Each month, three of our Partners Gallery artists present work in an online exhibit. What follows is a condensed version of telephone interviews I conducted with this month’s artists. – Miriam Davis, Partner
“Life isn’t a support system for art; it's the other way around.” – Stephen King
You said in your statement that there are portions of real boa constrictor skin in these paintings.
“Yes, I was clearing out a shed and found a very large painting I had stored there. There was a boa constrictor skin collaged on it all the way across, and I thought, “Oh, this is perfect,” because of my feeling that our current government is a den of snakes. So I cut it up, glued the now much smaller paintings to cradled wood panels, and reworked their surfaces with oils, stenciling, crayons, and encaustic. Recycling and reusing Is important to me, and I have often recycled older work. I began working on these paintings before the virus hit us, though not before the present political situation.”
I notice the vibrant reds, which suggest blood to me.
“This one, “Thin Skinned,” has a lot of blood red, but it’s not meant to represent the bodily fluid. I choose colors based on relationships. Some combinations are more challenging to pull off. Pinks and lavenders, for instance, are hard to try to put together with other colors. I try to use colors that are opposite on the color wheel, purposely setting up a dynamic for the viewer. For instance, warm colors, like reds and yellows, come toward you; cool ones like blues and greens recede, and guide the viewer on a journey through the work. I recently bought the large set of Crayola crayons, which are, of course, wax, and can be melted and textured and worked into a painting. I am keeping track of which colors I have used. My goal over the next year is to use all 161 colors.”
It sounds like color in your work is very consciously planned.
“Color is the thing most consistent in my work. Since I went to art school, I have studied how colors work together. I really like to challenge my mind and my skills, so my work is always changing. Standing still doing the same thing with the same 10 tubes of paint is really not of interest to me.”
“Thin skinned” is one of a series?
“Yes, I always work in series, or thematically. The title, of course, directly refers to the boa constrictor skin, but is a metaphor as well. A title can give some direction to the viewer. Not too much. People can make their own interpretation of what they're seeing. (Choosing November 3 for its political ramifications is more for me than for anyone else.) I'm happy for people to appreciate the work in whatever way they do. I really enjoy hearing people’s responses and talking with them in front of the work. I miss that very much these days…”
These paintings all seem to be looking out at the world, but looking from a place of quietness.
“There is a certain quietness. I began these in March. We were locked down. We didn't know what was happening or where things would go. We were sequestered. This body of work is the outcome of what I have experienced—all this uncertainty and staying close to home.
How are the paintings related?
“They started separately, and I worked on several at once. Eventually they became one piece, and I moved on to some larger work. My choices are not random. Each is a response to my surroundings: the beach, the headlands, home and the yard. Two are from my imagination—what would it be like to be looking at a wall instead of the ocean?”
Each painting looks very complex. There’s a lot going on.
“Though they are only 6 inches square, they do take a long time. I try to give them a sense of the monumental. If a person sees a photograph and then sees the painting, they are surprised it is so small. I like to surprise people.”
These are done with encaustic?
“Yes, with additions of collage, transparent oil paint, oil pastels, ink and graphite along with the wax.
What are you doing when you are not painting?
“It's actually hard to find enough time for everything. I walk. There’s the garden. I need to get out there and move, so I'm digging holes, shoveling compost, planting. There's low level anxiety, but I can focus on physical work.”
What do you miss during this strange time?
“I miss pre-virus socializing with friends, but I have adjusted to distancing. I miss the Gallery. When you are going to have a show there's that sweet day when you pack up the work and take it to the Gallery to hang on the walls. That, and seeing people coming in to the Gallery, perhaps being moved by a piece, and talking with them about it. I miss that. It made me feel like I was connecting with people in a positive way.”
I think you are. Yes.
When we spoke, Virginia Sharkey was still working on “Equinox.” There was some time between finishing the paintings labeled “Recent” here on the website, and the paintings she is showing now in November’s virtual exhibit.
“I was working on a series called “Noon.” Then there were several months when I had some out-of-studio projects I had to attend to. When I returned to work, I found that my color palette had changed. Maybe it’s co-vid, I don’t know, but the first one I painted was “So Much Depends.” (I credit WC Williams’s poem for my title.) The painting is not orange, it’s quite muted. It is about how much each little mark in a painting can say. After being out of the studio for a few months, I was just struck by the power of one tiny little mark and how it shapes an entire presence.”
I’d like you to talk about your use of color.
“Color always comes first. It's a means of conveying emotion. I'm interested in presence, and a kind of inner space. What is the space of music? We don't see it but we feel it when we listen.”
And across the space goes the thin line in “Equinox.” It looks powerful, a strong, angular dive, then that rising curve, so graceful. And it's moving.
“Yes, lines indicate the direction of energy flow, and where the visual focus should or can be. Lines can show you where to look. They can enclose. They indicate where they are going and they indicate space around them.”
As you look back, can you see changes in your work?
“I can see a real journey that I've made, not necessarily linear. I can see certain issues that I'm still working on and expanding. It's like a spiral.”
And have you always worked large?
“Yes, I always have. The New York school had a huge influence on me. It was in the air. There are things to say, and I needed space to say those things. I just got seven new canvases, and I’m totally thrilled to have them. I feel gung ho, full speed ahead. Blank canvas! At the same time, painting is one of the hardest things in the world to do. I can be in the depths of despair about what a painting looks like: it’s clunky, it’s horrid, there's no way out, it's awful! Then it always happens: the air moves, the sun comes out, and I move forward. It's the most exciting thing in the world!”