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MEG TORBERT


MEG TORBERT


This catalog was published in conjunction with the Meg Torbert retrospective exhibition at Marcia Burtt Studio, August, 2007 Front cover: Lagoon 2001 36 x 48 inches Private collection Back cover: Under the Noonday Sun 1988 36 x 32 inches Private collection

Š 2007 Marcia Burtt Studio All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Printing: Haagen Printing, Santa Barbara Photography: William B. Dewey: cover, pages 3, 7 (Agapanthus 2), 1013, 15-17, 20, 22, 23, 25, 26, 28, 30-32, 34, 35, 39-41, 44-62 Special thanks: Pearl Gato

Distributor: Marcia Burtt Studio 517 Laguna Street Santa Barbara, CA 93101

ISBN 978-0-9797852-0-7


Meg at Ninety Marcia Burtt 2002, acrylic 20 x 30 inches Collection of Meg Torbert

SPEAKING WITH MEG TORBERT July, 2007

Marcia Burtt: Tell me how you begin a painting. Meg Torbert: That’s a strange question, because I don’t have any special way of starting a painting. Sometimes I don’t have an idea in my head and I start putting paint on canvas, and sometimes, more recently, I have some issue that I’m very concerned about, and so I start thinking about that as I work. You’re saying you sometimes work from an idea and sometimes you’re working from the paint you put down initially. Do you also work from photographs or from life? I worked from life until it became too difficult to carry all my equipment around, so then I started taking photographs, and other painters gave me photographs they had used, and these gave me a start. I never thought of them as a crutch, but if I hadn’t had those it would have been more difficult for me to start a painting. Would you say you paint intuitively? I think so, more than from an idea. And yet it sounds as if ideas are crucial to what you do? Yes, but at some point the paint takes over and I respond intuitively to it. Do current events or the political situation affect or inspire your work? They have, but I’d say it was a minor influence artistically even though it was very important in my life. More often it was the paint itself that was my interest. Do you approach a still-life painting differently from a non-objective painting? What makes one or the other happen? It is a very different approach. If I have a vase of flowers in front of me it’s visually exciting. It doesn’t mean I’m painting in a realistic way, but I find it thrilling to work within the limits of what I see in that thing. Does a non-objective painting take more discipline or courage to begin? I find it more difficult to approach a non-objective painting. Working from life is easy in itself because it’s like knowing a person; you respond easily to what you love.

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And when you love something, that comes through in your work? That’s what I hope. But whether a painting is somewhat realistic or looks non-objective, all my paintings have meaning to me. Sometimes I may begin a painting from life and it becomes non-objective. My more representational paintings all have an abstract or imaginative element. But chances are if I start out painting a vase of sunflowers, the painting will have sunflowers in it when it’s finished. What prompts you to paint over a completed painting? Penury! I don’t think I’ve ever thrown away a canvas. Why do you rework a picture, sometimes for many months? If I’m not satisfied with a painting, I just keep working on it until I am. Eventually the painting just feels finished. What artists have most influenced you? It changes at various periods. My first love was Van Gogh. The Century of Progress World’s Fair was held in Chicago in 1933 and there was a large exhibition of his paintings there. The great humanity of his work attracted me, as well as his intense and moving use of color. Of course, all the moderns influenced me. I was very intrigued by Cezanne, “the father of us all,” as Matisse or Picasso said. The way he organized space fascinated me and he is probably the only artist whose work I tried consciously to emulate. I also felt that Hans Hoffmann, who came to Minnesota early in his American career, handled spatial relations in a very interesting way. I attended a number of Hoffmann’s lectures around that time. There was a period when Max Beckmann was in the foreground of my consciousness after I saw a marvelous exhibition in Minneapolis in the 1930s. I was more excited by those paintings than any exhibition I’ve seen since. Also I have long admired the paintings of Bonnard and Matisse. Lately, I’ve looked at a lot of Richard Diebenkorn paintings. What was it about those artists that influenced you? I felt a kind of love between us.

