THE MAURICE D. HINCHEYCATSKILL INTERPRETIVE CENTER
MT. TREMPER, NY
SATURDAY, MAY 27 AT 1 P.M.
Art Writer Simona David in Conversation with Painters Margaret Leveson and Lisbeth Firmin, Printmaker and Ceramicist Peter Yamaoka, and Textile Artist Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes
Art writer Simona David will discuss her latest book, How Art Is Made: In the Catskills (2017), and share the stage with several acclaimed artists who live and work in the Catskill Mountains: painters Margaret Leveson and Lisbeth Firmin, ceramicist and printmaker Peter Yamaoka and textile artist Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes. How Art Is Made: In the Catskills pays homage to the place where American art was born through a series of conversations with creatives who live and work in the Catskills. Recent works will also be exhibited.
Artists featured in this book include sculptor Brian Tolle, known for The Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City (2002), and more recently for Miss Brooklyn and Miss Manhattan, two replicas of Daniel Chester French originals that sit on the façade of the Brooklyn Museum – Tolle’s replicas were installed on Flatbush Avenue by the Manhattan Bridge in December 2016.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 12 AT 1 P.M.
Poet Sharon Israel in Performance and Conversation with Composer Robert Cucinotta
Composer Robert Cucinotta and poet and soprano Sharon Israel will discuss their unique roles as each other’s muses. Cucinotta will play electronic works inspired by Israel’s poems, feature the poet’s voice, or both. Israel will read from her new chapbook Voice Lesson, including poems set to music by Cucinotta or inspired by his compositions.
Israel is the host of Planet Poet–Words in Space, an edition of The Writer’s Voice on WIOX 91.3 FM in Roxbury, NY. Her debut chapbook Voice Lesson was published by Post Traumatic Press earlier this year, and her work has appeared in Per Contra, SPANK the CARP, 5:2 Crime Poetry Weekly, Medical Literary Messenger, and Spry Literary Journal. In 2016, Israel appeared as a panelist at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, MA.
Born in Brooklyn, Cucinotta studied composition and electronic music at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College with Jacob Druckman, Robert Starer and Charles Dodge. His work MASQUE: the Tempest was premiered at the 2015 Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice by mezzo-soprano Maria Todaro, bass Bradley Smoak and pianist Doug Martin. Recent recordings include Divertimento For Mr. Brooks (2013), Koool Kitchen (2013), Dracula: Harker’s Journal (2014) and Life On The Screen (2016).
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23 AT 1 P.M.
Nature Writer Leslie T. Sharpe in Conversation with Photographer Rudd Hubbell
Photographer Rudd Hubbell, who’s been documenting the natural beauty of the Catskills since the 1970s, will be in conversation with nature writer Leslie T. Sharpe.
A descendent of the area’s first settlers, Hubbell has captured thousands of photographs of our spectacular wilderness. He enjoys looking closer than the broad view, and always tries to focus on the things most of us overlook or take for granted. “Every scene is constantly changing and transforming, and I strive to capture that,” Hubbell says.
Sharpe is a writer, editor and educator. A member of PEN American Center, she is the author of Editing Fact and Fiction: A Concise Guide to Book Editing (Cambridge University Press, 1994), which is regarded as a “modern editing classic” and “On Writing Smart: Tips and Tidbits,” featured in The Business of Writing (Allworth, 2012). Her new book, The Quarry Fox and Other Critters of the Wild Catskills (The Overlook Press, 2017), is a lyric narrative look at the wild animals of the Catskill Mountains. Sharpe will read from this work and discuss the genre of nature writing as it relates to the Catskills.
Writers in the Mountains is a 501 ( c ) (3) not-for-profit organization with a mission to provide a nurturing environment for the practice, appreciation and sharing of creative writing. For more information, visit writersinthemountains.org.
The Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center is a partnership between the Catskill Center and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, with generous financial support by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and Catskill Watershed Corporation and generous staff and volunteer support from Catskill Mountainkeeper, Catskill Mountain Club, Catskill 3500 Club, and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. To learn more, visit catskillinterpretivecenter.org.
The Catskill Center has been promoting the Catskill Mountain Region through regional advocacy, environmental education, arts and culture programming, invasive species management, and land protection for over 45 years. The Center stimulates, conducts, and supports integrated actions to protect vital ecosystems and unique landscapes, to enhance economic opportunities for all the region’s residents, to preserve cultural and historic assets and to further a regional vision and spirit. For more information about the Catskill Center visit catskillcenter.org.
How Art Is Made: In the Catskills is a collection of interviews with some of the world’s most accomplished artists who live and work in the Catskill Mountains, New York. Five painters and illustrators, two ceramicists and printmakers, one sculptor, one weaver, and one writer discuss what inspires and moves them, what draws them to their medium of choice, what materials they use, how they approach a new artistic project, how they deal with setbacks, and how they celebrate success. Nine are formally trained at prestigious art schools; one is self-taught. What they all have in common is a rigorous studio practice, discipline, and the desire and curiosity to learn new things, and share them with the world.
