Category: featured artist

Featured Artist: Adam Cohen

Photo Credit: John Merriman. Contributed Photo.
Adam Cohen. Photo Credit: John Merriman. Contributed Photo.

Adam Cohen earned his BFA at Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art at Temple University. He also studied abroad in Rome. Using Photo Shop 1, Cohen was one of the very first artists ever to use the computer for art-making, launching his career as a top illustrator. He worked for clients such as Disney, Visa, MasterCard, Coca-Cola, CBS-TV, McGraw-Hill, Pfizer, Orion Pictures, Verizon, AT&T, The Atlantic Monthly, Dean-Witter, The New York Times and others.

In 2015 Adam’s painting Intuition was selected among the finalists in the Art Olympia International Competition held in Tokyo, Japan. Judges from prestigious art institutions in the United States, France, Japan and other countries looked at 5000 entries from all over the world in two categories: Open Category, and Student Category. Eighty works, including Adam’s Intuition, were selected for the final. Also, in 2015 Adam signed a contract with Morren Galleries to be represented in the Netherlands.

Simona David: Adam, you have formal training as a painter – you studied at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. When did you start painting?

Adam Cohen: I started painting when I was 12 year old. A friend of mine was studying with this teacher – Lillian Marzell, who was to become a pivotal figure in my life. I studied with Marzell for a few years. What was great about her was that she wanted us to listen to and bring out what was inside us; she was not telling us how to do things. I think that’s what really kills creativity – the idea that if you draw the sky it has to be blue. Marzell was an abstract painter. She knew all these artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Merce Cunningham – she would go out to Provincetown and hang out with them in her earlier days. Bob Dylan used to go there too. Marzell was ahead of her time, and very dynamic. At that time, when I was 12 year old, I was doing figurative painting, and I wanted instructions. If I asked how to do clouds, or how to draw the sky, she would say “You know how. You do it the way you feel it inside.”

SD: When did you switch to abstract painting?

AC: About three years ago. I was feeling lost, and got the feeling that there was something else that I wanted to express, but it wasn’t clear to me. In college I didn’t like abstract, and didn’t understand it. I wasn’t really interested in it. Everyone else was doing abstract painting, I was doing figurative. But students were doing these hideous abstract paintings, and the teachers were upset with them – it was the worst year of painting at Tyler. From 1967 until 1975 the work was amazing in the school. Those years were like a Renaissance in art. My class wasn’t living up to that.

Adam Cohen in the Studio. Photo Credit: John Merriman. Contributed Photo.
Adam Cohen in his studio. Photo Credit: John Merriman. Contributed Photo.

SD: What painters did you like around that time?

AC: I liked de Chirico. I liked Léger at one point. I never liked representational work. I prefer dream like, surrealist works. There is a mysteriousness in them.

SD: Who is your favorite painter today?

AC: I like Gerhard Richter. He’s a German painter. There are many things that I like about his work. He’s using a big squeegee to rub the paint. My approach is different. But I like a lot the early abstract painters.

SD: These days you paint abstract only – Carter Ratcliff characterized your style as Gestural Abstraction. Let’s talk about your toolbox: what materials do you use in your work?

AC: I use acrylics, some oil paint. I work mostly on canvas, and some wood panel. I go to art supplies stores and buy gels that I mix in my own formula.

SD: Let’s talk a little bit about your style.

AC: I’m an intuitive painter. But I can always do what I did as well: once you know that it’s part of your language. Carter said that I’ve taken every nice thing from every earlier phase and carried with me what I thought was the best. I do a lot of line work, and cutting, and slicing through the paint. I’m doing all this vascular work: the paintings are very much sculptural; they look visceral.

SD: How do you name your paintings?

AC: My partner, John Merriman, who does PR for celebrities, usually steps in and captures both my inner drive and the mood that a certain work of art is set to convey. Sometimes he even tells me when the work is done, although at night I may sneak back in the studio and add a few more brushes.

