TW Column: Talking Art
By Judith A. Ross
One of the pleasures of studying an artist’s portfolio is observing how work can start in a very different place than where it ends up. The whimsical abstract paintings of Adria Arch, a featured artist in TW’s Summer 2011 issue, show this kind of evolution—and have an unusual source: her son’s high-school doodles.
This April, I met with Arch in her studio, located in the basement of her modest two-family house in Arlington, Massachusetts. With gray walls covered in artwork and floor space crowded with shelves and files, it’s a no-nonsense workspace.
Arch, on the other hand, has soft brown hair that frames her face and a vivid smile. Her comments were often punctuated by laughter as we discussed her most recent pieces. First off, she opened a spiral notebook to a page filled with school notes surrounded by spirals and diamonds.
“The work I’m doing now is based on my son’s doodles,” she says. “It’s abstract in the sense that it’s nonrepresentational, but the imagery is derived directly from his scribbles.”
After her son finished high school in 2004, Arch flipped through the notebooks he left behind, hoping they would unlock the mystery of his difficult teenage years. While his notebooks didn’t contain any clues, the doodles inspired her. “Doodles aren’t meant for anyone to see,” she says. “I love that naked, unpretentious, unself-conscious line.”
(She also says her son is now a happy adult and flattered to be the source of his mom’s inspiration.)
The doodles began appearing in her work in 2008. She’s currently working on pieces that feature black paint spills on white backgrounds. “There’s a similarity between these paint spills…and those scrawls that weren’t meant to be art,” she notes.
Arch is aiming for edginess: “I want people to feel off kilter; I don’t want them to say, ‘nice, pretty painting’ and walk right by. I want to grab them and pull them in with an unexpected color or an unexpected choice of shapes.”
Born in Niagara Falls, New York, Arch spent most of her childhood and adolescence in Pittsburgh. Even then, creating art mattered to her. (“When friends came over to play, I wanted to draw with them.”)
As an undergraduate, she majored in printmaking and painting, first at Rhode Island School of Design, then at Carnegie Mellon University. But she says her work didn’t mature until she went to grad school: “Learning to paint takes a long time. In college you’re just developing yourself, trying to figure out who you want to be in the world.”
Arch came to Boston in 1982, where she earned an MFA in painting from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. At the time, “I was doing humorous, satirical kinds of narrative painting,” she recalls, “gently poking fun at society and people.”
Like many working artists, she’s had to fit her art around another occupation. Arch also has a master’s degree in education, and for the past eight years, she’s been the education director for the Arlington Center for the Arts. (She’ll be leaving that post in July). At the Arlington Center, she’s hired teachers, planned classes for kids and adults, and run the summer vacation arts program.
In the summer program, children get a full day of art, including classes in drawing, drama, creative movement, and music. “It’s been very challenging, fun, and creative to build an arts program for kids that I feel is how it should be,” Arch says.
Most recently, she’s been painting murals. One of her first efforts graces the walls of the restroom at the Bromfield Gallery, an artist’s cooperative in Boston. She completed another mural at Lesley College in Cambridge (based on the doodles of Lesley students) and will undertake one this summer at the Danforth Museum in Framingham, Massachusetts.
When creating a mural, Arch enlarges the doodles on a copy machine and prints them on acetate. She then projects the images on the wall and manipulates them.
“I like paper,” she says, “but working big—it’s impossible to frame it, it’s unruly and unwieldy and difficult. I thought it would be so much fun to do a wall.”
Judith A. Ross is a contributing editor of Talking Writing.
“There are no shortcuts to well-executed art—be it painting, writing, music, or photography.”
—“Painting Over Mistakes on a Still-Wet Canvas“