Judith Kalina is an artist who works in various genres, but for her it all seems to begin with drawing and writing http://www.judithkalina.com/. Her work is very intriguing. Read on and find out what inspires her…
MICHAEL: Hi Judith, Your work is great. Your paintings and drawings seem folksy and hodge-podge and yet they are so sophisticated and elegant. What inspires you to create them?
JUDITH: Something in nursery school, making an object, painting, using wet color, building, all these were my basic inspiration. I found I could make a thing outside of myself that felt alive. Once I discovered that power of creating, I never let it go. I find my inspiration in many places. For the longest time, I studied Gorky, Vuillard, and Miro. Lately, I have been looking at the artists of the early Renaissance. Living in Manhattan, I spent hours drawing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For several years, I travelled with various circuses to draw, make notes, come back to the studio and paint. As I am an avid reader, sometimes characters or situations pop up in my work, half veiled, but apparent to me. And of course, color; color inspires me. I don't think much about what I am going to do. I usually start with a simple setup, something observed, a structure, another painting, then I put the music on and all these elements that have inspired me take over and the painting proceeds by itself.
MICHAEL: I get this strong sense of narrative and storytelling in your work, but I can't really decipher the story. Some of the colors and figures are muted which I love. Do you do this intentionally?
JUDITH: My work definitely has a narrative quality, but I don't want description. What I want is for you to look at the painting and come to it from where you are. I want to jog emotion, to let my "story" generate your own thoughts. Each time you look at it, the painting will have a different meaning in the way our lives have different meanings at different times. That's what keeps the painting alive.
MICHAEL: Very interesting. You know, most every artist I've ever interviewed wants people to have their own personal interpretation of their work. So what's the point of art historians and docents?
JUDITH: Well, that's a good point and now it's kind of a free for all, isn't it?
MICHAEL: Your work also has a folk, somewhat untrained look, but I get the feeling you're doing this on purpose which means that it's NOT "folk art" per se. Your thoughts?
JUDITH: I'm not sure what you mean by a folk look, Michael. Do you mean the themes? Certainly, my paint handling and color choices are anything but "folk." I do have a master in fine arts and have been painting a long time. However, my ideas range from circus through literary through memory. And I am not academic. Is this what you mean? Perhaps there is something you are seeing that I don't see. Please give me some thoughts of your own on this.
MICHAEL: Judith, I knew I was taking a risk with that question. I was referring to your treatment of some of the figures in you paintings. Some of them appear simplified and childlike for effect. Meantime, your drawings are also fun and theatrical. What inspires you to create them?
JUDITH: Most of my drawings come from spending time with various circuses, both in the United States and abroad, where I was a guest and was allowed to roam freely. Some of the others are from a show that came to New York called, “Slava's Snowshow.” The owners allowed me to sit and draw, performance after performance. I haven't done that for a few years, but would love to find another show as zany and imaginative as that one. There's something fabulous about drawing quickly, being totally in the moment, in time with the music and the performance. There's a complete letting go of expectations. There's no going back. No erasing. It's always full speed ahead in sync with whatever is going on. Then, as you can see, I bring the drawings back to the studio and they are incorporated into my paintings or into other pieces.
MICHAEL: I also love your collages. Does the process of making collages fill the same creative urge as painting and drawing? I mean, do you ever wake up and say, "I'm going to work on collages today"?
JUDITH: The collages come from the same creative impulse as the paintings, but through a different "channel." You know, I've been a writer, also, both nonfiction (published) and poetry (which I used to read publicly in a group). The collages somehow satisfy the literary or poetic urge which is not as evident in the paintings. It is a different kind of process to choose images and then add words or even a spontaneous poem. I usually work in series. Some months, I just paint, occasionally adding collage to the paint surface. Other times, I do collage. Sometimes, I keep up with a graphic memoir (as yet unpublished). Sometimes, I write for days. I do whatever feels right at the moment. But, my biggest commitment is to the painting which encompasses everything for me.
MICHAEL: Through the years, I've seen how declining respect for art and creativity have resulted in more malignancy in society. And the culprits of this are usually unaware. What do you think?
JUDITH: Michael, Your questions are wonderfully thoughtful and provocative. I'd like to respond to this one, but I'm not sure what you mean by malignancy. And yes, I've seen the declining respect particularly in the schools where art and music teachers are given such small time frames and limited spaces. When you realize how much we've limited the scope of children's education to spewing something learned by rote rather than by creative thinking, you see how far spread this becomes as it spreads to adults feeling unable or unsure of their creativity or derogatory. Perhaps this is what you mean, an attitude spreading like a virus?
MICHAEL: Yes, I'm referring to the bad effects of our disregard for art and creativity and how these ill effects are spreading throughout society in various ways. And yet, so many people see art as a silly frill. No?
JUDITH: How people see art is so complex. Some reject it because it is an uncontrollable force. Many feel alienated - they don't understand, they can't put what they see in a category or they see it as something elite. When I go to MOMA, I am struck by the mall atmosphere. People running around, yelling to each other, taking pictures on their cell phones. Art is an event like going to a club is an event. Then there are those who truly love art. It is a mixed bag, of course. But, in most cases, the act of creating is not a part of daily life in our culture and so the "product" is often a commodity rather than a lived experience. This is such a big generalization that I'm almost hesitant to write it except for my feeling that the arts really need to be integrated into education. Art making in whatever form, participating in creative work is the basis for life and education. It inspires. It is generative. It is satisfying. It is healing.
MICHAEL: Indeed it is. Thanks Judith. Nice chat.
Check out Judith Kalina at http://www.judithkalina.com/.