back to Contents page

Panel Discussion At Snug Harbor:
Women Artists in a Suburban Context

by Robert Sievert

Click on image to see larger view

On Sunday March 13, 2005 an exhibition of artists who had participated in the studio program of The Snug Harbor Cultural Center opened at the Newhouse Gallery, Staten Island. There was a panel of Staten Island women artists talking on the subject "Women Artists In A Surburban Context." The panel was moderated by Elizabeth Egbert, sculptor and arts administrator. It also included artists Linda Butti, Julia Healy, Anne Marie McDonnell and Martha Trivizas. Linda Butti and Julia Healy presented slides and talked about their work while McDonnell and Trivizas chose to talk only.

The women had different takes on making art on Staten Island. Some spoke on their origins off the island and of the various drawbacks of having a studio outside the percieved artworld centers such as Chelsea and Soho.

Butti was first to talk about her work. She showed slides of her early paintings done when she lived in Brooklyn. These were lovely focused interiors of appartments with a wonderful sense of light filtering through the windows. Then she moved to Staten Island where she discovered nature. She began to paint the nature outside her windows. The sequential paintings became more abstract. She had no trouble making art or marketing herself in art markets outside New York City. She said that the main influence Staten Island had for her was the discovery of nature outside her window. She also maintains a studio in the Hamptons and is able to market there. Her recent work consists of landscape-based paintings.

Butti feels that the isolated art world on Staten Island works to her advantage. She likes that there are few urban distractions such as shops and bars that would ordinarily tempt her.

Julia Healy claims to have offered limo rides to Manhattan dealers and have them turn her down. She showed slides that began with her as a child in front of a tract house somewhere in the Midwest to assert her suburban identity. She later studied in Chicago and picked up influences of the local "hairy who artists", a successful style of art in Chicago in the 70's. Her work consisted of paintings mostly of cartoonish shapes enlivened by an overlay of "hairy" strokes. Her paintings of animals were more convincing. Her move into installation sculpture seemed even more productive. Although she didn't mention or show images of her "COW" in the 2000 New York City Cow Parade, this to me has been her most successful project, making it as far as the Cow Parade Calander

Healy felt that there was a Staten Island stigma that separated Staten Island artists from artists of other boroughs; that somehow being from Staten Island was cause for dismissal by those in the know. Her overall picture of painting on Staten Island was not glowing -- she exuded an aura of "I'm better than this."

In the simple direct account of of her art career on Staten Island Anne Marie McDonnell spoke with clarity. After growing up on Long Island, traveling to Europe and living on the upper westside of Manhattan, McDonnell married a Staten Islander, photographer Vincent Verdi, and moved here. Painter and sculptor, she was awarded a grant to create a public work in Clove Lake Park cast in bronze.

This move put her in touch with the prestigous Modern Art Foundry who cast her piece and has currently commissioned the casting of two of her new works from her show "America Cooks" currently on view at the Soho 20 Gallery in Chelsea. (Please see accompanying article.)

She feels the close community of artists, the public funding programs for Staten Island artists and other opportunities such as the presence of Snug Harbor (both the studios and the Art Lab) all worked in her favor.

Harder to follow was the work discription offered by Martha Trivizas. She discribed her work as an attempt to order her memory. She employed mnemonic icons she called "DESAIS"; they were devices by which she related to local landscape. The final product was hard to understand. Many of her works were animations or cartoon icons. I never understood what a finished work might be. But she is young and has the luxury of future development.

The panel then opened to the floor. Elizabeth Egbert added that she felt the Staten Island scene benefited by being small. There were more opportunities for local artists to get grants and show their work on staten Island. Kristy Pfister added that she felt the role of artist as mother and family person was easily accepted here.

Once, years ago, I asked Louise Bourgeois if she could be considered a Staten Island Artist because she had bought a house on Van Duzer Street. In her terse tacit manner she answered me "Art is not a matter of location."


Text copyright © 2005 Robert Sievert




August 17, 2005