Why Do the Artists Do What They Do – Judy Takacs.
Judy Takacs is one of the first American artists I connected to through Facebook. One day, I received a friend request from her and by simply accepting I discovered the colourful and different world of female images. As we continued to communicate, the warm and vivacious personality of the artist revealed itself through her prevailing positivity, her love of good conversation – and her appreciation of distinguished red wine.
What appealed to me is how her vibrant figures of real, living women measure up against idealised images of the female body that we are seeing every day.
Although representation of women in the media have developed and changed with time to reflect the sociological changes in society, the female stereotypes continue to live on – specially in the media.
While art is less likely to stereotype in general, there is still a way to go when it comes to the representation of women. Usually, a male figure stands for humanity, while females are more than often connected to something specific to do with their life as a gender, like beauty, sexual allure – or motherhood.
It is not that Judy’s work is not addressing a widely held ideas when it comes to what female life is about, because it definitely does. It is her interpretation that turns stereotypes in archetypes, something we recognise.
As it turned out, Judy’s story is also of the kind that many female artists can relate to.
When Judy went to the Cleveland Institute of Art in Ohio in the 1980’s, realistic figurative art and portraiture was not considered forward thinking. The painting department at the school did not support it, there were no mentors that would help one get better – so she went into the illustration. She took portrait painting classes from José Cintron, the school’s only figurative artist and, as she put it: ‘ the poor stepchild of the painting department’.
After graduation with the illustration degree, she took a position as a graphic designer with an accounting firm. Later on she went out as a solo practitioner freelance designer.
“I took just about every design job offered me and was enormously busy and quite successful. Then the babies came – three boys in four years. At that point, art and painting took a back seat. This was a very conscious decision on my part. I wanted to be fully and completely with my children, and therefore I have no regrets whatsoever about this decade-long sabbatical from my art career. Now that I want painting people, I do it equally fully and completely.”
Her artistic career officially started in 1986, when her youngest son went off to kindergarten. She was commissioned to paint the retiring principal of the school, so she set up the studio in the kitchen, dusted off her still good oil paints and got to work.Then, in 2009, she officially began to work full-time as a professional painter of people. She christened the newly built a studio in her home and has been painting ever since.
When I asked her about her creative driving force, her answer was immediate and short: the sheer joy.
“I’ve always believed that no one else cares if I create art or not. So, if I’m not enjoying it, then what’s the point? That’s why I actively seek out to paint people that possess the features, lines, and attributes that excite me. I do the same for the few objects I include in my painting – even the objects have to speak to me.”
Judy’s favourite part of creating art is when the person she paints comes to life in the painting.
“When the planets align, the strokes dance and the pieces of the puzzle come together and the person you’re painting draws a breath and a profound vision is achieved.“
However, in her studio, she doesn’t wait for planets to align to create an inspirational environment. She is a music aficionado, with carefully amassed 1500 pieces of music on her iTunes which she shuffled through as she paints. They are all songs she collected through the years from her old CDs.
“My studio music is so precious to me that I do not play from this magical playlist at any other time than when I’m painting because I want keep it fresh. I always enjoy painting best when I’ve downloaded a new crop of songs that just keep my mojo working. What’s the one song I’m dying for to shuffle right now? Screaming Jay Hawkins’ Monkberry Moon Delight.”
Besides from music being her inspirational tool, she also has one practical tool she cannot live without.
“The tool I credit with the ease of my return to the painting workforce are my Canson paper palettes, which I keep in Masterson palette boxes. I put these into the fridge every night to keep the paint fresh. Back in the days when I painted in my kitchen, it was indispensable to be able to clean up quickly for when it was time to put dinner on the table, I’d been previously painting on. My palette boxes also allowed me to set up quickly if I could get in a stolen hour or two painting between a child related activity. I didn’t have to ration the paint I squirted out because it would still be good for several days or even weeks.”
Judy explains how she also drew a great inspiration during the years she spent caring for her own ageing parents. She looked after them through cancer and other health problems until their ultimate passing.
“What followed was the extensive after-care of lovingly pillaging and dispensing their possessions. Now, as I perform the time consuming activity of going through the mountains of writings they both left behind, I’m finding more inspiration for more work.”
When I asked her to describe the events that has been significant for her career, she immediately mentions her Chick with Balls series.
“Probably this concept was biggest turning point for me in the business of being an artist. It was Inspired by Rose Frantzen’s Portraits of Maquoketa Project, which I first heard about and saw at the Portrait Society Conference in Washington DC. I felt inspired to begin my own Mid-western portrait project. Coming from a marketing and commercial design background, I realised the importance of branding yourself and being known for something memorable. Because I’m always looking for the win-win-win situation, I put together the Chicks project. I could meet and get to know all kinds of fascinating women, paint them in a fun and honest ways and also get some much needed publicity for a forty-something mom artist who was just getting her feet wet in the figurative fine art world.”
