Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Somerville Artist Jeannie Motherwell: From the Cosmos to the Canvas

Somerville Artist Jeannie Motherwell met me at her studio at Miller Street Artists Studios in Somerville. She has a large space with many of her expansive paintings both on the floor and the walls. Originally Motherwell had worked in her home studio in Cambridge, but eventually she needed a new and larger space. After a stint at the Joy Street Studios, she scored a space at Miller Street. It seems that folks moved from Miller Street due to the pandemic, and Motherwell lucked out and scored a vacant one. As for Somerville--Motherwell heartily embraces it. She told me, " I love the Somerville Arts Council--they really try to create spaces and opportunities  for artists in the community."


Motherwell has adorned many hats in her long career. One of which is being on the board of  Provincetown Arts Magazine. This much lauded magazine, has highlighted the works of a broad range for artists for decades. We talked a bit about the founder, the late Chrsitopher Busa, who I knew briefly. Motherwell reflected on Provincetown, " I have a long association with Provincetown. My father, the artist Robert Motherwell and my stepmother Helen Frankenthaler summered for years there, since I was a young child. It was an alternative to the Hamptons. The Hamptons were too busy, a lot more of a business atmosphere. But in Provincetown my father was most prolific during the summer season--it was a much more informal atmosphere." As for the magazine, Motherwell told me it is going as strong as ever since Busa passed. " Motherwell said," Liz Winston took over from Chris, and since then we have continued the tradition of great articles, new patrons, and great production values."
Having parents who were world famous artists made it hard for her to create her own artistic identity. She said that her parents were trailblazers. Back in the 1950s and 60s, artist in her parents' milieu were trying to put their art in in the world spotlight, that previously had shone on Europe.  Robert Motherwell, an abstract expressionist, was in the middle of this exciting period of American art.  Jeannie Motherwell told me her dad was worried about her choice of being an artist, but was also supportive. According to her --he was like a movie star in the artworld, and like any movie star parent might feel, he was worried that a child who wanted to follow the same path and would have to endure a hardscrabble life.  But in the end he said, " Hey, you've got the bug," realizing that this was an intrinsic part of her.
For a period of 10 years, in the‘80’s, Jeannie did not paint. She felt that she was too young, and wasn't confident that she could add something to the art world. She came back to it, and years later she viewed some pictures from the Hubbel Telescope, and was blown away. She became infatuated with the idea of space, stars, moons, all that infinite black space. In many ways her work includes that cosmic awareness---that focus on space in the cosmos and the canvas.
As a poet, I was interested to learn that the painter has an affinity for poetry. She told me,  "Painters understand poetry--the abstract nature of the world."  She remembered often having conversations with the noted poet John Yau at college and after about their process. She said, "We were so in tune we could complete each other sentences."
Jeannie said that she often spreads a canvas on the floor--with no preconceived notion of what the painting will be, and lets her brush explore.  She often listens to music to accompany her painting
Jeannie can often be found her Miller Street studio.  She has a solo show coming up at the Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown and the M FINE ARTS GALERIE IN BOSTON and this fall at the ETHAN COHEN GALLERY IN NYC. Jeannie Motherwell is yet another artist I have interviewed in this rich font of creativity that we call the " Paris of New England."

 For more information about Motherwell go to:   https://jeanniemotherwell.com/

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