This Sunday I am visiting with Chae, whom I discovered through her blog Clay Gallimaufry. When I approached her for this interview, I admitted that I found her blog thoroughly addicting. Whether following along as she shovels snow (in order to receive an important package from the delivery man) or thinking about her philosophical questions ("Are you more creative if you have your morning coffee in an exceptionally unique cup?"), I find myself refreshed by her unique point of view. I am so pleased that she agreed to sit down with me for this Sunday Salon.
Chae, you are so grounded in the creative experience, can you tell us a little about your artistic journey?
Art has always been a passion with me. As early as grade school I was sketching the ideas the teachers verbalized. It was my way of memorizing what they said. Then, the Clark Museum opened in Williamstown, Mass about the time I turned eight. I was such a regular visitor that each of the guards knew me by name. They used to tease me about always using the oversized pockets of the oversized khaki coat I wore as a sanctuary for my hands. (What does one do with one's hands when out in public anyway? It's pretty gauche when they hang limply by one's side!)
Life seemed to steer me, in those early years, toward the theater and music yet, though I love drama, I hate being center-stage. I freeze. Born in July and being a Leo meant I was supposed to be a leader, yet after the "on-stage" years, I realized it was less stressful to "lead" people if I pushed from behind! And it was then, too, that I subconsciously chose to be an observer of life rather than a performer. Majored in photojournalism and went on to become an editor of three different newspapers as the years progressed.
Your blog is called Clay Gallimaufry, which the dictionary defines as "a jumble of things". Where did your inspiration come from?
Life is never static. It moves. Changes pace. Changes directions. Fate has quite a sense of humor and quite a fondness for playing little jokes on the unsuspecting. One such was my husband's death. After he passed away my life changed direction as I raised our four small children. I became a silversmith and a lapidarist. Robert Koeppler, a world renown master silversmith, tutored me. And too, during these years, I lampworked glass. Was never quite satisfied with my work (though it sold well) for as always I was striving for creative perfection which was never quite achieved. Folks would "ooh and aah" in delight over a newly finished piece while I was busy pointing out its flaws!
Silver Jewelry @ Chae Sullivan 2008
Suddenly, I was sixty and aground in a little back-of-the-beyond town. That was three years ago. It was supposed to be a rather temporary situation. A time set aside to touch base with my grown kids (three of whom chose to live here) and form some bonds with my grandchildren. Yet, life's vagaries imposed a challenge once again. This time it was clay. A cheap pastime as I whiled away the emotional hours of re-union. Or so I thought.
This "pastime" has consumed every available hour for the last three years! Generally, eighteen hours a day. Six days a week. I discovered here that: it's not the medium one creates with, it's the act of creation itself which motivates the inner soul.
How do you get into the creative zone, where your attention is focused on the intent? What is it about clay that allows you to make a deep emotional connection to your art? (And does it really help creativity if you have your coffee in an "exceptionally unique cup"? Because if so, I'm going to get a dozen!)
When silver was the medium, my intentions were to reinstitute the era of stately elegance, that delicate beauty of the waltz era which seemed to disappear with the introduction of plastics. As a society, we became reckless with "value", tossing all in the junk heap of new and modern.
When lampworking, I became transfixed with the concept of light. Bending light rays through glass with shape and form, creating the illusion of a sparkling mystical Universe and transmitting this joy to others.
With clay, ah with clay, there are more subtleties. So many more "purposes". Again with the advent of the "Mart era" (K-Mart, Walmart, etc.) our society has lost several of its most valuable assets: imagination, humor and a sense of playfulness. Our culture has become "plasticized", so sterilized, if you will, and uni-typed, that we've lost our individuality. It occurred to me, that if everyday functional tableware had more character, perhaps some of this could be ameliorated.
And then too, there's the intelligence factor. I'm deeply concerned about education in these United States. If our schools can no longer teach the basic reading and math skills, can we not use clay as a medium to re-engage dropout students in the art of learning? For clay is more than slinging mud. It is a whole factorium of learning methods of heat (science),history, glazes (chemistry), and then the follow-up of marketing a student's creations (math) and business practices to insure their success (micro economics). A creative mind is an inquiring mind and leads one well past the limitations of environment.