This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, July 30 – 31, from 11 am to 5 pm over twenty artists in Roxbury, Halcottsville, Margaretville, Fleischmanns, Halcott Center, Arkville, and Andes will open their studios to the public, and show their working spaces.
A good place to start the tour is the Wawaka (Halcottsville) Grange, which is true to its original function as a Grange and General Store. Refreshments, bathrooms, and handicap access are available at this location. Several artists will be showing at the Grange, including painters Sophia Maduri and Oneida Hammond.
Alix Travis, one of the founding members of the tour, will once again open her studio located at 103 Bragg Hollow Road in Halcottsville. An established plein air painter, Alix has received several awards and recognitions, including signature status in the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the NY Plein Air Painters. In 2014 she published The Catskill Coloring Book, which includes twenty-six of her plein air watercolor paintings. This weekend, during the open studios tour, Alix will paint en plein air, and will demonstrate some of her techniques.
Urban realist painter Lisbeth Firmin will be showing her oil paintings and monotype prints at her studio located in the Commons Building in Margaretville. Lisbeth is known for works such as Fifth Avenue (1995), and Woman on a Train (2014). Just recently she opened a new show at Rice – Polak Gallery in Provincetown, MA where she has been exhibiting for many years. Lisbeth asserts that her work is really not about the colors, but about the light and shadow in the composition.
Multi-media artist Alan Powell and painter Lesley Powell will be showing their work at 993 Main Street in Fleischmanns, and painter Anthony Margiotta will open his studio located at 355 Route 3 in Halcott Center. Margiotta, who does not have formal training as an artist, draws inspiration from his surroundings, whether be the woods of the Catskill Mountains or the urban scenes of New York City.
In Arkville, painter and printmaker Amy Masters, and architect and printmaker Ted Sheridan will be opening their studios located at 222 Chris Long Road. Over the past year or so Amy has been working on a series of monotype prints inspired by feathers. The fragility and the uniqueness of this object has captivated her, and she has decided to set and explore various shapes and tones that come with the printmaking process. Her husband Ted Sheridan will be showing a series of metallic prints capturing the oxidation process, and in so doing, retaining the most spectacular shapes and forms on paper.
Poet and furniture designer Gary Mead will be showing his gallery at 1289 South Side Road in Margaretville, and sculptor Ken Hiratsuka will be opening his barn at 34325 State Hwy 28 in Andes.
Heading back over to Roxbury, you’ll have the opportunity to stop by weaver Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes, whose studio is located at 424 Carr George Road in Denver. Tabitha has in her studio a professional loom, and happily demonstrates how to work the weft and create the density that is desired for a new piece. Weaving is one of the oldest forms of a blend of art and function,” she explains. “And it’s gratifying that it isn’t forgotten.”
In Roxbury painters Ellen Wong and Helene Manzo, photographer Frank Manzo, ceramicists and printmakers Peter Yamaoka and Gerda Van Leeuwen, and sculptor John Sanders will all show new works produced over the past year. Studio visits trigger questions that aren’t often asked in formal settings such as galleries and museums, and provide access to an intimate space that the artist doesn’t often share with others.
For maps and more information, visit http://www.amropenstudios.org. As you drive around this weekend, look for the “OPEN STUDIO” signs and brochures with maps available for pick up at various business sponsors and community supporters.
The AMR Open Studio Tour 2016 is funded by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the NYS Legislature, and is administered in Delaware County by The Roxbury Arts Group, and with fiscal support from The MARK Project and participating artists.
Saturday and Sunday, July 30 – 31, over twenty artists in Andes, Margaretville and Roxbury area (AMR, for short) will open their studios to the public, and show their working spaces. During the tour, artists working in all media will talk about their styles and techniques, and the process of making art. Launched in 2012, AMR has been a great success, attracting a large number of visitors summer after summer. Similar tours take place all over the country, as open studios have become quite popular in recent years.
This year AMR features artists such as: painter and printmaker Amy Masters; architect, printmaker and photographer Ted Sheridan; urban landscape painter Lisbeth Firmin; ceramicists and printmakers Peter Yamaoka and Gerda Van Leeuwen; landscape painter Ellen Wong; weaver Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes; and poet and furniture designer Gary Mead, among others.
Amy Masters has been an artist all her life. Formally trained as painter and printmaker, she pursued a degree in Interior Design at the Parsons School of Design, and worked as a draftsman for an engineering firm in New York City, before dedicating herself exclusively to painting and drawing. For over two decades, she taught in the New York City’s public school system, and spent her summers painting and drawing the world around. Moving to the Catskills in 2006, she was suddenly given far more space and limitless opportunities for inspiration. Amy likes to think about her work as being inspired by the natural world and the actual objects and vistas around her studio. But she likes to re-arrange and re-envision the landscape in the abstract. What is important to an abstract painter, says Amy, is the relationship between colors, lines and shapes, and the complexities of pattern and texture that emerge at the end of the process.
Her color palette changes periodically. Last summer, for instance, she was working extensively in blue, green, and red. This summer she enjoys exploring the possibilities of various shades of white, beige, and grey. But she always likes to add an unexpected dot of red somewhere on the canvas to surprise and intrigue the viewer.
