In Arc of Justice Kevin Boyle tells the true story of a young doctor, Ossian Sweet, who was forced from his home in suburban Detroit because he is black. Boyle claimed that Clarence Darrow, who represented Sweet in court, believed in the power of words to right social wrongs. If Darrow’s words could provoke such a change in the world, I realized my paintings are some sort of antidote to a society built on instantaneous gratification and superficial answers to profound questions.
My works have within them a narrative, usually an idea originating in a philosophical or religious dilemma that I wrestle with. Yet, the more I seek the narrative, the more paradoxical and complicated it becomes. In my studio practice, I approach this narrative through a style I refer to as gestural symbolism. As a gestural painter influenced by Abstract Expressionism I am concerned with 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. This method helps me present narratives that are full of ambiguities in my own idiosyncratic language.
Take, for instance, the biblical story of Esther. Traditional paintings have depicted the characters embroiled in the story’s dramatic moments. But they do this in a representational way. My series, Book of Esther, attempts to force viewers to consider the competing existential conflicts facing a beautiful young girl forced to hide her ethnic and religious identity as she is compelled to marry a king who was taking genocidal action against her people. My paintings reference master paintings about the biblical story and maps of ancient Persia to develop a palette, imagery, and symbolism for the series of works.
My more recent paintings, Darrow’s Words, were created in response to Boyle’s book about Sweet. In this series, I started by painting the word “word” to create an underlying structure. The process is like yoga or a meditation in which it is written over and over. I also reference calligraphy and Mark Tobey, an artist who studied and used calligraphic line in his abstract paintings. The limited palette is made of colors that combined would create black and white. The ambition of these works is an attempt to prove that the language of paint can be just as potent as the language of words.
I recently started a new series, Self-Portrait, through which I am exploring my sense of self. In studying self-portraits, I found that most women portray themselves representationally and that they include symbols of their social status as well as their art career. I began thinking about what defines my sense of self and realized that I have to explore my sense of home and my relationships as a mother, painter, spouse and cat owner. In the paintings, I seek to capture their dynamic energy and distinctive personalities.
Typically, I work on a series for a two years and by the end of a series of paintings I feel that I have resolved the original conceptual issue through the aesthetics of painting. I work on different surfaces including works on wood, collages on paper, and works on canvas, and my works vary in scale from images larger than life to images that fit into the palm of my hand.