Q&A with AAA member and NYC based artist Virginia Cuppaidge
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Tell us a little bit about your background – how did you become an artist
When I was six years old I decided I would be an artist. My mother’s influence as a botanical painter showed me a person could create. The contemporary Australian paintings in our family home fascinated me. My mother’s friend Bronwyn Yates, who made abstract paintings, taught me the patience required to make original work. After boarding school at Frensham in Mittagong, where my art interest was nurtured, I returned to Brisbane for a year, attending night classes with Andrew Sibley and Jon Molvig.
Moving to Sydney in 1965, I started, a small business of my hand printed fabrics, selling to boutiques and showing at the Johnstone Gallery in Brisbane and Hungry Horse Gallery in Sydney. I studied drawing with Desiderous Orban, painting with Stanislaus Rapotec.
Before moving to New York to “see the best abstract art going, hear American jazz and live in the art museums,” I was student at the Mary White Art School. It was the painting classes that drew my attention, and abstraction came solidly into view. Teachers were Marea Gazzard, John Olsen and Robert Klippel. When I saw Jackson Pollock’s work in Museum of Modern Art in New York, I realized how much Ian Fairweather had done figuration in an abstract way. Lee Krasner’s work was an inspiration. Krasner had a knack of combining many visual forces, making complex paintings way ahead of their time. Witnessing the Minimalist movement flourishing in New York was a fabulous new idea that had its influence.
Please describe your artwork.
My paintings are abstract, and I find the solutions to abstract work forever fascinating. Nature is the influence in all my work. When a painting is finished, I can see it was about a specific recollection of nature, and I title it accordingly. A good example is a painting titled ‘Eucalyptus’, inspired from being artist in residence at Hill End NSW in 2010. From a memory of a grove of eucalyptus trees near the township, would meander amongst, taking it all in before returning to the New York City.
How long have you lived in NYC and what brought you here?
I have lived here since 1969. As a teenager in Brisbane, when I saw images of the Abstract Expressionists in Life Magazine, I resolved to go to New York and see the real thing in the museums. In 1966 a reproduction of a target painting by Kenneth Noland was the most contemporary image I had ever seen. I thought ’I have got to see this up close’. Viewing a real work of art, can be a transforming experience.
How have you seen/felt NYC and the art scene here develop and change since you first arrived?
The first week I was in New York several people said “You’ve come too late, Pop Art is over, the art world has finished.’ That was in 1969. In the early 1970’s I worked at the Max Hutchinson Gallery on Greene Street, and witnessed the sale of Jackson Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’ to the National Gallery of Australia. There were only four galleries in that area, not yet called SoHo. It was a sleepy hollow, with artist working quietly away in unfinished loft spaces. It grew to over four hundred galleries during the twenty-five years I lived and worked in my studio there. New York is called the ‘Big Apple’ but to me it’s more like the ‘Big Onion’, forever revealing a different glistening layer. Only one problem, New York is a very addictive place.
Where in Australia is ‘home’ and what do you miss most about it?
Because I’ve spent most of my time showing in Sydney, that feels like my Australian home, but recently stayed in Newcastle, an amazing little city full of very creative people.
How has living in New York affected your artistic style and creative process?
All my paintings so far have been created here in New York. I think of an expression I was told years ago that ”New York City makes you become the person you really are,” and hope my paintings are an expression of who I truly am.
Australian sculptor Clement Meadmore, who was my partner during my first years living here, gave me a serious work ethic. The competition here has the effect of taking one’s art life very seriously. Maybe a romantic idea, but I think if everyone could make art it would be a more peaceful world.
For sixteen years I taught art to hundreds of students in the City University of New York. Many of them were surprised at how creative they were, given the chance.
What neighborhood do you live in and what do you love about it?
It took a big adjustment moving into a small apartment on the East Side after being in my loft space in SoHo, but being in walking distance of Museum Mile and Central Park is wonderful.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Nature is the inspiration for my paintings. For everyday living, the energy and the quick humor of the people of New York are inspiring.
Do you have any favorite galleries in NYC?
The Gagosian Gallery and Pace Gallery have museum quality exhibitions that I love to visit. I’m drawn to galleries that show mostly abstract art. Berry Campbell on the lower East side is one, and Mitchell-Innes & Nash in Chelsea another.
What advice would you give aspiring artists hoping to one day live and work in NYC?
The more energy you put into your work, the more success will return to you. Rather that worrying about ‘making it’, keep yourself open to chances that come your way, and be ready with a body of finished work to show.
Where can people see your artwork?
I am represented by Stella Downer Fine Art in Australia. virginiacuppaidge.com