Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Artist's Studio: Judith Roth

As part of my research on artists' studios, I visit artists working in the studio setting and ask them about their materials, methods, practices, and approach to life. The emphasis of these forays is to examine the studio setting and how the artist functions and creates art in that space.

It just so happened that on the day I was going to visit Judith Roth at her studio, I had a flat tire, so I had to take a cab to my class at Lillstreet Art Center at Ravenswood and Montrose. After class, I thought about walking to Judith's home / studio, located at Irving Park Road and Larchmont, about a quarter of a mile away. I called Judith because I couldn't get a cab right away, and she graciously volunteered to pick me up. She drove to her condo building, which was previously a clock-tower factory owned by Bell and Howell. After parking her car in the garage, we walked to the front of the building, took the elevator, and entered her 2500-sf loft space -- divided into her living space and her studio. Looking out from her large windows, I could see a spectacular view of the city skyline in the distance. Entering a doorway with a sign on the door indicating "Employees Only," we were at the entrance of her office / computer area. Another doorway led to her expansive studio space.

Near the windows, on the south wall, there was a pile of sketch books on a small table. Judith said she likes to do graphite sketches of figures across two pages in these books. Next to the sketching table was a platform for a figure model to sit and pose. Judith set up her bench and taboret to do pastels on paper in front of the platform. On the north wall, Judith set up a table with brushes and oil paints. In the middle of the studio, she has a painting table and three easels for her canvases. The rest of the space consists of storage area for a lifetime of work, a sink, and a large bathroom. Although she has a lot of light coming in through the windows from the southern exposure as well as from her studio lights, she said she would like more -- preferably daylight warm / cool flourescent overhead lights -- and a strong, adjustable overhead spotlight above the model stand. She also wants to construct a slightly tilted moveable wall about 6' by 10', on wheels, to tack on large sheets of drawing paper; a larger model stand; and a Victorian sofa.

"I just love being here: the ambience of this old building, the size of the space itself and the height; the views of the neighborhood from my windows and being set between two sets of tracks -- the Metra on the east and the Brown Line just to the west -- where I can watch the trains coming and going and see the city itself in the distance while maintaining a neighborhood feeling. It is having the best of both worlds: trains, houses, trees, birds singing in the summer, seeing both the sun rise and set because of the southern exposure's broad panoramic views; fireworks blasting off all over the neighborhood on the fourth of July and New Year's Eve; the world covered in snow on wintry days, and nights all asparkle, seen from my balcony's fourth floor 'penthouse' just high enough to get a great overview, yet low enough to feel in the midst of whatever is going on outside."

"I sometimes hire a model here in my studio, sometimes sharing the model fee with one or two other artist friends, but had also been doing much of my work over the years at the Figurative Art League (FAL) in the Noyes Cultural Art Center, Evanston, because they were one of the very few studios offering 3-hour, 4-hour, 12- and 16-hour poses over two-week periods in interesting settings and at a very reasonable rate."

"At Noyes I had also shared studio space with portrait artist Richard Halstead for about ten years until I bought my present loft space. However, the sense of community with a group of like-minded artists such as that at Noyes counteracted the isolation of solitary work as well as the expense of hiring and arranging for models. They (the FAL) have recently disbanded after about 30 years, much to my sorrow and sense of loss. They are presently trying to get an article published, describing their history and evolution, since the days when the great figurative painter Fred Berger founded it. This would also be an interesting and important group to document, if only for the historical and archival importance of its existence and now it's passing."

Judith Roth. Young Man.
2008. Oil on canvas,
60" x 36".

Judith Roth. Seated Dancer with Red
. 2006. Pastel on Arches, 32" x 46".

"I am involved with the precarious balancing of realistic and abstract expression. When successful, they intensify each other, the one drawing you into its illusion of depth, weight, and the raw grace of human form; the other making you dramatically aware of the process of paint and drawing materials being moved about on a two-dimensional surface."

