Whenever I hear "Who are your influences?", the 1991
Irish film, The Commitments comes to mind. There is a
hilarious sequence caused by the appearance of a newspaper ad
for musicians to join an R&B band. We hear knock after knock
at the door, which opens as each hopeful states his or her answer.
A "Barry Manilow," "Wings," or "Led
Zeppelin" gets the door slammed in their faces. The point
is that influences tell everything about who we are as artists,
visual or performing. We may be on a journey to "break
to find [our] distinctive voice[s]," but not
without acknowledging their effect.
Ann Landi's ARTnews article made me think about people,
places and films that have had an influence on my art, including
teachers from whom I have taken classes. The artist's name I
heard most frequently when people saw my early work was Marc
Chagall. He was my teacher, though I never met him. His use
of intense color, scattered design, and ethereal figures emerging
out of nowhere drifted into my early painting. I owe Chagall
a large debt that I seem to honor whenever I squeeze a tube
of paint. I am in love with color because of him and one other
artist. On my studio bookshelf today is the very first art book
I bought: Georges Rouault from the Pocket Library of
Great Art series in the 1950's. He was still alive then. It
cost fifty cents. I bought it because I was stunned by his work
in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York (see Judy's
Journal, November 2004). I used black to outline every shape
in my paintings back then. Come to think of it, I still do that
once in a while.
Nan Hass Feldman was just the kind of living, breathing teacher
I needed in 1998, when I returned to painting after nearly forty
years of not practicing art. She gave open-ended assignments
("Paint your dreams
"), showed us books filled
with artists who did just that, then gave us space to bring
our dreams to canvas. Participation in the critiques that followed
taught me to articulate what I knew about art, and to develop
that knowledge. The educational adage, Start with what you
know and build on it, formed the basis of those invigorating
studio classes. I count Nan Hass Feldman as a strong influence
on me and my work.
Museum collections and gallery exhibitions form another category
of influences mentioned in the ARTnews article. Decades
of these visits fill my mind with images. How many times have
I seen materials manipulated into art so originally that it
took my breath away? A small sculpture drew me closer at the
Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut became the subject
of this poem:
To "Untitled Tower,"
a sculpture by Charles LeDray
A stack, nineteen inches tall, carved from a cow's thighbone*
(What else could a sculptor use that looks like this? Ivory
How pleased I was
when I could define you,
not to wonder what to make of:
an indifferent table balanced on
a humble stool riding on
a zig-zag chair,
perched on a wheelbarrow,
balanced on a doghouse,
under a step ladder,
and made explicit by its crescent moon,
an outhouse door tipped on its back!
Did you hear me cheer for
you, whisper that if you ever fell apart,
I would build you a colorless doll house?
Frankly, stopping to see
you seemed a comfort, then
curiosity pulled me toward your label.
Medium: human bone.
Did you take pleasure in
my gasp, revel in my shock?
Did you want to convince spectators, such as me,
to consider immortality?
Films have had an impact on my work, as well as in the way
I see the world as a source of inspiration. Watching Rivers
and Tides: Working with Time, a film about Andy Goldsworthy's
artmaking, I held my breath as he constructed his ephemeral
art. The film is so engaging that I believed that my breath
would make the artwork collapse. I cannot look at a pile of
twigs, an icicle, a river, or a pool of water without thinking
of Andy Goldsworthy's art.
So, who (or what) are your influences? You can email
me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The subject of February's journal will be a look at the difficulties
inherent in being an artist and writer.