I was born in NY City, and grew up in the Hudson River Valley, where the woods, the fields, and the river were my teachers. Spending hours in the natural world every day was tremendously formative for me. I travel quite a bit, but I have made my adult home in the high desert of New Mexico. The mysterious spirituality of the land and sky drew me here, and has served me with inspiration for decades.
Were you born in a painter family?
Several artists in my family influenced me when I was very young. My uncle Roger Prince was an established sculptor, and his wife, my father’s sister, was a wonderful painter/artist/teacher in the Waldorf School tradition. Their work was scattered around our house, and one of my aunt’s large murals was particularly evocative for me. I must have studied it every day, as it was the centerpiece in our living room, and there was much to explore in the image; expressionist figures in a garden or courtyard. I remember being particularly intrigued by her treatment of shadows in that piece. My father was a medical doctor and research scientist, but his other passions were piano, violin, woodcarving, and boat designing/building. His creative brilliance moved seamlessly between science and art, so I learned early about the connection between the two from him. The well-known artist Arthur B. Davies was a friend of my father’s, and I have a vivid childhood memory of going to Richard Pousette-Dart’s studio with my mother to see his paintings, which later showed prominently in all of the major museums in New York. Probably the most important art connection in my family is the one I have in France! My close cousin, a writer, married the French photographer François Le Diascorn, and I have travelled with the two of them in Europe and Greece for years. The three of us worked on two major bodies of collaborative work, funded by the French Ministry of Culture, which has been exhibited all over France: Les Animaux Magiques, and Les Bêtes de la Mer. François taught me many things about being a serious artist. What great lessons I learned when witnessing him slamming on the brakes and flying out of the car with multiple cameras swinging on his neck to capture the magical image that he was always striving to attain. His example of fierce and uncompromised commitment to his art has been a major influence on me as I’ve moved through the different stages of my work.
When did you realize that painting was the thing you wanted to do? When did you start? What type of material do you use mostly? Did your work evolve from one support/material to another or have you always used oil/acrylic?
I started working seriously as a full-time artist after the graduate work I did in London in 1985. From 1985-1990 I worked primarily with letterforms and collage – works on paper. In 1990 I fell in love with printmaking and the oil-based etching inks used to make monotypes. My main medium for the next 20 years was printmaking, and my specialty was the one of a kind monotype; drawing/painting/collage transferred to paper in an etching press. In 2010 I made a major shift to painting in mixed media, working with acrylic and oil on birch panels. To work seriously in a new medium meant making a new level of commitment as a painter. Over the last few years I’ve developed a heightened awareness of how much focus and discipline it will take to accomplish my goals. I’m in the studio long hours most days. At this point, mid-career, I’ve reached an age and a point in my evolution as an artist where I have something big to say. Currently I’m experiencing deep engagement with my work on a level that is new and thrilling to me.
Where do you paint mostly? Your studio? Anywhere you can?
My studio is at the back of my property north of Albuquerque in New Mexico, close to the Rio Grande, and across the valley from the Sangré de Cristo mountains, which form the southern tip of the Rockies. It is a sacred space where I sometimes paint in silence, and sometimes paint to rock and roll cranked up a bit too high.
About your studies in China and Japan, why did you go? Have you always been interested in going to Asia? Why? Was it also related to painting or was it for something completely different?
After graduating from Reed College, I travelled on a shared Watson Grant, which was given for creative pursuit with no strings attached. I went to study the disciplines of brush calligraphy in Japan and China, as I was intrigued by the spiritual aspect of that artistic tradition in those cultures. The famous Chinese calligrapher Wucius Wong referred me to the man who he believed was the most talented Chinese calligrapher in Hong Kong, Jat See Yiu. I made a pilgrimage to Mr. Jat’s island of Cheung Chau and managed to establish myself as his private student through a letter of recommendation. We couldn’t communicate with words but we connected as student/teacher, and I worked with great determination for months under his eagle eye. Mr. Jat paid me many honors, giving me the artist name Red Elegance, carving me the chop I use to sign my work, and presenting me with a very special calligraphy documenting my accomplishments during my time with him. After my studies there, I found a Japanese teacher in Japan, who I also worked very diligently with for over a year. From these two masters I learned a tremendous amount about composition, eye-hand coordination, respect for materials, and commitment to practice.
When you say: “The Asian sense of composition appeals to me and I've tried to make it my own in a contemporary way.” What do you mean by “compositions”?
I’ve been to Asia several times, and each time I’m struck by how people see forms within space. How a rock is placed in a garden. Where a vase is set near a painting. How a brushstroke is laid down on paper. The Asian sensitivity to negative space always resonated for me. As an American painter, I have almost unconsciously incorporated that awareness of negative space in the images I make, always keeping one eye on what is not there, rather than what is.
How do you chose to do a small or a large painting?
I’m generally interested in making larger works now. The 4’x4’ format works for me because I can move it around the studio – anything larger is cumbersome. The way I paint, I do a lot of sanding and washing and the panel is moved from place to place with frequency. But working smaller than this strikes me as almost diminutive these days. I spent the first 25 years making smaller images. I feel compelled to spend the next 25 years working large. When I can sort out the logistics, I’ll be working even larger. I’m a tall, strong woman, and it feels right to use my whole body when painting. I like the sensation that I might walk right into a painting/
Do you have the topic first or the size first? Most of what I want to paint works in large format.
When I work smaller for a variety of reasons, I usually consider the finished piece to be a study for something larger.
What were your impressions/reactions after the Sundance exhibit?
Having a one-person show at CODA Gallery during Sundance Film Festival was a considerable honor for me, and I enjoyed the entire process. The owner/director of the gallery, Jen Schumacher, made every effort to install my work beautifully and honorably. We sold some work and have received excellent feedback. My hope is that this will be a long-term relationship that benefits CODA and the collectors of my work. I made a small book of the images which one can see and/or purchase at http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3935837
What are your next artistic projects?
Currently I’m exploring ways that I might impact pressing environmental issues as a painter. I believe that artists are uniquely positioned as visual storytellers to create bridges of understanding, and to facilitate change in positive, enlightened directions. The images I’m working with right now are of birds and animals, and I have a few people on my team brainstorming with me about how I might best use my skills to make a difference. This is extremely exciting to me, and I hope to have some concrete movement in this direction by next year. In the meantime I paint!