I had two lovely little solo shows this winter. The first was at BlackHawk College in February. Zaiga Thorson, the curator, was marvelous and I had a wonderful time giving a lecture and workshop to the painting students.

The second show was at Sauk Valley College in March. Suzanne Gorgas is the curator there and was wonderful to work with.


Back in the spring, I had been chosen by a patron to create a painting that would be revealed to them for the first time, at Water Street Studio's Blind Date fundraiser party in November. The experience was nerve-wrecking, as I left my employment at Water Street half way through the process and because I was afraid the patron wouldn't like the piece (after having pre-paid for it.) In the end, of course, the couple who had invested in my work loved the painting. I was happy, they were happy, and they really enjoyed the phone pictures I showed them of the process the painting went through.


As I was throwing out the last few items from our flood, things that had been hard to throw out at first, I reached out to toss a collection of Metropolitan Museum books from the 60's that I'd never looked at anyway. Chris stopped me and I spent the next hour taking out all the plates- hit after hit! Who knew?  

In the studio, over the last month, I've struggled to start a new series, having finished off every panel I'd started over the last two years. I pored over the plates, unable to paint, and started noticing similarities between some loose starts I had and these classic compositions. The canvases are really small for me and as I draw in the bones of these compositions, I find them getting crowded and overlapping. I like it. It speaks of my modern life, trying to stuff too much into each day, struggling to find a balance between art-making, family, a job, and self-care. The overlapping is a carry over from every painting I've ever made. I'm trying to break loose of overworking and making so many more layers than are needed or ever seen. I turn the prints upside down and on their side, considering them not for their literal content but for their colors and shapes. 

Roman murals, Giotto, Sassetta, Rubens, Tintoretto, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec- if it looks good upside down, it can work.  


Nicole Eisenman received a MacArthur Genius Grant this week. Read about it here

From the above NYT article with Roberta Smith

Installation view from Koenig and Clinton, 2009


These are pieces I'm finishing up in the studio right now. Really into resin, powder graphite, reflective tape, and oilsticks.  Last night I sleep-purchased (you know, like I woke up a few hours later and wondered if that really happened- like sleep walking maybe?) some reflective beads as part of my continued obsession with the safety paint on roads. I'm not particularly into safety - the opposite, I suppose - more impulsive... but I'm into the thickness of the paint, the reflective quality in only just the right light at the right angle, and maybe even the fact that we paint the roads. This started when my husband brought home reflective tape from a 3M bag sale. I lamented for some time that I wasn't a sculptor, with this access to 3M products on the cheap- until he brought home reflective tapes! The red is my favorite; I'm still playing with the yellow and silver. They have that diamond pattern that keeps them looking like exactly what they are. 


Nathaniel Mary Quinn at Rhona Hoffman was the highlight of Chicago's First Friday openings. His work stopped me in my tracks and provided that visceral joy I get from the paintings I like best.  Portraits painted to look like collage, the work reminded me of Wangechi Mutu, Margot Bergman, and Romare Bearden. Read about him here.

  Nathaniel Mary Quinn



Wangechi Mutu

Romare Bearden

Margot Bergman


I got a new studio!  535 square feet of lofty awesomeness and a wall of north-facing windows!


I've discovered the 4-6AM slot for getting more time in the studio. Today I started a piece that I'm making for my dad; it's an homage to my grandparents' chandelier. I'm generally no material girl, but I LOVE this object; it embodies years of love and generations of babies, standing on the formal dining room table, in awe of its shadows and light. My beloved Gram and Pa are gone, but the chandelier still hangs, still enchants.  

I start each painting by sketching on plywood, usually with a very soft pencil. It begins with the examination of an object. This time, I held a chandelier crystal in my hand and turned it over and around, getting to know it, and making sloppy sketches and blind contour "notes" on the surface of the wood. I delighted in how much the sketches looked like fish when I turned the frame to get at sketching in another way. (I had tried to make my dad a painting of fish once, did loads of research on fish, fretted over the composition, and ended up giving him a painting of stones instead.  Now the fish just show up...) I moved to photos of the chandelier and examined those, noticing how dusty the crystals are now, and remembering cleaning each one with my grandmother thirty years ago. I liked the perspective I found, as the crystals made the curve around the fixture; I got lost in the personality I saw in each one, each at a slightly different angle, looking a little like heads and torsos- a little like Baymax? Lastly, I sprayed the surface with water, painted it white, and left it to dry for the next session. The piece will probably get about 50 sessions before I consider it finished. 


