Holland Cotter asks, “How do you approach an art empty of figures and evident narrative? How do you find what, if anything, is in it for you?” In a world that is often superficial, my answer is to go beyond the surface. Or as Joan Mitchell said, “I am trying for something more specific than movies of my everyday life: To define a feeling.”
In my studio practice, I approach this attempt at defining a feeling through a style I refer to as gestural symbolism. As a gestural painter influenced by Abstract Expressionism I utilize mark making and juxtaposing incongruous colors to create a unified and absorbing image. As a symbolist, I develop a set of symbols in terms of colors, shapes, and underlying images for each series. I am currently at the crossroads of two series that relate to self-identity and the role of the female artist: Self-Portrait and A Room of One’s Own.
So often self-portraits are one-dimensional images creating realities similar to selfies posted on Facebook. These showcase an idealized version of one’s life that capture the surface, but not the emotions and the complexities of life. By contrast, a painting like Diego Velazquez’ Las Meninas explores the entirety of King Phillip IV’s life. It shows his pets, the members of the court, his children, and his wife. There is something so truthful about Velazquez’s painting, a quality that I am aiming for in my self-portraits.
Like Las Meninas , I create portraits that show a more complete scope of myself than a traditional self-portrait. My works are not about being perfect. The imperfections are part of the paintings. The corrections in the paintings are visible, making the missteps apparent. They are multilayered, messy and complicated. These works magnify my relationships as an artist, mother, wife and cat owner.
Through working on these paintings, I came to realize a paradoxical nature of my artistic choices for my self-portraits. I choose to define myself through traditional roles and my private sphere, and this seems contradictory to my feminist beliefs that challenge assumptions about gender roles and seek a greater public voice for women.
The Self-Portraits flowed directly into the series, A Room of One’s Own , which portrays my sacred space: My studio.
While Self-Portraits explores self-identity and ended up in my studio, 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. As Virginia Woolf says in her essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” women often encounter obstacles in creating her own space.
She goes on to say that the world would have had many more genius women had they merely had some financial means and their own space.
The beginning paintings in a series for me are fraught with excitement and fear as I know not the direction the works will move. This not knowing, though, is part of the thrill of painting. “You should have a plan,” a writer friend of mine once said, “but you better be wrong.”