Margaret Zox Brown is an artist who I met online. Her paintings are charmingly academic and classical with polite nods to great artists of the past. There's also something about her work www.margaretzoxbrown.com that I find calm and meditative. I decided that I really wanted to chat with her. Here's our conversation ...
MICHAEL: Hi Margaret. Your work is really cool. I see some influences. What inspires you to paint? Who are your influences?
MARGARET: Hi Michael. Well, first off thank you for the compliment. In terms of my own unique painting style, I do have several influences. My paintings are very much about the paint itself, color, texture, paint application, along with strong drawing. I always go to galleries and museums to look at work done by artists I see as brilliant and get inspired. I love Picasso for his drawings, Gauguin and Bonnard and for their color, Matisse for his layout on the picture plane, DeKooning and Kandinsky for their gestural free brush strokes, Modigliani for his ability to reveal the soul, cubism for its varying perspectives ... and I could keep going. Personally, all of my paintings come from drawings and when I do a strong successful drawing, it usually inspires me to then do a painting from it.
MICHAEL: I totally see all of those influences in your work. I must say that I love the way you treat your backgrounds. It's almost as if the figures in the foreground spring to life from the abstracted backdrops. They somehow seem to be equally as important.
MARGARET: They are! Some people have tried to get me to get rid of my figures and just have my "backgrounds" be a painting, but I just can't. The essence of the figure, whether it is a mood or an emotion or a line or a shape or a gesture, is expressed through the background, the revealing of color and the journey of all the elements on the canvas ... color, light, line, form, paint application, medium and texture.
MICHAEL: Hmm. Interesting. Do you think this is true of us in our everyday lives? How much of us do our surroundings reveal?
MARGARET: I'm not sure how it translates to real life. I do know though, that as I became freer with my artwork and let go easily of moments within paintings that I felt initially were perfect, but ultimately affected the success of the painting, then my whole life freed up as well. There is always another way to do or see anything. And the creation of a painting, just like the creation of happy, peaceful and joyous moments in life come from a letting go and being open. At least for me that is how I approach life and how I approach each of my paintings as well.
MICHAEL: Ah yes ... letting go of the desire for perfection. What is perfection anyway? Especially when it comes to art. It's easy to spot excellence, but everything is so subjective. That's why even as a writer, I write for myself first.
MARGARET: I never really have thought of it as doing it FOR myself but rather FROM myself. It just comes out of me. And it isn't perfection that I am seeking but completeness. Completely felt and completely expressed.
MICHAEL: Were you born an artist or did you develop into one? Did you go to art school and are you from an artistic family?
MARGARET: I have been drawing for my entire life so I guess you could say I have a propensity for art. My mother had a first cousin, Larry Zox who was a famous American artist in the 60's and my mother herself is an interior decorator. So an artistic sensibility has always been with me. I went to a basic liberal arts college and only thought to pursue my art and study it in my late 20's when I had finished with college and was starting to make real choices for myself in life.
MICHAEL: Did you have any contact with Larry Zox? Who nurtured your talent? Many artists have someone who encourages them along the way.
MARGARET: We have a close family, so I did see and know Larry, but not as a mentor. I have been taking an advanced oil painting class for the past 24 years and for the past 12 years, I have been with Brian Rutenberg as my teacher. Brian is an accomplished artist who is a master colorist of abstract landscape paintings. He encouraged me when I first met him to go back and refine my drawings, which set the tone for the work I am currently doing. I have really evolved as a painter during my exposure to Brian and his insights.
MICHAEL: You live in my hometown, New York, which is a place I find totally inspiring ... even today. Does the city inspire you?
MARGARET: Absolutely! I have lived here my entire life, barring college years and a very short stint in Boston after college. I always felt privileged to grow up here having the richest culture at my back door. It is definitely a part of me and its superiority is the foundation from which I approach each painting and my work as a whole. I study art history, I attended wonderful schools, I am constantly exposed to masterful art, varying music, rich and eclectic food, significant architecture, exquisite gardens, a richly diverse population and culture ... Being a New Yorker, owning this city as yours cannot help but give you that edge that you hold with confidence in your back pocket. So yes indeed, New York inspires me for my artwork and is inherent in each piece.
MICHAEL: But there's nothing that I see in your work that says, "New York."
MARGARET: It is internal. I see and feel New York as magnificent and mine. I grew up here. My father has lived his entire life here. Both his parents lived their entire lives here. And, my own children are living here. With my art, I am confident in my freedom of expression that is influenced by different genres in art history as well the exposure to the richness that is New York. While I do not paint New York elements per se, each painting has been painted by me in my most natural and free state. And, I am a true part of this city. I feel it, know it and own it and bring its impressive nature to each individual painting and the embodiment of all my work.
MICHAEL: A lot of art people think NYC is the center of the art world. What do you think and what do you think about the art world in general?
MARGARET: I think that New York is a major area in the art world and probably its center. Certainly other cities value their art, but to be recognized in New York is the ultimate coup. The art world is unfortunately too tight and exclusive still. Talent is important, but clout is more. It is a business where many hard working and talented individuals get overlooked because they don't have the needed stigmas to shine. It is too bad, but as with the world today, there are enough opportunities for exposure that perhaps prestige may not be needed ultimately and certainly not solely. The art world is very big now, but so is accessibility to it.
MICHAEL: I know so many super talented artists all over the world, most of whom get little or no recognition. I try to help in my own way. Being an artist is not for the faint of heart. How do you deal?
MARGARET: Just believe in yourself and your art. It is what makes my heart sing so I can't stop. Since happiness is the ultimate goal in life, that is how I deal. I am doing just what makes me happy.
MICHAEL: I could go on, but this is a great way to end our chat. Thanks Margaret.
MARGARET: OK! I am looking forward to seeing it. I hope this has been good for you as well. I just spoke extemporaneously so it is like one of my paintings. I just expunged!
To find out more about Margaret Zox Brown and her work, check out her website at www.margaretzoxbrown.com