from an artist talk about a Mother & Daughter show in 2019
i’m really happy to introduce this intergenerational show. You’re going to see three generations of painting by this family - the Shishko family. Ellen has been here three years. We knew that she was an artist, and then shortly after that we found out that her daughter’s an artist. So we want to have Ellen talk a little bit about her paintings and her painting career, and then have her daughter talk about her painting and her painting career.
Thank you. I think I know everybody here, which is unusual. [laughs] I would not have been showing any of my paintings had it not been for Adrienne, also known as my daughter. I never had the balls to show my paintings. I mean, they hung in my house, in my studio, but I never hung them outside. When Adrienne said that she had set us up, I thought, “Well - you’re never too old to try new things”. And this is a new thing for me! I had no idea what paintings she had of mine, because having moved from a big house to a two-room apartment, I had very few paintings with me. But Adrienne showed me these two paintings, which are my father’s. Now I started him painting. When I was 17, he was a photographer. I said, “You know, you have such a good eye - you need to paint.” And I got him some paints, and he started taking classes. And that was that - he kept painting for as long as he continued living. And I didn’t know that Adrienne had those two paintings of his, which I loved seeing. And the paintings I have here, which I haven’t seen in a long time, are really interesting, and Adrienne’s as well. I really don’t know that I need to speak any longer except if there are questions, fine - but I”m not going anywhere. So I’m going to turn it over to Adrienne, who really is the chief. [applause]
Thanks Mom! I’m honored that this many people came out today — it’s amazing to have this many people be able to engage with our work, because when you make it on your own, it’s satisfying, but the engagement with other people in the conversation about your work is really what gives it meaning.
I want to thank the Stringhams for suggesting we do this - when my mom first came up here [to Boston], I thought that would be fun to do — and then I thought, how? Logistically it can be hard to figure out where and when. And when they suggested it, it sort of emerged organically, which made it that much more fun, because it wasn’t hard, it just happened really easily. So to have this venue and all of you to engage with us is really fabulous.
People always ask me when I started making art, and the interesting thing is — seriously only about 11 years, but a little bit all my life. I certainly remember seeing my mom make art all her life. It’s very interesting the memories we have of our childhood and our past — she remembers making art more recently, but as a kid I remember she was welding with blowtorches on the patio in Miami! Whose mom does that? I didn’t do anything with it, but it was always around. It wasn’t really a conversation, it was always sort of the stew we were steeping in but not the direct recipe. We just knew that was there and something you could do. I went to law school, became a parent, became a personal trainer, and then became an artist — it’s a classic path. [laughter]
I do think that is reflective of this stew — curiosity and the ability to make change and try different things. And trying not to have too much fear. I knew she hadn’t shown her work, so it’s great we pushed her out of that nest. You learn generationally, and part of my showing my work early was that I didn’t want to be too afraid. There was always art around, there was curiosity, and little by little, as my kids got more grown, I had a friend who was also a former lawyer and said “Let’s take an art class.” And from there, 12 years ago, I’m here. It’s been quite a delightful journey.
Being able to put the artwork up with my mom’s and now with my grandfather’s has allowed me to really look at what the threads are and how we got here. When I’m looking at the conversation among all these paintings, there’s certainly themes, commonalities, even when I look at these two of my grandfather’s which I’ve had in my house. There’s a variety of styles, all different techniques, subject matter, and for me being able to change on a dime and do whatever I want on a given day is a great blessing. And my attention span is such that it allows me to move and do different things. So being able to put all this different work up, which reflects different explorations is really delightful.
The most significant thing out there is the self-portrait my mom did, the big black and white one, which is adjacent to a painting of mine that has those little crocheted granny squares. It’s called evidence of another life, and what’s significant about it is those granny squares were stuff I’d dug up when we were packing up her house and moving Mom up here. She didn’t really remember making them, but it was one of the many directions she’d explored. So when I came back, I knew I needed to use that somehow.
So that for me is a lovely segue into being here — this is evidence of her other life, that you otherwise wouldn’t know, because she’s been hiding it. It also was the start of my work with fiber. You saw the totems I have, and those started when I was packing up her stuff, and found all these fabulous pieces of clothing, that were worn at a wedding, or things that I identified as moments in her life that she wasn’t wearing anymore or that my father, who died in 1979, obviously was no longer wearing. But I didn’t know what to do — it didn’t feel like trash, but what are you gonna do? Hang it, keep it in a box? What do you do with it?
So I ended up choosing a few of them and cutting them and knitting them into very loose shaped wall-hangings. They were sort of shapeshifters, and for me they spoke to the ability for us to change who we are. Each of you, I’m sure has changed your identity, or is in a different place, you know — what do you wear, what do you put on, what does that mean for who you are at any moment? So it’s been really fun and that work with the fiber continues.
Ultimately those totems started because I was thinking about form. Clothing is about shape, and we drape it on our bodies, but I didn’t want to make direct figures. I was thinking about Giaocometti, and other forms where you just get the essence — I wanted to evoke a being. So they’re playful, but they also reflect my concern about the environment. When I was a lawyer, I worked in environmentally responsible investing, and we live in a time when fast fashion is what happens. Having young daughters, you know, it’s quick and it’s easy, you go in and buy something and then you throw it out. We’re drowning in the amount of clothing that we have. So it was a way for me to say how can I keep these concerns present? There’s just an abundance of clothing, what are we doing with it, how do we think about the consequences when we buy something? So it has shifted my consciousness about consumption — I love to shop, but I really think more about how it looks like everything else in the bags that my friends have given me for this artwork. So they’re really about engaging people in a joyful way.
I realized in a dream recently that a book I loved reading with the kids was The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. It’s about the danger to the environment. Basically, they’re cutting down Truffula Trees to make Thneeds, and they’re “biggering and biggering” and it’s about more and more and getting business, and the consequences are the Truffula Trees disappear, and there are a lot of Thneeds. And I thought — what are Thneeds? They look like oversized sweaters in the book. All of a sudden it came to me — they’re things you don’t need. I think that’s what it is, that’s what it seems to me to be.
So I’m kind of inverting it — and this is not intentional, I started to understand what it’s about halfway through making it — I’m making Truffula Trees out of Thneeds. So I’ve reversed that. I have lots more, which are populating my home, and hopefully when people engage with them there’s joy and some consciousness about the implications of our consumption but done in a way that’s not like you’re drowning and it’s so overwhelming that you can’t think about it. So that’s what those pieces are about.
It’s wonderful to share my grandfather’s work and my mom’s, and that’s all I have to say but I’m happy to answer any questions! Thanks you.