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View from the Porch, East Side of House , 2003-2006, Acrylic on canvas 38 3/4” x 48”

I am very fortunate and grateful for the recent invitation by Stanley Lewis to visit his studio and home in Western Mass. and talk in person. Our conversation continued and helped to follow up on the second part of our interview which was recorded previously in our phone conversation. (Link to part one of this interview)

When I arrived he showed me a large oil painting on canvas, a work in progress made over this past winter, on hold now till the trees lose their leaves again. The subject was a view looking toward the front of his home with the light through the trees and the surrounding yard and garden. He uncovered protective plastic sheeting that was draped over his hand built easel stand. As this was a work in progress I decided to respect his privacy and not take photos of his setup or record the conversation–however, the photos above show earlier painting spots. He then explained how elements in this motif informed his decisions for his painting process. There was a large, maybe 1.5 – 2 foot, wooden viewfinder attached to the easel with clamps in which he looked through to judge how elements in the scene related in space as well as to the picture plane. This easel had numerous practical advantages such as ways its construction offered protection from the sun and wind as well as space for the palette and other items.

Front Yard, Leeds, MA, 2001-02, pencil, 42” x 43”, Collection of Cyrus and Myrtle Katzen

The painting would expand both in depth and dimension as layers of paint are added or additional sections of canvas attached as needed to meet any needs for an expanded view as determined by the relation of the boundaries of the viewfinder and the canvas edges.

Some sections of the painting that needing protection were masked by clear plastic sheeting and areas needing revision could be layered with clear plastic sheeting used to paint on and then attached using bonding adhesive (such as palette scraping and medium of some sort) additionally new repainted sections could be stapled as well as glued on. It was all very open and nothing was seemed to be held too preciously–instead the goal seemed more to get unity and integrity in the composition. I was surprised by his unconventional methods but after seeing the astonishing surface facture and compositions of his finished paintings, this approach made sense. We briefly discussed how being overly concerned with any technique’s archival longevity seemed less important than bringing integrity and vitality to the painting. That was something the art conservators could worry about in the distant future (if future humans still cared about the condition of paintings when faced with the more disastrous consequences of climate change and such.)

View from Barn Window , 2008, Oil on canvas 14” x 14” View from Bathroom Window, West Side of House, 2004-2007, Charcoal, graphite on paper 38” x 48”

The morass of details and visual chaos one is confronted with in outdoor painting sensibly leads most painters to simplify things as much as possible. Lewis respects painters who go that route but his investigations and perhaps contrarian sensibility leads him to paint nature as he finds it. I couldn’t detect any doctrinaire painting philosophy or nature worship zealotry here, instead–that for him–what works is to trust that careful observation can lead to a greater authenticity and possibly reveal powerful visual surprises–along with directions for the paintings abstract structure. Lewis’ way of merging the observational with the abstraction comes out of the importance of getting a ‘Double Meaning’ in painting that comes in part from his study with Leland Bell as well as his interest in Jean Hélion and Lewis speaks more about this in the interview.

Stanley often speaks in a humble, plain-spoken manner–often stopping mid-point–seemingly to weigh-in on other points of view or add a related thought. He was uncomfortable hearing anything he viewed as over the top praise from admirers. He often focused on the many difficulties he encounters with his daily struggle in making paintings that meet his expectations.

He told me that not long ago he needed more space in his studio and decided to throw out a huge number of his early studies, quicker works and more abstract paintings to make more room for his current work. He expressed dissatisfaction with many of early works and that getting rid of them was freeing and a relief, that he could work with less of the past hovering over him, cluttering up his present concern with spending more time on the paintings, working everything out however long it takes to resolve and that a quicker, gestural manner is no longer the best approach for him.

Lewis also spoke often about the notion of a ‘Double Meaning’ or ‘Double Rhythm’ in painting is more visual than verbal and he expressed dissatisfaction with how he has tried to explain what this meant in his painting. I showed him the quote from the book that Deborah Rosenthal edited Poussin, Seurat and Double Rhythm by Jean Hélion. Stanley loved this quote- but wasn’t sure it accurately explained what he was doing. He wasn’t sure it needed a verbal explanation – preferring to work it out with paint, not words.

The book has a wonderful quote from the Hélion’s Double Rhythm essay that seems particularly relevant and powerful:

The least figurative painter cannot go far without getting a permanent lesson from nature. The meaning of what we create is only expressed in that endless dictionary. This is the only constant, the only light clearing the significance of any picture. The chief point is to work within the meaning of nature instead of its appearance.

And nature is full of facts that are so clear, substantial, already so far transformed into ideas:

The tree, coming from a germ-point, goes toward light, multiplies its directions into space, each of them into thousands of hands, and to catch, to hold, to receive space on an always larger surface, finally transforms them into flat leaves facing the sun.

Birds, going from one point to another and coming back, embracing space, measuring it, rhythmically dividing it and discovering a speed in its modulations.

Fishes, the more spatial beings, actually living in space. They stop at every point of it, have no limits to their progression. They know three dimensions, refined angles, complex continuities. They move in all directions, without shocks. Birds just make long hops. Only fishes fly. They do not have to come down. They constitute spatial groups. Their body, in contact with the tangible liquid space in all points, receives its call, measures it, responds to it. When one fish moves, in a basin, all others are affected. One goes up, three go down, another describes circles, slowly.

The top meaning of equilibrium is probably “thinking.” Equilibrium identifies in permanently renewed ways, ethical, plastic, everything the painter is capable of. The shape becomes thought. One cannot be parted from the other. The eye-mind of the painter goes over it all, in all directions, extricating, superposing rhythms, blowing through them, to find their longest way, their endless, their simplest, where all meet. When all elements, thus produced by many reasons, the black and the white reasons, many processes, oppositions, rhythms, waves, constitute a complex mass, controlled, solid, unified, totalized, the painter faces it and sees his complex-self in it, as in a multi-dimensioned mirror.

The whole mass of the painting shines like freshly cut copper, shines of its constitutional brilliance, that means blood running, life. Identity is reached between substance and thought. To work one is to work the other. The plastic error denounces the ethical error. Painting is a language.
–Jean Hélion, from Axis: A quarterly review of Contemporary “Abstract Painting & Sculpture, Summer 1936

Please Note: this is an affiliate link to this book – Painting Perceptions gets a small kickback from Amazon if you buy this book from this link.

View from the Barn Window (Detail) 2011,Oil on canvas 16” x 23 1/4”

Stanley Lewis quoted in Standing in the Artist’s Footprints, Martica Sawin’s essay for the 2016 catalog for the New York Studio School Exhibition(link to full catalog) “The Way Things Are”
“I think of the viewer as myself. I want the viewer to be where I was and to understand what I am doing, which is complicated. I turn my head from side to side to find my picture. I want to get from here to there, not just see a unified central image. I can’t expect the viewer to work that hard so I struggle to unify the sides.”

Martica Sawin explains earlier her Standing in the Artist’s Footprints essay:
Lewis starts a drawing by focusing on one component of a given motif with a fair amount of detail before shifting to another segment of his subject. “I love painting the small things, although I think I get lost in that detail.” It’s not difficult to imagine getting lost in the complex network of thin lines that trace the overlapping tree branches in View from Bathroom Window, West Side of House ( see below ) and other drawings of snow-covered landscapes. The strokes follow every twist and turn of even the most slender branches, weaving a delicate tracery that stays in sharp focus even as the trees recede into the distance, the result of days of labor in the frigid weather. Lewis is not one to edit out anything that falls within his line of vision, like signage or parked cars or backyard debris, so he includes the assertive lines of a pair of telephone wires cutting diagonally across the filigree of branches. A devoted plein air practitioner, he will work outdoors at his easel even as the temperature drops below freezing. When winter finally drives him inside he usually manages to angle his rendering of cluttered interiors to include a sideways view of a landscape through a window.

I invited the painters Dan Gustin as well as John Goodrich to say a few words about their friendship with Stanley Lewis.

Dan Gustin writes:

Last year my wife Cynthia and I spent a couple of days at the home of Stan and Karen Lewis. I have wanted to visit his studio for many years. Although I have been around him in Italy, I was eager to see where he works all year long. I wasn’t sure of what to expect and anxiously anticipated this visit to a great painter’s work and private lair. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see.

Walking into Stan’s studio was a unique experience. It was amazing and overwhelming to see the amount, quality and range of work Stan was engaged in. It was like seeing a new country for the first time with new eyes and few assumptions. It was as if some kind of creative bomb had gone off in his studio, leaving hundreds of bits and pieces of all shapes and sizes all over the studio in every possible direction covering the floors and walls with Stan’s amazing and unceasing output of work. Every inch of space was covered with scribblings, great drawings, discarded scraps of paper, paint and pencil, finished and unfinished paintings, plaster sculptures, wood carvings, paint brushes, hand mixed paint, as well as 12 finished paintings he was sending to a show in NYC.

This was a studio where there was no presentation or formal explanation on what he was working on for the edification of others. It felt like you were inside his head where a kind of living theater of pure and intense creativity ran amuck with no script or plotting of destination. The studio housed his direct action tied to his moment of making. There were were also many copies and transcriptions of painters he loves, mostly in pen and pencil where he continually draws from sources of great painters,and sculptors to best understand how to make his own work today.

I was completely blown away by what I was seeing and how it was so different from any studio I have been in over the last forty years. It brought to mind the photos I have seen of Giocometti and Picasso’s studios, in that, the rooms were filled from floor to ceiling of ongoing work, all relating to some amazing way that made perfect sense to the artist. To me, Stan’s work in the studio is not about a self-conscious presentation set up for the opinions of others, but rather a glimpse into a timeless moment of a great creative mind always in process, always striving and always in doubt.

After leaving Stan’s studio, I was inspired but also bummed out. As I started to make the unavoidable comparisons to my own work and studio set up–I felt I had to take a look and reassess what I was doing and my own process of working in the studio. I had had this incredible experience of being truly in the belly of the beast of this great painter, and it had a profoundly sobering but enlightening effect on me. I left Stan and Karen’s house a much humbler painter and hopefully a bit wiser.

In my opinion, Stanley Lewis is clearly the most compelling, visually honest and pictorially inventive painter today who is working perceptually from the landscape. His incredible passion and relentless will for seeing truthfully, his force of pictorial articulation and plastic construction, are completely unique in today’s art world.

Bonnard spoke of trying to fathom and express “the grand and ancient patterns of nature” in painting. Like many great artists who pursued this search, Stanley Lewis is the heir apparent to that deepest of artistic pursuits–as expressed by Bonnard and the great painters of the past; always avoiding the pitfalls of fashion and spectacle. Instead, Stanley stays true to his vision of painting; trying with his incredible determination and talent to, as he says, “just see the small little things.” Dan Gustin 6/2019

[See image gallery at paintingperceptions.com] Lake Chautauqua with Orange Kayak , 2012 Oil on canvas 26 1/2” x 35 1/2” Lake Chautauqua with Orange Kayak (Detail), 2012 Oil on canvas 26 1/2” x 35 1/2”

John Goodrich writes:

“The official ritual of evaluating a painting might proceed this way: Stand at a slight distance to ascertain subject matter and stylistic treatment. Move in to register the means of facture; consider their implications about temperament. Move back once more to assess the ultimate realization of concept.

Fortunately, many of us have had the chance to listen instead to Stanley Lewis, who has arguably spent a lifetime proving that true inquiry follows no recipe. In regard to both his painting and his teaching, there seems to have been no divide for Stanley between immediate, everyday experience and artistic inquiry. What interested him in life – be it the latest astronomical discovery, traditions of jazz trombone, or an incident from an obscure artist’s life – became inspiration in the studio and classroom.

Painters may recognize a particular effect: the way, deep within the rhythms of a painting, a detail or passage arrests the eye, pressing itself upon one’s attention for no obvious reason. For years, I’ve thought of such a moment as a kind of “face staring back at you.” Not coincidentally, this is exactly the phrase Stanley used, years ago, to describe a passage that unexpectedly holds the eye, punctuating or summing up the larger movements around it.

I think of the phrase as pure Stanley: a direct and strictly honest experience, practically related, poetically spot-on, and completely unconcerned with tropes of art appreciation. It’s one instance of the free-form inquiry that has always marked not only his thinking about art, but also — and this is what really counts — the spirit behind his remarkable drawings and paintings.” John Goodrich 5/2019

Larry Groff: You have painted abstractly in the past and now mainly paint from observation. Can you say something about what you try to get at with your painting?

