As we’re coming out of the pandemic, 2021 appears to be a year dedicated to women in the arts as several museums and art centers in Europe and the United States are hosting programs devoted to female artists, far too long left out of the history books.
When speaking with art historians and scholars, the often-cited reasons that left women behind were: they had no access to education, they were living reclusive lives and did not have as much access to sources of inspiration as men, women painters were not accepted in art shows and museums, they also did not sign their paintings, and finally they were deliberately left out.
In recent years books were written to correct that, including The Trouble with Women Artists by Laure Adler and Camille Vieville, published in 2019, and Broad Strokes by Bridget Quinn, published in 2017. They provide a wider perspective on the significant achievements and contributions made by women in the arts.
Earlier this year the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam included for the first time ever works by women artists in the Gallery of Honor, alongside works by 17th century Dutch Golden Age masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals. Paintings by Judith Leyster, Gesina ter Borch, and Rachel Ruysch are now exhibited in the Gallery of Honor as a move by the Museum to highlight women’s contribution to Dutch cultural history.
Musée du Luxembourg in Paris is hosting the exhibition “Peintres Femmes 1780 – 1830”, which includes seventy paintings by forty female painters, most notably Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, both members of the famous l’Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (the precursor of the Louvre Museum), and Marguerite Gérard, the sister-in-law of Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Curated by Martine Lacas, the exhibition can also be explored virtually.
Centre Pompidou is hosting the exhibition “Women in Abstraction” featuring one hundred and six artists, and more than five hundred works dating from the 1860s to the 1980s in various disciplines. Included in this exhibition are works by Louise Bourgeois, Barbara Hepworth, Verena Loewensberg, and many others. Centre Pompidou is also hosting an online class through June this year, free of charge, titled Elles font l’art and presenting a different history of modern art, one that focuses on women artists in the 20th and 21st centuries. This class is held in French.
In New York, of course, there is a long tradition of women being active in the art world going back to Sarah Cole, the sister of Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of Painting (Luminism); Georgia O’Keeffe (Modernism) – married to photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe enjoyed painting Lake George where she vacationed extensively; and Hedda Sterne (Surrealism), who was married to The New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg – both Sterne and Steinberg were born in Bucharest but met in New York.
In 2019 the exhibition “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future” hosted by Guggenheim attracted more than 600,000 attendees, becoming the museum’s most visited show in its 60-year history, according to Artsy. This year, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is hosting “Alice Neel: People Come First”, a retrospective that positions Neel as a radical painter, champion of social justice.
Art in the Catskills has consistently featured works by women artists who have maintained studios in the Catskill Mountains including Amy Masters, Ann Lee Fuller, Ellen Wong, Helene Manzo, June Lanigan, Lisbeth Firmin, Molly Rausch, and many others.
Liberal Arts Roxbury (LAR), a newly opened art gallery downtown Roxbury, is hosting Cy Wagner: Black Lines & Quadrants, a solo art show dedicated to local painter Cy Wagner (1926 – 2016), who spent the last two decades of his life exploring various artistic subjects and styles, ranging from still life to Pop art and geometric abstraction. Wagner, an architect and urban planner, drew inspiration from the works of Rauschenberg and other abstract painters, and produced a significant number of acrylics and drawings which he grouped in thematic series, like the two currently on view at LAR. These are works produced in the late 1980s – early 1990s, after Wagner retired from the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington D.C., and began commuting between New York City and Roxbury, in the Catskill Mountains.
Cy Wagner: Black Lines & Quadrants is the first gallery exhibition of Wagner’s work. The show, which includes around two dozen large acrylic paintings as well as drawings (some of whom already sold), will remain on view through mid-June. Liberal Arts Roxbury is open Saturdays from 11 am to 5 pm, and by appointment. The gallery is located at 53525 State Hwy 30 in Roxbury, NY, the site of the former Orphic Gallery.
Amy Masters has been an artist all her life. Formally trained as a 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 studios. 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.
I spoke with Amy in her studio in Arkville, New York, earlier this summer.
Simona David: Amy, let’s talk a bit about your training.
Amy Masters: As an undergraduate student, I was a studio art major at Ohio State University in Athens, Ohio. I mostly studied painting and drawing. Then I wanted to come back to New York, and went to Sarah and Lawrence College in Westchester. I studied for about three years under Ansei Uchima, a phenomenal printmaker. And then I started my life, just working different jobs. I ended up working with my dad, who was an engineer. I worked as a draftsman, drawing plans – that was before computers. And then I went back to school and studied interior design. For a while I worked in an architecture firm, doing architectural design – I thought that was kind of a creative job. That’s where I met my husband, Ted Sheridan, who is an architect. All the while I was still painting; I had a couple of shows in the City. Fast forward, I went into teaching, and continued to paint, mostly throughout the summer, when I had time off from school. When I moved to the Catskills, ten years ago, I got all this space to work, and that’s when I feel like I got really serious about it.
SD: Do you think that moving to the country has helped your career as an artist?
AM: Absolutely. The environment informs my work. My work has always been about the place where I am.
SD: I’m reading a book What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy. Ultimately Tolstoy defines art as the transmission of an emotion felt by the artist, and calls it an infectious phenomenon. What moves you, as an artist?
AM: That changes. As an artist of course you’d like to think that your work has improved over time. You get better, just because you’re doing it: the muscles get stronger, you get more confident, the dexterity improves, everything. But going back to just what moves you, I think that has changed dramatically for me. The things that I’m drawn to now I wasn’t drawn to before. And I see things in other artworks that teach me something new or move me in some way I didn’t think possible.
