My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
Today I painted for four hours on a painting that everyone thought was finished but I hadn’t yet signed. Everyone loved it but me. I really liked the composition, a rounded peony in a square frame. What’s not to love?
But the edges weren’t working for me. Not the edges of the outside of the canvas, the edges where paint meets paint. Where does one color transition to another? Is the edge hard or soft? Does it blend? Does it pick up color from the adjacent color? Does it offer a stark contrast in tone to the color next to it?
Is that color warm or cool that it’s bumping up against? Warm colors advance, cool colors recede. Is one petal in front of the other? Where is the light coming from? Is there a shadow? If the petal of the flower is warm, the shadow would be cool.
In order to work on this, I need to paint in an all over manner since each part relies so heavily on the adjacent section. It’s so hard to know when to stop since the next time will be hard to recreate exactly where I left off. But I can’t paint for too many hours in a row.
My arm gets tired. My hand holding the brush also. I become less precise and begin making small errors that have to be corrected. When the corrections start overcoming the progression I know I’ve reached my tipping point and have to call it a day.
Then I take photos of my progress, clean my brushes, scrap my palette and stare at my work. I spend a lot of time staring and studying the progress of the day. Planning on where to being again tomorrow. Strategizing on where I’ll begin again. I write the notes of my day in the book where I keep, what could be called, a diary of the painting. The date, the length of time, what I worked on and what colors & mediums.
I’m a very procedural artist. I go through a particular set of stages and processes to create my art. What I’m not in control of is what the painting will look like when it is finished. The painting itself determines that. I’m just the vehicle to get there.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
Last week we had temperatures in the 30’s every day. The clocks changed and now it’s dark by 4:30 where I live. That may sound pretty grim but for me, it signals the opportunity to go into my studio to paint without the tugging and nagging feeling that I should be out in the garden, planting, weeding, pruning, and planning. Now, guilt-free I’m in my studio creating the paintings of the flowers from summer.
And guess what? Yesterday, today and for the next few days, the temperatures have returned to the 70’s. So the sunshine has seduced me back into the garden. Finally today I finished planting the 100 plus bulbs I bought on some wild spending spree a few weeks ago. The daffodils, the oriental, martagon lilies are in. The bearded iris have been planted in the little nooks and crannies where there is some sunshine. And all the five different kinds of alliums are finally in the ground.
Alliums, you may or may not know are onions, these are ornamental onions. Not the kind I cooked dinner with tonight. I made a new recipe with spanish onions, turkey sausages, grapes, cumin, vinegar, roasted potatoes, and some of the meager crop of tomatoes I grew from seed this year.
As I cut up the onions I thought about all their layer upon layers. Which led me to think about my paintings. I paint in layers. Layer upon layer of thin transparent paint. As the painting comes into existence it reminds me of my darkroom days and watching the photograph begin to arrive in the chemical baths. I tend to work all over the surface so the entire painting emerges pretty much at the same time.
My paintings are very much like me. Like you. Like everyone. We’re all layers upon layers of information, experience, emotion, and intellect. Interest and drive are hidden in there too. Hopes and dreams also come to mind. Many people don’t like to look below the first layer of who they are. I, on the other hand, dug deep into the bone marrow to find the core of what makes me tick. Then I covered it up so the rest of the world wouldn’t find it easily. Keeping that core wrapped in swaddling clothes held closely, is one of the mysteries I keep safe and protected from the seasons of change.
Throughout the year I spend time immersed in my garden in the warm summer sunshine and the deep winter snow. The myriad of colored petals, the exquisite architecture of a flower’s anatomy, the subtle shifts of green inspire me throughout the seasons.
Here’s me in my spring garden with the camellias in bloom that inspired the original painting that is behind me in an aluminum print. The aluminum hangs outdoors all year long whether the camellias are in bloom or not. You can buy them on my website here.
There are seasons I’m with my flowers in the garden and seasons where they enter my studio as inspirations for my paintings and drawings. Each art form is dependent on the other to continue my seasonal shifts of creation.
