WFG (Woodstock Framing Gallery) on Mill Hill Rd. in Woodstock opens its 2014 fall season on Saturday, September 20 with “50/50”, an exhibition of the work of painters Heather Hutchison and Mark Thomas Kanter, who share a home, a studio building, a child, a birth year (1964, they both turn 50 this year), and now, the walls of WFG, all of which explain the exhibition title. There will be an artists’ reception on the evening of the 20th from 5 –7pm, and the show runs through November 30. I caught up with the two artists as they were finalizing work for the exhibition in the first of Roll’s series of interviews with artist couples.
An artist being partnered with an artist has the potential for a great outcome or the opposite. So much depends on the willingness of each one to be generous and supportive of the other. This can be difficult if one or both have competitive egos, where domestic life threatens loss of time for art-making, or where one spouse puts a values on his/her art that outweighs that of the other. I have known such couples including, in one case, a husband whose day job afforded him access to information on exhibition and grant opportunities, information he kept from his wife including, and particularly, opportunities for which she was better qualified than he. In the meantime the family was in a constant state of financial crisis. However there are those, like Hutchison and Kanter, who not only make it work but whose support and respect for each other’s art practice has enabled the work to grow and mature.
They have each exhibited widely in the US and internationally, and both have been recipients of prestigious awards including a NYFA and Helena Rubenstein Foundation grant for Kanter, a Pollock Krasner award and Adolph & Esther Gottlief Foundation Individual Artist Grant for Hutchison. Kanter has taught painting and drawing at Dartmouth College, American University, SUNY New Paltz, Studio in a School and The International School of Art, among others. Public collections housing Hutchison’s work include The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, The Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., and Art in Embassies, Beijing, China.
Both artists work in an abstract idiom but coming from very different places on the artistic spectrum. Kanter’s fluid mostly black and white pieces are rooted in the figure. Hutchison’s deceptively simple forms and hard-edge elements are unapologetically non-objective and form a counterpoint to the swirling movement of her partner’s work, yet both take cues from light. In Kanter’s highly energetic and painterly works, he uses chiaroscuro – the clear and the obscure – to create forms that seem familiar but, yet, are just out of reach of recognition. In Hutchison’s work, light is the actual vehicle in the paintings and, increasingly, sculptural wall pieces and installations. In the paintings, the bands of pure color she employs to frame or disrupt the light draw us to the luminous parts of the paintings.
Let’s begin with the art. Can you tell me how you come to these images?
MTK – My work is derived from a process of mark-making that reflects the natural movement of the human body. The resultant organic arabesques configure themselves into palpable, if imaginary, forms and space, an embodiment which is at once psychological and physical.
HH – In my pieces, which are as much light sculpture as painting, the viewer is presented with the opportunity to directly experience the scientific truism that the only constant is change. Striving to maximize my medium’s literal transparency in order to attain the greatest self-illumination, natural light is as essential to me as any other material I employ; it literally animates my work with its ever-changing nature.
Mark, how would you describe what light means to your work?
MTK – My concern with light is metaphorical, organizing and reflecting light into a structure more real than nature. My aim is to engage the attentive viewer in the psychological forces of light and dark, motion and stillness.
Heather, can you say something about the pieces you will have in the show at WFG?
HH – Sure. Many of my recent works shown in “50/50” utilize Rubylith tape and Pantone paper. Both materials are now considered archaic but had been essential to the graphic design industry prior to the advent of desktop publishing. I am also showing time-lapse videos that I have been making for the past seven years, some of which follow daylight’s course through my transparent constructions.
I never think there is a need for competition among artists since everyone is expressing their own particular interest, vision, or neurosis – as the case may be – and these will appeal to equally different viewers. But being partnered with another artist in the same field must have its pros and cons. What would you say are the most significant of these?
HH — For me it is important that I share my life with someone who understands the “obsession” that I have dedicated my life to, and I have often found that person to be an artist as well. Mark and I learn much from each other and have informally helped each other’s work to develop during the past 23 years, part of that is arguing about art. The downside is raising a family on a two artist income.
MTK – I concur. There is the benefit of having a partner who can come in and be a 2nd pair of critical eyes in the studio. Your interests overlap, naturally, and where they don’t, there are important opportunities to learn from each other and support each other. As long as you avoid being competitive, I think there are no cons really, only the usual challenges of a long-term relationship and of parenthood.
What made you want to be artists?
MTK – As a child I drew constantly and later in childhood thought I’d draw comic books. I was always visual and literary. It was the increasingly deep experiences with great art in museums and in the studio in my college years which drew me towards painting.
