Art Cart Artists Hit the Stage and the Salon

Friday, April 29, 2011: Blogging live from the Flourishing In + Surviving the Creative Life panel discussion, moderated by TC Professor Joan Jeffri, Director and Founder, Art Cart:  Saving the Legacy.

This was an amazing session where Professor Jeffri brought together a panel of creatives to illustrate the many different ways throughout their lifespans that they’ve survived and flourished as artists in New York City.   From a comic book doctoral student to an 86-year-old painter and activist, the diversity on stage was  broad and brilliant.  There will be forthcoming blog posts on each of the panel participants, but what I’d like to share here is the story of the six “Art Cart” artists, a group of aging professional visual artists participating in a TC pilot to document their body of work and preserve their cultural legacy.

Each artist spoke for 10 minutes on stage, then moved into more intimate Salon settings where attendees could view their artwork and enjoy informal conversations.  I think that I can speak for the room:  We were moved and humbled by each individual personal history and vital connection to their artistic process.  Among the six “Art Cart” panelists, their histories span an entire century and touch nearly every continent of the world.  Were you inspired by an artist who spoke today?  If so, please share your comments.  Their stories are below:

Betty Blayton

She describes herself as an artist, educator and social activist.  Her accomplishments include a turn at the Art Student’s League, a key role in the development of the Studio Museum in Harlem, the founding of the Children’s Art Carnival with Victor D’Amico, plus a lifetime of work at various anti-poverty city agencies.  She believes there needs to be systematic training in how one approaches the arts with young children.  She’s had a run of gallery shows lately, and jokes that she’s tired of all the running around and just wants to be in her studio to paint.

Eva Deutsch Costabel

History dramatically changed the course of Eva’s life.  She survived a concentration camp in Yugoslavia then found her way to Rome.  Here she landed at the Academy of Fine Art, where she mistakenly took the overall-wearing president for a porter, and was invited to enroll after he heard her story.

Arriving in New York in 1949, she studied art with Franz Kline and Phillip Guston, and found employment as a window dresser and package designer.  She is the author of several children’s books and has designed silverware and textiles.  She shared stories of her early work in New York where she was paid, one cent per, to paint roses on makeup compacts.  Of her process today, she explains, “I don’t think when I paint, I only feel”.  Her paintings are wildly colorful and neatly reflect her vibrant personality.

Ray Grist

When he first began painting as a young man, he was fixated on the question, “What is a painting?”  He tried to answer that question, but realized, 30 years later, that the answer was very simple: A painting is a surface with paint on it.  And from then on he really started having fun.  He has since become a mixed-media artist, working in mediums from etching and print making to video and music.  In his salon, he connected his process to that of an attendee’s 3-year-old art student where nothing is a mistake and there is no inhibition.

Diana Kurz

A Columbia MFA grad, Diana’s career trajectory intersected with the male-dominated Abstract Expressionist era. It was a time when the biggest compliment paid to a female artist was that her work looked like a man painted it.  Therefore, she jokingly refers to her work as “large-scale macho paintings.”  She cites classwork in Chinese and Japanese Philosophy, as well as a class with Margaret Meade as being formative to her creative life.

China Marks

Referring to herself as an “early 21st Century appropriationist,” China find value in process and its transformative nature.  She feels an innate need to make art works in sculpture, drawing and her latest passion, contemporary drawings created with an industrial sewing machine.   In her Salon, she shared a recent work, a massive, sewn “approximation of a book” embroidered with such expressions as “Is it sick or silly to picnic on a tomb?”  She laughs and tells us, “All my work has an element of silliness.”

Peter Ruta

Peter describes his artistic life as a mixture of biography and development.  Arriving in New York from Germany at the age of 18, he became involved with the WPA crowd, Mexican mural painters, and the DeKooning crew.  After a WWII combat injury, he decided that he lived to paint.  He went on to found a museum in Venice for Peggy Guggenheim, and found that he learned best from people around him.  He shared that he “found school tedious and unnecessary,”  then laughed at his audacity for admitting that in the midst of scholars at Columbia.  A Salon guest was inspired by Peter, declaring, “I love how each painting has its own character.  It makes me feel like I want to pick up my own paintbrush.”  For a man who has traveled the globe, location is a key thread for Peter’s work. “Every place that you go becomes interesting,” he says.  “I see something and I want to paint it”.