Adam and John. Contributed Photo.
Adam and John. Contributed Photo.

With abstract painting, John says, “There are so many things that you can get out of the painting, and what it’s supposed to tell. Some people would look at an abstract painting, and they’ll find all kinds of little faces in it. Others may very well see fire and ice.”

Asked about the naming process, John adds: “I tend to go after unexpected contrasts in the name. Adam paints so intuitively that at times it tends to be emotional. For instance, this one is one of his earlier works – it’s called Enigma: it’s kind of dark, but you don’t quite know what’s at the bottom of the whole thing. Life is not all black and white: there is the grey, and then there are different colors, it can be paradoxical. Enigma is one of his first carving paintings – it’s when Adam started to carve his paintings.”

Enigma by Adam Cohen
Enigma by Adam Cohen. © Simona David

SD: Adam, what inspires you? You divide your time between New York City, the Catskills, and Ocean Grove, NJ. Are there any external sources of inspiration or just inner experiences that trigger your creativity?

AC: Consciously or unconsciously the environment influences me. For example, this winter was so long, and I painted Early Spring a few days before the equinox – I was dreaming of spring, hence these colors: reds, pinks, oranges, greens and blues. I spend a lot of time on Instagram these days. For instance, this painting was inspired by a photo I saw on Instagram with shimmering flowing water. I wasn’t trying to copy, but rather use these reds in a way that inspired me. There is also an internal color palette that changes for me. It’s a little mysterious. For example, I go to my studio in a particular week and for some reason there is a color that I feel attracted to. I don’t question why I’m feeling drawn to that particular color. But then, as I start to work, a whole color palette emerges. And then I realize that I want to do the same color palette in the next painting, and the next, and the next, like I can’t get enough of it. Maybe a month or so I’m in love with this color palette, and then all of a sudden that changes. I see paintings as living experiences. And to me they need to have a life of their own, and energy. I think Carter Ratcliff put it best when John asked him one day what makes a great work of art. Carter said “if I was going to use one single word, I would say that it’s inexhaustible.” When you look at it, there is no beginning, and there is no end, and you always discover new things. He once said about my work that the entire surface was connected and alive. I like how he brings definitions to me about something I can’t define. The intuition and the experience come first, but then you need someone to define it. However, once I do define something, and it really resonates with me, I look for that experience in it.

Early Spring by Adam Cohen
Early Spring by Adam Cohen. © Simona David

SD: What kind of message would you like people to find in your work or you’re not concerned about that?

AC: It’s that kind of question that people have: how do you know when it’s finished? It’s such a deeply personal feeling, and so critical. Yes, I want the surface to be connected and alive, and the painting be inexhaustible, and look at it forever and still find something you haven’t seen before. It’s almost like a magic trick.

SD: You mentioned Carter Ratcliff before. He wrote a beautiful essay about your work. “A painting by Adam Cohen is like a sudden burst of light,” he said.  

AC: Carter was actually the closest to my very private and personal experience, and the decisions that I’m making in the process of painting. It felt like he was right there in the room with me, but he’s never been there. He interviewed me, but he was never there. He got the process so right. In his essay Carter said that the viewer looks at the painting and tries to look back at how the painter painted it.

SD: That’s right. The artist starts with a blank canvas, and keeps adding to it. The viewer sees the final product, and strives to understand the artistic process that led to that accomplishment. 

AC: It’s a little bit like a maze. Really the entire world is abstract. The closer you get to anything that you magnify – your skin, a table, a rock – it’s abstract; everything is abstract and our eyes pull it together. I think it’s very natural to create that way. If you go very close to a Renoir painting you don’t see something that looks like a face or a shirt or an object on a table. You see all these very abstract marks. If you get really close, you can see every brush mark. It’s extremely abstract. You have to step back ten or fifteen feet, and then it comes together.

SD: Let’s talk about your contract with Morren Galleries.

