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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Gillia Cutshall

INSIDE the ABSTRACT, post #9 Releasing the promise of the medium

"I felt like I was in the presence of something much greater than my existence, that was here long before me and will be here long after." Jean Davis

Does the idea of transformation influence your work and process? Absolutely – as in either the concept of transformation (a physical or psychological metamorphosis), or in what happens through the creation of an abstract painting. I actually made a series about transformation a few years ago. It was inspired by the way life events can change, transform us, in unforeseen ways. For me that was the grieving process I went through at the time after my mother’s illness and death. So of course, it was purely abstract. At some point a painting itself is a transformation, not because it becomes a painting where one had not existed, but because somewhere in the process the paint, or the creativity, takes over. I may have an idea when I begin, but there is always a change in direction or intention that I had not planned or seen, however small. A transformation takes place in finishing each abstract piece, when the paint or the medium takes over and tells you what to do next.

What draws you to the medium you chose? So many things. I absolutely love the smell of oil paint, and the subtle differences in colors, how they interact, how paint can look like light, brick, metal, dirt, skin, or just color. The way you apply the paint can affect the mood; and line, color, and texture communicate where words may fail. I prefer to take the extra time that oil paint requires. I have to negotiate with the color or the thickness to get what I’m after, and I have to be patient with the process. It turns what may look like a purely intuitive process into a more thoughtful, meditative one. If you could have coffee or tea with any artist who would you pick? What would you have coffee or tea? What would you ask that artist? It’s hard to pick a single artist, but one person who comes to mind is Louise Bourgeois. I prefer coffee, so I’d probably have coffee. I could ask so many questions, like what it was like to be both a 20th century and a 21 st century artist, socializing with the mid-century New York artists. But I’d probably ask if she ever stopped believing in herself as an artist, and which of her cells installations was her favorite. But I’d also like to just sit and have coffee and feel what it was like to be in her presence. And I’d ask her if she would like to paint or draw with me while we had coffee.

What do you hope your work achieves?

I hope it invites someone to look into it. If they see something I don’t, or see themselves in it, so much the better. How many works do you have to produce before you find a successful image? I’ve never really counted. I usually work on a piece, and it’s either successful or it’s not. The ones that aren’t get put aside, and I look at them later to see if I just wasn’t finished with them yet. The idea of successful image is interesting – sometimes that changes for me. If you could produce any type of work, would you choose something different? I wouldn’t want to replace painting or drawing altogether, but I’d like to try experimental film and work with sound. What recently made you smile? My kind neighbor, messaging me during this shelter-in-place. Friends meeting up for an hour, virtually from our separate homes, so we can bring each other happiness. What recently made you cry? Losing someone very dear, and not being able to say goodbye in person for the last time. What was the most powerful work of art you recall viewing? Where was it? How did it make you feel? I was at the Louvre museum and I saw the marble statue Winged Victory of Samothrace (also the Nike of Samothrace), from about 200 BC. It is huge and entirely marble, yet it looks light and affected by the breeze, as if it truly could fly. Such a feeling of freedom combined with perfection, strength, and grace was overwhelming and I nearly burst into tears. I felt like I was in the presence of something much greater than my existence, that was here long before me and will be here long after.

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