Barbara Page speaks for The Interview Series, May 4, 2020.
– How did you become an artist?
I always liked to draw but didn’t have much formal training. Some years after finishing two years of college, I applied to graduate school at Cornell and was accepted in the MFA program, even without the twelve credits of art history required. It was an ordeal to make up for all my deficits but fortunately one of my professors set a good example of what a career as an artist entailed. After graduating, I spent a couple of years in limbo but was then offered a two year appointment teaching art at Cornell that made it possible for me to carry on.
-Was there a particular piece / body of work / experience that inspired you?
I never expected much of myself – but learning to fly, instead of finishing college, opened my eyes to unimagined possibilities. It gave me a new point of view and the confidence to express it.
-What images or things do you keep in your studio that influence your work?
Maps, discarded materials, a poster of El Anatsui’s work, and art books.
– What positive outcome do you hope will occur due to the pandemic experience?
Personally, it has forced me into solitary confinement with a major project to tackle and few distractions. I have just completed what I hope will be the final major text edits on a book forthcoming in the spring of 2021. It is a memoir with a backbone of about 400 library cards illustrated with my recollections of the books they represent and arranged in chronological order of my reading history.
ARTIST’S STATEMENT from 2014 Tectonics series
I usually work from a concept and apply whatever techniques are required to translate that idea into reality. This explains why my work evolves into new forms in different media rather too often. In the fall of 2013, I was fortunate to spend a month at the Golden Foundation with access to all the paints, mediums, and gels that Golden Artist Colors produces. Imagine having gallons of opportunity at your fingertips. I dipped a palette knife into the can and proceeded to move the paint around. My intention was to reverse all my usual painting procedures and see what happened. I would start without a concept. Very scary for a control freak such as myself. No brushes! Just the palette knife. Thick paint loaded with gels. Thick paint with matte or glossy surfaces. Thin paint, thinned with various mediums to pouring consistency. We were offered technical sessions exploring the properties of these products. Endless possibilities lay in the gamut of colors available, far beyond the number on hand in my studio. None of my paintings were planned. The acrylic paint dries rapidly and if it is thick it is impossible to remove from the boards once dry. I can only go forward, editing my images by addition rather than subtraction. Poured paint is still a big variable. I put the paint in motion and it defines its own path. My process is somewhat like building a landscape, hence the title of this exhibit, Tectonics. Some of my recent oil paintings are also on display for comparative purposes. Aerial perspective and mapping are recurring themes in my work. The work in the Downdraft series superimpose agricultural patterns on natural topography. What these paintings ask is “Where am I and how do I know?” We are suspended at an altitude where the neighborhood no longer looks familiar but not so high as to resolve the terrain into the iconographic features of road maps.
SELECTED WORKS from Micromaps series
ARTIST’S STATEMENT from Micromaps series
The immediate effect of engaging the throttle for my first solo flight was a rush of adrenalin. A successful landing back on earth began my metamorphosis from student to stunt pilot. The world had turned upside down and altered my view of the future. I had become an “I” with an eye. Learning to fly was the catalyst for my career as an artist.
The use of aerial perspective and mapping are recurring themes in my work. Comparing aeronautical navigation charts to landscape features is an exercise in translation. I make maps in my own language, using changes of scale, symbolic notation, and various materials pressed onto flatland.
This body of work, from a series called Micromaps, was created in 2010 and involves construction of imaginary networks, locations, and situations. Sewing patterns—cut, pasted onto wood, and pierced with map pins—are given new context as painted and collaged elements restructure their significance.
I travel into unfamiliar territory and mark my passage through time and space. I have arrived at many places I never expected to go and only in retrospect is it possible to figure out how I got there. This particular body of work is a metaphor for that process.