I love your critters and the face mugs. What stimulates your imagination? When you're creating the faces, do you think of someone in particular or do they emerge on their own?
When creating "critters" or face mugs, I'm generally trying to create an emotion. Laughter. Gleefulness. Perhaps marital harmony. That moment when you are at the top of your game and life is your oyster! A visual manifestation of everyday emotions and life expressed in a whimsical fashion. Trying to say: "Hey! Lighten up. This is a universal emotion and you can choose your viewpoint."
There has been a lot of buzz on the Internet about how to achieve artistic success, and yet "success" is so individual to each artist. What is your creative vision of success?
My creative vision of success? Is enabling others through a creative process of art which stimulates imagination, a value concept of old-world beauty, and individuality. Like music, art touches base with the inner creative child of all humanity.
For myself, I create because I cannot not create! It is an inner basic drive to express and share visually an idealistic world which I know we all live in if we could only envision it. Art is a method of visualization. A sharing of all that is grand in the Universe!
Chae, I couldn't have said it better, myself.
Please visit Chae's blog to see more of her work and read more of her thoughts.
I stole the title for this post from Steven Pressfield's book The War of Art. I love this little book. I can pick it up, open a random page, and find something to get me back on track laughing at myself.
Right now I could be fairly miserable if I wanted to be. Here's why.
It started about a month ago when I was visiting with a gallery director. She wanted to put up a new abstract show for March and needed several new paintings. This gave me the opportunity to go back into the studio and develop my Ancient Walls series, from which I had been sidetracked for several months -- actually maybe a year, now. I felt energized. Jazzed. Back in the studio again....can't you just hear those words being sung by the cowboy troubadour, to the tune of back in the saddle again? Yeah, I know, now that's going to stick in all of your brains for the next few days and I'll get tons of emails...sorry.
The only place I have to store these rather large paintings is..yep, that's right, the guest bathroom.
It gets worse. Now I have two 40 x 30 canvases, and my daughter and son-in-law have just phoned to say they'll be down for a visit this upcoming weekend. Plus, I've purchased a 40 x 60 inch canvas because the gallery director had specifically requested LARGE.
It's so large it doesn't quite fit on my easel horizontally. The perils of having an inadequate studio, I suppose. But...I'm still jazzed.
And then I get the phone call. The gallery is closing. End of the month. No March venue.
So right now I could be pretty miserable. I just used up two perfectly good canvases, spent $100 on another gigantor canvas that already has the first layers of texture on it so I can't take it back, I have to go pick up all those landscapes and fit them in my car, and I just lost another gallery representation.
But I'm not miserable.
Because there's nothing I would rather do than paint.
So what if these paintings won't hang in March? They're great paintings, the best I've done in this genre so far. The process excites me again, I want to do more, see how far I can take this and then see where that goes.
But most importantly, I'm not miserable because I discovered what my work is really about.
It's about taking chances. I like living on the edge between chaos and cultivation, where passion and excitement exist in life. I like trusting my own voice and following a curious heart.
And I like -- I really, really like -- taking chances.
This Sunday I am sitting down with Paulette Kowalsky, the woman behind "Becoming a Renaissance Woman." When I first came across her blog I was intrigued -- first, by the title, and then by the personality that began to emerge from her blog postings. I know you will enjoy meeting her.
Paulette, I've always been fascinated by the title of your blog "Becoming a Renaissance Woman." Can you tell us a little about yourself and where the inspiration for this title came from?
I had been trying to learn how to play the piano when I got laid off from work. I kept getting asked what I was going to do with myself (kind of silly since I have four kids :) ). So I started telling people that I was going to become a Renaissance Woman. When I found Drawspace and started to learn to draw, I told them I was going to learn to play the piano, draw and maybe...learn to faint ! After reading Jeanette's blog Illustrated Life, I liked the idea of having a journal of my learning process. Since writing fit right in with the other things I was learning to do, I thought of what I had told people. When I did a little research on what or who a Renaissance Woman was, I found that she is a woman who sets out to gain knowledge in a number of different areas. The more I found out the more I felt that this was a direction that I was already following and certainly an ideal to hold up.
