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Talking Art With Abstract Painter Alison Weld

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"Eye of Spring 1" - COURTESY OF ALISON WELD
  • Courtesy of Alison Weld
  • "Eye of Spring 1"

We live in a brave new world. Among the many, many strange cultural twists we've seen of late is a slogan shirt in Dior's 2018 line that references a question posed by feminist art historian Linda Nochlin in 1971: "Why have there been no great women artists?"

Eight years after Nochlin's brilliant provocation, 26-year-old Alison Weld, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, moved to New York and began painting on shower curtains. Working in the shadow of the notoriously male-associated abstract expressionism movement, Weld deliberately used domestic materials to merge her neo-expressionist style with considerations of house, home and gender roles. She would maintain that commitment for the next four decades of her career.

Now 65, Weld has been based in Westport, N.Y., full time since 2009. Last year she had her first showing of works in Vermont, when BigTown Gallery director and curator Anni Mackay included several of Weld's pieces in her two-part homage to founding surrealist André Breton.

This summer, Mackay featured Weld in "Light Field," a small solo exhibition in the Rochester gallery's project space. Next Friday, August 3, a Weld retrospective, titled "Inner Essentials," will open at Burlington's New City Galerie. Vermont artist Susan Smereka curated the show.

To date, Weld estimates she's mounted 26 or 27 solo exhibitions — two this year, as well as seven group shows. She joins other mid-to-late-career female artists who are currently enjoying a belated response to their creative outputs.

In anticipation of her New City Galerie exhibition, Seven Days spoke with Weld about her career, her recent foray into "pure abstraction," and being a woman and an artist.

"Field to Field 1" - COURTESY OF ALISON WELD
  • Courtesy of Alison Weld
  • "Field to Field 1"

SEVEN DAYS: Does being both a woman and an artist mean something different to you now than it did earlier in your career?

ALISON WELD: I've always wanted to discuss myself as a female, and so I starting painting with disposable chopsticks in 1979. When I was new to New York, I painted on shower curtains because I wanted to make a reference to the domestic history of the female. I still paint with chopsticks now.

When I was in my twenties, it was a very male-dominated world, and I didn't feel as if I could have children. I think there were a handful of woman artists who felt the same way, that they couldn't do both: have a serious body of work and have a family. So that was a difficult life choice to make. But I'm from a very large family and helped raise my younger siblings as the oldest girl in a family of six kids. [So] I didn't love the idea of having a family.

I think I'm not painting female consciousness these days — I'm really talking about old age, which is shared by everyone.

SD: Tell me about your most recent works, the "Liminal Series."

AW: I started the "Liminal Series" in December of 2016. The [works are] about the spirit, the soul, the light of a hayfield where my studio is. It's pure abstraction, you know. I had just finished treatments for breast cancer. I felt spiritually very strong. When I was dealing with the treatments, I didn't paint at all. Chemotherapy is very difficult to go through.

I suppose I feel really good about doing pure painting; I find it soulful. I guess, living on 30 acres of a hayfield, I don't think as much about external society as I did when I was living in the greater New York area and Jersey City. Then, I thought about external society throughout the day, and so I made these ["Home Economics"] diptychs.

"Shell of Silence 4" - COURTESY OF ALISON WELD
  • Courtesy of Alison Weld
  • "Shell of Silence 4"

SD: The structure of your career seems very focused on series as discrete entities. Can you talk about this?

AW: I have discrete bodies of work from my early neo-expressionism shower curtains to the "Striations" I started in January of 1985, when I switched to oil paint. I used and still use a cold wax medium. Then I started to create these assemblages of paintings. I incorporated plants and pampas grasses before I started the "Home Economics" series.

The "Tonal Variation" series I started in 2015 — that series definitely talks about myself; it's autobiographical. I'm not saying it's strictly female, because I don't think it is. I have around 43 of those. I don't want to use all of my previous paintings. Putting them together, there's a lot of asymmetry in the juxtaposition. I'm very excited about this series.

One of my aphorisms about abstraction is that a painting's surface is a film of consciousness. That concept is evident in all of my work. I don't make decorative abstraction.

Correction, July 26, 2018: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Alison Weld's exhibitions in 2018. She has had two solo shows and seven group shows.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Home Truths"

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