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Narrative has always been central in my work. In graduate school I did a lot of narratives with the figure, male and female. At this point I am really enjoying talking about space and place. We can tell we’re at Kingston Point Park: There are barbecue grills, and this kind of dwarfed human activity goes on amid the larger evolution of nature. I start with the photograph and I like [the paintings] to go farther away from that, to where there’s just the suggestion. I’m taking from the literal and abstracting it a bit.
[The latest head studies] are about questioning how I’m working with paint. I started mostly with magazine or catalog images, images that are generic in a sort of American Beauty way. With paint they’re transformed and start to look like puppets or dolls. Even the gender becomes ambiguous.
They’re not delicate, they’re not feminine, except perhaps in the color. There is almost a feeling of applying makeup. It looks very raw, some people say violent, although I don’t mean to do that. They became these big mountains of flesh. I like the idea of using this form to get to the landscape. I started mixing up these tones I’d used in my palettes of flesh and applying them to the landscapes. It’s exciting.
Becoming an Artist
As a child, I took making art for granted, especially because there was so little to do. My sister and I didn’t have very many opportunities; there were no teams or special classes. We were both very creative, and it was very open-ended. I didn’t begin to value [making art] as a serious pursuit until my third year of college, when I went off and studied at the Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy. I was with all these kids from New York, who were these completely foreign creatures. They brought a level of rigor and seriousness [to the making of art], and I thought, “I can approach this and do this as a serious pursuit.” That shifted my view. I went from being an art minor to an art major, and at that point I decided, “This is it, this is what I’m going to do.”
Sabbatical in Japan
[My husband and I] lived in Japan for six years. I was teaching art, studying Japanese and ikebana (traditional flower arranging) and having children. We lived in Kanazawa, a small city on the west coast that’s called the Old Kyoto. It’s got a beautiful cultural center and a samarai district, and they just put in the 21st Century Museum. They’re constructing more high-speed rails to go into the city, and it was interesting to see the changes. While in Japan, I was not compelled to paint, although I did make these teeny-tiny, dinky paintings, which were the beginning of moving away from my earlier photorealist work.
Initially [while living in Japan], it was really neat just to experience being an other. It was fabulous and scary, to be on the bus alone and be the only one who looked different. In the States we’re much more free-flow and less organized. Our clothes and bodies are large and free and open. The way people in Japan take up space is much more minimal and practical. I found myself constantly trying to minimize the space I was taking up, which affected how I walked, sat, everything.
You’re this totally different creature. Sometimes it was claustrophobic and sometimes it was okay. There’s also this way of thinking that’s non-linear. It would baffle us. You see it in their storytelling. We go from A to B to C to D and give an argument, and then there’s a resolution. In Japan the narrative is experienced in a more poetic, cyclical form.
Here we put the individual first, we strive to be unique and different. In Japan the emphasis on the group was in some ways very contrary to what I would have liked. When my kids were at nursery school, for example, there was often the lack of being able to say your opinion or express yourself freely. On the other hand, one of the things I loved was that if I lost my child’s mitten, someone would have placed it just where I would see it upon returning to the place four days later. It’s a very secure, family-oriented place.