Meet the Artists: Steve Schulman & Florita Washington
Dec 26, 2017 09:00AM ● Published by James Houck
This fall, What’s Up? Media continued its artistic and collaborative endeavor with the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County with the third ever quarterly art exhibit on display in the What’s Up? Gallery at 201 Defense Highway in Annapolis. The exhibit, which opened last August and continued through November, featured local paintings, pencil drawings, and photography, curated within the theme “Humans.”
At the exhibit’s opening reception in September, two of the featured artists were selected for Best in Show honors. They are local artists Steve Schulman and Florita Washington, and we discussed each artist’s background and approach to their chosen medium in this Meet the Artists Q&A.
Don’t miss our upcoming Meet the Artist Reception on January 10, 2018 featuring the work of our local artists participating in our most current gallery, “Light & Shadows.”
When did you first develop a passion for painting and what was the first inkling that you felt inspired to really try your hand at it artistically?
Steve Schulman: Looking back, I think there were signs of my interest in art when I was a child, but they were never noticed by me or anyone else. I never drew or painted as a child, but I envied people who did. Also, my eighth-grade art teacher gave me a grade of D in her class (my only D ever) because my work, like my handwriting, wasn’t neat enough. In my 20s, though, a friend of mine who was an art school student took notice of my fascination with painting. One day, she suggested we both paint a still life she set up in her living room. She said, “Steve, paint what you see, not what you think you should see; if you see a patch of yellow here, on this grape, lay down a patch of yellow about there on your canvas.” It worked and I was hooked. The next time I painted, it was in the evening and I was by myself. The resulting painting was nothing special, but the process of painting was so stimulating that later, as I was trying to fall asleep, everything that crossed my mind turned into a painting in my head. First, I was annoyed that I couldn’t sleep, but then I realized that this was an amazing and exciting experience—to be embraced and remembered. And I really have been painting steadily ever since—almost 50 years ago.
Florita Washington: I have always had my hands in some sort of creative project, but got serious about pencil drawing in high school. My inspirations come from many sources. It sometimes depends on where I am in my life as to what I draw or paint.
What equipment do you currently use?
FW: Currently I use basic things, drawing boards, canvas, knives, pencils, et cetera...whatever I need, it is usually something that’s around. I will pick it up and use it in a way that complements the painting or drawing.
SS: I’ve pursued a lot of artistic media, including pottery, fiber art, collage, pastel, drawing, and others. They were all fun, but I always kept coming back to old-fashioned smelly and messy oil painting. I am lucky enough to have a dedicated painting set-up in front of a North-facing picture window in my studio, which is what every painter dreams of. I stretch and prime my own canvases, and my paintings range in size from small wooden panels, to heavy-duty canvases as large as 20 square feet. I made a large stationary glass pallet for my paints, which I can scrape down with a razor blade at the end of each painting session, and I use an inexpensive but strong metal easel that I’ve been happy with for many years. I have found that it makes a difference using high quality paints with a creamy consistency and high pigment content, rather than cheap “student grade” tubes.
What is your approach to choosing subject matter to paint and how best to capture it?
FW: That’s funny. Most of the time the subject chooses me. With that, I am particularly drawn to the young and elderly, or another way of putting it is the wise and innocent. I feel that what goes on between the two extremes is growth or lessons learned.
SS: I guess you’d say the kind of painting I like most—figurative painting—comes from people watching. My favorite subjects are the people you see every day in public places, who are just going about their business. Sometimes they are by themselves and absorbed in their own thoughts, and sometimes they are engaged with others.
Do you have any “golden rules” that you abide by regarding your painting?
SS: Not really. Many rules are sensible and helpful to follow, except when it’s better to break them and explore the consequences. Making a discovery, in fact, is hard to do without defying rules. In art, exciting new ideas have come from artists who rejected the rules of the day, and thought outside the box.
FW: When I’m pencil drawing, my rule is to draw what “I” see. We all see tangible and intangible things differently.
Are there any artists (local/national, historic/contemporary) that have inspired you and how/why?
FW: At this writing, my favorite historic artist is Salvador Dalí. When I first laid my eyes on his “Crucifixion” and the “Last Supper,” I was in love. His surrealism leaves me speechless.
SS: Yes, many. When I was a child, I was blown away by Salvador Dalí, whose surrealism seemed to cross some magical frontier of painting. In college, I was fascinated by Paul Cézanne, who took apart and re-assembled the visual forms he painted in new and different ways, and set the stage for many of art’s innovations that were yet to come. For the past 20 years, I would say my favorite artist has been Richard Diebenkorn, who forged a paradoxical painting style that could be said to straddle both realistic and abstract approaches. I think Diebenkorn’s painting has been a guiding light to me for many years.
When did you first connect with the Arts Council and how has your role with the organization grown over the years?
FW: I connected with the Art Council about five years ago and did a couple of shows sponsored by them. This current show “Humans,” brought to us all by the Arts Council and What’s Up? Media turned out great. I’d like to say thank you for the kind words and your love for art. As long as people love and support art, then it will never die.
SS: I am new to the Arts Council, but have been living in South Anne Arundel County for the past 15 years. In my own vicinity, I am active in the Muddy Creek Artists Guild, which provides local artists with many enriching opportunities—both to display and sell their work and to explore new ideas and artistic techniques.
What advice do you offer to budding artists?
SS: If you have a deep interest in art, let it carry you forward, and don’t be afraid to try your own hand at it. Many people are afraid that their first efforts will be amateurish and embarrassing, and it stops them in their tracks. But remember that all of us first learned to walk in spite of how clumsy and even painful our first efforts likely were. Don’t be afraid to throw yourself into art, if it excites you, and don’t let self-consciousness stop you. Take classes, read books, visit galleries, and don’t let your interest in art be eclipsed by less challenging and less rewarding distractions.
FW: If it is what you truly love, then never, never give up.