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Santa Barbara Landscape I 1979 12 x 10 inches Private collection


APPRECIATING MEG TORBERT MEG TORBERT painted her first watercolor in an adult education class when she retired after 45 years as a teacher, designer, editor and curator. The year was 1979 and Meg was nearly 70 years old. When I met Meg and saw her acrylic paintings in Robert Frame’s class at Santa Barbara City College the following year, I had no idea how rapidly her work would progress or what a great influence her approach to painting would become for me. Meg was born in Faribault, Minnesota, in 1912, and went through school in Minneapolis. She graduated with a bachelor of science degree in art after three years at the University of Minnesota, then earned a master’s degree in psychology and art at the University of Iowa. Her first job was teaching art at the college level in the small town of Dillon, Montana. During the forties Meg married and moved to Texas where her husband was stationed during WWII. Her daughter Stephanie, now a noted photographer, was born in 1945. By 1950 Meg and her family were back in Minneapolis. Meg was hired by the Walker Art Center as associate editor for the magazine that later would be called Design Quarterly. She soon became editor of the magazine and also design curator at the Walker, editing the magazine for twelve years. She traveled twice to Japan in 1959-60 to visit craftsmen and collect objects for “Japan: Design Today,” sponsored by the Japanese government and the Smithsonian Institution. She also designed and curated many exhibitions of art and craft from Europe and the United

States and got to know through their work, and sometimes in person, Adolph Gottlieb, David Smith, Philip Guston, Marcel Breuer, Robert Arneson, Robert Motherwell and dozens of other influential 20th century artists and craftsmen. On leave from the Walker, Meg designed a two-thousand room teaching and experimental building for the Mayo Memorial Medical Center; eventually she worked full-time as a free-lance interior designer. A lifetime of looking at paintings and talking to artists gave Meg a lot of art historical background and yet, in spite of her depth of knowledge, she was able to restrain her intellectual side and to handle paint with an almost child-like love of the material, bringing ideas and criticism to her work only when quietly regarding a painting from ten or twelve feet away, seated in a comfortable chair. After five or ten minutes of thought, she would stride to the easel and make a few strokes or sometimes scumble over half the picture with a neutral color. Meg entered into the world of each painting, sometimes obsessively so. For her the act of painting became a dialogue with the painting itself. It spoke to her and she responded by moving, covering, or adding something. Accidental paint strokes evoked images she made more explicit. The painting came alive for both Meg and the observer. It was beautiful to watch. There seemed to be two parts of Meg involved in creating a painting: a free spirit, spontaneously scrubbing on color and reacting sensuously to the beauty in a vase of flowers or a photograph or just the

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lushness of paint itself; and an obsessive critic seeing opportunities and imagery waiting to come out, covering over the easy parts, making things complex and then simple again. Routinely she would paint a canvas in a single session. I’d come back the next day to find it completely obscured by something quite different. The following week, a third painting would be in progress on the same canvas. I remember a huge diptych Meg painted over and over in a series of apparently finished works that morphed into each other for nearly a year. For her there was never artist’s block, there was only doing it again. One of the qualities I have most admired about Meg as an artist is her lack of inertia. By that I mean that Meg has never regarded anything she creates as being too precious to change if it needs to be changed. I wrested Cliff from Meg one afternoon because I loved it and knew if she

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kept the painting it would be gone the next day. Not long ago I found two slides I didn’t recognize in my files and slowly came to realize they were two versions of the same painting. Neither was titled. Later I discovered an exhibition announcement from 1991 with the finished painting, named Coincidence, on it. The white flower on the right of state 1 was retained in the second version of the painting but eradicated in the final work. The sunflower that appears on the left of the second state was carried through to the final painting. The spacing of the flowers, overall dimensions, and small bits of the painting retained from one state to the next make it clear these three images were painted serially on the same canvas. It’s also clear there were other undocumented versions before any of these. Another sign of Meg’s need to do it again and again was that she created dozens if not hundreds of flower paintings—proteas, agapan-


thus, iris and sunflowers—in small, medium and heroic formats, in vases or entwined in imaginary settings. I am fortunate in having been able to exhibit Meg’s paintings since 2000; before that Meg showed her work at the Maggi Hutchins Gallery in Cambria, now sadly defunct, and at the incomparable Elizabeth Fortner Gallery in Santa Barbara, also now long gone. These women first appreciated the whimsy and brilliance of Meg Torbert’s work. – Marcia Burtt

Opposite page From left: Coincidence, state 1 Coincidence, state 2 Coincidence 1991 36 x 30 inches Private collection This page Left: Agapanthus I 1999 14 x 11 inches Private collection Right: Agapanthus 2 1999 12 x 9 inches Private collection

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PAINTINGS Acrylic unless otherwise noted


Red Cow 1987 30 x 30 inches Private collection

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Magnolias 1988 39 x 36 inches Private collection

