place. I feel that this level of expression connects people to one another, assuming that much of the human experience is universal. The need for a sense of belonging is a force that drives much of human behavior. This desire is somewhat fulfilled by observing a work of art, even more so by owning it and keeping it close while the world turns. The art and the observer grow together. As a person who has the ability to create this important work, I feel the responsibility to do so. It is a form of historical preservation, and it also enhances the human experience.
Q: How would you describe your most recent body of work?
My current work consists of a series of commemorative landscape oil paintings, created with a palette knife. The basis for these paintings is the creation of a lasting, interpretive portrait of a given time and place. Whether it be a person, landscape, or still life, the work is concerned with capturing and projecting the fleeting essence of a subject. I have been, over the past several years, focusing that work on landscape painting, honoring the current state of our surroundings, plus advocating and bringing about awareness for proper management of natural resources. I want my work to bring awareness through visual depiction and celebration of the landscape as home, as sacred, as something priceless to be tended with care.
Q: Do you consider all your work to be a form of interpretive portrait?
Yes, because whatever my subject is, I spend time getting to know it first. I want the painting to truly embody the subject and give a sense of its character. If it is a landscape, just dropping in someplace and painting it feels like ripping it off, you know? So if I am working on a landscape painting, I will be present on location a number of times, photographing, sketching, and hiking or biking, getting to know the place and how it feels and looks at different times of the day. I want to know about the plants and animals there, the names of landmarks, and a little history about the place. Learning about it, spending time there and getting a sense of its energy and feeling are all important to me so I can portray it with the same respect and importance I would give to the portrait of a person.
Q: That’s a fascinating approach. How long have you worked in this manner?
About 15 years. The style that I work in evolved quickly as I began discovering what elements captured my attention when viewing the work of other painters. It was also born out of my desire to paint quickly, to keep the colors separate on the canvas, and to paint in such a way that allowed the spirit to enter my process. The essence of painting with a knife is that it takes part of the control out of my hands, and gives it up to chance. Some sort of magic happens, in which I am guiding but not controlling.
Q: What about your artistic inspiration?
Developing and evolving interpersonal relationships feed my energy. As an artist and human being, meeting new people and traveling to new places inspires me. The work of other artists thrills me; my students’ work and appreciation inspires me; and being outdoors makes me feel super alive and excited to share that experience with others. My truest happiness is seeing my children smile and feeling successful as a parent. Three things that fuel me artistically are looking at art in museums, or anywhere for that matter, being outdoors, especially hiking, rock climbing, biking and yoga, and also clothing design.
Q: What is the fascination with clothing?
My interest in clothing began very early, when I was about 5 years old. I have always loved fashion and clothing, since I was about 5. My uncle gave my sister and I his girlfriend’s old Barbie dolls. They were the originals, a huge case full of dolls, clothes, accessories, hangers, etc. My mother taught us how to sew by hand and with a machine. So I would ask for her scraps of fabric, make up patterns, and make clothes for the dolls that matched my own. It came naturally to me. Putting together an outfit is much like composing a painting.
Q: And this turned into a lifelong interest?
Yes. I went on to get an MFA in Costume Design, where I really learned how to create patterns. Now, when I meet people, I’m constantly undressing them with my eyes – but for a different reason. I see the pattern shapes of their clothes, laid out flat, like an architectural rendering. I love seeing the new designs that come out, because fashion is always evolving, especially with the new materials being developed all the time. You can take an old idea and transform it into something more chic, more comfortable, more practical with new fibers and machines that weave them in a new way. And clothes reflect what is happening in society. Did you notice how everything was drab over the worst period of the economic crisis? One would walk into a department store, and everything was grey and brown and mud colored. Now, bright color is starting to pop back in, reflecting the more positive attitudes.
Q: Was there an event or series of events that influenced your choice to become an artist?
