Friday, April 19, 2013

Pictures, Not Words

I was recently invited to speak at the Frist Visual Arts Center because my woodcut and the block it was printed on are in the Martin Artquest Gallery. I shared some of my experiences with art education and I wanted to share them here with you on my blog.

"Lesson" acrylic, collage & found objects on panel
As a child, I went to public schools and we always had art class. I wasn’t a great student in general and being left handed made the writing messy. One of my earliest memories of doing art was with Mrs. Damico in second grade. She had us reach in to a paper bag and grasp an object and draw what it made us think of. I felt something furry (a rabbits foot keychain) and drew a squirrel with a gigantic tail. It won a prize in a local kids' art show but I remember loving the feeling of making something up on paper stemming from a real experience.

In high school I had Mrs. Hall for art, who was very supportive of my art interest and made up a job for me as art room monitor and gave me a key to the room. This was my first studio and the beginning of my identity as the artist.

My father told me once that as a child on my first visit to the library I told him “Daddy, pictures not words.” I had trouble reading but I drew constantly, making things up, copying comic books, and photographs- I loved the private space and the different sense of time that drawing and making things afforded me.

Museums played a big role too. I remember my father taking me to the Boston museum of Fine Arts when I was around 10 years old and seeing a Monet painting I had coveted in a book and was shocked that it existed in real life. I was mesmerized by the texture of the painted surface.

And so I have had a life in art that I never could have imagined as a never relinquishing the private space of artmaking to the world. When I came to TN in the mid –eighties I worked for two years for the TN Arts Commission’s Artists in the Schools program for KMA. I went to schools all over East Tennessee and worked with mostly elementary school age kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds.I was inspired by the kids and saw that in first and second grade all 30 kids in the class made great, honest art.

I want to share a few excerpts of letters I received from the students.

Thank you for teaching me how to put light in my pictures

I never knew such artwork could exist. Before you came I could not draw at all. Now I am very ,very good

I like drawing because it was fun and we didn’t have to work

I wish in the future there would be more shapes

Thank you so much for the art project and for using up some of our time

I liked the lesson

I used the words from the last student note in a painting called Lesson that I did a few years ago (seen above). To me, using handwritten words and text adds meaning to a work.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scenic Road

In 2010, I was commissioned, by Chris Hehmeyer, a Memphis native, to create a large painting about Tennessee for his residence in Chicago. For this commission I did research at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, from which I copied many old documents, photographs, and postcards pertaining to the state's history, commerce, agriculture, and culture. The painting is called "Postcard from Tennessee."

"Scenic Road" and other paintings from that time were offshoots of the commission and the research I did for it. For this painting I used a postcard that someone wrote from Tennessee describing a trip to the Smoky Mountains. The postmark in the middle of the painting connotes an exact moment: May 16th 1951 at 9 a.m. On the top left of the painting it says Newfound Gap, below that it says "Scenic Road," and "Mama said lets go home" -- all taken from projected images of the actual postcard. On the top right corner of the painting is the Two Cent postage stamp. The old house in the painting is a house on the property adjacent to ours in the Sequatchie valley.

The painting references an exact moment in time that is long lost and the words and feelings that someone had when visiting Tennessee. It also references a method of communication, real and handwritten, that is quickly disappearing. The little house lay dormant and decaying for years but has recently been lovingly restored by new owners, which is a symbol of hope.

This painting encompasses themes that I have been interested in for many years: how people move through time together; how they interact and communicate with each other; how important the hand written word is; how handwriting communicates more than what is being said; what is lost between humans as time moves on; what replaces older methods and materials in our modern world; and how people find hope in different ways in the face of a complicated world.

As an artist I am interested in conveying, through the work I do, my observations and feelings about what I see around me. I am interested in how and what other people are communicating to each other.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Footsteps, 2009 (Acrylic, collage and found objects on panel) 96 x 72 inches
As an artist my intention is to distill as much of what I see and feel about the world into visual assemblages through which I can share my experiences with others.
Sometimes I add found objects, which make me reflect on the experiences of those who might have used them. The large acrylic on panel painting entitled “Footsteps” began when I brought back to the studio, from an afternoon walk, an old brown leather woman’s farm-type shoe. Small and sturdy, with a chunky elevated heel, it was dignified but worn out, ready to rest.
It was a story almost left untold. I found it in the hay residue in a neighbor’s old barn and plucked it from the decay like a clam from a low –tide beach. It’s aged, tooled brown leather--holes in the toes, patches attached with bent-nails to cover up the broken-down layers--smelled like work and smoke and the river of days.
I puzzled over who might have been its former occupant--the shoe being that person’s connection to the earth for part of a life.
It symbolized her path through time and place in a long-gone world.
I embedded the shoe into the empty panel as a starting point and began to think about the finite amount of days we have and the places our shoes will take us.
Where have your shoes taken you lately? I've been traveling but I look forward to sharing some stories of my trip with you all here on my blog. Thanks for reading and thanks for your support!