I'm back in the studio!  I spent the last year in leadership at an arts center, making less and less work and now, after resigning and surviving some legit distractions, I'M BACK. I have three commissions, a solo show this winter, and a collaboration to finish up in the next month. Let's talk about that.

I met Steve Banks at an exhibit we both had work in last year. He asked me to collaborate over the winter and now our work will be part of an exhibit of collaborations at Bridgeport Art Center in Chicago in August. See his work and his photos of our team work on his blog, Punching Holes in the Rah Rah.  

Steve's picture from his studio on switch-em-up day

Steve's picture from his studio on switch-em-up day

Some of what I brought to him- We each started two 6'x4' paintings and then traded.

Some of what I brought to him- We each started two 6'x4' paintings and then traded.

Steve's work in my studio- ready to get started

Steve's work in my studio- ready to get started

I seldom have the fear-of-the-blank-canvas problem, but working into someone else's painting is a first for me and not easy to get started on. My first move is to begin excavating; Steve has some beautiful colors hiding under layers of paint, so I'm sanding away on a voyage of discovery.  

The soundtrack to my return to the studio: AFROBEAT!


Opening Reception, May 1st, 5-7PM, Wilson Hall, Fermilab, Batavia, IL

Artist Talk, May 6th, 11:30AM, Wilson Hall, Fermilab, Batavia, IL


Sarah Krepp, master of Dialogue Chicago, a critique group for "visual artists in an aggressive studio practice," has curated an exhibit of work by some of the Dialogue participants.  The show will be up at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston, IL, from March 8th - April 12th, 2015.

TALKS: Doris Salcedo

I was in a dark and sober place when I saw Doris Salcedo's retrospective at the MCA.  The work embodies death and loss and I was in just the state to receive the message.  The smell of old roses overwhelmed before I could even examine the massive sheet of carefully sutured petals.  To me, they were tens of thousands of stitched lips of corpses. The next room was even more wretching- bedroom furniture, pieced together, collaged, dense, filled in with concrete.  In the most striking work, concrete pressed baby pajamas up against the glass of the armoire; it was the sudden death of family.  

The talk itself was too quiet to hear very well, and she read from a laptop, in a heavy Columbian accent.  I scribbled some great insights from her and some of the references she quoted, but the audience missed quite a bit of what she said. It would be worth going back to listen again when the MCA posts the video. When she took a few questions off the cuff though, she had a fantastic presence and took no shit.  If anyone has a visibly powerful aura, it is Doris Salcedo.  I'm a fan for life after that Q&A.  


NO/YES?  Curated by Sarah Krepp

Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston, IL  March 8 -April 12, 2015

Opening March 8th, 4-6PM

detail from I still wish I could, Jen Evans, 2014, acrylic, oil, wax, and resin, 72"x 48"

PRESS: Hyperallergic

"Using acrylic, oil, automobile paint, powdered graphite, resin, and other stuff, she builds up the surfaces of her paintings using overlapping circular shapes that billow all over the canvas before being temporarily engulfed in poured paint. She repeats this process again and again, sometimes taking up to a year to complete a set of works, resulting in an engrossing tension between suggestions of seascapes or flora, and an abstractionist’s interest in the patterning of one mark or shape next to another. Their sophistication rewards careful looking, and these pictures alone made the long drive out of Chicago worthwhile."

Philip Harigan, Hyperallergic

ARTISTS: Margot Bergman

Margot Bergman at Corbett vs. Dempsey:  I had to go back and see it again.  

Marie Christine , 2014

Marie Christine, 2014

The MCA ended up buying Marie Christine.  It was my favorite, too.

Le Salon , 2014

Le Salon, 2014

The tension between layered, gestural marks and recognizable portrait just hums.  Larger than life and painted over found, hobbyist paintings, the results are arresting.  A little de Kooning, a little Alice Neel, and maybe a little Wayne White...  and Frida.


Took some pieces down this weekend, saw some good stuff around the West Loop

Andrew Rafacz has an interesting show: Murmelte Instrumentephotographs and objects by Kelly Kleinschrodt.  She brings ideas of motherhood front and center with Victorian-era child portrait photography- mother covered in a dropcloth, breastfeeding, and the breast pump.  I was so excited to see these ideas layered into smart work; nothing is less OK in fine art than motherhood.  But the tension to be mined!  

After grad school with two toddlers, I finished with a series of video installations that were a kind of nervous breakdown/lifestyle of trying to be a mother and a serious artist.  

