“What should I write for this piece?” I asked my friend Kathy Beynette. Kathy is one of my best art friends. An art friend is a good friend but more, because they understand ones work. Kathy will always give an unexpected answer but this time she was practical. “Write something that promotes your exhibition at the Evergreen Museum in Baltimore.”
Kathy was in my studio at the time. I had asked her to comment on a large painting I’m working on that is made up of hundreds of woodcuts. I had become stuck on some compositional elements. After working non-stop for three weeks on this one piece I was not sure I could see it clearly anymore. Kathy suggested I leave one corner light and keep the upper section less defined. I had not thought of this. When finished this will be one of the cornerstones of my retrospective exhibition at the Evergreen.
This particular piece is called “Crossing the Line”, and I had made a smaller version last year. That sold. This one triples the scale and takes the concept much further. At first the viewer is drawn to the highly decorative, bright ginkgo leaves. Looking deeper, the colors reference a personal tragedy. The yellow police line and the blood left on leaves by the door. “Crossing the Line” is made from just five wood engravings, printed many times, with each leaf print cut out and worked together into a large composition. This is a labor intensive piece of work, but labor alone does not amount to a hill of beans if the concept and final work do not come together and resonate emotionally.
In this composition I’m taking the risk of including a few new elements not tried in the earlier version. Hidden underneath the leaves is the shape of a figure, and a bullet. These elements can only be perceived subliminally as they are covered by leaves on the surface. Even someone owning the artwork may never know what the raised sections of the painting reference, or ever find the bullet. Kathy and I discussed the concept and how far to push it. She understands that I needed those pieces as personal touchstones as I worked (during the weeks I spent printing, painting and cutting parts those elements kept me connected to the meaning of the piece), and why it was important to not make them a compositional focus.
During the same conversation Kathy and I also looked at some large pillars I am creating for the Evergreen exhibition. For this exhibition I am making eight pillars. The pillars measure from six to nine feet tall, and were started during a residency in Park City, Utah. For that residency I drove across the country with my dog Seal, and once I arrived, the trip itself informed my work. The pillars are constructed of drawings and paintings applied to the surface of concrete forms. Working in the round presents new challenges. The work has to be seen (and be exciting) from all angles. The colors of the pillars are changing as I am no longer influenced by the Western United States. Kathy suggested continuing boldly with a yellow color I was unsure of. She often pushes for more- more color- more craziness. A good art friend thinks like this and makes artistic suggestions. It is indispensable. They know your work almost as well as their own. They have watched your progress over time, know your short hand, and limitations, but also push for growth. In a world filled with competition and unkindness this is a real gift.
I’ve noticed that the art friend relationship is not always reciprocal. Sometimes a person I help does not play the same role for me. It works as a chain rather than a direct tit for tat. Another art friend – Margaret Huddy – has for years gone out for lunch with me when either of us have an art win (an exhibition, grant, residency, or publication.) Our work is very different but our career goals mesh and we understand that it is sometimes easier to mourn failures, instead of celebrating when we do receive the small wins that make up an art career.
Kathy and Margaret and I all work at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria. The Torpedo Factory is an unusual studio space in that the studios are fully visible to the public – with no privacy. This is not easy for me when I am working on multiple pieces and with deadlines. When I concentrate deeply any interruption causes me to react like a grumpy bear. So why work at a place where we are art/zoo animals on display? I make my living by selling my work. If this open studio was taken away from me tomorrow with the prospect of sales still remaining viable, would I go happily? I am not sure. I would miss the regular interactions with Kathy and Margaret, and I would miss the chance to be seen as I struggle. Kathy knows where the bullet is hidden, and as we share our lives and careers that is worth something.
Rosemary Feit Covey has exhibited both in the United States and internationally, including solo exhibitions in Argentina, Switzerland, the Butler Institute of American Art, as well as other solo and group exhibitions.
Collections include the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the New York Public Library Collection of Prints and Drawings; the Papyrus Institute, Cairo, Egypt; the National Library of Australia, Canberra; The National Museum of American History; Georgetown University Library Print Collection; Harvard University Library; and Princeton University Library. Georgetown University, Special Collections Library recently acquired 512 of her prints.
Ms. Covey was a 1998 recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation Grant and has been commissioned by The New York Times and The Washington Post and has illustrated many books. Ms. Covey has given lectures at universities in China, Interlochen Center for the Arts, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the University of Wyoming, the International Monetary Fund, as well as other institutions in this country and abroad.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Rosemary Feit Covey lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Visit her studio in the Torpedo Factory: Rosemary Feit Covey, Studio 224, or her website: http://rosemaryfeitcovey.com. Her work can be seen and purchased at Morton Fine Art in Washington D.C.
The exhibition referenced in this article opens March 9, 2014 at Evergreen Museum: http://museums.jhu.edu/evergreen.php
Artist Kathy DeZan Beynette referenced in this article: http://pomegranatecom.blogspot.com/2013/09/how-ugly-pair-of-shoes-led-her-to-write.html
Artist Margaret Huddy referenced in this article: http://www.huddy.com/