How are you living the artistic life that you want?
Art is so new to me that I don't have any particular sense of what I want out of it. Right now I guess my biggest thing would be to continue to improve, to keep my mind open to learning different techniques and to gradually introduce myself to different mediums. I guess at this point I am a blank book, ready for influence. I tend to go with the flow, for example Jeanette offered a portrait class on Drawspace and I signed up. I was very pleased with the outcome, so when she offered a coloured pencil class, I dug in my pocket and went and bought Prisma colour pencils. I didn't want to miss out on another great class.
So many artists find it difficult to talk about their work to others. You blogged about the Artists Trading Card evening, and how it helped you to "introduce myself into showing my own work." For those of us who are unfamiliar with ATC's, could you tell us about them? What was the most surprising thing you discovered when you started talking to people about your own work?
ATCs are small art cards, the original ones were done on playing cards. They were made by artists to trade with artists. I have done several trades through Let's Make Art and Drawspace, where I have sent out and received cards from around the world. Recently I found out from a Cousin that we have a trading community in my city. The first night that I went, my Cousin and I were the only traders, so we traded with each other. I got to show my work to him and the lady that ran the place. This last evening had a few more people at it. I brought 7 ATCs with me and they traded in just about the same order as how well I think I did on them. Many of the ATCs are quick sketches, collages or reduced copies of other work. I heard a couple people say oh, you brought real art (LOL) They said this because mine were colour pencil drawings done on the cards. I was just glad they thought they were art :).
I love your idea of creating your own book, titled "Year One : Learning to Draw." It's a fantastic idea. Can you tell us about the process that went into creating it?
Learning to draw over the last year has been an amazing process. I went from no thought of art other than doodling to finding Drawspace and thinking I can do that, to doing several classes with Jeanette (through Drawspace); the amount I have learned in one year is beyond what I could have expected. I made three copies of the book, one for my Mom, one for my In Laws and one for myself. I guess it is mostly a testament to what I can accomplish and an excuse as to why my house is such a mess. LOL.
I made my book with Blurb, you just download the booksmart program and you are up and running. It really is that easy! I found the picture layouts a bit restrictive, so I used Artweaver (an art program) to layout my picture pages, then loaded the page I made as a single jpg image. I was really happy with how the book turned out. The quality from Blurb is top notch.
You love drawing, and you talk about Drawspace.com and Lets Make Art challenges. What are these organizations?
I was surfing the net when I found Drawspace. Brenda Hoddinott believes anyone can learn to draw. On Drawspace she offers lessons from beginner to advanced, she teaches the basics in fun easy steps. Drawspace also offers a thriving forum, where everybody from the beginner to the teacher can come and learn from each other. One of my favorite offerings is the challenges, once a week a challenge host will post several pictures for everyone to draw. The challenge is open to everyone and is there for you to better your drawing skills. It is fun to watch the drawings come in and to see people improving each week that they participate. It is also a good way for artists to step away from their comfort area and try new things. The artists are welcome to do anything from a quick sketch to a full blown drawing, it is up to them.
Let's Make Art is a group of artists that started a forum to give self taught artists a safe place to learn and share. Any medium is welcome. The artists share lessons, learn about art history, give and receive help with projects and just hang out to talk, too. LMA also has challenges twice a month, open to any medium.
On an earlier post (August 28, 2007) you talked about walking through a neighbor's yard with a camera. There was a lovely, nearly abstract image with that post. I was wondering if you could tell us about how you created that image.
I love to take pictures that either I or someone else will want to draw. I will walk around with a camera taking pictures of everything and everyone trying to catch the perfect shot, that makes you say I have to draw that. The picture you are referring to is actually taken through my glass block window looking into the neighbors yard. Sometimes getting a cool picture is just thinking to take the picture.
And sometimes, being an artist is simply thinking to draw, or paint, or scuplt the images that inspire us. Thank you, Paulette, for inspiring me with this interview. You are a wonderful example of the Renaissance Woman -- I want to be one, too.
You can follow along with Paulette by reading her blog, as I know many of you already do. And Paulette, it was a pleasure visiting with you.
