Thursday, November 12, 2015

Article on Shanna Galloway by John Seed

John Seed, a professor of art and art history at Mt. San Jacinto College in Southern California wrote an article about me in November of 2015 which is thorough and thoughtful. It was an amazing collaboration. He also is a regular contributor at the Huffington Post.

I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do. Please let me know what you think about it in the comments below.

Introduction to John Seed's Interview

Los Angeles artist, Shanna Galloway, whose 1974 debut at the Jacqueline Anhalt Gallery ia still remembered by many, has  a deep feeling for the human figure in motion. Whether dealing with reduced forms and geometry - as she did in her early Plexiglas pieces - or rendering the figure in a more resolved and complete manner as she now does, Galloway has consistently endowed her work with human grace. To understand Galloway's development, it is important to understand the early experiences, difficulties and influences that forged her distinctive talents.
- John Seed

The Interview:

In the early years of your childhood you were around music and dance. What did you learn from being  around and participating in these activities?

The first thought that comes to mind is that I learned to be on time. But here is more: I learned the value of practice, practice, practice. I also came to understand that “doing” is a form of meditation and to some degree a performance.

My mother played piano for dance classes to accompany the students while they received training from a dance teacher. I was not much more than a toddler at that time and watched the classes from behind the piano.

Eventually I joined the class, taking tap, ballet and acrobatics. I was extremely agile and limber and became a real favorite of the teacher. The experience of tap dancing has given me a real feeling for rhythm and percussion. I do, by the way, play the Irish drum, the bodhran: I play dance rhythms, the jig and the reel.

It was at the age of 6 that I had polio during a huge epidemic, followed by 9 months in a hospital having physical therapy to regain the use of my body following almost complete paralysis. My perception of movement became extremely heightened as I stretched and exercised.

My awareness and honoring of the body's resilience comes from those experiences. Once again, the role of coaching was played: this time by my devoted physical therapist who worked with me daily.

What happened after your mother’s death?

After my mother died when I was eight, I went—at my request—to live with my older sister and her husband. He was a champion diver, who was the swimming and diving coach at the University of Texas at Austin. He was later named diving coach for the Olympics.

I spent many hours watching him coach from beside the pool. I learned that a diver should enter the water, knife-like, with no splash. I watched the divers pause, become centered, focus then spring into the air and do amazing contortions in mid air before reaching the water. I learned the emphasis on perfecting movements in these situations I also came to understand the importance of receiving feedback and training from a knowledgeable instructor or coach.

I think it is easy to see how my observations of divers influenced the imagery in my early Plexiglas pieces.

Tell me more about how your early experiences affected your work, particularly your drawings.

I think that the athletic sense of practice and perfecting the physical channel through which my own perceptions flow as marks onto paper come out of those early experiences.

I love drawing because it is the closest to the body of all the visual expressions. It is my constant touchstone, a way of connecting.  I draw for the pure joy of doing it, the feel of my pencil on the paper and the pleasure of my own movement as my arm swings across the paper and my fingers press and lift, recording my experience.

I became the instructor, the trainer and the coach through teaching Life Drawing, a very natural extension of my knowledge of and interest in the human body and the roles played by my mentors. I taught in Los Angeles for 26 years, with my last eight years being at Otis College of Art and Design.

Tell me about your art education and career.

I began my career in Los Angeles in about 1970, having just earned my M.A. in Drawing and Intermedia from the University of Iowa. My B.F.A. is from the University of Texas at Austin. I am from Austin, Texas. Both degrees have a minor in Art History.