AC: I signed a contract with Morren Galleries to be represented in the Netherlands. They have four galleries. My work is shown in Amsterdam. I have five paintings there: Infinity Blue, which was done by the ocean, and November Moon, done in November during the full moon. Usually John names my paintings, but this one I named myself. There is also Spring Sequence, which I named myself, and Mystic Marsh, named by John. I’m the first abstract painter to be shown in Morren Galleries in Amsterdam.

SD: You are getting ready for a show at Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson: Abstraction, opening date July 18. Let’s talk about that.

AC: I have nine paintings in this show, including Paleolithic, Reflecting Pool, Enchanted, Clairvoyant, and Dragon Fly. Abstraction is a group exhibit showing the works of five artists, including mine. There will be a reception on Saturday, July 18 from 6 to 8 pm. I invite everyone to come.

Adam selecting works for Abstraction, a show opening at Carrie Haddad gallery on July 18
Adam selecting works for Abstraction, a show opening at Carrie Haddad gallery on July 18. © Simona David

To learn more about Adam Cohen, visit http://www.adamcohenstudio.com/.

© 2015 Simona David

Featured Artist: Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes

Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes is a professional weaver residing in Delaware County, New York. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and the Center for Tapestry Arts in New York City. Tabitha 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. She has exhibited and sold her handwoven products at the following venues: Catskill Mountain Artisans Guild (Margaretville and Pakatakan Farmers Market), Erpf House-Catskill Center for Conservation and Development (Arkville), Middleburgh Artisans Cooperative, Roxbury Arts Group, Shaker Heritage Museum (Albany), Lefferts Farmhouse Historical Museum (Brooklyn), and Brooklyn Museum.

I visited Tabitha’s studio in Roxbury on January 11, 2015.

Simona David: Tabitha, please talk a little bit about the history of weaving.

Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes: 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 wove reed baskets and textiles. 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. During the Middle Ages guilds were set up in Europe that focused on the development and guidelines for designing and weaving tapestries as well as cloth for clothing and bedding. The recent tapestry exhibit of Pieter Coeke van Aelst at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City clarifies the time consuming detail process of weaving large tapestries, many of which depict stories of heroes from mythology and the Bible, and that only kings were wealthy enough to commission such works.

On the Eastern coast of the U.S. it’s the Scottish, German and French immigrants who brought with them the knowledge, equipment, and weave patterns that were used to create fabric for everyday clothes and fancy bedlinens. For instance, a lot of the patterns classified and most readily preserved and recognized as  Colonial American patterns were brought up by the Germans settling around Pennsylvania, while the Delhi Jacquard Coverlets featured at the Patterns that you may see at the Delaware County Historical Association in Delhi were designed and woven by the Scottish immigrants who settled in Delaware County or in Canada during the 1700s and early 1800s.

With the Industrial Revolution, which included the development of water or steam powered looms in mills in England, Scotland, and Massachusetts, the time consuming and manual process of weaving one’s fabric for bedding and clothing died, and books of handwritten weave patterns gathered dust and were forgitten except in very rural parts of the Eastern US states, like Rhode Island, North Carolina, Tennessee.  development of . Then in the 1930s and 1940s weaving was re-introduced to the farmers’ wives in South and North Carolina. It followed a period of renewed interest in weaving. A lot of the weaving in our area in the Catskills was done for family consumption, and was done predominantly by the women, perhaps both as a way to recapture before total loss our textile heritage and to provide income to families struggling economically during the Depression Era.

SD: When was your first encounter with weaving, and what triggered this lifelong interest?

TGB: I had a high school classmate who had left high school to go to another school – I believe in New Hampshire. And when she came back to visit, she talked about weaving. That really caught my imagination. Why? I don’t know. I come from a family that is in many ways artistically talented – painters, stained glass makers, writers, architects. I needed to craft out an artistic niche for myself, and that was weaving. Having a good color sense the textile arts have appealed to me.

