GREAT BARRINGTON, MASS., RECENTLY NAMED THE BEST SMALL TOWN IN AMERICA BY SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, IN PART FOR ITS “ART-RICH MOUNTAIN SETTING,” IS HOME TO MARILYN KALISH’S VAULT GALLERY AND HER NEWLY OPENED VAULT STUDIOS. ARTSCOPE’S J. FATIMA MARTINS CORNERED KALISH, BY PHONE, TO DISCUSS ART, LIFE AND SUCCESS.
Marilyn, your personal and professional success is evident, and for me, inspiring and a little intimidating. What has motivated your career?
MK:: I’m also feeling intimidated; how can I convey to you how I’ve gotten to where I am? It is not by structure alone; there is chaos in my art and life. I’m a mother, and that’s the most important element. I’ve learned to delegate. That’s easy for me. Standing in front of the blank surface or canvas or an open gallery space to see the strength and weaknesses in people, and myself, as positive and intuitively knowing where to place all the elements in my life.
How do you define success?
I don’t know how to define success; I know when I have a successful day and it’s not every day. It’s not a romantic situation. I’m in studio seven days a week; I show up and work. I work really, really hard every day and have rituals of work. The idea of being a “starving artist” is ridiculous. It’s an out-of-date romantic notion. If you can’t pay for your materials and you can’t support yourself as an artist, you’d better be looking for something else to do.
How did you do it?
I work every day as a full-time artist. The work has to been better every day. They call it work for a reason. It is hard work. I never focused on money; I’m focused on making my art the best it can be. It’s my job to create good art. I’m
intuitive and I became bored by the business, so I focus on the studio work, and allow others to handle the business aspect of my life. I don’t worry that I won’t make another good painting. I trust in the process of art making.
What should younger artists do to accomplish their goals?
Young artists must take control of their own career and their art. They can’t worry about critics, curators and museums. They must keep moving and working. Technology has changed everything. I’ve taken control of my own career that way. I’m connecting to people and they are saying such insightful things about my work. It’s helped me to know myself and in turn I make better paintings.
You are an artist who doesn’t need to be in a “juried show.” those are for younger artists who need the boost in self-confidence. you are at mid-career. What’s next for you?
I remember those years, and yes, the juried show is important, and yes, those shows encouraged me to keep working. Today, I have paintings in dozens of collections internationally. I’m bulletproof. Now, I want more people to see my work; I’m asking, ‘How can I share the paintings in private collections with the public?’ Some of it is my strongest work.
Tell me about the Vault gallery.
Every artist has his or her story of losing a studio space. I lost a studio space. I’ve been in three
church spaces, and the last church was condemned. I was on a mission; I felt displaced and it didn’t feel good. My real-estate friend showed me a space that was inside a bank, inside a vault, a very undesirable commercial space for him. He encouraged me to bring in other artists and see if there was a “pulse.” This was 10 years ago. I said yes, but I was fearful. I called the estate of Leonard Baskin and other important artists I knew. If one of them said ‘No,’ I would not have gone forward.
What has happened in the last 10 years in which artists are now comfortable with opening up their own galleries and representing themselves?
I had a conversation with a curator and discovered that the museums have a hierarchy and I learned fear. The message was clear — don’t question the hierarchy of the museum, and I would never be recognized as an artist without their support. That was the biggest gift that was given to me. It motivated me to work harder; it was a catalyst. I rose like a phoenix and said, ‘watch this, I’m going to do this differently.’
The dialogue about the purpose of museum exhibitions versus gallery exhibitions is in full bloom, as is the conversation about the role of economics in the process of art making. Everyone is talking about how to make artists more successful. i’m seeing through the artists’ eyes what is it means, and
Photography by Scott Barrow.
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I followed my gut. I may have disappointed some curators, but at the time, I felt that I needed to work without the distractions of the gallery and museum world. I needed to focus on my work alone. I made a bold move. I decided to be ambitious with my work.
My own working method is dynamic and very holistic and grounded by this intuitive understanding. i’m similar to you in my work: i go in a gallery space with no expectations and i’m always on a hunt for answers. the truth and success arrives when i pay attention and make connections. how did success happen for you?
This conversation was meant to happen. I’m so glad you understand. I make connections; I have collectors and I sell the work. I do it by always working. It’s the same language I used when I was a child wandering through the woods. It’s a process; and I’m a process junkie. The process of looking and finding. My way is abstract and free associated, and success has come that way.