Thursday, March 5, 2015

Majority Rising: Marilyn Szalay…the artist I couldn’t paint

The fifth installment in my series of blogs leading up to the Majority Rising show which I’m curating and participating in at the Artist Archives of the Western Reserve for Women’s History Month. 

Majority Rising, subtitled, Cleveland’s Female Gaze, opens March 12th and features work by legendary Cleveland figurative artists, Shirley Aley CampbellLee HeinenKathleen McKennaMarsha SweetMarilyn Szalay…and me, Judy Takács.

Today I’m shining the spotlight on Marilyn Szalay.

Unfortunately, because she passed away in 2012, I never had the privilege to meet the iconic Marilyn Szalay and tell her how I loved her powerful, monumental charcoal drawings…or to paint her image for the Majority Rising show.
Detail from, Sadness of Miss Jane, by Marilyn Szalay

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to her sister, Diane, for allowing me to search through the treasure trove of Lynn’s work which she now cares for and protects. To an artist there’s no greater gift than to know that your work is well-loved and your legacy will be kept alive by someone that cares.

I spent a fascinating and inspirational afternoon poring through her charcoals. Her drawings are tightly woven compositions that beautifully show her superb draftsmanship.

I am floored by the depth of form she achieves in charcoal, and love that her figures are larger than life size. Using only shades of gray, she models a face to come all the way out beyond the picture plane. And then she continues the construction and places a beautifully sculpted three-dimensional nose to sit on it. This detail from Portrait of Kathleen below, shows exactly what I’m talking about.

Detail from, Portrait of Kathleen, by Marilyn Szalay

Ironically, this portrait of a child, “Kathleen” is what I used as inspiration when I was wrestling with my portrait of Kathleen McKenna and the glasses she wore. I love when I can find a work that tells me how to solve a particular problem…Lynn’s Portrait of Kathleen did just that for my Portrait of Kathleen McKenna.

Detail from, Inspired by Malala and by Kathleen McKenna, by Judy Takács

But for Lynn, building the structure is only the first step. After she has established impressive sculptural integrity with value, she has the crazy audacity to risk wrapping it in a chain link fence shadow

…or a pattern of branches and their shadows

…or images  from another room reflected on glass.

The pieces I chose for Majority Rising simply floored me with this kind virtuosity and expression.

Detail from Winter Light, by Marilyn Szalay

Winter Light above, was juried into the Realism Today show at the John Pence Gallery in 2000, and was also featured in American Artist Magazine.

This detail from Winter Light above, is evocative of a late November Northeast Ohio day where we might not see the sun again for a month. Marilyn Szalay has shown us this moment in nature with a predominantly figural composition. This is why Lynn’s work speaks to me so…the figure and face are the canvas upon which life is projected…literally.

Lynn eloquently expressed her artistic goals…

I continually redefine myself and my perceptual skills and view of humanity, whenever I draw. It is my fascination with the nature of things that binds me to actual imagery. The gaze of an eye or the gesture of a hand, in its myriad of variations, can be so powerful and captivating. By developing my acute sense of perception, I am open to the subtle yet infinite possibilities. My images are an intense and personal record of eternal moments in time.”

I did not paint a portrait of Marilyn Szalay. I didn’t feel it would be right…or do her legacy justice…for me to use a photo I did not shoot myself to paint from.

Thankfully, her sister Diane allowed us to exhibit a beautiful self-portrait charcoal drawing by Lynn. Of incredible depth and of great sentimental value, it is not for sale, but will hang with her other work and represent Marilyn Szalay’s image in the Majority Rising show.

I’m hoping you can make it to the opening reception and see the wonderful
(if I do say so myself) Majority Rising show…

Majority Rising
Cleveland’s Female Gaze

Public Opening Reception: Thursday March 125:30 to 8:30

Show dates March 12 through May 2

Artist Archives of the Western Reserve
1834 East 123rd Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44106

Or stop by during gallery hours:
Wednesday through Friday: 10:00 to 4:00
Saturday: 12:00 to 4:00

Private Studio tours in conjunction with the exhibit:

Lee Heinen Studio Tour, March 21, 2015, 1:00 to 2:30

Shirley Campbell Studio Tour, April 4, 2015 from 1:00 to 2:30

Judy Takács Studio Tour, April 11, 2015, 1:00 to 2:30

Kathleen McKenna Studio Tour, April 18, 2015, 1:00 to 2:30

Individual $20
AAWR Member $15

To reserve your spot and buy your ticket to any of the studio tours, email Katelyn Gainer, Gallery and Administrative Assistant at or call 216.721.9020. 

Read the first Majority Rising blog featuring Shirley Aley Campbell, and the second one which talks about Lee Heinen, the third one, which is all about Marsha Sweet and the fourth installment, where I talk about Kathleen McKenna.

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