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Textile Artist Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes. © Simona David

SD: And then you studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

TGB: I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology from 1974 to 1976. I was an evening student. This was part of their Textile and Service Design Department. We were working on very small looms – 7 inch wide metal frame looms. These were difficult to work with. But weaving wasn’t a forgotten art. I liked the mathematical structure of setting up the loom. I fell in love with what it takes to create fabric. And when I mix the colors, when I mix the texture of the yarns together – to me that’s magical – how I get a piece of fabric: something out of nothing.

SD: You’re also a spinner, and sometimes you buy wool, cotton, or other materials, and spin. Do you remember the first piece you ever made?

TGB: A lot of the weaving we did at the Fashion Institute of Technology involved creating small samples in various patterns. The earliest samples I made I have probably either given them away or sold them. In the 1980s I went into business creating place mates, table runners, pillows, scarves, and I was selling them.

SD: Would you like to talk about your evolution as a weaver, and discuss various guilds you belong to?

TGB: I’ve always been involved in various groups, and here in the Catskills I’m involved with the Catskill Mountains Artisan Guild. I joined the Catskill Mountains Guild in 2007. I believe I’m the only weaver in the Margaretville store. In the past I had also taken classes at the Center for Tapestry Arts in New York City – I believe that’s no longer in existence. One of the workshop leaders was Michelle Lester. She was a professional weaver – at FIT my best teacher was Nell Znamierowski, another professional in the textile industry. She was in the industry, and created samples for Pan Am Airways, for example. I was learning from professionals in the field, but a lot of the work that I do is also self-taught.

SD: Let’s take a look at the loom you have here in the studio.

TGB: The loom here in the studio is an AVL loom. It is a professional loom. It’s a 16 harness floor loom, and it’s a DOBBY loom. DOBBY refers to a particular way the threads are manipulated. The number of harnesses represents the trays on which there are heddles, and heddles are what supports the threads through a peg board system that activates the raising and lowering of harnesses. The harnesses and the DOBBY system manipulate what’s called the warp. It’s a vertical thread that goes from from the back beam on the loom through the heddles on the harnesses, then through the reed to be tied onto the front beam, which is where I sit to weave. The weft is on a shuttle, it goes to right angles to the warp, and that’s what I do as part of the weaving process. It’s a little complicated, and that’s why I enjoy when people come to my studio to get to see it. I’ve had this loom since 1990, and that’s how I do all my weaving.

SD: How about your yarns?

TGB: Cotton, wool, silk, linen. I do occasionally have non-natural fibers like acrylics. I prefer keeping it natural, because it gives me a business edge. The Jacquard Acid Dyes that I use with the wool that I do buy here in the County are environmentally friendly. I use a lot of water for a pound of wool to be dyed, less than a half of teaspoon of the dye powder, and about a ½ cup of vinegar – the vinegar being the acid. I come up with really bright colors. This past summer I got to work with plants like black walnut shells, golden rod, black-eyed-susan, indigo leaves – these are some of the colors used on wool: bright yellow, brownish-red, and also some blended colors.

SD: Where do you buy your supplies from?

TGB: All of the cotton that I have here in the studio I got through Webs – it’s a place in Northampton, Massachusetts – a factory size operation. They have tons of yarns available: wool, mohair, cottons. They have weaving supplies, they have crocheting and knitting supplies, they have books. It’s a wealth of supplies. The website is http://www.yarn.com. Also, much of the wool that I have here in the studio comes from an initial batch that I got years ago from someone who was selling out her yarns in Brooklyn. I also buy wool here in Delaware County from sheep and alpaca breeders. The Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck is also a great source – it takes place the third weekend in October. I only go there every four or five years when I have a full shopping list.

SD: You’ve been featured in many magazines: Pure Catskills, Catskill Country, Greene Door magazine. Last summer you participated in the Open Studio Tour that has taken place last Sunday in July since 2012 in Andes, Margaretville and Roxbury area. Last year you were also the recipient of a NYSCA – DEC grant to work with students at the Roxbury Central School. Let’s talk about some of the coverage in the media, and also let’s talk about things that haven’t been covered.

