I have always considered myself a maker who paints. Perhaps the way I push the paint on the canvas is a way to express the physicality of what I really love doing: sculpture.
I started using my current technique of painting in 2007 in a frustrating attempt to remove some paint from a canvas. In trying to discover my next series of work and take my paintings to a new level, I felt I had stumbled and was furious that I would have to start over. This usually meant removing the painting from the stretcher bars and throwing the canvas away. But instead at that moment I attempted to salvage the canvas and erase the shape in order to work on top. By moving the paint around with the brush I had sculpted my way to a new idea. Now I use this sweeping movement as a way to mold the paint on the canvas to achieve the desired effect.
The two paintings below are new works from my Distortion series:
Distortion 2, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 39 1/2″ x 27 1/2″
The idea of sculpting with paint has lead me to thinking back to my sophomore year at RISD, when I was a sculpture major. My ideas were immature at best but I loved the process; I learned how to weld steel and cast out of bronze in the school foundry. I made outdoor site-specific installations and was actually awarded honorable mention by a professor of art from Brown University for what was called the RISD Farm Show. But as a female in a predominantly male department, I felt alienated and berated for my ideas by the all-male faculty.
The only class I excelled at was figure modeling. For me it was a breeze to sculpt a live model out of clay and render it perfectly in a three dimensional form. Some of the male students openly complained about this required course and challenged the teacher in class about its relevancy. This was my only A grade for the entire year. The main sculpture professor did not value this talent and did not attempt to see how it could translate into the more conceptual ideas he was advocating. Being only 19 I had absolutely no experiences to draw on for any conceptual ideas whatsoever.
This made me think of something I recently saw in the news. A Gerhard Richter painting had just sold at auction for the highest amount ever by a living artist. This beautiful painting was created when the now 80 year old artist was 62. Other artists who I love and admire also made their best work late in their careers like Louise Bourgeois and Helen Frankenthaler.
Distortion 3, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 63″ x 47″
After a year of being told my work was garbage and in fact not what sculpture was supposed to look like at all, I had had enough. I approached a couple of painting professors with the idea of switching majors. The work I did over the next two years in the painting department was mediocre at best but at least my ideas and hard work were valued on one level or another. I excelled at figure drawing and printmaking even if my conceptual work was not there yet.
I often look back and wish I had stuck it out with the six or so other female students who stayed in the sculpture department. Senior year I complimented them for making it through. I was impressed they had survived and praised their creative and exceptional thesis exhibitions. So I guess I am happiest when I’m “making” art and have stuck with painting for the last 19 years. As my 20th RISD reunion approaches, I often think about that foundry and reflect on the amazing year it was in spite of all it wasn’t.