All winter I paint flowers. The bright happy flowers of my summer garden follow me into my studio and surround me with their joy and inspiration during the short dark days of winter. In my studio, they help me to wind down the hectic whirlwind of gardening in the bright sunshine.
But each year the same joy of being in my studio creating my Art begins to take a turn into claustrophobia when the daffodils spring forth with their joyous yellow heads as they entice me outdoors. It’s the beginning of the push and pull for me to be in my studio or to be in my garden. Both are my creative forces. Both get my creative juices flowing. Without either the other would be that much the poorer.
The balancing of time subsides somewhat in the mid-summer when the heat and humidity drive me back to the cooler breezes in my air-conditioned studio. Another burst of art flows from inside the walls during those hot weeks of August. When the humidity subsides the gardening resumes.
Inevitably when the nights begin to provide good sleeping weather, the transition from new expectations of growth in the garden turns instead to senescence and the decisions of what to preserve commences. Choices of what to overwinter, what must be sacrificed take precedence. Mulching, raking, clearing debris marks the bedding down of my outside work.
Then comes the time in the fall when the garden is put to sleep that the joyful season of painting and drawing begins again within the walls of my studio as I create my winter garden of work surrounded by my summer flowers.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
I‘m that kind of gardener. The one who opens the windows to inhale the smell of the soil in the morning mist. A day isn’t complete unless I’ve walked the woodland paths, seen the changes however small, what has begun, what has passed its peak of perfection. Which plants are inviting their cohort of pollinators, the array of the birds and the bees? This is the half-acre of land I’ve designed, planted and tended for over 30 years. The soil is rich in abundance, helped by the leaves I shred each year.
The garden constantly evolves with each season and each year as do I. Fall is when I gather the leaves and branches to shred and place back into the garden to keep the beds warm and covered from the winter winds. There is a rhythm to the garden as there is a rhythm to life.
For years I’ve had this chipper, its large, heavy and gunmetal gray. When the machine roars into life in its loud and vicious voice you know it means business. I use this to make my own mulch. Gather my garden debris to enrich the soil and feed it into the maw of this machine. Chip my own branches for the pathways I walk and contemplate.
Once you put the cord to start the engine it drowns out the sounds of life around you. There is an urgency to feed the beast. I have my piles of leaves at hand to be shredded to shorten the duration of this violent machine and return again to the quiet contemplative space I crave. This is the stage to move fast to silence the din.
And then the blades jammed. The engine pushed and growled. The whole machine quivered trying to dislodge the offending object. The squeal of the engine roaring deafened me demanding a quick solution. I felt my heartbeat quicken. A frustration and impatience entered my being. A demand for a quick remedy.
So I removed the chute which served as the feeder to the blades. There I could see the chunk of wood jamming the metal and in my mindless haste I reached in with my hand to unblock the shredder.
The searing pain was beyond description. More than I’d ever experienced in my entire life. Beyond childbirth, beyond car accidents. Beyond anything my mind could process. And I was alone. No one to call out for. No one could hear me. I just let my arm hang limply by my side. And I refused to look down. Not prepared yet to see what I was left with from what I knew was a defining event of my life.
I leaned forward against the railing of my deck, my mind emptied of rational thought. No plan of action arrived. My logical brain inactive, devoid of anything other than the pain. It gripped me. Wrapped me wholly. I was enveloped with pain. Just the thumping, throbbing, pounding of pain.
Then I looked up. The trees were swaying gently with the wind in their long and pensive manner. The leaves, dressed in their fall colors. were wiggling and waving at me beckoning my attention. Beyond was a brilliant blue sky, the most beautiful blue I’d seen in my entire life and I’d seen many. The breeze caressed me. It was a moment of indelible beauty. My world came to a halt. My garden surrounded me with healing calmness. Caressed me with its fragrance, its life. I was bodyless.
Now I understand more of why I garden. It’s not for me to show my friends my great expertise. To flaunt the rare specimens I collect. To boast in my selection of flowers for color balance and seasonal flair that I am able to coax into being. My garden is not an ego trip.
