DESIDERATUM (The Artist’s Life, in Three Parts)

What drives artists to create art? This question has consumed my studio life for the past 3 ½ years.

Influenced by artist Mel Bochner, who uses words and language as images and content, this project examines personal concerns – identity, work life, reasons for existence – and is also reflective of so many others who take this path; dozens of artists* were solicited to contribute words and thoughts, which are incorporated with my own.

All 27 works in this project are mixed media - usually sgraffito on museum board (layers of wax and oil crayon, and colored pencil, overlaid with iridescent oil pastel and peeled or scratched through) mounted on either wood panels or canvas. All pieces feature quirky text, unique textures and color gradation. The purposefully smallish size of the works invites up-close and intimate viewing….. Each section has 8 pieces and one large centerpiece.

I. ARTICULATION (Making Art Is…): Artists were asked to provide one-word descriptions of their time in the studio, then these were added to my own. The 8 pieces present those words in fanciful fonts, and the feelings they invoke are shown visually, using palettes that refer to traditional symbolic meanings (i.e. red denotes passion and sensation).

The centerpiece for ARTICULATION is WHY MAKE ART? It lays out artists’ deepest motivations, and opens a window into what keeps us going……… Playing with the idea of a ‘word cloud’, the larger the text, the more often it was cited. (FRUSTRATING was at the top of the list!)

II. ARTFUL (Ars Longa, Vita Brevis): This section references early American stitched samplers, usually made by young women to learn sewing skills and commemorate family history or pious thoughts and verses. The ‘samplers’ are each framed in patterned and manipulated balsa wood or 4-ply museum board, and present quotes and adages that I have collected for years.

The large centerpiece of ARTFUL is GALVANIZED, and is a montage of ‘framed’ quotations, poetry and thoughts that have inspired my group of artists to become, and remain, artists – an odd assortment of influences, including A. A. Milne, Twyla Tharp, Picasso, Alberto Giacometti…..

III. ARTSPEAK (The Dogs Bark…..) - refers to ‘International Art English’, according to an essay by Alix Rule and David Levine, who write about “this language through which contemporary art is created, promoted, sold, and understood.”
New York art critic Ben Davis has described this lexicon as “a linguistically meaningless jumble of buzzwords.” The 8 pieces highlight words and phrases from art PR, art critics, and artists’ statements (yes – we are all guilty).

The centerpiece of ARTSPEAK is CRITICAL ACCLAIM, and highlights coded excerpts from rejection letters (something that all artists have received over the course of their careers), by laying out the text on flat sculptures of weapons. Wounded but not weakened, discouraged but not dissuaded, the artist soldiers on……. There are also muted drawings of scary critters – snake, shark, etc. – to illustrate the fear that we all experience as we continue on this lifetime journey.

Does self-expression trump earning a living?

* Those responding to my questionnaire are professional artists who have been working for 20 – 50 years. When asked how they supported themselves, most replied ‘teaching’, a few said ‘financially independent’, and ONLY ONE said ‘art sales’. The list of artists includes: Henry Bermudez, Annette Cords, Deborah Curtiss, Hannah Fink, Judy Gelles, Lydia Hunn, Mary Kane, Carol Moore, Susanne Okamoto, Diane Pieri, Mathew Rose, Flash Rosenberg, Jill Sablosky, Csilla Sadloch, Nancy Sarangoulis, Joan Shrager, Tremain Smith, and Ellyn Weiss.