Making art is a function of living, a material practice that allows me to examine the ordinary and illuminate the familiar. My creative attitude and working process are largely informed by the inherent displacement and fragmentation characteristic of contemporary life and the landscape we now inhabit, against a diminishing wilderness. Allusions to aftermath and anachronism reflect my fascination with the experience of time. Finding that text and sound are potent collaborators, I now make short time-based media projects alongside painting, which constitutes the core of my studio practice.
How we form narratives out of patterns that recur daily and how we process diurnal time in relation to memory and place have preoccupied me since early on. In my artwork I imagine multiple ways in which narratives may form out of fragmented knowledge by constructing and deconstructing pieces of repetitive documentation.
In a process–oriented approach I use a wide range of materials from my studio and from every-day life — such as found objects, drawings, paintings, and photographs which depict autobiographical fragments from my environment. Together, these disjointed pieces form a holistic image, widely varied in scale — from small scale collage paintings to monumental immersive installations. In either format I aim to create hybrid mindscapes in which the viewer is placed somewhere between the real and the imagined, the organic and the artificial, landscape and topography.
While on the whole I frequently allude to the fragility of our Eco system and complexity in our civilization, the layered fragments are like coded messages or excavated memories which present new clues. Each layer documents a particular moment in time and only up close the viewer may discover the content underneath, invited to choose their own perspective.
Included in this portfolio of images are works that trace the history of my interest in and artworks using collage, as well as recent collages influenced by this trajectory. My work is abstract with many visual references including: the improvisational and emotional qualities of Jazz and dance; the sinuous gestures of an actor moving across the big screen; the tonal qualities of Film Noir; handwriting, urban graffiti and linear natural forms; the logic of architecture; and the colors in a landscape.
I am very aware of the importance of collage in forming contemporary aesthetics. As a method, collage encourages layering, shape-making and juxtaposition, all of which I apply to my work, from my paintings to multi-panel public works using expanded media. As a young woman artist, one of the important aspects of my research was to find role models and forerunners. I observed that many mid-20th century women abstract artists made collages, including Ann Ryan, Alma Thomas and Lee Krasner. This culminated in my essay written with Miriam Schapiro, “Femmage: Waste Not Want Not, An Inquiry into What Women Saved and Assembled,” published in Heresies’ fourth issue (1978). I discovered a collage sensibility was evident in quilts, devotional pieces and scrapbooks made primarily by women in the 18th century, far before Picasso and Braque. This collage sensibility, marked by recycling, mixed-media, making art from remainders and remembrances, is echoed in the mid-century abstractionists I connected with. A famous example is Krasner, who reused her works on paper in her collage works, both large and small.
In my own work, collage has played an important role in developing new ideas and reusing old ones, from “The Green Woman,” my early (1974) collage painting for Ms. Magazine, to my most recent work. Artist residencies have provided opportunities to connect older works like “The Green Woman” and “Provincetown Summer” to the newer collage “Rearrangement Series.” In my “Residency Sketchbooks,” from which I include specific pages, I cut up and combined watercolors in an improvisational manner, which directly inspired a group of works based entirely on cutting up and rearranging previous watercolors. Another influence in this series has been the late large collage works of Jean Dubuffet, about which I wrote an essay in 2016 for the popular Painters on Painting blog, and which I was able to revisit in an exhibition this past spring 2018.
As an artist, I search for meaning in the unknown. Exploring a world beyond my own tangible reality, I see myself as part of a larger, richer universe. A universe that expands further through a conscious effort to embrace the meaning of that which I create in my own personal life, as well as the experiences generated by the lives of those around me.
Art is like magic, an illusion created by the force of humanity. Our choices in life can be amazing portals for adventure. For me, these possibilities present themselves through the process of painting: researching potent images, configuring them on canvas, and struggling to imbue them with a sense of myself and my own wonder at the enormous complexity of the world. I seek a better understanding of truth in nature with constant comparison and evaluation of opposites. Using a visual vocabulary derived from a world that often goes unnoticed, everyday events such as conversations between birds, forces that drive water, or the cellular structure of plant life, I begin to reinvent reality. This experience enables me to come closer to an understanding of how it is that I identify with the world. The concerns that arise from this process reveal themselves to me as subversive dualities existing in both the natural world and the man-made. When we consider something in a new context, having unearthed the intrigue that lies just beneath the surface of the seemingly simple, the original meaning is altered and brought to a new level of consciousness, creating metaphor. In this way, I can see, and show, that the natural world is not unlike our own man-made realm, an alternate universe filled with an active power to recognize desire, temptation, and frailty.
