Tell us a little about yourself and when you began your
I believe I said something about wanting to be an artist when I was in kindergarten and that was that. Both of my parents were want-to-be artists, and I was fulfilling a dream for them. They encouraged me to paint, enrolled me in after-school art classes (I was not prepared for full-on life drawing when I was 12, but I learned to adapt quickly). Once in art school, and away from the pressure of pleasing the parents, I was able to think for myself. The first thing I did was quit school. I left after the first semester and went to Maine, where I had spent the previous summer. I wanted to make art for myself and I thought I could do it by myself. I went back to art school a year later and dove in.
Any words of wisdom from your early career that have stayed
I had an amazing teacher in art school who gave me the tools to understand visual perception. Even 47 years later, I remember his words verbatim. The very first day in freshman design he walked in and spoke what he called a fundamental axiom: “The eye is attracted to that which has least in common with all other things in a total field of vision; it then seeks for like or similar effects.”* You have to understand, these were his VERY FIRST WORDS. No “welcome, students,” no roll call, no nothing. That was how he communicated with us, and if we missed it—he often mumbled—too bad.
He broke down the dynamics of a work of art into elements and their characteristics to teach us how to use them for ourselves. He told us that if we could write our name, we could draw. That the success of a work of art is not about how facile it is, but if it communicates the artist’s intent. He continually challenged me and throughout the years—and still to this day—certain things he said to me pop into my head and I think, “Oh, yes, that’s what he meant.” I use his words and the ideas he passed on to me in everything I do. I feel grateful to have these tools. “I want you to have [these tools] so deeply embedded, to be such a part of you, that you will be able to call on them whenever you need.”*
Why are you drawn to abstraction?
My work is about nature and I am re-presenting something inside of it. I imagine a veil, and if you lift that veil you get to the energy that is behind the manifestation in front of your eyes. This is the place that excites and interests me. On top of this, I am playing with color, mark-making and space to find an image that satisfies me.
How did you come up with the name The World is a Messy Place for this series?
Well, the world is a messy place. I named a series of paintings #theworldisamessyplace right after the last election. There were a lot of hashtags flying around on the Internet and I made up this one to identify my work. There’s a part of me that is always trying to “fix” things, to make it nicer. At that time, there was (and still is) a lot to fix. The painting became a metaphor. The first paintings in this series were painted with plastering blades and rubber squeegees. I was pushing the mess of paint around on panels, trying desperately to make order and/or beauty out of it.
The current work using this same title continues to explore the metaphor from a slightly different angle. I am using the brush stroke; the natural marks I tend to make—my hand—an activity close to doodling, an activity that seemingly has no reason, an activity used to pass time without purpose, to build some sense of order.
Why did you choose the size you did for this series?
The size of these works connects to the scale of the brushes I am using. The size of the brushes is determined by the activity of my hand making the marks that at this moment help me explore this work. That could change if/when I get to a plateau and need to go to the next step.
Has there been an evolution in your work within the past five–10 years?
I think the biggest evolution for me is to stop listening to the inner critic that has tended to stifle me in the past. I often hear from friends who have looked at my work over the years that they see my paintings shifting and changing all the time. I don’t experience that so much. This could have something to do with my personality and always needing
to get to the next thing. I used to worry that I didn’t stay in a spot long enough to explore it thoroughly; that my journey is more horizontal than vertical (the vertical dive into a body of work would signify a true exploration). I’ve come to accept how I do my work because it’s how
I need to do it. And, in truth, the basic thing I am doing, lifting that veil,
What do you love about painting, or what drives you to paint?
I go for the challenge of painting, and the way it leads me to see things that are new to me. So much of painting is pure self-indulgence. There are moments when I’m working on a painting and I have no idea what I’m doing. “It’s good to be lost, because then you will be found.”* In those moments, I must see something subconsciously, because when I pick up a brush to “try” something, and step back to see what happened, suddenly it’s a new space or idea that is revealed, and this is what is so satisfying to me.
What do you hope to give people through your paintings?
I hope to give people a view that they may not have considered. Something new and, most importantly, my hope is that the painting remains alive. When someone tells me they don’t grow tired of looking at the painting, then I know I have succeeded.
*Quotes from my teacher Douglas Wilson at Carnegie-Mellon University.
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Favorite Maine restaurant?
Sammy's Deluxe in Rockland.