Judith Roth. The Pink Blouse /
Marge's Chair
. 2007. Oil on
canvas, 48" x 36".

"Sometimes my work is concerned with very controlled modulated tones, carefully and slowly built up with a wide range of graphite sticks and dramatic use of negative or open space. Another body or work was developed in mixed technique, utilizing pastel, chalks, oil crayon, graphite, and turps or wash in various combinations, and in a very free style with strong linear components."

Judith Roth. Male Dancer in
Yellow-Orange Shirt
. 1985.
Oil on canvas, 72" x 48".

"The classical training I received at the Boston Museum School was based on the precept that good drawing is the basis of all art; hence, drawing everyday. Learning the traditions and techniques of the masters – anatomy and perspective; the grinding of our own pigments; preparing rabbit-skin glue, gesso and old painting mediums; stretching, sizing, and priming of canvas; laying of gold leaf; fresco painting – contributed to my love for the traditions of the past, and simultaneously, a struggle to break away from them."

Judith Roth. Lady with Book. 1990.
Oil stick and graphite, 29" x 48".

"Raw edges, the feeling of life and process which exist in an unfinished study; the use of space in which the silence – that which is left unspoken – is allowed to manifest itself as articulately as the completed image – these have become basic elements of my work. The medium and techniques used vary, but most of my work itself deals with the abstract essence of the human form and with its poetic interpretation."

Judith Roth. Knee Socks. 1990.
Oil stick and graphite, 29" x 48".

Judith has exhibited widely including Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH; Maier Museum of Art, Lynchburg, VA; National Academy of Design, NY; J. Rosenthal Fine Arts, Ltd., Chicago. She has a large body of work currently on view at the Berman Center, a women’s health and wellness facility at 211 E. Ontario St. in Chicago. Currently an affiliate member of ARC Gallery, Judith is represented by the Maple Avenue Gallery in Evanston, IL, and Morpho Gallery in Chicago.

Judith Roth. The Equestrian,
detail. 2008. Oil on canvas,
48" x 24".

Credits: Art images labeled with the artist's name were provided by the artist, and all other photos were provided by Amy A. Rudberg, unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Artist's Studio: Martina Nehrling

As part of my research on artists' studios, I visit artists working in the studio setting and ask them about their materials, methods, practices, and approach to life. The emphasis of these forays is to examine the studio setting and how the artist functions and creates art in that space.

I drove to the western edge of the Chicago city limits to visit Martina Nehrling, who lives in a two-story house with her husband in the Galewood Park neighborhood. The former owner had converted the garage in the back of the house into a workspace, and Martina and her husband added heat, insulation, and skylights. Martina said during the summer, the garden is filled with flowers and the entrance to the studio (on the south wall) has ivy-filled trellises, now bare.

Martina uses the 400-sf space as her studio, where she has two desks, small tables, chairs, a sofa, lamps, a ladder, an easel, shelving, storage space, and miscellaneous supplies and equipment. The north wall is a large expanse of space, where Martina hangs her ongoing or newly completed work (Garden Drink, below, was completed in 2008 and measures approximately 4 feet high by 12 feet wide).

On the east wall, Martina has sculptured substrates for painting, and her art materials and supplies are arranged neatly on her desk and on shelves. She said she's experimenting with relief sculptures and painting.

On the day of my visit, Martina was working on a commission for a client who has a home in a sunny climate. As she climbed up her ladder to work on the painting, which measures about 9 feet high by 5 feet wide, she said the painting has to do with the rhythms and progress of time. The finished painting will be in an area with a view of water, so she wanted to provide a sense of motion like the movement of waves, palm fronds swaying in the wind, and lingering clouds in the blue sky. The natural light from the two skylights above seemed to make the brush strokes vibrate on the canvas.

Martina's studio practices: "I’m a morning person so I usually get an early start and tend to work into evening if I can. Preparing canvases (stretching, gessoing), painting, drawing, sketching, and documenting finished work are the main things I do in my studio. Mostly I listen to NPR and sometimes music, but sometimes music can be too directive."

