Dorothy Netherland, a mixed media artist, will be featured in Desotorow Gallery’s Artist Invitational series next month. In preparation, we took the opportunity to discuss Dorothy’s artwork with her. Please enjoy our interview with this fascinating artist!
Q: Your mixed media artwork involves painting on and adhering appropriated imagery to multiple panes of glass for a layered effect. How did you arrive at this process?
After I graduated from school and had a baby, I wasn’t making art, and I felt lost. I saw an image in Art in America, a portrait done on glass. Even in reproduction, it looked so different from something painted on canvas. It reminded me of my grandfather, who made, among other things, several clocks, with small panels at the top, of paintings he made. Those clocks are still in my parents’ house, and were almost completely ignored and unappreciated by me growing up. Papa was an amazing guy, with so many artistic impulses and talents, and he had a sign-painting business to support his family. When I was very young, he died of a heart attack, and I happened to be visiting my grandparents, and I was actually the person who discovered his body, slumped over a chair. It is, needless to say, a very strange memory. Anyway, I’ve always felt connected to him, and the picture reminded me of the paintings on glass that he did, and I decided to try it.
I was immediately fascinated by the possibilities I discovered in mark-making on the glass, the way you can use a brush to paint and then scrape away, laying in more color and then scraping some more. I could make drawings that have the expressive line quality of a woodcut. I did a lot of printmaking in school, and now I was able to use my printmaking tools in a different way, to scrape and shape my drawings. I loved the way I could make a bad drawing and then shape it, almost like sculpting it out, and also the fact that erasing by scraping was so enjoyable. Overworking was now an impossibility. My natural way is to keep changing a drawing or painting. This could be a bad thing in school, where I attempted to make huge oil on canvas paintings, and would sometimes kill a piece with too much paint. But now, my natural tendencies could be utilized to create more interesting work, since the more scraping away that I did, the more complex the piece got. I could stay absorbed in working for as long as I wanted, and the scraping away and re-working only added to the piece, and if I did overwork it, I could just scrape the whole thing away. It was a revelation, honestly, and I had discovered a way of working which was just right for me.
Q: What is the physical depth of one of your pieces? How does the experience of viewing your work change from seeing it in digital form on your website, to viewing it in person?
At first I painted on a single pane of glass. Now I always use at least two or three panes. The actual depth isn’t that much, maybe only about 1/4 of an inch, because the panes are pretty thin. The panes being stacked together does create the illusion of more depth, and in person you can see the depth and shadows in a way you can’t see in digital form. The photographs of the work can’t really convey that. They might look different than a piece on canvas, but it might be hard for the viewer to tell why, maybe they look a bit brighter. I think the work looks more interesting in person.
Q: Approximately how long does it take you to complete one piece?
It takes me a really long time to make one piece, it’s hard to tell how long, exactly, because I’m almost always working on three or four paintings at the same time. I work very slowly, and also my process involves trying things, seeing how that looks to me, and then taking things out and trying other things. It seems to be an expression of how I am in general, just very ADD. It’s just what I do. It’s helpful to have a show coming up, which gives me a deadline and makes me focus on finishing pieces. This is a good thing, mostly, it helps me make more work. But it also makes art a product, when really it’s a way of life.
Q: You use appropriated imagery in your work. From what sources do you acquire these images? What significance do they hold?
When I first started painting on glass, I didn’t know what to paint. I made portraits, since I’ve always been drawn to figuration. I wasn’t satisfied with that, though. I knew I wanted to layer and jumble the imagery, but I needed something to look at, a starting point and a drawing reference. I was already starting to make drawings from vintage pictures, and then a friend gave me a stack of women’s magazines from the 1950′s. I loved them, and felt there was enough imagery in those ten or so magazines to create a lifetime of work. The work slowly evolved from there, and eventually I got some more magazines, from the 60′s and 70′s. Now I am incorporating imagery from contemporary magazines, as well. I just don’t see a reason to limit myself anymore, I guess because I’ve gotten a better handle on how to appropriate the imagery, and now I’m making collages, which I can use as a starting point.
These sources just feel natural to me. They’re chock full of images of people, and people, with all of our contradictory impulses and motivations, are what I want to paint. I like to read things into their expressions and gestures, and make them look entirely different than in the photo, completely changing the context. It feels to me like what we all do all the time, misreading things people do and say.
The fact that the first magazines were women’s magazines was great, since I’ve always been interested in artifice and our collective notions of beauty. All of the things I’m interested in run together in my head, and to me, they’re all connected and conveyed perfectly by these people in magazines.
I’ve also always been drawn to the thrift-store, vintage aesthetic, so the magazines have that natural pull for me. And I very clearly understood from the beginning that I was referencing the idea of the past, but I did not want to do it in a nostalgic or sentimental way. Perhaps also, the memory of finding my grandfather somehow figures into the desire to use this source material. Or perhaps I’m mythologizing my own personal history by thinking that. That’s one of the ideas in my head while I’m working, too, sometimes.
Q: What relationship do your technique and the materials you use have with the content of your work?
I’ve always been aware of the inherent relationship between the method and media to the content of my work- it’s there, I didn’t have to invent it. The fragility of the glass was immediately apparent, and, after breaking several paintings, I had to learn how to be careful. This fragility seemed to reinforce the idea of the vulnerability of the people themselves, so the idea of transience was naturally suggested to me. Also, the scrapings remind me of old buildings, and old signs. I like the juxtaposition of the scrapings made from a bright, somewhat jarring palette with figures from an obvious past. It seems like a contradiction, which works with my ideas about memory and how it is mostly invented. The imagery’s containment under glass also suggests preciousness, things we want to preserve and understand. This method and media lends itself to making these personal narratives which attempt to investigate the incongruity between interior and exterior, the slick surface and what lies underneath, and how personal interpretation can create a multitude of meanings. The mutability of this method and media allows me to overload the visual information, which emphasizes those themes.
Q: What artists have influenced you and how?
My grandfather for one, obviously. In school (I didn’t start studying art until my mid-thirties, and graduated in 2000), I wanted to paint like Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville. I made huge oil paintings of raw chickens which I put in sexually suggestive poses. I think I was overly influenced by my professors, and wanted to make big, ambitious angst-ridden paintings to impress them. I would have denied it vehemently at the time, but I think it’s pretty hard for students to avoid that. I loved Goya and Guston, the greats they loved, because it was natural for me to love those kinds of artists, but also because I was being influenced. I still admire other artists, especially those who use layering, color and repetition in inventive ways, but I’ve found my own way of working, so I no longer feel the need to be influenced by other artist’s work, which would just serve to confuse me and undermine my confidence in what I’m doing.
Q: What’s next for your artwork?
After the show at Desotorow, which I’m really excited about, I’ll show at If ART Gallery in Columbia in September. As far as what I hope is next for my artwork, I would really like to keep showing, get better at the business side of this, and eventually, I’d like to be able to make a living doing this. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I intend to keep working, no matter what, and keep pushing myself to make the work better.
Many thanks to Dorothy Netherland for graciously answering our questions! Be sure to check out her website to view her work and read her artist statement, and don’t miss the chance to view her work in person July 2-13 at Desotorow Gallery in Savannah! She will be giving an artist talk Friday, July 9 at 6pm, with reception immediately following.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”— Elliot Erwitt