Miller White Fine Arts
Sep 11, 2020 6:31PM

MWFA Director, Susan Danton, sits with members of the gallery's roster with ten questionsto learn more about the ways art has impacted their lives, legacy and worldview ...


DICHOTOMY (48x72, Oil/Canvas, 1959, Private Collection) was painted in a manner that used two opposing styles -- hard-edged division and fluid dripping of the paint -- as well as the dichotomy of black versus white fields.

SRD: Jane, please name your greatest influencer and tell us how you are embodying that person’s life, work and ideals.

JE: Edward Corbett, my painting instructor in my junior year at Mt. Holyoke, is the artist who most awakened a serious desire to draw and paint abstractly. Notably, Mr. Corbett was included in the exhibition, Fifteen Americans (1952), curated by Dorothy Miller (Danton's great-aunt), MoMA's first curator of the collections. Part of the classroom experience with him was listening to music, such as Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, while we worked, a practice that I continue to enjoy to this day. Philosophically, Mr. Corbett stressed the fiercely independent ideals of Clyfford Still, who had taught alongside him at the California School of Fine Arts. As a necessary segue to studio work, I applied my Joseph Skinner Fellowship from Mt. Holyoke toward graduate studies at Columbia University where I had the good fortune to study with Meyer Schapiro, renowned professor of 20th Century Art History. I also studied Primitive Art with the great Paul Wingert. All of this amounted to much critical background work toward becoming an abstract artist. Later, in Summit, New Jersey, another painting instructor, George Mueller, gave me the encouragement I needed to work large. The Woman paintings of Willem DeKooning impressed me greatly and, in my investigation of his style, Mr. Mueller suggested the use of stand oil to increase the fluidity of the paint. Coupled with the influence of the New York School of abstract expressionism, I employed the use of automatic response in the painting process because it allowed me to work with spontaneity. This was all during the years 1959-1960, where I produced four four-foot square paintings that were later displayed in the imposing hallway of the Twombly Mansion at Fairleigh Dickinson University at Madison, New Jersey.

SRD: In general, art is intrinsically pretty worthless. For instance, canvas and paint do not cost very much. But we also know that art is intrinsic to a high quality of life. How would you address these seemingly polar views?

JE: Artmaking tools, such as clay, charcoal, paper, canvas, paint, etc. are indeed humble. However, self-expression, a very obvious basic need for humans as seen in cave paintings and primitive arts, is aspirational. Art has a spiritual quality; it searches for meaning. Its strange how some people respond and others do not. My life without art would be sort of frightening, as art tends to save me from myself. What I mean by that is, it keeps me sane!

SEARCHING I (24x24, Oil/Canvas, 2017) was the first of a square-format series that is based on images from outer space, notably NASA's search for water sourced from other planets.

SRD: If it is true that the world is in a state of chaos right now, how do you go about cultivating the state of grace upon which your creativity depends?

JE: Because our world can be chaotic and is currently upended by the (COVID-19) virus, solitude and time alone is abundant. This eliminates a lot of distractions, and one has the luxury of time to ruminate. I, however, would not call this a state of grace ... I would not even know what that would be! With that in mind, I feel strongly that I've been privileged all my life and this is the state I take into the studio with me. With the time I take with my recent paintings, I can listen to music, play favorite piano pieces, and recall organ music from the recent past. And over the edge-to-edge spatial design of Diebenkorn’s famous Ocean Park series, I have outrageously but cautiously superimposed a visualization of my favorite pieces of music.

SRD: Pick your favorite museum. Now, take your friend inside with you. Walk the halls and look at the art. What is your conversation about?

JE: When I was in Graduate School at Columbia, my favorite museum was MoMA, but I think I might not recognize it currently. The Museum I would most like to revisit is the Metropolitan in New York. I spent a good amount of time in the Egyptian wing writing a paper on the artifacts found in King Tut’s tomb. I was always fascinated by the prints shown in the second floor corridor. And, of course, a tour of the 20th Century wing would always reveal which artists had “made it”. The blockbuster shows under director (Thomas) Hoving were very special. Costs make them no longer feasible, which is sad because art lovers suffer. If I were to take a friend with me, it would have to be the kids who visited from school at the Wadsworth Aetheneum in Hartford, CT, where I was docent. I would take them into the the Armory Hall and then the imagination would take off! It was wonderful to help them engage their imagination while interacting with the exhibit, to help them gain a much bigger world view.

AFTER DIEBENKORN: ERIK SATIE'S GYMNOPEDIE (22x33, Oil/Canvas, 2020) While browsing in a used book store in , I found a volume of Richard Diebenkorn's Ocean Park collages, published by Knoedler. They were small in scale, and made while he recovered from a heart attack. I found them to be "open-ended", that is, more like studies to be explored rather than finished paintings. While working with his designs, I imagined an overlay using musical equivalents in painterly notations. Music always pervades my studio, so I reasoned that such might be superimposed on the paintings.

SRD: Insofar as daydreaming is an excellent way to declutter the mind’s toxic overloads, what do you regularly and, in unfettered fashion, dream about?

