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The Paintings of Tabitha Vevers
Tabitha Vevers creates intricate paintings revolving around the narratives of relationships, politics, and women; their common experiences, and place in the world.
With many comparisons to Bosch, her mutant-like nudes are depicted co-existing with the forces of nature, and at times, struggling for survival. Based out of Cambridge and Wellfleet, MA, Tabitha studied art at Yale and her work can be seen at DNA Gallery and Clark Gallery. She has done a number of residencies throughout the US as well as Ireland and Germany. I came upon her shell series while on a visit to Boston some years ago and it was right up my alley; lovingly rendered, and with a nod to art history, her compositions and use of gold leaf resemble medieval icons with a twist. Here's our little Q&A...
Arabella Proffer-Vendetta: The majority of works are on a very small scale, how long does it take you to complete a piece?
Tabitha Vevers: The small scale suits me—paintings that fit within the shoulder space of the viewer create a very intimate audience for the work. Painting slowly is a great luxury—if I ever kept track of how long a painting took me, I’d have to face up to the fact that the whole endeavor is a little insane—so I just let myself enjoy the slow flow of it all.
APV: The ocean is a reoccurring presence in much of your work – almost like a character itself in the storytelling – what is it about the ocean that inspires you?
TV: I grew up spending summers on the Cape (Provincetown, MA) so the sea is a very natural environment for me. It recalls the womb & the origins of our evolution. Life is an on-going process of evolution, so at the water’s edge, where land meets sea, the past & present come together. Or something like that. Our bodies are all also about 75% water so I think of it as a place to seek balance and connection with what is inside & outside of us.
APV: Is each piece in a series thought out as a whole, or do they materialize one by one with maybe a general idea of how they will all connect later on?
TV: Each series has some sort of conceptual underpinning that hopefully is more than the sum of its parts. Each piece within the series evolves over time from numerous drawings—I don’t think them all out ahead of time. I never know quite where I’ll end up or when a series will suddenly be over & I’ll find I’ve moved on to something else…
APV: Do the depictions of women and their situations in your paintings stem from personal experiences or things you are working out yourself? Or is it the broader more shared experiences and emotions you are shedding light on?
TV: I think of my paintings as subjective narratives—not all from direct personal experience, but all involving personal, social, or political realities that have deep meaning for me. I came of age during the women’s movement, so the desire to portray the female figure from a woman’s perspective is sort of hard-wired in me, even though it is no longer a new or edgy thing to do. That said, I do try to keep the imagery edgy, even difficult & challenging, all the while seducing the viewer with beautiful detail.
APV: Can you tell us more about your current Nest Egg series? It is quite relevant in these times of financial crisis; the meltdown of the over inflated art market as well.
TV: Originally I gessoed the central oval on a one and a five dollar bill, thinking I’d fill it with a painting of the eye of each of the president’s wives. But I couldn’t get too worked up about Martha Washington or Mary Lincoln. So, since I could no longer spend it, the currency sat around for a couple of years—until the economic meltdown. I thought of the people losing their “nest egg,” particularly my parents’ generation who were already retired. The broken eggshell just fit so naturally into the oval shape, suggesting the empty or destroyed nest egg, and the "Value Added" series expanded from there. Eventually I did do a painting of the imagined eye of Jefferson’s lover, Sally Hemings, on the $2 bill.
The "Value Added" series is intended as a reminder that an artist’s work has value over and above the value of the materials used, and thus to encourage support of the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, which “amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions." Obama is in favor of this act, and people can go to the following site to encourage their congressmen to support it: http://museums-now.blogspot.com/2009/04/advocate-let-artists-get-tax-deductions.html
APV: You are the child of artists and married to one as well, is this a great advantage, or maddening at times?
TV: There is a richness in being surrounded by people who are so creative, individual, and self-reliant. I didn’t really know any adults who weren’t artists or writers when I was growing up—in my family art was our religion, a source of meaning & sustenance. I love that my husband, Daniel Ranalli & I are both artists, there seems to be a synchronicity in our very different work. But I think it is a good thing that we work in different media—his work is conceptual & photographic. Is being surrounded by artists maddening at times? Yes, naturally, but priceless!
APV: Are there any books, pictures, objects or other ephemera you keep around the studio for inspiration, or just out of interest perhaps?
TV: My studio ephemera is eclectic—right now, Masaccio to Man Ray, Bosch to Bob Dylan to whatever I stumble upon, scientific photographs, the work of my friends…
APV: And finally, any sage advice for the emerging artists out there?
TV: Look around you and follow your bliss. Celebrate your eccentricities and honor your vulnerabilities. If you dance with cynicism, don’t let it lead. And above all, don’t forget to show up.
View more at www.tabithavevers.com