This garden is threaded through with paths, to walk through, to discover, to immerse yourself. The journey around my garden is for enlightenment. The senses heightened by the wisp of nuance seen from the side of one’s eye. It’s in a subtle awareness of the healing that we gather from the earth. The wonder of how interwoven we are with the natural world surrounding us. The fact that we are just another component of an incomprehensible network of living beings. It is humbling.
And if we listen, the garden also teaches us to ponder, to meditate, to slow our heartbeat down to absorb life. It teaches us to travel inside our soul to seek our essence. Gardens are about optimism too. The grand possibilities of our future. What profound truths will reveal themselves? What miracle will the world visit upon us graciously?
Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention, my fingers were not shredded that day.
Long ago in the way back machine, I grew some sunflowers for my young sons. You know which ones, they’re the 8-foot tall ones that excite every kid. So on the day the flower was pitch-perfect, I pulled out my pastels and tried to capture its roundness, its color. And then it was time to light the barbecue and make dinner for the boys so I put away my pastels and paper while planning to finish the work the next day.
We enjoyed our burgers outside in the garden under the towering sunflowers that evening sitting at the picnic table with the soft summer breezes and called it a day. The next morning when I gathered my chalks and half worked drawing to complete the art don’t I discover that a squirrel had beaten me to the day’s work. The center seeds were chomped and mangled. This was my clarion call to the ephemeral.
I learned that day the garden doesn’t wait. The passing of time can be in a split minute. A flower has another calling and it’s not willing to wait for me until I’m ready. It, like me, has a busy life with other goals.
These are some of my earliest paintings hanging on the wall in my studio. The Sunflower pastel is a reminder of the ephemeral garden.
So I committed myself to capture the transient moments in my garden. The inspirations in form and color. The visions and details that escape us as we hurry through and around in our busy lives. The moments that don’t wait for us.
And then I realized that my garden not only shows me its secrets, it also tells me its mysteries. It whispers ideas into my head. But those ideas are also fleeting. They come to me but fly away on the breezes too quickly for me to grab. So I’ve begun writing. Each time the garden sends a story I write a note of it down. I capture it on my keyboard or quickly with a pencil. At times I even have to catch it so quickly when I’m immersed in the midst of my garden that I can’t run indoors quickly enough before I lose it so I speak it softly into my phone. I’m building a library of stories the garden is generously sharing with me. This is one of them.
Sunflowers With Purple Asters. Prints of this artwork are available in various sizes on canvas, fine art paper, acrylic and metal in my online Art Shop.
Since the 1970’s I’ve been a collector, an observer and a thinker about round things. Currently, my garden is enhanced by round thing presences. Spheres of all colors and sizes. Sculpture with round themes. Round trellises. Round gateways.
This moon gate entry to my woodland walkways is just one of the pieces throughout my garden which inspires my art. These themes of roundness have threaded throughout my work for decades.
On my deck are round finials on the tops of the banisters. And large round concrete containers spewing forth their colorful floral additions all summer.
I have reflective spheres so as you walk around the circular pathways in my garden you see yourself in a distorted and accentuated way. It’s good to see yourself when you least expect it. Then your mind views you more clearly. It sees how others may see you.
Why round things you ask? They are the feminine. The woman. The beginning. The Eve.
They are the mystery. No beginning and no end. The continuum.
Eve’s apple is the first sphere. It represents to me the essence of woman, the feeding, the nurturing, the sexuality, the sensuousness, the rounded birth belly.
With the apple Eve burst forth from the confinement of the “Garden of Eden”. The place made for her. To protect her but also to isolate her from life. The experiences. The experimentation. The adventure.
She broke free by pushing the boundaries. By saying that the world created for her was not enough. She found her way to burst forth and experience life. The sadness, the pain, the anguish, the tears, the disappointments, dashed dreams, hopes denied, the loss of loved ones, the curse of immortality.
Without which true happiness, peace and contentment could not be embraced.
My art is embedded with these meditations on life.
