Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Interview with Victoria Webb of Furious Dreams

March, oil/canvas 24"x31" 2010

It was such a pleasure to do a partner interview with the fabulous abstract expressionist painter, Veronica Webb. She is also a member of the Artisans Gallery Team and she sells her gorgeous work on Etsy. You can find her links at the end of the interview. Enjoy!


1. Hello Victoria and thank you for doing this interview with me! Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to become an artist.

Hello Artisan Gallery members and thanks to Jessica for being such a great interview partner!

I've been drawing since before I could read. My mom was a painter, my dad was a film editor. They encouraged us to experiment with all the arts and the town I grew up in - Princeton, NJ - offered a wide variety of cultural opportunities with fantastic mentors and teachers. At that time arts and music programs in public schools were strongly supported. I went to college with a focus on art, but didn't finish after a major hand injury interrupted my first year. It was the reason I switched from music to art as a vocation.

In my twenties I was experimenting with textiles, embroidering and making clothes to sell, before I became serious about painting. I studied privately beginning in my early thirties, for about eight years, with the preeminent portrait artists in Atlanta; Roman, Constantin and Marc Chatov. I learned color theory and anatomy at their studio.


2. Looking at your website, I see that you have your work categorized by the places you have lived. Can you share with us a bit about how each of these places influenced and inspired your work while you were there?

I've been working exclusively from landscape for about 15 years, although the content usually devolves into abstraction. The work sometimes begins with a sketch that's relative to the subject, but very loose. I then break that down into abstract planes, explore the tension and focus on luminosity and chroma. I prefer to destroy any sense of reality or representation. To me, that's a more successful painting with a more original voice. I'm interested in finding a way to broaden or intensify emotional content within an abstraction of form.

Place has significant meaning in terms of how I respond, and in concept. When I lived in Atlanta, my palette was very green- like the lushness of the city. I was also working with emotions; the work focused on dreams and relationships. But I also did landscapes throughout. I moved to San Francisco in 1997 and spent a lot of time in Golden Gate Park. I'd walk over from my house in the Sunset and either do pastel sketches or drawings, then go back to my garage studio to paint large works based on them. These are some of my personal favorites and they reflect the flora and intense light of the west coast. The midwest was my next move and I began a series based on snow. That intensified when I moved here to southeastern Pennsylvania. I've also taken solitary painting trips to the coast of Oregon, the mountains of British Columbia, and Vancouver Island - the rugged coastlines and peaks of the west are some of my favorite locales. Lately I've been painting my yard, like Bonnard, and really getting to know the change of light on certain trees at various times of the year.

I'm also intensely concerned with chroma and how colors work with each other. My early studies of Johannes Itten and Hans Hofmann influenced how I use color.


3. I think a universal painter's dream would be to paint in Italy and you have! Was it as dreamy and magical as I imagine it would be?

I spent almost a month in Umbria at an artists' residency, the International School for Painting, Sculpture and Drawing in Montecastello di Vibio. Yes, it was so wonderful to have nothing else to do every day, and that was the main reason for going. At the time I was working full-time in a corporate job and had saved my vacation up for two years to take the trip. The light in Italy is similar to northern California and it was really magical to paint the hills and olive groves and to be sitting right in them! The first three days I was in awe, even though I'd been to Italy before for a jazz festival. I played opera on my Ipod while I was painting on the hill just outside a medieval town, overlooking a valley with the Tiber river cutting through it. It was sublime to actually be painting and listening to Italian opera in such a historically rich arts region of the world.

Residencies can be helpful because the only reason for being there is to paint non-stop. There was a very strong element of support for the creative spirit at this one. Our meals were all prepared, there were no errands to run - I didn't have to do anything but work all day and I could either go out with fellow artists or be alone, my choice. The habit of producing on a daily basis carried over into my life when I returned. Most people don't have the luxury to create every day, but it helps anyone become better at what they do.

It was also helpful to have a community of artists for feedback and camaraderie. We critiqued each other's work, there was an artist in residence whose input I valued and we became friends. I developed a couple of life-long friendships from that one month at the residency. I would suggest that any serious artist look into doing something like this. Some residencies will cover all costs, like the MacDowell Colony or Yaddo. They all require applications and most are a juried process.

Tiber Bridge, oil/canvas 24"x20" 2007

4. Your abstract work is so visually powerful and as a painter, I see so many elements that move me. How would you describe your work to someone that isn't familiar with abstract art but likes what they see?

Thanks! Abstract work has a language of its own that painters are usually privy to, but it does take some education to understand it. The 'mark' in a painting has to be genuine or authentic or it doesn't make much of an impression. One certainly can't be thinking of an audience or the market and create a good work.

I would describe my work as the simple abstraction of plane through color, but of course it's much more than that too. I'm distilling nature as abstraction on canvas. Anyone can read into it as they choose; that's the beauty of any insinuation of theme in either art, music or literature. It doesn't have to be fully understood to be appreciated, though. And everyone should bring their own interpretation and imaginations to works of art.