The paintings create a secret recipe for an inner landscape of the human condition; narrative vignettes that are both alluring and mysterious. Nature, and those elements existing in its microcosm become metaphors for a strange and at times super reality, a parallel universe that questions the natural scheme of life itself.
She is a 2018 recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Painting, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award, and one of two artists chosen to be included in a public arts project for ArtsBridge. She has been a Resident Fellow at The Saltonstall Foundation, Anderson Center at Tower View, and Women’s Studio Workshop. Her paintings and works on paper have been exhibited nationally in galleries and museums such as Kenise Barnes Contemporary Art, Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, Butters Gallery, Matteawan Gallery, Adah Rose Gallery, The Saratoga Arts Center, Garrison Arts Center, John Davis Gallery, ArtsWestchester, Schweinfurth Arts Center, SUNY Brockport, The Horticultural Society of New York, Albany International Airport, Sears-Peyton Gallery, and Carrie Haddad Gallery. Her work is included in both public and private collections.
Gabe Brown is an Adjunct Professor in Painting and Drawing at Fordham University and SUNY New Paltz where she has received three Merit Awards for Professional Achievement. She lives and works in the Hudson Valley.
Paint as material belongs to the sense realm, a phantom limn of touch. As a process painting might become a brush with pleasure, a stroke that rubs the wrong way, a sideways glance, a covert encounter. I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. Paint pushes me but I push back.
My current work is about women. Although it’s becoming more recognized in this current moment, it has always been clear that clubs, books, movies, etc. that are about, for, or by women are thought of in a lesser subcategory. It’s popular in certain circles to dismiss groups such as cheerleaders and sorority members and, though I understand the criticisms, both institutions were created by women who just wanted the same opportunities as men. This tension between what looks frivolous and what in another light is actually feminism is why I’m so interested in these groups. They are also a microcosm of power dynamics. I use the positioning of figures and their poses, colors, uniforms, and scale as well as the baggage of stereotypes to explore the nuances of the hierarchies within and between groups. What are the unwritten rules, and do we claim power or willingly give it away to be polite?
The subtle contradictions that exist within a painting are what interest me most and sustain me in my practice. I want my work to be beautiful, but at the same time unsettling; serious, but with a comedic aspect. I create a narrative around these ideas while the work is in progress and believe that the inherent contradictions that emerge add another level of richness to the world within the painting.
Although rooted in an abstract tradition, my work makes clear references to the natural world. I spend as much time as I am able near the water: listening, watching the light, collecting. It is my intention that the images depicted, while not recognizable per se, be believable and exist logically within the environment of the painting.
Subject matter and process are seamlessly interwoven; the way each painting evolves, both technically and conceptually, is of especial interest to me. I emphasize the pure physicality of my materials while also exploring their alchemistic possibilities. My hope is that a compelling tension exists within these paintings, and that they feel familiar while hinting at something ethereal and unknown.
My paintings are built from a merging of the languages of representation and abstraction with mythological overtones. I prefer to maintain a pictorial fluidity between the observed world, internal/symbolic content and the formal demands of each painting. This fluidity mirrors the act of painting as a give and take between artistic intent and what emerges. I hope to engage the viewer in a journey of discovery that is analogous both to the journey of making a painting and the journey of transformation in life.
Most of my work comes from many marks I put on the surface. Then one shape pops out and starts to speak to another shape, and I just sort of put them in touch with each other until a feeling emerges and I develop it. When I worked earlier with symbols, I created the shapes. I would have something or someone in mind and draw those shapes until one appeared, and I would say, “That’s the one!” Later the marks were all from my unconscious. It becomes a very intuitive process. I am as surprised as the viewer very often because I don’t always know why or how I arrived at a certain painting, but what I do know for sure is it is from my gut and it’s honest and real and speaks its truth. Sometimes they reveal something to me; sometimes it’s not so clear. But either way something strong and emotional is being communicated.
In between my primary interest of abstract /figurative work I do series of self portraits which always satisfies a deep emotional need in me.
I would say endurance is just built into my constitution. I don’t do things halfway or give up easily. If I lose something I will spend hours, days, or weeks till I find it. I resolve every painting I do and won’t let it leave the studio until it feels absolutely right to me. At almost 74 now, my knees and back are giving me trouble (welcome to the club), but I won’t stop painting what is in my heart, and I will never retire! Anyway, have you ever heard a painter say they have retired? No….they just paint till they can’t anymore.