By RAYMOND J.
A FEW YEARS back — after viewing her solo show in Woodstock, New York — I referred to Fay Wood as a “world-class Renaissance artist” — she’s more than that. On a cool but bright sunny May morning, I visited Fay at her Clove Church Studio in Saugerties, New York, and spent a couple of hours browsing her studio, her home, her gardens, and — most especially — her mind — and what a mind it is! Her studio, a large, roomy space that was once a church — I remember it as attended by congregants of the Assembly of God — is surrounded by gardens and bluestone-lined paths that she and her husband Skip (a retired engineer) have designed over the fifteen years they have occupied the grounds and building. A stroll outside in the interconnected gardens largely amounts to an extended view of her studio…but more of that later.
First, let’s dispense with the statistical stuff, the measurable parts of her life and career as a mother and an artist. The earliest entry in a scrapbook lovingly assembled by her husband that covers her artistic endeavors and accomplishments is from a newspaper article dated September 12, 1968. She is singled out along with a few others from an exhibition of “Connecticut Valley” artists for her “unusual figure study” of Ascent of Proserpine —attesting to the fact that for at least forty years, Fay Woods has been making her mark as an artist and, early on, standing somewhat apart from her peers. Only six years after, an article reviewing the Springfield Art League’s Fall Exhibits that included mention of her drawing, Girl Watchers Revisited, has a marginal note put in by Fay: “This is the drawing that got censored out of the show — I fought to get it in!!”
Still, if Ascent of Proserpine struck the reviewer as “unusual” and Girl Watchers left some jurors uneasy, a rather lengthy resume suggests that her art was not so outré to have been excluded from group, solo, and invitational shows both here and abroad — garnering, along the way, a fair share of accolades and awards — since the early ‘70s. On the other hand, a visit to her Clove Church Studio unequivocally sets her apart from the ordinary. This is an artist who decidedly marches to her own drum! For someone such as I who has to view a lot of stuff that tries to pass as “art” in today’s free-wheeling art market, it is enormously refreshing to see something beyond mere “innovation”, mere “shock art” that purports to be the “very latest” in “cutting edge” art. There is a depth of sensibility and vision in Fay Wood’s work that one sorely misses in the usual gallery/museum fare.
Unfortunately, that 1968 article did not offer a reproduction of Wood’s Ascent of Proserpine — Girl Watchers Revisited was in fact “revisited” in a later (undated) article and was accompanied by a reproduction of the drawing — but if I am allowed some extrapolation from what now fills her studio cum church, I have little difficulty in imagining her sculpted figure of Proserpine. I hesitate to describe Fay Wood, other than to make note of her strikingly, piercing blue eyes. Otherwise, this white-haired, soft-spoken woman is a deceptively unlikely source of such intense, spiritual, far-sighted, inventive, startling, and often ingeniously whimsical body of work. Although she paints and draws as a foil (her word) for her sculptural “readymades” — and paints and draws extremely well, whether figure or landscape — Fay Wood is a quintessential 3-dimensional artist, imagining tangible form from inchoate matter. And, as the term “readymade” implies, the matter she fashions into art doesn’t, at bottom, really “matter” (pun intentional). Though in her early days a sculptor of wood, she has since allowed her vision to see beyond what we mortals perceive in “things” and has allowed her art to encompass a world of objects, each discrete bit or piece subtly transformed into something “other”.
One might expect a resultant jumble of disparate parts but, in her hands — like clay made into man — new objects turn magically into ‘beings’ — and thus, what I see as the “spiritual” aspect of her art. As a mother, she had already “created” life — but as most artist/mothers quickly learn, soon discovered that parts of her “flesh and blood” could — and for a time did — take her away from her life-long inclination to create art. In addition to her children, 22 moves in 30 years, and the perennial obstacles placed before any female artist, had taken a toll on any chance of a settled, unified artistic vision to take firm root in the depths of her creative soul — and Fate could not have dealt her a more fortuitous hand, for who knows what rigid, formulistic viewpoint might have been her fortune had she slipped into a cocoon of comforting safety? Real art is almost always wrested from the chaos of our physical world — especially when that world is filtered through our inner spirit. When merely assembled — whether in brushstroke or material — what we produce is simply — and aptly —called “assemblage” — something any flood or hurricane can accomplish (and often does) in the detritus they leave in their wakes. “Art”, however — and with a capital “A” — is something different, something increasingly rare in our no-holds-barred, anything-goes, ‘I’m all right — You’re all right’, artworld. Since time immemorial, art implied mankind’s imprint on what he/she sees, tastes, feels, smells and touches — not a mere bringing together of what’s “out there”. To take some found metal objects, a bunch of wire and a few dabs of paint and translate them into her prize-winning Chanticleer at the National Sculpture Society’s 71st Annual Awards Exhibition takes not only manual dexterity (which she unmistakably possesses and credits to her father, a carpenter whose backsaw and miter box grace her studio much like any other of her sculptures) but an aesthetic vision (which she most definitely possesses) that transcends the mundane slapping together of a few geometric forms painted in day-glo colors.
Attempting to describe in words Fay Wood’s individual works — and there are a literal church-full of them — is an impossible undertaking — as fruitless as trying to capture her in words. Each — like her — breathes an active life that belies the foursquare, solid image that presents itself to the unwary eye. Even while sitting and chatting in her studio for this profile, one could sense the kinetic energy impatiently waiting to be released — like the incipient “cock-a-doodle-do” of the silent Chanticleer waiting to be released while proudly standing atop his roost. Indeed, Fay Wood’s energy bursts its bonds even outside her studio.
I mentioned her gardens — and it is clear to this fellow gardener that her creativity is carried far beyond the confining walls of her “Clove Church Studio”. I made the mistake (and I should have known better, having read and absorbed Martin Buber’s I and Thou) of asking her the name of one or two blooming plants (as a high-schooler, I worked for a landscaper and took some pride in learning the Latin names of the flora I worked with and temporarily forgot myself as we strolled her paths). Some minutes later, she confided that she resents being asked the names of her flowers since “they ought to be appreciated simply for themselves”. A point well taken and one I should have anticipated since, while still in her studio, she had already indicated that she disliked titling her pieces. And, by the same token, she abhors the oft-requested ‘artist’s statement’ and for the same reasons that I have railed against them in so many of my past editorials — does not the art itself make the artist’s “statement”? And so with her flowers…they really don’t need “titles” either. Mother Nature’s art, like ours, ought to stand on its own — sans “expert” definers and pundit-like interpreters.
And, while I’m at it, neither does Fay Wood require definition or explication. As I said above, though I once referred to her as a “world-class Renaissance artist”, she is really much more than that.
(For more on Fay Wood and her extraordinary body of work, E-mail her at email@example.com or, better yet, call her at (845) 246-7504 and arrange a visit to her Clove Church Studio in Saugerties, NY)