“ … Beauty can be so powerful it can transform meaninglessness and atrocity into a union with the cosmic. Because this experience is so glorious, so fleeting, mysterious, erotic, traumatic, even, it is always calling attention to its own inevitable loss. Therefore, beauty embodies a healthy measure of anxiety and fear. It takes courage to take the risks of engaging beauty.”
Featured here are photographs of Judith’s outstanding stained (or painted, etched, etc.) glass window works. Many of them are details taken from much larger works, or are shots taken in progress.
Can you tell us where you were born and a little history about your childhood?
I was born in Gainesville FL, but only lived there fro a year or so. I was raised in Newton Centre, MA. My father was a microbiologist at Tufts University and my mother was a social worker and a piano player. Later she became the director of a school for children with autism. My mother had been raised Episcopal and my father was Jewish, but both had rejected religion by the time they had children so I was raised as an atheist. I was pretty nerdy as a kid—I liked to read, draw pictures, play with dolls….
Is there an event or experience that helped form who you are today?
Oh wow…probably many! They say that your personality is pretty much formed by age five…but my mother’s death (in 1987 when I was 26) had a huge impact on me that still resonates today. I don’t know if it makes much sense to look back and speak with hindsight as to events that may have contributed to my becoming an artist… it’s just a confluence of EVERYTHING. I didn’t think from a young age that I would be an artist… in fact, I didn’t really know one could be one—all the artists in the books we had were historical figures, long dead. At various times, I wanted to be an architect, an astronomer, a writer and a psychologist.
What was the first piece of art that you remember creating? The media?
Well, I remember doing a drawing with magic markers that I thought was really great. I must have been around 4 or 5. I showed it to my mother who just loved it and framed it—she thought I had drawn this lovely angel. Actually, it was a drawing of a carpet. My first “real official” piece of art? Hmmmmm…. maybe some of my oil paintings from art school were art… kind of hard to say.
What generally inspires you to create a piece?
What IS inspiration anyway? A lightning bolt? A “vision”? Does it exist in time or space? Is it in my head? Is it a force of energy, is it a reason? Is it a synonym for “desire” or “will”? Is it even important? Sometimes I think the asker wants to know “What is the process of manifesting a physical reality in the material world, when previously it was imprisoned in your head?” Or “how does something go from a formless state into reality?” And sometimes I think they are asking, “What is the thing that propels you to make something?” Or in the case of an individual work “what was the thing that caused you to make this particular work (over another, say)?” In this case, inspiration is indeed synonymous with “desire” or “will”. As in, “I made it because I desired or willed it to exist”. But that certainly leaves the mechanics of “why” still in question. It can be as simple as I felt something was missing! The world is not complete until I have added this crucial thing. But this, in turn leads to another “why?”
I will say one thing inspiration is rarely “an image in my head that wants to get out”. When I think I have had an idea of this sort, it always has the elusive quality of a dream half remembered. I pick up a pencil and it almost instantaneously vanishes entirely into the ether. “ Ideas” and “visions” are entirely without substance and thus, somewhat useless as I am seeking to create substance. They are smoke and mirrors—there’s no there there. Its like, in the course of falling off a cliff, one grasps at wispy branches for purchase and is left empty-handed. But something does happen! I have known much inspiration—and it feels great! ( I am actually addicted to it). Sometimes, you grasp a wispy branch and it breaks your fall, flips you back up to the top of the mountain where a generous and talkative swami tells you the meaning of life in easy to understand terms!
Inspiration is not a thing and its not located within the person who channels it— it feels, to me anyway, as if it comes from the beyond, from a divine presence. If I were religious I could just say God inspires me… I am 49 and I have been making art full time since I was 23. Inspiration is harder to come by when you have discovered a lot of territory and when you have given voice to all the burning ghosts inside you, not just once or twice but repeatedly, as a full time JOB, over the years and also when you are an obsessive perfectionist which really is a killjoy stance but I can’t seem to overcome it. I don’t feel I have anything to prove or any real reason to make more work except out of sheer love for art and a deep faith in the creative process. That said — often I am not inspired at all and yet I go on. I bet no one can tell my uninspired works from the inspired ones. But that’s what it means to be a pro!
