Greta Waterman is a woman of many talents: she has worked as a model, a professional merchandiser, a florist, a realtor, and a painter. Now, Greta resides in a converted 1922 ferry boat plopped onto the California sand, with the Pacific Ocean as her backdrop and inspiration—nearly every window in her updated abode looks out onto the sea.
Greta and I discuss technique, influences, and artistic vision in this month’s Artist Interview. If you’d like to see more of her work, please visit: http://www.artbygreta.org/index.html.
Girl Reading. Oil on cradled birch panel.
Q: What themes do you address in your work? Are there any motifs/symbols that you like to use repeatedly?
A: In the past, I’ve always done themes. So I went through a still life theme, and I’d always have a wine glass and a fork in it. And a bottle. Mostly different variations of still life. Then I went through a rainforest and animals theme for a while, but mostly I did women. I love women, I love the shape, concentric forms. It’s just more curvaceous, so I tried to work with that. Now I’m working with two totally different styles. Picasso worked on two separate distinct styles! So I am trying to get more abstract, I'm using oil and resin; it’s not something I’d recommend. It’s sticky and messy and gets whatever clothes you’re wearing stiff, and it’s toxic—you have to go outside and know exactly what you’re doing as you manipulate the oil color in the resin and measure it perfectly, and have exactly forty-five minutes to work.
So it’s certainly something I don’t really recommend, but I’ve been having a little fun with it. I like the end results. Once I go through this, then I’m probably going to go back to my original, more abstract roots. I definitely was a little too constricted with the cubism, and I would like to do the same, but a little bit looser.
I think that I will probably go back to wine country since I’ve been going to Napa recently. And I like my still lifes with the wine; I’ll bring back the bottle and the fork.
Friends. Oil on canvas.
Q: Can you describe the relationship between your work and mental health, whether it be your own mental health, that of viewers and consumers of your work, general concepts, etc.?
A: I would like the viewer to get absorbed in my work. And to figure it out. I think that mental health is definitively an issue here, in the world today, and especially has been brought to further light as we all have to stay in place. I’m not depressed, though—that’s why I have the sea, that’s why I want you to have the passion or the interpretation, or just get absorbed in what I’m doing and to try and see it through my eyes. Everybody has their own perspective.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration from?
A: What I see, and what’s inside my head. I definitely have a different perspective; I’m deviant by nature. Some people have compared me to freshwater pearls—my sister is the cultured and elegant one; me, I’m just a little bit off. I see things a little bit differently. I strongly believe that photography is an art form, and that art should not try to mimic photography, should not try to mimic exactly what you see, but that it should be bringing in an interpretation, a passion, an impression of what you see.
I’ve been very influenced by the sea. There’s something so settling, so tranquil, and at the same time, energetic. I kind of switched from doing all my women, and city scenes, being a New Yorker, bright colors, my definitive black outline cubistic perspectives, and I changed into something far different, a little more abstract, a little more impressionistic, always trying to get that energy of the sea, that turmoil at the same time as tranquility and passion.
I made the switch to landscapes and a much more impressionist expressionist way when I came to California, because I was taken with the sea. It took me three years, walking my dogs up and down the beach, before I felt confident to put brush to canvas. That ocean had so intimidated me.
The Plein Air Painters Group really influenced me. I had to reach out to find myself again.
Ocean Abstract. Oil and resin on canvas.
Q: Can you describe your artistic process?
A: [Regarding the oil and resin technique] You have an idea in mind, and for me it’s usually trying to translate water, the sea, and get absorbed in it. You have to perfectly measure, in equal amounts, the resin and the hardener, and mix it for at least three minutes. Then I pour it into different cups with different colored oils. And that’s when I get to work. That’s when I have to have a preconceived idea of what I want, and then I keep pouring the different colors, and they merge upon each other, and you have to manipulate the color. Especially you have to make sure that you’re very level, because in the end it all kind of merges together and falls through. At times I’ll add a little brush stroke, but you have to manipulate, in the short period of time before it hardens, and the bell rings.
[Regarding the cubistic technique] I take my subject matter, I make a sketch of it—which is fairly realistic—and then I keep on abstracting it, and I see it in geometric shape and form. What I used to do, and I should get back to it, is I would make the sketch in black charcoal on tracing paper, turn the paper over, put the black charcoal over that, further elongating, and then turn it over again and put that image onto the canvas. Then I make my changes, and once I have that drawing in place, I don’t care about the subject matter so much, and I only care about weaving color and form throughout the canvas. And whatever color I have, whatever colors I use, hopefully they complement each other, but you will always see balance. So if you see something on the upper left, say, a beautiful orange red, you'll see it somewhere on the lower right. I try to take the different color pallets that I've chosen, generally earth colors and aquamarine Mediterranean Sea colors, and I weave them through the canvas.
The nice thing about the resin is it gets you to be free. The thing about cubism is that I start off free, but then I get a little bit more confined. I am looking to go back to wine settings; I have done a bunch of landscapes. I like how, especially just having come back from Napa, you see these lines, lines of the different greens, the rows of different greens; it makes a very intriguing landscape. California has such gorgeous, breathtaking landscapes; I am so fortunate to be on the coast as well. You want to not only have it enrapture you, but you’re trying to hopefully kind of express that.
Music Lovers. Oil on canvas.
Q: What is your most notable piece? As in, your favorite, or one with an interesting story behind it, or a piece that especially frustrated you, etc.
A: I was very proud of a series I had done called The Elements of Nature, which is basically a Greek philosophy that all matter in life (until we had technology) is based on four natural elements: fire, water, air and earth. I had done five 6’ by 4’ paintings (which is hard to transport)—I can’t go that big anymore. I did a fairly good interpretation of that, of everything based on those four elements. For Fire, I did homage to Napa Valley—remember two summers ago when they were wiped out—so I had the fire encroaching on the vineyards.
Earth is a composite of around where I live—the horses, the access road, the cows just above the highway, the on and on gorgeous landscape. I spent day in and day out to try and get that exhibit going. I’m very proud of Earth; I think I really captured the landscape. And then my water, I think I’ve captured that as well.
My problem is that I like my style, but I get confined. I have to keep on being free; that’s my goal.
There was a painting called My Happy Place and it was basically in my house, this house, on the cocktail table, with a bottle of wine, flowers, cheese, and some goodies to eat, with the ocean in the background. To me, that’s my happy place: wine, cheese, bread, and the sea.
Q: What do you hope that your work conveys?
A: A reaction. An emotion. An impression.
Elements of Nature/Earth. Oil on canvas.
Author: Amanda Braitman