Regina is a New York City-based artist who captures cityscapes as well as serene nature scenes. Her work www.reginasilvers.com is simple yet dynamic and she expresses her process quite well. Here’s our cool chat …
“…Making a piece of art, when one is fully involved with the process, is its own release. It doesn't depend on the subject matter. Relief comes when I feel that I have adequately expressed my subject …”
MICHAEL: Hello Regina. Your work is quite lovely. First off, it's clear that you love nature. Are you a plein air painter?
REGINA: I'm not really a plein-air painter, although I did some, for a while, some time ago. More recently, my on-site work consisted of just quick sketches - in watercolor with aquarelle crayons or pencil - mostly done on a trail, sitting in a stream or while riding around upstate. I then referred to them in my studio to make the larger work you may have seen on my website.
MICHAEL: Your landscapes are slightly abstract and strong on color blocking. Is this your usual approach or technique?
REGINA: I don’t know that I have a particular approach or technique, but my intention is to make a painting that works dynamically and expresses my response to the subject matter - as abstracted as possible without losing its essence. I love the forms I find in nature, so I don't try to alter them - whether a rock, a tiger lily or a waterfall. Their patterns and colors intrigue me.
I work fairly quickly. Partly because it's probably my nature, but also in an effort to capture the vitality of the subject. I often make a number of pieces - sometimes simultaneously -rather than work long and belabor a
piece by over-working it. I also may focus on the same subject in a number of different ways. For a while, I was infatuated with the fields of Purple Loosestrife that bloomed at the end of summer. It's an invasive weed that was popping up in fields everywhere in the Catskills. I must have a few dozen versions - large and small, in oil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache and pastel - in fields and in close-ups. It's always been tricky for me, brought up on Cubism and Abstract Expressionism, to choose a more representational path. I do, however, treat my compositions and color dynamics much as I would as an abstract painter.
MICHAEL: On your website, there's a startling difference between your “All That Jazz” painting and your works on paper. The painting is very fluid and mellow while the works on paper a bit more rough and raw. What's happening there?
REGINA: That's what happens when I spend too much time on a piece! All that Jazz is an oil painting on canvas. You call it fluid and mellow, but I see that it doesn't retain the vitality of some of the more "raw" works on paper. Working on canvas lends itself to working longer and I hope to ultimately strike a balance - less finished, more dynamic - figurative work on canvas.
MICHAEL: You're in New York. How does the city affect or inspire your work? Also, do you really have to be in New York to be a successful artist? Couldn't you do the same work in Chicago or Seattle or Dallas or wherever?
REGINA: I respond to my environment. When I spent a lot of time upstate, I concentrated on nature-based work. When I no longer did, I began responding to my more immediate surroundings. In 2006, a friend was arrested in conjunction with an anti-war action; senior activists tried to enlist at the Times Square Recruitment Station. This action ultimately led to the formation of “The Granny Peace Brigade.”
I followed the Grannies' indictment, trial (and acquittal) and joined them on their marches, vigils and rallies, photographing them as I marched with them. My current work is based on this experience and the proximity of my studio to Broadway, where rallies and marches are a common occurrence.
While I had previously made a series of social protest work (Placard series) this series was grounded in my personal involvement and it happened in New York. I suppose it could have happened elsewhere - there are protest groups throughout the country. But the vitality of the city is part of the dynamic and the sense of being in a demonstration in Times Square or on the Brooklyn Bridge is not easily replicated.
As far as success, I know it's possible for non-New Yorkers to make it and also that it's easier if you are energetic, young, involved in social media networking, etc. My success is not financial; it's more a question of my reaching my own goals in terms of making a credible piece of art.
MICHAEL: Your landscapes are so placid and ethereal while the activist works capture action and unrest. Do you approach these types of works differently? Is one a relief or release for you from the other?
REGINA: About my "placid," "ethereal" landscapes vs. my active protest paintings: Many of my large stream rock paintings (i.e. Mink Hollow series) were based on drawings I made while sitting on a rock in the stream, for hours on end. Looking at nature - really looking - produces a state of awareness in me akin to a meditative state. Perhaps that is carried over into the paintings. I was more interested in expressing the eternal nature of the land, i.e., the stream is always moving and changing, but it's also always the same.