TGB: Pure Catskills Guide is published annually by the Watershed Agricultural Council in Walton. I’ve been a member since 2007. My products are listed under Value Added Farm Products. The next issue comes up in July. Lillian Browne wrote an article about fiber-related professions for the Catskill Country magazine fall / winter 2014 issue – that is published by Decker Publishing in Delhi. I was also featured in Greene Door magazine. In 2014 I received a grant from NYSCA – DEC program. I worked with Madalyn Warren from the Straight Out of the Ground farm, who also operates the Roxbury Central School’s garden. We worked with third grade students this past September, and we taught them how to work with botanicals to dye wool. The aim was to enhance their understanding of what Colonial American life was like. The farm families during the Colonial period were very self-sufficient.

SD: Now let’s talk specifically about your work as a weaver. Let’s get closer to your loom. You’ve been working on this loom for the past twenty-five years. Please, demonstrate the weaving process.

TGB: What I have now on the loom is a piece I’m working on – it’s a summer shawl. It’s a green mohair fiber – moss color is my dominant color. My accent colors are done in stripes: bright, clear yellow, and buttercup yellow.  On the weft I have a dark green, a dark blue, and a very dark purple, mixed with a very thin gold thread. In the weft process I separate my warp into two layers. At right angles to the warp my weft is laid in between those two layers. It creates a net. In this particular case I want my rows of weft to be really close together so it’s a dense piece of fabric. The yellow thread gives you some sparkle; the dark blue and green colors help to highlight the moss green and yellow.

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Textile Artist Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes. © Simona David

SD: What is your primary drive in the process of weaving?

TGB: The mix of colors and the textures of the yarns that I’m using.

SD: Weavers have always woven both for functional and aesthetic purposes, going back to ancient times. You’re doing the same thing today. You are making fancy tapestry for purely aesthetic reasons, and you’re also making functional objects like scarves, blankets, and pillow covers. Let’s talk about the variety of products that you make.

TGB: I came to weaving primarily to do functional things: place mates, table runners, covers for pillows. In the early 1990s I’ve also started to explore creative projects, and begun doing tapestry. I work on what I feel like, and what my inventory at the Catskill Mountains Artisan Guild needs.

SD: To a certain extent you are a multi-media artist. You also do wood-block prints. You have a composition here done both as tapestry and wood-block print. I would assume it takes two completely different sets of skills.

TGB: It does. This project started with a series of photographs taken at a stream nearby. I took a print making class at SUNY New Paltz. I carved, and mixed the colors, and achieved a three-dimensional quality by overlapping layers of colors. Wood-block printing is a very technical process. I was very pleased with how the colors came out, how the subtlety of the snow came out blueish rather than looking purple or grey. And then I translated that wood-block print into a tapestry. Again, overlapping the colors, and achieving the shadow effect which had to look realistic. That was a real challenge. It’s easy to make changes on wood-block by coloring it with crayons or ink, but it’s not so easy to make changes on tapestry. On tapestry, once you start weaving, if you need to make changes, you have to take everything out and start all over.

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Wood block print and tapestry by Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes. © Simona David

SD: Do you have any upcoming events you’d like to talk about?

TGB: I’m in the process of setting up a shop on Etsy at http://www.etsy.com/shop/TGBWEAVINGSTUDIO; I was encouraged to join Etsy by another textile artist with exceptional skills. It will be probably up by February. Soon I will be presenting again my Introduction to Weaving workshop at the Delaware County Historical Association in Delhi. I also have a weaving student who is creating a scarf. I am mentoring her. And we hope to have again the Andes-Margaretville-Roxbury Open Studio Tour this summer.

SD: Are people today still interested in weaving, and if so, what exactly attracts them to this craft?

