Undergraduate with Bob Wade at Northwood Institute - it was an experimental program. Each of us had a studio in an old building on the corner of Gaston and Peak in Dallas. My studio was front left, I still feel a very present elation when I drive by, remembering my first work, assemblage sculpture mostly. At Northwood I met some well-know art figures and at student shows won some acclaim.
But my inner world opened in 2004 when I started to paint.
In silence, with his brush, the painter Dennis Blagg showed me the way.
But you travel that road alone.
At times in the homes of those I paint, though I don’t think of the paintings as portraits. When I painted men I had shows at ArtSpace111 and at Dallas Contemporary, a non-collecting museum. With the women I’m gathering a body of work. We’ll see.
When I was 7 my father took a job as a professor, in Texas.
Texas felt foreign and dangerous. The boys frightened me. As I got older the girls frightened me even more with their blonde hair and tribal understanding of how to bond with each other, repel outsiders, attract males.
I grew up, 17, and moved to New York. When I travelled back to Texas, I saw the men with new eyes - their lore and their lives. I liked their simple reckoning. It seemed uncalculated except on the most obvious levels. That interested me, the audacity of being so at ease. I liked the luxury of looking at another human being and seeing him as he is. In 2004 I began to paint those men.
I used to live in the Caribbean, Barbados mostly, but my grandfather had a place in Grenada so for a couple of years I lived among those islands. Then I moved to Ireland where Chuck was born.
When I returned to the rugged terrain of Texas, life felt surreal, especially the lives of the women I’d known when I’d lived there before.
Many of them inhabited a distinct world, a self-defined harem. They served their men with their beauty and served their inner selves hardly at all.
They held a certain fascination for me, not because they could be known or truly recognized, but because they couldn’t.
But after painting men for several years, late in 2017 I felt a shift. I wanted to paint a woman. I’d met women I could trust, women I thought I could understand.
It was difficult in the beginning, with the women. The men I painted came like apparitions. I didn’t have to search. They appeared, in a restaurant or at the side of a road, so unexpected, so complete. The women did not.
I asked a woman named Connie if I could come over, maybe to paint her, maybe not. We sat in her garden. I watched her talk as the light went from bright and hard to slanting and deep. She started to reveal herself to me, her fearless right to exist.
And I did paint her.
I might see a woman and arrange to meet her, like Connie. It’s more an experiment than a plan. We talk, she tells me things, whatever is on her mind. She reveals herself with words. And then, sometimes for the first time, I see her.
But there’s another way, the way it used to happen with men, instant, insistent. I didn’t know if it could happen that way with women until early in 2018.
I went to a talk at the Modern Art Museum in Ft. Worth, the Tadao Ando building.
The lecture room looks out on a shallow, flat pool. Frank and I sat at the back because we came late. But someone else came even later.
She found a seat at the front of the already packed room, next to the entrance. I couldn’t see her face but I noticed the motion of her body as she turned to find her chair.
The moment the program ended she stood to leave. I couldn’t let her go. I tried to follow, but people stood all around their chairs, talking, taking up the space. I felt desperate.
I made it to the hallway, but a slow moving couple blocked the way. I minced along behind them until I could finally burst out into the lobby. There she stood, calmly looking at a movie poster. I wanted to speak but I had no conscious thoughts. Then I remembered the one recourse I have, the one route open to me and I told her. I paint. I want to paint you.
She let me take pictures in the dim lobby light. I repositioned her once but the fixtures high in the high ceiling cast more shadows than light. It didn’t matter. I wanted to remember her, Sandi.
I kept asking myself that, with every painting. But that night Sandi changed things.
When I finished and said goodbye, I thought she’d leave quickly, the way she left the lecture hall. But she just stood there. Finally she said a sentence or two, about her life. She used the word terminal.
Later I understood what Sandi gave me in those last moments – the knowledge that a woman’s presence can call out to me as completely as a man’s.
I painted Sandi’s face on the body of my daughter, my husband’s daughter.
Lessie is strong. The painting is a kind of centaur, a mythological female who will live on.
Since then, I trust the process, whether it’s an instant or a long unveiling. A woman can be seen. She can be seen, not as a symbol or a facsimile or a rogue combination of physical charms but as a full-blown being, present, suspended above the world by her own energy.