Recipe for Abstract Art: When is it “done”?


To make abstract art, use some or all of the following “ingredients”: inspiration, concept, materials, and technique. Creatively mix them together. When will it be done? This is a question I ask myself and viewers often ask me.

I make abstract oil paintings and sometimes approach a new work ready to explore a concept. I don’t pre-visualize it. The painting may present itself quickly, in a matter of hours, or over a period of many months. After I see what the work’s about, I use my knowledge of composition and color to create, polish, the strengths of these elements until they shine. When I enter the room where the work is after not seeing it for some time, if it grabs my attention, I know it’s close to done. Then upon close inspection, if my eye travels through it and doesn’t stop and question a mark, color, line or texture, then I know it’s ready for viewing; I’ve completed it.

When a viewer sees the painting and becomes engaged with it, then it’s “done”.

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Inspiration and Obligation


A common question to abstract artists is, “What is your inspiration?”

Many things have inspired my work from the simple, sensual, and silly to the very serious.

Early on in my work, flowers, landscapes and street scenes became expressionistic paintings. A trip to Mexico inspired The Colors of Guanajuato as well as Balloon Seller and Beggar. Introspection about my femininity inspired several “self-portraits” including The 44 Blues. Presently my focus is on the cruelty and injustices perpetrated upon women.

The intensity of the news coverage of late on violent acts against women and reports of witnesses to crimes not helping to end them enrage me. This anger manifested itself into what one would expect from an abstract painter, slashes of paint, dynamic lines and bold colors. After this initial expression, my online research about what is being done by civil society gave me pause and I spent a considerable amount of time thinking, experimenting and sharing my thoughts about how art, my abstract art, could make a statement.

The answer is in progress but what I have concluded so far is this: as a woman, an artist, and a member of civil society, blessed to have been born in the United States and able to rest my head each night without fear for my life, I have a duty, an obligation to speak up and help put an end to the insanity. Being realistic, a painting with a title and inference to an event, however cruel the event and powerful the painting, can’t make the type of change the world needs, women deserve. However, I have to start somewhere. I’ve begun a series of paintings, each one a reaction to a specific act of violence.

The painting above is Silent Witnesses.  In 2009, a 15 year old girl was gang raped outside her high school for almost two hours. As many as twenty people witnessed it and did not try to stop it. As I painted this piece, I often thought of the people in the shadows, what kind of wall was holding them back. I cried for the girl and the bright life that should have been ahead of her.  I chose not to portray the violence so much as the contrast between the brightness of life and the evil that lurks.

I have many more in progress and hope to create an event with them to sustain awareness of the pervasiveness of these atrocities, instigate action, and raise funds through their sales to support organizations like, The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women.

You can also view the works on my site:

I welcome your thoughts.

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First Loves: An Early Encounter with W.H.


At some point in my early teens, during a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of art in NYC, I fell in love, with a painting by Winslow Homer. Viewing the painting, Gulf Stream, excited me. Painted in 1899, the shirtless black man alone on a small boat with a broken mast, surrounded by sharks, blood slicks on frothy white capes, reclines against the side of the boat and looks to the horizon. Off to the left there is a faint image of a ship in the distance, to the right, also faded and far away, is a water spout.

I purchased a little reproduction. Who was that man? A runaway slave (at the time I didn’t know it was a scene from the Bahamas). Who didn’t survive? Would he?

The power of the painting drew me to it again and again.  After years of viewing it, I concluded Gulf Stream isn’t about what we see, but what we think and feel.  The components of the painting are there to tell a story, an allegory. The bare powerful man, gazing thoughtfully to the horizon, and the wreck after the “storm” bobbing along, could be any “man” navigating life. With only our own observations and strength (society, the distant ship, isn’t necessarily going to help, especially a black man in 1899) can we survive dangers present, the sharks, and forget demons passed, the storm.

