My Grandmother: The Artist

By Lauren Selman | Bio


I come from a family of artists. Both my mother and father are artists. My brother is an artist. My aunt is a performance artist. My uncle is a circus artist. My grandmother is an artist. My grandfather is a can artist. My great grandmother was an artist. My great-great grandmother was an artist. My great-great grandfather was an artist…and the list goes on.

Recently, I had the absolute pleasure of traveling back in time through the art of my grandmother. I had been invited to a tea that she was hosting at her one-woman show in Marin County, California at the Tampalpias. Her humble side had advised me not to attend, but the truth was that this was an event I could not miss. When I arrived, men and women hummed while the aroma of coffee and stained rugs filled my senses. Along each side of the gallery, the work of my grandmother hung beneath the warm light that washed over the precise strokes. Her paintings dated as far back as 1948 and as recent as 2006. Art had been the only thing that remained constant in her life.

She welcomed her audience graciously and began to take us on a journey through time. As she began to tell us about the importance of art in her life, she began to radiate and you could see her fall in love with art over and over again. She told us how she was born with artistic DNA and was destined to be an artist. How she had graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley, and continued to study under some of the most renowned artists of the 20th century. Gradually, the life of my grandmother began to be unveiled and I saw how she was, in fact, a key figure in the development of artistic style in America. Not only did her participation in the Bay Area art movement after the war influence the New School in New York, but she was also pushing the parameters of artistic form, color, composition and abstraction. She is one of the true avante-garde women of the twentieth century.

She walked each of us through the story behind each of her works of art. Whether it was a collage, painting, or drawing, she had a unique story for each piece. She had a painting of a museum and although images of sixteenth century galleria paintings may come to your head, her collage was a cut-out of a piece of polished wood, rocks, a golden circle and multiple horizontal lines. At first glance, this may appear to be a half attempt at capturing the space, but with dramatic narration and vision, my grandmother brought us through the museum. We ascended the horizontal lines to an open space that is filled with polished wood. An Andy Goldsworthly-like naturalistic piece is on exhibit on the left. You feel a golden orb of warmth descending and filling your body. Her abstracted museum was, in fact, what a museum is to her. And there was no doubt that we could see that exact museum as she portrayed it with squares and triangles.

One woman from the audience asked, "Janiece, for you, what is more important: the process or the product?" At this question, my grandmother paused and then responded. "It is the process of discovering the true emotions of life that is important." She further explained that life influenced each of her paintings and added that the worst part of making art is when it is finished. She said, "When your painting is done, it is just a thing, nothing more than a thing. It is the experience of the moment of creation that truly matters."

As her colleagues gazed up at her, you could see them empowered and inspired to join in the creation of art. She encouraged each audience member to also carry a notebook to capture the moment, and not just the visual. To pay attention to the small nuances of life. The sounds, the temperature and, most importantly, how you feel in that moment, because in the re-creation of that moment, that is art. That is life.

I am proud to be an artist.

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