I was sitting in a waiting room the other day, with just enough time to begin reading an article in the September 2007 issue of Oprah. You know the feeling, plenty of time, and in the exact moment when you say to yourself "Oh,...this looks interesting..." that's when they call your name. So all I could do was to read the short blurb, write down the barest amount of information, and I never did get the name of the author.
But this is what caught my eye.
She said that, in Spain, "senior citizen" is "tercere edad" -- meaning "The Third Age." And she went on to talk about how that idea empowered her to think that, if there was a Third Age, there could also be a Fourth and a Fifth.
This idea appealed to the artist and optimist in me, so I was disappointed that I couldn't read the full article. But I did discover that if you do an internet search on Senior Citizen and The Third Age, there is a significant amount of information regarding this terminology. Most of it seems rather dry and boring, so I'm still sad that I didn't get to read the Oprah version; however, I also don't feel quite so bad now about not being able to post that particular author's name here. But enough of that. The real point of this post is that yesterday was my birthday.
Yes, it is official. I am now at the beginning of my seventh decade of life, and it's going to be the best decade ever. I'm starting out The Third Age with a bang!
And no, that was not the sound of the candles on my birthday cake exploding...
PS: If you read this post earlier, you might remember I thought I was starting my sixth decade...since I just turned 60, that's actually the END of the sixth decade and the BEGINNING of the seventh. But I did tell you all that I'm an optimist, didn't I, and that you're only as old as you think...
Today I am sitting down with a delightful artist named Bonnie Luria, author of the blog, St. Croix-nicity. And as I am writing this, six inches of snow is accumulating outside my window, while I'm staring at the image of a gorgeous blue sky, palm tree, and sweeping beach that graces the header of Bonnie's blog. So of course my first question was...
Bonnie, when I first saw the name of your blog, I thought, wow, I wish I'd thought of that. Where did your inspiration come from?First, Sue, I'd like to say thank you for recognizing what you've seen on my site as something that interests you and that you think will capture the interest of your readers and viewers. No doubt you have many, which makes me feel particularly honored. Your questions are terrific and encourage thoughtful answers.
My blog's name is St. Croix-nicity, which sounds more mellifluous than it reads. It's a play on two words that seemed a natural to me after moving here - it's the synchronicity of life on this island. I've met people here that I hadn't seen in years, discovered that a neighbor here, now, had lived in my old neighborhood at the same time I did, and on it went. There seemed to be so many confluent occurrences and coincidences that one day as I said the words "synchronicities of St Croix," it was an instant juxtaposition for me. I've coined the word and have a domain name. As this place grows in popularity and public recognition, well...I wanted to be ready.
On your blog you mention that you used to live in the big city, and now you live in a tropical paradise. Can you tell us more on how this move enabled you to embrace your art more fully?
The most critical and beneficial change for me was the increased amount of space that I could convert to a studio. Having lived in Manhattan, the epicenter of everything and yet minuscule living quarters, ( I literally had more than a few friends who never used their ovens and used them as sweater storage or pantry space), I lost interest in painting on the dining table only to have to put my supplies away to serve dinner. It didn't motivate me to take everything out again.
We've converted a back room into a designated space just for my projects -- something I've always dreamed about having. Pull out drawers, files, great overhead lighting and long expanses of counter space. That explains the physical considerations. Then there are the subtleties of living in a truly beautiful place. What happens here is so very different from what I experienced in NYC.
I've become so very aware of my surroundings. Living in NY, while I love that city and always will, you tune out most of the stimuli just to get through the day. As a result, you don't take in the nuances of life around you. I can tell when it's going to rain - regardless of the weather forecast. I only need to hear the first audible croak of bu-dup, bu-dup of the tree frogs and I know within an hour, rain is coming.
The silence at night is actually filled with the rhythms of not so distant surf, geckos, frogs and crickets. I notice things now. The pattern of the tides. The color of leaves before the rain. The progress of the finches' nest on the deck. I hear layers of sounds and can almost judge their distances from the house. I now understand how Tonto was able to put his ear to the ground and know how far the horses were!
As artists, our skills are enhanced by how we see. Living here has sharpened my focus.
