Briefly describe the work you do.
I explore ideas about time, nature, and memory using many different media. Among my numerous projects is an ongoing series of “Daily Paintings” that began in 2005 and continues indefinitely. Every day, I paint a small panel of the sky; the particular section of the sky is based on one pane of my studio window, so no matter where I am, I work with the same shape and angle. I arrange the panels for each year in different formats. Sometimes I mount them on painted boards; sometimes I hang them directly on the wall, usually arranged by month. The 2011 paintings are fixed onto hidden supports and hover as low relief shapes that cast shadows on the wall. Initially, the series was a way to compel me to get into the studio each day, but the act of recording a specific natural phenomenon daily became important to me conceptually as a way of both marking and celebrating time.
My flower-stain drawings focus on the passage of time in nature: how plants grow and die; and how we try to preserve the memory of their fleeting beauty. I make the drawings from flower petals rubbed onto paper, creating traces of their ephemeral color and leaving behind small remnants of the flowers themselves. Many drawings in this series record what is flowering in my gardens in upstate New York, becoming a kind of diary of a particular season. Sometimes I add a small area of paint or colored pencil to give a benchmark of the color for comparison, since the plant pigment inevitably fades. This natural change and decay evokes the bittersweet idea of the passage of time.
I’m particularly interested in everyday, often meaningless or overlooked objects and fleeting experiences, and the ways we collect, preserve, and remember them. For example, I have made work from my used coffee filters, from hardened paint on my palette, from old envelopes. I also photograph lost or abandoned garments I find on the streets.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
My urge to make art and document the everyday goes way back. From a young age, I assembled collections, pasted memorabilia into scrapbooks, took photos, drew and made cards. I also was aware of the changeable nature of time: I could be painfully bored on some long, hot summer days and yet time suddenly sped up when I was having fun. My art practice grows directly out of these childhood interests and observations.
My working methods and processes reflect my training and first career as a graphic designer. I love cutting and pasting and working with paper. Much of my work is based on the grid.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I try to get as much time as I can in the studio, preferably alone. My aim is to set everything up in an organized way to maximize my efficiency. My interest in time as a theme in my work spills over to my efforts to streamline my working methods to be more efficient so I can get more work done.
My garden also functions as a kind of studio. It’s where I grow flowers for my drawings. Sometimes I make installations there, too. One year I turned what is normally my vegetable garden into a calendar of the month of August, with 31 plots (“days”) planted with different annual flowers whose changes over time I documented with aerial photographs.
Ideas often come when I’m not in the studio, at random times, sparked by something I’ve read or seen. Ideas even appear while I sleep.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I did not know that I would be need to develop the skill sets for packing, storing, shipping and hanging art, or spend so much time on that or on the business side of showing art. On a more positive note, I relish opportunities to exchange studio visits with other artists and help mentor my assistants.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
My studio time for the “Daily Paintings” is determined by the position of the sun: I paint when it isn’t shining directly into the windows that frame the panel of sky. If I’m in my south-facing studio in New York City I need to get to work before noon or the sun is in my view, whereas when I am in my studio in upstate New York, the optimal time to paint is after late morning when the sun has rotated outside my view.
The best time to pick flowers for my flower-stain drawings is in the morning after the dew has dried.
In my journal, I keep a record of my hours each day in the studio, a leftover habit from my experience running a graphic-design firm, so I can track how much time I spend on my art each day. This need to measure my hours quantitatively contrasts with the more emotional urge to capture the experiential quality of time in my art.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
My work still revolves around the same ideas and passions, but I would say my technique, productivity and focus have steadily improved. Now that I have been working on the “Daily Paintings” series for almost 10 years, I am exploring less calendrical, grid-based ways of displaying them and playing with more free-form presentations. In my flower-stain drawings I am not only documenting gardens but also exploring text and shapes from manmade aspects of the landscape. The drawing “3 Lots,” shown here, was inspired by the layout of some college campus parking lots.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
The writings of Virginia Woolf, May Sarton, and Diane Ackerman, among others, interest me. My research into flowers, gardens, weather, time, and art history inform my work. All artists build on the work of the artists of the past. I am inspired by conceptual and minimal artists such as On Kawara, Eva Hesse and Agnes Martin, as well as collage artist such as Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell and Jiří Kolář. Living influences include the artists Mark Dion, Moyra Davey, Byron Kim, and Danica Phelps, whom I am lucky to count as former mentors and/or friends.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I sometimes fantasize about following my love for plants by working for a florist or gardening full time. But in the end, I don’t want to do anything but make art.
Linda Stillman is an artist who works in various media, investigating concepts of time, memory, and nature. She works in her studios in New York City and upstate New York. Stillman is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (BA), the School of Visual Arts and Vermont College of Fine Arts (MFA). She has been awarded fellowships at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts Mark program and the Wave Hill Winter Workshop. Her work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums around the country, including the Hunter College Art Galleries, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Dorsky Museum. Stillman’s art has been reviewed in numerous publications and blogs and is included in many private collections.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.