Stanley Lewis: I prefer working in manner that is more of a “working class” vision of how things look. I believe in being struck by the beauty of what you see in nature, like how you might sit next to me outside and remark on how great the light was on some green leaves looked or how the wires against the sky could make a wonderful subject for a painting. We’re seeing the same things, the way it looks beautiful today. There is something about going after the simplicity and authenticity of appearances that is what Derain was about. I believe in appearances rather than a systematic method of making a painting work..

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Houses on Jekyll Island, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 23 x 34 inches courtesy of Betty Cuningham Gallery View from New Studio Window, 2012-2017, Oil on canvas, 65 x 63 inches courtesy of Betty Cuningham Gallery

I am very pleased to be able to share this recent telephone interview with Stanley Lewis. I approached Stanley Lewis a few times over the past couple of years to see if he’d agree to an interview but he declined likely due to his preferring to spend his time painting rather than interviewing. However, recently another opportunity came up for me to bother him once again and this time he agreed, in part to bring attention to his upcoming workshop at the International School of Art in Monte Castello, Italy during July 14 – August 4th of this summer. We talked at length on the phone and eventually he became more enthusiastic about our interview.  We decided for the interview be in two parts; the first part centered around his teaching in Italy and related concerns which is posted here and the second part to come later to allow us more time and room to continue his discussion of his process and thoughts on painting. The second part will be published later this June.

Stanley Lewis, is a greatly respected painter who hardly need introduction but the Betty Cuningham Gallery website  offers this bio for anyone who isn’t yet aware of his many professional accomplishments:

Stanley Lewis was born in Somerville, New Jersey on October 31, 1941. He graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut in 1963 with a joint major in music and art. His painting teacher was John Frazer. He graduated with high distinction. In the summer of 1962, he studied with William Bailey and Bernard Chaet at the Yale Summer School of Art and Music.

He received a Danforth Fellowship for graduate study and received an MFA from Yale University in 1967. His main teachers there were Leland Bell and Nick Carone. He began teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1969 in the painting department, working under Wilbur Niewald for 17 years. He joined the Bowery Gallery in NYC in 1986.

Stanley taught at Smith College from 1986-1990 and then at American University from 1990-2002 working under department chairman Don Kimes. He retired from AU in 2002.

He has taught summers at the Chautauqua Institution’s School of Art since 1996 and was on the faculty at the New York Studio School until the end of 2011.

In Sept. 2004 he was in a two man show at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries. A long-time member of the Bowery Gallery, his most recent shows there were in February, 2005 and March, 2008. He was then represented by Lohin Geduld Gallery and had a one man show there October 13- November 13, 2010. The gallery closed in December of 2011. 

From Feb. 17 through April 8, 2007, he had a major retrospective at the Museum in the Katzen Art Center, American University, Washington, DC. There was a smaller version of that show at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, Summit, NJ, that spring. In 2005, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has been elected to membership in the National Academy.

Stanley Lewis is currently represented by the Betty Cuningham Gallery.

Route 39_ near North Gate, 2004, oil on canvas, 41½” x 53½”, Collection of William Louis-Dreyfus Stanley Lewis, View of Garden from New Studio Window, Winter, 2016, pencil on paper, 55 x 42 inches (courtesy of Betty Cuningham Gallery)

The painter Ruth Miller recently agreed to send me the following that she wrote about Stanley Lewis as an introduction to this interview:

When thinking about Stanley Lewis’s remarkable work, many words rush in: passionate, unrelenting, obsessive, brave, true, generous, mad, visionary. But his work is also about the hard won image, about detail and layering, loving attention, spacial volumes, formal concerns, dogged devotion, about the concrete and about process. I was visiting the Barnes last month and while looking at those great Cézannes, Stanley’s paintings came to mind – it was Cézanne’s uncompromising search and realization – you know, that thing that brings a gasp and brings you to your knees – a push for (not perfection) but for what feels RIGHT, totally integrated and finally THERE – ARRIVED AT! For many of us, especially Stanley’s devoted students, he is a vital link to painters of the past: Rubens, Bruegel, Poussin, Claude, Constable, to name a few. He brings them back into the present with new and often surprising insights.

When looking at a Stanley Lewis painting or drawing, I feel renewed strength and hope, I feel less lonely, less alone, and for me that is a kind of fulfillment, certainly it is a deep reaffirming.” – Ruth Miller 5/6/2019

I also asked Thaddeus Radell, who has written about Stanley Lewis in the past as a contributing writer for this site if he could say a few words about his experience with Stanley Lewis:

As a painter matures and the long years in the studio grind on, studio visits and/or input from other artists, insightful and engaging as they may be, have less and less true impact in terms of the formal considerations of the paintings. The work has simply become so internalized that discussion of the actual pictorial devices in play is not, perhaps, as poignant as it would be at an earlier point in one’s history. A visit by Stanley Lewis is, in my experience, one of the very few outstanding exceptions to that general tendency. Stanley’s eye and mind have so united with the ‘deep state’ of painting that as he views and comments on one’s work, every moment of that sharing becomes somehow miraculously relevant to what one is actually doing, or trying to do. The matching of his poetic intuition and fathomless knowledge of what painting is with the brute strength of his experience at the easel results in lethal combination with which he manages to breach the wall of one’s internalized process and penetrate to its heart. During my last exhibition at Bowery Gallery, almost three years ago, I had the pleasure spending an hour or so alone with Stanley discussing my work. I found his remarks and insights piercing. And yet delivered in that endearing manner of his that puts one immediately at ease. Because he speaks to one as an absolute equal. His struggle is your struggle. And three years later I am still forging those thoughts into form in my daily studio practice.” – Thaddeus Radell 5/10/2019

Larry Groff: What is your approach to teaching your landscape painting workshops? What could someone expect to experience when studying with you at Monte Castillo.

Stanley Lewis: I spend a lot of time with the students who sign up to work with me. This tends to be on a casual basis like when we run into each other in the shared studio space. I’m set up to teach maybe two or three days and I give a couple of lectures. We paint outside, it can be a hard landscape to paint. It’s complicated and new for many people but the views are just fabulous and awe-inspiring. Where you look down and you see all the way across the Tiber Valley to the next town, Todi, with the farmland, trees and roads. Monte Castello is a small medieval hilltown, built like a fortress castle with a huge wall with an overlook where you can paint from. It can be a tough subject.

I paint with the students and I actually like some of the paintings that I do with the class better than some of my projects because they are chancier. I go around and see how they’re doing and that goes on all day. Teaching has helped me all during my life. I miss it actually because it can take me to interesting places I wouldn’t necessarily go to on my own.

LG: Monte Castillo isn’t too far from Assisi and all the incredible Giotto frescos at the Basilica of Saint Francis?

Stanley Lewis: Yes, We take day trips. We’re there for three weeks, so we go on these day trips, I think we’re going to Orvieto, Rome and Florence, all organized so we just go see all these overwhelmingly great masterpieces.

LG: Do you talk about the paintings with the students in front of the work?

Stanley Lewis: Yes and no. We are all together but we tend to keep it very fluid, I’ll often go off and find something that I want to draw and then drag somebody else into it with me. I’d rather draw in front of the paintings and encourage the student to do this rather than just talk about the paintings, like Leland Bell did with his students. Leland could talk beautifully. I’ve gone to listen to his lectures as much as I could but my idea about teaching is different. Drawing helps me to think about the painting so I encourage students to draw from the paintings and then I might walk around and suggest things. But I don’t usually lecture at length about the pictures on these trips.

It’s a great summer, any painting student at any age will like it, any age. The food is good and the company is great.

Claude Lorraine Landscape With Peasants Harvesting Grapes, 1641 Stanley Lewis, Study after Claude Lorraine

(above images from Christine Hartmann’s blog.

LG: So you and the students talk about painting, not in a formal way, just talking?

Stanley Lewis: No, not in a formal way, more in a kind of complaining artist’s way, more like how am I ever going to do this thing.

That’s my tone of voice and what I have to say. I’m always amazed by how hard it is to paint, especially painting from perception. It can be one of the most bizarre things you can do. I don’t find it an objective, clear thing to do. I’m overwhelmed by all that it can really involve if you are trying to get at the things I’m trying to do. So my basic strategy as a teacher has always been rather humble, the person who knows the least! I want to somehow show how amazing and difficult this all can be. However, I also say come on let’s go and do it anyway and hope that we’ll get through it. Oh my God! Let’s see if we can get through it! It’s only two more hours! And then we’re done. (laughs)

There are practical things I can suggest that can help students–Practical things like support systems like how best to hold down your picture. I mean that’s huge. I’ve always spent a lot of time worrying about how to put my picture up so it doesn’t move around from the wind. You’ve got to rope it down if it’s windy. There are other things about the setup that seem important to me like which side are you looking from, right or left? You’re constantly improvising in outside painting. You need to bring so much stuff. There are also all the straightforward things like organizing and simplifying your palette. Also, we talk about color, how the color is working. How stiff is the color, stuff like that.

Stanley Painting in Italy

LG: I was impressed with some photographs I saw of your outdoor painting setup. It looks like you sometimes build your own easel with found materials and sort of enclosure to help keep the direct sun off the painting so you could see the painting better and maybe to eliminate problems with the wind or whatever is just sort of surprising to see. You don’t go for the French easel or a fancy pochade box, instead you seem to prefer using that looks more like a lean-to or hunter’s blind.

Stanley Lewis: In Italy I will be using a French easel or fold-up easel just like everyone else. One thing to be concerned with is what do you do when it rains? Italy has these thunderstorms that come up all of a sudden that are incredible. You have to figure out ways to improvise so you can keep painting. I’ve used a plastic sheet that I would clip to my painting and then throw it over my head and this would allow me to go on painting, without having to stop. The weather system is different than we have here, it can be very dramatic at times.

Stanley Lewis, View from Studio Window, 2003-4, graphite on paper, approx. 45 x 51 inches (From the Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection, courtesy of The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation Inc.) Serios Pharmacy, 2005, oil on canvas, 32 x 32 inches, Collection of William Louis-Dreyfus

LG: When you paint from observation, how much is it about responding to the observable facts in front of you and how much is from some kind of personal invention that runs parallel to what you’re seeing? When painting or drawing such things as the negative spaces between tree branches and such – what keeps you from avoiding a formula but at the same time avoid being too prosaic?

Stanley Lewis: You are right. These are some of the problems and pitfalls with painting like this. My feeling is that it often feels like a horribly impossible thing to do but you somehow do it anyway. How do you do it? I have figured out is you do need to use some kind of formulas. I’m not afraid to say this anymore.

One formula involves figuring out the proportions and using a frame; that helps determine the relationship between all the tree branches and their surroundings–where the verticals and horizontals intersect–how to unify and relate spatially to each other. It can get very complicated; it’s difficult to explain. When you try to get everything working like this you realize that it actually can’t be done. How do you find a consistent stabilizing position? That’s what I’m interested in and that’s what I’ve been trying to do for my whole life.

The main person who’s involved with this that has influenced me with regard to this, but in a very different way, is Wilber Niewald. I really think he’s a key to perceptual painting for American painting. He’s the guy you should look at. I used to work with him at Kansas City Art Institute. Do you know who he is?

LG: No, Only a little, I’ve heard of him but I don’t know him or his work very well.

Stanley Lewis: You have got to find out about his paintings and if possible have an interview with him soon–He’s in his 90s. So my answer to this question flows out of many of Wilbur’s ideas. Wilbur is an interpreter of Cézanne and Mondrian. Wilber has had a beautiful career. It’s straightforward and develops very logically. He recently had a retrospective exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. He was chairman of the Kansas City Art Institute for maybe 30 years. He hired me right out of graduate school. And that’s where we lived for 17 years, we raised our kids in Kansas City. Wilber Niewald was such a major influence on me. Of course I’ve gone my own way but his ideas really spoke to me.

I remember back in the 1970’s during a time when I was making these large abstract-like city paintings as well as sculpture, I had listened to Wilber talking to his students telling them to paint and draw what you see, a still life setup or something, as straight and as clearly as you can. I remember thinking, I’m going to try this. I didn’t agree with everything and I wasn’t sure I was ready for this but I wanted to try. I did, just a little but this led to a big change in the long run.

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Painting Perceptions is celebrating its tenth year of existence this year. With that in mind, I am about to reactivate Painting Perceptions after a long hiatus during which I needed to concentrate on my own paintings for my upcoming solo show. I have some fantastic new interviews in the works soon to be published and I will return to posting on a regular basis once the show is over.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say a few words about my upcoming show at the Prince Street Gallery in NYC. The exhibition starts May 21 and goes through June 15, 2019. The opening reception is Thursday May 23rd, 5 – 8pm. I will also be giving an informal artist talk and reception on Saturday June 1st from 4 – 6pm at the gallery. (530 West 25th Street 4th floor, NYC)

Some readers might be puzzled by the new direction my paintings have been taking, that running a site on Perceptual Painting would at least to some degree require the editor to be a committed  perceptional painter. For most all of my life as a painter I’ve worked primarily from life and I continue to have a deep love for it. However I recently arrived at a point where I wanted to experiment with working from imagination and invention. I wanted to put a greater focus on thinking about new ways to make a picture that are more in line with my current interests. I don’t plan on abandoning observational painting and plan to paint outdoors again in the near future but for now painting in the studio is where I’m concentrating my attention. 