An amazing draftsman, Winslow Homer began his art career as an illustrator, a war correspondent, documenting the battles of the American Revolution. As he matured his love for life shined through in the beauty and joy of many of his works from Crack the Whip to his many studies and masterpieces depicting the adirondacks. These drawings and paintings like magnets pull your gaze to them, electrify you, and can transport you to places of joy and peace.

In the nineteen nineties, during a gallery visit to SoHo NYC, I stumbled across the Sundaram Tagore Gallery and the work of the Indian born artist Natvar Bhahsvar. His work is as powerful as Homer’s but in a very different way. Without any illustration, using pure pigments and extremely large canvases, Bhahsvar also creates a sense of place. Many of his paintings appear as portals, glowing from another world. I fell in love with both of these artists’ work and to this day have the goal of achieving what they did, create paintings that are alluring and bring a sense of wonder, joy, and peace to viewers.

What was the first artwork you fell in love with?

* Above is one of my paintings, Lost in a Revery, No. 3

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What is home, a place of birth and death so powerful its pull is like a spawning ground to which we must return? Or more like an eagle’s nest above all, quiet and safe? In Western culture, people used to be born and die in their homes, the same dwelling; now lives usually begin and end in a hospital or other clinical facility and in between people move multiple times. Perhaps then, home is not the physical place where we celebrate life and face the inevitable, but a place within that when we arrive there, we feel secure, loved and free. It is from this place and about “home” I paint and explore.Image

For several years, I believed my paintings were abstract. From examining their progression, I realized I paint in an abstract method but my work is not abstract. Abstract art has traditionally been defined as an artistic expression that does not represent the physical world; the artist interprets, purposely or intuitively, the physical world, e.g. that which is happening around her. In the tradition of expressionist abstract painters Wassily Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning, I try not to preconceive what I’m going to make, but allow my subconscious to create the art, but unlike them, I don’t shun references to the physical world. I create surreal environments but not dreamscapes in the vein of Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy and Roberto Matta with distinct buildings, figures or a sky. I convey a sense of place. Rectangles single or in groups may appear to spectators as windows or cities, ethereal spaces as sky and fluid sweeping marks as wind.

The repetitive incorporation of these elements in my compositions begged the question, what am I trying to express with them? Clearly dynamic gestures and saturated color choices personify intense emotions and conversely, from a light touch and pastel color palette an atmosphere of peace and happiness surrounds a work. But why the open doors, deep spaces and swirls of energy leading to cities in the sky? When I submit to my subconscious to draw from my well of experience and emotions, what comes up could be fury and anger about oppression and violence among warring peoples or the desperation of individuals who self-immolate. I’ll want to scream “No! It doesn’t have to be this way,” and red will sear the canvas in a violent arch. The mother and nurturer in me will want to scoop up these broken souls and whisk them away to a safe place, create a safe harbor and a serene world.

As an artist, I can do this with my imagination. The resulting paintings offer opportunities to discover and address the feelings of “home” or about not being “home” — free, secure and loved.

Finding Home, an exhibit of oil paintings will be on view for the month of January, 2013 at the Touch Art and Crafts Gallery, 281 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA.


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Art as Facilitator

In Michael Findaly’s book, The Value of Art, the second section is about art as a social vehicle. The artist creates art that isn’t complete until it is seen. However, this is the smallest of art induced interactions between people. Art has and continues to impact the masses.
In the Bible story when Moses goes up to receive the Ten Commandments, the Masses prayed to idols, sculptures. In 15th century Italy, the Medici’s supported many artists including Michael Angelo and Leonardo de Vince enabling them to create great works of public art, sculptures and frescoes. Ironically, in the same time period, Girolamo Savonarola of the Dominican order, repressed art claiming it was anti-Christian; people came together to denounce it and other “frivolities” culminating in the “bonfire of the vanities” in which in addition to women’s hair pieces, jewels and silks, paintings were tossed on the flames. Today art still brings great numbers of people together.

In Millenium Park, Chicago, Anish Kapoor’s cityscape-reflecting, 110-ton Cloud Gate sculpture (a.k.a. “The Bean”) attracts young and old and like museums and galleries, provides opportunities for engagement. Earlier this year, in the harsh cold of winter, it was even able to lure people outdoors.