I don’t “get ideas” anymore—if I ever really did…what happens is that I draw and that leads me to something. Turning vague feelings and ephemeral desires into physical form is a widely varied process, one that’s unknowable, alchemical, indescribable and often extremely excruciating. But for me it all begins with drawing. So I draw a lot and hope one of my drawings seems urgent and exciting enough for me to work with it to develop it into a piece. With hindsight, I can never pinpoint when inspiration happened. Was it at the outset or the exhibition opening? Who knows! It was never mine to begin with… I look at thousands of images a week on various tumblrs and blogs. I find some music, books, advertising, physical exercise, and certain places inspiring — I watch TV, I have found acupuncture quite inspiring! I look at everything through “art glasses”… I could be inspired by the colors of the food on my dinner plate as easily and as profoundly as by the expression on someone’s face on the bus or by a chance phrase I overhear. The list is just utterly vast… I have often been inspired by certain people. I have been lucky to known muses.
If there was an artist, dead or alive, that you could spend 24 hours with; who would it be and what would you do?
Just one?? Oh dear… Hieronymus Bosch and we would go on a picnic…. but what if he’s so internal he’s a boring companion? I want someone in reserve, just in case. So my second choice would be Viggo Mortenson. He’s a photographer you know. My reasons here are less than wholesome…
What materials, specific brand of glass/tools, do you prefer to use? A favorite? And why?
I use Lambert’s glass—its a type of hand blown glass from Germany. Its the BEST!!! Great colors and its made well. It almost never has stress in it so it cuts like a hot knife through butter. Also Saint Just Verrerie in France makes gorgeous glass. I cut the glass with a regular old Fletcher cutter—like they sell in hardware stores.
Is there a technique, procedure or tip that you have discovered, you could pass onto other artists? A specific tidbit of craft, advice or mechanical expertise?
Most of what I do is pretty traditional technique—what makes my work unique is how all the techniques are used in concert with each other. The one thing I would say I have “discovered” is the use of diamond files to create tones into glass. This is truly technical and tedious to write about however — I have done so extensively on my blog because I want very much to share what I have learned about my medium with others who may be interested. One can search my blog via the “demo” tag—here’s a link—many in depth technical descriptions can be found there and more in the future, no doubt. LINK
What is your favorite word? Last song you chose to listen to?
A few favorites words: scrawny, obelisk, whale, salivate, pernicious, skyline, barnacle, décolletage, plop.
Last song I chose to listen to was “The Diver” by Gravenhurst…with the amazing line
“I have the ghosts of Autumn’s murdered walk me home”.
If you could pick one piece of art to own, out of the world’s museums, personal collections and galleries, what would it be?
Another really hard question! But I was very moved by Dieric Bout’s “Mater Dolorosa” (“Sorrowing Madonna”), at the Chicago Art Institute. I’m sure I would have another answer every day—no every hour of every day! (This is why I could never get a tattoo.)
What was the last event/movie/art/anything that really moved you emotionally? Be it sad, angry or happy?
I was absolutely torn apart by Lars Von Trier’s movie “Breaking the Waves”– it just devastated me (and I’ve watched it several times and each time I found it really heartbreakingly sad. I loved, loved, LOVED “The Idiot” by Dostoevsky….in all these cases, it was the female protagonists that got to me. I am a big fan of Sufjan Stevens too—his stuff is glorious!
Of all your works, what is your own personal favorite? What was the thought or vision behind the work and why is it your favorite?
I have many, many favorites amongst my children! Hard, hard HARD to pick!!! “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” (above), “Joan of Arc” (below), “The Sin Eater” (very bottom).
They are favorites because I nailed it, whatever it was …because they went above and beyond and are more than the sum of their parts…because I learned something making them and because they SURPRISED me when I was finished. None of them looked anything like the finished work at the outset (although that’s true of most of my pieces). Seriously—there’s no single “thought” or vision behind these—they take months to make and are constantly evolving—each step predicated on the previous one until at the very end? Maybe I have some idea what the whole thing is supposed to be about..or maybe I don’t.
Last words? Commentary? Story of interest?
The most valuable thing I ever learned was patience.
Thank you so very, very much for your interest in my work!
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(This entry was originally posted on 9/7/10 )
eclectix interview, etched glass art, glass art, Judith Schaechter, Judith Schaechter artist, Judith Schaechter interview, stained glass
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