Dee Solin is a brilliant abstract expressionist artist who lives in New York City. Her work is really an explosion of color www.deesolin.com and she has the personality and personal conviction about art and life to match. We had a fantastic chat. You'll definitely enjoy it ...
MICHAEL: Hello Dee, Your work is very cool. I love your exuberant, yet strategic use of color. Your paintings are free and fresh, but there's clearly a strong process there. What is your process? How do you describe what you do?
DEE: Hi Michael. Thanks so much! Great questions. You said it clearly. Yes, my paintings have always been about artistic freedom. I've always been drawn to color and light as my subjects. The love affair began when I took a college course developed by Joseph Albers. I like the way he introduced logical thinking into the process of manipulating color and space. And, I knew immediately that I wanted to work with color as my language.
My process is not a material process in the sense of using a variety of materials and techniques. I am a traditional abstract painter and my process is applying paint with a small brush to the canvas. In terms of my process, I like working in series. I'm a serial serialist! Love watching one thread of an idea develop organically within a context and I consistently build a sort of scaffolding first. I construct my paintings in my mind and often with a little help from Photoshop. For example, with my DOT paintings. I start with a drawing of the dots and crescents, then I construct a framework for the grisaille. This is the initial drawing for a virtual landscape and I always begin with the major shapes.
After that, I just dive in painting the gray tone cubist inspired space with no idea of what or where it will take me. I have so much fun with these paintings that I completely lose track of all time and I believe I could easily continue painting one canvas for years. But at a certain point, I stop myself. At that point, I stand back and apply more critical thinking to the composition and effects.
The Dots, which I also call L.E.Ds - Light Emitting Dots, are on a different plane, a separate space, another place and they are represented by glorious color and hopefully a little humor. Last, I apply the silver. I love the way the silver adds a bit of a fourth dimension - movement and time. Now you've got me started! I'll stop here.
MICHAEL: I see that you use a lot of primary colors. What's the difference between primary colors and muted ones for your work?
DEE: Hmm, I have been accused of being exuberant! I love bold color and I am not trying to represent the "real world." I paint virtual worlds, so anything goes. There aren't any rules.
One way to answer that question would be to describe my home which is a personal space that expresses my individuality. The rooms are all in shades of white and muted light shades of earthy colors, umbers, siennas and light shades of gray. The house is light-filled,minimal, quiet and relaxing. But on the walls, you will find paintings, big, bright, colorful, bold and abstract art. I designed the room with the paintings as the focal points. They definitely dominate the air space. The paintings are the exclamation points. The colorful canvases don't fight the surroundings, on the contrary, the surroundings compliment and support the colorful art work.
It's very much the same when you create a painting. The bright colors are the exclamation points and the muted colors are the supporting actors. I am very careful not to cross the line into garishness (too much of a good thing you know!) color works best in relationships. Each color placed on the canvas effects all of the other colors. It's like a musical chord. One note says little, but a well thought out grouping of musical notes create music. You need to create a dialog among the colors, be it harmony, tension, rhythm, drama. I always start with a color idea, which might be a mood or a dominant color or sequence of colors and everything else is there on the canvas to support the initial intention what ever that may be.
I love strong, bright colors and I applaud any artist who can create an interesting compelling story using all strong, bright colors. It's not easy. And I also really appreciate paintings that are soft and muted. Soft muted colors can easily be boring and dull. It's always challenging to get the balance right to create strong compelling works with soft colors. Tastes change, artists evolve, my paintings are visual representations of various periods in my life. Right now, I am enjoying a more simplified palette of colors and my interest is now more directed toward the effects of light and creating virtual atmospheres and interesting visual counterpoint.
I spent a month, last June, making a painting every day. This turned out to be an amazing experience for me and I was surprised by the variety of colors and combinations that poured out from my head. I wish I could create a large, finished canvas every day because I have far too many ideas and dot effects that I want to work on and never enough time. Currently, I am enjoying working with many shades of gray (ha ha) to create atmospheric effects, intersecting planes with various light sources and with a Dot Matrix of color and drama like my living room.