Martina Nehrling. 2007. Through a Purple Patch.
Acrylic on canvas, 42" x 252".

Martina Nehrling. 2008. Throes.
Acrylic on canvas, 30" x 30".

"When I paint I am sounding out elements of my everyday and I am captivated by the pulsation of such disparate events, information, ideas and things. In our cultural landscape of abundant consumer goods and the privilege/burden of access to information, I create compositions of accumulation about that beautiful and horrific, relentless clash; at once the weight and the flimsiness of daily life, both the inspiring and the mundane."

Martina Nehrling. 2008. Susurrus.
Acrylic on canvas, 18" x 24".

Martina Nehrling. 2008. In Waves.
Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 48".

"Grouped or tangled together, I use multiple distinct brushstrokes for their graphic directness, but rich color in order to engage and explore its imprecise language. I am utterly seduced by color’s formal complexity while I revel in its emotive slipperiness and enjoy mining its controversial decorativeness. The inextricability of these aspects, unique to color, continually spurs my engagement. Additionally, color is significant to the marked auditory aspect of my painting process. To develop the tenor, tonality and rhythm of a piece, I listen to the spatial relationships and interrelation of color, often combining both fluid and percussive qualities. I use particular color relationships to interrupt or punctuate the tracking of patterns of value and intensity, creating moments of concord and discord, enjoying syncopation and visual rhyming. With color that refuses to be ignored in patterns akin to lists, sentences, or notes, my paintings often operate as lyrical musing, lush celebration, high pitched lament, or raucous rebellion."

Martina Nehrling. 2008. Garden Drunk.
Acrylic on canvas, 48" x 144".

Martina Nehrling. 2008. Crux.
Acrylic on canvas, 25" x 28.5".

Martina's ongoing and recent exhibitions: Clusterf?#*k!, Zg Gallery, Chicago, 2009; Winter Show, Zg Gallery, Chicago, 2009; Through a Purple Patch, solo exhibition, Zg Gallery, Chicago, 2008; Faculty Exhibition, Sonnenschein Gallery, Durand Art Institute, Lake Forest, IL, 2008; Painters & Sculptors Make Prints, Crisp-Ellert Art Museum, St. Augustine, FL; Summer Show, Zg Gallery, Chicago, 2008; Summer Show, Zg Gallery, Chicago, 2007; Echo, solo exhibition, O’Connor Gallery, Dominican University, River Forest, IL, 2006; ArtFutura, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, 2006; Bridge Art Fair / Zg Gallery, Miami, FL, 2006; (un)Natural History, Zg Gallery, Chicago, 2006; Faculty Exhibition, Sonnenschein Gallery, Durand Art Institute, Lake Forest, IL, 2006; Art Chicago / Zg Gallery, Chicago, 2006.

Martina Nehrling. 2008. Blue Million.
Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 48".

For more information on Martina and her art, go to

Credits: Art images labeled with the artist's name were provided by the artist, and all other photos were provided by Amy A. Rudberg, unless otherwise noted.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Artist's Studio: Bruce Thorn

As part of my research on artists' studios, I visit artists working in the studio setting and ask them about their materials, methods, practices, and approach to life. The emphasis of these forays is to examine the studio setting and how the artist functions and creates art in that space.

After my watercolor class, I drove to the 4001 N. Ravenswood building at the corner of Irving Park and Ravenswood to visit artist and printmaker Bruce Thorn at his studio. It was a cold and rainy day, but I was able to find parking near the El (elevated train) on Ravenswood. I entered the building and called Bruce, who then buzzed me in. Rather than taking the stairs, I wanted to use the old elevator, whose capacity was maybe 6 people packed together. I had to pull open two heavy metal gates to get into the elevator and then closed them securely to get the elevator to work. I then went through a door and then a long hallway, where Bruce met me to take me into his studio, which turned out to be very warm and inviting.