Your years as a textile designer demonstrate how artists often have to meld practicality with creativity. Designing successfully must have been very satisfying for you. What was the most unexpected joy that you discovered when you could devote more time to your figure painting?The techniques of textile painting certainly cultivated a precision in my work that was essential. It also developed a very keen sense of color mixing to get subtle color relationships. There were times we learned to add a few drops of our morning coffee to a blue that seemed just a little too clean and bright and needed to be dirtied up' a bit. I was always interested more in color than precision. Painting figuratives gives me the freedom to move away from the constraints of that tight hand. I am enjoying and still learning how to "loosen up." My joy comes from knowing that I can do this for myself now. So from one not so ancient artist to another, it's a thrill to finally be your own grown-up and do what you like!
How do you continue to cultivate your creative vision now?
I'm drawn to the Caribbean of the past, more than its present. As I've grown, both as an artist and a daughter, I've recognized how much harder our ancestors' lives were and how little appreciation I had of that concept while I was growing up. Just as the history of my own grandmother eludes me in its first hand details, the events that contributed to the shaping of West Indian culture is of deep interest to me. Maybe it's a result of the uber-tech world of instant, nano, send/delete, over stimulated frenzies we all seem to be swept up in.
Living in this somewhat secluded environment, I've found that searching other blogs for that creative spark has given me more than I could have imagined. We do have a sizable art community here but it seems to be somewhat slanted towards current day Caribbean themes. I'm not particularly drawn to painting landscapes although that may change. I get back to NY every year and note the openings and exhibits I have to see before returning home.
But again, there's a tremendous sharing of ideas and techniques and information on these sites that provide great stimulation for me.
I believe that there is no such thing as art without influence. Who influences you the most and why?
Another great question. I could look at Lucian Freud's paintings and get lost in the power of his brush strokes and fearless application of paint. Wayne Thiebaud for his color use and simplicity. Gauguin -- seeing his paintings from a few inches away makes you realize that he's used colors you will never get to know. Van Gogh - I saw a recent show at Neue Gallery in NY last summer. How he can paint an eyelid bright red and have it only look like a shadow is astonishing to me. And perhaps the biggest personal influence has been my husband's mother Reba, who at 92 still paints very large, very bold canvases with the bravado of a lawless brush wrangler! We visit her a few times a year and sleep in her studio/guest bedroom. I used to stare at her canvases and dream about the day I could pick up a brush and paint with abandon again. I credit her with charging my creative cells after a 35 year hiatus!
You have a lovely painting posted on your blog called "The Water Bearer," and in your description you talk about mixing acrylics with oil pastels. Is this the first painting where you combined mediums? Can you talk about how this progression came about and what you discovered in the process?
Glad you like her. Thanks. She wasn't the first. Actually Theo is - he's the young man holding the banana bunch. (Theo is the first painting image, top of post)
I don't use oils because they take too long to dry in this humid environment (we are not air-conditioned) and the fumes from the turp and the linseed oil is overwhelming to me now. So I have an arsenal of acrylics but found, conversely, that they dry too quickly. What I loved about oil pastels is their tactile quality. I was flummoxed one day over Theo's face and couldn't seem to get the nuance of the paint to go where I wanted it to go. In fingers' reach was my box of Sennelier oil pastels (they are luscious and creamy and very malleable.) I thought, "let's see what happens - this is art on my terms, no rules." I applied the paint first and then used the pastels over the top and sort of molded the features and the shading with my finger. I liked it so much, I've been using this combination on much of my work. A happy accident that's now become a method.
What is the biggest artistic risk you've ever taken, and how did you feel afterward?
Having my first solo show at a Gallery here last year, filled with dread and doubt (yes, we're all the same - only some of us stop short of cutting off an ear). I was thrilled and elated at the end of the opening night when a patron came in 5 minutes after the doors opened and bought 3 of my paintings! That pretty much set my compass for this past year. I think too, setting up this blog and putting the work and the words up for anyone to view has been another big leap, but that too has been a great reward. It's exposed me to wonderful, kindred spirits and has become a great source of encouragement to me.
Thank you for your thought provoking questions. They made me consider more than I had realized.And for all of us who will benefit from your initiating this forum - a show of appreciation.
