Documenting My Artistic Influences

Collaborative Book Project with Roben-Marie
“Believe” acrylic/collage: paper, acrylic, rub-on letters 6″ x 6″ ©2010 Leah Virsik

I found this quote going through some high school memorabilia…

“We are all guilty of crime, the great crime of not living life to the full.  But we are all potentially free. We can stop thinking of what we have failed to do and do whatever lies within our power. What those powers that are in us may be no one has truly dared to imagine. That they are infinite we will realize the day we admit to ourselves that imagination is everything. Imagination is the voice of daring.” ~Henry  Miller

I’m continuing to work through Alyson B. Stanfield’s The Relatively Pain-Free Artist Statement e-book. This time I’m working on writing about my artistic influences.

I was recommended a book on encaustic and after looking through the book, I looked up the author online and found out she was teaching at an Artful Journey. Totally engrossed on the Artful Journey site, I temporarily forgot about encaustic and became fully enamored with DJ Pettit.  I was taken by her books and her stitching. After discovering her,  I started doing some “renegade sewing”. My mom taught me how to sew at a young age but what I remember most is jamming up her machine with thread and feeling incredibly guilty for “breaking” her machine. Now when I jam it up, I fix it myself, without guilt.

Artist, Teddy Goldsworthy-hanner referred me to Daniella Woolf who works with encaustic and books. Ahh, heaven!

Tom and I were getting our marriage license at Oakland’s Clerk Recorder’s Office and I was mesmerized by a button portrait by Lisa Kokin of her father. When I read that she taught classes, I knew I wanted to meet her and study under her.  This huge portrait of buttons was something I had never seen before. I was in awe… up close it was a mass of buttons and mixed-media and from a distance it was a portrait of a man. Anyway, as I’ve had the chance to see more of her work, what really stands out for me is her thoughtful process, conceptual approach and her delightful humor. I connect with the layers and depth of meaning in her work.

I really appreciated Robert Rauschenberg‘s concept for his Erased de Kooning at the SFMOMA. I especially loved his piece entitled Hiccups at the SFMOMA as well. Unfortunately, no photo but it was long: 9 in. x 752 in. (22.86 cm x 1910.08 cm) made up of prints, solvent transfer and fabric, with metal zippers on 97 sheets of hand-made paper. Another obsession of mine… long, massive works… it’s intriguing. Creating something bigger than myself in many ways is important to me. I appreciate Rauschenberg’s collage and paintings and the raw, organic feel to his work.

I got to see an incredible retrospective of Mark Rothko’s work at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. I almost wonder why I was so taken by this exhibit. Was it the docent, the exhibit or his work? It was probably the entire experience. I could sit in front of one his piece’s at SFMOMA for quite a long time just being. I’m attracted to his work because it’s massive, dominating in a way, peaceful, abstract, colorful and simple.

The Slanted Door in San Francisco had some Rex Ray pieces on display for awhile. That may have been where I first saw his work. His work has a lot of precision, especially some of his bigger pieces that I’ve seen at Gallery 16. I’m attracted to that precision and obsessiveness. As I’m writing this, it reminds me of the obsessive quality of Lisa Kokin’s work. I’m particularly attracted to repetition as well, as in repetition of elements. Some of Rex Ray’s smaller pieces are covered in resin which I’m quite attracted to… that highly shiny quality. I use resin in some of my own works. I’d like to try it with paper at some point too.

Kiki Smith, Eva Hesse and Helen Frankenthaler are some other artists that come to mind. Kiki Smith does a lot of work with the body and sculpture and ties it in really well with storytelling. When I think of Eva Hesse, I think of strings and large installations, the color white and an ephemeral quality. I remember connecting to Helen Frankenthaler’s paintings and the fact that she’s a woman.

Other influences in my work: I mentioned repetition and I have done some screenprinting and letterpress work. There are multiples that come out of printing. I create advertising for a living and it’s printed in multiples, hundreds of thousands at times. I’ve often wondered about what can be done with the leftovers, other than recycling. I’m influenced by what goes in the garbage. What else can it be used for?

I began my career designing newspaper advertising. At my brother’s graduation from U.C. Berkeley, I remember seeing a newspaper on the ground, it was garbage, but I had created the ad on that paper that no longer had value. It was quite depressing at the time. But now, I see it as a challenge… how can I create value in something that has outlived it’s original purpose?

4 thoughts on “Documenting My Artistic Influences

  1. Beautiful piece…I want to touch it! Thanks for all the links too…so much to explore, talk about inspiration 🙂 I get lost sometimes as well, there’s so much wonderful stuff out there. Good luck on your artist statement 🙂

  2. Love your work! I found you through Creative Every Day. Thanks for sharing all the great links. I’ll be back to visit and explore!

  3. love that piece too, leah. and i love your phrase “renegade sewing”! that suits you perfectly! funny how sisters often have to communicate in different ways. my sister and i were never close until we lost our mom. now, we can talk on the phone for an hour and laugh constantly! it’s amazing how siblings relationships change over time.

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