Today’s Feature – December 23-24, 2008: Ilene Spiewak

December 25, 2008 at 1:00 am (Today's Feature)


For a student who received nothing but “C’s” in elementary and Jr. High school art class (I didn’t know it was possible!), Ilene Spiewak has certainly overachieved. Indeed, if only those art teachers could see her now – they would witness a pure artist who has studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, not to mention the University of the Arts. And while those lessons learned were truly significant, her base as an expressionist painter was developed at The Pennsylvania State University where she says she learned to “take risks and let my work grow big, bold, and expansive. I couldn’t comply with the edges of the paper or the confines of a canvas.” And this is still abundantly clear – being known best for her oil and acrylic paintings; “based on building layers of paint to create a fully realized work.”

Spiewak talks about her pieces – “Fans can expect many layers of colors and strong compositions that are just slightly off center; my intention is to create just enough tension and energy for the viewer… My ideas are usually greater than the constructs of the canvas.” She is inspired by everything around her, the very essence of nature in her environment. While it’s not always the theme of her work, she says “I’m astounded by the beautiful layers of sky and water and everything in between.”

You can find some of her paintings in private collections in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and California, and soon you can catch her latest pieces up north near her home in Massachusetts. She’ll be building a new studio there shortly – so if you find yourself in need of some serious art lessons – look her up. Get into the XXQ’s for a lot more.

XXQs: Ilene Spiewack (PEV): Was there a certain point in your life when you
realized the art was going to be career for you?

Ilene Spiewak (IS): I always loved to draw and color – used to make my own coloring books – I
took an oil painting class with 2 other friends when I was about 11 yrs. old
and absolutely loved it.  Set myself up in the basement of our row home in
Phila. to continue painting after the class ended and my friends lost
interest.  I also wanted to be a veterinarian which seemed more realistic
and practical.  But when I was 15, my dream was to be an Art Therapist…I
could help others find their voice.

PEV: You lived in Manhattan for a period of time, did New York’s vast art
scene play a big role in your desire to further your career?

IS: We were all visual artists, musicians and poets in the West Village in the early to mid 70’s and we talked a lot about creativity and the creative process.  We were a small, very cool group of people ( we all had dogs) who gathered several times a week, like a “salon” in France.  By the way, our friend Betsy was masterful at the Etch-a-Sketch.

Then I was too busy raising my sons to participate in the Manhattan art scene, though we did get to the museums  and I always kept an easel set up in the bedroom.  Met an artist who was my teacher at the 92nd St. Y and worked on some projects with him.

PEV: Growing up what kind of art were you originally attracted to? Do you
remember the first concert art gallery you attended?

IS: VanGogh was my favorite painter and the Philadelphia Museum of Art had a
full retrospective show of his work that I went to when I was a high school
student.  That was my first gallery experience. Magical!!!

PEV: You studied art at The Pennsylvania State University. What were your
first art classes like there? Did you share the same philosophies on art and
painting as the other students?

IS: The studios were very exciting – quite big and bright.  One felt like
serious work and learning=2 0happened there all day and evening.  I had some
very inspiring professors there; Mr. Worth McCoy was the most encouraging
for me. We were all working to develop our own styles/voices.  I learned to
take risks and let my work grow big, bold, and expansive.  I couldn’t comply
with the edges of the paper or the confines of a canvas.  Oh – and I dated
one of the models in a life-drawing class, which felt really bold at the time!

PEV: What can fans expect from an Ilene Spiewak piece?

IS: Fans can expect many layers of colors and strong compositions that are just slightly off center; my intention is to create just enough tension and energy for the viewer.  I love painting bottles, cups, and flowers.  My ideas are usually greater than the constructs of the canvas.  Also, I want to paint only the essential elements/objects and eliminate what isn’t necessary to the success of the piece.

PEV: deals a lot with musicians. What kind of music do you listen to and do you listen to music while you paint?

IS: I like various kinds of music and I do listen while I’m painting, but there is a silence that I need to get started in the process that is very important to me.