TGB: I have the sense I may be one of the very few weavers here in Delaware County. There are some weavers in Narrowsburg and Port Jervis. There are some docents who teach students who visit the Ashokan Field Campus in Ulster County. Also, the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown has a weaver and docents who demonstrate and discuss the textile arts of the Colonial American period. I think what keeps one from being a weaver is the size of the equipment. It’s also time-consuming: it could take up to eight hours to set up everything for a new project.

SD: How does your schedule look like?

TGB: I usually work on weekends. And that includes anything from planning a new project, bookkeeping, and marketing. I also have a scrapbook and a weaving notebook that I update, and write down new ideas. When I retire from my day job, I do plan this to become a full-time operation.

SD: What do you like most about being a weaver, and what do you find most challenging?

TGB: It’s a very satisfying craft, because I am making something. It is challenging, but the rewards are strong.

SD: You are very active, and rather pragmatic for an artist. You also take care of the business side, you do social media, so forth and so on. How can people get in touch with you, and find more about what you do?

TGB: I am on Facebook at facebook.com/tgbweavingstudio, and I blog at tabithagilmore-barnesstudio.blogspot.com. I’m also on Pinterest at pinterest.com/tgbweaving. I update my blog weekly, and I showcase what inspires me. To make appointments and visit the studio, call (607) 326-7662.

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Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes. © Simona David

Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes is a weaver, spinner and educator living and working in Delaware County.

© 2015 Simona David

 

Featured Artist: Didier Cremieux

Didier Cremieux
© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.

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.

© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.
© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.

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.

© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.
© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.

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.

© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.
© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.

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.

© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.
© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.

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.

© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.
© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.

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.

© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.
© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.
Print
© Didier Cremieux. Contributed Photo.

 

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.

© 2014 Simona David

Featured Artist: Ellen Wong

Ellen Wong (2)
© Ellen Wong

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. Wong 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 Wong learned from Pearlstein.

Wong 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.

Wong paints mostly outdoors, in the field, but she’s done some studio work as well. For instance, “Local Gets Personal,” a series of bluish-purple Jersey cows on Catskills’ farmland, shown at the Roxbury Arts Group two years ago, was done mostly in the studio: “When I’m outside I take in so much, and for that show I wanted a highly culled sensibility of these places, and so I did do a lot of work in the studio.”

On the other hand, her current show at Longyear Gallery in Margaretville “The Road Show,” on view till October 20, was done entirely in plein air. “The Road Show” includes twenty-five oil paintings, watercolors and drawings depicting Catskill Mountains’ scenery in various seasons, although green panoramas predominate. Most of the paintings were done over the past two years, but the show also includes a few older winter and fall pieces. The biggest painting in the show is a 24” x 36” oil on canvass called “Grazing on the Far Meadow on Rt.30 across from Lucci and Randy’s”. Lots of roads: “Autumn in Margaretville” (oil on linen), “Not Just Any Road, Hardscrabble Road” (oil on panel), “Driving Along Red Rock Road Find Farm” (oil on linen), and Wong’s favorite spot in Roxbury – “Foggy Morning, Briggs Road Along the East Branch” (watercolor). The creamery also has a special place in Wong’s collection. Included in this show are “Stormy Weather at the Creamery” (watercolor on paper), and “Rounding the Curve at the Creamery” (graphite on paper).

Artist Ellen Wong
© Ellen Wong

“Frederic Church, a student of the Hudson River School of Painting, was like a Paganini on a violin, he could do these amazing things. When I had a research grant, and saw some of his oil sketches – the view of the Catskill Mountains from Olana, those works to me are infinitely exciting, and one of the things we must do as landscape painters is to retain that excitement,” articulates Wong.

Wong started painting in oils, and admits that she never painted with acrylic, but loves the immediacy of watercolors and drawing. “What I paint dictates what medium I use. When light is a critical element, I just like watercolors because of their quickness of capturing that light. When solidity or form is important, I feel that oil really lands itself for that,” she explains. And, she continues: “I think these are the things that I struggle with, how to labor over a painting, and not having it looked like it was labored, because you don’t want to see someone’s labor, you just want to see that moment in a way.”