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Under the Noonday Sun 1988 36 x 32 inches Private collection

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Flower Field II 1989 18 x 18 inches Private collection

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July Bouquet 1989 30 x 30 inches Private collection

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Iris in a Sunny Window 1991 30 x 30 inches Private collection

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Flying Flowers 1990 36 x 30 inches Private collection

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Villa Constance c. 1989 36 x 30 inches Collection of the artist

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Summer on the Lake c. 1990 48 x 36 inches Collection of the artist

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In the Garden Shadow 1991 40 x 30 inches Private collection

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Ikebana c. 1992 24 x 12 inches Private collection

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Abstraction I c. 1992 36 x 36 inches Private collection

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Landscape Abstraction c. 1992 30 x 30 inches Private collection

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Still Life with Lemons 1993 24 x 20 inches Private collection

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Red Square 1993 24 x 20 inches Private collection

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Herbaceous Border c. 1994 24 x 24 inches Private collection

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Poppies c. 1994 30 x 30 inches Private collection

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Summer c. 1994 48 x 30 inches Private collection

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Helianthus c. 1994 48 x 30 inches Private collection

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This Page: Samothrace c. 1994 36 x 32 inches Collection of the artist Opposite: Water Meadow c. 1995 30 x 40 inches Private collection

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Approaching Murano 1995 32 x 32 inches Private collection

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Postcard to Bubba 1995 36 x 30 inches Collection of the artist

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Opposite: Shannon 1996 36 x 48 inches Collection of the artist This Page: Vault c. 1996 36 x 30 inches Private collection

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Protea 1997 30 x 22 inches Private collection

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Protea in a Round Vase 1996 30 x 30 inches Private collection

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Pg. 36: On the Balcony c. 1994 30 x 36 inches Private collection Pg. 37: Celebration c. 1996 30 x 36 inches Private collection Opposite: Prairie Grasses, Faribault 1997 36 x 36 inches Collection of Sarah House This Page: Eucalyptus and Vista 1997 40 x 36 inches Collection of Vista del Monte

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Moon over Vista 1999 32 x 32 inches Private collection

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Earth Mother 1999 48 x 36 inches Private collection

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Écluse 1999 Left, 48 x 48 inches Right, 48 x 36 inches Private collection

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Opposite: Lagoon 2001 36 x 48 inches Private collection This page: Cliff 2003 24 x 24 inches Private collection

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This Page: Fire Lagoon 2005 40 x 36 inches Private collection Opposite: Wish You Were Here 1999 36 x 48 inches Private collection

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This page: Toro 2001 48 x 48 inches Collection of the artist Opposite: Isolde 2003 30 x 48 inches Collection of the artist

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On the Way 2001 30 x 30 inches Private collection

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Moonlit Night 2001 32 x 32 inches Private collection

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This page: Blumenst端ck 2005 24 x 20 inches Opposite left: Spring 2005 24 x 20 inches Opposite right: Three Graces 2005 24 x 20 inches All works collection of the artist

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Pierrot 2005 12 x 12 inches Collection of the artist

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Light in the Woods 2005 30 x 30 inches Private collection

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This page: After the Flood 2005 24 x 24 inches Private collection Opposite Page: Three Billion Years 2005 30 x 36 inches Collection of the artist

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Foul Play 2005 24 x 48 inches Collection of the artist

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9/11 2005 30 x 24 inches Private collection

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Opposite page: Family Portrait 2005 30 x 36 inches Collection of the artist This page: Cabaret 2005 30 x 30 inches Private collection

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This Page: Melting 2005 40 x 30 inches Collection of the artist Opposite: Seasons of a Life 2005 30 x 40 inches Private collection

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Acknowledgments THIS VOLUME owes its life to the unstinting help and expertise of an anonymous friend as well as to the generous advice of Jane Dini. Thank you. Grateful thanks also to Nan Withington, Jane Sun, Meredith Abbott, Elizabeth Fortner, Carol Gray, Marie Campbell, Stephanie Torbert, Carol and Rudy Schroeer, Becky and Peter Adams, Mary and Jim Torres, Laura Haston and Frank Davis, Mary Racich, Hope Cull, Debra Hollern, Patricia Doyle, Nola and Carl Stucky, Karen Dellabarca, Whitney Abbott, Marilyn Bender, and Brooke Garlock.


ISBN 978-0-9797852-0-7


Meg Torbert Catalog