Jane Hart thanked me for inviting her to write Raw. Instead we must thank her for sharing her unvarnished story.
I was born to two wonderful parents. My mother however, succumbed to a full state of clinical schizophrenia immediately after purging me from her womb. I did not know until later in life just how traumatizing and guilt inducing my birth and its seeming cause of her illness would affect me.
Throughout my life I have suffered from the two-pronged tormentor of depression and anxiety—At times, to the point of feeling suicidal. I want to talk here about just how undeniably art did, and has saved me—many times over. As a young child my mother was a painter—the happiest memories I have are of she and I sitting in her makeshift studio in our upstate New York house. I guess early on I must have shown an aptitude for making art and was for as long as I can remember nurtured by all who loved me, in this talent. It was a key to finding happiness, acceptance and security in an often turbulent, confusing childhood.
As a young girl my father and stepmother (who then owned a gallery in Coconut Grove) saw the benefit in encouraging me in all of my artistic pursuits; which included private art lessons at Miami’s legendary artist Eugene Massin’s studio, traveling to Europe at age 13 to go study weaving from one of the world’s most acclaimed practitioners of this ancient art —Berit Hjelholt, who had the most amazing studio in Jutland on the coast of Northern Denmark. In high school I was permitted to take 4 periods of art per day and of course was a member of the Art Club bonding then with other kids who shared my passion. I spent my senior year living with a family in the Netherlands again practicing, studying and absorbing all the art I could. Upon graduating high school I went to Miami-Dade—my most memorable teacher was Robert Huff. I continue to keep in contact with now that I am back in Miami.
I fell in love and had my heart badly broken at age 18—after being plunged into inconsolable despair—I applied and was accepted at New York’s School of Visual Arts. The exposure to the established and alternative thriving NYC art scene was exciting and inspiring. The great painter Elizabeth Murray was one of my teachers….she was very nurturing. Though my heart was still broken and remained so for a long time—I found healing in painting, photography, performance, installation and drawing. A long distance phone call from my mother put all that to an end… sending me into a paralyzing depression. I returned to Miami and lost my way for a little while.
Germaine Brooks a friend told me about a group she and Howard Davis were starting called “Artifacts”—would I be interested in participating? I was thrilled. Now remembered for its contributions and vital role in the 80’s art scene of Miami, Artifacts presented an ever-expanding group of artists to collaborate—we were doing weekly themed installations at the now defunct club in the Design District, Fire & Ice. Howard’s mother Joy owned a gallery across the street—Moos Art—showing an international array of artists in its Arquitectonica designed space—it became an epicenter for artists and other creatives in Miami. I lived, worked and barely slept surrounded by art. These were Halcyon Days! I was back on track and doing fun and inventive work from painting, collages, installations to Art to Wear. No limits.
Germaine and her artist boyfriend John Lamka decided to move to New York. My then boyfriend (later husband) Simon Lewis and I decided to do the same. I had co-curated a show of East Village artists for Moos Art and had met a number of great gallerists and artists—I got a job at Piezo Electric—one of the more sophisticated venues of that period. I was now both a practicing artist – painting every night—and gallery worker by day. A brief stint with Simon in London and I was back in New York and went to work at Marlborough Gallery—getting the chance to collaborate with some of my childhood art “heroes” like Larry Rivers and Alex Katz. Life was very good. Painting and then adding arts writing to my practice enhanced an existence that was devoted to art. Weekends were spent seeing all the other galleries on Saturdays and Sundays were devoted to making the rounds to museums. This was a very fulfilling period…and I had no glimmer that things were about to change drastically.