The OMNI Gallery show featured my round flower inspired oil paintings. This work is embedded with meditations.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
Some parts of creating my art are more meditative than others. My drawing process is one of them.
I work with lead pencils filled with different weights. Usually, I start with a 3H which is a harder lead and lighter. Then on the second go-round, I switch to a 2H which is a little less hard and a slight bit darker. Eventually, I do my darker shadow areas with an HB lead which is what we all used in elementary school with our yellow pencils and pink erasers.
The motion I use is a type of squiggly form which can only really be seen when your nose is up close to the drawing. I obliterate the light lines I initially create when drawing the form of the flower so the edges are quite soft.
This slow rhythmic looping movement with the pencil was so familiar to me when I first started doing these tonal drawings. I felt in my hand and wrist that I’d made them before but couldn’t identify where but knew it was my handwriting.
And then one day I remembered the tactile feel. As a very young child, I baked my Betty Crocker cakes topped with chocolate icing. I made the icing by melting blocks of unsweetened chocolate & swirling into it some powdered sugar. With a spatula, I spread that soft chocolate creaminess onto the top and the sides of the cake using this same slow rhythmic swirling motion. I would spend as long as I was allowed to swirl and swirl and swirl by those sitting at the edge of the counter watching and waiting to dive into the eating stage.
That movement is so soothing for me that I have to remind myself to stop and declare the drawing done. Art is never really complete. You can caress it for eternity. It’s not like a cake that has a defined purpose, one that demands completion so it can be eaten. Drawing is endless. But eventually, I just have to “Ship It”.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
As a person involved in creating art for the past many years, the opportunities and revelations keep coming.
Mary Ahern – Outdoor Art Show with the Floral Park Art League 1975
The art world has changed but so have I. I’m more self-assured about my work than I was at the beginning. Through a lifetime of hard work, bumps, skids, rashes, pain, zigs and zags I’ve developed the thick skin needed to have confidence in my skills as an artist and as a person running a small business selling and showing my art.
We all know the tremendous changes that the internet and social media have introduced into the careers of artists. We are now independent enough to take our careers into our own hands rather than rely on galleries as the only outlet to selling or placing our work. I’m sure that for some artists, galleries are the central force in placing their work in prestigious collections and museums. For most of us though, galleries are not the only answer any longer.
Gallery representation isn’t for everyone
One of the obstacles for me is that I have 3 distinct bodies of work in which I like to create & promote. One is digital, one is in traditional mediums and the third is a combination of both. Even though they all focus on the same subject matter, flower and gardens, they all have very distinctive looks. I love the freedom that being independent affords me so I can create in whichever medium I choose.
As a lifetime entrepreneur the thought of having a gallery owner tell me what they want and when they want it is abhorrent to me. There is a benefit to being a working artist for many, many decades. I have the emotional and financial security to remain an independent artist. Having spent my former career in sales and marketing and also having had my own graphic design business for decades, I have the skills that many artists don’t possess.
I’m committed to creating my own art styles, exploring new mediums, enjoying the process of experimentation. But I’m just as committed to running my art business. Because of the tools now available through technology, the internet and social media I can do that myself at an affordable price. It’s a game-changer.
Recently I was asked what advice would I would give to my 21-year-old self on how to get started and keep motivated?
I can’t speak to my 21-year-old self since I was married and the mother of a baby boy by then. I didn’t put myself through college until my youngest went to nursery school. By the time I graduated from art school I was a 32-year-old single parent. A career was foremost on my mind in order to support my sons but I knew that I needed to focus on the arts in some way to follow my calling. By creative thinking & sheer guts, I got myself into the nascent computer graphics industry in the early 1980’s as a salesperson who had to use and demonstrate graphic devices and electronic paint systems. This gave me a toe-hold into the conversation of creative arts.
Critical as well was that I always maintained a working studio in my home, even sitting in it & studying art history books when I was too stressed to pick up a brush. Because I kept my focus on the artist part of me more than the technologist part of me I was able to transition into creating my own art more often as my sons grew up and life became easier. Maintaining this tangential association with the creative arts was the reason I’ve been able to now focus 100% of my effort into my artwork.
