Sunday, April 14, 2024

All Florida Artists Up Close: Virginia Fifield

Hollywood artist Virginia Fifield won a Merit Award at the current All Florida Juried Art Competition and Exhibition, which runs through Sept. 11 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Her winning piece, “Contemplations of Life, Death and Beauty,” is a meditative charcoal-on-paper drawing of flowers against a monochrome backdrop; this beautiful work has a haunting quality that transcends the objects represented in it.

Fifield is also a painter and photographer who works in series: charcoal animal drawings, urban landscapes, extreme close-ups of sidewalks. She is also an activist whose pet issue is the rescue of local horses. She spoke to us about this and much more in the first of an ongoing summer interview series on All Florida artists.

I feel like flowers have never felt more alive than in “Contemplations of Life, Death and Beauty,” even if, in this case, they may be wilting. Some of the flowers have the symbolic appearance of hands/fingers and mouths reaching out. Did you create this work with human symbolism in mind?

Yes. This drawing is, in fact, a tribute to my father, a spiritual man who taught me to value and love the natural world. When he died last year at the age of 93, a friend gave me this stunning bouquet of tulips. I went out of town for the funeral, and when I returned home, I was amazed to find that the flowers had completely dried out, but not one petal had fallen. Even in death, these flowers have a remarkable presence. As you observed, like people, they were bent over and withered with age, yet they were still incredibly beautiful.

The title of the work indicates a sort of existential heft that I think is certainly apparent in the piece. What does it “say” beyond what we can see?

The title “Contemplations of Life, Death and Beauty” directs the viewer to consider the flowers as a reflection of ourselves and a metaphor for the cyclical nature of life. I find great spiritual comfort in the presence of nature. I hope to encourage the appreciation of nature and the contemplation of the connectedness of all things.

Why charcoal?

The lack of color combined with the high realism is intended to inform the viewer that these drawings are not a mere representation. Through the drama of black and white, and the power of scale, I first entice the viewer to my images of nature. Devoid of sentiment and familiar context, the viewer is compelled to contemplate these subjects in a new light, to look and truly see them as they may have never observed them before.

Unlike humans, who pose for artists, animals can be awfully difficult to pin down in one position. Yet your drawings have the feel of direct representation of animals, as if they were modeling for you. Do you base your drawings on observed wildlife?

I take hundreds of photographs of animals, looking for the image that to me captures their presence and their magnificence. I then draw them in charcoal, at human scale, looking at us, seeming to ask the viewer to see them as equals — equally deserving a place in this world.

You’re also known for photographing sidewalks in extreme closeness, and most of them feature prominent geometric lines. What draws you to these particular segments of sidewalk?

In nature there are no straight lines. The prominence of the geometric lines in my “Sidewalk” photographs addresses our desire to control the natural world. Sidewalks are the pathways we have created to proceed through the world. They speak to how we wish to see and experience the world.

You were involved with a “Save the Horses” benefit for the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Why do the horses need saving, and how did you become involved with the issue?

At one of my exhibitions in 2009, I met Ellyn Robinson of the South Florida SPCA, a division solely devoted to helping abused and abandoned horses. She liked my work and invited me to come see the horses at their ranch in Miami Lakes. While there, she explained to me that due to the economy, many people were unable to afford to keep or feed their horses. Unable to sell them, many of these horses were left to starve or simply let go free. The ranch has the facility to keep about 8 to 12 horses, but sadly since the recession they have been overwhelmed and have consistently had over 50 horses. They are the only organization in South Florida to help horses. I was very moved by the hardship that these horses had suffered. I was also impressed with the devotion and hard work they provide to the care and rehabilitation of these wonderful animals. The director of the Opera Gallery happened to be visiting the ranch the same day I was there. He decided there to help them raise much-needed funds with a “Save the Horses” benefit exhibition at the gallery. Ellyn introduced me to him, and later, when he looked at my work, he invited me to exhibit in the benefit and offered me the opportunity to exhibit my work permanently at Opera Gallery. Still today, I am pleased that 10% of all my sales at Opera Gallery go to the SF SPCA.


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