I’ve long had a contrarian streak running through me and almost as soon as I hear a new rule or doctrine related to art my mind jumps to wanting to know the exceptions to the rule and the opposing school of thought and then back again. Many times I’ve turned this contrarianism to my own ways of working but certain aspects resisted change – one of which was the importance of always needed to have the work based on something I saw. But after the 2016 elections and not being able to do anything about the terrible things going on in the world I felt that at least I had some control over what I could do with my own paintings. I decided to open everything up for re-examination.

Painting likely has almost as many schools of thought as there are painters. Perceptual painting certainly isn’t exempt from this phenomenon and seeing all the ways people paint is inspiring on many levels. Despite my own convictions, I’ve tried to avoid taking any partisan stands on this site with regard to modern painting from observation and attempt to champion the many forms painting perceptions can take. Having so many different kinds of painters featured on this site has helped me to grow as a painter, not just learning new tips and techniques–I’m perfectly happy for the old masters to continue to keep their secrets hidden–what has been more valuable to me is learning about all the different ways painters discover who they are as a painter. How they find their voice. I did some soul searching and decided to experiment with a range of subjects and approaches that were at times almost the opposite of what I had previously been doing. The essay below, from my catalog, begins to explain a little about what I’ve been doing over the the past year or so.

  • (for anyone wishing to get this 24 page, 8.5 x 11 inch catalog – while the show is up they will be available for free at the gallery – otherwise you can view and download a pdf here
    or I can mail one to you if you send me enough to cover the postage ($1.75 in the US) and perhaps consider a small donation via the donate button on the homepage to help this site and the printing costs  – please email me – larry@paintingperceptions.com)
    Some time in the next month or so I plan to have an online video version of my artist talk that explains more in depth the issues and processes I’ve been involved with.
The Catalog essay

The first stanza of William Blake’s famous poem, Auguries of Innocence, is the exhibition’s theme for these oil paintings completed over the past two years.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

The 2016 United States presidential election did not augur well for our future. As a way of coping with our uncertain times, I started to explore imagination-based imagery, which I felt could offer a greater range of expression and subject matter than my previous observation-based landscapes. Perceptual painting remains very important to my work but the works in this exhibition are all studio inventions.
Famous European artists like Nicolas Poussin and Tintoretto are said to have made stage sets and arranged wax or clay maquettes to study composition and lighting for paintings. Computers today can easily replicate this practice.

After graduate school at Boston University, I supported my painting working as a nurse. In 1999, I left nursing, taught myself 3D computer animation and worked as a medical animator. Using 3D software is rarely associated with traditional painting as it is considered more relevant for entertainment or corporate industries for their more commercial aesthetics. As a result, its use is often considered antithetical to fine art making. However, I came to see it as another useful tool (with a rather steep learning curve) in the painter’s visualization process. Like Tintoretto, I used it to observe the multiple compositional possibilities and different viewpoints of a subject, such as how an arrangement of forms might look like from above or below.

I found the process of digitally sculpting and painting forms highly engaging but this calculating technical approach lacked the adventure and emotions of painting onsite. However, being able to control virtually any aspect of form, light, texture, color, and atmosphere to make a world of your own in which to paint, just by looking at a high-resolution monitor, was very compelling. Once the computer imagery was finished and the basics of the scene painted onto the canvas, I turned off the computer and paint from memory or imagination. This process was critical as it allowed the painting to move forward independently from the digital source, let a new life evolve from the needs of the oil painting, and it was not constrained to the original digital concept. The finished painting often looks very different from the original source. Painting landscapes or still life can be a similar process where the scene’s visual information can be summarized and edited. In this way, the painting becomes more important to look at than the motif and conveys feelings better.

Initially, I wanted to make paintings that were inspired by early modernist sculpture, like that of Jacques Lipchitz and David Smith. I digitally sculpted arrangements of forms like those seen in the paintings, Spinning in His Grin, Repotting Time, and The Stonecutter’s Grotto. However, I changed directions after discovering Dr. Gary Greenberg’s book, A Grain of Sand, with his photographs of highly magnified sand grains. The book showed the incredible range of translucent colors and shapes in sand that eons of tumbling forces have sculpted into exciting potentials for expression and abstraction. Biogenic particles, like shell fragments and microscopic foram, are common components of sand and their unusual shapes can suggest anthropomorphic qualities or moods. I modeled and sculpted my own sand grain-like forms and arranged them as if I was blocking figures out on a stage set or setting up a still life. Making a verifiably accurate representation of any particular sand grain was never a goal–instead, I wanted to set up a scene that might give life to a painting. I asked myself how the sand grain could play a role in the painting’s visual drama of color, light, and shape. Couldn’t this particular microscopic grouping of sand have once happened somewhere during the eons amongst the quintillions of sand grains on our planet?

It is interesting to note that sand, one of the most common materials on earth and critical to our civilization, is not infinite. Computers and cell phones are made possible through the use of silicon sand. Sand helps build the glass, concrete, and asphalt roads for our cities. Increasingly, alarms have sounded over the shortage of sand used in construction and even the sand on our beaches is becoming exhausted in many places. Mountains erode and become grains of sand just as civilizations eventually crumble. No matter how big we are, we all return to dust. The macrocosm is seen in the microcosm like a fractal. Infinity can be held in the palm of your hand.
In ancient Rome, augurs often made important political and military decisions. These officials had a priest-like status and interpreted the gods’ wishes from watching the random movements of birds. Eventually, the Romans figured out that augurs and their auguries were bogus and started to trust their own decisions. This show’s title, Auguries, only portends the future direction my painting is taking, and, regretfully, lacks any divination from birds or otherwise for our future. However, viewers are encouraged to look closely at these grains of sand and make their own predictions.

-Larry Groff

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by Elana Hagler Profile, 12″ x 12″ 1995 Living Room, 8″ x 6″ 2000

Katy Schneider is a painter and art professor at Smith College. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and of awards from the National Academy of Design and the Academy of Arts and Letters. Schneider grew up in New York City in a family of nine. Her work focuses on themes related to her upbringing: making the most of a small space, organizing chaos and uncovering family dynamics. She has always been interested in the power of light to tell a story. Her work is in numerous collections, including The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the New Britain Museum and the Smith College Museum of Art. She has also illustrated several award winning children’s book. Among various awards she received the prestigious Bank Street College of Education’s Book Award.

It was an honor to interview painter Katy Schneider. Her work is densely packed and deeply observed. Her paintings are scented with traces of Manet, Vuillard, and Velazquez, while remaining idiosyncratic and profoundly personal. Schneider composes with strength and authority…her hand imbues the weight of history onto the fleeting moment.

Studio, 8″ x 10″ 2002 Self Portrait Mae, 13.5″ x 15″ 1997 Self portrait, pregnant – Olive and Mae, hand on belly, 10 x 12″, 1999 Self Portrait with Olive and Mae, 6.5″ x 10″ 1997

Elana Hagler:     At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a painter? Was this a direction that seemed to grow very naturally for you, or was there any internal or external opposition?

Katy Schneider:     I planned to be a doctor. After taking a really rigorous painting class sophomore year, I realized that all I wanted to do in college was paint. To get a Yale degree doing something this fun actually felt like cheating. That was the internal opposition/questioning I felt. I wondered if I was avoiding “hard work” by steering clear of classes which were heavy in reading and writing; I was constantly zoning out. But I was hyper-focused with painting. I wanted to work all the time and was completely engaged. It felt so good to have what felt like a brain massage. This didn’t seem “right.” Work could equal pleasure? That’s not what I was taught. I got used to it though.

I don’t think I ever reached a point when I knew I wanted to “be” a painter. That’s true today. I just know that I love to paint, a lot of the time. But I’ve come to love doing many things. And I treat most everything I do as a creative endeavor, an artwork in the making. This semester for example, my teaching (Smith College) is transforming. I’m extra-fascinated by it suddenly. Like painting, (or making music—another interest of mine) teaching is about effectively communicating. Recently, I came up with a couple of new assignments and just shifted the order in which I present various ideas. Even adding one new color to your palette can dramatically change your paintings. This semester, the class feels fresh, more fun, more surprising; but it also fits together better, flowing more easily than ever before. I feel clearer and lighter. There aren’t as many paintings in my studio this month but I feel really full and very energized.

Looking back, the direction towards making my particular paintings grew very naturally. Early on I loved crafts. We didn’t have many materials so I became good at recycling and repurposing. I’d make little dolls out of our old cloth diapers and random scraps of felt. I painted about a zillion eggs. I’d blow them out and create ornate patterns with magic markers. When I was eight I made “the Mr. Smith series” of little books. As a teenager I drew my many siblings. I sewed, crocheted and played guitar. Everything fit in my lap and could be stored easily. It was a small, loud, busy place (nine people in a two-bedroom apartment). My work as an adult harkens back to this place. It’s all about making the most of a small space, ordering chaos. I repurpose scraps of board to paint on, no matter how tiny. Recently I made a bunch of one-inch paintings. Eggs and holey t-shirts from high school find their way into still-life set ups. People are crammed into 8 x 10 inches. I even spiraled back to books, illustrating several when I was in my forties.

In retrospect, all the making as a child probably functioned well to create some internal peace and quiet when there was very little externally. The act of making, even just sloshing paint around, calms my mind. The world is no less quiet now, so luckily I have my outlets.

Self Portrait, 9″ x 7″ 1997 Self Portrait with Olive, Mae and Patterned shirt, 1997 7 x 9” 9th Month, 10″ x 7″ 1995 Self portrait with Olive and Mae, pregnant, 1999, 8 x 10”

EH:     Many of your paintings have a very warm light to them. Do you tend to paint at night under artificial light?

KS:     Yes, I always paint with artificial light. My lamps are the most important ingredient in what I do. I could paint with spaghetti sauce as long as I had my lamp to orchestrate the light and shadows and to construct the geometry. I usually paint in a corner of my basement with the window covered. Newer energy saving lightbulbs have been problematic. I like “old-fashioned” ones. I am often frustrated by how the paintings look when I take them out of the light in which they were painted. Lighting my easel as well as the scene I’m painting is a challenge. I often huddle to share the one light source. Adding two seems to wreck the drama I’m after.

EH:     When I look at your work, I start to think of Manet, Vuillard, and even Velazquez. Whose work do you come back to again and again?

KS:     I am a huge fan of all three painters. Vuillard is always in the back of my mind while painting. My teacher Bernard Chaet gave a talk in which he said we all have our own personal sense of geometry. This comment was memorable. I recognize something in a Vuillard (and in a Chaet) which feels familiar and powerful. The way he divides his rectangle resonates with me.

These shows really stuck with me: The Morandi and the Piero della Francesca shows at the MET in NYC. Stunning. I was really blown away by the Lawren Harris show of Canadian landscapes at the MFA in Boston (curated by Steve Martin). I was forever changed by the Alice Neel show which came to the Smith College of Museum. I hadn’t seen paintings of pregnant women before. All the portraits were so unpretentious, humorous and human. That show made me relax. Just plop people on a chair and start painting. I love the Dutch painter Gerard ter Borch. I am thrilled every time I come across one of his paintings. This month I found one in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Again, the abstraction, the geometry in all these painters I’ve mentioned, feels familiar, comforting and right. And, to be able to achieve this level of abstraction while being so detailed, so (seemingly) faithful to reality, is astounding to me. It is horribly easy to get illustrative while painting from life.

Self Portrait with Olive, Mae and Basketball, 1997 8 x 10” Basement, 10″ x 12″ 1997 Townsend Family 12″ x 10″ 2005 Levys 14″ x 12″ 2007

EH:     You paint scenes of families, domestic chaos, portraits, and flowers, all in times past often misguidedly downplayed as feminine subject matter. The scale of your work is also as intimate as the genres. What stands out to me, however, is that you paint with a very bold hand, stressing shape and form over detail, with the strength of design and a rugged surface holding off any sentimentality at bay. Can you talk to us a little about your choice of subject matter?