Keeping motivated isn’t difficult when you’ve burned with the desire to create your whole life. What does help however is having artist friends and mentors who understand the struggles to carve out the time to express yourself in an ever-busy world. Accountability partners help me to keep the balance needed to make room for the creation of art and the running of an art business. Either one of those activities is all-consuming but without one you don’t need the other.
Mary Ahern giving an Artist Talk at The Firefly Artists Gallery in December 2019.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
Recently I had the honor to present my art and the meaning behind my thought process at Slide Slam. This event was sponsored by the Patchogue Arts Council and hosted by the Haven Gallery in Northport NY.
The presentation by the 20 selected Long Island artists was to display a slideshow of 15 images and speak for exactly 5 minutes each about the work. Such a daunting task proved to be an interesting challenge. How do you get to the essence of your work succinctly in such a short span of time?
Important for me was to convey how critical the garden is to my work. It is in fact the beginning of my creative workflow. In the garden I feel the power of the interconnectedness of all that surrounds me; the necessary ecological balance of the earth, climate, water and nutrients, that sustain the cycle of life.
The communities of birds, bees, insects and yes, humans to pollinate flowers with the assistance of the wind of course. This cooperation is the main critical component of maintaining not just my garden but our entire life here on earth as we know it. Without fertilization the cycle of life would die for all living things, not just for the loss of our beautiful garden flowers but for all our food sources as well.
To me, the garden is just a microcosm of the universe.
The vast beauty of color, fragrance and the architecture of each plant is created to seduce assistance in procreation. Each flower has evolved its own method for attracting exactly the pollinator they desire. Long tubes for hummingbirds, open centers for nice fat bumble bees. Certain colors are more visible to different insects than others. Fragrance signals an invitation to specific species that the time is right for fertilization. The Brugmansia is most fragrant in the late afternoon since it would rather have an energetic pollinator just arriving on their evening shift than a tired one at the end of it’s working day.
Working in and studying my own garden for the last 30 years has given me the unique opportunity to watch dynamic change occur. When my oak trees fell in Hurricane Sandy suddenly the types of plants that enjoyed their shade began to suffer from too much sun. I dug them up and moved them and their scorched leaves to where they would be more comfortable and replaced them with flowers that thrive in the drenching sun. Over time this would have happened naturally but I was able to speed up the process.
Each day in my garden I’m inspired by the energy of life. I carry this with me right into my studio where I allow that energy to inform my art.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
All of my paintings start with the garden, mine or other gardens. On a trip one spring day in May as I wandered around the peony displays at the New York Botanical Garden, with my phone I took snapshots of many of the unbelievable peonies in their collection in full bloom.
Later that year on a cold winter day in December, sifting through my stash of photos, a particular pink peony image jumped out at me and demanded my attention. I knew we could develop a relationship together. It often takes months to complete a painting so I really have to love my subjects in order to spend that much time with them. We need to love each other.
Once deciding on the size of the canvas I want to use I sketch, using vine charcoal, to give the general outline of the final layout onto canvas prepped with multiple layers of gesso. Then I block in the areas of color, working on my lights and darks. Then I paint using many layers of thin glazing in order to get the vibrancy of color I crave.
Oil paints need a few days of drying times between layers and some of my paintings have 15 to 30 layers of glazing. In order to continue painting every day, I usually work on multiple paintings at a time. Each one a different day. A different palette of colors. A different stage of completion. I like the continuous challenge of picking up where I left off. I keep extensive notes at the end of each day for each painting. A sort of diary of each work.
I paint quite slowly and quite neatly. I don’t like to feel sticky so I’m cleaning brushes and washing my hands constantly. Gloves don’t work for me since I don’t like the barrier they put between my brush and my hand. Rolls of paper towels help with the tidiness of my style of workflow. In fact & have two different brands for two different uses.
