the project

ha cha cha!
what fun, what fear!
–Mary Shindell, in an e-mail to Monica Aissa Martinez

The four artists who make up “What Goes On and What Takes Place” all agree that Monica Aissa Martinez was the one who brought them together. “She’s the boss of us,” Mary Shindell jokes.

Martinez knew that she wanted to do a project with Carolyn Lavender and Sue Chenoweth. She added Mary Shindell to the list after writing about Shindell for her blog, which she started in an effort to learn and share information about artists and how they work.

In Modified Arts’ Kim Larkin, the artists found someone who was sympathetic not only to the idea of a group show but to their desire to approach the show as a kind of collective. “When you exhibit in a group,” Martinez notes, “you rarely work together as artists.” From the outset, collaboration was key for this group, as was the impulse to share with viewers not just the finished artwork but the road each artist traveled to get there.

“What goes on is the process, what we do,” Martinez says. “What takes place is what people see.”

The things that link these artists go beyond what drew them together in the first place. Yes, they are all women, they are all mature artists, they all demonstrate, in Chenoweth’s words, “tenacity.” But further, there is a kind of kindred spirit that they have discovered in common, what Martinez calls “this meticulous, steadfast energy in all the work,” both the doing of it and the final product.

When Larkin asked them what tied them all together as artists, Shindell summed it up this way:  “We all love line.”

There are less obvious, more incidental connections as well, like the way the saguaro ribs in Shindell’s large piece echo the human ribs that Martinez has been drawing lately, or the fact that Shindell was the artist in residence at Lavender’s high school —  “She was one of my greatest influences,” Lavender says. Both Shindell and Lavender have MFA’s in drawing from ASU. Chenoweth’s MFA, also from ASU, is in painting, but she readily concedes that she doesn’t “paint like a painter” but rather draws in paint. (Martinez’s MFA, from New Mexico State University, is in drawing and printmaking.)

Lavender notes that drawing was once considered just preparatory, not an end product. Shindell, who received one of the first MFA’s in drawing offered at ASU (her BFA, from Northern Arizona University, is in painting), talks about watching the kind of detailed draftsmanship she practices achieve status over the years, going from dismissed to esteemed.

Bubbling under the surface of the drawing/painting conversation is another discussion, one the artists touch on in different ways but seem not to want to be too distracted or defined by — about traditional notions of women’s work versus men’s work, where women’s work (read: work by women) is considered intrinsically less significant or less valuable. It’s a paradigm that’s been played with and turned on its head by numerous artists but survives nevertheless: The macho painter model is as popular as it is irrelevant.

The collective response of these artists seems to be a stoic shrug and a return to the challenges at hand, and to their own ongoing conversation, in person and on paper. Shindell says, “We do it in spite of how hard it is.” Martinez concurs. “That statement speaks to the individual work because it’s so meticulous, but it speaks to the bigger picture as well” – how demanding it can be (emotionally, financially, professionally) to make art and not lose faith, either in yourself or in your art; how tough it is, male or female, to be as brave and as scrupulously honest as the work requires you to be.

Deborah Hilary Sussman
February 2011


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