Catherine Copeland - Feb 13, 2018

My Art Factory Story, by Artist Catherine Copeland

 

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My love affair with the most inspiring studio spaces in which I have ever worked began in Spring of 2012. My husband and I had just moved to Ridgewood, NJ, with our two young children. While the rest of my family soon took to the beautiful surroundings and family life there, I was feeling agitated. I had left a home studio in Hackensack,

 

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and was feeling the anxiety of not engaging my daily art practice. But beyond the logistics of not having a work space, I had moved yet another few towns further from my beloved New York City, and was still missing my creative life in Hoboken from years earlier. It seemed I was moving further and further from some creative source, and although I was not yet fully cognizant of it, my creative self was slowly dying in the homogeneity of the suburbs.

I was supposed to be stronger than that. My art was supposed to shine through the monotony of laundry, homework, and cooking obligations. I was supposed to be like the great formal inventor Elizabeth Murray, and pull from my domestic sphere the golden stardust of Inspiration, molding it into all forms of fresh plasticity. I tried to summon the Muse at the beginning of each day by drawing, and that helped, but painting for me is quite a unique enterprise, and involves the odors of paint and solvents, the smearing of the primordial ooze, the grand mistakes that bring bottomless possibility. Meanwhile, my beautiful children were growing up, and while I reminded myself to enjoy every moment with them, I still felt hollow inside. I needed to find an inspiring work space.

I began to look at studios: in Prospect Park, Passaic, and East Orange. They were great spaces run by wonderful people, and I would have been grateful to work in any one of them. After my husband found the Art Factory, however, my interest was piqued. It was located in a historic district of a real city. This city had grit, a diverse community, a rich industrial and artistic history. It would mean stepping into a new expression of myself—perhaps one with which I was wholly unfamiliar.

After visiting the Art Factory creative work spaces, I could not ignore the surge of excitement. It was like a friend had described Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the 1990's: raw and burgeoning. Open and sparkling with a dark dust that could at once fill the void and choke you up. I was smitten, even though I didn't fully realize it yet. My relationship with Paterson and the Art Factory was to unfold and grow in depth from that moment in April, 2012, until the present day.

My first space at Art Factory was at the Totowa Avenue building. It was a huge space. I was there at the beginning of the big brand name: TheArtFactory. The spaces were completely raw, of varying proportions,  each with 18\20 foot ceilings and factory windows to make you weep. I had never had a studio so large and beautiful:

 

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During my year there, I began to create my mature working language, where I combine panels of paintings—some abstract and others representational—into new wholes. I call this process "divergent thinking." I am curious about how we hold divergent thoughts in our minds at the same time. It seems that we do this all the time, in a million moments of our day, yet we crave the sanity of a whole picture. I began by taking old paintings I had brought in boxes and combining them on the wall. I joined some of them with hinges, and they opened like an accordion or Japanese screen. Here are a few examples of work from 2013:

 

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After a while, I decided I wanted to be closer to the ArtFactory vibe, and took a space at 70 Spruce Street. It was a dream location, close to the Falls and the creative hub of the Art Factory, and yet another stunning studio space, this time with a view of downtown Paterson, with all its domes and cathedrals:

 

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I got to know my new neighbors. There were producers, dancers, musicians and photographers, startups, and large NY crew production daily members. Most film production crews leave props behind,  and one morning, I found a disco ball by the trash outside. It reminded me of my clubbing days. There it lay on the wet ground, a nostalgic emblem of my youth. I took it into the studio and hung it up. Next, my pink lovebirds from Mexico came into the picture. I was constructing a narrative of love and loss and fantasy that would become my Parallel Narratives Series: 25 diptych paintings that resulted in my first solo exhibition, held in Piermont, NY, at Gitana Rosa Gallery.

 

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My family life has changed dramatically since my husband's cancer diagnosis. I had to leave my Art Factory studio to care for him. He is getting stronger, though we still face an uncertain outcome. I worry daily for my children, Hana, 13 and Alec, 11. They deserve their father for at least half their lifetime. I've gone back to teaching, becoming certified for K-12 Language Arts and awaiting certification in Art. But the most amazing thing happened this past November: I obtained yet another inspiring Art Factory studio space. This one is quieter, insular, and it's working its own peculiar magic on my work. The paintings are darker, more dense. They no doubt hold the gravitas of my current mood, and they also hold the particular vibe of this new, dramatic studio space: My Studio will be open to all visitors for The Art Walk 2018

 

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Here is the current work that is emerging. It feels endless and bottomless, like I could make them forever:

 

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Written by Catherine Copeland