5. In your experience, how do you feel being a woman has affected your painting career, if at all? Have you found any gender differences in this line of work, particularly as an abstract expressionist painter?

Great question. I sacrificed having a family early on, after seeing my mother's frustration and hardship at trying to keep her hand in her own work. While she painted up until her death at almost 80, it was an obvious struggle for her to make that commitment. I didn't want to have to wonder at some point whether I'd be able to give my all to my work. I knew it was the most important aspect of my life early in my twenties. Oddly enough, as I get older, the sacrifices seem more remote. My work has taken precedence over my whole life. I had worked full-time in television from 1990 on, and realized that I needed at least the weekends to produce - which was a problem for many relationships.

I think most women artists have a very hard time unless they have a strong support system in their lives. I've been lucky to have had an artist mother, and a sister who's a writer and artist. Several of my close friends are painters, video artists or artisans. We offer each other great support and feedback. And the community of Etsy is another woman based community that offers wonderful feedback and nourishment. I've learned a lot from various women artists here.

There is also a definite lack of support in the arts world, for women. You can see this from the ongoing disregard of important women artists, in major museums and their blockbuster shows that inevitably include Picasso, Renoir or Monet. Or just pick up a book on women artists in history. It's changing slowly, but women have not been paid the attention they deserved. Joan Mitchell, in my opinion, rivals Pollock and deKooning. Her work only recently began selling in the mid millions and she's been dead since 1992.

6. I see you have a history of showing your work in real life venues and gallery exhibits. What led you to selling your work online and do you have any tips for visual artists that would like to do both?

I began exhibiting early in my career, before I'd fully developed as an artist. I was lucky enough to get into notable exhibits and galleries, but since I physically moved around so much with the TV jobs, that part of my world has been tougher to manage. I also spent more time actually creating the work than marketing it. I realize now how beneficial a loyal gallerist can be to an aspiring painter. I'm still on the hunt for someone to take over that side of the 'business'.

I began selling online with Etsy just over a year ago, at the insistence from my sister and after meeting a jeweler at a local farmers market, who said she did fairly well. Online seems to be a great advantage, although the amount of time spent networking and promoting is probably about what a dealer would be doing. Some of this is luck, but mostly it requires hard work, a thorough knowledge of art history with the ability to articulate that to a potential buyer, and lots of persistence.

From my years as a graphic designer, doing motion design and interactive graphics, I knew a website was a necessity, so I developed my own domain and site back in 1998, before I even had my first home computer. Having a blog and online references to the work is crucial for any artist these days, whether or not they're selling from it. I began with my motion graphics portfolio online and gradually brought my fine art into the process. After being out of work for the past year and not finding anything, I made the decision to build a business with my own product. So far it seems to be working, and I hope to be supporting myself completely from my work in a few more years. I have sold in galleries, but I think online is a big part of the future for both gallerists and individual artists. It's important for artists to keep exhibiting because it does add credibility to their work. Getting reviewed is also important, but that's harder to control.




In the studio


7. Who are some of your favorite creators? Like your question to me - this doesn't have to be just visual artists, it can include musicians, poets, whoever inspires you.

At different phases, I've had various influences and have studied the gamut of art history and theory. I prefer the early to late expressionists, whose work has astounding passion, freedom and of course, color. The Canadian group of Seven and Emily Carr, the Fauvists, the Russian painters Valentin Serov and Ilya Repin. Then there are the Americans John Marin, Edward Hopper and Arthur Dove. I experimented with minimalist chroma work, but that wasn't expressive enough for me. I'm still strongly influenced by Joan Mitchell, Kline, DeKooning and Motherwell. I respect Helen Frankenthaler's work, but prefer more emotional, gestural work even though at one time Rothko was an idol. Frank Auerbach, and some other figurative English painters are favorites. I also like lyrical and figurative abstraction in works by Larry Rivers, Diebenkorn and Rauschenberg, where you see line more readily. But I always find new artists to enjoy and lately Europe has been producing more 'painterly' artists than what used to be the center of the art world in NYC. Barrie Cooke, Mary Canty, Donald Teskey--these are artists I knew nothing about a few years ago. I have a dear friend in London who sends me links of European artists all the time and she frequents galleries and museums there. I have another artist friend who divides his time between Italy and NY. So I have a few links to a global art scene.

My first love was music, I studied violin, piano and voice - so I have a huge interest in the medium. Jazz and classical are my favorite styles, but I'll listen to almost anything. I've used poetry to influence my work and did a few paintings recently based on Whitman poems. I love works by Mary Oliver, Tess Gallagher, Neruda, Rilke, Gary Snyder. Again, too many to write about!


8. Take us through one of your average painting sessions - do you work on multiple pieces at once or one at a time? Do you devote certain parts of the day or week to painting? Does your mood change each time you paint or is there a consistent mood that painting inspires in you?

I usually work on one painting at a time unless I'm struggling with it. I like to give it some breathing room and come back to it over a period of a few days. I find it hard to judge my own work and there have been pieces I've painted over and regretted. Often it takes years to realize that a painting is worth keeping. Time is an equalizer for artists. We just need more of it.

