Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas


The Stories Behind Paintings



May 2006

"Art is life seen through a temperament."
Émile Zola, "Art and the Artist," Writers on Writing, compiled by Jon Winokur.


Dear Reader,

In April, I had the pleasure of visiting two middle school classrooms to share my art and poetry. I asked the teachers to have the students visit this website and develop a list of questions for me to use as a way of shaping my presentation. Several students wondered about the inspiration for particular paintings, thereby giving me the idea for this month's journal. As if to affirm that impulse, last week I received an email from a student who was doing a report on family relationships and wondered what story was behind "Family Portrait" (Gallery Chapter Two).

I selected one painting from each of the four Gallery Chapters, where you can go to view them. The process of choosing them was difficult because I believe that William Carlos Williams was right when he said that each painting was a self-portrait of the artist. However, the autobiography of any painting should never interfere with your own interpretations of and connections with the work.

Gallery Chapter One:
"Environment Seventeen" - In 2002, I was obsessed with doing a series of collages, which I made in pairs. It turned out to be a long process beginning with cutting the watercolor paper squares, taping then onto my board two by two, painting them with acrylics and collaging scraps of paper and pieces of photographs cut from pictures of my paintings. Mounting them on board, varnishing them, and floating them in black metal frames were the final steps in the process. You may have noticed many paintings from the Environment series on the website. It took me 38 pieces to get it out of my system, in a burst of creativity following a close friend's death. From the first Environment to the last, the subject, as abstractly as it is shown, seemed to be rooted in imaginary places, but filled with real references. In Environment Seventeen, skyscrapers flew out of my brushes. I was airborne. It felt fiery and dangerous. I was headed into the skyscrapers. It was September 11th, 2001.

Gallery Chapter Two:
"Transition II" - In 2004, I was (and still am) obsessed with painting rocks into my work. This painting was the seventh in what has become a series of twenty-two to date. You can click onto Judy's Journal June 2005 to read what I was thinking about the appearance rocks in my work. Of all the paintings, "Transition II" is the most frightening to me. The colors are visceral. The rock wall is gritting its teeth in anticipation. The sky is dense with shades of thick liquid alizeron crimson. Hurtling toward the surface is…a rock? A cloud? You cannot tell if it is innocent and harmless, or corrupt and disastrous. The main problem at the moment in the painting is that you cannot tell.

Gallery Chapter Three:
"Reclaiming the Sky" - This painting from 2004 had its beginning and middle life as a companion to House of Memory, which was painted right before it. The house was brimming with life stories, and it was about to burst with them. When I started "Reclaiming the Sky," it stalled as I painted and repainted the sky. Layer after layer of acrylic went onto the canvas. What was this painting trying to tell me? Finally, I took a sharp knife and started to dig into the sky. Five figures emerged…the vessels of memory. My brothers and sister are with me, reclaiming the sky. The painting was complete.

Gallery Chapter Four:
"Family of Six, Dispersed" - This painting may be more simple to read, because it is my response to the tragic and frequently unnecessary consequences of Hurricane Katrina. It is a result of reading about and viewing some of the painful ways families survived the storm. Ironically, the way in which the family members are depicted is reminiscent of those shown in "Heading Home," a 2003 (Gallery Chapter Three).

Are there any Gallery Chapter paintings that you would like to know more about? You can contact me at Next month's journal will focus on two articles that appeared in the April issue of ARTnews, which had "Painting: Are the Rules Changing?" as its theme.