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Tell us about yourself & how you became an artist
A native of Philadelphia, I am a life-long artist from a family of artists; my grandparents met at art school in Philadelphia in the 1920s and my mother was a painter. I detoured from an art path only during my undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, doing a BA in Anthropology and French. By graduation I knew this was the wrong direction. So I applied for an Anglo-American fellowship that I could use to study art. It took me to Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland where I completed my BFA and Post graduate degree in painting and drawing.
What is your art addressing? What kind of message do you want to convey through your art?
My art is addressing the constant change happening in New York City, where the built environment is not static – holes appear in the fabric of the cityscape, revealing unexpected vistas. New structures go up and change the relationships between buildings, altering the light and the streetscape. The in-between shapes are themselves interesting, the work and the workers a kind of theater of the metropolis. My message is to look up, to take it in – to not just ignore, walk around it and wish the change would stop or go away. Acknowledge it and find unexpected beauty in the everyday.
What kind of emotions do you want to stir in your audience?
Surprise, insight, a shock of recognition, a new feeling for New York City, so that they notice things they haven't seen before. After they see my paintings I want them to go outside, look up and see the city with new eyes.
What is your creative process?
My paintings start as small brainstorming sketches in notebooks or on scraps of paper. I develop the most promising of these into larger drawings or watercolors, then go to canvas or wood panel. As I’ve gotten into the construction site subject I have often taken easel and canvases out to the sidewalks of Manhattan to paint directly. Then I bring paintings back to the studio and continue working in acrylics and oils. I also take photographs on site to record specific times of day and stages of construction, so I have varied reference materials to work from in the studio.
What 3 words would you use to describe yourself as an artist?
Insightful, energetic, committed
What 3 words would you use to describe your art?
Architectural, bold, romantic
VIEW WORKS FROM THE ARTIST
Your go-to music for when you're working?
The ambient sound of New York City through my open studio window.
What is your favorite color?
Do you have a routine or ritual when starting a work?
I live eight blocks from my painting studio but rarely go straight there. My routine involves meanders on the way: a bike ride to check up on favorite construction sites or a loop of Central park. Then I always buy a decaf latte or a tea. When I finally get through the door, I go straight to the window, open it all the way and lean out to look at the city. Next step is to change into my painting clothes and paint-crusted crocs. Then I am finally ready to dive in and can lose myself in the work.
Where / When / How do you get inspired?
I always get inspired while bicycling around New York City! I do the Citibike share program and I love grabbing a bike anywhere. I regularly do circuits around Manhattan to see what has changed in the cityscape, how things are coming along at different construction sites I follow. I invariably see unexpected things along the way that give me ideas.
“Living in New York City keeps me energized.”
What impact does living in New York have on you?
Living in New York City keeps me energized. Just being out and around on it streets inspires me and keeps my ideas coming. My subject matter has sprung from the neighborhoods where I Iive and work since I moved here in 1999: I Have collaborated with dancers and choreographers, painted portraits of my neighbors in Hell’s Kitchen, turned my New York take-out coffee cups into artworks. Now I have a kaleidoscope of unfinished buildings to render into paint, a project which could keep me engaged for years to come. I am thrilled to live here!
How has your art changed throughout your career?
My subject matter has ranged widely, from travel and cityscapes to family portraits to making art on paper coffee cups. I have a strong sense of exploration, and love to learn new materials and techniques. I majored in painting at art college which meant I could also study drawing, printmaking and photography. After graduation I made 3 dimensional art installations and video art for some years. I’ve been in many different places artistically. But I have repeatedly returned to painting, which is a perennial love and challenge and my sole focus for the last six years.
What do you want people to know about you or your art that we haven't asked?
The story of how I came to paint construction sites is told in a short documentary called the Monolith, made by NYC film-maker Angelo Guglielmo and released in November 2017. It all began when, much to my dismay, a building started to go up outside my painting studio window in 2015. The documentary can been viewed here: https://www.gwynethleech.com/documentary