In The Artist’s Studio
A conversation with Maggie Zeitlin
When did you first start as an artist?
I was partly raised in Norway where I went to a one-room schoolhouse. I had been born in the states but during the depression, my parents who had five children, sent us back to Norway to live with our grandparents. It started in that one-room schoolhouse where I got pulled out of grade school to go to a special art class. It was the beginning of my love of art.
Did you go to art school or have you taken art classes?
Yes, I have taken art classes in all the places I have lived. I majored in art in college at UCLA and I tried to find a job in art but found it impossible. I wound up at an insurance company. I eventually got married and my husband, who is a professor, received Fulbright scholarships that took us to India and Wales. I took a class in Wales where I started creating collages. After we settled here in New York, I joined an art group led by George Kelly that would travel locally to find inspiration for our art projects.
Who or what inspired you and why?
I did many art projects as part of our family life. I was the favorite leader of our local Cub Scout troop where we all made masks. When our kids were in plays, I sewed all the costumes. My mother had been a tailor-maker and even though she didn’t teach me, I had learned how to sew. When we lived in India I found the colors of life there very inspiring. The women would wear beautiful multi-color saris. As a woman I couldn't just go out and paint in the street so I would take photos or often just create my art from memory.
What medium do you work in and why?
I am fortunate enough to be able to indulge in whatever excites me at the moment, painting, collage, or sculpture. Variety is the spice of my artistic life. I am currently work mostly in collage, which is paper, scissors and glue with acrylic paint in some cases. One of my current works is created from paper napkins from the Party Store (it’s called Window of the Imagination). I have also worked with unusual mediums like cinder block. I am very proud of our patio here at our house which I have been slowly working on for many years. (We moved here in 1965 and I am now 83.) I arranged all the stones and had to create the negative spaces below so that the bottom of the stones, which were unevenly shaped, could be placed in the earth just so.
What is your creation process like?
To make a collage, I look for bright colored magazine pages or paper. I take two pages, using one as a base, and then cut the next one to make the design. I use glue to keep them in place and then often add paint to create additional interest.
How do you describe your style?
As far as my own art goes, I started out as a painter. Art mavens would classify me as an "expressionistic colorist". This style fell out of fashion a few years ago as more artists were using art as political statements. It is slowly coming back into vogue maybe because artists realize that in this day of instant TV and Internet, the political influence of art is minimal.
Do you find it difficult to title your pieces?
I find it very difficult to title my pieces. I think some of the names of pieces are silly big names but we do need to come up with something just to tell them apart. Some times I just call them by numbers like this piece is number 16, for example.
What’s your favorite piece?
The acrylic painting of my daughter holding an umbrella.
Where are your favorite places to see art?
I enjoy local art shows but like going to museums as well.
Who are your favorite artists (current and historic)?
My favorite artists are the painter Pierre Bonnard and more recently George Kelly. George Kelly was a local artist who was well known for his use of color. During the latter part of his life he specialized in scenes of the Hudson River and, indeed, was regarded as the last of the Hudson River School of artists.
What are you currently working on? (Or recently completed)?
I am always working on more than one piece.
What challenges do you face as an artist?
The challenge is to get someone to buy something!
What impact has the Putnam Arts Council had on you?
The Arts Council gives me a venue to show my art and of course the people there are wonderful too.