PEV: What it is like for an artist to get their work out to the masses? What are the trials and tribulations you’ve encountered?

IS: I became part of a group in Philadelphia that we called the Northwest
Artists Collective.  We met monthly, and in addition, I hired a model to
come to my house for the afternoon one Sunday each month so that we could
share good energy while we studied, drew, and painted the figure together.
It felt like a french Salon!  We had much good exposure through small group
shows throughout the city.  I showed work at the Pennsylvania Academy of
Fine Arts and the Fleisher Art Memorial where I took classes. I participated
in the Philadelphia Open Studio Tour and welcomed people into my home studio
once a year.  Although exciting, it put me out of my comfort zone to promote
my own work.  I’m not sure that my work appeals to the masses… A potential
buyer told me once that his wife loved and wanted a particular painting, but
he thought that my signature was too big!  I didn’t sell the work to them.

PEV: If you could sit down to dinner with one artist out today, who would it be and why?

IS: I couldn’t pick just one because I just am so attracted to and inspired by the work of 3 artists right now.  I’d want the benefit of discussion/language with all 3 – Marsden Hartley, Emily Carr, and Henri Matisse.  They were painters who were in the cultural avant-garde of their time and their artistic styles really resonate for me.  Just look at their use of color and composition!  That’s a feast!

PEV: As well, is there an up and coming artist right now that you think we should all be looking out for?

IS: As an art teacher in an alternative high school, I saw much promise and creativity in many students there.  I recently saw a projection and sound installation by Anne Wilson, titled “Errant Behaviors” at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine which is close to where I am living now.  It was a powerful exhibition.

PEV: If we were to walk into your Mt. Airy studio right now, what would we most likely find?

IS: My Mt. Airy studio probably has a billiard table in it now.  The current owners are not artists…but it was a great space in a 110 yr. old carriage house that we renovated.  I paint in my kitchen now or plain-air depending on the weather.

PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your work? Did you find yourself going back to one feeling or emotion more than others?

IS: My underlying source of inspiration I think, is the energy and beauty of
the elements in nature and our natural surroundings which change from moment to moment.  I’m astounded by the beautiful layers of sky and water and everything in between even though I’ve said that I like painting still-life best.  There is a connection…

PEV: When you sit down to paint what kind of environment do you surround yourself in?

IS: I like lots of art books around.  Of course lots of canvas, paints, brushes, good light, cats, music.  This is my company as I work alone.  I like a feeling of quiet solitude and warmth.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Ilene Spiewak?

IS: I’m pretty shy and I got “C’s” in art in elementary and jr. high school.

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to your career?

IS: I feel more supported in my adult life and especially encouraged by my wife and partner Brenda.  My sons Jason and David are also big fans and ardent supporters.

PEV: When you are not painting, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

IS: Pondering what my next painting might be and how I might use color
differently.  Recording colors or combinations of colors that I’ve seen, in
my memory for future use in a painting.  The most pleasurable day includes a
great meal  ( I’m a real supporter of farm-to-table) with fabulous wine
after a visit to a museum.

PEV: Tell us about your average day from waking up to going to be, as an

IS: No day is average if it includes painting or seeing the work of an artist
who can teach me something new.

PEV: Is there one place that every artist must go that you haven’t had a
chance to yet but you would like to? Why?

IS: I’m not sure because I’ve not seen everything.  What I know is that Maine
is a magical place with stunning beauty and i know I’ll return some day to
paint again.

PEV: Ten years from now, where do you see your career?

IS: I’d like to teach and inspire others to express themselves creatively.  I want to continue to grow, use my artists’ eye to evolve with my work.  To continue make a living as a painter and teacher.

PEV: So, what’s next for Ilene Spiewak?

IS: What’s next is building a studio on our 3 acre property in West Stockbridge, MA.  I want to teach and paint as much as possible.  I want to challenge what I already know and be open to learning and experimenting further in my medium.  I’m combining oil paints with acrylics on the same canvas and also thinking about when to add collage elements to my work. Hopefully, I won’t think too much…I feel ready!

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