Bruce had finished rehabbing a house for resale at the end of last year and wanted to do his artwork in a studio setting rather than at home, and he found a space that was ideal for him in terms of size, function, comfort, and community. The space is 15' x 55' with three large south-facing windows. The ceiling is 12-ft high, and he has 120 running feet of wall space since the bathroom and slop sink are outside in the hallway. Bruce installed picture rail molding where the walls meet the ceiling, so he can rehang his art work without damaging the walls. The studio contains all hand-built work tables (four), a desk, chairs, a small 90-lb Etan press, two easels (his son Tobey occasionally works in the space), scaffolding, and miscellaneous equipment.

Bruce's studio practices: "The idea is to have a work and display space in the same environment, kind of the traditional artists' way. I've learned that the studio can be fully utilized without making a huge mess. Presentation is very important, so I keep it professional. I prefer day light for working because it creates less strain for the eyes, and color seems correct. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes to the traffic outside the window, often to silence. I keep a guitar around so I can take breaks and musically interact with the visuals. Usually I work about six hours a day. I believe an artist has to be able to work no matter what is going on. If I get tired of painting, I carve linoleum. Art is an engaging activity, and I feel fortunate that I'm able to do such a wonderful thing."

"My work with images emphasizes invention and questions ways that we form associations and meanings. The artworks do away with narrative, replacing it with the vocabulary of color, shape, line and movement. Meandering line often serves as the beginning of a process, suggesting forms and interactions. Anthropomorphic, organic and geometric shapes offer multiple, ambiguous interpretations. Simplified visual vocabularies are utilized to enable complex results."

Bruce Thorn. Hipster. 2005.
Oil on panel, 24" x 30".

Bruce Thorn. Teenager in Love. 2009.
Oil on panel, 24" x 18".

"At first glance, these images appear to be nonobjective abstractions, teeming with enigma. Upon further study, one can discover references to urban and natural environments. Eyes, faces and figures abound. Crowds and sounds of the city converge. Fluid movements, curves, vortexes, color schemes and exquisite details reference the natural world of landscape, ocean and sky. These are objective and subjective abstractions of the world we live in. The message here is about the freedom to imagine and enjoy."

"I am attracted to both the microcosmic and the macrocosmic. How much information can be gained from a close reading of details? What coherent, elegant and powerful messages are offered from an overall glance? What is hidden, what is exposed? The images work well from a distance or close up. From a distance, many are simple and graphic. Upon closer viewing, they offer subtle details and rich textures."

Bruce Thorn. Hen House (Picasso's Niece). 2009.
Oil on linen, 34" x 26".

Bruce Thorn. Meltdown Man. 2009.
Oil on linen, 26" x 34".

"My work addresses the notion that life confronts us with chaos and that the arts help us to come to terms with this chaos. These artworks encourage contemplation and exploration of conflicting beliefs, assumptions and cognitive processes."

Bruce Thorn. Walk in the Park. 2004.
Linoleum block print, 7" x 5".

Bruce Thorn. Early Owl. 2004.
Aquatint etching, 22" x 15".

Bruce's upcoming and recent exhibitions: Fantasy Exhibition Series and open studio, Bruce Thorn Studio, Chicago, March, 2009; The Artist Project, Chicago, 2007; Abstract Imagism, Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery, Chicago, 2006; Bruce Thorn and Liz Quisgard, Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, 2006.

Before our meeting, Bruce had emailed me a press release about celebrating his Fantasy Exhibition Series at his new studio on March 1st. He said the press release -- depicting his art in an upcoming MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) show as well as participating in a Sotheby's auction and a signed photo of Obama standing in front of Bruce's art -- is what he calls a "parody" of the "valuation of artists and their work." In other words, the press release is a "fantasy," but his opening on March 1st is real. Join him at his open studio at 4001 N. Ravenswood on Sunday, March 1st, 1:00 to 6:00 p.m., featuring live boogie woogie piano music by Erwin Helfer.

