Painting the Good Life
"Youth is wasted on the young," Irish-born writer George Bernard Shaw once said, and doesn't Roslyn Kirsch know it. "So many painters today, they have the look, the energy, and sometimes the talent, but they don't know what to do with it," the Palm Beach County artist intones gravely. "Too many of them have too much ego and not enough talent."
Ego was something Kirsch didn't have enough of when she was young. She remembers cringing as a timid teenager when her parents paraded her paintings for relatives. But the image immediately fades as Kirsch shows a visitor her paintings in her Boca Raton home; she exudes an ebullient confidence that she claims comes only with experience.
Kirsch, age 68, has been painting professionally all of her life, except for a significant hiatus. Marriage, a family, and her own skepticism about her abilities led to 15 years away from the canvas when she was in her twenties and thirties. "Some people go up into the loft and paint while their kids run around in dirty diapers. I didn't want to do that," she explains.
Instead Kirsch was a mother and an arts activist, raising two children while spearheading arts-fundraising activities in New York City, where she lived for more than 50 years. "It hurt a lot to take a layoff," she admits. Oddly enough, though, it was during this time that she developed the confidence that had eluded her. Coming into contact with other artists, some of whom had unusually high opinions of their own work, put her talents in perspective. "I thought to myself, I could do that," Kirsch recalls.
Known primarily for her landscapes, Kirsch focuses on capturing a sense of place. Her Florida work betrays an affinity for the state's flat landscape, its billowy clouds, and bright, hard sunlight. Other Florida scenes -- of people frolicking on the beach and fishing in the Everglades and of lush, lazy riverbanks -- grace her paintings, some of which are on display in the "Boca Raton Museum of Art School Faculty Exhibition." Twelve of her landscapes will go up at the Capitol Building in Tallahassee August 8.
"I've been accused of painting pretty pictures, as if it were a bad thing," Kirsch acknowledges. "Pretty can be good, too." Neither a tormented soul nor a denizen of the hipper-than-thou set, Kirsch is an anomalous figure in the art world. "Listen, everyone has some angst. I just don't like to hang it out on a clothesline," she says. "Everyone wants to be edgy, to be angry." While some artists do live a harder, darker life, most do not earn their tortured images. "A lot of it is posturing," she notes.
Along with confidence Kirsch has shored up on wisdom. She discusses with knowing assuredness the pitfalls of being sixtysomething in a field dominated by gloomy, snooty poseurs. "I've been called naive because of what I do," she says. Other artists "don't understand that I see the dark side. I know it's there. At the same time, there is also a lighter side, and that's what I try to capture."
This lightness emerges most eloquently in her paintings featuring people at leisure. Her work preserves fleeting moments of breezy, laid-back enjoyment: people lazing about in the sun, staring at sailboats, playing in the sand. The merry spirit of Renoir's scenes comes to mind, though Kirsch plays down the connection. "I wouldn't really say I've been influenced by one specific painter or school," she says.
Nonetheless, in its celebration of natural wonder and unabashed optimism, Kirsch's work attains an honesty and integrity that eludes many of her younger contemporaries. "To be cutting edge is not something I'm into," she claims. It's a fresh perspective that bubbles up from a simple formula. "I've lived a good life," she muses. "I've been lucky."
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