GREAT BARRINGTON -- Sitting on the vintage sofa in Marilyn Kalish's Railroad Street studio last September, surrounded by her art and a bunch of her favorite items, I was surprised to learn she used to have an aversion to color and beauty. This accomplished artist, whose work has been sold through Christie's Auction House and hangs in the homes of a few celebrities (Alec Baldwin, but whose naming names?), used to work only in black and white.
"I stayed away from color for many, many years because I knew I could dazzle and infatuate very quickly," she says. "Color has its own language, and I didn't want the influence of it."
Kalish's new exhibit, "She Came to Stay," opens at The Vault Gallery, 322 Main Street, on July 2. (The show will run through July 31, and there will be a champagne reception on Saturday, July 7, from 5 to 8 p.m.)
As Kalish matured, both as a woman and as an artist, she began surrounding herself with beautiful objects -- a rotund bishop enameled in red sits on a table overlooking her workspace, a funky leopard chair greets visitors at the front door, and delicate orchids are displayed throughout the studio. Their bold and delicate hues have made their way onto Marilyn's canvases.
"I realized this bridge of artists that came before us -- Matisse, Rothko, or further back, Manet, Monet, on and on," she says. Kalish's "Paris" series is anything if not colorful. Her calm,
"When I read about Paris in my childhood journals I immediately saw the colors again," she explains. "The series was more about color than it was about Paris. I needed an entre to experiment with color. Now I have no questions about it, but I'm a minimalist and less is more." Kalish's recent work is especially evocative. The series of portraits was inspired by the loss of her brother last winter.
The artist and I sat down again last winter, exchanged greetings, and then condolences (I had loved someone over the winter, too). We immediately dove into a passionate discussion about art, emotion, parenting and creating balance in our lives -- you'd never have known nine months has passed since talking last. We eventually got around to talking about Kalish's latest portrait series.
"I experienced the loss, and everything changed for me after that," Kalish said. "My work changed. I was changed." In fact, Kalish recalled one condolescence note from a friend who quoted a Yeats poem -- "change, utterly."
"I thought ‘That's it!' The next day, my work changed," she says. The series got positive feedback, especially in Europe. She'd struck a universal truth - pain and loss. "We've all experienced it, or we're going to experience it," she says. "I've always tried hard to be as authentic as I possibly can be. I know when I'm being honest in my work. I've been doing this for so many years, now at mid-career, the question is ‘If not now, when?' And boom, I just hit my purpose."
Kalish has come home as an artist in more ways than one. Both her grandfather and mother were portrait artists. After years of "experimenting," she is doing what her grandfather and mother before her did, and that's just fine.
"When people come into my studio, they'll see a piece of work and ask, ‘How long did that take to make?' The answer is always the same. ‘My whole life,'" Kalish says. "I'm home with this series. I'm absolutely home," she says with the confidence of someone who no longer questions who she is as an artist. "It doesn't feel celebratory. It just feels right."