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Artist Marjorie Hellman

Growing up between Philadelphia and New York, I became an avid museum goer. My passion for looking at art led me to study at Rhode Island School of Design, (European Honors Program, BFA Painting, 1971), then Cranbrook Academy of Art, (Graduate Painting Program). After completing my MFA at Syracuse University, I remained in upstate New York for over 25 years, teaching studio art on the college level, and exhibiting throughout the Northeast.

In 1999, I moved to Asheville, North Carolina, where my studio practice and exhibition opportunities continued until interrupted by a serious cervical spine injury caused by a car accident. It was several years before I could work again, but by 2009, I was able to start on my way back to a productive life, making small works on paper using colored pencils.

In 2012, I moved to Providence, RI.Although somewhat physically limited, I could handle paint again, and have been making progress in tackling work of larger scale and scope. Since 2016, I have been living and working just north of Providence, in a converted mill, on a street lined with old mills and other reminders of early 20th century industrial prosperity.

"My work focuses on making paintings that present as flat objects, but suggest interaction of dimensional forms. To accomplish this, I rely only on the simplicity of line, and the complexity of color usage.

In my drawing process, observations from both the natural and manmade worlds combine to make abstractions that exist somewhere in the metaphysical realm. Ideas from other sources, such as literature or scientific discovery enter in, adding an undercurrent of meaning to the visual. Eventually, I arrive at a geometric abstract drawing of intersecting lines, the reading of which is totally ambiguous at this point.

It is my fascination with color that drives my approach to painting. I delight in the surprise that comes with each painting’s progress, as I do not predetermine anything beyond mixing a few start-up colors. Every fragmented shape is a color mixture derived from the starting palette.

In order to feature color rather than paint action, I create a smooth, bisque-like surface, on hard substrate, (aluminum or birch), then apply multiple flat coats of acrylic colors, to achieve an opaque, saturated skin. It is my intention to make the hand absent, to challenge the viewer to think about how the painting was made, and to ponder and appreciate the process, without clues, such as obvious brush strokes. So much work, creative or other, involves labor of mind and body that we don’t necessarily see in the finished product.

Characteristic of my paintings, and key to my vision, is the way color juxtapositions can provide the illusion that shapes and forms appear transparent or translucent, creating a sense of structure, depth, space and light. By introducing an irregular perimeter in the shaped paintings, I have altered the compositional field, emphasizing form within form, and painting as object.

Although the execution of what I do might appear rigid and controlled, an openness in embracing change has helped me sustain a long studio practice. When I review my work over the span of many years, I see a couple of abrupt shifts in direction, but mostly a continuum, where one path veers into another. As for so many artists whose work I admire, the greatest sense of accomplishment comes from the acts of contemplating and doing."

Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the arts.

I grew up in Trenton, NJ, and was drawing quite a bit by age 10. By age 12, I was making daily drawings of my grandmother, who lived with us. She sat motionless for hours on end.

In order to attend Rhode Island School of Design, I lied to my parents, telling them I wanted to become an architect, although at the time, I wasn't sure what I really wanted to focus on. I decided on Painting.

What kind of work are you currently making?

Currently, I am making shaped paintings, using acrylic paints on aluminum, as well as smaller works on cradled birch panels.

What is a day like in the studio for you?

I get going in the studio by 8:30 AM most days. I try to work every day, and usually put in about 45 hours a week. Living and working in the same space means I can look at what is in progress throughout the day and evening, ruminating and assessing.

What are you looking at right now and/or reading?

I am rejoicing at looking at the multitude of images of Thomas Nozkowski's work now available for viewing online. New work by Brice Marden is also beckoning me again and again. Philip Guston is a regular. I just finished reading The Overstory by Richard Powers, which I loved, and an excellent piece on Louise Fishman in Brooklyn Rail.

Where can we find more of your work?

Website :; on Instagram @marjoriehellman; at David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 530 E. 74th St, NY, NY, 5 paintings are on permanent view, located throughout the building. Upcoming exhibitions are in planning stages.

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