HH – I come from six generations of artists and have always lived in the midst of artists. When I was seven, I made my first studio space in a spare building my family had in Bisbee, Arizona, mimicking my older artist friends. Because of this lineage and environment I always felt I had the license to be an artist and it happened to work out for me that I was able to sustain the vocation.
Did you both go to art school? If yes, where?
MTK – Yes. I studied fine art at Bates College (as well as Literature and Eastern Religion), painting and drawing at The New York Studio School and The International School of Art, and got an MFA in painting at Parsons/The New School.
HH — No. When I was very young I had the understanding that an artist’s role was to communicate a unique and original perspective, and I didn’t understand how being in a large group of students who were being taught the same thing would lead to that end. It was a very naïve understanding but it kept me out of art school. I did consider art school when I moved to NYC [New York City] at age 22, but then I got a job modeling at SVA [School of Visual Arts] and decided I was better off without it.
Heather, you faced the challenge of breaking into the NYC art world from this left field position at quite a young age. Do you feel not having been “art-schooled” was an advantage or a disadvantage?
HH – It was very challenging to come across the country to NYC. I didn’t know any one and I had to find my way in the art world among peers who had come out of Yale and other highly respected institutions. I lucked into my first solo show in SOHO at 24 years old, the work was received very well and I just had to keep the exhibitions rolling until no one cared whether or not I’d gone to art school. I was also in danger of being stuck with an “outsider” label; I made sure that didn’t happen. Honestly, I don’t think I would have been making that early work that was so well received had I gone to art school.
While I think art schools do give people a conceptual base – by that, I don’t mean to necessarily become “conceptual artists” – I also find that people who didn’t attend art school can be less hampered by self-doubt, ironic as that is. Next question: what artists, living or dead, inspire you?
MTK – Nicolas Poussin, Piero della Francesca, Giorgio Morandi, Piet Mondrian, Pompeiian frescoes, Alberto Giacometti, Matta. Living artists: my spouse Heather Hutchison, David Paulson, Ruth Miller and Claude Carone.
HH – I wasn’t aware of the Californian “Light and Space” school of artists when I first started making work that was very much in that same vein. Since then, I have been very inspired by and comforted in sharing a language with Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Craig Kaufman, and Ellen Pashigian. Discovering the work of both Donald Judd and Christopher Wilmarth helped me to clarify certain elements of my own constructions. Mark introduced me to Piero de la Francesca and Giorgio Morandi, whom I marvel at and their work has helped to ground my ethereal ways with structure, as has Mark.
In addition to your partner, which other living artist would you like your work to be displayed alongside?
HH – As well as those I just mentioned, the work of Anne Truitt makes me very happy. I recently discovered Lygia Clark’s paper constructions via her exhibition at MoMA [Museum of Modern Art, New York]. But, honestly, it would depend on which works of theirs were being put next to which works of mine. I’m inspired by works of art, not the artists per se… Humans are so complicated.
Mark, same question?
MTK – Bill Jensen, Claude Carone, David Paulson.
What do you each like the most and least about being an artist?
MTK — Most: the freedom and tools to examine life. Least: the uncertain income.
HH — I like that I can solve problems. This gives me faith that it will all be okay. And what I like least? Same as Mark – I wish I had a sizeable trust fund. And I probably should have gotten a “day job” long ago.
Yes, and in addition to funding a living, the cost of making art is so expensive. Finally, if you were not an artist, what would you be?
HH — I would like to re-invent things so they would be useful to non-greedy humans who would like to continue to inhabit this planet without wasting its resources.
MTK – Someone in the entertainment industry, or a Buddhist Monk.
Thank you both for taking the time to be interrogated when you are so busy. See you at the gallery. [Scroll down for details of the exhibition.]
Featured Image combines Hutchison’s Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, 2O13, and Kanter’s: Francesca Speaks to the Poets (Detail), 2O13
Unless otherwise noted, images are courtesy of the artists.
50/50 opens on September 20 with an artists’ reception
from 5 – 7pm, and runs through November 30 at
The Woodstock Framing Gallery, 31 Mill Hill Road
Woodstock, NY 12498
For further information including gallery hours, visit:
For more information about the artists, visit their websites:
Claire Lambe is an Irish born painter whose works have been exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic; she is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and holds an MFA in painting from the City University of New York. In addition to her art-making, she is also the company manager and designer for The Woodstock Players Theater Company—as the company designer she is responsible for everything from the website to the set design. Writing credits include contributing author to Teen Life in Europe (part of the Teen Life Around The World series), and articles and reviews for this publication. Claire Lambe’s art work can be seen here: http://clairelambe.net/