Monday, July 15, 2013

Spotlight on AJ Atwater, Artist on the Move

Today we are on day 15 of AJ Atwater's Project 30/30. It seemed, therefore, a good day to share the interview I had recently with this energetic artist. Atwater has been showing her work for two decades here in Duluth and the region. Currently she lives in New York City in the spring and fall where she has been studying under Ronnie Landfield.

In addition to painting she is also a poet, with works published in a number of literary reviews. She's fun to talk to, but you will also find it entertaining to stop by Perry Framing on the 200 block of East Superior Street  here in Duluth between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. (during your lunch hour) to watch her work. There will be a showing of her Project 30/30 works from 5-7 p.m. at the Zeitgeist on July 31.

EN: What prompted you to begin your New York painting?

How much is that painting in the window?
AJA: I am drawn to the scope and scale of New York. My family has ties through business. I heard so many tales of New York, so it has always been a fascination. When I got there myself I knew I could sink into that place and I could thrive there. Its energy, scale and scope are what keep drawing me back. Each neighborhood has a different kind of energy and you can experience it very fast.

Galleries on the Lower East side are growing. It’s great to see the Lower East Side start to jump with galleries. I’m attracted to that force. It’s the art capital of the world as well as the publishing capital of the world. There are 300+ galleries in Chelsea alone. It’s alive with energy, hipsters kicking butt….

EN: So what have you been doing in New York?

AJA: What I’m doing is studying at the Art Students League under Ronnie Landfield.

EN: How did you connect there?

AJA: I saw a YouTube video of Landfield and knew immediately I wanted to study under him. He’s a lyrical abstract landscape painter. He was invited by the Whitney to show his work there when he was just 20. It’s fascinating to be working in the same place and same studio.

Landfield has a good presence. He’s modest… not on the international stage, but exactly what I love to work with. He has a good demeanor and his art is really thought out.

EN: You seem quite passionate about your work. What’s your driver?

AJA: There’s not an option. I’m a painter, an artist, that’s what I do.

Painting is just part of the gig. I think now that I’m devoting my life full time to art and writing, that’s when it started to happen because my life is not divided by the necessities of a day job. You have to live, breathe, sleep art. If you are not, you will not make it as an artist.

Yes, family and friends come first but art is the center and creates a momentum, which is a bi-product of working hard. If you don’t work hard, the bi-product is evasive. The main thing is making your art. If you do that the other follows. That’s why I am building on the energy for my show for Project 30/30. For thirty days during the month of July I am painting live at Perry Framing from 11 to 2.

EN: Why 30 when July has 31 days?

AJA: 30 canvases for 30 days, all 30” x 30”… with an opening on the 31st at Perry Framing… a showing at the end of the 30 days.

EN: Ah! I get it. What do you like about the NY School?

AJA: De Kooning, Motherwell… Rauschenburg a little later… He was diverse, and he really did not worry. Rothko, his work amazes me. Grace Hardigan… her work is phenomenal. Helen Frankenthaler, another woman, Motherwell’s wife. Lee Krasner, was married to Pollock… It’s harder to find women from the NY school of abstract expressionism.

EN: How did you make the leap from job to career painter.

AJA: I always had both and devoted a great deal of time to both. I bought art supplies for UMD stores, created my painting and writing while working full time. I came a point where I wanted to do the painting and writing full time and made the move.

EN: Do you worry about insurance?

AJA: I don’t worry about any of that. I have a well laid-out plan. You have a plan set forth and you put it into action.

You have to be a visionary. You have to have a vision about what you want to do and how to get there. I visualized what I wanted to do and moved toward that. It takes tenacity. It takes hard work, and it takes loving what you’re doing… passion.

Even if it didn’t become a successful endeavor, I would do it. Obstacles are good because you figure out how to get under them, around them or over them and when you get to the other side the strength you gain from the experience is amazing.

It’s more than just painting. It’s a philosophy, it’s your whole life….

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See more of AJ Atwater's work at

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