Interviewed by Fleur Adderley
Tell me about the beginnings of your creative career.
My early college experience, in the 60’s, included intensive figure drawing where I learned how to draw from observation as well as the broad scope of drawing materials, like graphite, charcoal, pastels and erasers. Later, in the 80’s in graduate school, I gravitated towards my comfort zone of the figure and realism, doing large-scale oil paintings that took many months to complete. That established me locally and I became a Professor of Figure Drawing, but at the same time I was becoming restless, wanting to express more ideas more quickly. I did a series of small realistic paintings of cats, each floating on large canvas, and scrawled “My Pussy” under the image. Those paintings became my first show in New York City in 1988, which had been my goal since graduating, to show in New York within five years, and I did it!
Your works have a thoughtful energy and sense of flow to them, do you approach them methodically or allow the work to unfold around you?
This question gets to the heart of my process… having parameters within which I can be spontaneous. The work I’ve been doing since 2004, called "Symmetrical Procedures," has the parameters of abstraction and symmetry. The abstraction offers me total freedom, and the symmetry provides a form and discipline, that turns anything into something. With the fingerprint work, each stroke is very intentional in its direction, gesture, and pressure, and yet remains a fresh spontaneous mark. I think it’s similar to Japanese sumi-e ink paintings.
What mindset do you enter when you are creating your Fingerings pieces and symmetrical drawings? Do you ever get fearful of making mistakes?
I stay very focused. Once, while standing in front of one of my wall drawings, a young woman was attempting to take a yoga pose. She worked to balance on one foot and hold the pose. Afterwards I told her that the inner focus she was garnering to find her balance was exactly what I have to do while working. My mind cannot wander. I do very little “correcting”, although I usually have some white wall paint handy just in case!
F: You say black and white creates infinite possibilities, can you expand on this?
There’s a range between black and white that is infinite shades of grey. There are also textures, patterns and contrasts that impressionistically create variations in value. I sometimes just explore, perceptually, getting different shades of white. I like the challenge of getting as much as possible out of limited means, and it seems that limitations push us to experiment and invent.
"The abstraction offers me total freedom, and the symmetry provides a form and discipline, that turns anything into something."
"I like the challenge of getting as much as possible out of limited means, and it seems that limitations push us to experiment and invent."
F: How did you come to find your artistic style? More specifically, what made you decide to use carbon as your main medium?
I was at a stage, in 2003, where I wanted to pare my work down to elementals, like paper and pencil, and see what would happen. My first lines were simple curves and I began copying them in reverse, creating symmetry. The variations of curves and the process of reversing them was mesmerizing. I began to explore all kinds of lines and the effects of slight changes. On reflection, I saw the merging of freedom and discipline, and I called them “Symmetrical Procedures”. Symmetry is ubiquitous in nature, and I know that carbon is as well, so symmetry and carbon mediums were a perfect union. Besides, carbon, under heat and pressure, becomes a diamond with crystalline symmetries. I prefer to analyze the why’s and wherefore’s after, not before.
I read that you use your body as the core to centre your piece and to measure its symmetry and form. How has this influenced your perception of the body as an expressive medium?
In 2009 I was invited to install on a very large wall, but my “Symmetrical Procedures” were small and detailed. Searching for ways to fill the space, I experimented with enlarging the drawings by attaching charcoal to long sticks. After much trial and error I noticed a fingerprint smudge on the wall and thought it had special qualities, and I also noticed that my arms moved in simultaneous symmetry. I had an “aha” moment! I then did my first fingerprint wall, at Artists Space in NYC, using both hands at the same time with my fingers dipped in charcoal. I had realized that my symmetrical body could be my drawing tool.
I have not been lucky enough to see your works in real life, but I imagine their size and aura generate a strong energy in the room, do you notice a general response from your viewers when they see your work?
I‘ve been surprised at the intrigue, especially that people like to watch me work. I think there’s something about the hand and fingerprint that the viewer relates to because it’s something we all have. The large scale is also part of it, because they like seeing me, a little old lady, up on the large wall working.
Your Fingerings works reflect a timeless narrative of human expression. How do you confront such an ancient form of mark making in a contemporary way?
I never try to make the work contemporary. As we are all unique individuals, I am somehow making patterns and images that spring from who I am, and since I am a contemporary being, the work is what it is. I am actually surprised that this ancient activity of mark making had not been already done by other artists!
"I had realized that my symmetrical body could be my drawing tool."