Oils & Acrylics|
View Artist Statement
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Gallery Direct Interview with ELIZABETH APGAR-SMITH|
Elizabeth’s work represents the beauty she observes in peoples everyday activities. Her “Faithful Labors” series is a culmination of two years work that expresses the essence and beauty of farmers working to sustain their existence.
At what age did you start to paint and when did you realize that art was going to be your career?
As a small child, I loved to draw and paint in watercolor. I was awarded the kindergarten art prize. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I knew I wanted to have a career in art.
Did your parents give you the encouragement you needed, if not, who did? Were there other artists in your family?
My maternal grandmother, with whom I loved to spend time, gave me great encouragement. She was a nurturing, creative person who bought me my first set of paints. There was no one else in my family even interested in art.
What formal or informal training have you found most useful?
I attended a high school that allowed an art concentration junior & senior year. That exposure gave me the confidence to pursue an art degree, which I did at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY. My college training provided me with a good knowledge of art history and a solid base in abstract design.
Years later, after I started to paint again fulltime, I attended the Woodstock School of Art for four years where I studied oil painting in the classical manner. This probably contributed most to my present work, but I count all my training equally formative.
What kind of images did you first start out with and what medium did you use?
My college work was primarily abstract. I was fascinated by the cubists and attempted to impose a cubist style on surrealistic subject matter, working in acrylic and graphite.
After ten years of raising three boys to school age, I began to paint again. I found myself using a more impressionistic style, trying to capture how I felt about the beautiful valley where I live. At this time, most of my paintings were watercolors.
Have your life experiences influenced your work and subject matter? If so, in what way?
I’m certain they have. When writer’s are moved in some manner by an experience, they write about it. My experiences find their way into paintings. As I said before, “Faithful Labors” grew out of living in a valley rich with agriculture, where we’ve made friends with people who are dedicated farmers. I never thought of painting a scene from India until I spent a somewhat life-altering three weeks in that country.
I seldom go anywhere without a sketchbook and camera, so I can capture my experiences for potential paintings. Some experiences suggest paintings. Others demand them.
Whose work do you relate to most and why?
That’s a tough question for me, there are so many I admire. I love the color of Pierre Bonnard, the brushwork of John Singer Sargent, the emotional content of Mary Cassatt and Edward Hopper. For strong design I look to Toulouse-Lautrec and Richard Diebenkorn. My current contemporary favorites are Zhang Hong Nian and Richard Schmid.
In my present work with farmers, I find I relate strongly to the work of Jean-Francois Millet, who, growing up in a peasant farming family, chose to express his admiration for them in his paintings. His work elevates the farmer to heroic status and that is what I hope I am doing with my subjects in my “Faithful Labors” series.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far and what has been your greatest success?
Trying to balance family and career has been the biggest challenge. To date, my greatest success has been with my farm series, “Faithful Labors.” Not only has it been well-received by my collectors and the general public, but the farmers with whom I worked in assembling source material were moved. I had hoped for that, but not expected it.
Could you tell us about your “Faithful Labors” series and what inspired you to do them?
For 28 years I have lived in this gorgeous agricultural valley (Schoharie was known as the “Breadbasket of the American Revolution), dotted with small family farms struggling to maintain a lifestyle that is rapidly disappearing. I saw their devotion and hard work as well as their love for what they do. Hopefully, I’ve been able to convey that in my work.
What are your favorite pieces of work and why are they closest to your heart?
So far my favorite paintings are those that include my family, our travels, and several particularly evocative pieces from my “Faithful Labors” series. However, I always feel that my next painting may be my favorite. Isn’t that the thrill of painting?
What other interests do you have besides your paintings?
After my family and my painting, my main interest involves trying to see as much of the world as possible. During college, I studied in Florence; then about ten years ago I took an art trip to Athens and Istanbul. My husband and I have toured New Zealand, Australia, and India in the past two years, and will visit Thailand and Viet Nam this winter. I also enjoy foreign language study and ballroom dancing.
What is your ideal working atmosphere?
Either studio painting or painting “en plein aire.” My perfect atmosphere is a well-lighted spacious studio with a good eight hours of uninterrupted time. A close second is a temperate day out painting with a friend.
You work with a number of artists in your workshops and classes. If you were to give an artist just starting out in their career some advice, what would that be, and why?
Assuming students are serious about pursuing a professional career in art, I advise them first to build a reputation through entering competitions. This has the potential to build artists’ confidence, or -- if unsuccessful -- to adjust their expectations. If they’re successful, it leads to the second step; assembling a body of work that explores a single idea or theme about which they feel strongly. Once they’ve accomplished this, I encourage them to approach a local gallery with a show proposal. Of course, other paths exist. This is just the one that I’ve taken, and the one that has worked for me.
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