Both "The Water Bearer" and "Theo" will be shown in the Good Hope Invitational Juried Art Show, from Feb 15th to the 18th. It is a widely attended show and well known throughout the Caribbean.
You can see more of Bonnie's work (and the to-die-for paradise where she lives) by visiting her blog, St Croix-nicity. I just wish I was sitting on her veranda, listening to those tree frogs, and talking more with this gracious, generous artist about art, life, and living creatively.
You could say I'm a multi-tasker. Actually, my daughter has phrased it more like "borderline manic-depressive," but that's okay because first, she loves me, and second, it's a real "artsy" badge of courage to be labeled thus. Just to give you an idea of my morning, I first downloaded My Personal Brain
which I discovered at Art Print Issues, then, in-between trying to figure out my New Brain, I've been finishing the edges on a commission that is due next week. Worse, Celine Dion's song, "Taking Chances," has been running through my brain ( my real brain, not my new virtual brain), and I've been thinking about this posting and trying to remember a quote by Marcel Duchamp that I know but can't find....arrrgh! (I remember it from Art History, it's the quote where he says that "Art" isn't the finished product, it's what happens between the object and the viewer -- and he uses the word gap. I should remember this, because I once titled a painting "Searching for the Gap," and it was the perfect segue for this post. If anyone out there knows this quote, please send it to me so that I can put it into my new virtual brain, as my real brain seems incapable of retrieving memories on command.)
Yes, here it is, the painting, that is, finished in 2005. It's sold, poor thing, but it was all about my tortured efforts at finding the gap that Duchamp was speaking about, the creative communication between artist and viewer.
And that is really the subject of this post, a continuation of the previous "Is It Talent, or Self-Actualization" post. The idea of taking chances, and reaching out, struggling to make that connection between artist and viewer...searching for the gap.
I firmly believe that anyone who has gone beyond crayons and a color book has an artistic talent that falls on a continuum stretching from novice to genius. My argument is this: I would only be interested in something if I had a "talent" for it. No matter how I might try, I will never be interested in motorcycle repair because I simply have no talent for distinguishing a crescent wrench from a metric do-dad. So to say that "talent" is the primary ingredient in artistic success must, by default, be qualified with a further explanation of what that actually means, at least to me.
The idea of having a "talent for" something means that you have moved beyond the throws of ecstasy found in Self-Actualization and rationally discovered enough about that something to be effective. For example, I have been curious about the art print market ever since the Larson Juhl rep came into the gallery where I work and encouraged me to submit. We sat down and she looked at my web site and was totally enthusiastic. Thus emboldened, I submitted to the new Artaissance program and received back a polite letter, telling me the work was beautiful, didn't meet their requirements right then, and to resubmit in a few months.
My first reaction was to put the letter through the shredder...okay, I'm human, and after all, I am also "borderline manic-depressive," so the shredder was the most obvious solution in the moment. But when I became rational again, I realized that I had not approached the idea of the print market in a way that could be considered "effective." I made a determined, non-emotional effort to really research the various art print publishers and discovered several insights. We're talking numbers, colors, styles, whatever I could discover by clicking through hundreds, running into thousands, of images. This is some of what I discovered.
1. There is a definite look to the images. They must be graphic enough to reproduce cleanly. Very "artsy" or "layered" surfaces (like mine) are difficult to print. Major clue here: if your paintings are hard to photograph because of color, composition or textural nuances, they will not be a great fit.
2. Most of the images look alike. You could not really distinguish one artist from another in some of the categories. Obviously, the print market is a lot like book publishing and TV writers...they are not into taking big chances and prefer to go with what has worked in the past. While some of the newer services like Artaissance offer a version of "print on demand" that includes a choice of paper or canvas and custom sizing -- meaning that they might be more into risk-taking -- it's still wise to gain a clear understanding of the popular designing trends.
3. If you're good enough to get into major juried shows or show and sell in a commercial gallery, you're probably good enough to get into the print market if you heed the above advice and have persistence and good timing. No guarantees. And just because you aren't a "good fit" doesn't mean you aren't a "good artist." It's up to you to decide if you want to create, on speculation, a series of paintings designed exclusively for the print market -- something I am mulling over right now.