Wong has painted the Catskill Mountains’ scenery for the past twenty-five years, but has never gotten tired of it. “The challenge of working from life is a challenge that never ends, and that propels me in a way, and I look for different things. When I first came to the Catskills, I was most impressed by the extraordinary vistas, in the tradition of the Hudson River School of Painting, but nowadays what draws me in is mostly any road – driving on any road, and observing how the light and shadows fall on that road. Over time I think I moved from the majestic view of the Catskill Mountains to the more banal aspects of living here. And some of my paintings document things that are no longer here, like some of the buildings that I depict in my earlier paintings.”

Asked how she wants people to react to her paintings, Wong says that she wants them to be moved, but “I don’t want the work to be sentimental, and I don’t want it to look like a photograph either, although I work from life.” “I also like when people experience familiarity and recognition in the places that I depict,” she adds.

When asked how she deals with the ever changing environment when working on a specific piece, Wong says: “Sometimes the painting changes, and it’s ironic, because I’m looking to capture a particular place in a particular moment in time, but if you think about capturing a moment, there are hours and hours of work to get that moment. In a way, the painting captures the nature of the changing weather.”

The artist’s journal further edifies the process of creating new artworks: “To paint landscape is to be a poet, changing forms, states, colors, sitting by the waterfall in the morning, in the delicate shadow of a little seedling on a rock, the details, the subtle nuances of shadows, trying to deal with rushing waterfall, … how to paint, how to draw, it becomes a technical challenge, and it takes me away from the experience of nature,” Ellen Wong, landscape painter.

© 2014 Simona David

Featured Artist: Margaret Leveson

Artist Margaret Leveson in her studio in the Catskills
Artist Margaret Leveson in her studio in the Catskills. © Simona David

Founding member of Blue Mountain Gallery in Manhattan and Longyear Gallery in Margaretville, NY, Margaret Leveson is primarily a plein air painter, captivated by the Catskill Mountains scenery. Margaret studied at the NYU Institute of Fine Arts, and later on earned an MFA from Brooklyn College. She’s lived in the Catskills since 1977, when she and her husband David purchased J. Francis Murphy’s house in Middletown – Murphy was a famous 19th century landscape painter, whose works are displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and other places.

I visited Margaret during the open studios tour on July 27 – she graciously opened her space to the public – a magnificent property with several different studios, and the main residence surrounded by a lavish garden.

I asked Margaret what’s her favorite artistic manifestation these days. She likes to paint plein air, mainly oil on canvas: “I love oils because you can change them so easily. I also love to work in pastels. The problem with pastels is in framing and storage of the finished product. For me watercolor doesn’t have the same flexibility as either oils or pastels,” she says. Among her artists of reference is Wolf Kahn, known for his terrific color compositions. Next to Kahn, on Margaret’s desk I see art books featuring Matisse’s fauvism, and David Hockney’s and Tom Thomson’s works.

The artist's studio in the country
The artist’s studio in the country

Margaret’s plein airs have an impressionistic feel to them – the artist likes to apply color in oil sticks over the canvas or linen that is available. A new project is completed within hours, although sometimes it takes months to complete a more complex artwork. Photographs taken on site help the artist finish the project in the studio, but for the most part Margaret works from nature not from photographs – she thinks that photography doesn’t convey the light in a manner that does justice to the natural beauty.

On the opposite wall there is a series of interiors painted with oil on linen – these were part of the Reflections art show hosted by Blue Mountain Gallery in Chelsea in 2013. They are done in a realistic, detailed manner – Margaret says that some of her paintings are more detailed than others depending on the mood and the feeling she wants to convey. Beautiful shades of purple and yellow draw the viewer in, when looking at paintings like “Night Light” or “Porch with Plants,” my personal favorite.

For more information about Margaret Leveson, visit the artist’s website at margaretleveson.com.

© 2014 Simona David