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  • CHRISTINE ZACHARY

WHY? ART

I am an outsider, -- I had private art lessons as a child and have studied in a number of traditional settings with several professors, but I am mostly self-taught.


My real teachers have been looking at and studying the work of other artists: I have learned technique from hands on teachers but feel I owe the most to: The notebooks of Paul Klee, Joseph Albers, Itten and work by Emily Carr, Cezanne, Bonnard, Kandinsky and Gabriel Munter, Van Gogh, Lucian Freud, Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, Bonnard, Degas, Charles Burchfield, Grant Wood, Helen Frankenthaler, Malevich and so many more. The list goes on and on. Art and the lives of artists have always been part of my life. My one major choice in what I do is that I try to make most of my pieces representational. I have veered from this course by making abstract constructions in imitation of the futurists when I found some good materials to work with, but now, especially as I am older, I stick to oils as my main medium.


My work has no political or social meaning to me. No installations. No big concepts. Just looking, looking, looking. Although I have explored a number of media over the years, I have always returned to painting as my idea has been to understand the meaning of "reality" -- a concept not so easy to pin down. Plato's cave. Proust's many comments on art. Balzac's "The unknown Masterpiece". And the essence of ultimate reality taught in Buddhism which one can only realize by personal and private self-application.


I have done this exploration mostly by examining certain ofmy ideas of what is real. I tried doing abstract sculptures, for instance, like the russian futurist sculptures which adhere to a certain discipline of composition. I enjoyed doing mosaics and sculpture, but now they take up too much room as I wil not cut glass at my home studio. However my approach to doing abstract as well as more traditional work is much the same, to try to make a work where every part relates to every other part, color, form, and feeling.


These days my work is mostly still life, landscape and figural. These are all interests but for this little essay I will choose my longtime devotion to still life. I think I go back to it again and again because I don't have to depend on another person posing, and as I work I often change the layout of the pieces I work on. I also find still life interesting and surprising as just choosing the layout of the composition is terribly difficult, then composing this on the chosen size board and laying out the colors is another challenge. It is always a surprise and I am generally never satisfied. With humans or animals it is even more taxing as things change daily, even with what seems a still life design.


Still life has always interested me for many reasons. One of the first still life paintings I made, I saved and dragged it around with me across the country -- was a piece which I felt was successful. It is painted on an old desk top and is dated 1964. One of my first art teachers whom I studied with in that same time period, was Miss Edith Cook, was a student of Robert Henri in NY back in the teens or 20s. She used to speak of owning a small John Singer Sargent which hung above her stove and had collected kitchen grease. Miss Cook was an eccentric but a great teacher, I thought. She always wore a black pillbox hat when she held her small classes, and she would set up a still life a la Cezanne, a carefully laid out composition of ordinary objects for the class. I learned the care which must be taken just to decide the arrangement of what to paint by this. I recall there were often onions in the still life which we would work on for several weeks as they shockingly morphed into sprouted onions. At the end of painting class we put the objects in a closet and the next class Miss Cook would carefully restore the composition with these changed onions. In those early days I remember first looking at the real Cezanne still lifes with wonder and admiration. I have studied the composition, colors and inspiration of Cezanne all my life.


Still life seems to be underrated as a popular art form, but I like it because it can reflect a feeling which is reflected in my mind. It is very direct in a way, though I often labor long over one piece. When I paint I fall into a sort of reverie or meditation and what emerges comes, at the best of times, from deep within. It is rather like the Buddhist instruction of mixing clarity and emptiness. To me, clarity is one's mind's understanding form, composition, color,-- and emptiness is, at the same time a relaxation and intuitive sort of way of working which offers surprises which arise after the mind is cleared of preconceptions. The unconscious will give you a lot of surprises if you allow it to work in secret. I believe the action painters tuned to this in a direct way. I tried that briefly -- dripping and splatting, washing out areas, but it did not satisfy me.


I majored in classics in college along with taking art courses: My main interest was learning to translate Ancient Greek, and then after marriage I worked as an appraiser and antiques dealer. I am married to a professional musician and we live in Portland, Or. As I saw my husband Christopher Schindler struggle in his own artistic struggle trying to turn his talent into something to live on, the strange marriage between art and commerce, his trying to have a concert performing career with limited financial resources, I turned in even further and didn't even sign my paintings for several decades. People would visit us and had no idea the work was mine. It was and always has been an inner urge to create something which reflects a reality beyond reality. Perhaps it is selfish, but then I think of my mentors of the past and their devotion to "the work" and not interested in telling people all about it. The artist I like least is Salvador Dali because all he did was put his ego out there. Perhaps I am unfair, as some of his work is striking. However. Cezanne and Van Gogh were driven to create something that resonated within themselves, first and foremost. Cezanne in particular was quite antisocial and secretive about his work in many ways.


My main interests over the years have been painting, mosaic, some printmaking, and sculpture. I have also used and continue to use or try a number of different "styles" to accomplish what begins as a hazy goal to create a "reality". When people ask me about what style I have, I have no answer. I am an introvert and have always tried to make things that I consider beautiful in some way or another and which reflect my appreciation of the lives of artists past. In fact I have often made things which I hope will take the place of pieces I could never afford to buy. Perhaps I am selfish, but I really am not interested in the idea of making things to sell. Over time I have made many works. The works have emerged and I hope grown as I have developed as an artist.


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