I used to paint mostly at night, but that habit developed from never having any daytime to produce. I prefer to use daylight for painting, because the colors are more true.

It's not easy to force a painting or summon inspiration at times, but there is something to be said for being in the habit of producing. Ideas can come from anything and anywhere. Light and color inspire me. The way light hits the side of a tree at sunset. The way snow looks at dusk with those purple shadows raking over it. The beauty of the natural world is always intense and artists, especially painters, learn to see color more immediately and more intensely. I love to paint figuratively, from life, as well.

I couldn't say that there's any one 'mood' when I'm painting. I try to pay attention and be in the act without interruption. I do use music, but it has to be either jazz or classical or something that doesn't require a lot of attention. On the other hand, I sometimes use music as a source for my work, similar to Kandinsky's automatic paintings to music. But when I'm blocked there's not much to do but wait it out. I've learned to deal with those stages, because they happen to every working artist. Reading poetry, looking at other artists' work or reading biographies helps. Art is a discipline just like any other vocation.


Incandescent Dusk, oil/canvas panel 9"x12" 2010

9. Is there an artform that you haven't tried before but would like to explore?

I've never attempted any kind of sculpture and watched my mother sculpt a beautiful head out of clay when I was a teenager. She and I both loved Degas' figures of dancers that he did in clay or wax. I also love Camille Claudel's figurative work. And I'm attracted to abstract work like that of Louise Nevelson, Lee Bontecou, David Smith, and Deborah Butterfield. I might try something similar at some point. But the tactile plasticity and modulation that I can get with color and especially with oil paint, is something I doubt I'll ever give up.


10. Taking a pulse on past, present and future... how would you describe your work ten years ago, right now, and what do you see your work evolving into in say ten years from now?

Ten years ago I was working on the series of abstractions from nature that has influenced my current work, so I'd say I have a continuum going from that point. In ten more years I hope to be able to sell larger works online. I've had to reduce the size of my preferred scale to ship easily, but it is a bit restrictive. And I really enjoy the scale of large paintings and working over a period of months. You can't do that with a small work.

As for lifestyle, I've always wanted to have a farm or at least enough land to create a buffer between myself and neighbors. The idea of existing in a community, while living partially removed, is very appealing. I don't mean suburbia, but really out in the country where you can see stars and hear owls. That's my idea of heaven. I hope that in much less than 10 years I will have built up a thriving online business. I see the spark of that now just in the past year. We all need good press, enlightened entrepreneurs and the media to help us get there. Etsy is certainly a great resource, and I appreciate all the other artists there who have helped me.

Ad Reinhardt's famous quote about what art is sums up my thoughts on the subject: 'Art is art and everything else is everything else'.


Asparagus Bed, oil/canvas panel 22"x30" 2009

Thank you Victoria for taking the time to reply with such informative, thoughtful answers.

LINKS
http://www.furiousdreams.com/blog/
http://Furiousdreams.etsy.com
http://www.victoriawebb.net/

Twitter: @furiousdreams

6 comments:

Jessica Torrant said...

I thought I'd comment here instead of adding it to the post which would have taken away from the power of the completed interview. Ok... where do I begin...

Is that not the most inspiring interview of a painter or what? It makes me want to jump on a plane to Italy, or at the very least go to the library to rent some art history books and of course, to PAINT! I am so inspired by Victoria's commitment to painting, and the dedication and professionalism she exhibits is something to aspire to.

I'm personally at a very strange place right now with myself, with my paintings. It's a good place. It's reflective. It's sensing changes and changes that will be good. And these words, this life dedicated to painting, couldn't have come into my orbit at a more appropriate time.

My deepest thanks go out to Victoria for her time and sincerity in replying to my questions. Your story is a GREAT inspiration to aspiring painters, especially this one. :)

Victoria Webb said...

Jessica, thanks so much for your generosity! I hope to see more of your own strong and beautiful work, either online or in galleries and museums.

Many warm thanks for your thoughtful and perceptive questions.

Decorate the Diva said...

AWESOME interview... I'm so inspired!!!

TheJoyofColor said...

Jessica and Victoria, this interview really touched me, As a designer that like to draw i am
so respectuful of artists who dedicated there life to art !
This ia an amazing open reveling intervie. I enjoyed and learnt from it a lot ! and i too love Italy its our preferable place for vacation ,from Amalfi to Tuscany and the Italian Reviera. (last time we celebrated my 50
birthday in Portofino ) that was awesome!!!

Kendra Zvonik said...

Incredible interview! it's hard to know where to start in response since there is so much there! Great questions too, Jessica!
The one thing that stuck in my mind as I read this, as I am a painter too, is the idea of seeking residencies. I really like that idea and am at the perfect point in my career to seek that sort of opportunity. Your residency sounds like the most wonderful adventure ever- Awesome opportunity!
Thank you for all the inspiring ideas, Victoria!!
Your experience is rich and dynamic and all that energy and intelligence is present in your work. I know I will continue to think about this interview, as well as your work, for awhile.
Thank you both.

pey said...

Thank you both for this brilliant interview.