Well, the things I was always known for were making things with my hands and sitting around looking at things while deep in thought. I think when the two come together you’re pretty much locked in to being an artist. Teachers saw my potential and encouraged me to pursue art. When my mother-in-law died at age 59, she left a heap of art supplies that she had always wanted to use, but was not well enough to do so. I suddenly felt sort of ashamed that I was young and healthy enough to make art, and had the ability to paint, but was not doing it as fully as I could be. It gave me an acute awareness of my own mortality, at a pretty young age.
Over time, I have explored almost every artistic media I can think of. I love them all. I have played musical instruments, studied dance, designed and crafted for theatre, written poetry and essays, and worked in clay, bronze, watercolor, acrylics, printmaking, drawing and painting. I have found that they each have their own joys and challenges.
Q: What is the importance of art to the world?
I believe that art and design are at the heart of who we are as human beings. Without art, there is no self-reflection, no history, no culture, no comfort, and no beauty. Without art, we are separated from one another in a way that weakens our society. Art is a glimpse of the eternal spirit, and it has profoundly changed my life to be part of that. I feel that my work, as it fits into the context of the history of art, exists as a significant contribution to humanity. This belief gives me a clear sense of purpose.
Q: Where have you found inspiration in the work of other artists?
I could practically write a book on this question. (smiles) It’s not that I have studied any particular artist at length, but living so close to Washington, D.C., New York City, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, I have made countless trips to museums there, as well as in Chicago, upstate New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Paris, and Italy. I studied the qualities of oil painting that attracted me personally: the magic of a brushstroke transcending the paint and becoming something indescribable; the side-by-side relationship of two colors that made each other sing; the way shapes fit together in perfect proportion to say something more profound than words ever could; the use of light in a painting to draw out emotional meaning; shapes created by areas of light, that cross over and under and behind the outlines of things, rendering them irrelevant; enormous brushstrokes that from a distance look like something real; the thickness of paint performing as its own expressive element; and oil paint looking like jewels, or light, or human flesh, or candy.
Q: Are there artists that you find to be particularly influential in your work?
There are so many, and each for a different reason. They have all contributed to my understanding of painting. Some of them are Vincent Van Gogh, Pierre Bonnard, George Innes, John Singer Sargent and Andrew Wyeth. I would also include May Stevens, Anselm Kiefer, Alice Neel, and Georgia O’Keefe. Finally, Richard Serra, Marc Chagall, Gustav Klimt, and Mark Rothko, whose work has had a special influence on my current photography.
Q: What inspires you about Sargent, Neel, and O’Keeffe, for example?
Sargent showed such masterful handling of the paint, which seen up close is very loose and expressive, yet from a distance creates a feeling of reality and atmosphere. I admire Alice Neel for her unconventional use of color and outline, and spontaneous response to her portrait subjects. Georgia O’Keefe painted many overlooked subjects with a unique manner of modeling form. I admire her use of value, light and color to create vibrant, moving paintings.
Q: What about artists like Kiefer, Bonnard, and Stevens?
Pierre Bonnard used pattern and overlapping to defy the conventional devices of creating spatial depth. I admire May Stevens’ monochromatic color palette, the inclusion of the written word in her work, and seeing her work serve as social commentary and a commemoration of life. Anselm Kiefer’s work shows a fearless use of materials; thick paint and plants strewn about to form broad pieces that affect the viewer in a visceral way.
Q: You also mentioned Mark Rothko’s influence in relation to your photography.
Yes, my current work is based on a photographic series which began to evolve about three years ago. The graphic elements which were central to my landscape paintings emerged in found surfaces as photographic compositional studies. I had often found that when creating landscape portraits, I was attempting to clear and organize a tangible space, which gave emphasis to the most important or desired qualities, and swept aside the ones that were less essential.
These new images and their characteristics are inspired by modern interior design, as well as painters such as Rothko and Georgia O’Keefe. Their use of selection, emphasis, and color relationships as dominant features of the work have influenced my aesthetic ever since I first saw their work during my museum visits.