KS:     Thank you. I try hard to avoid cliché and sentimentality. I grew up with Kathe Kollwitz posters over my crib. Her lithographs of mothers and children were stories of depression and loss. They were dark portraits, the farthest thing from cute. Raising children is not all sunshine and I try to capture all aspects of being a mother in my work: love, boredom, sadness, distraction, mess, work. I will unabashedly paint babies, flowers and puppies. They have gotten a bad rap because too many people stop short, simply illustrating them. Aside from Kollwitz and Neel, most of my heroes for this type of subject matter are actually men: Manet and Fantin La Tour for flowers; Rembrandt, Velásquez and Stubbs for animals; Picasso and Sargent for toddlers.

I cried when I last saw Picasso’s First Steps. Sargent’s Neopolitan Children Bathing at the Clark in Williamstown is one of my favorite paintings in the world. It is deeply human. I have never thought of subject matter as feminine or masculine. I paint most everything except landscape which I leave to my husband, brilliant landscape painter Dave Gloman. Typically I am interested in painting a particular scene because of something formal I’m seeing—the abstraction (light, color, shape, etc). I’m interested in a balancing act between volumes and flat shapes, fuzzy and hard edges. I paint pregnant bellies for the same reason I paint peony buds. I paint smooth baby heads for the same reason I paint eggs–I love spheres.

Johannes Vermeer, Young Woman with a Lute, ca. 1662–63, Oil on canvas, 20 1/4 x 18 in.

I adore Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Lute, Check it out- She is such an egg. The one delicate, glowing orb of a head is so special because it is contrasted and supported by the flat, straight stuff—walls, map, chairs). 5% volume to 95% flatness. It’s so fake and so real. I can’t say I hear or think about music looking at her playing a lute. I think about an egg shell.

White Peonies, 2017, 12” x 12” Pink Peonies, 2017, 8 x 10” White Peonies on Green, 2018, 5x 7”

EH:     I personally struggled with getting illustrative quite a bit, especially as a very young painter. What advice can you offer young painters on avoiding getting illustrative and why it is important to do so in the first place?

KS:     Hmm, that’s a hard question. It might actually be helpful to say, “Hey student, I think you would be a great illustrator. You love detail. Your work would come to life, feel even more complete if it was accompanied by words, poetry, stories etc.”

If the student was sure they were not at all interested in illustration, 1. I’d suggest they copy great paintings using a big brush. 2. I’d suggest they tone a board, set up a strong spotlight on their subject and give themselves a (maybe a half-hour) time limit on painting the scene, starting with just the brightest brights. (Often this shows students how less is more.) 3. I’d suggest they do blind contour drawings and study why they might be enjoying looking at those. 

Sometimes an overly illustrative painting can feel like a grocery list. One lemon, one egg, one cup. Sometimes it feels like lyrics that aren’t yet put to music. Melody and arrangement elevate and transform the lyrics. Light, color and geometry enhance the subject matter, creating the mood. There are so many songs I love but I must admit I have no idea what the words are. I feel the song, I don’t read the song. I remember my sister breaking up with her boyfriend and blasting “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak on a drive. I know those words and combined with the melody and..

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Oakland Studio 18, 12×12 inches, oil on panel, 2018

I’m pleased to share this interview with the wonderful Bay Area California painter Gage Opdenbrouw where he talks at length about his background, process and thoughts on making his landscapes and views of his studio in Oakland, Ca. I would like to thank him for his generosity in responding to my email interview questions.

His website’s general statement is a great introduction for those who may not be familiar with him and include it here:

…painting is a way of drawing close to moments, and an attempt to pay homage to the fleeting beauty of everyday observations. Regardless of the subject, whether a figure or a moment of light in an interior, the sweep of a sky above an industrial neighborhood, the goal is, as Joseph Campbell once put it, “to reveal the radiance that lies hidden just beneath the surface of every day”. I’m hoping to use a brush to create some poetry from mundane materials, and if the paintings resonate with the viewer in the eye, the heart, the gut, then I feel I’ve been successful in sharing some small aspect of my experience.

His list of solo shows includes: John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis, CA, 2017 and Luna Rienne Gallery, San Francisco in 2016, and has shown widely in group exhibitions.

Larry Groff: How did you first decide to become a painter?

Gage Opdenbrouw: I always drew a lot, as a teenager I found that I couldn’t paint in a way that equaled my command of drawing. So I found myself frustrated because I was lacking an understanding of the concept of masses.  My work was essentially linear, just drawing in color. But at the same time I had some great teachers. I was one of those smart but somewhat maladjusted kids in high school that was always getting in trouble–the type that was capable of getting A’s–but mostly getting detention.

I was in a group show a few years ago that Kyle Staver had several paintings in, and her artist statement recounts someone pulling her aside, a teacher, I think, and saying, ‘I know what’s wrong with you, you’re an artist!’ Her remark really cracked me up because it was a similar experience for me, only I had to figure it out myself.

My last year of high school was at a sort of alternative program at the local city college, where I got to take college level art and philosophy classes. I’d always been a big reader, and had been really drawing a lot and keeping a sketchbook, looking at a lot of art since my early teens. So I think a couple of the teachers that I had at San Jose City College were really big influences in encouraging me to dig deeper. I had several figure drawing and painting classes with an artist named Luis Guiterrez, who, as far as I knew from his classes, was sort of a Franz Kline-like painter. I was shocked to see after knowing him for a couple years that he had done Frederic Remington type cowboy paintings in his youth, very well, at that. But he always encouraged us to work loosely, to collaborate with the material, to draw in ways that were barely within out control. We worked from a model frequently but he encouraged our response to the model to be more intuitive rather than descriptive. I started to see recruiters from art schools in San Francisco and Oakland on campus, I was very receptive…I had both enough experience, and enough encouragement; to dare to think that maybe I could be a painter.

Walnut Lane/Philly Window #1, 16×16 inches, oil on panel, 2018 Oakland Studio 8,rainyday,bluedrapes,

LG:You studied painting at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco? What was that like for you?

GO: It was interesting. Going into it at 18 or 19, what I really wanted was a very traditional education…I think I saw being able to draw what was in front of you as a certain sort of visual literacy…not to say I valued realism especially, but it seemed to me important somehow as a place to start. it still does. Anyway, it was, and still is, a very commercial school. I started as an illustration major, as some sort of nod to practicality. I admired a lot of illustrators, and loved graphic art, especially Goya, Kollwitz, and the like. My taste was dark and dramatic, romantic…Turner and Friedrich were both revelations. At the time illustration was still seen as a viable option, when in a lot of ways it was really beginning dying off from a much healthier period. Anyway, the illustration program was great as a foundation–we drew from life constantly, mostly the figure, clothed, nude, and mostly quick drawings…I had some really great teachers. After a couple years I switched my major to painting, which was a much smaller department–between painting, sculpture, and printmaking majors, there weren’t more than a couple hundred fine art students, and really there was a core of several dozen that was super dedicated. I hung around that group and soaked up as much as could, often with a bruised ego. It was great. We would have 6-hour studio classes, and then draw or paint the figure another 3-4 hours in the evening, be back at it by 9 the next morning. It was immersive, and competitive, and I met a ton of very talented artists I’m still close with today.

On the downside, the education itself was as close to purely technical as it could be, which was great in a lot of ways–but there was, I think, no real intellectual rigor or philosophical discussion as part of painting classes…in some ways that was good, to my mind, that was what drinking beer with my friends was for, and I think we have all found what we need in that respect since, but I’d say that was the big glaring deficiency, but it’s not like it wasn’t obvious going in. I got what I wanted out of it. But it’s just now, 20 years later, that I can stand Sargent, or Sorolla, or Zorn…everyone emulated those guys with the slashy brushstrokes and a little too much cadmium…by the time I was done with school I was painting from memory and imagination primarily, as I was really sick of the idea of a painting having to be this particular kind of photographically derived, brightly colored, modern day impressionism. But I had great teachers, Craig Nelson’s quick studies class taught me SO much that is still a fundamental part of my daily practice…we would do 4-6 paintings a day in that class, usually from life, some as short as 20 minutes. I think we did 20-minute paintings before lunch and 40s in the afternoon. Just building mileage. I learned a ton about economy, paint handling, focus–how to make an observation count in one mark. How much you can do quickly, if you can attain the right level of focus. That’s still important to me–not speed for its own sake, but the keenness of observation that sort of work teaches you.

I had a great anatomy instructor, for several semesters, got to do a lot of sculpture, which really informed my way of seeing and translating forms, I made prints…All in all it was a great education, and it gave me the time and foundation I needed to begin to develop as an artist.

Studio Sink, oil on canvas, 22×24 inches, 2009-2010 Oakland Studio 23, 18×20 inches, oil on panel, 2018 Oakland Studio 19, 18×18 inches, oil on panel, 2018

LG: What have been some of your more important influences that have led you to paint the way you do?

GO: Expressive artists who were also great draftsmen heavily influenced me; such as Goya, Kollwitz, and Daumier…their drama and the sense of visual force has had a major impact. German expressionist painters, Munch, etc. were also huge. I was a pretty alienated kid so the sense of social critique, the angst, all clearly spoke to me.

Cezanne, Giacometti, Vuillard, Bonnard, Degas …Morandi…the Bay Area figurative painters have all been important to me. There was a show at Santa Clara University last year, that was really great, it was a juried show of figure paintings, “Honoring the Legacy of David Park”, they had a great panel, including Jennifer Pochinski, and several members of Park’s family. My painting “Garden”, from the series “Garland of Hours”, won a prize, and that was one of the greatest honors I’ve received thus far. It was amazing for one for his daughters to say she thought my painting was lovely and the one her father would have chosen. Fairfield Porter and Matisse have been big for me lately. Edwin Dickinson is another, we have that incredible big The Cello Player painting in the De Young Museum in San Francisco, and that’s a treasure. Andrew Wyeth is a giant for me. I grew up with books of his work, and that 100-year retrospective last year was incredible.

nude Study, 2009, oil on Canvas SB-backlit, 17×17 inches, oil on panel, 2017

LG: How important is working from observation to your painting process? Would you say you spend more time looking at the motif or the painting?

GO: It’s important, absolutely! It remains a touchstone. But I don’t have any dogmatic feeling about it, and I use photographs and drawings, usually all in some sort of combination. Initially, I tend to spend more time looking at the motif, but overall, yes, looking at the painting dominates. So observation is important as a source for inspiration, rather than a be and end all type of philosophy… and so that’s really just an everyday habit of looking, noticing. In that sense, I think it is all truly from memory, even when we work from life or a photo. Just in looking away from the canvas, and looking back. And I think that’s good. Working from life I find it easy to be overwhelmed by too much information…it’s rich, and amazing, but I need to take some distance from the motif at a certain point, and just develop it as a painting. It should get to a point where it begins to have its own momentum, its own internal logic; that starts to tell me what it wants.

I find sustained painting from life to be a bit overwhelming in the amount of external input…that pressure is good in forming the first session of a painting, but it can often cause me to lose focus in later sessions. So often I will only work from memory or photos or drawings from that point, going back to life only if I’m stumped on something, something where more information is needed, or need a new input to force a more radical change.

Twilight Blooms, 18×24 inches, oil on panel, 2017 Sing Out, Sing Out, Garland of Hours, 24×24 inches, oil on panel, 2015-2016

LG: What are some of your considerations for deciding on what might make a good painting?

GO: The most important thing is getting a strong feeling for the motif or sharp idea that I am excited to dig into. It’s all dominated by light; the subject matter is incidental in a way and not necessarily my driving concern. Right now I’m most drawn to landscapes and interiors, both focused on color and space. And in certain ways these paintings are formally driven. I’m driven by simple arrangements of shapes of color.

There’s such joy for me in the visual world, such frequent surprise and resonance, that I think being able to put some of that down, just the pleasure of a few simple shapes, a chord of color, a visual rhythm, something very abstract in nature, that drives it as much as anything. But ultimately it’s a matter of being receptive to whatever I may notice, and respond to. I suppose compared to my earlier years, I don’t look for drama–I look for quiet, peace, radiance. The famous Matisse quote about a painting being “…something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” seemed decadent when I was younger, now I find it refreshing.

I think that quiet art–small, modest with everyday themes–is becoming a radical notion. I read a review of Rackstraw Downes’ most recent show recently that was entitled something like “the radical possibility of seeing what’s in front of you”. I loved that. I want to be radically engaged with the small things of every day life, incidents of light and shadow. I feel pretty strongly that for me, art has a very particular purpose, and that’s to keep us engaged with wonder and joy. Beauty does that. It calls attention to the miracle of our lives. And that joy is what will sustain us through the storms. That probably sounds corny. Art helps me, in a very deep way, to stay connected to what’s important. But there is a Mary Oliver poem that says this much better;

Don’t Hesitate –by Mary Oliver (from ‘Swan’, 2010)

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,

don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty

of lives and whole towns destroyed or about

to be. We are not wise, and not very often

kind. And much can never be redeemed.

Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this

is its way of fighting back, that sometimes

something happens better than all the riches

or power in the world. It could be anything,

but very likely you notice it in the instant’

when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the

case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid

of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Oakland Studio 7, 12x12v, oil on panel, 2017 Oakland Studio 4, 20×20 inches, oil on panel, 2016

LG: Do you make a lot of drawings before starting?

GO: Not usually. Or if I do they do not bear a very literal relationship to final painting, although sometimes I’ll do a thumbnail or two. However, time spent drawing, as a way of getting close to the subject, is never wasted. I love to show students Andrew Wyeth’s drawings, they way he would do sometimes dozens of quick pencil drawings, before doing a tempera. He’d draw a room 20 different ways, and in the painting it would be different yet again, but synthesizing all those impulses, and responses. And all those observations just seep into the intimacy, the empathy with the subject. And that quality, I think is key. For me it’s all about that depth of feeling.

The way I work, the drawing often comes in last, edges are often the last thing I..

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Threshold, 22×30 inches, pastel, digital photo, acrylic on watercolor paper, 2018 Streetwise, 22×30 inches,mixed media, metal, photo on paper, 2018

I am pleased to post this email interview with the NYC based painter Carol Diamond. I have been following her work on Facebook and have been continually struck by the original and dynamic way she paints urban structures with her modernist, abstract sensibility. Some of these works evolve out of observed, on-site engagements others are studio inventions. Taking the urban theme even further, she also makes assemblages and collages from found objects that were discarded onto city streets.

Diamond explains more in her website’s artist statement:

…“I feel a strong parallel between the making of a painting and the building of a wall, or a structure, an edifice. Each involves construction and deconstruction, and provides refuge, a haven. In the case of my interest in religious architecture, there is the element of sanctuary and sacred geometry”. For years Diamond painted directly from street scenes, churches, bridges and boats. Through abstraction she found her way back to city sources, collaging found debris into ready-mixed concrete on wood panels. Diamond divides her compositions with large movements such as arcs, diagonals, and verticals which combine her deep connection to early Modernism, in particular the works of Malevich and Lissitzky with her axial drawing methods related to Renaissance linear Perspective. Anselm Keifer’s work which unabashedly uses linear perspective, has been inspirational since her youth, where emotion and history are transformed into the most rugged images of materiality and depth by any living artist.

Since 2000 Diamond has taught at Pratt Institute where she is an Associate Professor. Diamond studied at the New York Studio School in Manhattan and received a BFA in painting from Cornell University. She has lived in Brooklyn since the late 1980’s and currently lives in Manhattan. She has had solo exhibits in the Gold Wing Gallery and the Alliance Gallery, New York City, as well as many other group and solo shows in New York City, Upstate New York and nationally.

She recently had a solo exhibition of her work at the Kent State University in Canton, Ohio – Threshold: Selected works by Carol Diamond

This show was reviewed in the ARTWACH blog by Tom Wachunas who stated:

“… There are several methodologies or modalities present in this impressive collection of works spanning (I’m guessing) at least several years: Large-scale abstract paintings, mixed media works on paper, relief collages, plein-air drawings of architectural sites, and sculptural assemblages of found debris.

Radiating from most of this formal diversity is an aura of vintage Modernism. It’s a visceral kind of tenor – alternately gritty and refined, delicately ornamental and muscular, literal and symbolic – which binds all these works together into a collective embodiment of a distinctly urban sensibility. These are fascinating explorations of facades, spaces, structures, and metropolitan detritus, comprising something the artist knows intimately – something you could call big city zeitgeist.”

I would like to thank Ms. Diamond for agreeing to this interview and for sharing her thoughts on her art with the readers here.

125th Street Arches, 38×50 inches, graphite on Strathmore paper, 2017

Larry Groff:        What made you decide to become an artist?

Carol Diamond:        That’s the easy question. I never decided, I just always did it. Always took an interest in art classes and making things, from doll clothes to papier-mâché animals in my after school art class in the basement of a family friend, Joan Silberbach in the Cleveland suburb where I grew up. We worked with enamel, tin foil relief, a lot of papier-mâché, and I did my first oil painting (I still have it) all in browns, with dried flowers and a skull!

Then High School it became real, going to a progressive prep school with a great arts facility; theatre, pottery, photography, painting, fiber art. So much experience there, inspiration from teachers, amazing creative friends, and freedom. I was pouring paint on unstretched canvas in my parent’s garage, thinking I was Pollock. I did a painting for school “in the style of” Dali, where a cloudy sky turns into a blue curtain entering a window. A rose sits in a glass vase. My sister and I took outside classes at the Cleveland Museum of art.

LG:        What was art school was like for you?

CD:        I decided to go to Cornell to get a university education and have a Fine Arts Department with no emphasis at all on Commercial Design. The Cornell School of Architecture Art and Planning was that. It was relatively hands off atmosphere but I did bond strongly with a few teachers, one of whom (Gillian Pederson-Krag) vociferously encouraged my 2 closest friends and I to stay away from studying abroad for our junior year (“If you go to Rome you will want to be buying shoes and not be in your studios”) and instead to attend the New York Studio School, where she felt sure we would benefit enormously.

So in 1980, my sister joined us from the U of Michigan and together the 4 of us walked day to day from our 6th floor walkup apartment on West 10th Street across Christopher Street to 8 West 8th Street, wherein began my true education. Though it was not even the tail end of the New York School era, we thought it was.  We were in the wake of Pollock and DeKooning, Cedar Bar stories told to us by our great mentor, Nick Carone, the draftsman and voice of the Hans Hofmann School practice, along with European history. We read the Hofmann’s  Search for the Real, and Kandinsky, but the daily practice was all about drawing the figure, Giacometti, plastic space, form, both classical and deconstructed.

Nick Carone, Mercedes Matter, Rackstraw Downes, Paul Russotto, Charles Cajori and others showed us passion, pushed us to see; cared enough to be frustrated when we couldn’t see, and celebrated us when we could.

Brooklyn Navy Yard, 24×30 inches, oil on canvas, 1997, Hess Oil collection Low rise, High rise, 22×30 inches, oil on canvas 199? Fire Escape, 50×38 inches, pastel, conte on Strathmore paper, 2018 Ladder, 36×24 inches, oil, latex, glass on canvas 2011 Direction, 30×22 inches, oil, latex, dirt on canvas 2012

LG:        Can you say something about how your work has evolved over the years?

CD:        Art follows personal growth and emotions, along with artistic influences. And these artistic influences are affected by what an artist is needing/trying to say, all unbeknownst to the artist. It’s all intuitive. Our interests, psychology, predilections, skills and training all guide and lead us. I feel lucky when I’m able to follow myself into terrains of expression and discovery. But as the perspective changes from the young to the mid career artist: my dreams have subsided and I’m every bit as unknowing about what tomorrow will bring as ever. There is no safety.

Mia Familia, 16×20 inches, oil on canvas, 1993 My Street, 24×36 inches, oil on canvas, 1996 Williamsburg Bridge, afternoon, 24×28 inches, o/c, 1997, Collection of the Portland, Oregon Museum of Art 14th St. Interior, 22×28 inches, oil on canvas, 1992 Cornwall Coast, 18×24 inches, oil on canvas, 1998

LG:        In the 90’s you worked a lot from life making painterly, gestural landscapes, figures and still life what where some of the reasons you changed and how was your transition from working perceptually to more studio-based abstraction?

CD:        At the Studio School I learned that Abstraction could come from elements of perceptual painting, such as the abstraction of Picasso and the cubists. Non objective painters used shape without observation of form, and abstract expressionists integrated emotion through gesture into abstract space.

I do have a group of early abstract paintings I did in the late 80’s, but I was always looking at a set-up of some sort, even a chair against the wall. Then the set-ups and objects became more clear and I maintained an aesthetic of perceptual painting a la Giacometti and Cézanne, destined to follow the existential side of modernism related to making a thing exist in space, often by a deconstruction process.  I was dedicated to plein air and still life/interior compositions, painting in a tonal palette, and then through that developed my love of cityscape and gritty urban areas albeit with a somewhat romantic glaze. This culminated in a series of works done in Williamsburg, painting the East River bridges, the Domino Sugar Factory and ships in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Something happened though after showing these works, where I felt too comfortable with my process, I had “gotten it”. I was afraid to become a traditional landscape painter going from scene to scene.

I segued to studio paintings with a trip to Southwest England painting and drawing the rocky coast and in Brittany, France, finding a more organic overall approach to line and shape. The abstract paintings I began on my studio floor involved poured curvilinear movements, and scratching through layers of paint as a way of drawing, finding content. The space was compressed, cubist inspired, while also favoring early Northern Renaissance sense of flatness and rich color.

My still life and landscape work had mainly used short vertical and horizontal strokes, the plus/minus Giacometti structure. Here I was now using mainly Circles and Arabesque motions.

I got pregnant soon after and began raising my baby! My husband died two years later to illness, then my mother in the same year.

My paintings became more spare, with a strictly black and white palette. Then broken glass found from the street and other debris entered the palette and I have since been experimenting with relief elements and collage materials in my work. I had worked as an Antiquities restorer in the late 90’s, and was lucky enough to have helped repair broken Greek Attic vases, Chinese Bronze objects and much more. This relation to materials from Antiquity had a strong but indirect influence on this direction in my work. For some years now I’ve also returned to architectural drawing to continue with my interest in concepts of Structure and the building/deconstructing process.

So the genres of representation and abstraction are fluid, and keep following conceptual needs in my understanding/expression of form and space and SELF IN THE UNIVERSE!

Fences, 25×38 inches, digital photo, pastel, charcoal on paper, 2018 Abonica, 30×64 inches, oil on canvas, 2016,

LG:        I just read your brilliant recent (7/27/18) essay Carol Diamond on Al Held   on the Painter’s on Painting site.

With this in mind I’m curious to find out more about some how you juxtapose flatness and deep space in some of your current works, like in your Fences  or Abonica. I am seeing some connections to Al Held’s use of perspective in his black and white paintings and his later works with abstracted geometric forms in space. Of course there hugely obvious differences but it struck me that many of the collaged shapes have these dramatic linear perspectives that are cut and positioned in such a way to induce a dizzying array of spacial movements not unlike some of the compositions he was involved with. I always loved how he thumbed his nose at the rules about not violating the integrity of the picture plane or modeling form as a big no-no. 

Anything more you can say about this?

CD:        Well you basically said it! And I’m very glad you can see this connection. As you said, Held “thumbed his nose at the rules about picture plane integrity or modeled form” and this is how I see him and I feel this gives license to my work to play with these rules as well. While I am impressed and enamored by..

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Studio XLIX, 44X48 inches, Oil On Canvas, 2018

I’m delighted to share this new interview with Peri Schwartz where she talks about her background and process as well her studio explorations with color, space and composition. This September she has a solo exhibition titled Color and Process, at the Gallery Naga in Boston. A previous interview, given by the writer Cody Upton was published on Painting Perceptions in May 2013 can be read here.

I am particularly attracted to the vibrancy, clarity and resonance in these new works.  Schwartz studio investigations arrive at just the right tones for these color shapes surrounded by space and light but also leaves behind residual clues of where her journey took her;  how colors and shapes were changed and shapes reformed in her open and painterly applications of paint. A formal movement which balances exactitude with lyricism. The bottles and studio fixings are just a starting point, the true destination is in achieving a balance and unity and artful resolution. 

In an essay for the 2010 Page Bond Gallery exhibition catalog Lulan Yu wrote:

…Though making works of art is a thoughtful and deliberate process for Peri Schwartz, it also is one that involves much doing and re-doing. After she has arranged objects for a still life or interior, she often rearranges them while she is working in order to resolve problems and achieve her desired outcome. She also is carefully attuned to the effects of light and color that occur from the arrangements of elements in her works; she experiments by moving bottles and jars to different positions, creating subtle changes in the value and color of the liquids they contain. Although Schwartz seems to enjoy the unpredictable nature of creating works of art in this way, she is very sure and deliberate in her intentions. As a result, these seemingly quiet, contained still life and interior pieces have a dynamic, intriguing quality that invites the viewer to thoughtful contemplation.”

Larry Groff: Can you tell us something about your latest body of work and your upcoming show at Gallery NAGA in Boston? Does your new work continue with the theme of arrangements of light and reflections from transparent colored liquids in your studio space?