A couple of years ago Amy re-discovered her passion for prints, and after taking an etching class in the City and working in a printmaking studio, she began producing prints using a variety of techniques. She currently works on a series of prints inspired by feathers. “When I was doing these prints, I was thinking how unique and individual these feathers were, and that resonated with the process too. Because each time you make one of these monotypes, they’re completely different.”
Amy will be showing her prints during the open studios tour later this month, and will be talking about various printmaking techniques. Her studio is located at 222 Chris Long Road in Arkville.
Ted Sheridan is an architect, printmaker, and photographer. He has taught courses on architectural acoustics and the acoustics of musical instruments at the Parsons School of Design, and has lectured at the University of Virginia, Ryerson University, and the University of Toronto.
Six years ago, Ted began experimenting with metallic compounds, corrosion, and magnetic fields to create original patterns of rust on paper. For his very first project he used old, rusty car parts, and after leaving them out in the rain on a piece of paper, he discovered an immense array of shapes and shades that he did not expect. Coming from the world of architecture where everything is controlled and precise, Ted sat to explore the randomness of the oxidation process, and began working on more and more elaborate projects.
About a dozen prints are hanging in his studio at this time. Each one of them was produced by a different method and stylistic approach; some are concentric circles reminiscent of nebulas in space, others are rectangular stripes imposing in their own right. All these will be shown during the open studios tour on Saturday and Sunday, July 30 – 31.
Ted’s studio is located at 222 Chris Long Road in Arkville.
Lisbeth Firmin is a contemporary American realist known for her urban landscapes. For over four decades her work has been in hundreds of solo and group shows across the country and internationally. She was cover artist for the 2008 spring issue of Epoch, Cornell University’s literary magazine, and was the featured artist in the 2008 summer issue of the Gettysburg Review. Awards include a 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for printmaking (Lily Auchincloss Fellow) and a Merit Award at the 2007 Roberson Regional Art Exhibition, Binghamton, NY, juried by Philip Pearlstein. Lisbeth was awarded a Community Arts Funding Grant, New York State Council on the Arts in 2007. Other awards include a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, the New York Print Club Emerging Artist Award, the CCVA Award at the Chautauqua Center for the Visual Arts, first prize in the LANA International Arts Competition; along with full fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, National Seashore Residency, the Vermont Studio Center and Saltonstall Arts Colony.
Asked about her artistic process, Lisbeth responded: “I can’t explain that. It’s a visceral thing. I could be walking around, and doing grocery shopping or some other mundane stuff like that. And I see something, and I say I want to paint that. I don’t even verbalize it. It’s more like I could paint that, I want to paint that. Now I always have my little iPhone with me. And what’s happening these days is that I see something about the light on a figure, and this is what interests me. And it just comes naturally to me: I know exactly where to put the paint, and how to capture the light. I’m moving away from buildings and streetscapes.” Lisbeth says that her work is not about the colors, but about the light and shadow in the composition, apparent in works such as Fifth Avenue (1995), and Woman on a Train (2014).
Artists Peter Yamaoka and Gerda Van Leeuwen met in a Boston airport in the early 1980s as they were both traveling to and from Provincetown. They married three years later. Peter studied at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, while Gerda received a degree in art from the University of Utrecht in her native Netherlands. In college both Peter and Gerda studied painting. Later in their artistic careers, they specialized in printmaking: Peter chose lithographs, while Gerda directed her attention to etchings. Since moving to the Catskills in the early 1990s both artists switched to ceramics: Peter prefers voluminous mythology-inspired vases, while Gerda makes small porcelains inspired by animal life. In Tribeca Peter and Gerda operated a printmaking shop. In the Catskills, they opened a fully equipped ceramics studio, where they both work and teach classes. Both artists have exhibited extensively in New York City and throughout the Catskills.
Peter’s vases are inspired by ancient Chinese motifs, Greek mythology, Mexican folklore, and the Catskills scenery. All his vases are both functional and decorative at the same time: “they’re sculptures,” Peter tells me. They withhold on top whimsical cities or mythological figures, an invitation to imagining and exploring. He also makes dioramas, fully employing the narrative feature of this form of art. All his vases and bowls are hand-made out of clay, then fired on an electrical kiln, and glazed in expressive, telling ways.
Gerda makes small porcelains inspired by animal life – primarily dogs and coyotes that we ordinarily see in the Catskills. Her anthropomorphic approach often leads to scenes of dancing dogs in a very human-like posture – portrayals that remind me of Matisse’s Dance. Victorian era practice of combining human heads and animal bodies or vice versa to awing effect in art also pops into my head. Gerda makes monotype prints on rice paper and canvas, similarly inspired by highly anthropomorphic pursuits. A large printing press occupies the central space of one of the studios.
On occasion Gerda makes woodblock prints. She currently works on a large scale wall piece using water based ink on paper and wood panel. A metal template is used to create a specific pattern that recurs throughout the composition. This particular work is done primarily in blue and gold hues. It will soon hang in a New York City apartment.