For more information on Bruce and his art, go to

Credits: Art images labeled with the artist's name were provided by the artist, and all other photos were provided by Amy A. Rudberg, unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Artist's Studio: Sandra Perlow

As part of my research on artists' studios, I visit artists working in the studio setting and ask them about their materials, methods, practices, and approach to life. The emphasis of these forays is to examine the studio setting and how the artist functions and creates art in that space.

Sandra Perlow. Wave After Wave. 2008.
Oil stick, collage on paper, 30" x 22".

I took a cab to visit artist Sandra Perlow at her studio at State and Monroe, located in downtown Chicago. When I entered her building, I was greeted by a security person and after I signed in, he called Sandra to let her know that I had arrived. Then I took an elevator to the 4th floor, where I navigated a long hallway to find Sandra's unit on the far east end of the building. Sandra greeted me at the door and led me down a 15-ft foyer to a small seating area, where she had some chairs, a table, a computer on a desk, books on shelves, and storage. Another hallway adjacent to the seating area led to a small bathroom and then expanded into a large space with eastern-facing windows at the far end. This room, making up most of the 1400-sf unit, was clearly her creative space with a kitchenette, counter space, two large working tables, an office chair, storage shelves, and her work-in-process hanging on the walls. Sandra said that 50% of the people in the building owned their condos, and the others were renters (she's an owner). She said she likes the space because it's relatively close to where she lives, it's warm, the lighting is good, there is security, it's off State Street, and it's large enough to accommodate her work.

Sandra's studio practices: "I work with collage, papers I have painted, found paper or wallpaper, and mixed media on paper. During the week, I usually come to my studio about 9:30 in the morning and work until 4:30 or so. I check the computer and phone messages. I usually don't put everything away. I like to have layers of things lying on the work space. I also like to have my sketchbook out to get my mind moving. Although I usually work on one piece at a time, sometimes I have two going at the same time. If I'm having problems with a piece, I go to work on another project. For inspiration, I listen to music as well as read poetry. I like to travel and visit different cities -- I like the combination of an old city with new buildings. The markings on buildings as well as layers of paint inspire me. State Street, the Palmer House (hotel), and the way people move on the street stimulate my imagination."

"When I start a piece, I start from a sketch and then go to my drawer of papers and pull out the ones I need and then put everything on the floor along with my canvas or paper. I start to cut the papers and then glue and iron them to the surface. Then I move the piece to the work table and start to use oil sticks and markers. When that's done, I hang the piece on the wall, and then I paint it with acrylic paints. I erase areas and rework them and then erase and add more oil stick, marks, and paint."

"My new series is about the interior life of the self. Bending Forward (below) -- Lights come to mind in terms of reflecting surfaces as well as reflecting on life and coming to a decision. Your eyes play tricks on you."

Sandra Perlow. Bending Forward. 2008.
2008. Acrylic, oil stick on paper, 30" x 40".

"The new painting on my left (below) is about moving from one place to another, and the painting on my right is about drapery covering a window. I get my ideas from the city -- urban life and architecture."

Sandra Perlow. Resting on Itself. 2008.
Oil stick, acrylic on paper, 30" x 22".

Sandra Perlow. A Sudden Flap. 2008.
Oil stick, acrylic on paper, 30" x 22".

Sandra Perlow. All Night Long. 2008.
Oil stick, acrylic, collage on canvas, 50" x 40".

Sandra's upcoming and recent exhibitions: Solo show in project room, Linda Warren Gallery, Chicago, second week of June, 2009; Extra Roomy, solo show, Harper College, Palatine, IL, Jan. 20 to Feb. 13, 2009; The Art Center, Highland Park, IL, 2008; Alfedena Gallery, Chicago, 2007; Museum of New Art, Detroit, MI, 2007; Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, IL, 2006.