Peri Schwarz: My new work uses the same elements that have been my subject for almost twenty years. The difference is that in the early Studio paintings it looked more like an artist’s studio, with canvasses leaning against the walls and stools with books piled on them. In the more recent Studio paintings, the books are shapes of color with no bindings to indicate they are books. The canvasses have now been replaced with wooden boards that I paint with sample colors from the hardware store. I’m still captivated by the color I get from liquids in bottles and jars and how they are reflected on a glass tabletop. The grid that I have been using in my work for over thirty years is as important as ever.

Bottles & Jars III, 15×23 inches, etching, 2015 Jars I, 15×22 inches, etching, 2017 Studio XLIV, 48×38 inches, Oil On Canvas, 2017

LG: In previous interviews you’ve talked about the influence of Diebenkorn and Morandi on your art. What aspects of their paintings have impacted you the most with your current work? 

PS:  I love Morandi but in this group of paintings I’ve been looking mostly at Diebenkorn and Mondrian. For example, in one of Diebenkorn’s still lifes, I was especially drawn to the orange/blue relationship and how he looks down on the table. In Diebenkorn’s Berkeley years the subject and space are recognizable, giving it a more realistic feel. I’m striving for the same balance of abstraction and realism. It may be more difficult to see the connection with Mondrian. When I’m arranging the colored rectangular boards on the back wall I’m thinking of how he used color in such perfect proportions in his paintings.

Studio XXXIV, 54×44 inches, Oil On Canvas, 2013 Studio XLII, 44×38 inches, Oil On Canvas, 2016 Studio 13, 30.5×36 inches, monotype, 2018

LG: Would you call yourself a formalist? What does that mean for you?

PS: Here is where I admit I didn’t exactly know what a formalist meant when I first thought of this question. I looked it up and found this definition–Whether an artwork is a pure abstraction or representational, a formalist looks for the same basic elements and judges a painting’s value based on the artist’s ability to achieve a cohesive balance in the composition. Based on that definition I am happy to be called a formalist. About the same time I read your question I found this recent article by  Jed Perl in the New York Review of Books. I know I don’t easily fit into representational or abstract art. I’m obsessed with getting every proportion right as I observe it. At the same time, I am thinking how is this fitting into the size of my canvas and would moving an inch to the left or right improve the composition.

Studio XLIII, 46×38 inches, Oil On Canvas, 2016 Studio XI, 54 x 42 inches, oil on canvas, 2006

LG: You likely got a strong foundation in traditional painting during art school. Did your experience at BU back then also encourage modernist approaches?

PS:  I don’t know if all your readers know that we are both BU alumni. It was rigorous and intense and I loved it. Figure drawing, anatomy and tonal painting were the backbone. There are three professors that stand out in my mind for their interest in abstraction: Joseph Ablow, Jim Weeks and Robert D’Arista. All of them worked figuratively but emphasized how important the abstraction was in painting.

I loved Ablow’s class in composition. He had studied with Albers and modeled a lot of his teaching on him. I learned so much from his slide lectures and remember how he paired Vermeer with Mondrian and Morandi with Guston. He taught us how your eye travels through a painting and the important concept that a diagonal can lead you into the space of the image and also be on the surface.

Jim Weeks was part of the Bay Area Figurative Movement and introduced us to Diebenkorn, Olivera and Bischoff. That was a breath of fresh air from the old masters the other teachers were talking about.

D’Arista taught us about the Golden Triangle and how to use the proportions of the paintings in our composition. He would come into class with a bagful of objects and set up the most interesting still lifes. We could only paint with black and Venetian red and no curves- only verticals, horizontals and forty-five degree diagonals.

Studio XLI, 52×36 inches, Oil On Canvas, 2016 Studio XLV, 52X44 inches, Oil On Canvas, 2018

LG: Your paintings often switch back and forth from sharply defined imagery to work that is abstracted and loose; colorful configurations but still recognizable shapes. Does your painting’s tightness or looseness evolve on its own terms or do you start by being in a certain mood, which encourages a particular direction – and go from there?

Bottles & Jars #2, conte on Mylar 18×26 inches, 2012

PS: The tightness and looseness evolves as the painting progresses. I would say that instead of a work evolving because of my being in a certain mood, it’s more about color and spatial relationships. It takes me at least a week or two to set up a composition. I begin with a drawing, which for the last five years, has been on Mylar. Working with a combination of charcoal and conte crayon, I get beautiful blacks and the erased areas looks bright because of the Mylar’s translucency. The drawing is “tighter” than the painting will be but serves as a useful guide while I work on the painting.

Bottles & Jars #2c, conte on mylar 19×20.5 inches, 2016 Studio 23, conte on Mylar 53 x 39 inches, 2017

There are many versions of the composition before the painting is done. I know I’m not alone in struggling with knowing when a painting is finished. I also know that as I get closer to finishing it I care less about resolving everything. That would explain why some areas are clearly defined and other areas are looser. When some time has passed from when I’ve finished a painting, I find I really like the loose and unfinished sections but know they only work because I’m clear about the spatial relationships

Woman in Studio, 72×42 inches, Oil On Canvas, 2000 Studio Self-Portrait, 66×48 inches, 1996

LG: Your engagement with the colored liquids on a reflective glass table subject-matter, as well as your self-portraits have lasted many years.

I’m curious to hear what you might be able to say about the merits and risks of working thematically like this for so many years?

PS: You mentioned that my self-portraits lasted many years. I don’t think you know about the group of pastels I did in 1989-90. It’s relevant because it only lasted two years and is not something I want to go back to. To take a break from the self-portraits I was working on, I started drawing my son’s wooden blocks. After I tired of their hardness I picked up a sweatshirt and wrapped the blocks. I had worn sweatshirts in many of my self-portraits and loved the way the fabric could be molded. The idea of wrapping objects in sweatshirts developed to the point that I was making complex sculptures and then drawing them. Unlike the self-portraits or the Studio paintings, after two years I had exhausted the subject. The Studio paintings, which I have been working on for almost twenty years, feel open ended. When I compare the earlier ones to my new ones, I’m surprised at how different they are. It’s obviously the same physical space but the color and scale of things has changed

Two Wrapped Objects, 27×29 inches, pastel Studio 24, 44×52 inches, 2018

LG: When I was in school I remember hearing people say that galleries prefer artists that have coherent and consistent body of work that is uniquely identifiable.   However, I also heard artists say having a signature style is something to be wary of – that is might risk looking too commercially driven and could stifle authenticity. How would you weigh in on this issue?

PS: I think style is something that has to be earned. I know in my own work before I make a mark either with charcoal or paint, I’m confident at the time that it is right. The next day it no longer seems right and I will replace it with something else. The scraping or wiping out of an area and the repainting it might translate as a style. Color relationships also play into what you might call a style. Is the way Bonnard used color his style? It seems to me that if you like an artist’s work, you like their style and the two things are intertwined.

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Summer Pond, 24 x 30 inches, oil on panel Garden from Above, 30 x 24 inches, oil on linen

I have had the pleasure of meeting Dean Fisher once, by accident, in the Frick Museum in NYC during a visit to the east coast. As I recall, I was staring at a Degas when he tapped me on the shoulder asking are you Larry Groff of Painting Perceptions? This was remarkable as we had never met but he recognized me from a photo he had seen online. I had written several years prior about a painting show I saw of his in Anaheim, California–in one of my early humble attempts to write about painting for this site. Talking with him at the Frick was unexpected but a delightful conversation with someone who cares deeply about painting and with expansive knowledge and insight. I’ve been a great admirer of his paintings and the way he viscerally transforms paint into painterly monuments to nature and art. I am very appreciative of his willingness to answer my questions to him by email and for taking the time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts and experience with the readers of this site.

Dean Fisher studied at the America Academy of Art in Chicago, and since, has been exhibiting nationally and internationally in prominent galleries for more than twenty-five years. Some of The galleries he currently shows with are: Susan Calloway Fine Art  in Washington, DC, Thomas Dean’s Fine Art in Atlanta Georgia, George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis, CA, Tregony Gallery in Truro, Cornwall, UK and Jessica Carlisle in London, UK.

Dean teaches painting at Silvermine Art Center in New Canaan, Connecticut and privately. He also teaches an amazing landscape painting workshop in Dordogne, France (see the link to his workshop website https://deanfisherworkshops.com/ ) and has plans to offer it again in 2019. He also plans to teach in Tuscany, Italy in the Spring – details to be announced soon.

Dean Fisher painting in the Dordogne Valley Workshop in France

Larry Groff: What led you to become a painter?

Dean Fisher: My father Shell Fisher is an artist, kind of a Jack of all trades in the visual art world, with interests in painting, drawing, the graphic arts, illustration and cartooning. He’s an especially wonderful draftsman. One of my fondest memories as a child was watching my father create a drawing; with a very deft hand and a few economical marks, a convincing realistic image would begin to appear. It was like magic seeing a three dimensional figure or portrait begin to emerge on a completely blank piece of paper.

I think this was the initial spark, creating something from nothing, in such a skillful manner, which inspired me to begin drawing and eventually start painting.

He was my main teacher throughout my childhood and youth, always instilling in me the importance of developing a sound technical language.

LG: Can you tell us about what art school was like for you?

DF: I went to the American Academy of Art in Chicago, it was and still is a school with a strong focus on commercial art. I wanted to go there because, at the time, it was one of the only schools in the country offering life drawing and painting as a major component of the instruction. There were a couple of very inspired and knowledgeable instructors in the fine arts department, Fred Berger and Bill Parks who gave so much to their students.

But actually, the most enriching aspect of being at school were the interactions with a few other talented students who were studying painting at the same time. Several times a week we would go to the Art Institute museum, which was a couple of blocks away. We looked intensely at the paintings, did drawings of them and had fantastic discussions about what we thought about the work. They were a major influence on me and without this interaction and sense of camaraderie, the time at school would not have been nearly as interesting or educational.

Silvius Krecu, one of the most talent people I’ve ever met, was one these students and is still one of my closest friends. We had a very healthy rivalry in terms of pushing each other to develop our skills and understanding of art further. We would stay at school after everyone had left and draw plaster casts and when they kicked us out head over to coffee shops to sketch people for hours.

Garden, 24 x 14 inches, oil on panel oil on panel

LG:  What are some ways your paintings have evolved since art school?

DF:  At art school our focus was somewhat limited but at the same time pretty intense. The primary aim was painting and drawing the model from life with a heavy emphasis on a painterly a la Sargentesque approach, it was about very careful observation of the model and translating what we saw into paint. This is still a major part of what my work is focused on, a faithful perceptual account of what is in front of me.

A major flaw of this school is that there was virtually no discussion about image making, what inherent aspects make a painting interesting and successful. But fortunately, I did have some of these discussions with my art school friends. Silvius was very open minded and was the first of us to embrace twentieth century movements in art. He always expressed himself very eloquently and helped to open my eyes to these things.

The most pivotal aspect of my artistic education was moving to Madrid, Spain after art school and setting up in the Prado museum to copy paintings, this was fantastic in so many ways. I went with Silvius and our primary focus was an investigation of the work of Velazquez.
An unexpected part of being in the Prado were some of the young artists from different parts of the world who were also there to study paintings. Their art school educations were very different from mine and their artwork was too, with many more modern influences in their work.
I had excellent interactions with many of these people and started to look at a lot of 20th century art. I soon began to let go of my 19th century approach to painting to experiment with paint, shape and color much more…approaching abstraction but never fully letting go of representing real forms.

I also spent a year in Paris copying at the Louvre and two years in London at the National Gallery. Along with the continued copying, I was also developing my own work., working from models and painting landscapes.

While in Madrid, I met Josephine Robinson who was living there and teaching English. She had a background in history and filmmaking and was preparing to move to South America to make documentary films. Soon after we began spending time together she became interested in painting. I was very impressed with her ability to put colors and shapes together beautifully and encouraged her to continue painting. Several months later she returned to her home town of London, England to continue with her film studies. Shortly after, I showed up at her doorstep with my entire studio in my van…yes, I was planning on staying.

Josephine soon picked up painting again and decided to study it full time.
Jo took to painting very naturally, I really think it was her calling. We eventually moved back to the US and got married and have been together for more than twenty five years. Artistically and in many other ways she has played a major role in my development, with her unique, independent and very sophisticated way of looking at the world. Her excellent paintings are a reflection of that.

After returning to the US after living in Europe for eight years, I went through a period of painting figure compositions from photos while under the spell of Balthus but after a period realized that my true love, is having the forms I’m interested in painting in front of me. Now I almost never paint from photos.

So in a sense I’ve gone full circle and am painting from life exclusively, but now filtered through a great appreciation of modernist movements as well as the entire history of art.

In Between, 36 x 30 inches, oil on panel Tightrope, 48 x 32 inches, oil on panel Amandacera, 20 x 16 inches, oil on panel

LG: How do you decide on what is the right subject for a painting?

