In mid- May I was one of the participating artists in the Elephant’s Eye Studio Tour. This was a self-guided tour in which twelve Bucks County artists open their studios to the public. Over the course of two weekends about 140 visitors came through my studio. I think of the artist’s studio as the height of a personal space, and more often than not, a private one. So it was a unique experience to see my own personal space through the eyes of others.
In art school our instructors often told us to observe as a model settled into a pose, because the form and identity are realized in this transformation. This is the moment in which a person is setting aside their personal identity and becoming the subject of the artist’s gaze. Similarly, I wanted to observe how my studio transitioned from private to public.
Normally, my studio is in a state of flux. Unfinished paintings lie in wait. There are still-lifes and setups in dormancy, and reference materials and debris are scattered about the floor. I animate the space as I move about it, organizing, reorganizing, and disorganizing. I’m constantly finding solutions to improve the way in which the space functions, or otherwise changing the landscape of the studio to fit a particular project. For the studio tour, I was tempted to change nothing about the space for the public viewing— leaving it “as is” for the most honest depiction of my working habits. But the urge to tidy up and formalize the space as for an exhibition won out. The studio became a series of highlights, a reduction to essentials—an edited and practical honesty. Like the art school model, the studio took a pose, a favorable one. In this way the studio and I were able to keep our private selves safe and preserved.
Whenever it is possible, I enjoy the opportunity to see the studios of other artists. While they may range from the meticulously neat to the dangerously messy, the studios I’ve seen are always interruptions of the world around them. They are hubs for the coming and going of ideas that seek to preserve the artist’s particular ideal version of reality. They are fortresses arranged to keep distraction and dissention out and keep inspiration in. For several other studios on the Elephant’s Eye tour this distinction was quite literal. To reach Paula Chamlee and Michael Smith’s studio, visitors had to ford a creek and climb a hill, while at Tom Kazary’s place a large wall assembled out of bicycles could be found. My sense of all the Elephant’s Eye studios was that they were at once responsive to their Bucks County environment and also somehow removed from it. These spaces seemed like seashells; thoroughly connected to their inhabitant who had made them by absorbing the material of its surroundings and translating it into something personal.
I know very little about the history of the carriage house in which my studio inhabits. It is located on the farm that my grandparents bought in 1964. My grandfather was an aviator and cut a runway through the fields. When I was a child I recalled the carriage house being occupied by other airmen who rented it from my grandfather and flew from the airstrip. While the airfield has been dormant for a number of years now, I maintain vivid memories of this place where flying machines frequented through the Bucks County landscape. There is something wondrous about that conflation of adventuring with a rural setting that turns a landscape into a frontier and a place of possibilities. Beyond this recent history, the building is a mystery in which I constantly indulge.
The space itself is a subject matter for my paintings and the source of aesthetic inspiration. The darkened pine walls make every lightsource a moment of dramatic intrigue. The colors are saturated and the materials are laden with warm textures. Downstairs the floor is a rusty red, the carpet a deep green, the kitchen table is scarlet, the bathroom mustard yellow. There is a clawfoot tub, an early ‘50s electric range, and a long couch faded nearly to pink. Upstairs there are wide wooden floorboards, exposed wooded ceiling beams that are pegged together, a small balcony looking out at the barn and all the accoutrements of a painter’s studio. When I alter the arrangement of the studio—such as adding or subtracting furniture— I try to do so in harmony with the building’s native styling. I think of it like tuning in on a radio frequency; channeling what the architecture has to say. In this way the space of the studio continues to evolve but remains linked to its history. Similarly, I’d like to think that the tour showed the changing but unbroken line of artistic culture in Bucks County. This place that inspired Garber, Lathrop and Redfield still holds sway on very different population of artists. The landscape is certainly a different one from the time of the Bucks County Impressionists, but some particular muse must be constant.
It was a pleasure to see people coming out to get acquainted with unfamiliar parts of their region. Likewise I savored the opportunity to meet unfamiliar members of my community. For the most part the people whom I met, that had made the effort of taking this tour had a strong sense of place and enthralled me with anecdotes and histories about the county. The tour became an exercise in contextualizing space. I was able to get a taste of my studio as it connected to Bucks County and vise versa.