|Interview with Artist Dozier Bell|
|Editor: Brenda Bonneville|
|Friday, 05 June 2009|
Dozier Bell was born and raised in Maine, where she still lives. As a graduate student, she studied painting at the University of Pennsylvania with renowned landscape painter Neil Welliver, and at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Since her first solo show in 1987, Bell has received a number of awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation; she has been a Fulbright artist-in-residence at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany, and is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Maine College of Art. Dozier has three pieces in this year's Portland Museum of Art Biennial and is one of only twelve recipients of the 2009 Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation's Individual Support Grants.
(Image: "Trace" by Dozier Bell)
(Image: "Flock" by Dozier Bell)
When did you first realize that you were going to be an artist and when did you first start making art?
I had always drawn a lot as a child but didn't consider being an artist, as that wasn't an option I saw in the world around me. Later on at Smith College I was a philosophy major, and decided at some point between my second and third year that it might be interesting to explore some of those concepts with visual images. That focus didn't last long, but I knew as soon as I got into painting and drawing that I was going to do it professionally.
Who or what inspires you?
People who end up telling their unvarnished truth in their work, usually in spite of themselves.
Is (was) anyone else in your family in the arts?
Are you self-trained or did you go to art school?
I ended up majoring in art at Smith, got my MFA at the University of Pennsylvania, and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Is the process of creating your art long or short?
It's very long - large paintings have taken me over a year to complete, and even smaller ones usually take many months. I use acrylics because I got sensitized to solvents when I was using oils. To get the same quality in acrylic takes multiple layers and much more time. Drawings go more quickly.
Tell us something about your work.
It's never about what it appears to be about. Various subjects present themselves to me as irresistible at any given time, and only much later do I see what they probably meant. I end up using metaphors without ever meaning to.
Do you have a subject matter that defines you as an artist?
There have been two primary phases of subject matter for me. The first was the idea of place, of a sort of "genetic memory" of place, which sprung from early impressions growing up in Maine. My family has been here for a long time. After a year in Weimar on a Fulbright in 1995-96, a life-long fascination with Germany spawned a decade of paintings about the environment in which the two World Wars took place, and the technologies that were developed for them. Currently I'm at the beginning of another shift that I hope will be as absorbing as those two were.
What makes you stay with a particular subject matter? Why are you drawn to it?
I paint things in order to understand them better. When I stop learning things from paintings of a particular subject, I lose the desire to do more of them.
How do you stay motivated?
I just like to make things - it's a natural impulse. I also keep a supply of dark chocolate in my studio.
What have you been working on lately? Are you experimenting with anything new?
Right now I'm going back to photography, which I worked with pretty regularly up until 1995. I'm working digitally now, which I don't enjoy as much, but I'm giving it a chance. The photographs had always served as a way of tracking where my attention was going, what struck me, and that inspired my painting, though the subject matter was never related - they were two separate bodies of work. As for painting, although I've always been bored by painting from observation, I've become very interested in painting the things in my immediate environment. The challenge is how to capture what it is that's compelling without getting bogged down in the observation of the thing itself.
Has your medium changed from when you first started out?
I worked in oils until 1993, when the turpentine fumes started making me ill. I switched to acrylics and found that they were better suited to many of the things I was trying to do at the time. Now I'm exploring oils that are formulated for use without solvents.
What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?
Given the fact that I didn't pay any attention to all the good advice that was given to me, I shouldn't presume to say anything, but I will. If I were a young artist today, I'd avoid debt like the plague, and that includes student loans. You don't need an MFA to be a good artist, you just need to get yourself out there and make connections with artists whose work you admire.
What kind of comment do you despise the most when overheard at one of your openings?
I generally stay pretty detached and watch the clock.
What kind of comment pleases you the most when overheard at one of your openings?
Discussions with my dealer about payment options.
How have you handled the business side of being an artist?
Not terribly well. I've stubbornly insisted on making a living off my work, and that's been feast or famine. In recent years it's been mostly famine, but that's part of the life. I knew that if I taught or did anything else in order to be more financially comfortable, I'd never be able to get what I wanted out of the process of making art. Being an artist is a spiritual discipline first and foremost, as far as I'm concerned, and I've learned as much from its limitations as I have from its benefits.
Do you have any outside interests other than art?
I love bees and have a few hives. They work the vegetable garden with me.
Are you disciplined about your creative process (in other words, do you treat the process like a job, where you keep particular hours in the studio), or are you more spontaneous?
Inspiration follows discipline, in my experience. I usually work a pretty standard 10-5 day, with breaks for dog-walking and bee-watching.
How would your life change if you were no longer allowed to create art?
I'd find something else to do. There must be a million ways to explore the world.
What's the best part of being a full time, working artist?
Getting up and doing what I most want to do every day, with more or less complete flexibility.
What's the worst part of being a full time, working artist?
Working alone in the studio day after day can be too isolating when you live in a place like Maine. I have to work at my social life, which I'd rather were more spontaneous.
Where can we find your work?
Aucocisco Gallery on Exchange Street in Portland.
Do you have any upcoming shows?
I'll be having solo shows at the University of Alabama this summer, Aucocisco Gallery in the Old Port in October, and at CMCA next summer.
For more information, visit Dozier Bell's website.
- Brenda Bonneville, editor
Copyright © 2009 MAINE ART SCENE - Maine Arts & Culture Online Magazine.
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