Both Peter and Gerda are proud of their garden: the artists craft copious outdoor pieces that blend organically with the landscape. The tree of life reappears sporadically throughout the garden. Peter and Gerda have participated in the AMR Open Studios Tour ever since the tour first launched in 2012. Every summer they open both their studios and the garden, and demonstrate ceramics and printmaking techniques. Peter and Gerda’s studios are located at 777 Carroll Hinkley Road in Roxbury.
The recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Ellen Wong is an accomplished painter and educator whose works have been exhibited both in New York City and the Catskills, going back to the 1970s. Ellen studied in the Art Department at Brooklyn College with Philip Pearlstein, known for reviving realist figurative painting in the 1960s. Pearlstein’s departure from Abstract Expressionism back then made him a renegade in the art world. It’s that kind of artistic sensibility and daring attitude that Ellen learned from Pearlstein.
Ellen herself was initially trained as an abstract painter, but in time she discovered that what she really wanted to do in life was landscape painting: “I noticed that every time I went somewhere I always brought with me my watercolors, and I always sketched where I was; somehow that’s how I got to understand, absorb or take in a new environment – I felt very sensitive to place,” she says. “And it was a good way for me to get to know a place. And I discovered that I had this desire to work outside, to work from life, and to work in watercolors, and that became in a way my primary medium,” she added.
Ellen’s studio is located at 121 Shephard Lane in Roxbury.
Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes is a professional weaver residing in Delaware County. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and the Center for Tapestry Arts in New York City. She designs both functional and aesthetic products using traditional American patterns. Her work can be seen in museums and gallery exhibits, and at various arts and crafts fairs throughout the region.
“Weaving is one of the oldest forms of a blend of art and function. The techniques of twisting fibers to make them stronger and durable started out probably in the earliest times of mankind history. From those twisted fibers men and women learned to do basketry, learned to create fabric, and also to use it for decoration. For instance, in a lot of the Native American pottery from the South-Western U.S. and Central and South America you will see that twisted fibers have been pressed up against the clay to create a pattern on that clay. It’s been made as an impression on the clay to make it look as it was woven. In reality, it is a three-dimensional structure that was never plated or twisted in itself,” explains Tabitha.
Tabitha says she loves the fact that weaving isn’t a forgotten art. She particularly enjoys the mathematical structure of setting up the loom, and is excited about what it takes to create fabric. Her favorite part is mixing the colors, and the texture of the yarns together. “To me that’s magical – how I get a piece of fabric: something out of nothing.”
Poet and furniture designer Gary Mead grew up on a farm in New Kingston, and fell in love with wood as a teenager, when he began working in a sawmill. In 1979 he opened his own company Fruitful Furnishings, and for many years designed and built custom furniture for clients all over the country. “The woodworking passion would not leave me alone, so as I was running the mill and raising my three sons, I was working on my home in Arkville composing pantries, kitchen cabinets, furniture, floors, walls and ceilings from wood, practically turning my home into a museum of woods,” he says.
Gary’s artistic eye and his understanding of the wood led him in recent years to creating compositions from curved and more unusual wood. In 2011 he opened his art gallery, dedicated exclusively to wood. While some pieces are both functional and aesthetic, others are purely decorative. The floor in his gallery is representative of all the trees growing in the Catskill Mountains from walnut, beechnut, butternut, maple, cherry, and birch trees to various kinds of pine. All these have been used to designing durable tables, cabinets, and pantries. Gary proudly proclaims that all the compositions in his gallery are actually from woods within a fifty-mile radius from his galley. “I am excited to teach people about the wealth of wood we have right here in our back yard,” he says. He will be showing his gallery during the open studios tour on Saturday and Sunday, July 30 – 31. His studio is located at 1289 South Side Road in Margaretville.
The AMR Open Studios Tour takes place Saturday and Sunday, July 30 – 31, from 11 am to 5 pm both days. For maps and more information, visit http://www.amropenstudios.org/.
The AMR Open Studio Tour 2016 is funded by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the NYS Legislature, and is administered in Delaware County by The Roxbury Arts Group, and with fiscal support from The MARK Project and participating artists.
Lisbeth Firmin was born in Paducah, Kentucky in 1949. She is a contemporary American realist known for her urban landscapes. For over four decades her work has been in hundreds of solo and group shows across the country and internationally. There was a retrospective exhibition at the Taft School in Watertown, CT in 2011, featuring painting and prints from 1994-2010. In 2010, Firmin’s monoprint, “Heading to Work, Varick Street” won ‘Best in Show’ in WSKG’s annual Art in Motion Competition in Binghamton, NY. Her paintings were included in the 2009 Winter Issue, Stone Canoe Review, Syracuse University. She was cover artist for the 2008 spring issue of Epoch, Cornell University’s literary magazine and was the featured artist in the 2008 summer issue of the Gettysburg Review. Her urban landscape paintings were included in “Five Women Artists in New York,” curated by Ken Ratner, Flushing Town Hall, 2008. Awards include a 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for printmaking (Lily Auchincloss Fellow) and a Merit Award at the 2007 Roberson Regional Art Exhibition, Binghamton, NY, juried by Philip Pearlstein. Firmin was awarded a Community Arts Funding Grant, New York State Council on the Arts in 2007. Other awards include a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, the New York Print Club Emerging Artist Award, the CCVA Award at the Chautauqua Center for the Visual Arts, first prize in the LANA International Arts Competition; along with full fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, National Seashore Residency, the Vermont Studio Center and Saltonstall Arts Colony. She was a guest artist (printmaking) at the Vermont Studio Center from 2001 to 2004, working with master printer Sarah Amos.
