Maitland is one of Colorado's most highly esteemed master colorist. Her luxurious colors entice everyone who has an interest and love for art. She has had solo shows in New York City, Atlanta, Dallas, Santa Fe, Aspen, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Denver and is in many prestigious museum and private collections.
I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit and interview the artist in her Boulder studio!
Favorite art memory: Living in Italy, just outside of Florence, seeing all of the paintings, and traveling: that was something I had always wanted to do. It would be hard to pinpoint what I liked the most. Paulo Uccello is one of my favorites. I liked seeing the skewed perspectives in the Sienese paintings, before they had developed Renaissance perspective. That had a lot of influence on my artwork. All the pinks and turquoises, When I started to actually see these paintings I was able to see how Uccello was starting to use perspectives. I liked seeing how the Renaissance painting era developed.
You have lived and traveled several places, what is your favorite city and why? Well, I love New York. I love Venice too. For me, being from the east coast, seeing the museums, that was my education. I went to school in Philadelphia but travelled to New York frequently. The Metropolitan is over the top fabulous.
The first thing I do when I go to the Met is go right to the El Greco’s. He painted figures that are so different than those painted by anyone else. They are eerie and beautiful, and then there is the strangeness of the pallet he used for the figures.
When did you decide you wanted to be an artist? When I was in 3rd grade my art teacher told my mother, “."
I started to do oil paintings and still lifes when I was 12 Early paintings age 12
When I look at your paintings, I see a feminine quality about them in the elegant designs and brilliant colors. Do you believe being a female artist has had an influence on your paintings? And If so how?
Not really. I guess I can’t say that because when I was in school, women artists were not considered important. I used to build my canvases in art school in the 60s and all of the guys would offer to do it for me. It was before the feminist movement. Almost all of my teachers were males, and I always thought of it as a male dominated field. I don’t think that one can make a painting masculine or feminine. In the 70s there were artist like Elizabeth Murray, she did very powerful shaped pieces. I really admired them.
What is your artistic training? I went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
It was a classical, traditional art school. It was all focused on painting, sculpture, figure drawing, art history, materials and techniques, lettering and perspective. Thomas Eakins was one of the teachers at the Academy in the nineteenth-century; he was the first one to let women in the studio to paint the figure.
How do you describe your art to people who’ve never seen it before? That is a very difficult question. The main question I get is, “did you have something in mind before you did that?” My paintings are more about the atmosphere and light, I love long shadows at the end of the day. I see forms in nature I want to use: all of the changes in the sky, and disasters of nature. Natural disasters are unbelievably beautiful, although it is sad that it happens. I like volcanoes too. It’s more about absorption of a feeling. Looking at something and absorbing the way it feels to me. I’m not at all interested in sitting there and being a plein air painter.
However, I did a lot of pastels when I lived in Italy. I was fascinated by the shape of the landscape and the changes of the seasons; the poppies and Iris fields defined the shapes of the landscape. In the fall everything was golden.
How do you persevere and stay inspired during what has been a very challenging art market in Denver?
You just have to keep making art, keep painting, and be completely enmeshed and absorbed in your own work, because if you stop creating and think about what isn’t working, you would probably quit painting. I never thought I was going to be selling my work; I became a painter because I loved it. When I had some success I built a studio. It’s very different now, but I never stop having ideas, and I never stop looking and loving art. It is so easy for me to spend a whole day in a museum and not get tired. There is just so much to see and be inspired by.
I don’t think there is a lot of truly new work out there. I think everything is influenced by something else. If an artist thinks they are completely original they are kidding themselves. When I started using liquid paint, I didn’t know who Helen Frankenthaler was. It's kind of weird to fall onto something when other people were already doing it.
Tell me about starting the group, Front Range Women in the Visual Arts?
It was a huge thing in the 70s for women to get their work shown and taken seriously. There were few women professors at CU. We helped get the Art department to hire female teachers at CU, and they were great. Now there are a lot of women professors. The group is still active, but in a different way.
How has living in Boulder influenced your artwork? Colorado – I moved here in 1970 – just blew my mind. I had never seen so much beautiful light. Living in Philadelphia and the east coast, the light is more diffused. From my studio, I get a lot of light. When I was in school, I was told "you only want constant north light." Then coming out here I was mesmerized by the clear crisp light.
Who are some of your favorite artists and influences? Kandinsky – I like so many – Elizabeth Murray, Eva Hesse, on and on.
Francis Bacon, everyone was influenced by him when I was in school. When I tell people that, they don’t quite understand until I point out his use of color and space. Turner is a big influence. I’ve always looked at Clyfford Still. Ensor, Soutine. Bonnard.
What is your physical and mental process? Because my work is so physical, it is a mind body thing. Everything in my mind flows and merges with the physicality of the way I work. The way the paint moves, the chance reticulation, how the paint hangs on to itself, is all very physical. It will change right there in that process, just like nature. I can only see it as the things that are in my mind that I love. Lights, shadows, colors in nature: translated from my mind onto the canvas. When you are really making a painting and are completely absorbed, it is working so well you don’t have to think about it. For me, this is being in the moment completely.
Over your long career who has been the audience for your paintings? It has to be someone who has some kind of knowledge of paintings. I don’t think they are just decorative. If they were just decorative I’d sell more. I think my paintings make people think. I think the audience has to have some understanding of art history. My audience tends to be people who know about the history of art and collectors who have a love of modern art.
Your work was recently featured on a 60 ft billboard in Denver, how was that? It was fun! I loved seeing it, I loved having it, and I took pictures and sent them out to people. I loved people’s comments. When I sent it out to friends all over the country, their reactions were the best part.
How is your work relevant to the contemporary art world? I feel it is up-to-date in terms of painting. Most people talk about painting as if it is dead, which is ridiculous. It is just not what the critics are looking at. I can only do what I can do. Most of the trends are just a flash in the pan, anyway. What you finally realize, the longer you are in the art world, is you can only do what is meaningful to you.
poster from first show
What is the most important part of your studio? When I first designed it, the skylights and the floor. For me I love being in the space, I am in here all the time. The only other place I spend time is in the kitchen.
vibrant paint spilled on table!
What is your favorite thing about your studio? It breathes and has so much light. If I walk into any other part of the house I don’t get the same feeling. I love playing music. I play music all of the time.
Favorite Color: I have to choose one? Fuchsia
If you could give any advice to emerging artists what would it be? To just paint and not think about survival or being famous, because it is really just about making your own work and finding your voice.
Come by and check out Virginia Maitland's paintings!