The Lionheart Five: An Interview with Cheryl Hochberg
Five questions we ask every artist.
Cheryl Hochberg in studio
1. Name one of your most defining moments as an artist.
CH: I had seen a show some years back at the National Gallery that addressed the Ballet Russe – the Russian Ballet in Paris in the early 20th century. The show was about costume design and it had examples of costumes made by many of the important artists working in Paris at the time. There were costumes by Pablo Picasso and Giorgio DiChirico and there were videos of dancers performing in the costumes. It was obvious that the costumes were lynchpins that held together all the other art forms – choreography, performance, music, and set design. I wondered what it would be like to work across artistic platforms like that.
When I had the opportunity, I designed a performance for one of my openings. I had a musician friend (Susanna Loewy) suggest a program of music that might embody similar sensibilities as my paintings, and I had a sculptor friend (Andrew Brehm) with whom I had previously collaborated design some “costumes” for the musicians to wear. More than being a single work, the effort was also a starting point, and I have since had the opportunity to do 3 iterations of this performance, testing out other musical works, and changing up the instrumental musicians for vocal performers.
Costume by Pablo Picasso, Photo by Cheryl Hochberg
"Minor Indignities" Performance, Photo by Cheryl Hochberg
2. Do you collect anything?
CH: Probably the only thing I collect is fabric. I started collecting it to use as back drops when I was painting still lifes many years ago, but as I found more interesting fabrics, I also found more interest things to do with them! Mostly the fabric has to be a little extreme – stuff you don’t find in a regular fabric store. I get most of it on 39th street in NYC in the fabric district. Sometimes I go there specifically looking for something I need, and other times I just see something and bring it home, and I may not find a purpose for it for a year or two after, but usually I do!
Fabric Collection, Photo by Cheryl Hochberg
Winged Bull, Cheryl Hochberg
3. If you could choose anyone – and we mean anyone – whom would you pick as a mentor?
CH: I already have mentors, and they mean the world to me. They are people who have accomplished more than me, who care about me enough to make helpful suggestions, who take the time to teach me things, and who even redirect me when they sense I’ve drifted off course. My sister in law, Sabina Ott, comes to mind first. She is a well-known painter based in Chicago. She’d probably be surprised to know I even think of her as a mentor, but she has taught me a great deal about how to build a career by being generous and supportive of other people’s careers. In Sabina’s world, you raise the tide and all boats float better. I also have an academic job at Kutztown University and have been thoughtfully and caringly mentored by my dean, Bill Mowder and by another friend, John Cavanaugh who leads the Consortium of Washington Colleges and Universities. I tend to not distinguish between my academic and artistic professions – both are part of the larger project of nurturing and celebrating the creative spirit wherever I can. So all these people have affected every aspect of my professional life.
Cheryl Hochberg and Sabina Ott
4. What's the most indispensable item in your studio?
CH: Oddly, my calipers. Nearly everything I make has some piece rooted in representational drawing. I draw from a photographic source, with a grid overlaid on transparent acetate. By gridding off my painting surface, I both enlarge the image and draw it. Someone without much viewing experience might think this is a mechanical part of my process, but it is in fact, how I come to fully understand the three-dimensional forms I am depicting; it’s how I draw. I never start painting anything until the drawing has been thoroughly worked out, and my tool for doing that is my calipers.
Calipers, Photo by Cheryl Hochberg
5. Tell us about one piece of art in this exhibition. You might describe your inspiration, your process, the title, what the work signifies to you…
CH: I’ll talk about Alicudi II, since it is the piece on the announcement. The landscape was from a photograph I took on the Aeolian Islands, a chain of 7 volcanic islands north of Sicily. The smallest island is Alicudi, which has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but whose residents depend on imports from the mainland. While I was there, I saw a documentary that referenced an event that happened in the 1950’s. They received a bad grain shipment (rye), and it caused the residents of the island to all hallucinate! The men imagined they were large animals, and the women mostly hallucinated that they could fly, a skill they used to fly to Palermo to do their shopping. The interviewer spoke with some of these women, now quite old. Surprisingly, while the men had talked about the event, the women never spoke about it. When they were interviewed, rather than remembering the story as a hallucination, had they kept it as a memory. They remembered that there was a time in their life when they could fly, and now they can’t anymore, though they don’t know why.
Island of Alicudi, Photo by Cheryl Hochberg
Alicudi II, Cheryl Hochberg