AN AWAKENING - How I Discovered My Passion for Art January 24 2018, 14 Comments


While attending Barnard College in 1979 I volunteered at a well known contemporary art gallery. The Willard Gallery on East 72nd St. hired me to help organize slides and paperwork etc.(after I walked in and asked if they needed help!). I wanted to get more direct exposure to the art field in New York and so I went after it!

Little did I realize what an important gallery The Willard was and that the stable of artists represented were the current leaders in contemporary art such as Susan Rothenberg, Robert Moskowitz, Ken Price, and Elizabeth Murphy.

Miani Johnson, whose mother ,Marian Willard Johnson, founded the gallery in 1940 , was now the Director. During an enlightening discussion I asked Miani how she chose her artists. She said that if she had dreamt about them then she knew she would represent them. I found this fascinating. It spoke to the mystery surrounding the psychological and potentially spiritual power of art.

This was my premiere exposure to contemporary art. The work of these artists baffled and intrigued me. I had had a visceral response.

In 1978 The Whitney Museum had an exhibition called " New Image Painting" which included  some of these artists. It was an introduction into a new movement in painting.

Richard Marshall, who wrote the introduction for the catalogue, wrote: (and I quote him several times below)

"As the title of the exhibition suggests, the artists' primary common point of departure is the use of images. They utilize imagery in non-traditional and innovative ways, making the images become the dominant feature in their paintings. The images fluctuate between abstract and real. They clearly represent things that are recognizable and familiar, yet they are presented in isolation and removed from associative backgrounds and environments. This ambiguity consequently brings into operation the psychology of the viewer in order to complete the perceptual experience".

The images and forms are either distilled to the elemental, or conversely, exaggerated in space and scale. The isolated nature of the shapes and forms create a distance between themselves and the viewer.

 My favorite artists in this exhibition were Susan Rothenberg, Denise Green and Robert Moskowitz.

Here's why:

"What becomes most apparent in these works is the interplay between the emotive content of the image and its formal structure and characteristics." For me this meant feeling vs. form .

"The dominance of the images is also supported by the relationship between figure and ground."

There is a tension between linear forms and space. And are the shapes 3-dimensional or 2 -dimensional? Is the form flat or spatial? What comes forward and what recedes?The spaces seem vastly dense. The forms also seem to float in an interior vs. exterior space.

I found that I emotionally related to this sense of floating forms, isolated, alone, disconnected yet part of a grander whole, a common purpose.

My response was not only a psychological response, or an emotional response, but a spiritual and metaphysical one.The  ambiguity of the images, the forms , their environment and the spatial orientation embodied an unspeakable truth. It is this feeling, this coupling of knowing and not knowing, that has guided me as an artist.

As I moved forward to the Rhode Island School of Design, to painting, sculpture and ultimately to metalsmithing, I struggled with and explored the challenge of defining and expressing a non-physical reality, in both 2 and 3 dimensions. Searching for "other-worldly realities" via my artwork , and to elicit human response , became my focus.

And that's where it all started! My next blog entry will talk about my RISD semester in Rome in 1984 and how my time at the Willard had influenced not only the way I saw , but how ancient architecture informed my final RISD degree in the Jewelry/Light Metals department.

( I hope this isn't too much of an Art History lesson, but it is cathartic for me to delve back into my past and bring it forward!)