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Landing on Her Feet

Transplanted artist Victoria Chick prepares for a life of fulltime artistry.

By Donna Clayton Lawder

 

Those cats!

It seems Silver City artist Victoria Chick just can't get away from them: In her home and through her art, the engaging, decidedly playful felines seem to be everywhere these days.

Artist Victoria Chick by one of her works hanging in
Last Day in Paradise gallery.

This month's cover artist currently lives with several of the live variety underfoot at home—cats that she jokes "have traded their feral ways for a regular meal and modeling opportunities"—and says she has lived with as many as nine at one time. She says the expressive cat images for which she has become known developed out of self-defense.

"I was doing a lot of landscape and figure painting when I lived near Kansas City and my cats began to be underfoot in my studio. I figured if I couldn't discourage them I might as well draw them," she says with a laugh. "So my involvement with cat images really began with gesture paintings on paper."

Though she doesn't want to be known exclusively for the cat images in her art, Chick admits they have brought her some positive attention. Some of her cat paintings currently are hanging at the Last Day in Paradise gallery on Texas Street in Silver City, and also at the Mimbres Region Arts Council's current show in the Wells Fargo bank building, an exhibit by the local San Vicente Artists group (through July). One of Chick's feline images was chosen as "best cat image of the year," and was featured on the poster for the Cat Writer's Association.

But don't call her "a cat artist."

"I don't think of myself as a 'painter of cats,' even though cat images figure prominently in my work," Chick says, explaining that she uses the feline form to express the human condition. The body language and the relationship of the cat to other images in the picture plane is what interests her, she says, and she "develops rhythm in the painting by a repetition of sinuous lines and shapes."

And her imagery certainly is not limited to felines. Horses, another love of hers, are the prime image on a number of canvases, and Chick says she was profoundly influenced by her experiences as a registered art therapist in Kansas City, adding a unique representation of human forms in her work as well.

"Many of the people I worked with (as a therapist) were non-verbal, so I learned to pay attention to their body language and found it to be incredibly eloquent," she says. She deliberately paints her figures so that the subjects' faces don't show, obscuring individual identity so the viewer of the image can respond to the gestures of the forms and the emotional tensions they create.

"I try to make my images clear and powerful while at the same time keeping them open enough so each viewer has their own strong sense of relationship with the gestures depicted," she explains.

 

Born in St. Paul, Minn., but a long-time California resident, Chick and her husband, Michael Dowd—high school sweethearts who found each other again a little further down the road—moved to Silver City last Halloween.

"We made sure we had some candy in the house so we'd be ready for trick-or-treaters," she remembers with a laugh.

They are living temporarily in a home in downtown Silver City while building another in Arenas Valley. Already constructed on the property and of particular importance, Chick says, is the outbuilding that is "half barn, half workshop." It will provide space for her four horses (now boarded), her husband's car-restoration hobby, and her own painting studio.

Having worked as a college art instructor and art therapist, Chick says she is excited about the chance to work, for the first time in her life, solely as an artist.

The couple chose Silver City after a couple of trips to the area, and selected the small town primarily based on its strong artist community, Chick says. "One of the things that impressed me about Silver City is how I saw the visual arts being respected," she says. "In many other so-called 'arts towns,' the visual arts are an ignored stepchild. (In other places) it's the performing arts that take center stage, but that's not what I saw here," she adds, commenting on the large number of high-quality galleries in town. "Also, there seems to be a great amount of cooperation between artists and between galleries, something you don't often see."

In addition to numerous college and university shows in Missouri and California, and commercial galleries in New York and New Mexico, Chick's work has been included in shows at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Albrecht-Kemper Art Museum, both in Missouri, and in the Oceanside Museum of Art in California. She was a guest artist at The Birger Sandzen Memorial Art Gallery in Lindsborg, Kansas.

Chick earned a BA from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and a master's degree in fine art from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. The young graduate needed work and was eager to teach, and found herself in the developing field of art therapy. Though she remembers "not getting a lot of painting done in those first 10 years," Chick was thankful to have a deeply rewarding day job and experiences that touched her human soul and served to develop her artistry, as well.

Chick says that early on, like many young art students, she painted to please her teachers, a fact that she has come to value highly in her evolution both as a teacher of art and as an artist. "It did give me a proficiency in a lot of approaches that allowed me in later years to help my own students who were interested in going in a direction other than mine," she says.

Thinking back on her art education, she remembers a pivotal experience on a high school trip to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Gazing upon a new painting by Richard Diebenkorn, she was suddenly struck and thought to herself, "This is what painting is! The paint itself was juicy and rich, and the energy of Diebenkorn working could be seen in the brushstrokes and the accidental dribbles. I knew I wanted to be a painter," she recalls.

Settling into her new hometown, building a new home, Chick reflects on her new beginning as a full-time artist and the importance of art in her life.

"When you look at enough art you get a sense of what is authentic. By that I mean a feeling that the artist has a strong conviction about communication going way beyond just the ability to reproduce a likeness or to use the elements of art to make a good design, as important as those things are. I think an example of this is the universal response people have to folk art, or outsider art like the work of Bill Traylor, who was so driven to communicate he used tar when he didn't have housepaint.

"Someday, I would like to have people look at my work and decide, 'She had something to say.'"

 

Victoria Chick's work can be seen at Last Day in Paradise, 211-B N. Texas in Silver City, as well as at Santa Ysabel Art Gallery in San Ysabel, Calif. For more information, contact the artist at 534-4680 or vcartcat@hotmail.com.

 

Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure.

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