Dear Chaim Soutine
Dear Chaim Soutine,
Compared to her powerful and masterful paintings, Miriam appears seemingly insignificant, dressing in a nondescript way--tee shirts and pants in dark colors. She is sometimes as brutal in her spoken commentary as are her works. She does not talk about politics though her works are political. She speaks spontaneously and quickly, in contrast to her lengthy and tortured visual dialogue with each canvas, drawing or artist book. Clothes are unimportant to her yet over the twenty-three years I knew her she never wore anything that would distract one from her work. Miriam also has gray hair. She cuts it herself. Indian bedspreads covered her couches in her living room for the early years of our relationship. She had the painting Oswiecim in her dining room for several years–she worked on it there for several years and it was on permanent display perched on short log pedestals. After our first visit in 1984, I remember thinking that she was a sincere, unpretentious person. I’m sure you’ll agree. Her painting storage occupies the sun porch adjacent to the living room where her paintings will be propped against the walls and Miriam and her student assistant will pull out work after work. I spent several hours just looking and responding each visit I have made. So will you, I’m sure. Her canvases are great. Her indecision and her inner turmoil over her chosen subject result in tough paintings and drawings. Like the other artists I have known, I notice a dichotomy between artist and their creation, between an individual’s biography and their body of work. It is somewhat like the dichotomy of my diptychs where the internal impulse affects and contributes to the external. The external requires an impersonal mind set during decision making though my private psychology controls the signature vision.
At the time of my first visit to Miriam’s, I had just started to help write the grants for the gallery and help plan out the year’s thematic approach. Stuart and I met with one another before the grant writing to discuss the shows. We decided to organize a year of the landscape followed by a year of the figure as we were in a college environment and wanted to introduce basic elements and subjects of visual art to the students. I was looking forward to Miriam’s work being in The Brutal Figure: Visceral Images exhibition. Rutgers Newark had a gallery with a tight budget so I very rarely borrowed blue chip art from the most powerful top galleries as that required professional art handlers to secure the loan. Generally the artists were lesser known–in that cocoon like emerging artist state that often lasts for an entire lifetime. It has with Miriam. It did with Stella. In spite of the fact that their work sold for serious prices. Will I always be an emerging chrysalis?
P.S. Miriam gave me this statement she wrote about her painting. I thought you’d especially like it “Even though visual ideas are outside the realm of words, certain key words continually come to mind as themes: metamorphosis, grotesque, demonic, comic. Ideas of morality, such as good and evil, which have dominated art for centuries, are also part of my concerns. My paintings and my other works reflect larger mythological ideas that go beyond a specific sense of time. Symbolic suggestions in the imagery are both ancient and modern.”