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My Muses ~ Judy Chicago - part 1/5

This is the first of a five part blog series on the women artists who have inspired the My Muses Collection.


In January 1994, my husband then boyfriend, Ron Gross, and I moved to San Francisco, CA so he could start college and I could start my professional life. Both of us being from New York, California was a huge move away from everything we knew.

Our first week in San Francisco set the tone for our next few months there - our car was broken into and they stole tubes filled with all of my architectural drawings. That was a welcoming howdy doo! I couldn't find ANY work, let along architectural work. We were living with a roommate who was more than a little unstable, things were hard, money was tight, we were alone, and I was spiraling into depression.

At one point, my depression got pretty bad and Ron was worried. He knew the life line I needed and he pushed me to paint. I hadn't painted since starting college seven years previous. I wanted to go to art school but the answer was "no". Being an artist, I was told, wasn't a "real" career and I bought into it. Instead, I went to college to be a "professional" architect and urban planner. And while I was studying my "real" career, I submitted a portfolio to the art department to be able to take elective classes in art. I was so sure I would get in but my portfolio was rejected! Any dream I had of being an artist was destroyed. I felt I had no other choice but to dutifully proceed down this other path and leave painting behind.

Back to San Francisco, after returning home from another day of job hunting to no avail, I stood in our kitchen staring at the wall in front of me. As I stood there, I thought to myself - wouldn't it be nice to have a window there, the view would be spectacular. And just like that, I decided to paint it. After almost eight years, I shed all the excuses for not painting in the blink of my minds eye.

'San Francisco' was the painting that allowed a huge part of me to breathe again. My energy shifted and things started to get better for us - I found a job, Ron and I got our own place, and the depression started lifting. It was around this time that I also discovered Judy Chicago.

During the time we lived in San Francisco (1994-1998), Judy Chicago had several exhibits in Los Angeles. I remember reading about 'The Dinner Party' and seeing her flower paintings. I felt so empower by Judy Chicago's strong and powerful artistic feminist voice. Discovering her gave awakened the artist in me that had been asleep for almost a decade. In addition, seeing and reading about her art so empowered me as a woman. With my new founded feminist strength, I made four paintings inspired by Judy Chicago and her work and my own search for my sacred feminine.

The first, 'Victorian Lady', came to me while I was kvetching about how much easier it would be to find answers if I could just open up my bits and literally find them. This piece always makes me chuckle because it's so absurd with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Two things I love to play with in my work.

The second painting was, 'Incubation of an Idea'. The idea of being an artist, brought on by learning about Judy Chicago was incubating in my heart and mind and getting stronger every day. Though that idea wouldn't wouldn't be manifest in the world for years. When I look back over my paintings, 'Incubation of an Idea' is truly the beginning of me claiming my artist self. It's also interesting because it's the first time this particular imagery shows up for me. I've used the fetal baby and the pregnant belly in several paintings since then. Especially in work I made when I was pregnant with my first child.

The third piece, 'Growing Down', is a strong and subtle (maybe not?) image. The strong imagery of the piece matched the strength I was starting to find again. It also marks the beginning of several incredible friendships that have lasted over my lifetime. This piece will always be associated with my girlfriend, Josephine Salbalboro, who also happens to be the owner of it.

The fourth piece interestingly, is also one I recently finished. I needed to go big for this piece - 55"x37", and again I was focusing on growth and growing as a woman. Though, I never finished it! It's been schlepped around and tucked into closets for more than 20 years. Then in 2022, weeks before my solo show, I pulled it out and this time finished it - 'Reemergence' was born. 'Reemergence' is about me coming back to my painting practice for the second time on an old painting that was created when I came back to my painting practice the first time. Completing this painting was a full circle moment for me. It marks the closing of the books on my past and me, literally, stepping into this next chapter of my life. I find it interesting that I finished this painting around the same time that Judy Chicago has been in the news again with a retrospective of her work in NYC this year and a new documentary film on 'The Dinner Party'. Life is so interesting like that.

I think every artist has muses that spark their creativity. For me, Judy Chicago's work gave me a springboard to explore and discover answers into my search of the feminine. She was the spark I needed to trust my inner voice at a time when I could barely hear it. And, she inspired me to return to painting. And for all those things, Judy Chicago will forever be one of my beloved muses.

Reemergence, 2022

View the My Muses Collection here.


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