I had been fantasizing that the laid back California lifestyle would afford me even more time for my own art. I was wrong. My position at the gallery was extremely time consuming—involved in many major projects that were demanding but very gratifying. I helped put together a Wallace Berman retrospective and book for the ICA in Amsterdam; worked with George Herms on his incredible creation of the facsimile limited edition of Berman’s SEMINA (a volume of nine mail-art masterpieces); collaborating with Ed and Nancy Kienholz on making a book about and showing their elaborate work The Merry Go World, including going to a show in Tokyo with them for this piece and some special projects with David Hockney. I met so many inspirational artists during this time with the gallery….Jimmy Durham, Leon Kossoff, Tony Berlant, Ed Moses and others.
But I realized I was deeply unhappy. I was no longer doing my own work at all and a severe depression set in. One of my dearest (recently departed friends) in L.A. was Bill Radawec—He invited me to curate a show at his space domestic setting. This exhibit (entitled A Vital Matrix) evolved into a major endeavor with close to 50 artists participating; assembling an artist boxed set edition, and a beautiful catalogue I designed. Physically I was suffering from migraines but this project was pursued undeterred. Once the show was up—I had emergency surgery and started to feel physically better. This project led to another curatorial project follow-up show (a scattering matrix, also accompanied by a boxed edition set and catalogue.) I left L.A> Louver to work at Gemini G.E.L. for two years which was less stressful but also rewarding getting to meet so many incredible artists I had long admired who came to produce editions at the studio—Bob Rauschenberg—my all time hero; James Rosenquist; Jonathan Borofsky and John Baldessari. I left Gemini to join a new company that was launching in L.A. – to arrive at one of the most satisfying and exciting jobs I have ever had—as a founding director of Muse [X] Editions—a pioneer in producing limited edition artworks via the most groundbreaking digital processes, with the best artists possible—We did projects with John Baldessari, Christian Marclay, Mike Kelley, Gregory Crewdson, Doug Aitken, Uta Barth, Diana Thater, James Welling and so many others—I had made a target list (of the best artists I could think of who might be willing to experiment.) By the time I left in 1998 I had done projects with nearly all of them.
For seven years while at Muse [X] and after I left—I had created an alternative gallery space in my home and eventually a storefront gallery up the street from LACMA. The commercial gallery opened in the immediate wake of 9/11. I was very troubled during this time—but the gallery went forward doing great shows and publishing our own artist editions as well. Of course this was a creative practice for me—but again I was not making my own art. In 2002 I returned to Miami for Art Basel—I again, impulsively decided that it was time to go back to from whence I came over 20 years ago….so that I could be closer to my family. Depression and anxiety were now regular conditions in my life that I managed to deal with—sometimes better than others.
My arrival in Miami had many opportunities and successes but I was still very depressed — not finding my place—feeling isolated in spite of having family and friends around. I then got a lung infection—I spent 3 months working on a massive collage since I was unable to leave the house. This buoyed my spirits. I decided to make an ongoing series of smaller collages (a medium I had always loved).
For my collage work, I decided to use the alias TJ Ahearn (An anagram of my name.) This freed my imagination and filled my hours with creative healing. I began showing them and even selling them at the art fairs and galleries!! This thrilled me…but not nearly as much as the process of making them. I have continued to make collages and they will be featured at PULSE 2011, in Miami with the non-profit Available Space, co-founded by my colleague and friend Michelle Weinberg. There are people here in South Florida who, like Michelle, believed in my talent as an artist. My main position since 2007 has been as curator of exhibitions at the Art and Culture of Hollywood—a job that in of itself is incredibly gratifying and creative as I get to put together approximately 15 shows a year of wonderful artists from South Florida and elsewhere.
During the past two years I have dealt with perhaps the most daunting trauma and pain—first watching my dearest father die of cancer in 2009 and then one week after his passing being diagnosed with potentially terminal cancer myself.
I was ready to die. Had it not been for my work, both as an artist and curator I would have lost my will to live. It’s been a rough ride, rife with anguish and an awful array of physical pain.
But ART and its healing powers not only saved me, but have made me stronger today. For that I am so very grateful!
Art and Culture Center of Hollywood – http://artandculturecenter.org