MICHAEL: So many uninformed people think they can also be artists when they see abstract works. What's up with that?
DEE: Michael you are so right! Most of us can take a good photo, paint a pretty picture, throw some paint around, write a compelling letter. It's good to have a creative outlet to express ourselves. Some people even have an innate talent and produce interesting work without much effort.
But try writing a great, 500 page novel with fully developed characters, unexpected plot twists, adventure that takes us back in time or deep into the future and has the power to keep people up all night because they are enjoying the story so much. That is not easy!!! Being a great writer takes years and years of reading, writing, study, practice, practice, practice, rejections. But the great writer keeps at it because there is a story burning inside that needs to get out.
Art is the same and I believe abstract art is the most difficult of all forms of painting. Great abstract art may appear to be simple, but it isn't! Behind any great abstract painting is a dedicated abstract thinker. The best way to understand an abstract painting is to follow the work of the artist. Abstract artists are creating new languages and working out visual ideas. These abstract concepts may be about color interaction, they may be mathematical constructions, visual social commentary, it doesn't matter. The challenge is to find your own voice and say what you need to say in a unique compelling manner. A "simple painting" by a great abstract artist represents one chapter of the artist's "Novel.” Artists develop their own languages that emerge from their unique personality. Look on the internet and you will see thousands of abstract images in all forms, colors, sizes, styles and some of the images are quite pleasing. But the test of being an artist is commitment and developing a body of work that follows a theme and tells a story. Picasso compared the development of Cubist art to climbing a mountain. He and Braques freed themselves from single vantage point perspective because they wanted to paint the experience of an object in time. They developed Cubism and this changed the course of art forever.
It has taken me over thirty years, painting regularly, studying the works of other artists, challenging myself, questioning my methods, allowing myself to develop new ideas, failure and success. Being an artist is a life that I choose because I am passionate about creation. Recently a friend of mine grumbled, "I wish I could go to all those fancy openings and parties." I wrote back and said, "You have no idea of what my life is all about. I spend 6-8 hours a day, wrestling with ideas, working alone in a dirty studio on paintings that perhaps no one will ever see. So why do I do it? Well, the truth is I love what I do. Every day is a new adventure and I am never satisfied until things come together the way I intended. So, yes anyone can paint an abstract painting.
MICHAEL: Haha! Well said. Anything that's visually engaging - even "ugly" art - has an inherent glamour for people. Even other people's lives "seem" glamorous. Isn't it really a Catch-22 situation? You don't really want the seams in a finished product to show, but you also don't want people to think that your work or even your life is completely effortless either. Hmm.
DEE: Like beauty, glamour is in the eyes of the beholder! Glamour is aspirational and often dependent on artifice. You can't worry about what people think. I work hard at being true to myself.
MICHAEL: You've done various series of paintings ... from Genesis to Magic to Conflict to Dot paintings. I can see your evolution within each series, but not between them. Does that mean the shift represents a sharp turn? What happens with you between series?
DEE: After I've worked in a series for a year or two, I start getting new ideas and feel it's time to move on to a new set of parameters and challenges. For example, after working on Magic and completing about ten canvases using the same original drawings of shapes with each canvas, I was feeling too constrained and the little shapes were intensely detailed, so much so that I felt I was working too slowly. I also felt a strong need to "act out." I wanted more gesture in the work. So I moved on to the Conflict Series and I let it rip. I looked to DeKooning for inspiration. I was drawn to his powerful, strong gestural stroke and scrapes.