Selected publications include: Provincetown Arts, American Artist, American Art Collector, McDougal Littell/LITERATURE, The Boston Globe, Art and Auction, Art of Our Town, The New York Times, Arts Magazine, The Banner (Provincetown), The Albuquerque Journal, and The Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
I spoke with Lisbeth Firmin in her studio in Margaretville, New York.
Simona David: How did you become an artist?
Lisbeth Firmin: This is a picture of me at three. I’m left-handed, and seriously trying to stay in the lines. I started my brilliant career right there.
SD: One could say that you were born with an innate talent.
LF: What I can say is that I could draw since I could remember. I could always draw something that looked like something. Kids love to draw, and they all draw the same way when they’re young. But when they get older, they want to draw something that looks like something, and can’t – and that’s the difference: I could always do it. So I kept on doing it.
SD: Did your parents notice immediately that you had this amazing talent?
LF: Not immediately, but I started winning scholarships when I was 10 or 11 years old. I was sent to an art institute where we lived. I was sent there with these teenagers and 20 year old artists, and I was only 12. That was an eye-opener.
SD: Were you a mature child, or everybody knew you were just a 12 year old?
LF: Everybody knew, but I was accepted because I could draw, and my drawing had this vigor in it. I was full of energy, and even at that age I had a style of my own.
SD: You already had your own style when you were 12. After forty years of artistic career, do you think you still maintain something of that style?
LF: Yes. I think so.
SD: Do you have formal training as an artist?
LF: No. I won these scholarships to art institutes – one in Indianapolis and one in Los Angeles. I wanted to go to art school, but my father wasn’t going to pay for it – he didn’t think I was serious about it. It was also the late 1960s, and everything was falling apart. I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara for a year in a liberal arts program, and took as much art as I could. I took just exactly what I wanted to take, and got really good grades. The second year I didn’t go back.
SD: So you continued to be self-taught, and continued to draw and paint.
LF: Yes, constantly. It just poured out of me. I was doing all kinds of things: I was doing prints, and drawings, and collages. I didn’t have my subject matter down. What draws me is painting what I see – translating what I see into a painting or a drawing.
SD: During your formative period were you working with other artists to develop your skills? Or perhaps you had someone in mind you wanted to emulate?
LF: Artists have this kind of creative bent. And I’ve always been curious, and always had a ton of energy. When I was in Provincetown I studied with Philip Malicoat. He was good friends with Edwin Dickinson, a very good painter, who is in a lot of big collections. I spent a winter working with Malicoat in his studio. He taught me how to paint, and how to lay out the palette. That was in the 1970s.
SD: You spent the 1970s in Provincetown, in a bohemian artistic community. Talk about that period in your life and career.
LF: I believe the hayday of that artistic community was a bit earlier when Hans Hofmann was around, and everybody from New York City came up, Pollock, everybody. I lived in Provincetown for a decade. I worked in the theater there. I was also painting a lot, and selling: my friends were buying my work. I was also a street artist for a time: I was doing portraits for tourists. It was an amazing period.
SD: In the early 1980s you moved to New York City. Let’s talk about your artistic trajectory in the Big Apple.
LF: It’s funny. I was visiting friends in New York City, and had my trunk full of collages I was bringing as gifts to my friends. I was stopped in front of a gallery, and the gallery owner saw the collages, and offered me a show. I thought if that was that easy to get a show in New York City, I’d stay. It was a great show, it got great reviews.
SD: That was in 1978 at Marie Pelliconi Gallery in New York City, a show called Souvenir Collages.
LF: Yes. I had twenty collages in that show. It got Holly Solomon interested in my work, which is a pretty big deal, but I wasn’t ready.
SD: What happened next?
LF: I guess there is a big gap in my resume. From 1979 to mid 1980s I was just trying to survive and bring up my daughter. I got a job as a graphic designer that was paying a decent salary. I would paint at night after my daughter went to bed. At one point I did a whole series on cockroaches, because we had so many of them. I was also doing some landscape, some subway stuff. I was doing all work on paper. I didn’t start painting in oil until the late 1980s. Back then I was doing gouaches or collages, all kinds of images.
SD: And in the late 1980s you started to paint in oil.
