Looking at a kaleidoscope through the artist's eye
THESE great draft horses with their arched necks and feather-duster feet; white and black sheep, and sheep dogs; Durham oxen, roan-and-white speckled; gray geese raising their chins and hissing -- all these are there at Common Ground Fair in Windsor, Maine. It is my favorite fair. It has no midway, no horse racing; it is an old-fashioned agricultural fair. I go there to sketch, though I rarely do any sketching. Long ago I trained my visual memory, as Chinese artists do, so that I can see in my mind's eye a nimals in action, not posed stiffly. I have always loved animals, wild ones and tame ones. I particularly love the striped and spotted ones. I create imaginary jungles. I have never traveled outside the United States, not even to Canada. I grew up in New York City, summering in Maine. My parents were both artists. They encouraged me to paint and draw but did not put much value on realism, although their art was not abstract. They valued ``art qualities'' more than realism. I feel the same way.
Just what ``art qualities'' are is hard to say, but they include color, mood, shapes, and meanings, which I feel can best be conveyed through recognizable subject matter. These qualities infuse the work of art with a life of its own.
I have lived here on our farm in Maine since I married at age 18. My husband and I really farmed. We had a small herd of Jersey cows for 20 years and bottled and sold our own milk. But even living year-round in Maine, I was still a part of the New York art scene for at least 15 years.
I started my career with a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art. It was a ``retrospective'' of my childhood art through to my mature art. The purpose was to show the creative growth of an artist who had developed on her own without attending art schools. I had five other solo shows in New York galleries and then found myself at odds with the prevailing school of Abstract Expressionism. I withdrew and continued to paint the way I wanted to, showing solely in Maine galleries.
Some of my paintings are extremely complex. Some artists like to avoid complexities; I enjoy the challenge. I like playing around with space as in ``Country Crossroads.'' Breaking up space into geometric shapes results, as the Cubists discovered, in a picture that seems to exist without reference to time or place. This painting has the quality of a kaleidoscopic view of the animals that might be going to a country fair. I have arranged it so it can be hung in four different ways and even signed it four times. This was partly done for the challenge of working out the multiple meetings on this Crossroad-in-Time. You will notice that each group of animals and people moves down the right side of the road.
Also I have always felt that a well-constructed painting should be satisfying no matter how it is viewed. I often turn my paintings upside down while working on them to achieve a different perspective on the arrangement of forms and colors. In my own studio and home, I can change the art hanging on my walls as frequently as I like. I have given this same possibility of change to those who view this painting.