I’ve always had a bit of a problem writing artist’s statements. Words elude me when I try to talk about why I paint or what I’m trying to accomplish because if I had words for it, I would be more of a writer and less of a painter. Painting is a language unto itself. However, as a professional artists I simply can’t avoid writing them. If you’re an artist as well, then you probably feel a similar anxiety, so I thought I would share with you my most recent artist statement that I wrote for an Individual Artist Award through the Rasmuson Foundation. I allude to the 10 paintings that I submitted and have included a screenshot of all 10 just so you can see to which works I was referring. Picking out which of my paintings to show was a whole different ordeal that perhaps I’ll talk about some other time.
Here are the 10 paintings I submitted for the grant application.
As an artist, I don’t seek to shock my audience, make political statements, or ask my viewer to be uneasy. I would rather they find connections where there were none before or that they experience a moment of resonance and clarity among the noise and chaos of their everyday lives. My process is one of constant layering, erasure, and revision; and though I work primarily in acrylics, I constantly seek out new materials and methods. I show up to do the work every. single. day.
The first five paintings in my submission are part of a series of works on paper (Pattern and Noise) which is an exploration of a confluence of ideas: organic landscapes, manmade tech-scapes, and textile constructions. Originally the series began solely as a reflection on the time I was spending at the Georgeson Botanical Gardens in Fairbanks. My mother was visiting then, and we were completing a quilt from blocks that my great grandmother hand-pieced but never finished before she died, a rare moment piecing together what little I know about my family. I was also in the middle of learning the basics of circuit design for a project at work. The intersection of these events caused me to think deeply about the ways that pattern-making is fundamental to our human experience. I used various paint pens, inks, and washes to build (in intricately detailed layers) images that are resonant of these ideas. This series is still expanding.
The last five works are from an earlier series that emerged from 2011-2015 (The Trouble with Inheritance). I took obvious cues from the works of Klimt, Mayan glyphs, and Japanese ink drawings and a variety of other sources and combined them into works that helped me to explore my own fractured cultural identity. In these works, I flattened the picture plane until the figures are nearly inseparable from ground. My aim was not to create an illusion of moments or objects frozen in time, but rather abstracted symbolic states; the aspects of the human experience that transcend temporality and location, the overlapping states of consciousness that often elude articulation in language.
I find some of my inspiration in marginalized crafts and traditions: forms considered to be women’s work, characters from indigenous mythologies, and patterns found in domestic life. The quilt block, the cross stitch, floral and other organic motifs, the magical animals of fairy tales, and masks often appear in my work. I also find inspiration in the more contemporary arena of my tech-centric professional life: circuit boards, maps, icons, computer languages, grids, and other technical information systems. These manmade information-scapes have aesthetic value outside of their functional qualities that interest me in much the same way that quilts interest me as purely aesthetic objects.
I’ve now been showing consistently in solo and group shows for more than 10 years. I’m highly prolific and in those 10 years alone have painted nearly 300 paintings, countless drawings, the occasional sculpture, and digital paintings. I work a minimum of 30 hours each week in my studio, putting time in before I go to my day job, when I get home, and on the weekends when my family life permits. Although my rate of production is high, I’ve only had solo shows in the state of Alaska due to both the cost of shipping my work and the risk of low returns compared to the costs if work fails to sell in Lower 48 galleries. However, I’ve been very successful in selling my work online, outside of the gallery system, and am eager to expand my horizons into a broader market.
I’ve been drawing and painting since I can remember, but in 1989, as a 14 year old, I spent a summer in Spain, where I visited the Prado Museum. It was there that I saw Picasso’s Guernica for the first time, and I can’t emphasize enough what happened to me upon seeing it. Although I’d grown up looking at and making art, I don’t think I’d ever seriously considered becoming a painter until that moment. I was struck by the clarity of my own understanding of what paint can say that words cannot, and had what James Joyce called a “moment of aesthetic arrest.” I was dumbfounded by the scale and even more so by the layers of images that crept out from behind the surface of the piece. In photographs Guernica is static; in person it is a living, breathing chorus of voices. I’d had an intellectual understanding of Cubism and could have told you about the historical events to which the painting refers, but nothing had prepared me for what I felt while looking at it. I walked out of the museum burning with an ineffable desire that is still burning almost 30 years later. I’ve spent most of my artistic career trying to discover how simple pigments on a 2-dimensional surface can create a moment of aesthetic arrest for someone else, an ambition that will undoubtedly take me a lifetime to accomplish.
