Vermont Studio Center: The Edda Jakab Studio

Edda Jakab

My studio is called The Edda Jakab Studio. There aren’t many studios that are named, so this caught my eye. I made a note to myself to look her up, but so many other things have been on my mind that I hadn’t gotten around to it.

One of the things on my mind: last night and into today I was struggling with a painting. Really struggling.

If you want the long story:

I told myself before I came that I would keep an open mind about how I would work and what kinds of paintings I would make when I was here. I didn’t want to close off any possibilities: what if I were so inspired by the Vermont countryside that I wanted to take up landscape painting, for example.

I woke up very early one morning and had an idea for a whole cycle of paintings. They’re related to the bullying and suicides of gay teens, specifically to the suicide of Tyler Clementi. Tyler’s college roommate secretly filmed Tyler in a private moment with another male, Twittered about it, and planned to film Tyler again while streaming the video live. Tyler, a freshman in his first month away from home, was humiliated. Within days, he jumped off the George Washington Bridge. I haven’t been able to get this story off my mind.

I’ve worked abstractly for a long time, and prefer to tell stories that way, using suggestion rather than illustration. But it occurred to me that maybe abstract imagery wasn’t the best way to tell a story that is about images of people. Images that were seen via computer, in real time. Images that were promised/threatened to be disseminated via the latest technology. I wondered also if painting, a very old medium, was the best way to tell this story.

Besides the gay aspect of the story, this story was as much about being hit over the head with images, images that just keep coming (electronically) and the instant gratification of Twitter, iChat, and all the other ways that we all keep in touch now. I thought that being very direct with my images might be called for now, and so in the spirit of opening myself up to new possibilities, I decided to include figures.

bad beginning

I was looking at photos online, collaging them together, working on composition, even blowing images up in Photoshop to examine the pixels. The results were pretty horrific, even for a beginning painting, when you usually have to be very forgiving of what happens, knowing that you’re going to edit like crazy anyway. It was hard to keep working on the painting because it was so depressingly bad.

It was in this state of hopelessness that I was playing hooky in my own studio. When I wasn’t trying to bend pixels to my will in Photoshop or trolling around for images that didn’t exist, I was otherwise fooling around on the internet instead of doing more battle with that painting. Idly, I looked up Edda Jakab, whose studio I’m in.

I liked her work very much. Edda is a painter who paints in lyrical abstraction, like me. Her forms are organic, soft, and contemplative. We have alot in common, including a love of color. Her point of departure, the spark that gives birth to her abstract marks, is nature, with quite a few paintings dealing with water and reflections, stones, and leaves.

Edda Jakab

Her artist’s statement emphasized that she didn’t want to recreate nature exactly as seen, but to suggest it, to get at the mystery of it through suggestion. She included the following quote:

Let the image float inside you,
Pass slowly by.
The slightest idea of it
Will suffice for you.
Saint-Beuve

Then she repeated: “The slightest idea of it will suffice…”

better beginning

This gave me an answer I was looking for. I realized that I was off-base to try to be so literal with my painting. I went back to the drawing board (ha ha, art joke) and extracted one tiny part of it, which was more than suggestive enough for my purposes. I turned the painting vertically (it had been oriented horizontally) and began building a very abstract and expressive painting around this suggestion.

The painting isn’t done but it’s come light-years with this one little reminder.

So I feel quite indebted to Edda Jakab and happy to be in this lucky studio. (Those of you who know me, know my little superstitions).

Edda was at the Vermont Studio Center in 2000. I would like to thank her for her inspiration, but she passed away in 2007.

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