4. If you can create work that is themed, detailed, romantic/nostalgic, cutsie, illustrative, textile-ish, in a series, suitable for posters, cards, home decor, your chances are even better. If this is something you are serious about, I would highly recommend Barney Davey's book. It's chock full of links and solid information.
5. There are many ways to live an artistic life. It is the living that is important -- nothing else.
Now, for some shameless self-promotion, I received these lovely emails from two different artists, both of whom are scheduled to appear in future Sunday Salons.
The first one from Bonnie, in response to my statement that she made my morning: "So glad to know that after Folgers' in your cup, I make your morning! Your questions are so good -- I think they require people to give considerable thought to what they're really doing and why. They remind me ( in a very good way ) of college questions that made you think about more than just the topic. That in itself in an art" (Bonnie's Salon will appear this Sunday.)
The second from Chae: "Am so glad you are enjoying the blog. Your comments quite astounded me. (Must admit that i reread the entire blog to see how you arrived at such insightful conclusions!) Decided that it was the beauty of you yourself which sees clearly through the chaos to clarity. And i truly Thank You for your kind words."
Wow. Who knew? Except that I don't want to be a writer, I want to be an artist...what was that about the Universe and my intent and being sure about what you ask for? So when did I ask to be a writer, anyway, I'm a painter, D$#@it!...oops, slipping into that manic-depressive state again...
Wow. Who knew? Except that I don't want to be a writer, I want to be an artist...what was that about the Universe and my intent and being sure about what you ask for? So when did I ask to be a writer, anyway, I'm a painter, D$#@it!...oops, slipping into that manic-depressive state again...
There are so many questions I want to ask you, I don't know where to start. The first would be "what is your time management secret?"
Hah! What is this time management you speak of? I guess the only secret here is an open one: you always find time to do what you really want to do. So, for me my family and my painting come first. Reading, writing and photography come in a close second!
Of course, I don't have any more hours in my day than anyone else. But, I don't watch television at all, or read a daily newspaper, and my house is not super neat or clean or carefully decorated. I get my hair cut once every three or four years and I don't do a lot of shopping (except for grocery shopping of course!) I am extremely focused on my work...just naturally. I can't claim any virtue points for this. In fact, sometimes it's a little embarrassing!
I am fortunate that my husband Paul Downs, in a creative field himself ( he's a furniture designer), is very supportive of my career and what needs to happen (or not happen) in order for that to continue. My friends and family are all great, too.
I found myself fascinated with the strong sense of social awareness* that is a reoccurring theme in your work. Can you tell us more about the events in your life that drew you to this subject?
Not exactly sure what you mean by social awareness? I am fascinated by the way people (and objects) interact...their emotions and thoughts and plans as seen through their gestures and movements. Growing up in New York City as a young child I was surrounded by people of all races and cultures and ages and religions. A rich diversity of social experience was simply part of my life. I love traveling and reading about other cultures, and histories and biographies and such. This interest in people and in other cultures is probably not a conscious choice, but just a natural inborn predilection.
* by social awareness I was showing my 60s roots, using an old-fashioned term for cultural and social diversity, and an emphasis on inclusion of marginalized social groups in the artwork. As a mother who's first-born had severe congenital heart defects, I related immediately.
You speak openly and movingly about your son. How has autism strengthened your artistic voice?
Yes, becoming the parent of a child with special needs has been the single most broadening thing that has yet happened to me. It really opened up my mind and heart in unimaginable ways. As Hemingway once said, "The world breaks everyone, and later, many are stronger at the broken places." I don't always feel very strong, but I am far more sensitive to the entire range of differences and special needs in the world now, too, not just the specialized world of autism.
My son Henry has what used to be called "low-functioning" autism. This is essentially, strongly autistic characteristics combined with what appears to be severe mental retardation. Just a little note: this is an extremely common form of autism, and before the big "Asperger's Boom" of recent years, was by far the most prevalent (estimated in the 80 percent range) form of autism around. But you don't hear about these kids much I think because they are not as news-worthy as the kids who are hyperlexic (precociously verbal) or savants (amazing the world with their music or math talent!) They are rarely (actually, never) the kids you hear about who were "saved" from autism through some special diet or therapy. Those occasional highly publicized rescues seem to be reserved for the "higher functioning" kids. Henry can't talk or read, and although he has many skills, he lags about a decade or more behind his peers in many things including some important self-help skills. He is a darling child (er, teenager!) with a beautiful soul, but has many challenging behaviors and habits.