Last weekend, as the weather turned gray and rainy, I could have curled up by a fire and read a book but I attended an art opening with a friend at the National Center of Afro-American Art in Roxbury, MA. A festive gathering, it featured Jamaican artists in celebration of 50 years of Jamaica independence. Surrounded by varied and colorful paintings and sculptures, lively discussions among artists, spectators and friends abounded. #Afro-American Art

Every week there are many free opportunities for experiencing art. I encourage you to get out, engage your fellow spectators and enjoy.


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“Invisible Lines of Connection”

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Sunday at the Goodnow Library in Sudbury, a spectator of my art approached me and in conversing about the paintings he told me about the book Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary by Lawrence Kushner. I haven’t … Continue reading

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8-8-88 An Update

Well, I don’t win the consistency prize for blogging. I keep busy, painting, experiencing life, looking at the sky…

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The 8-8-88 project was completed around February of this year. The finished result is Silent Soul, an eighty-eight canvas mosaic that can be reconfigured to various spaces. The sweeping wave shown in the above photo is on a 34 foot wall. I want spectators to feel the power and fluidity of a spirit.

Thank you everyone who viewed it in its various stages and shared insights, memories and emotions. Your honesty contributed to its power.

Almost a year to the day it began, Silent Soul was installed and exhibited for the first time at the Chase Family Gallery in West Hartford, CT where it will hang until November 10th, 2012.

If you’re in the area, please stop in to view it; your thoughts and memories of it carries my father’s spirit on what I hope is a wonderful and journey.

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8-8-88 Update: first grouping, photos

Two more cartons of canvas have arrived. Ten painted, only 78 more to create.

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The 8-8-88 Project

The 8-8-88 project is a tribute to my father, Bertram J. Tarlin who passed away this August on the eighth at the age of eighty-eight.

My dad was a quiet man: pensive, gentle and loving. Sometimes, as my brother Bill stated in his eulogy, it was challenging being his child because he was so reserved.

After the funeral, my sister, Nancy, and I came across a manuscript of a novel he wrote, The Artist’s Life. We believe he wrote it in 1948 well before he even met my mom. It’s about a female artist, a painter, seeking: the meaning of life, why art is essential, and true love.

While living, my dad never spoke to me about art or the universal themes in his book; he was a silent soul, yet now that he’s passed through the threshold from this world to… he speaks to me.

In his memory, I’ve begun a painting-mosaic titled, Silent Soul. When complete, it will consist of 88 one foot square oil paintings, one to represent each year of his life. Individually and as a whole, the artwork will attempt to capture the depth of my dad’s character as well as the gaps in his presence and unknown spaces where he may have transcended to then and now.

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More Images than a TV

Worlds Apart, oil on canvas, 33"x80"

Recently I had the good fortune to have a couple connect so greatly with one of my paintings they purchased it for their new home. When I delivered it, they and their interior decorator contemplated it as it was positioned over the couch, across from a large flat screen TV mounted in an historically popular place for a painting, above a fire place. The painting, Worlds Apart, is six and a half feet wide and was too large for the coveted viewing spot and I thought that’s unfortunate.

Worlds Apart is an abstract oil painting named for its sense of depicting polarities, a bright “world” with a dark world accessed through a “portal” – a dark blue rectangle with vibrant marks emanating from it. The juxtaposition of the painting and blank TV screen gave me pause.

When we turn on a TV we play an active role. The media and its many creative contributors, at its best, can offer programs that inform, inspire, motivate, shock and bring laughter or joy to its audience. With its moving images TV initially appears dynamic in contrast to a painting. However, choosing to view abstract art is contrary to the thought; it is an extremely dynamic activity. Abstract art offers the viewers infinite opportunities for tele-visioning – freeing the mind to transcend reality, envision memories, fantasize and incessantly create new “programs” with their subconscious each time they choose to tune in and turn it on. This is just one of the many reasons I love creating abstract art!

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