SD: Where do you start a new project?
AM: That’s a really good question, because I do feel like I get onto something and I can’t stop. Sometimes it would be just the strangest thing. For instance, the feather print series – I don’t know where I first got the idea of this feather. There is something about the object itself, it’s very fluid. And I was thinking how unique, how individual each feather is, and that resonated with the process. Each time you make a print, it’s completely different.
SD: Let’s take a closer look at this series.
AM: There are different versions. Some are just monotypes, one-time prints, made with a soy based ink that I was experimenting with. I took a printmaking class in the City – an etching class, and had access to all sorts of equipment there, and began to explore what I could do with an etching. I made hard ground etchings where you just draw on a plate, and then etch it in a bath. I’ve also made actual impressions of feathers: you lay the feather onto the copper plate, it picks up the image, and then you remove the object, and etch it, and that’s what you get. It’s an amazing process.
SD: What kind of paper do you use?
AM: Some are done on rice paper, others on printing paper. A lot of the etching is done on printing paper.
SD: I see other types of prints in your collection.
AM: I was doing etchings, and just couldn’t stop. And from there I thought, oh, I could do other botanicals. And the leafy quality of the feathers made me think of roots. So I started doing a root series. From there I don’t know how I got into these.
SD: Bird nests?
AM: Yes. Keeping with the botanic idea, I started to do the nests. And inspired by the nests, I started doing a new kind of monotype: wiped monotypes. I would start with a plate full of ink; and then it’s more of a reductive process. I like these two images together. One reminded me of the sky at night – the galaxy; and the other one is a nest.
SD: What an unexpected association! Especially if you see them from a distance.
AM: Yes, I like that. From doing these, I got into this wiping process. I use a reverse surface roll. With an etching you push the ink into the etch line. With the surface roll, it’s reverse: it’s like a relief process, when you’re just keeping the ink on the surface, and you don’t want it to go into the etch line. It’s tricky. But you get a different kind of image. It’s interesting to try it a couple of different ways. For the past year or so I’ve only been doing prints – learning the medium, and the limitations of it. With printmaking there really aren’t any limits: you can do tremendous things.
SD: Let’s talk about your paintings. You’ve been a painter your entire life. Abstract painter. I know that your approach has changed over time, especially after moving to the country. How about your color palette?
AM: My palette changes a lot. I get into a color palette, and I work on it until I feel like I exhausted all the possibilities. Late last summer I did a series of white paintings. I don’t know how I got into this subtle palette, but I just wanted things to be very peaceful. I was looking for a way to convey that. I like to use a little bit of red, because it makes everything else look so much calmer. Generally, I like a limited palette. One reason I’m attracted to prints is their limited palette. Then you have to think about other things like the image, and the composition.
SD: What do these paintings represent?
AM: These are trees. It’s the landscape.
SD: I’m just wondering how you name your paintings. As an abstract painter, if you name your paintings in a fashion that doesn’t really give people any hint of what they’re looking at, I imagine it makes the whole experience more intriguing.
AM: The naming of work is a really curious thing to me. Sometimes it’s very obvious, other times more mysterious. For instance, some of the feather work I’ve done began to look very fossil-like to me. I began to name them “Fossil I,” Fossil II,” etc. They kind of look like something that was left in a stone.
SD: Let’s talk a bit about the artistic process.
AM: It’s always an idea that I start with. For instance, there is this orchard on the Thruway. In the winter all the trees look like big hands, and fingers. I wanted to pursue that idea for a while: the idea of these finger-like trees. I got distracted by printmaking, and were put aside for now.
SD: How do you know when a painting is done?
AM: It’s such an elusive thing. I guess when there is nothing more you can bring to it. You don’t want to overwork it.
SD: Talk about your transition to country life.
AM: I really struggled in the City. We have a very small apartment, so it’s very hard to set up things. I had periods when I had a lot of materials in the studio, and painted a lot. Printing, on the other hand, is very portable, I would just bring it back and forth with me. I could print all winter in the City.
SD: How has your daily routine changed after moving to the country?
AM: In the past few years it’s become really important to spend a few hours daily in the studio. Even if I’m not producing a new piece of work, it’s really important that I commit to spending time in the studio. I could be cleaning, or doing research, or just doing anything to be in this space. I like a book called Rituals – it’s about artists’ daily routines. It maps out what everybody does. For instance, some writers would take walks and think. I like to get up early, and garden for a bit, and then come in the studio and work six – seven hours. I try to get a swim in there, if I can.
SD: Who are your influences?
AM: I love Turner. Bonnard was an early influence of mine, for his colors. I like Morandi, an Italian painter of the early 20th century. Morandi is a painter who uses a very limited palette. I adore his still life bottles. You can really feel the artist’s presence in all his work.
SD: Looking back at all the work you’ve done as a painter and printmaker, is there any piece in particular that you can call your favorite work?
AM: It’s a painting called “Rocks in the Pool.” It was painted on an island in Maine. I think it’s my favorite, because it’s me – I think this painting really is me as a painter. The colors reflect what I was seeing. It’s a magical place that I like to remember. I struggled a bit, because I’m not a realist painter. But I just wanted to paint what I was seeing.
The Erpf Center in Arkville is hosting The Poetics of Space, an art show featuring the works of abstract painter Fred Guyot. Guyot, who received his MFA from Brooklyn College, studied with famous Philip Pearlstein in the 1960s, and developed a style characterized by rich, bold colors. The Poetics of Space includes works produced between 1990 and 2010, and will remain on view through May 27. For more information, visit http://catskillcenter.org/events/fred-guyot.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.