Painting Studio Blog

Welcome to my studio blog page where you’ll get the rundown on the production of works posted as well as any specific materials (hues for example) that were central to each work. For video versions on the development of specific works visit my YouTube channel.

Projection, 80″x 80″, acrylic on canvas

September 21, 2022

Inkblot 10 of Hermann Rorschach’s test cards, inspires the anchoring form of my latest work. Marrying forms and metaphoric symbols to personality disorders and the development of nuclear weapons, not surprisingly, opened what seemed like an endless string of associated narratives. Having never been well graced at a subtle delivery (and frankly, not seeing the virtue in it most of the time- and certainly not in my own imagery) I placed the predominant form of the warhead centrally in
the composition, stripping away the lesser details from the bomb itself.
The symmetry of a monarch butterfly echoes the symmetry of the inkblot while juxtaposing the messaging. I chose dark values of mixed greys and blacks to parallel the disturbing associations of Rorschach’s findings, and translucent vibrant oranges and quinacridones for the more delusional hedonistic implications of this application of the butterfly form. Human projection and personality are continually finding their way into the central theme of my work. Driven by a past experience of once having been shocked into the realization that while our perceptions
create our inner world, they can be a vast chasm from the truth.


My interest in the subject of nuclear power was seeded at a young age when my grandfather Earl Ewald worked for Northern States Power Company. For many years he was instrumental in bringing nuclear power plants to the Midwestern US beginning in the late sixties. As he grappled with risk to the local communities, he often spoke of his concern over the lack of an ideal solution to the storage of spent fuel rods. As themes in our lives can sometimes repeat, I later found myself living for five years in close proximity to the largest underground uranium mine in the US, and simultaneously four miles downwind from the Department Of Energy’s nuclear warhead manufacturing facility, Rocky Flats.

Over its 37 years of operation, Rocky Flats proved to be notoriously problematic, with everything from a near criticality incident in the late 50’s to fires, leaking storage barrels, and significant amounts of unaccountable lost radioactive waste. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the plant was decommissioned, and the contaminated buildings buried. Not surprisingly, in keeping with a tireless campaign of whitewashing, new homes and a wildlife preserve now mark the site.

Mom, 2022, 48 x 48″ acrylic on canvas

This work is one of a group of drawings and paintings of my late mother. In each of the individual pieces, I am the model, posing as my mother. While the process was an involved one, with each work starting with hundreds of photographs in various colored environments, the poses and details in the pieces in the end were all heavily influenced by memory.

Portrait of My Mother (a self portrait) -March 3, 2022

After having made the decision recently to begin at least an extended series of monochromatic works, or works with very limited color saturation, I thought a good place to revisit would be a charcoal drawing. This was intended as a portrait drawing of my mother, with myself sitting in as the model. While I do look quite a bit like her, it’s the pose that has her likeness more than anything.

I’ve always loved working with Conte, it has the richness of black ink, without the dustiness of regular charcoal sticks.

Initially this work was planned as a portrait of my mother, with myself sitting in as the model for the photos. Nine hundred plus photos later, I finally had the shot I wanted to work from. The messaging, however, the real guts of what interests me is the investigation into the web of influences that are at play in our lives, and for this work in particular, how those influences ultimately affected her decisions in life, and the consequences of those decisions. The first image is of the intermediate state of the work, I knew I would initially set out to paint it as a rendered portrait. Once arrived there, the elements and my objective moved into the next phase; crafting my statement based on the degree of mystery vs directness, using formal elements as parallels. In the end, the finished work surprised me, it arrived as a result of satisfying all the criteria I held it up to, with an image that sits squarely in the realm I am the most at home with and the most resistant to getting to.

Cedar View Dr. Mpls. 1970 Acrylic on canvas, 60″ x 75″- November 26, 2021

Getting to a place where I was ready to paint about my childhood has taken decades. I admit I have found what seems to be a countless number of detours until I was exhausted enough to face the avoidance. But in retrospect, many of the works I have done of political personalities and environmental topics turned out to play an important role in what I have to say about the era I was raised in.

In 1970, my mother, two siblings and I were living in a duplex outside of Minneapolis. My mother had gone through a divorce when she was thirty, during a time when divorce was far less common and divorcees were viewed as cheap or less than married women. She got a job with the airlines working nights, and the three of us kids darn near raised ourselves-not terribly uncommon at the time. She smoked heavily, by her own admission considerably more than two and a half packs a day, a habit that not only drenched our family home with second hand smoke, but eventually led to her cause of death in 2017.

When I look back at those years I can’t help but be struck by the irony of the fad imagery in marketing of the time; smiley faces and brightly colored flower motifs. The pattern of propaganda though marketing cycles over and over through the lives of American citizens. Our failure to recognize it comes in part by its chameleon like characteristics in combination with a limited understanding of our own ability to be influenced or persuaded.

The primary hues in this work were two brilliant greens, Turquois Phthalo and Phthalo Green (yellow Shade). Nickel Azo Yellow was the primary yellow. Primary dark value washes were Carbon Black, Jenkins Green, and Prussian Blue. Neutral Gray Number 3, Permanent Maroon, and Light Green (yellow shade) also played major roles.

2 thoughts on “Painting Studio Blog”

  1. Marilyn, Remarkable and memorable paintings! I keep changing my mind on which of the four plus the drawing of your mother that moves me the most? When I close my eyes I see the color palette with the smoky greens and fused palette and the drawing of your mother-But the large horse painting really wins out. It’s different than a cave painting as a full body of the horse moves towards its freedom never losing its strength. My favorite horse painting since Picasso painted the “boy leading the horse”.
    Andrew Rodell

    1. Andrew, Thank you for your thoughtful comments! It means a lot to me that my work resonates with others since so much of the figurative work is personal to me. That you like the horse the best made me smile, I fight getting jaded with them as a subject 🙂 !

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