This series was my most difficult period. I would start with these strong, dark shapes, then jump in as I usually do and fight my way out. It was really stressful. When I entered the studio, I would feel anxious because these canvases had such power and it was difficult to pull them together. After about a year, I thought, “Okay, enough of this I can't do it any more. I want peace!” So I started searching for an idea or a format where I could really be at peace. I began studying contemporary architecture and was excited by the new minimal, all glass structures that are as much about light and open form than anything else. I also read some great books on Cubism. I was never a fan of Cubism probably because they tend to be pretty monochromatic. But I found myself drawn to the ideology. I got it. And I felt very much in sync with the linear compositions which were, for me, a new way of looking at gesture - big shapes, line and geometry. And then I stumbled onto the DOTS. It was like love at first sight. That was the month of my painting each day experiment. The dots had a joyful simplicity and combined with the linear "cubist" geometry, I felt I had finally arrived where I wanted and needed to be.
I decided to take it slowly and let the series evolve. Well today, I have never been happier and I enter the studio filled with joy. I am discovering that I have more ideas to explore within this format than ever before in my career. I'm just getting started. And the dots are not dots they are more like portals to another virtual space. Stay tuned, I'm just getting started. So, each series definitely leads to the next. There's no gap in time. I just turn the corner and move in a new direction. Great question Michael. Thanks.
MICHAEL: When and how did you first become aware of yourself as an artist? What happened?
DEE: It's been a long journey! I've always been me and I believe we are all born with our own set of talents and abilities. Some individuals never realize those innate skills because they get sidetracked or "life gets in the way" and others begin their path later in life.
When I was a child, I liked to play by myself under the dining room table and when anyone tried to talk to me, I'd say, "Don't look at me and don't talk to me" because I was happiest playing in my own head, exploring my imagination. I still do! In school, I excelled at math and sciences. These subjects came easily for me because I could see the answers in my head. English and reading were another story. Words have never been my forte. My grandfather gave me a photo enlarger when I was about 13 and I set up a darkroom in my house. I spent a great part of my high school years taking photographs of unusual subjects, architecture and abstract images and the only way I got through high school English was because I created photo essays in lieu of written reports.
I come from a family of artistic people, architects, poets and artists and I have always been a visual person. My "aha" moment was in college and I was taking the "Joseph Albers Course on Color Theory." I realized that I was good at it. Color theory spoke to me like a full symphony orchestra. It was then that I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life working at my art. Nothing else has ever captured that passion in me. So off I went to art school where I found a whole new life in a community of like-minded people. I love being with artists, talking about art, visiting galleries; we artists see life a little differently. Some artists are story tellers, others are provocateurs, humorists, technicians ; we're all so incredibly individual and that's what makes art so fascinating. I guess you could say I am an explorer.
Being an artist is definitely a calling. Artists are the keepers of the flame. We're sentinels, recording humankind's inner and emotional stories. And when we look back in time, thank goodness we have these beacons of light in the dark sea of mankind's history.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world/art market now and how they function? What would you change?
DEE: Throughout history, it has never been easy to make a living as an artist and an individual would be foolish to "become" an artist to get rich or famous. There will always be a gulf between the buying habits of the wealthy and the needs of all artists struggling to make a living. I don't think this will ever change so instead of complaining about huge sums being paid for art star art, I think we need to focus on what can be done.
I would like to see more wealthy people and foundations invest in low cost work and exhibition spaces and fund gathering places where artists can learn, exchange ideas, listen to their peers and give talks about their work. So many artists have difficulty talking about their work and it's because they are not encouraged or given enough opportunities to do so. Art schools today encourage students to "express" themselves. This is fine, but we need more serious art methods and materials education in our curriculum and more discussion time needs to be allocated. Today, artists are too isolated and it's a shame because they have so much to say.
Society won't respect art and artists more until art-speak is experienced and seen by the masses as an accessible activity that's fun and available to all. It needs to be de-mystified. Artists are people! I think you are a perfect example of someone who is really interested in the person behind the work. It's a wonderful thing that you are doing.