She also credits Facebook for much of her inspiration. Unlike the majority of people, she doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with it – she openly declares her undying love.
“For me it’s my link to this amazing world of figurative realism that is thriving, healthy and growing all around us.”
Suddenly, she threw the ball right back at me when she brought up the time when we first connected.
“I remember, Natalie, when I first discovered your work on it back in. 2008 or so. At that point, I had no idea there were others out there who were painting figures realistically; I thought I was the only one. I was instantly enamoured with your work, and then even more thrilled I could just send you a friend request and then you’d be my friend! Ten years later, it’s the most natural thing in the world, but my whole art upbringing in Ohio had been spent looking at those who were famous (dead or alive) very much from the outside. Meeting your heroes wasn’t a thing that happened.”
Judy sincerely appreciates her broader audience on social media – all the people she can show the art she is making and the projects she is doing. Ironically, as much as she recognises the value of the presence on social media, it is also a part of her challenge – to become the artist she ultimately wants to be.
“Because of this big wide wonderful art world out there, I get to see amazing work by great artists every single day on my Facebook news feed. I see examples of where I’d like my work to be, but don’t know how to make the leap from here to there – besides consistent practice, of course.”
Selling work is another challenge. Although her work has been exhibited and sold in commercial galleries, she is still yet to find this one special gallery to represent her.
As for getting through the rough artistic patches, she does it by forging ahead and deliberately painting “bad”, no corrections, warts and all.
“I’m fond of saying that when you’re painting badly you’re learning, and when you’re painting well, you’re resting on the laurels of what you’ve learned. So if I have a bad painting day, I actually get psyched because I know that a good day is coming for sure – tomorrow or the day after.”
When it comes to seeking the opportunities, Judy emphasises the importance of starting locally.
“I’m very much in touch with what is happening in my hometown, Cleveland, Ohio. With local venues, it’s painless to apply to a show, drop off your work for judging and pick it up if it’s not accepted. I also like to be in the right place at the right time locally and get some friendly wine drinking networking in at art show openings, art walks and such. It also gives me a little of an art social life, which is fun – adding to the “sheer joy of it” aspect of art making.”
She keeps her finger on the pulse of the competitions, exhibitions and publications that are figurative/realism friendly; online as well as in real life. If the artist she admires are exhibiting, she tries to attend the show even if it implies a distance of travelling.
“There are also certain Holy Grail career-makers that I want to be part of, like the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Outwin Boochever at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery in Washington DC and the Portrait Society of America International show. The best result happened just this past March where my painting, “Carol, Raising Chicks and Spirits” was invited back for the second round of judging to the BP. Ultimately the work was rejected, but I’ll keep trying until I get in.”
As a figurative artist in an art world that doesn’t necessarily welcomes figurative art, she feels the need to be engaged in creating the art world she wants to live in. Therefore, Judy undertook responsibilities like chairing the Social Media Committee for the Cecilia Beaux Forum of the Portrait Society of America, when she was asked by Judith Carducci. Recently, she’ve accepted the position of Social Media Chair for the Allied Artists of America – invited by Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso. Allied is a historic art club based at the Salmagundi Club in New York City.
Navigating the art world is a vital necessity for Judy.
“Even if I hired an assistant to do some of it, it would feel very inauthentic. I feel like, as long as part of my “brand” is me, then I have to be the one doing it. And, frankly, I just enjoy meeting. people – like yourself – along the way. It makes this big figurative art world much smaller and cosier, and I do feel like I have friends all over the world; people whom I can call upon for advice, help and questions.”
When I asked Judy to name one of her works that she feels represent her as an artist, she mentions ‘Cancer Honeymoon.’
“It is triptych I painted a few years back when my mom was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer and went through chemo for the first time. This painting is a pure portrait. It contains all the elements I love (expressive face, hands, and red), and none of the elements I love less (hair, clothing, objects). With this work, I set out with an intention and vision, and when it came time for my sitter to pose, she totally and completely got what I was looking for. My mom, with her doctorate in English Literature and many years as an English professor, has always had this doppelgänger as a dramatic actor. I can’t remember the exact words I used to convince her to act out the various emotions associated with a cancer diagnosis, but I think she knew it already.”
The triple portrait won Best in Show at the Eighth Annual Figurative Drawing and Painting Competition at Lore Degenstein Gallery, Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania.
“I know! It’s a mouthful to pronounce, but it is a very prestigious award!” – Judy laughed.
Judy’s work might not seem revolutionary, but her featuring women with normal lives in extraordinary fashion is certainly remarkable. Art considered to be a mirror for society, but Judy’s art is the mirror for women — to see a resemblance of who they feel they are.
Currently Judy is looking forward to show this remarkable triple portrait at her upcoming exhibition ‘Secrets’, at Artists Archives of the Western Reserve In Cleveland, opening on 24th of May.