DF: This for me is fairly easy. There are certain things I see which I know I have to paint, this can be many different subjects but is usually an assemblage of forms and colors which create a compelling compositional structure.

Just about any object bathed in light is extremely beautiful to me, this can be difficult because I want to paint everything…but I try to keep it limited to those subjects which scream “paint me” the loudest.

I really don’t want to analyze beforehand why a subject speaks to me so much because this is very complex, so many things enter into this equation. By defining the reasons too much I fear that my response to the subject will be too pre-meditated, based on assumptions and a fragment of what is really there, all which I believe can inhibit the outcome. Instead I just jump int and with my knowledge, experience and skills try to put everything I see, think and feel about the subject into the painting.

Vertical Still life, 42 x 18 inches, oil on panel

LG: Do you work out the structure of the painting with studies and drawings first or do you prefer to let it evolve more spontaneously while working directly on the canvas?

DF: Once I decide to paint something, I usually can’t wait to get started so I don’t do a lot of preliminary work, except perhaps a thumbnail sketch or two in pencil . As I mentioned, I don’t want to dissect or analyze the subject too much for fear of limiting myself, I feel my intuition is much more powerful than my rational mind. As the work unfolds, many of the important qualities which are present in the motif begin to reveal themselves to me and I work hard to make sure these things are clearly communicated in the work. The painting also begins to take on it’s own life and then things get really interesting, it then becomes about making decisions based on what the painting is asking for as well as responding to the motif.

Over the years (decades!)I have undergone a long process of coming to realize which qualities I feel must be present in the work for me to feel connected with it. I’m mainly talking about the quality of the mark of the brush, edges, thickness of paint, transparencies all those things which make up a painting language.

I also want the canvas to be a place of investigation and discovery and am very happy when this sense of searching and process is present in the painting, I think this is very interesting for the viewer as well.

I want the painting to look as if it’s being painted before one’s eyes, with a very active surface…the search for a resolved image is all part of that.

Portrait of Josephine, detail, 48 x 24 inches, oil on panel

LG: What do you think about with regard to getting a feeling of light and space in your work?

DF: Well, if it wasn’t for the challenge of trying to capture light and space in my work I wouldn’t be a painter. These qualities are the main subjects of my paintings. If the light and space doesn’t end up working in a particular painting, I usually consider it a failure.

I concentrate on color and tonal relationships as well as using all optical devices available to me in the painting to capture a sense of breathable air and the type of light which is present. When I decide to paint a subject it has so much to do with the quality of light which i see. I find these aspects of perception fascinating and am not interested in capturing an approximation of it. This is why I haven’t worked from photos in years.

I strive to keep all the forms open while developing a painting. When I feel that the edges around things are becoming too uniform, which I feel inhibits air and space, I’ll take a palette knife to it and by scraping the area or entire painting. This almost always greatly improves it and suggests new directions that the painting can follow.

Summer Pond II, 6 x 18 inches, oil on panel Autumn Pond, 12 x 36 inches, oil on panel Figure by a Redbud Tree,  48 x 40 inches, oil on panel

LG: How important is direct observation in your work? Have you always painted from life?

DF: As a child, I did a lot of drawings and pastel paintings from photos, but as I remember the best work was done from life. I did a carefully observed and rendered drawing in graphite of a milkweed seed in the 5th grade which won an award and was published in a regional arts magazine. This was memorable for me and fueled my enthusiasm for representing things I found fascinating from my surroundings.

In art school we worked strictly from life and while I was in Europe I was only doing observational painting. After returning to the US, for a period of about five years I often worked from photos doing Balthus inspired figure compositions. I learned a lot during that period but eventually came to realize that I’m always more inspired and do my best work while in the presence of the subject.

During the past ten years or so I haven’t worked from photos at all. In fact, I’ve grown to wonder why figurative painters would choose to work from photos rather than life. Why someone would want a machine to do the editing for them rather than feasting ones eyes on the subject and employing all ones senses while painting or drawing.

A trained eye sees so much more than a camera does, why only work with 60% of what is present in the subject. That coupled with the fact that an artist’s vision becomes sensitized to observing nuance while working from life, this takes many years to cultivate and is an ongoing process.

I was gratified that Antonio Lopez Garcia said almost exactly the same thing which I’m saying here and tell my students, while I was recently working with him at his workshop in Pamplona, Spain.

I also feel there is a tendency for artists to fall in love with a particular photo, so the work becomes about doing a rendering of the photo rather than an investigation of observed reality and the resulting trail and error process over time which, in my opinion, always results in richer surfaces and a more interesting work of art.

When an artist paints a painting from a photo, I rarely feel their presence in front of the subject, there’s almost always a disconnect because of the above mentioned reasons. These are qualities which cannot be faked.

In short, being in front of the subject while painting is a completely different experience than working from a flat, 2 dimensional photo. I do think however that a very experienced artist who has worked from life for years can work creatively using photography as the basis for a work. Degas is a prime example of this. But if that experience isn’t there, the artist’s shortcomings are usually clearly revealed.

March Still life, 24 x 12 inches, oil on panel

LG: Would you say you have a more tonal approach to color in your work?

DF: When I’m attracted to paint a particular subject, it’s usually because I see a strong compositional structure in the subject as well as beautiful color harmonies. I’m often so enamored with the colors relationships I see in nature, I strive to get as close to them as possible. To really come as close as possible to capturing the subtle nuances of the colors which are present and how they relate to each other is a real challenge….it’s so difficult. I’m not sure if that..

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The Artist and His Daughter, 48 x 36 inches, 2016, Acrylic on Canvas (images courtesy of Gallery Henoch and the artist)

After my recent discovery of a PBS documentary on the New Jersey painter, Mel Leipzig, I was fascinated by his story and wanted to find out more about him. I am very grateful (and lucky) that he agreed to take the time out of his busy painting schedule to have a telephone interview with me.

Mel Leipzig is a renowned New Jersey painter who for over 40 years has painted people in their working spaces from observation. He paints family members as well as many other painters and artists of all types, from graffiti artists to major NYC painters such as Lois Dodd as well as students, janitors or cafeteria workers he’s became friends with over time. Leipzig’s inventive spacial compositions and delightfully quirky details visually project the sitter’s personality onto the canvas and connect us in ways that transcend traditional portraiture.

Leipzig paints people without irony, pretense or propaganda. His straight-forward manner forgoes displays of verisimilitudinous display or technical bravado; instead seeking an honest, enthusiastically painted response to the people and places in front of him. Leipzig talks in this interview about coming to maturity under modernism which often frowned upon painting the observed figure. He also discusses his early lessons in how important it is to follow the path best suited to your sensibilities, despite lack of approval from the art-world intelligentsia. 

Gregory at Gallery Henoch, Acrylic on Canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Dan Bischoff states: If Leipzig feels like something of a discovery, that could be due to the lingering prejudice against portraiture. Modernism threw portrait painting into history’s dustbin for nearly a century, despite portraiture’s central role in secular art ever since the Renaissance.

After all, portraitists are required to more or less produce a likeness, which ties them to realism and not abstraction. And while portraits have always been made in every era, the process of building a career in portraiture has always involved a certain amount of patron flattery and therefore compromise — not what the Modern revolution was about.

Leipzig pursues portraiture without commissions. He paints directly from life wherever his sitter is at home, and pays his subjects $25 an hour, no matter if they are rich or poor. Flattery isn’t necessary (though he is usually kind to his subjects). The only limit, Leipzig says, is he finds it difficult to paint “anyone I don’t like.”

“They used to say ‘It’s been done,'” the painter says of realistic portraiture, “and you would not be able to do it any better. That was supposed to put you off the attempt.” … from Mel Leipzig’s ‘As They Are’ at Aljira — portraits of artists, friends, and 21st century fellows Jul 16, 2015 by Dan Bischoff For The Star-Ledger (full review link here)

Mel Leipzig shows at Henoch Gallery in NYC, please see his extensive bio information at the end of this article.

Larry Groff: Thank You for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me.

Mel Leipzig: You’re welcome.

LG: I’d like to start with asking, how did you become a painter and what where your early days like as an art student?

ML: When I was in high school, at about 15 years old, I got a scholarship to study art at the Museum of Modern Art on Saturdays. So I went to MOMA the guy who taught it there said that Symbolism was the most important thing in art. He showed us great paintings and he explained things in terms of the symbolism in the paintings.

After I left that class I started doing a lot of realistic portraits, which I was paid for (not a lot of money) Actually, the most famous person I painted was a guy named John Giorno, who went to high school with me. He later became part of Andy Warhol’s group.

And I did a painting of John there. I put all sorts of symbolic things in the portraits I did in high school. For instance I made a painting of a friend’s grandmother with a candle going out. At the time I thought all of this was important but I was really moving towards realism. I knew nothing about non-objective painting, but then when I went to Cooper Union, in 1953 after I graduated from James Madison High School. Bernie Sanders also went to Madison. He’s younger than me. I think I remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg, because she went there also.

Two Reflections, acrylic on canvas, 1987, collection of the New Jersey State Museum

ML: I went to Cooper Union where abstract expressionism was the dominant mode of painting. Morris Kantor and Nicholas Marsicano were my painting teachers and Will Barnet was my printmaking teacher.

They all had certain things that they were hung up about. Like, when I was in Morris Kantor’s class, I decided that I wanted to do portraits of people because I really wanted to paint the figure, and anybody who knew me knew it was obvious. Morris gave … he had a very thick Jewish accent. And he said, “Vat do you mean, you’re gonna try to get a likeness.” I’m thinking ” so what?” He says, “No.” Cooper Union was free in those days. If you failed one class you were thrown out. So I painted still lifes in Morris Kantor’s class, but one thing I learned about from Kantor, I must admit, I learned how to use the color–pure white. That has stuck with me throughout my life. And then I studied 2D design with Neil Welliver … do you know who Welliver is?

LG: Sure. He’s an incredible painter.

Homage to Neil Welliver, 48 x 48 inches, 2014, Acrylic on Canvas

ML: I loved him. He was wonderful and he’s the one who told me to go to Yale. When I went to Yale, it was the time Josef Albers, from the Bauhaus, ran the art program. The majority of the students were painting color dots, whereas at Cooper Union the majority were influenced by abstract expressionism.

At the Cooper Union Nicholas Marsicano was my first painting teacher. There was a setup, a figure or still life, I was trying to figure out what to paint so I kept turning the painting around. It was a mess of incoherent lines. Marsicano came up to me and said “You know, You’ve got something there” and I was thinking that’s how they got you to move away from figuration or any form of realism into doing non-objective work.

I never did a non-objective painting in my life. I just didn’t want to. Another one of my teachers at Cooper was Sidney Delevante. How have you heard of him?

LG: I’m not familiar with him, no.

ML: Yeah, well he was my drawing teacher. While I was painting one of the still lifes from Morris Kantor’s class, Delevante came up to me and said, “Mel, what are you doing? This is not you. You’re a figure painter, that’s where your heart is.”

And so when I got to Yale, I decided on doing the figure. I should say that it was my still lifes, especially the one of leaves that I did in black, white, greys and with a touch of green along with my woodcuts that got me into Yale.

The Woodcut (detail) 58 x 68 inches, 1994

Josef Albers, ran the school in those days. He was very authoritarian. The difference between Yale and any other art school I’ve been in, is that everyone, including the teachers stood at attention when he talked. In some ways, I admire him. You know, I like his paintings and non-objective painting. I have nothing against it. I just don’t want to do it myself.

Francesca at the Door, 57 x 36 inches, 1992, Acrylic on Canvas, collection of The National Academy Museum, NYC Portrait of a Marriage, 54 x 71 inches, 2008, Acrylic on Canvas

ML: Why should you paint what somebody else tells you … if you do that, you’re selling your soul. It’s just wrong.

I really struggled to do the figure at Yale. Neil Welliver was teaching there and was also trying to break away from Alber’s influence. Welliver had been doing color abstractions, that were very pretty but he was trying to move into painting the figure so he defended me. It was a hard time. You know, if you are actually fighting for something there’s something good about it. That you’re sticking to your guns.

Tracey Jones, 48 x 48 inches, 2014, Acrylic on Canvas Selina Trieff, 48 x 36 inches, 2008, Acrylic on Canvas, collection of The Provincetown Art Association and Museum

LG: After Yale, you went to Paris on a Fulbright. Any interesting stories to share about this time in your life?

ML: When I graduated from Yale I had gotten a Fulbright for my woodcuts and went to study in Paris. I was having something like an aesthetic nervous breakdown. All these voices were in my mind. I remember an incident once when I was in Paris and watching an opera production, I think it was Tosca. I was sitting up high in the theatre, and all I could see was the negative shapes coming at me. You know, because in non-objective painting, the idea is not to get an illusionistic space, but to get the background to come forward.

