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Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues 7 (2004) 229-235

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A Life in Art (2)

In the late 1960s, as I sought my own voice as an artist, I grew interested in incorporating self-portraits and first-person narratives into my paintings, drawings, and prints. I wanted to be true to the images that populated my memory and my imagination. This was challenging, because I found that the male American figurative artists I was looking at, Alex Katz, George Segal, and Phillip Pearlstein, all had more distanced attitudes towards the figure, predicated on the ironies of Pop Art. The Europeans of an older generation whom I admired, such as Balthus, Beckmann, and Giacometti, did prove to be an inspiration. Most importantly, in that same generation there were a few American women artists to emulate, such as Alice Neel and Isabel Bishop, both of whom had a psychological depth in their figuration that I found very congenial.

In addition to these enthusiasms, the feminist movement in the early 70s conveyed the message that the personal was political. Our story still had not been told from our point of view. So, I embarked on a journey that I am still pursuing, in which my persona or a surrogate is amplified by myth, story, or autobiographical allusion. Over the years, my son, other family members, and especially my daughter have represented a diffused sense of self—at the same time both themselves and a reflection of me. I continue to be profoundly attracted to the melding of direct observation with a certain illusionary and transient sense of our lives and identities.

Some of the images I uncovered in this era were so resonant that I have returned to them over and over. A case in point is the image of a woman underwater, floating in an almost fetal position, seen from below but backlit by the light on the surface of the water. She first appeared in a 1972 lithograph entitled "Waterborne," which was based on my then newly discovered perceptions of being pregnant and the sense of empathy I felt for the fetus inside of me. In contrast to my other lithographs of that period, which variously used the paintings of Velazquez or the Italian tradition of Commedia D'Arte, the nude floating women reveal no particular period of history. In successive iterations [End Page 229]

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Figure 1
"Waterborne" (1984)
painting, 70" x 70"
[End Page 230]

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Figure 2
"Separating the Waters 1" (1996)
monotype, 19" x 27"

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Figure 3
"Pentimento" (1985)
painting, 71" x 120"
[End Page 231]

of the image, however, they gained additional references that were biblical, historical, or ritualistic.

The painting entitled "Waterborne," which I completed in 1984, continued to be about giving birth to one's self. In the monotype "Separating the Waters I," done in 1996 and depicting a young friend rather than myself, I conflated birth with the sense of renewal and cleansing of the mikvah, and with Creation as imagined in the words of Genesis 1:6-7: "God said, 'Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water.' God made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water that was above the expanse. And it was so."

This very layered and allusive use of references has become characteristic of my work. What I hope for is the viewers' projection of their own identity and experience onto the work.

In the mid-80s, I wanted to survey all the major themes in my work. I found that they arranged themselves very naturally around the life cycle. In a set of eleven paintings collectively entitled Circle of Life, starting with ancestors rather than with birth, I explored themes of childhood, adolescence, coming-of-age, loss, and fulfillment.

"Pentimento," which marks the coming-of-age, contains a full-length self-portrait set in an idyllic Italian landscape. It is an...


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pp. 229-235
Launched on MUSE
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