- Acrylic on canvas , 1978
42 x 46 in
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When I was four, my mother taught me to knit. I was intrigued with the counting and the patterns that developed. In retrospect it was a great influence on my choice of subject in my work. As I got older, I was attracted to numbers, math and puzzles. Again, I had no idea that my future would include anything related to those interests.
Early expectations and more patterns:
I grew up in a working-class family and was the first one among all the relatives to go to college. It was expected that I would become a teacher. That seemed to be an elevated, respected position in my family.
I had younger siblings and was the caretaker for them as my mother was often ill. In my spare time, I drew and seemed to be good at it. In elementary school, I won the art award. That was a confirmation for me that I could take it more seriously and so I studied art at Queens College. A semester in Mexico, studying art, further shaped my interest in pattern. [Shapiro has also done a residency at St. Mary’s College in Indiana and will be a returning Fellow next spring at Yaddo.]
One major influence that I can remember was seeing the Protractor Series by Frank Stella in the late ‘60’s. By then I had two children and had been teaching since graduation. It was the geometric and decorative qualities that really knocked me out. My work up to then was mark making, somewhat minimal, yet patterns seemed to develop in some mysterious way.
I live on Long Island. Grew up in Brooklyn. I had little contact with artists as a youth, but managed to seek out artists on Long Island and helped create a cooperative gallery with a number of Long Island Artists. When my work was picked up in New York City my association with artists expanded. Many are friends and share discussion of each other’s work.
I didn’t associate with any particular movement and was attracted to Minimalism, Conceptualism and to those artists who used numbers, repetition or simple lines in their work, someone like Agnes Martin, Sol LeWitt. But then the Women’s Movement took hold of me and I was able to incorporate the Decorative with my interest in numbers and geometry. Color is also a major component of my work.
I am a feminist and much of my work is identified with feminism in that the work is often associated with female sources or influences. [Shapiro is a member of Women Writing Women’s Lives and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.]I don’t notice a shift in my practice but there has been a societal change among feminists since the beginning of the Women’s Movement.
Going off the grid:
In my early work I color-coded the Fibonacci series of numbers. The Fibonacci series relates to the Golden Ratio and geometry and is found in nature, biology, architecture, and design. I explored all of that in subsequent work. It is a progression that is infinite and varied and resulted in patterns that interested me. I also worked on a grid for years, squeezing paint out of a tube to appear to be weaving or beading or back to knitting. Moving off the grid gave me more freedom to explore.
Mahler beats Bach:
The language of music and art also attracted me. Scale, tone, color, harmony, and so on are words used in both arts. Bach comes to mind as the formal construction that can hold my interest, but Mahler has a greater appeal for his surprise and experimentation.
Systemic painting means simply that one uses a system to make the work. It can be numbers or symbols or anything that is repetitive and organized. The best of it demands figuring it out as well as providing a visual delight.
Pattern can be systematic or not, but often is repetitive. My experience as a textile designer taught me about the repeats of an initial image, thus creating a pattern.
Pattern and decoration relates to the once pejorative of ‘decoration’ associated with craft or low art. The Pattern and Decoration movement elevated ‘decorative’ to high art. All art is decorative, is it not?
Ab, Op, Hard, and Non:
Abstract art can conjure personal associations and imagination, a kind of freedom that representational art restricts.
Op Art is abstract but creates optical movements and illusions.
Hard Edge painting is also abstract and the edges of color or shapes are clean and precise without blending into each other.
Non-objective Painting is also abstract and is work without recognized objects or images.
What a colorful web she weaves:
The Albers Color Course was instrumental in my involvement with colors. And the work in the show is often mistaken for weaving and people like the surprise to find it is paint.