I didn’t do any woodcuts when I was in Paris. I didn’t want to–all I wanted to do was to paint. One good thing that came from Albers was this: Because Albers didn’t approve of concentrating on the figure, he didn’t encourage or provide for figure drawing, you never had a model in the class. We used to have models, at Cooper Union, but there was none at Yale. So I got into the habit of sort of inveigling people to come to my house to model for me. I’d give them a spaghetti dinner in exchange for posing for me… this was during my time in Paris.

LG: That’s a good way to do it.

ML: And so that helped me a lot because that is actually a method that has lasted all my life. I go to places. I find real people, and they pose for me.

Robert Henry, 48 x 36 inches, 2008, Acrylic on Canvas

LG: One thing that struck me when I was looking at your early teacher Morris Kantor’s work and who also discouraged you from painting the figure… anyway it struck me that he was doing a lot of figures similar to what you’re doing now. Paintings of people in their surroundings, perhaps people he knew. There was a wonderful painting he made with a ship captain sitting in his home with a landscape in the window. Seems odd that he would discourage a student from painting the figure if he was a figurative painter himself.

ML: What year was the painting done?

LG: I think it was in the 50s. Maybe 40s. I don’t really know his work very well at all.

ML: He changed his style constantly. His most famous painting is called, “Farewell to Union Square“. It’s a rose being thrown out of a window on Union Square. He was doing abstractions at the time that he was my teacher.

But he believed, by the way, you should constantly change. But I did learn how to use white. That was the one thing and that has stuck with me.

The Sun Room, Director of Photography and Narrator Aubrey Kauffman and his wife Michele

LG: Many painters seem very opinionated during that time, true believers in the modernist doctrine. I don’t know how much things have really changed.

ML: Yes, they were very dogmatic. There were a group of us who wanted to do figure paintings. Actually one of my friends dropped out of Kantor’s class because she couldn’t take it. It was a time where you were learning your teacher’s opinions. That was it. I’m a teacher, so I think I can say this. They thought that painting should be what they were doing, in fact.

LG: That sounds about right. Let’s switch gears a little now, can you talk about what artists have influenced you the most over the years?

ML: Manet is my favorite painter, that actually started when I was introduced to him at Cooper. I also like, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Piero della Francesca and other painters of the early Renaissance. In fact I named my daughter Francesca after him.

LG: Do you travel in Italy much to see these paintings?

ML: Yes, my wife and I … My wife passed, over ten years ago, but we went to Italy–we went to see everything.

LG: Have you painted there? Or just traveled…

ML: No, I don’t do that kind of painting.

LG: I see.

ML: Also I don’t do sketches. I have to have a person; a figure in the painting, no matter what the painting is about.

But the main thing that interests me is not just the figure. It’s the way the figure related to the background. That has led me to what might be called environmental portraits. It’s mainly the composition of the painting that really excites me, but I must have a person. It’s an essential part of my being, I guess.

LG: Some of your paintings of people in their surroundings reminds me of Vuillard, a portrait of a man in an office with books and papers all around – I forget the exact details

ML: No it is. You mean that Vuillard in the Metropolitan Museum, that painting? I love Vuillard. But I also love Matisse… I love his paintings.

Let me give you a little more of my history. I was doing paintings in grays, black and white when I was at Cooper Union. And it was one of my still life paintings in black and grays that got me into Yale. Albers loved the painting. I mentioned this before. I couldn’t paint realistically at Cooper Union. They literally would have thrown you out.

So I was using bright color. I ended up using a lot of bright color. I thought I was being under the influence of Matisse, Vuillard and Bonnard. Those were painters from the modern movement I was drawn to.

When I got back to America from Paris, I was going back and forth with color in my painting; sometimes with bright colors and sometimes with grays. And then around that time …my good friend and great painter, Bob Birmelin came and said, “You know, Mel, your paintings are schizophrenic.” He said that because my drawing were completely realistic and my color was abstract..

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I’ve long been intrigued by Carol Heft’s drawings and paintings that she frequently posts to Facebook. Many of her landscape drawings are spontaneous creations that begin from rapid observations of tree configurations seen out a bus window on her long ride to work from NYC to Allentown, PA. I’m particularly intrigued by the relaxed way she traverses the borderlines of abstraction and representation–observation and imagination; it feels as natural as breathing in and out. Her abstractions are imaginary worlds lyrically filled with light, atmosphere and life.

Heft has several solo shows at Blue Mountain Gallery in NYC where she is a gallery artist. She has had solo exhibitions at Dakota State University, Mattera, Italy, University of South Carolina and LaCuca Gallery in Easton, PA. and Fairleigh Dickinson University among others. She has also been represented by the First Gallery Grassina in Florence, Italy. She attended the Madison Art School where she studied with Robert Brackman, N.A., studied at the Rhode Island School of Design where she received her B.F.A and Hunter College for her M.Ed. She teaches at the Muhlenberg College, and Cedar Crest College, in Allentown PA, and St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, New York. She currently lives and works in New York.

Her recently launched website can be viewed at carolheft.com

I’m delighted that she agreed to this email interview and want to thank her for her time and generosity in sharing her story.

Larry Groff:  What was art school like for you?

Carol Heft: I started studying when I was about 12 years old. My first painting teacher, Anne Tuttle, brought me to a school in Madison Connecticut where Robert Brackman did a summer residency program. Brackman was an American master of traditional academic painting, who taught at the Art Students League in New York. I was his studio monitor for the next three summers, and made lunches for the students, mostly adults from his New York class. I was very lucky to have had that experience at such a young age. A follower of Eakins and Bellows, Brackman’s teaching style included demonstrations. Watching him paint was like watching a great dancer, inspiring and beautiful. My high school had a lithography press and an intaglio press, and my teacher and mentor, Gary Stanton, encouraged me. I always loved to draw and paint, and when I started learning about printmaking, I thought I had found my calling. I was a printmaker. I loved it. Later, when I went to the Rhode Island School of Design, I returned to painting under the tutelage of Leland Bell, Louisa Chase, Lorna Ritz, Victor Lara and other great teachers and classmates. In spite of my difficult passage from adolescence to adulthood, which included some personal trauma, I liked school very much. I have always loved being in an environment dedicated to learning and study.

Self portrait, 1973 (?) Self portrait, 1979 Self portrait (2018)

LG: What were your first few years like after getting out of school?

CH: I moved to New York in 1976 after I graduated from RISD. I moved into a loft on the Bowery and went to meetings of a group of artists known as the “Alliance of Figurative Artists” or the “figgies” as Lisa Chase called them. I painted and drank a lot as I clumsily negotiated my way through a failed marriage, and various survival jobs. Finally, when I was about thirty, I came to a turning point in my life; a spiritual awakening. It seemed to me that I had been in a daze for most of the past decade, and now, with eyes open, I was able to look at my work with some sense of humility and understanding of what was (and was not) important to me.

42 x 84 inches(approx.) Bowery drawing, 1977-8

LG: What artists do you most often draw inspiration from in your work?

CH: Too many to mention here. The Paleolithic cave artists, Paul Klee, Pieter Breughel, Rembrandt, Kandinsky, Caravaggio, Tiepolo, Berthe Morisol, Mary Cassatt, deKooning, and some contemporaries: Karen Kappke, Ginny Greyson, Heidi Rosin, Vered Gerstenkorn, Francois Dupris, Jean Pierre Bourquin, and Martin Campos, to name a few.

Incident #19, Homage to the Masters of Lascaux, Altamira and Pech-Merle,
ink and wash, chalk, and colored pencil on paper Diptych, two sheets, full size 18 x 48 inches,
5.28.18 Study of Breughel’s, Dulle Griet, 9 x 12 inches, pencil on paper, 3.31.18

LG: How do you start a new painting? Please tell us something about how you go about making your art?

CH: When working from observation, I usually follow the traditional approach of working out a composition with charcoal (Brackman used to say that composition was the most important part of the painting; “no matter how badly it’s painted, if the composition is good it will be worth looking at, and no matter how ‘well’ it is painted, if the composition falls apart, the painting falls apart.” Next I work up a chiaroscuro underpainting with yellow ochre, still composing, establishing shadow patterns and tonal descriptions. I think that is my favorite part. You can see the painting, its essence, its orchestration of shapes and movement in this phase. It is the most beautiful to me. The drawing disappears, and there is a tonal impression of what is possible left on the canvas.

Chiaroscuro underpainting of my sister Heidi, 1970 (?)

When I am not working from observation, the first step of looking at the subject is replaced by making marks. The subject is either on the paper already, and I have to find it, or it is in my head or heart, trying to get onto the paper through my hands. I usually make a few marks and then look at them, and go back and forth like this until I feel I can’t learn any more from the work. Then I stop. It’s very different than finishing a portrait, for example, where it is often clear when the last stroke is applied, that no more need be done, and any more would be counterproductive.

Incident #21 or On the Surface, pencil, pen and ink, oil pastel and watercolor on watercolor paper, 8 1/2 x 11 inches 5.23.18

LG: What role does your mark-making play with your work? Is this a way to access or deny your mood or is it more exploratory investigations of formal art concerns – are there connections between these two things?

CH: I don’t really think my mood plays much of a role in my work. Self-expression is not necessarily connected to a person’s affect. As a professional artist, I think of my work as an ongoing organic series of events in which I participate, but do not entirely direct. The decisions I make while painting or drawing are intuitive. It is only afterward, during reflection, that I begin to understand what those decisions mean, how marks, tone, value, texture, color, how they all work together to create a world, a universe really, with its own parameters.

Automatic Drawing #11, watercolor, pen and ink, and oil pastel on watercolor paper, 9 x 12 inches, 5.7.18 Papier-mâché, yarn, and “shrinky dink” plastics, oil paint, 20 x 22 inches 1992

LG: I’ve read where you’ve talked about your work being an interactive process. What helps you to better listen to what your work might be saying?

CH: Spending time reflecting on the impact of what I am doing has had or will have on the work. It’s such an enigma, two dimensional art. It’s flat, and you see it in an instant, but it exists in time. It is made in time, can be looked at over a period of time and has visual space and movement, all with temporal analogies. Sometimes I try to visualize a specific change or revision in a piece, but often I need to physically make the change in order to really understand the impact it has on the total. The whole is different than the sum of its parts. Photographing a drawing or painting and putting it in a program like Photoshop is helpful, you can change colors and move things around instantly. It speeds up the thinking process, but to me, it is not a substitute for the physical pleasure of getting paint and glue on your hands and feeling it move from the brush to the paper or canvas.

automatic drawing #4, 12 x 9 inches, 4.24.18

LG: What things might you consider when you start re-working a piece you hadn’t looked at for some time?

CH: When I go back to a piece after many weeks or months, I see it differently, it gives me a chance to integrate ideas that span a period of time, creating temporal layers, while keeping my eye on the unity that is intrinsic to the world of that particular work.

Incident #22, pencil, pen and ink, oil pastel and watercolor on paper, 18 x 24 inches 5.23.18 Visit to the the Veterinary Physician’s Office, pen and ink and watercolor and oil pastel on watercolor paper, 11 x 15 inches, 4.29.18

LG: Many people, especially those with limited art backgrounds, tend to judge representational art by its fidelity to what they think something appears to look like, its photographic likeness or if it follows expected visual conventions. What are some similar ways people wrongly judge abstract works and how would you try to dissuade them?

CH: I think helping people develop an open mind about art is a critical aspect of art education. One of the things I am grateful for having had the opportunity to teach art history is that it forced me to look at and study work that I may have overlooked or dismissed otherwise. This is compatible with having good taste and good judgement. With my traditional academic background (Brackman) it was hard for me to look at non-representational art. For years I could not see Matisse or Leger, or even Picasso. It wasn’t until I had teachers like Lisa Chase, Judy Pfaff and Lorna Ritz, who helped me see beyond the limited scope of what I had been taught. I never judged work by its fidelity to the subject though. In fact, I always thought “realism” was silly. It was painting the surface of something, rather than finding its essential qualities. A great photographer knows the difference between “taking pictures” and composing with the camera. A painter has the same kind of aesthetic choices to make with his or her eye, brush, and heart.

I think of most of my work as figurative and nonobjective at the same time. The figure ground relationship fascinates me in and of itself, but also as it serves the subject. Relationships between shapes, colors, line, all play a role in how the work is experienced. It takes an open mind and engaged viewer to appreciate any work of art, and often these qualities are a function of education and willingness to see things from diverse perspectives.

 Pen and ink, 9 x 12 inches. 2018

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