Similarly, my presence at the Granny Peace Brigade actions infuses me with the energy of the women, the dynamics of the happening, and my own enthusiasm. I work to capture that atmosphere and work accordingly.
The lnature-bases work is actually "easier" to paint. If I did them both at the same time, I would agree that it might be a relief or release from working on the figurative work. But I don't usually work on both at once. I've always preferred to draw or paint from the figure or nature and my intent has been to make each genre personal (from my own experience) while drawing the viewer in to participate and share it
Always, I am responding to my environment. When I spent part of each week upstate, I painted from my experience there. When I stopped spending time upstate, my attention turned to my current interests in the city and I began the Granny series.
Neither is a release or relief from the other. It has more to do with what I'm personally reacting to. After concentrating on my Granny series for a few years, I did think I would get back to nature-inspired work, especially after I had a large show of the Granny series about a year ago. But I am not surrounded by nature right now and I don't want to paint from nostalgia. So I am working on more Granny motifs, from my studies and am also making daily drawings from my new home, where I have a city view from my balcony. They will probably grow into larger work at some point.
As for release - making a piece of art, when one is fully involved with the process, is its own release. It doesn't depend on the subject matter. Relief comes when I feel that I have adequately expressed my subject visually and that I've captured its essence through line, color interaction, focus, the juxtaposition of planes and scale.
MICHAEL: It sounds very much like painting is like catharsis for you. That's certainly what it's like for me as a collector and patron. How do we convince more people that art is much more than just a painting to be hung on the wall?
REGINA: I've been thinking about this since you asked and since I was originally an art teacher, I still weigh in on some kind of education. People "get it" from their own experience. They have to learn to look at a piece of artwork and allow themselves to respond to it. It may provoke questions, or reactions, but learning to really look is the key.
As far as my own catharsis, I find the process of painting or drawing totally involving and thrilling. That is cathartic, unless of course, I have been frustrated in an attempt to do something that doesn't "work" artistically. But I still prefer that to not doing the work. It is better to have loved and lost…
MICHAEL: Even today, the art world continues to promote dead, famous artists and ignore living artists. What do you think about this?
REGINA: I think it's a matter of $$$$. Living artists - especially lesser-known artists - are not so profitable for the dealers. And the current attitude in our society favors profit above other values. So unless our attitude as a society changes, we're stuck in this situation. I think the whole situation is so bad I don't even try to deal with it very much. I mostly just keep doing my work and get my satisfaction from that, not the marketplace.
MICHAEL: Good for you. I keep wondering though. Aren't there other ways to measure success than only by quarterly profits or by how many paintings are sold? I mean, common sense dictates that nothing can keep going up, up, up ...
REGINA: A good track record of exhibitions is also an indicator. But then again, some artists are just more committed than others to getting their work out there and submitting work for exhibitions is a very time-consuming process, as is getting to know curators.
I try to resist measuring my success by market or exhibition records, especially since I haven't spent much (valuable) time in trying for it. It's not easy, but it is more useful to remember what my own goals are- i.e. improving my own work (my technical skill), and expanding my field of interest). I realize that I am intrigued (partially thanks to our conversation) by my surroundings and as they change, my "subject matter" does as well. While I do enjoy showing and selling my work - the acknowledgement is very gratifying - I just cannot sacrifice my painting time for it.
So now, I will be measuring my "success" on how well I can turn my new field of vision - what I see from my new location (my balcony) - into a new series of work. I draw from there every day and am challenging myself to make some large scale, studio works from these small, daily drawings and paintings. And so it goes...
MICHAEL: Finally Regina, What's the point of art? Why should people who don't know much about art even care? What purpose does art serve?
REGINA: I just saw the Matisse Cutouts. They gave me a feeling of joy. Art can transmit something that puts us in touch with ourselves, making us conscious of our humanity.
MICHAEL: Thanks Regina. Nice chat.
Check out Regina at www.reginasilvers.com.