LF: Yes. What happened was that I was trying to decide what I was going to do, and I walked out of my apartment on Sullivan Street, and I said that’s it: I’m going to paint what I see. I did thirty gouaches – small 10 x 10 gouaches. I had an open studio party, and I sold every single one of my paintings. I knew I was into something, and I had so much fun doing it. I was painting things I didn’t know I could paint: police horses, cabs, people – people started to appear in my paintings. My career just started to take off, right after that.
SD: Taking off, like showing in galleries?
LF: Yes. I started working in oil paint, and showing urban landscapes in galleries. And people started buying them. I began to do one new show every year. I was producing a ton of work at this point, and had some big names interested in me like Allan Stone.
SD: Nowadays you also make monoprints. What is the process?
LF: I work on plexiplates, and apply ink, and then use rags to create a pattern; I press on paper, then pull out the print, and clean the plexiplate for future use. I learned to do this at Parsons: I took a class there in 1991. It’s an amazing medium, it’s called the painterly print.
SD: Talk about these two monoprints you have here.
LF: I made these in the early 1990s. I come from a small town in Maine called Eastport. They have an art institute there – Tides Institute. In 2013 they offered me a show – these monoprints were shown there in an exhibit called Coming Home.
SD: How do you choose what to work on? How do you decide what comes next?
LF: I can’t explain that. It’s a visceral thing. I could be walking around, and doing grocery shopping or some other mundane stuff like that. And I see something, and I say “I want to paint that.” I don’t even verbalize it. It’s more like “I could paint that, I want to paint that.” Now I always have my iPhone with me. And what’s happening these days is that I see something about the light on a figure, and this is what interests me. And it is just coming naturally to me these days: I know where to put the paint, and how to capture the light. I’m moving away from buildings and streetscapes.
SD: What role do colors play in your approach?
LF: It’s a good question. But honestly it’s not about the colors. It’s more about the light and the shadow: that’s what gets me. For instance, last year I was in Barcelona and painted this woman on the street: I wanted to get her in the dark, in the shadow of those buildings, and moving towards the corner of the street where the light was blasting. It was the light – I knew I wanted to paint the light, not the color. Generally I paint with pretty muted colors.
SD: Talk about your style. You describe yourself as a realist painter. Some have called you an expressionist realist.
LF: It is realism – old-fashioned realism, but somehow unique. What I notice every time I’m in a group show is that my work never looks like anybody else’s.
SD: What kinds of works are usually exhibited along with yours?
LF: I enter various competitions like this show at the Bonner David Galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona called What’s Your Favorite City? Or various shows upstate New York like for instance Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region at the Hyde Collection Museum in Glens Falls, or the 63rd Exhibition of the Central New York Artists at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica. My work just never looks like anybody else’s work.
SD: Would you name any artist as being influential to your work?
LF: I have painters that I really admire. When I started painting the City I compared myself to John Sloan and George Bellows and all those guys known as The Eight. I was painting the streets of Manhattan, just like they were doing a hundred years earlier. So I thought I was carrying on that tradition. But I think my work has evolved beyond that.
SD: You’ve been represented by the same dealer for quite some time now.
LF: Yes. I’m lucky. My dealer has stayed with me for 15 years while transitioning from urban landscape to figural painting. Her name is Marla Rice. She owns Rice- Polack Gallery in Provincetown, where I sell a lot of work.
SD: How does your work make you feel?
LF: I know that when I work for about a year or so to produce new works for a show, and then they’re gone and the walls are empty, I don’t like it and feel compelled to fill up those walls again.
SD: What kind of feedback do you get from your followers?
LF: What I do is so instinctive, yet it seems to have an emotional connection with the public. I know that I’m emotionally repressed, but I think it comes out through my paintings. People tell me they get an emotional reaction to my paintings.
SD: Talk a bit about the artistic process.
LF: I’m mixing the colors to get it right, and that takes a long time, because I mix all the colors that I want to use, and then I start painting and I’m still in the real world, but then after about an hour I’m not in the real world anymore. I am somewhere else – I don’t even know what time it is. I’m just in this amazing mindset, I can’t even describe it.
SD: How has your style changed over the years?
LF: It’s hard for me to say. The medium is the same – a lot of work in gouache on paper, but the subject matter is different. And the brushstroke has gotten more confident, I guess.
SD: What are you working on now?
LF: I’m preparing a show for 2016 in Provincetown. I show there every other year. Over half of the new oils I showed last year sold.
SD: Do you have a favorite painting?
LF: Every once in a while a new painting will come out that is magical. I don’t know where it comes from. “Woman on A Train,” painted last year, was such a painting. Everyone who saw it was moved by it. It sold before the show opened: Marla told me she could have sold this painting twenty times.
SD: You’ve received many awards and recognitions such as the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Printmaking in 2007, the Chautauqua Center for the Visual Arts Award in 2003, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship in 2000, a Manhattan Arts International Award of Excellence in 2000, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 1999, and many others. What do these recognitions mean to you?
LF: Every time I win something I feel like I am on the right road. I feel like I have something special to give, and I just want to keep it pure, and give it. I also think all these early awards came to the right time to propel me to push myself to the next level.