I listen to music while I paint. During the duration of this particular painting, I was listening to many CDs of van Morrison music. I don’t know why. I just was. Sometimes I’m in a classic rock groove for weeks on end and other times might be jazz, classical or even new wave relaxation. I don’t plan it. It just happens.
I usually paint with just brushes, fan brushes in fact, but the center of this painting demanded a palette knife. It’s not something I usually turn to but since the painting had a mind of its own I complied. Glad I did since the center of this painting is rich with texture while the petals are completely without texture but rich in nuance.
I named this painting Centering – Pink Peony. The reason is that it represents two different views for me. I can see with my eyes that it’s an interpretation of a pink peony but in my soul I found it centered me. Made me contemplate the meaning of this painting, this flower, this world it had lived in and now lives in again but in a different way. One ephemeral, one eternal.
For decades I have been creating art in circles surrounded by squared edges. When I first made this type of work it was in the mid-1970’s. The circle was most often represented by an apple inside a square or cube. At that time it represented to me the yin and yang, female and male complements to our lives and our characters. The apple was an Eve figure, soft, female, curious, playful and seductive. The boxes were the rules, the male, the limitations, the protection and the containment of her attributes.
Apples in Boxes – A pointillist drawing in ink on paper. c1970’s
I have recently returned to this theme but using flowers from my garden as the subjects rather than apples. It feels so calming to me when I create these voluptuous rounded floral paintings. This peony was the first in a series of exploring again the circle in a square imagery so I named it “Centering” because that is how I feel towards these works. I find my centering in two places, in my studio and in my garden. They completely complement each other, one provided by nature and one in interpreting that vision.
There is a difference between the imagery of then and now. These flowers, though they are encompassed in a square format canvas, they are not contained. They are bursting through the limitations of frame, of edges, of inhibition. They are positive and empowered by their form and by their explosive color. They are neither shy nor retiring. They declare themselves as having established their own space. They are declaring themselves as individuals.
The flowers I create in my studio with brush and canvas speak to me beyond their intricacy of form, color, ruffles and swirls. LIke everyone else they initially attract me with the way the color changes as the light graces their outer curves and when it delicately enters their inner recesses, their intimacy. The edges of petals dance like ballerina skirts bouncing in the breeze. Their edges are fluted, scalloped, curved and splayed defining their differences and embracing their similarities of purpose.
I love the architecture of flowers, not just how they grow on their stems, their height, their leaves and their unique outward appearance. I concentrate on the inner architecture of their center parts, the configurations of their pistils and stamens, their anthers laden with pollen. Quite frankly, these flowers are built to seduce their pollinators. The birds and the bees but also the billions of bugs who help by rolling in their pollen to feast and to share and to help create the next generation to grace the earth.
Flowers speak to me of our universe. Our purpose. Our endurance. Each flower is an individual with its own color, shape and form. It’s own choices of community, culture and companionship. It’s own needs for climate, food and water for sustenance. But we all share our need to survive, another season, another year, another generation.
Whether I am among the flowers in my garden or the flowers in my studio, I embrace our diversity and our commonalities. All these flowers in soil or on canvas speak beyond themselves, they’re ideas and thoughts beyond just the visual. They speak to the interior of our purpose and our minds. They are us.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
Not until I studied botany and viewed flower structures under magnifying glasses and microscopes did I really appreciate their magnificence. As a life-long gardener I looked at and created landscapes, matching groups of plants to be seen from a distance, blending distant views of overall colors and shapes. Matching seasons and cultivation needs, heights and spreads contributing to the designs I created in gardens and on canvas in my landscape paintings.
A rainbow of colors in a friend’s May garden. Photo by Mary Ahern.
But that aha moment of peering dramatically close to the parts of a flower opened a whole new world of vision and contemplation for me.
By painting my flowers overly large and entirely out of scale from the real world, I try to bring that same sense of awe to my viewers. Show them something of what I see. I try to create for them their own aha moment of joy and wonder to take on their journey.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Professor Louis Finkelstein, the Art Department Chairman abruptly walked out on me at my senior thesis show when I mentioned that I was about to be a single mom declaring it to be impossible that I could also be an Artist. He previously had offered to sponsor me to the notable, Robert Pincus-Witten for a Whitney Museum Graduate Fellowship program but suddenly I was anathema. That event took my breath away for quite some time until I began to gather the pieces of me that felt flayed and strewn to the wind.
