We’re delighted to welcome artist Judith Vivell to the gallery. This immensely talented and thoughtful painter has led a life in full in the U.S. and abroad and is passionate about her art, her deep love of birds, wildlife and nature – and her occasional Netflix fixes.
But first, a little bit about her work. Judith’s misty, soft paintings had us at hello – we love their haunting and mesmerizing quality and the palette reminds of us of grey-toned, monochromatic grisaille. There’s an elegant serenity to them that is quiet and reflective.
Read on to see what makes Judith tick:
HHFA: Tell us about your art journey: how you got started and what’s happened along the way to get you to this point?
JV: My childhood was spent in the home of artists—my father was an attorney who painted on weekends and my mother was a dress designer who had studied art in Paris in the 1930’s. Because my parents decided early that I was the one of their four children who would be an artist, I rebelled against the idea and decided to study Political Science when I got to Berkeley for college. When I was about to enter my Junior year, my father called and asked me if I would like to spend a semester and a summer in Florence. How could I say no to that? I spent all day every day drawing at the Uffizi and studying Italian.
I applied to Columbia University for graduate work and after traveling for two years abroad, I came to New York in 1965. In New York, I was truly inspired. I asked for a leave of absence from Columbia and went to study at The Art Students’ League. I decided to get a Masters in painting at Hunter College and my first show was in the windows of Best & Co. on the corner of 5th Avenue and 34th Street. My giant nudes filled the windows and acted as backdrops for bathing suit models. The next show was in a gallery in Soho. By this time I had a dealer in San Francisco and Pace Editions in New York was showing my work.
In the early 90’s I basically left the art world. I began painting very surreal autobiographical works that I have never shown. The work looks very much like student work. I suppose I was teaching myself to paint in a representational manner. Then about a year and a half ago, I returned to the landscapes. (HHH: wow, did you ever! We are crazy about your landscapes.)
HHFA: Tell us about your elegant palette. We love the grey.
JV: Grey is a favorite color of mine. Everything in my loft is painted grey–the walls, the floor, most of the funiture. I love all the different greys there are. I use grey to create a mood–to express a feeling of a place in the fog. I actually wait for foggy days and run out with my camera before the fog lifts. The grey paintings have served as a kind of meditation–a return to some simple, clear and uncluttered place within myself.
HHFA: Greatest artistic influences?
JV: I love to look at many artists. Recently I have been looking a Sargent, Whistler, Morandi, and of course, Turner.
HHFA: Describe how your environment and surroundings impact your work.
JV: My studio is in my loft in Soho in New York. I am very neat and orderly. I can’t work unless things are in order. I bring the world back into my studio in the form of photographs and drawings. My loft is filled with skulls, bones, shells and other things I have found in nature.
HHFA: Tell us a little bit about the process: where do you paint? Do you treat it like a job or paint like crazy when the mood strikes? Pets to keep you company? TV? Music?
JV: I treat painting like a job. I paint every day when I am in town. I listen to music or books on tape when I am painting. When I finish a painting, I invite my husband in to critique it and depending on his critique and whether I agree with him I revise the painting. I use my computer to manipulate the photos and to invent a composition from them. When painting a landscape, I use a photograph as my model. Taking the photograph is a very salient part of the process. I am usually waiting for a foggy or lightly rainy day. I spend a lot of time in Vermont and New Hampshire along the River. I also spend time in Deer Isle, Maine.
HHFA: Favorite travel destination (and do you ever paint on site?)
JV: I love Florida for birds. The best place for birds I ever went to was Sri Lanka. But landscapes are good out on Long Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. I never paint on site. But I have had studios in Maine and Vermont where I spent the summer working just as I do in New York.
HHFA: Favorite art museum?
JV: My favorite museum – impossible to say, but here goes: I love the Barnes in Philadelphia. The early Renoirs there are so good! In fact, everything there is good. And, one of the best museums in the world is in Houston: the Menil Collection. The Cy Twombly Gallery there is one of my favorite places in the world. Right now, there is a wonderful show at the Met Breuer called “Unfinished.” I think it is the best show I have seen in 20 years. The New Whitney is fabulous—architecturally wonderful. The Modern is terribly architecturally, but oh, the collection!! But the Metropolitan Museum of Art is my home away from home. There is always something wonderful there. (And that is just in the United States!)
HHFA: You’re having a dinner party with four artists from any time in history. Who are they and why?
JV: Sargent : He knew everybody but he was very elegant and charming. I’m sure he would have had lots of fun and interesting things to say. Morandi: Just to get him out of that terrible little studio of his. I would invite him to whip up the Bolognese sauce. Alice Neal: I interviewed her on the radio once and I adored her. She was one of the funniest people I have ever met. Frida Kahlo: I think we would get along. Alice would probably like to talk to her too, and I’d do anything for Alice.
HHFA: If you were to come back as any artist from history, who would it be and why?
JV: Today, I would come back as Sargent. He is my favorite painter today. If you ask me tomorrow or the next day, I may say something different.
HHFA: Guilty pleasure?
JV: My guilty pleasure is to binge watch some horrible series on Netflix. Thank God it doesn’t happen often! (HHFA: Oh so glad to hear your guilty pleasure is Netflix. Ours, too!)