For more about Sandra and her art, go to

Credits: Art images labeled with the artist's name were provided by the artist, and all other photos were provided by Amy A. Rudberg, unless otherwise noted.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Artist's Studio: Sarah Kaiser

As part of my research on artists' studios, I visit artists working in the studio setting and ask them about their materials, methods, practices, and approach to life. The emphasis of these forays is to examine the studio setting and how the artist functions and creates art in that space.

I drove down to Hyde Park, south of Chicago, to visit Sarah Kaiser, who lives with a family in a large two-story Victorian house built in the 1890s. When I got there, Sarah led me up the stairs to the second floor, and then we went through a doorway and up a narrow staircase to the attic space, which has three rooms, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. She said the family, whom she had known previously as neighbors while she attended the University of Chicago, built the kitchen area and bathroom for her when they decided to rent the space to her. Her studio, located on the southwest end of the space, has a large window that captures the afternoon sun. On the west side, the Green Room (named after the green paint on the walls)has a desk where she works and occasionally draws with the two young girls in the family. Her bedroom, which also has a desk where she draws and does collages, is on the east side of the space.

When she's not teaching, Sarah works in her 110-sf studio about 15 hours a week, usually every night and some mornings. She usually draws at the desk in her bedroom, where her ideas are created, and then goes into her studio to paint or put together collages on canvases. While she works, she listens to music, NPR, or books on tape. She uses the cedar chest of drawers to store some of her work and occasionally puts her work up on old pieces of wood scattered around the studio.

She believes her work has a significant amount of memorabilia embedded in her images, and she is starting to do more abstract work. While I was there, she was continuing to work on a painting she had started in December about winter. Now she was adding small collages of birds in the white translucent landscape. She also likes to do sketchy comic book panels, which she calls isolated frames out of context, where epic images dominate and people have to analyze them more. She inserts revealing phrases she has heard on public transportation into "bubbles" spoken by western or early 20th-century figures.

"For me, comic relief often takes the form of a bumbling, wisecracking sidekick of the hero or villain in a work of fiction, which, in my case, happens to be old comic books. The sidekicks in my work usually comment on the absurdity of the hero's situation and make comments that are sometimes inappropriate for a character who is to be otherwise taken seriously.

"The process of making these images provides a sense of comic relief. In some cases, appropriating such imagery is a cathartic release of emotional tension that may have resulted from a comic episode interposed in the midst of dramatic events. Inspired by Woody Allen, events from my everyday experience become fodder for the narratives I construct. At times, I use poetic license and stretch the truth in my narratives." -- Sarah Kaiser – Conversations: A Comic Relief, Gallery UNO, Feb., 2009

"My paintings and drawings are merely the skin that covers the deep inner life inside of me. I support my work in the same manner that a father would support a wife and a child. Making art serves a definite purpose in my life. The process functions as a visual diary, and helps me to sort out current 'events.' Furthermore, it enables me to construct my own sense of order, especially when I cannot control the chaos that is external to me. No part of my process is purely technical. Even if I have not planned out a piece, spontaneous gestures come from within. For me, making art is the means in which I process events. Only what I construct myself will ever be real to me. In summary, making art helps me to escape the prison of my own mind. It's a form of meditation, which slows me down, and helps me focus."

Sarah's upcoming and recent exhibitions include: Conversations: A Comic Relief, ARTexhibitionLink, Gallery UNO, Chicago, Feb. 2009; And You Think That's Funny, group show, Woman Made Gallery, Jan. 2009; Emerging Artist Exhibit, Morpho Gallery, Chicago, 2008; Faster, Cheaper, Bolder, silkscreen works on objects, fabric and paper, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, 2008; Tie One On, A Benefit Auction to Support Art Education at Lillstreet Art Center, Chicago, 2008; One Inspired Evening, A Benefit Auction to Serve Chicago’s Homeless Population, River East Art Center, Chicago, 2008; Subject/Object, American Academy of Art, Chicago, 2008.

For more about Sarah and her art, visit

Credits: Art images labeled with the artist's name were provided by the artist, and all other photos were provided by Amy A. Rudberg, unless otherwise noted.