So what did I do to salvage my heart and soul? Since 4 years of art school didn’t train me for anything remotely connected with making a living, I knew I needed more education. I also found out that if you worked at a college your tuition was free. So I made a list of colleges I wanted to attend & found a job in the career services office at Barnard College. During my lunch hours, I attended computer programming classes at Columbia School of Engineering. Going from such intense right brain to left brain work was so difficult it often physically hurt.
Barnard at the time was a bastion of feminism and my boss, Martha Green guided me and untold numbers of other women into successful and rewarding careers based upon skills which, I for one did not know I had. She recognized in me untapped horizons and restored my confidence.
Mary Ahern demonstrating the Chyron Chameleon electronic paint system 1986 at the Cablevision television studio in Woodbury New York
From the support and direction I received from the women surrounding me at Barnard, I launched my career into sales, because that’s where the money was, and computers, because that’s where the future was. I zig-zagged my career in computers over the years to capitalize on my Fine Arts degree by selling computer graphics equipment to the creative departments in the television broadcast and industries. My art helped me sell those systems.
So here I am, still painting, still an Artist, proud of having supported and raised my sons on my own. Now I work every day in my studio surrounded by the gardens I created that inspire my Art.
I kept my eyes and ears open and when one mentor slammed the door another mentor opened it for me so I could charge through. Success is the sweetest revenge. Thank you Martha!
Pincus-Witten, the art critic, curator, historian, author and individual who in 1971 coined the term, “Postminimalism” has died. It reminded me of a brush with greatness that never happened for me. Let me explain.
During my college years in the 1970’s in the Queens College art department program in New York, I was expressing myself with the same underlying emotional & intellectual content in a variety of mediums. It was a time of the emergence of feminism for me and the search for self. An awakening of the world I lived in, was raised in and thought I understood.
I entered this program as an older student at the age of 27, married with two young children. Needless to say, I didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the much younger student body. Most of my creative work, rather than using the studios on campus, was done at home in my own studio/dining room after I put my sons to bed in the evening. This actually freed me to create more independently than I might otherwise have done.
I followed my own muse. I created sculptures and assemblages using acrylic boxes, clear fishing line, minimalism inspired grids, feminine but painful masses of pink fiberglass insulation. I used distorting mirrors, bindings, weavings of ropes/cords/threads in numerical sequencing. I painted windows where the panes of glass protected or imprisoned using the gridded mullions in defined mathematical ratios. I used graphite, pastel, cut paper & photography to explore my own body landscape and journey of discovery.
All my work at that time explored the balance of male/female, pain/protection, enclosure/exclusion, geometry/biomorphism, math/chaos. One side of me embraced the rigidity, consistency and comfort I found in minimalism but the other part of me was rebelling against those very same norms.
At my senior thesis show, all my work was on display, my sculpture, my drawings, paintings, assemblage, photography and my written papers. Years of independent thought, exploration and interpretation.
Louis Finkelstein was my advisor, a professor I had never met before nor taken a class with but a very prominent and influential person in the NYC art community of which I longed to be a part. He spent a great deal of time viewing my work, reading my papers and asking me questions of motivations & process.
He was impressed by my work. He told me that he said he was going to introduce me to Pincus-Witten and propose me for an independent studio fellowship offered by the Whitney Museum of Art. I was itching all over with the prickles of joy.
And then the ax fell. I mentioned to Prof. Finkelstein that I was in the process of a divorce and just straightening out the details because I had two small children.
Without one further question put to me, without one opportunity for me to elaborate, Finkelstein stood up from his stool (and here is where my memory is a little bit muddy) said either, “A divorced woman can’t be an artist” or “A divorced mother can’t be an artist”. And he walked out of my life taking with him my dreams of ever meeting Robert Pincus-Witten.