In the last few years, I thought maybe I should keep having kids under wraps, but in the last month all I can think about is layering girls' hand-me-downs into my paintings and making work about the tension that makes it hard to make work.  (duh.)  

Of course I have to be honest, even if the art world can't take moms seriously.  

Partly because my husband was preparing for a show of his own, this month was really busy.  I made small watercolors of piles of clean laundry around the front room and collected photos of messes around the house for interesting and future compositions.  

Back in the West Loop and down the hall from Andrew Rafacz, Kavi Gupta was showing new Tony Tasset works:  big trompe l'oeil/collage, abstract/pop messes.  Some of it was great.  Genuine Ah! is my favorite.

I say, YES! to the mess.  


This week I went to the MCA to see Unbound: Contemporary Art After Frida Kahlo.  (The curator's talk was actually kind of torturous, as Shirin Neshat's video installation in the next room was as loud as the lecturer's voice- mighta just been me, though.) 

Two pieces that really caught my eye were Tiny Split Character, a collage by Wangechi Mutu:

and Margot Bergman's Blondie.

I met Margot there; a friend of a friend, and liked her right away.  She has an opening coming up June 20th at Corbett vs. Dempsey and I look forward to talking with her again and seeing more of her work.  

Still at Corbett vs. Dempsey now is work by Charline von Heyl.  (The catalog is fantastic.)

TALKS: On art education

Tammy Duckworth is the Congresswoman in the district where I teach.  I was asked to give a speech for the congressional high school art competition last week, where she would address the kids and announce the winners.  I remembered liking her from election time and everyone remembers her because she lost her legs in Iraq.  But, I thought I would brush up before meeting her and came across this video.  (Then I was really excited to meet her.)

She was super cool and I gave the following long-winded thoughts about art and education:

Hudson, the late and beloved New York gallerist said,  "Art is primarily about the development of consciousness, not the development of an object. The object is just a catalyst.”

Art is not about making decorations.  Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.  (Roy Ascot)

Artists are trained to observe.  They first use these observations to copy an image, but if an artist continues to train, she will go on to use her observations to build ideas.  Artists are trained to research, to learn, to stay curious, to question, to create, to generate original ideas.  Artists are trained to know that mistakes are OK because experimenting is how you come up with something new and exciting.  Artists train to become problem-solvers.

The painter James Whistler said, “An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision.”  We need visionaries. Visionaries who start, like you, as dreamers, and become leaders who plan for the future with imagination and wisdom.  The world is changing dramatically.  Right now.  In the 1400s, the evolution of the printing press made knowledge accessible to the masses.  This access to information breathed life into the culture and Europe moved from the Dark and Gothic Ages into the Renaissance, a time in history that we teach as valuable, in large part, for the arts created at this time.  

Art is not just paintings.  We don’t love daVinci because he made 100's of paintings.  He didn’t.  In fact, he hardly finished any projects and most certainly was one unfocused genius.   We love him for his intense curiosity and imagination, careful observation, inventions…  He explored and experimented.  He was a visionary.  We are experiencing our own information revolution.  Technology, easy access to knowledge, and globalization are changing the world in ways we may not understand in our lifetimes.  We can no longer choose from a list of safe paths to a comfortable lifestyle.  More of us have to forge our own paths; we have to get creative.

Art is problem-solving.  Sir Ken Robinson, expert on education and creativity, says “creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”  Every individual has a capacity for creativity and a certain genius and value of their own.  Some of us are especially creative and that is an important gift to share.  

Artists are observers and truth seekers.  we need people who are paying attention to society and all of its mores.  We need people to call out BS when they see it.  We need people who take the time to reflect on our mistakes.

Artists who are not afraid to upset people with the truth are very powerful individuals. They tell us stories we didn’t know we needed to know.

Artists are activists.  We need people who see what’s happening, who don’t bow their heads and keep rushing along, but act on their convictions.

Artists create communities.  There is nothing insignificant about finding the people who ‘get you.’  If you are an artist, those people are probably artists.  And non-artists like to be around groups of artists.  You can create businesses around that equation.

Have faith in yourselves and your gifts.  If you can do something else for a living and still  be happy, then DO THAT.  But if you are tortured by your creativity, you owe it to the rest of us to continue your education in the arts, work harder at it than you ever thought possible, and let us know what you figure out.  

Your calling is at the intersection of your passion, your talent, and what you can do for other people.  

Talented and passionate young artists: find out what you can do for other people, and stay curious.  

And remember, as Maya Angelou said, “Nothing will work unless you do.”