“Consider not only how terrifying change can be but also how exhilarating.”
Maggie Smith, Keep Moving: Notes on Loss Creativity, and Change
Painting for me is, like life, elusive. The more you think you understand the less you really do. As Maggie Smith implies, change is inevitable, but not always predictable.
I begin each series in the same manner: Something I’ve stumbled upon, often a text of some sort, that requires teasing out. It’s not the type of teasing done in a literature class, but it needs to be mulled over in my studio with tools, paintbrushes, symbols, canvas, wood, panels, pigments.
I work in pairs, painting the surfaces and then adding and sometimes subtracting paint with a rubber squeegee type instrument. It’s a dance. Add, subtract, step back, study, and once the surface is saturated the painting is set aside until a later session that day or the next week when it is rotated 90 degrees to get a fresh perspective on the painting and consider each area of the picture plane equally. The bottom of the image becomes the side and the painting is begun anew until, as Georgia O’Keeffe says, “I get at the real meaning of things.”
A Room of One’s Own starts with my studio and it is leading me to explore the role of the studio in giving women a public presence. The series began with the Virginia Woolf essay “A Room of One’s Own,” which speaks about the privilege most artists need to be able to create their work: a physical space that is also a creative space and a psychological space. Artist studios are sacred spaces, but, Woolf laments, these sacred spaces are precisely what is so hard for women artists to find.
The pandemic, COVID-19 gave many of us time to think about the spaces we had for work. Woolf’s essay took on even greater resonance for me. In order to create greater creative opportunities for women, we need to ensure that there are physical rooms for them to have their own space.
I spent time contemplating these ideas while literally constructing a new studio, which was completed in December.
A Room of One’s Own uses images of the essential studio components: windows, brushes, pencils, and easels. The palette reflects colors I associate with my studio. The application of paint is both additive and subtractive. The tools used to create these include “brushes” that I’ve created from paint peelings found on the floor in my studio.
So when Maggie Smith is talking about the “terrifying” blank page, I can certainly relate. The unknown and possibility of failure are terrifying. It’s what prevents most people from being creative. With this terror, though, comes the exhilaration. Particularly for an abstract artist, taking that brush loaded with paint to canvas is a moment of excitement and uncertainty: Will the mark look stunning? Will it fall short? Or will it be that last gesture to complete a painting? That brief certainty that washes over an artist when the work seems full of potential or just right is none other than exhilarating.