We need to teach our children to appreciate art and respect the various art forms. Education and respect for the arts should start at a very early age. Our museums are showing dead artists and the .1% of artists who have been raised to the highest platforms, while the same museums squirrel away art by living artists in huge underground vaults. Why? Because art stars sell tickets and museums are also struggling to "pay the bills." So more funding, tax incentives and public sources are needed to support our living artistic villages and create exhibitions that are open to more artists. Grants and scholarships are a start, but there are thousands of artists who are also working at other jobs to pay their living expenses. These artists should also be given opportunities to receive support and opportunities even if they don't meet the "needy" financial status requirements for assistance.
We are living in a global society and it's a good thing. I have Facebook friends all over the globe and I love to see what's happening NOW in Berlin, England, China - the language of art is one language and we are all interested in the totality of developing new modes of expression. But it's not enough. In the 30's and 40's, artists spoke up, they demonstrated, they were politically-active. And the world listened, the WPA was formed to help those who were struggling by creating public works projects.
So nothing has really changed and it won't until we find our voices, stop complaining and start working together to be more pro-active to change the way the world views and appreciates the arts.
MICHAEL: Thanks for the kind words Dee and yes, I totally agree with your assessment. That's 100% why I do what I do. Given the internet globalization of art, what role do you think New York will play in the future?
DEE: I love New York! It's a city full of hardworking, kind, ambitious and smart people. There's an energy, a buzz that can't be found in many cities around the world. The population is diverse and its people are very open-minded and forward-thinking. I believe New York will always be the center of the storm. Other art markets will thrive, Los Angeles for example is a hive of new ideas and risk taking artists, but L.A. is very spread out and fragmented. I'm trying to get to know L.A. Better, but I can't get my head around it. I keep asking people who live there, “Where's the art happening (besides in the museums)?” What neighborhoods should I visit? And no one really seems to know for sure. L.A. artists still aspire to being in a New York Gallery. Miami is a hotbed of new art and an area that I would like to explore more. Great things are happening in cities around the globe. New York will always be challenged by other markets, but there's only one New York! I believe artists around the globe always have and always will be watching and waiting to see who can make it in New York.
MICHAEL: So many people think art - particularly contemporary art - is bullcrap and not worth their time. Insert stereotype about art here ... What is the point of art? Why should people even care? It's not like people need art like oxygen, food and water.
DEE: Actually, all we need to survive is food and water, maybe sunlight. But without language and self expression, we'd all be walking around like zombies keeping our thoughts to ourselves, if we had any thoughts at all.
Remember the Fauves? In 1905, people ridiculed these artists and called them wild beasts. Today, we celebrate their contributions and their courage to be different. Vanguard art opens new doors for all kinds of human expression in a sort of chain reaction. One idea leads to another and so on. I say, give everyone a chance to express themselves and keep an open mind - you don't have to like everything, but keep your eyes open and maybe you'll learn something.
Artistic expression is food for the mind and soul. Society needs discourse and cross fertilization of new ideas to thrive. Otherwise it will sink into mediocrity and decay. So let the show go on. It's a good thing.
MICHAEL: Finally Dee, if your work could verbally speak, what would you like it to say to people who see it ... and what does art do for you personally?
DEE: When I see art that moves me, first I feel intense emotion and possibly joy at the sight of a masterpiece, then my thinking brain jumps in and I look at the elements of the artist's language. How in the world did they accomplish that? I learn and grow as an artist from the experience of another's art.
Imitative art brings pre-fabricated experiences to people. I work hard at being authentic and painting new and unique images without any references to objects or literary thought. My art stems from my subconscious. When I paint, I look way into my subconscious and I paint what I experience as the colors and shapes come to me. I hope to facilitate and expose people to ideas they haven't seen before and give the viewer a feeling of being very alive and in the moment. No thinking allowed! They are in effect looking into my mind and I have opened the curtain. I guess it's curtain time Michael. This has been fun and intense. Thanks so very much for pushing me and for listening!
MICHAEL: Thanks Dee. This has been enlightening indeed.
Check out Dee at www.deesolin.com.