JE: Since I am now in my later years, I dream of my paintings being “discovered” and finding their way into good homes. My paintings are like memory sticks that remind me of places I've been and the corresponding emotions. They are my record of my life, and I want to pass that on.

SRD: All art is, to a large or small degree, narrative. What are some of the most important things you know you should be talking about but are, as yet, hesitant to divulge? Should they be blurted, partially revealed or remain in hiding?

JE: While my husband was working for large corporations, I hid my abstract paintings. And to a large extent, I hid myself from many acquaintances. I didn’t want to have to “explain” what I was doing or why. I was searching for my identity through art, and I couldn’t risk sharing the journey. There was a reason for this. Politically speaking, McCarthy was not yet in the very distant past, and it was thought at that time that abstraction, because it was not well-understood by some, was subversive, even communist. I was totally a-political at that time, and did not want to risk anyone subverting my own process of discovery.

JERSEY SHORE (60x60, Oil/Canvas, 1960) featured images of frolicking in the pounding surf at Sandy Neck, New Jersey, where we typically spent part of each weekend. I have always been attracted to the subject matter of landscape in art, because I find it can be mysterious and beckoning.

SRD: You embody many personalities in both your private and the public sides of life, and nothing is terribly interesting if there are no oppositions, contradictions, parallels or extremities. As an artist, how do you take all of that -- the full spectrum of human interaction -- and give it meaning?

JE: As far as opposition in my public life is concerned, I pretty much try to avoid it at all costs. At one time, I raised three little boys and watched their inevitable conflicts. I wish I had been more skilled at conflict resolution, instead of resorting to an imposed isolationism: i.e. “go to your room”. So the three boys are very different from one another, and perhaps still carrying some of those conflicts, unresolved. Personally, I deliberately cultivate a serene existence. For instance, I have always been attracted to the subject matter of landscape in art, because I find it can be mysterious and beckoning. A pivotal moment was finding an etching by Seymour Hayden of an Irish landscape. That rich, dark scene really impressed me. Afterwards, I used to drive all over southern New Jersey, alone or with my students, toward the Delaware River, "searching" for landscapes. Everything I saw outside, I would create a pastel drawing. Back in the studio, many became a template for what would eventually become the end result, whether figurative or abstracted, and embodying all former contradictions into a meaningful work of art. Perhaps, these forays were what led me to branch out from etching into my eventual work with handmade paper. The process of etching was, I felt, rather constricting. Working with handmade paper, on the other hand, was incredibly freeing. Something that I welcomed

SRD: Life is a never-ending series of changes. When you take stock of all your assets and facets, do you find the most desired end result is perfection or wholeness? Please explain.

JE: I never seek perfection or wholeness in my art endeavors. I only hope to be “engaged”. That is, to be challenged ... something that requires my complete attention and resourcefulness.

MANILA CONSTRUCT (48x48, Oil/Canvas, 1959) The title is a reference to a problem-solving technique. I was having trouble painting the lower portion of the canvas, and I happened to have some 8 x 10 colored manila construction paper on hand. I lined up the paper against the canvas and was surprised how much I really liked how it looked, so I decided to incorporate the effect with paint to creat beautiful color fields.

SRD: Unesco reports that Venice, the city itself and all of its cultural magnificence, will be permanently underwater in 100 years if sustaining measures against the rise of the Adriatic into the Lagoon are not taken. In your opinion, what "rising tide" does the art world, as a whole, face with increasing severity and risk?

JE: The current art world has moved completely away from any grasp of it that I once held. Perhaps commercialization is partly to blame ... art as “commodity”. Unfortunately, I don’t really understand what’s happening in the art world. Having been a student of art history, I revere the art of the past, in particular, when I go to a museum, I like to step up to a Rembrandt and observe the brushwork of a master. Once I got close to a Mondrian in order to determine whether it was pristine, only to discover that it was not. The edges were not crisp or perfect! This tells me that the art world itself is not perfect, nor should it claim to be so. Perhaps Conceptual Art, as a movement, has obscured much of the artist’s hand from the entire process. It becomes the originality of the idea rather than the work itself. So, I don’t envy the current art history student’s attempt to categorize or make sense of anything that’s going on now. Perhaps the remedy is to follow what your inner artist/self tells you, and to avoid categorization that stymies your creativity.

SRD: Young people often do not know where life will take them. How can art root them, feed their blood and strengthen their hearts, as life takes them into their future lessons?

JE: Young persons who choose to pursue the visual arts perhaps will find themselves at a dead end. Having said that, even while times are distressing and precarious like they are now, for those who persist on the journey, the personal rewards can be incredibly fulfilling throughout their whole lives. Wealth and prestige should not be the journey nor the end result, rather the rewards of an artistic life are personal and life-affirming at every step of the way.

TEMPO (72x48, Acrylic/Canvas, 1967) Tempo was painted when acrylic paint was new to the market. I imagined that I could paint a kind of equivalent musical composition. Obviously, a meaningful lifelong pursuit!

Miller White Fine Arts