The reality is that no matter how hard you work or how talented you are, you might not ever become a self-supporting artist. You might toil in relative obscurity for all of it. It’s possible that no doors will ever really open very far, that the fates won’t choose you. It’s possible that nothing will ever get out of the way enough that you can really just sit down and work without being exhausted. You might always struggle, swimming upstream in a river that never changes. It’s possible that you might have a career where small victories are your greatest ones, where your art impacts a few people but it never extends very far beyond your own studio doors. It’s possible that life will always always get in the way. You might always have to bear the burden of a desk job and the desire to make art on the same two shoulders for the rest of your life. The rock might always only budge just the tiniest bit no matter how hard you push. You might have to watch all the others whose rocks are really rolling and they can rest easy in the idea that their pushing made all the difference. Or maybe they believe they have a special gift that makes the rock move… I’m pretty sure that there is nothing certain, ever, in trying to make it as an artist. Especially if by “making it” you mean simultaneously having the money and the time and the energy and the desire to make things.
And because of these things, you’ll never really have any evidence that you’re working hard enough or that you’re even the slightest bit talented (whatever that is anyways). You’ll never know if what you make matters at all. You might not ever make enough money with your art to work only 8 hours a day instead of 16. You might make enough money but you’ll be old and your energy will be gone. So that leaves only one question: will you keep doing it anyways? Will you keep doing it even though you have to sacrifice sleep, and conversations that might matter, and a tidy house, and all the other things you have to sacrifice to make the time and space to create art? Will you keep making it even though there are zero signs from the universe that you should keep doing it?
Can you live with yourself if, at the end, you stopped trying because it was too hard?
I’m incredibly excited to begin work on a children’s book, Midnight Mammoth, by author Maria Reeves. She contacted me a few months ago with an idea for a children’s book. I’ve been approached by writers before about collaborating on children’s books, but none of them had enough of the right pieces in place until I heard from Maria. Her story is lovely and it’s set in an arctic climate featuring the kinds of animals I often work with in my own art. We’ve been discussing the details and the book is slated to come out in December of this year and has acquired distribution by Aftershocks Media (I didn’t realize distribution was so important until recently!).
Maria recently posted the news to her Facebook page and we were both really excited to see a warm and very large reception for the idea. Enough folks requested pre-orders that Maria put up a website to handle the requests; the hardcover book can be ordered for $24.99. She also added a page regarding the purchase of original artwork. 9 of the original paintings will be sold after publication and you can buy them now for $500… repeat: one of my paintings for $500. In addition there will be a broadside available in two sizes featuring text from the book and one of the illustrations!
I’m excited. I’ve needed something focused and expansive to work on this for some time, and I’m grateful to have such a fun project!
I’m in the process of revising my site yet again! It’s a challenge trying to all these ducks in a row. I spend more time working on my art that my website…
From the Daily News Miner, 2010
FAIRBANKS – Local artists Mary Matthews and Madara Hill are kicking off the new year with a two-fold exhibition that Well Street Art Company owner David Mollett said is sure to be a likable show for all ages.
While both women are different in terms of their style and mediums of choice, both seem to tell stories with their work in ways that invite viewers to follow along rather than simply stare at the pieces from a distance.
“We typically do two shows at once and I wanted two people who wouldn’t clash,” Mollett said of his choice. “Sometimes contrast is good but these two artists complement each other very well.” Mollett called the work of the two women both cheerful and upbeat, something that is undoubtedly a welcome energy to the dark days of January.