SD: Your work is in many collections, including the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York Historical Society in New York City, Vermont Studio Center, but also corporate collections such as Thomson Reuters and Barclay Investments in New York City. That must be feeling really good.
LF: Yes. Some of these works were done on commission for corporate collections.
SD: You’ve been shown in many solo and group shows all over the country and internationally. What are some of your favorite moments?
LF: What I really like about being shown in galleries is that it pushes me to meet deadlines. I know I have to have a certain amount of work done by a certain date, and I’m enjoying the need to produce.
Didier Cremieux is a New York City based painter and illustrator. Born and raised in Clermont l’Herault in southern France, Didier moved to the United States in 1977. He majored in literature and art history at the Université Paul Valery in Montpellier, France. Upon his arrival to the U.S., Didier furthered his studies in photography in Oklahoma City, and etching and lithography at Antioch College in Ohio, along with apprenticeships and jobs in printmaking and graphic design. Along his career, Didier experimented with various printing techniques from silk screening to etching and Xerox or letterpress printing. His artwork has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers. Didier also designs book illustrations, posters for various events, and promotional materials for the music industry. As a painter, he is mostly interested in City scapes and still lifes.
Didier had an exhibit at the Orphic Gallery in Roxbury this past fall, called “Postal Mix Tapes.” The exhibit included hand-made stamp sheets and posters celebrating music and music history.
Simona David: Didier, talk a little bit about your training as a painter and illustrator.
Didier Cremieux: When I came to the U.S. my formal training was in literature and art history, and I was also a painter. Then slowly I moved into the graphic arts, as a source of employment, to supplement the fine arts.
SD: Do you still paint?
DC: I still paint quite a bit. I’ve always painted. It’s like I have two outputs that I have. The graphic art is a tradition that goes back to the history of the posters; that is something that I’ve always been fond of, and that I’ve designed for a long time. A lot of my work, for example, has to do with music. So I did music packaging, and posters for bands, and stuff like that. It’s just a tradition from the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec to the psychedelic posters of the West Coast, then the punk posters, and the Xerox machine. This is a tradition that I think I belong to.
SD: The golden age of illustration was roughly considered to be from the 1880s to the 1920s. And you mentioned Toulouse-Lautrec. How is your work today as an illustrator different than that of an illustrator’s from the early 1900s, both from a technical and artistic standpoint?
DC: With the arrival of the digital age we moved away from the traditional printing on paper and ink, and switched to digital files. From what I’ve seen in editorial illustrations for magazines, the artist may very well start with pen and paper, but then he would finish the layout on the computer. Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s I used to deliver illustrations on paper. And then towards the end of the 1990s every single magazine I worked with switched to digital production. One thing that really changed is the way you work as illustrator. It used to be like the editorial team would meet and discuss the project. The illustrator would meet with the creative director and get the outline of the project, he would read the article or the draft of the article that was going to appear, and then would deliver pencil sketches via the fax machine. Now it’s all done by email using digital files. You don’t sit in an office anymore, and talk about how everything is done. There is no more human contact involved. It changed the human relationship that the illustrator has with the production team.
SD: There is A National Museum of American Illustration in Rhode Island; on their website at americanillustration.org they say that illustration is “the most American of American art.” There is a tradition of illustration in this country going back to Norman Rockwell. People value illustrations, they collect magazine covers, or clippings, or something like that. I hope this beautiful tradition will be continued in some manner. You seem to have adapted to digital technology.
DC: Yes. A lot of artists went from working with the brush to working with the computer, and replaced ink with pixels. But I think, in a positive way, that brought all kinds of new styles, with all kinds of possibilities. Again, illustration is part fine art, and part commercial art. And, there are a lot of parameters that have to be followed in commercial art. Personally, I really like doing this sort of thing on the computer, and making changes, and offering all kinds of versions with colors or anything else.
SD: You work both on fine art projects as well as commercial art. How is your work different when you work on a fine art project compared to a commercial one?
DC: I did less illustration work in the past few years; the market has gotten quite a bit smaller, because of the crisis in the paper publishing. When a magazine goes digital, they sometimes do use illustrations, but again, it’s different. Also, trade publications are using more and more in-house designers as opposed to hiring outside illustrators.
SD: Let’s talk specifically, when you work on a project, where do you start, how do you decide on a style or an approach?
DC: It really depends on the project. My approach is completely different for a fine art project than a commercial one. The illustration work is more the work of a collaboration, of your skills being used for a bigger project. If I create a piece of art that’s going to illustrate a story, I need to create a visual that supports the story and makes quick associations with the concept of that article, but it’s also a visual that appeals to people so they read the story. That’s for magazine illustration. For book illustration is a bit different. The book illustrator and the writer are kind on the same level; on one side you have the text, on the other side you have the illustration, and maybe sometimes the two combined; but the two of them are almost like equal. What you’re doing with the illustration is offering one possible visual to the world that is in the story that the visual supports. That’s how I work: this is the story, and this is my narrative, my view of the story. What I mostly like about illustration is this collaborative effort.
SD: Who influences you, who do you admire, and how do you go about improving what you do?
