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Art as Life

Saskia in AO’s studio, 1980, Photo by Auseklis Ozols

For me the act of living is inextricably tied to the act of painting. Art is life. If we seek out truth and beauty to share through art, and if truth and beauty foster our perception; art and life are forever connected.

This photo was taken the the year my mother died. I am in father’s studio in the front room of our old house on Duffossat St. This is my first palette, hand carved and given to me as a gift for either Christmas or my birthday that same year; I don’t remember which. My mother was shot easter week so that event eclipsed most of the year’s other details for me.

I remember this day in the photograph. It was hot, I roller skated on the front porch while my father worked on a painting. He made me take my roller skates off before entering the house. I tiptoed around the spot where I watched my mother die in front of her piano, then walked into his painting studio barefoot.

Painting will always commemorate life for me. Museums, artists, what other people see, paint, and think. It is all important. Art will always be an act of living for me.

I have been painting my entire life. I began apprenticeship in classical technique when I was 5 years old. By the time I was nine I was assisting with all the details of preparation, creation and presentation of artwork. Many of my early foundational experiences growing up as the child of an artist made a significant impact on every professional and educational choice I have made.  What follows is a brief outline of experiences in the art world that made an impact on me and which are not addressed in my bio.

I learned to put words together properly, roller skate, and hold a paintbrush in the expansive magazine street space my parents christened as the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts in 1978. I watched painting demonstrations, drawing marathons, and artist’s lively discussions. I watched every easel, drawing bench and palette being designed, sketched, and hand built or carved by my father, the Academy’s Founding Director.  He wanted everything to be perfect from ideology and curricula to the smallest detail of design.

Throughout my childhood I assisted with exhibition installation, planning and prep. I held hammers and offered nails, I swept the floor, and I arranged flowers for the exhibitions with my maternal grandmother. I was dropped off in the studios after school immediately following carpool and listened under the eaves as I attempted to do homework during the life drawing classes.

My first job was gallery sitting and answering questions about the classes and the sacred ideology of realism as my family presented it. Ideas handed down from teacher to student directly from the birthplace of American realist painting: The Museum of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. My fluency with these techniques grew as reality materialized on canvases throughout my early childhood.

In A. Ozols’ studio on Girod street I washed brushes and stretched canvases, melted rabbit skin glue, varnished pictures, served cocktails, played on the etching press, and practiced painting. I watched and assisted with enormous murals, mixed colors, ground pigment by hand. I learned to wake up before dawn to arrive for plein air landscape so that we would witness the first rays of sun break the darkness.

 In 1992 I began to apprentice in art conservation at a local French Quarter studio. I continued my study in a private AIC listed studio. I worked in both studios for a total of 5 years and added significantly to my understanding of oil painting technique and its history. I learned techniques for preserving, repairing and properly maintaining all structures associated with oil paintings and antique frames. Re-lining, stretching, surfaces preparation, recipes for glue, bole, processes for guilding, creating moulds, hand carving. I learned documentation and research (then done from the original Benezit books only published in French,) condition reporting, and collections management.

My first solo exhibition was reviewed in the local paper. I took my first art writing and research position creating wall text for works loaned by the Museum in an exhibit that demonstrated a pedagogical relationship with the ideals and mission of noafa.

I entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1997 to refine my approaches and learn from the source. I completed the historic four year studio program in Drawing and Painting, and completed a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts, Painting and Drawing. I worked my way through college in Philadelphia galleries and Museums. I won the historic Cresson European travelling scholarship. I travelled Europe with a paint box and no cell phone visiting all the major museums and doing plein air paintings of the cathedrals of Europe.

In 2000, I  returned to Philadelphia and exhibited the cathedral paintings in my first Philadelphia exhibition in historic Old City. This gallery represented me until they closed almost 15 years later. After finishing graduate school I moved back to New Orleans in 2003 and developed and taught a series of classes at the Academy. I wrote curricula for and taught Beginning Drawing, Beginning Oil Painting, Beginning Figure Drawing, Beginning Figure Painting, and Beginning Figure Sculpture. I began to write as an art critic for local publications. When I left I was asked to find my replacements and share my original syllabi with them.

In 2008 I moved to Boston and began teaching at Boston University. I became involved with historic arts organizations I still feel fortunate to have been a part of. I was an active member of the Copley Society of Art where I exhibited for the entire duration I lived there, from 2008-2013. I was invited to sit on the Board and the Art Committee of the St. Botolph Club where I also had two exhibitions of my own work in 2012.

I moved to Moscow in 2013 immediately following the opening of a solo exhibition of new paintings in the Arts district of New Orleans. This Julia street gallery represented me  from 2007-2017. I lived there for three years and I continued curation projects and had my first solo museum exhibit at the Diaghilev Museum of Contemporary Art in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In New Orleans again in 2016, I began teaching at Tulane University (Painting and Drawing) , Loyola University Drawing, Painting, Art Collections Management, New Orleans Museums, Art Collections and Artists,)  and back at NOAFA (Materials and Techniques of Oil Painting, Introduction to Drawing, Figure Drawing, and Drawing the Antique: NOAFA at NOMA.)  All syllabi are original and based on my own research.

Being back in New Orleans has instilled me with a sense of gratitude for the valuable cultural resources I grew up with and re- invigorated my desire to preserve them. The techniques, processes and pedagogy of painting are my first language and have woven themselves throughout my very being.