Can you tell us about your Genre of Inclusion project, and update us on what you've been doing?
Waterpark @ N.B.Miller
Yes, it's an ongoing project whereby I make a conscious and deliberate effort to include people with special needs in my genre paintings (paintings of everyday life). I've painted people who have autism, Down Syndrome, albino-ism, cerebral palsy, blindness and deafness, and several other issues including some little-known chromosomal syndromes. But the paintings are just about the people, not about the syndromes or "disabilities." I am honest about it but I don't focus on the person's disability, and in some instances, you may not even realize ( at least at first) that anyone in the painting has any particular differences! Because, to me, these differences are not a person's most important characteristic, it's all just a natural part of the variations that being human encompasses. While I want to make sure that people's differences are seen and respected my overall aim is to emphasize and celebrate our common humanity.
This project has been the subject of magazine articles in Exceptional Parent, Mothering Magazine, and The Review ( the magazine of the Autism Society of America), and has won several art awards including an Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts and a Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant. I have had two solo exhibits of the (ever-growing) body of work, and I have another one scheduled for some time next year.
I see such warmth and humanity in your still life paintings, and a healthy dose of humor, too. Where did the inspiration for "Rubber Duck with Two Buns" come from and what story does it tell?
Rubber Duck with Two Buns (Ducky Buns) @ N.B. Miller
I absolutely love painting still-lives, setting up the tableaux and sensing their stories in my head as I paint. It is deeply calming and pleasurable for me, perhaps like meditation is for some people. I like to use objects with which I have some history (childhood relics, hand-me-downs) or that I have grown (flowers or vegetables) or cooked myself (some of the food.) It all feels more real and alive to me that way.
The duck in "Ducky Buns" was my childhood rubber ducky! It has swum in many a bathtub with me and my two brothers. It now has an honorable and useful retirement, living in my studio and occasionally appearing in my paintings. The buns are from a local bakery in my neighborhood, run by an interesting and talented couple from France. It's hard to say why I decided to pair the buns, the box and the duck: I was first attracted by the abstract shapes and patterns rather than any narrative, but I later realized that quite a back story eventually emerged. This is the normal way of how I work. I set up a still life tableaux attracted mainly by how it looks, the patterns and shapes, and as I am painting I am amazed and enthralled by the story it starts to tell me.
What was the biggest artistic risk you've ever taken?
Red Vase @ N.B. Miller
Simply deciding to be an artist as my career, and deciding to go to art school. My parents would not countenance my attending art school and I'd tried to compromise by going to a university where I hoped to double major in art and some other more "respectable" field of study. But I found the studio arts program at the university I was at decidedly underwhelming and dropped that idea. After working for a year or so out of college, I decided to chuck it all and do what I really had wanted to do originally and I somehow managed to do it. With a combination of scholarship, loans and part-time work, I put myself through art school That was really a leap of faith.
What is the most unexpected side effect of your success?
I am stunned to even hear myself described as "successful." Wow, what a concept! I guess what has seemed surprising is that the "slog factor" never lets up. It's a lot of hard work at every level. Being an artist is all about getting into the studio and getting the work done.
One of the nice side benefits of having a bit of a "name" is that I occasionally get fan mail! People write or (more usually) email me to let me know how much they appreciate my work. I feel very grateful for those moments of connection. I also get emails from art students, on a fairly regular basis, asking me questions and sometimes even my advice. I really enjoy this opportunity to help younger artists as they find their way.
Nancy Bea Miller exhibits at:
Artists' House Gallery, in Philadelphia, PA
Sherry French Gallery, in New York City, New York
Susan Maasch Fine Arts, in Portland, Maine.
Nancy will be part of a two-person show at Sherry French Gallery in May, 2008. For additional information on the show, as well as more of Nancy's beautiful art, please visit her website at http://www.nancybeamiller.com
Thank you, Nancy!