100+ Women Over 50
Several factors motivated me to start this project.
My friend, Peter Hocking, revealed in a conversation
in 2005 that he was painting 100 gay men. So I decided
to paint 100 women. First I painted my friends; they
then suggested others. Then I went to Minneapolis where
I painted my partner, Polly’s, friends. And then
I met Jane Westerlund and Lauren Stringer who brought
me whole families and book clubs. The project now has
a life of its own it seems; people have heard about
it and want to be part of it. I am so touched and amazed.
I became interested in groups of face paintings when
I first saw Susanna Coffee’s paintings of herself
in NY in the early 90’s. It was unexpectedly powerful,
as were Gerhard Richter’s 48 paintings of paternity
figures, which were displayed at the Museum of Modern
Art in 2002 as part of his retrospective.
I started this project in 2008 and finished the first
100 paintings in 2013. I am enjoying the process so
much that I want to continue into the second 100. I
feel privileged to spend time doing something I love
while spending 6 hours or more engaging in very meaningful
conversation and hearing some really wild life experiences.
We talk a lot, mostly about families of origen. Almost
everyone has a pretty crazy tale to tell. I certainly
do. This became a common way of connecting, telling
our stories. I wish I could write some of these truly
amazing biographies but it would shatter the intimacy
of the experience.
Nearly everyone says it is an uncommon and relaxing
experience sitting for 6 hours, being nonproductive,
just talking and listening. Hardly any of us ever do
that during daytime hours without guilt. We feel we
have to be busy during the day.
Many sitters express how unusual it is to be truly
looked at. It is not the norm in our culture to be so
closely, visually studied. Mostly we feel it’s
rude or invasive but it actually creates an intimate
space for painter and sitter. No longer are the over
50s invisible. This project is about regaining visibility
and power in a culture that is youth obsessed.
I think of the 100 individual paintings as one big,
strong, powerful image of the strength of older women.
Aren’t we grand? Shouldn’t we be seen? And
with the baby boomers coming of age there are now so
many of us. We are a community of older, mature women
who are proud to recognize each other and our many diverse
accomplishments. Our progress has made it easier for
our younger sisters to make their marks in business
and science and the arts. We are a community of wise
women and we celebrate ourselves. We are fabulous. We
I do the paintings from life. I find I can’t
get the information I need from photographs. I need
to hear the person talking, watch their facial expressions,
find out who they are in order to distill their essence
into a painting. These are not glamorized portraits.
I want to know who the person really is.
I divide the sittings into three days consisting of
two hours each day. The first day I draw using only
Raw Umber because it dries overnight. I use Baltic Birch
plywood because I like the solidity of working on board
rather than the bounce of canvas. I cover the surface
with paint and then draw in the features and take out
paint with a cloth so that the drawing shows form and
volume. It looks like a monoprint.
On the second day I mix the colors and try to get the
board covered even if the colors aren’t exactly
right. Color is relative. So if I can get all the color
onto the painting on the second day, I can concentrate
on the third day refining, changing, getting it right.
This is a highly focused process of looking, seeing,
more looking, translating a three dimensional person
sitting in front of me into a two dimensional representation
of who I think that person is. The process is very intense.
After it’s over and the sitter is gone, I pull
out another board and use up the paint in a completely
free and abstract way. This process uses another part
of my brain. I work on several abstracts at once until
I feel I’ve brought the painting to resolution.
Sometimes I do something that is just right and needs
no change. Those are the magic moments I love. This
is the flip side of the portrait paintings, pure abstract
thinking and action, as opposed to the very close and
highly focused observation of the portraits. It completes