In a week I’ll be releasing a new paper series all loosely based on still life. It’s not the first time I’ve explored the subject. In fact, if I’m doing the math right, it’s the 8th time I’ve explored it.
In my early 20s, when I was working as an events coordinator full time and painting at night, I painted still life out of convenience. I was fresh out of undergraduate school with my painting degree and knew only how to paint realistic and somewhat impressionistic style pieces based on actual objects (or nudes… UGA had a strong live model program, though those weren’t easy to come by… ahem). Back in 2008, fruit was a relatively cheap item to get a hold of, and so I went to town making it my own.
Pear painting by yours truly, circa 2008
Back then Instagram wasn’t a thing. I sold mostly through pop-up shows my friends and more importantly, my parents’ friends would host in exchange for a big painting. I displayed my work at coffee shops and on Facebook and had a portfolio website (early days of Squarespace software if you can believe it!) that maybe got 10 views a week.
I started to get a client base that really loved the fruit pieces. Enough that it inspired me to apply to grad school at SCAD, and got accepted on the first round.
Pop up art show at my parents' bay house, Mullet Point, Alabama, 2010
Grad school poo-pooed my still life paintings as well, basic and stereotypical of a female painter coming into her own. And I wasn’t surprised. To give you the art historical background (briefly…), female painters have been creating still life paintings for centuries. At first, it was the only thing they were allowed to paint. Ultimately from the 16th to the 19th century it was deemed unfeminine for female artists to paint anything outside of the home. It wasn’t until botanicals became popular in the 17th century amongst the Dutch that female artists made much of a living off of their “domestic” art.
Tie in the connection to Eve and the apple, Persephone and the pomegranate, the fertile innuendo to ripe fruit and of course Georgia O’Keefe’s florals, and the professors had seen it. And encouraged me to go a different direction.
So, I did. And I’m glad I did. Diving into art theory, art criticism, and discovering and falling in love with abstract, modernism and abstract expressionism was my biggest takeaway from my time at SCAD.
Pop up holiday show, Virginia Highlands, 2014
For years after I got my masters I painted other things. I revisited bright, abstracted fruit briefly when my first born was 1 years old, though quickly moved on (my professors’ voices still in my head I suppose).
I wasn’t until 2020 that I got the urge to truly revisit it for a limited series. By then I had made a name for myself with abstract art, and thought as a joyful, experimental hiatus during the pandemic to go back to my roots with still life. This time though I wanted to do it on a much larger scale. I started making bright deconstructed still life pieces on large canvases—60” x 48” and bigger.
"Low Country" | 48" x 72," 2020
And it got a great response! I painted it for six months before I missed my escape into a world of your own abstracts.
Delivery day at Huff Harrington Fine Art, 2020
So now it’s 2023. And I’m back to still life. Why? I’ve been leaning towards more masculine, neutral tones recently. Rich interiors, with lots of layers and textures, and gestural marks that you’d find in old sketch books. I’ve been looking at Atlanta designers Tara Fust, Michael Habachy, Andre Jordan Hilton, and New York based king of neutrals himself Nate Berkus (and his partner Jeremiah Brent, of course) and wanting my pieces to feel like their spaces. Cozy yet sophisticated. Warm, intentional, one of a kind.
Michael Habachy's stunning salon at the 2023 Southeastern Showhouse
So, I thought, what if I took this traditional, meant to be a confining, feminine subject of the still life, and gave it that masculine, rich, rooted yet modern feel?
And how would I do that? First, it was about the palette: the rich tans, beiges, muddy colors, and charcoal marks highlighted with a variety of olives, sage greens, bancha (think Farrow & Ball) green, chartreuse, steel blue, and citron.
Then it was about the marks. They needed to feel rooted, like they had a history. I kept thinking of old Italian sketches, where you can see the pentimento (a technique of under painting/drawing… where the lines created for another piece showing through on the final piece). I used that for these pieces, so that have that intentional, worked through until it’s right, feel.
And texture. It had to have texture. I went back to another Italian painting technique—Impasto (thick paint to the point you can see the brush strokes). This is something that connects all of my work. Thick paint, lots of different strokes and textures, gives a weight and significance to a piece for me. I never want a thin looking painting. I want a richness, a layered old world meets new world masterpiece.
Then how to make it something that felt fresh too? Abstract paintings always feel modern to me. They lend themselves to an effortless look that keeps everything else in the space from getting to stuffy. That looseness I applied to the shape of the fruit themselves—I want you to not see the inspiration immediately. Some are more obviously than others (the bright colors on some of the pieces help with that). Some are not (I showed my husband and his immediate response was “I like the lines. They feel new for you.” He didn’t see the fruit still life at all… win!).
They can be what you want them to be, ultimately. And that, is quite modern indeed.
Les Artefacts, my modern still life paper series, will be available on my site on June 29th at 11AM EST. Subscribers get access the day before, on June 28th at 11AM EST. Join the list here.