Studio Arts

Studio Arts

Interview with Aleta Pippin,
Fine Artist & Abstract Painter

How did you become a painter?

I became a painter quite by accident. Here’s what happened. I moved to Santa Fe in October 1991 from Houston, Texas. In Houston, I started my own business (not art-related) in 1984 and had grown it to three locations. Moving to Santa Fe was a lifestyle change. In Houston, I’d been living out of my DayTimer and after the move to Santa Fe simply didn’t have a clue what I’d do to occupy my time. Then i saw an ad for a painting class taught by Roberta Harris, a painter who had also lived in Houston. (Roberta has been in the art world since graduating from college.) I signed up for the class and enjoyed it. That class used acrylics and I wanted to learn to use oils, so tried them after the class ended. Since that time, I’ve tried watercolor and pastels, but always return to acrylics and oils as my medium of choice.

After taking that initial class, I went on to take several other workshops with various artists learning technique. I already knew how to draw, being very good at it as a child. One of the artists I used to spend time with suggested doing life-drawing and got me started with that. It’s a good exercise and I do it every now and then, just not of interest as experimenting with materials doing the abstract paintings.,/p>

How did you develop the skills you have today? Did you have a formal education?

I’d say that I’m self-taught. As mentioned, I did take various workshops with artists whose style I liked. Then in 1994, I met Alexander Shundi, a graduate of Yale and an artist. Though I’m not attracted to his art, he is brilliant, extremely knowledgeable about art and art history. When I met him, I was mostly painting faces and once-in-awhile, a landscape; very representational. Alex helped me to move into abstraction. At first the paintings were very organic; I’d follow the images that would show themselves in the paint. I’d accentuate those imaginary forms and usually what evolved were plant-like forms. They were a bit surreal. I did stay with it, though, and eventually developed my voice.

How did you break into the industry?

In 1995 I’d painted a few of the plant-like form paintings and was accepted into a coop gallery called Gallery 822. I got an article in the local Pasatiempo, Friday night’s guide to what’s happening. As a result of that article, another gallery in town began showing my work. At that time I was hungry for representation, so didn’t really consider whether my work fit in the gallery environment.

Describe your creative process. Where do you start?

I continually experiment and am evolving with my work. I cannot do the same process over and over; it doesn’t suit my personality. Sometimes I paint in oils with a palette knife in very sheer glazes of color. I sand between layers and add more color, sometimes as much as 30-50 layers. The medium I use has resin in it creating a shiny surface.

At one time, I was painting acrylics on Yupo paper, affixing the paper to panels and covering them with epoxy resin. I quit using the resin for several years, to return to it a couple of years ago. I don’t use it all of the time, just when I think it enhances the image. Last year I started to use brushes again after a 10 plus year hiatus; don’t use them all of the time though. I just love to experiment. I use gold metal leaf, acrylics, oils and resin – moving between the various media depending upon my mood and the effect I want to achieve.

I continually experiment and am evolving with my work. I cannot do the same process over and over; it doesn’t suit my personality.

What influences have impacted your artistic style?

My style was slow to develop. My mentor Alex Shundi had a huge impact on my thinking as an artist. He aspires to an artist’s lofty life of doing the art for didactic reasons. Eventually I came to realize that I was doing my art because it was pleasing to me AND I wanted to sell it. I wanted to walk that line between experimentation and doing artwork that is attractive to collectors. As I moved away from Shundi’s influence, I began to develop my voice. I’d say that is still occurring – I am constantly looking for another image, a different process, another way with the question of what inspires me the work.

How important is marketing to the success of your business? What strategies have been the most effective for you?

As an entrepreneur prior to becoming an artist, I recognized that marketing is essential in any endeavor. It was and still is interesting to me that those who are pursuing a career in the arts don’t seem to understand that they are entrepreneurs, that their success lies in their hands, not the hands of the gallery director/owner.

In 2003 when I decided to really focus on the sale of my work, I joined the Santa Fe Society of Artists. That group does outdoor shows every weekend beginning the end of April through the middle of October. I participated in those shows beginning in 2004. The first year, I sold $40,000 of artwork. I thought that pretty good for my first year. I also applied and did some out of town shows. Doing shows is a difficult proposition, it is a lot of work and expense. The upside is that it helps you to determine whether your art is attractive to collectors. It also assists you in determining whether your art has reached a quality that is considered to be good enough to be accepted into shows.

Of course, the internet is the biggest advantage to any artist, as well as social media, like Facebook. Staying in touch with your collectors and developing that relationship is key to becoming successful, particularly over the long-term.

What is your favorite thing about being a maker? About being an artist?

As an abstract painter I’m creating my world. It’s a world of the imagination. I love working with color, a natural for me. I love that I’m creating something from nothing; where there was once a blank canvas, a colorful word appears that will live after I’m gone.

If you had to do it all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

In 2006 I opened a gallery with another artist. That gallery has been successful and it was a learning experience for me. My business partner is an impressionist painter and paints images that tend to be regional and highly collectable. I’m an abstract artist and my work appeals to a broader market, though that does’t always equate to immediate monetary success. I believed that my business partner would sell more work than me (which if you reread my philosophy, that can become a reality of my own making), but didn’t feel that her success would be detrimental to me. After opening the gallery, our first year, she did sell more, but not substantially more. However, her sales continued to increase while mine languished. As a result, I began to question whether I should consider changing my style to something with recognizable form. After much soul-searching, I’d return to painting my abstract work, but that went on for three years. Eventually, I came to the realization that it wasn’t my art. The environment simply had become one that wasn’t the best fit for my artistic style.

I think that is a difficult situation for artists who have attained a level of success, yet want more. Sometimes they are accepted into and commit to a gallery environment that doesn’t necessarily work for their artistic style. That doesn’t mean the art isn’t sellable, it just means it’s not clicking with that gallery’s audience. I think we intuitively know that, but we’re so eager to be included in the gallery that we ignore our intuition.

We have to believe in ourselves and our art. We have to be willing to continually experiment, to have the desire to improve, and to be unafraid of taking risks with our art. Those are the beliefs I wished I’d developed earlier. However, as a person who is in her fourth career, I do know that if you remain focused you will eventually succeed, the timing may just not be as you had envisioned.
  • Tammi Edwards
    Tammi Edwards

    Author, Journalist & Art Enthusiast | Tammi Edwards is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) where she earned two Bachelor's Degrees, and later a Juris Doctor (JD). Her interest in an artistic career took root while an undergraduate at UCSB when the LaBelle Modeling Agency contracted her as a model & voiceover talent.