Note: Last Fall I met with Great Barrington, Mass., artist Marilyn Kalish to talk about her series-in-progress, ‘Paris,’ for an article I was writing for a local publication. The series was born in Kalish’s mind after finding and re-reading her childhood journals which revealed her thoughts and emotions about a long-forgotten trip to Paris. Upon walking into her second floor Railroad Street studio I felt an instant connection with the artist before me who, like her art, exuded a calm and peaceful energy that created an attractive contrast to the strong, assured, intuitive, and self-confident woman who is Marilyn. We immediately bonded over motherhood, pursuing our dreams, nurturing one’s creativity, and life in general, and I knew Marilyn would be a woman I would have in my life for years to come.
My article was never published, because unlike many articles I submit for publication, I was attached to this article on a personal level. Marilyn had evoked some deep emotional connection within me during our two-hour meeting, and my article reflected that. I was unwilling to compromise that by re-editing the piece. Instead I held onto it for myself until I found the right time and place to reveal that piece to the world. I believe Renaissance Mom is the perfect platform to highlight Marilyn and her artwork as she exemplifies everything I believe a Renaissance Mom to be — a strong, motivated, successful, loving, unique, creative woman and MOM.
So here is that article with updates regarding the personal and emotional journey Marilyn has been on since our last meeting, and how that has influenced her most recent series.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Sitting on the vintage sofa in Marilyn Kalish’s Railroad Street studio last September surrounded by her artwork and eclectic display of favorite items, it was surprising to learn that the accomplished artist, whose artwork has hung on the walls of the prestigious Christie’s Auction House and Alec Baldwin’s home (to name just a few of her fans), used to have an aversion to color and beauty.
“I was suspect of beauty forever. For a very long time, you remain suspect of beauty. That’s the New York arts scene. I was there. My work was dark, and it was black and white,” Marilyn explained over several cups of coffee last fall.
“I stayed away from color for many, many years because I knew I could dazzle and infatuate very, very quickly and I didn’t have to stay in the piece as long if I did that. … Color has its own language, and I didn’t want the influence of it.”
‘They were not suspect of color’
But as happens in life, Marilyn matured, both as a woman and artist, and began surrounding herself with beautiful objects that innately appealed to her — a rotund, red-enameled bishop that sits on a table overlooking her workspace, a funky leopard chair that greets visitors as they enter the studio, and delicate orchids, once a passion of her late mother, displayed throughout the space. As a result, varying hues slowly began revealing themselves on Marilyn’s canvas.
“I realized this bridge of artists that came before us — Matisse, Rothko, or further back Manet, Monet, on and on — they were not suspect of color,” she said.
Marilyn’s “Paris” series was infused with color — calm, peaceful renditions of the Seine conveyed through subtle strokes of muted blues and purples, and vibrant red paintings that transmitted their energy around the open studio. According to Marilyn, through series like the now-finished “Paris” and “Landscapes of Italy,” she learned how to hone the palette of her paintings.
“When I read about Paris (in my childhood journals) I immediately saw the colors,” Marilyn explained. “The series was more about color than it was about Paris. Paris was the entre for me to experiment with color. Now I have no questions about using color. I am no longer suspect of colors. But I am a minimalist in my style and use of color. Less is more.”
Marilyn’s ability to instill subtle hints of color in a piece in order to illicit a unique emotional response from its viewer is evident in her most recent body of work, a series of portraits inspired by the loss of her brother last winter.
“A lot has happened since completing ‘Paris,’” Marilyn told me last week when we met over coffee for only the second time in nine months. This time we met at Rubie’s in Great Barrington, a well-known gathering place for local creatives, and as I entered the small, rustic cafe my body was racing with excitement and fueled by anticipatory energy. That energy was quickly replaced with an overwhelming sense of calm and purpose once I sat down next to my friend. Marilyn and I exchanged greetings, and then condolences (we had both lost loved ones over the winter), and then I ordered myself a stellar french roast. As I returned to my seat, Marilyn and I immediately dove into another passionate discussion about art and emotion, parenting and creating balance in our lives, and of course, Marilyn’s latest portrait series. One never would have known nine months had passed between us.
“I experienced the loss, and everything changed for me after that,” Marilyn told me as we began to talk about life since ‘Paris. “My work changed. I was changed.”
Marilyn began to explain how that change occurred. While still grieving and mourning her loss, she experienced an outpouring of support from friends and family. One such supporter was a friend and writer who visited her studio, and gave her a priceless gift, two words from a Yeats poem — “change, utterly.”
“I thought that’s it. I just knew it resonated. That’s my loss. I will never be the same. I have changed utterly,” Marilyn said. “And, maybe, the next day the work changed. There went ‘Paris.’ I had said all I needed to say.”
And that’s when Marilyn discovered her “Portrait” series. From a dark, sorrowful, portrait that began the series to the haunting and mysterious “Lady Veil”‘ with its juxtaposition of color — calm and serene greens versus angry, yet strong splashes of red and orange — this series is loaded with emotion.
“It’s very cathartic to access pain . I’m accessing pain. (The portrait series) wasn’t a commercial venture, it was for me. I was tapping into my pain and who wanted to look at that.” Marilyn said.
Which is why Marilyn was surprised by the positive feedback the series received from around the world, especially Europe. Unbeknownst to her at time, by revealing her pain and loss on the canvas, Marilyn “had bumped into a universal truth.”
“It’s loss. We’ve all experienced it, or are going to experience it,” she said. “And as an artist (like a writer or dancer or actor), I’ve always tried very hard to be as authentic as I possibly can be, and I know when I’m being honest in my work. I’ve been doing this for so many years that I can dazzle and infatuate easily. But it’s now about, certainly at mid-career, the question ‘If not now, when?’ And boom, I just hit it (my purpose). Not only did I hit, I have no need for anymore series. I have found it. I am home.”
And Marilyn is coming home in more ways than one, as her grandfather and mother both were portrait artists. ”But that’s what they did,” she told me regarding her earlier feelings about creating portraits of her own. Yet after years of “experimenting,” now she, too, is doing what her grandfather and mother before her did. Marilyn Kalish has become her own distinct brand of portrait artist, and she believes she has been working towards this her whole career, her whole life.
“People will ask when they come into my studio and see a piece of work ‘How long did that take to make?’ And the answer is always the same whether it’s ‘Paris’ or my new series: My whole life,” Marilyn said.
And those who know Marilyn on a personal level, will attest to the authenticity of that life — the love and loss, the sorrow and joy, and all that has happened in between — displayed on the canvas before them. And so will she.
“I’m home with this series.I’m absolutely home,” she says with the confidence of someone who has no questions about who she is as a woman and artist. “It doesn’t feel celebratory, it just feels right.”
To learn more about Marilyn Kalish and to view her work go online to marilynkalish.com.