DC: I started designing posters when I was 14, growing up in southern France, in a small village. I started a print studio with friends, we really had to come up with something to entertain ourselves. We were driven, interested in the creative things. We would do posters for events, or just ideas that we had. And we started showing them to people, we started doing shows. When I paint or do prints for myself, personal aspects come first. When I work on illustrations for various projects, it’s the collaborative process that matters most.
SD: How do you decide what to work on?
DC: The show that I did at Orphic Gallery in Roxbury, called “Postal Mix Tapes,” is a project that goes back to the 1980s. Around that time in San Francisco I met a lot of artists that were involved in the mail art movement, if you can call such a thing a movement. It was all about mail art, it was about exchanging pieces of mail with art on the envelope; it was also about experimenting with new machines, like the Xerox machine, at first black and white, and then color. Artists were experimenting. But again, there was this whole idea of the mail art. Stamps have always exerted a fascination for me since childhood. It was a very popular, democratic process for people to just look at pictures. And these pictures were always commemorating something. When I was a child I was very fond of stamps from around the world commemorating space. It was very great art, but in a small format. In the 1960s I also liked a series of stamps commemorating castles and monuments in France. They were really beautiful, with really beautiful engravings. I really loved collecting those.
SD: Let’s talk specifically about your show at Orphic Gallery.
DC: When I got in touch with Philip Lenihan, and decided to do a show about postage stamps, about music, I went back to some of the work that I had already done, and started adding quite a bit more. The main idea was to really follow the concept of stamps, which is a commemoration. It’s like we put out this stamp to celebrate this or that event. What I wanted to celebrate with this show was my very personal interaction with music throughout my life. So I did different sheets of stamps for various styles of music that I’ve enjoyed throughout my life.
SD: I also collected stamps as a child. Going back to your profession of designing stamps, does anyone else today either collects or designs stamps? How common is this?
DC: I’m not really sure. Collecting stamps is still very traditional. But, as you noticed, in the last 10 – 15 years stamps have changed quite a bit – now they look more like stickers. You can also go online and print your own personalized stamps, even with your own images. Traditionally stamps have always been linked to history. When I was a child I had all these stamps from my father, who had stamps from his father, so it was just an album that just kept growing for three generations.
SD: Looking back at your career as a printmaker and illustrator, and you’re also a painter, how has your style changed over time?
DC: The style for me has always been about experimenting with paint, paper, cardboard, different materials that I use. And in the fine arts the evolution of the digital world just added another dimension to that. A lot of my work combines the analog and the digital method, like working on a computer print, then paint on top of that, or add elements of color that the printer could not do, such as for example gold bleach, or special varnishes in different areas.
SD: Is there any project you’re working on right now that you would like to talk about?
DC: I would like to talk a bit more about the show at Orphic Gallery in Roxbury. One thing about this show was the music, and the way my generation experienced music. In the late 1960s and 1970s music played such a big part in our lives; for one thing you bought an LP or a record, and the artwork was absolutely beautiful. One of my first experiences with art was looking at record covers, and really falling in love with that form of art – photography, illustration, painting. And then there was so much more in those albums than just music. It could change your life, and the way you looked at the world. That music may have had messages and aspirations that went way beyond just a commercial product. The show at Orphic Gallery was really about that. I really enjoyed the show because it gave me the opportunity to talk about this. A lot of people came to me, and shared experiences of their own.
SD: I attended the opening reception at Orphic Gallery on October 11; that was a very nice show. You showed stamps with icons like soprano Maria Callas, legendary jazz musician Thelonious Monk, a Balkan Band – I believe Goran Bregovic was on one of your stamps. I remember asking you if you had met all these musicians.
DC: It’s not that I met them. But in some ways once I discovered their music, it was something very powerful. For example, regarding the Balkan music, one day I stumbled into Central Park, and there was the Summer Stage Festival, and there was this musician and his Wedding Band Orchestra playing this music that I never heard before. I was really taken by the rhythm, by the power of the bass dominating every other sound. That was something extremely appealing, almost like a trance. I had never heard any kind of sound like that. I went to a record store, and asked about that kind of music. I had to hear more of that; it was truly fascinating.
SD: And you also paint. What subjects are you drawn into?
DC: I like to paint New York City scapes, this is my idea of landscape. I never work from an image, I always work from memory. The colors and the geometric shapes show New York City landscape, but a bit in a more abstract way. I also like to paint images that immediately bring you to the southern France, for example hills or this tree that I’ve always had a fascination for – cypress; it’s a tree that is found in Europe, especially in southern lands. And third, I like to paint still lifes – vases or pots with flowers. I do not work with any specific flowers, but it’s my own take on those shapes.
SD: So, it’s all about the visual appeal of a painting.
DC: Yes, and also it’s comfort. Looking at an abstract painting, but still seeing an image in that painting. It touches people, because this is how maybe they interpreted something – they didn’t see a landscape, they saw geometrical shapes. I am trying to tell people that this is my interpretation of my own experience with the landscape.
You can find more about Didier Cremieux at didiercremieux.com.