Party - oil on canvas - 45”x60”
After my three children went off to school, I went back to being an artist. At the time, we had a small house and the only place I could do artwork was the kitchen table. Because of that, my creations rarely exceeded 30x40 inches in size. When we moved into our present home, some 45 years ago, I got my first real studio, an enormous one: 25’x20’, two stories high with a giant north light window. It had been built for a mural painter known for his work at the 1937 World’s Fair. At first, I was overwhelmed by its size; everything I did looked out of scale, much too small for the new space. I retreated back to the kitchen table and my customary 30”x40” format, Soon my work began to grow in size, comfortable in its new, expanded quarters. Just recently, I have begun to crave an industrial loft, (the kind that is now impossible to find in Stamford,) the sort of space used by really “important” artists who do really “important” work.
And here is the crux of my blog: It has been my observation that artists (not all) usually work to the constraints of their studio space. A small space means smaller artwork; a big space, bigger artwork. It doesn’t mean the work is better, it just means it’s bigger and in today’s art world, bigger IS considered better, more “serious.” But, speaking as an art historian, I know that great work comes in all sizes. Vermeer, who worked in his Dutch parlor was no less an artist than Tintoretto or Rubens who had giant studios and turned out monumental works for palaces and public spaces. Bigger is bigger, that’s all.
Most of the artwork produced locally is what I call “decorator art,” designed for suburban houses or apartments. When I inquire of my fellow artists why their work isn’t larger, they invariably reply: “Where would someone put it?”
I had an interesting experience recently with “scale.” I attended a small dinner party in Stamford where one of the guests, a theatrical-looking older man with a mane of white hair (and a much-younger, “trophy” wife) was studiously ignoring the rest of us. Too boring. When the party broke up, he and I found ourselves standing alone near the door and he was forced to talk to me (an elderly, totally uninteresting suburban matron). Someone mentioned to him that I was an artist “too” and he proceeded to sound off about his importance, all the while never looking directly at me (not worth his time). It turned out he had been a famous cameraman in the heyday of Italian cinema and had gone on to a big career as a photographer in New York City in the 1970s. When he said he had worked for Fellini, I reached into my purse and took out a photo of a painting of mine, a really powerful, debauched nightclub scene, very Fellini-ish. “This is my work.” I said, quietly. He did a perfect double take, the kind you see in the movies, actually seeing me for the first time. ”You did that?” he exclaimed. “It’s incredible! How big is it?” “About 40”x60,” I replied. “Not big enough! It has to be the size of a wall. Call me when you’re finished and I will come see it.”
He was right of course; at heart I was still a suburban housewife/painter. I lacked the balls to be “ a real artist.” Recently, however, I bought a giant roll of canvas and am working up the nerve to go really bigger, colossal, Fellini-esque …and I will be sure to ask him to come see it when I am finished.