I came to Los Angeles in the late 1960s because I was attracted by the vitality of its art scene. At the time, figuration was not favored in the galleries and museums. For that reason, and a few others, my first works were executed in plastic.
I got a job teaching at The Pasadena Art Museum and was there in the 70s, surrounded by the paintings and sculpture of the time. Figurative art was not shown at all, but performance art was very much in favor, especially in Los Angeles. Because I was there at the most hip museum in LA, I went to see a performance by Yvonne Rainer, a minimalist dancer. This was all new to me and very un-dancelike. But I think that its influence was profound, as was her theory about her movement.
I realize now that the repeated profile image forming the MS Pythagoras series—which I worked on from 1970 through 1974—was influenced directly by Yvonne Rainer: she was recently featured here at the Getty Center. I was expanding on an inherent geometry that I found in that particular figure and was relating it somehow to the "Music of the Spheres" of Pythagorean geometry. My first show, which was reviewed by the LA Times art critic William Wilson, was a show of works from that series.

Can you tell me a bit more about Yvonne Rainer and her ideas?

Yes: here is a quote from the book Live Art in LA, California, 1970-1983:
Yvonne Rainer, now age 80, recently said:
‘At Cal Arts I was studying what I felt were natural laws of movement, like momentum and centrifugal force. And it might have had a mystical aspect, in terms of being part of the Universe. The Tai Chi practice was doing that for me too. Movement was a medium through which I could explore the world and myself.’
What were you trying to accomplish with your Plexiglas pieces?
My own intention in the Plexiglas pieces was to disguise the touch of the hand in my public work although I have drawn weekly from the model since my early training and continue to do so on a weekly basis.  I eventually stopped working with plastics and moved into a period of creating works on paper: this lasted from the mid-1970s into the mid-1980s.

What were you interested in during that era?

 A Zen-like participation in movement allowed my interest in direct drawing to merge
 with my interest in dance when a dancer appeared to model in a class I was teaching. 

I developed a new series—Dancedrawings— and chose Los Angeles minimalist dancer and
choreographer Karen Goodman as my collaborator. We worked together for about five years: roughly 1975-1980. I drew her while in movement and did exhibit these drawings in conjunction with her performances.

What came next? 

In the mid 1980's, I began to make life-sized works on paper with dry pigment and mixed media. Persephone is from this time. These works often placed the figure on a minimal shape within the shape of the canvas. With color now a factor in my work, I decided to approach oil painting with Renaissance or old master technique. I found the painter/teacher Jan Valentin Saether, a Norwegian and a friend of Odd Nerdrum, to teach me what I had never been taught in seven years in art school.
After leaving Los Angeles and his school here, Bruchion, he became the head of Figurative Art at The Academy in Oslo, Norway, where he remained for a number of years. I found in Jan's teaching, a visual language—in painting— which corresponded to my own discoveries about the language of marks in drawing. This was a real revelation to me. Also, of course, he knew more about the behavior of pigments and all painting materials than I ever knew was possible: and he was remarkable teacher.

How did your association with Saether change your work?

My work has become increasingly representational since that time, although I have a long background in drawing portraits. A portrait of my artist friend Patsy Krebs in currently in the show at Brand in Glendale—The Brand 43 National Works on Paper Show— which will be up through mid November.

Tell me about your studio and your current work.

My studio is on a steep hill facing west and has led to a sub-series, studies of skies drawn in real time from sunsets, which began as I was painting Persephone.  The larger skies, The Millennium Dairy, document the sky—also drawn in real time—as we moved into the 2000s. 

I drew a sky for each month of the year 2000 beginning with December 1999 and ending with New Year's Eve 2000. It is the movement of the clouds as the shapes transform and the colors change that engages my interest.  The movement of the colors and changing forms of the clouds create a constantly shifting figure/ground relationship, so that what you see in my pastel studies is more than you would see in a photograph. Time is compressed into a single image, and that is what gives them the feeling of life.
My current series, in oil on canvas, deals with the muses of Greek mythology, inspired by the collection of antiquities at the Getty Villa in Malibu. This series is in diptych form and juxtaposes images and often text.

Issues of transitory manifestation and the ephemeral infuse my imagery, placing the image on a liminal ground - a threshold between the conscious and subconscious.

- John Seed