STUDIO TOUR: Artist Abbie Read

My husband remembers Abbie Read's fascinating work from a gallery in Washington and he urged me to visit her studio. I walked through her studio door to find a treasure trove of creations and installations and so much work, that I literally snapped the shutter at least a thousand times during our brief visit. Abbie's work is the epitome of creativity; combining her own creations with found objects to fabricate the most interesting pieces of artwork I've had the pleasure of seeing. I felt like I had discovered a magical world full of the best art eye candy!

Read below for Abbie's Q&A!

Can you describe your work? 

I make mixed media constructions and collages. The works can be two dimensional or three dimensional. Any material I can get my hands on is fair game: old papers, old books, found objects, paint, old suitcases, vegetables, dead plant matter, compost, you get the idea.

How do you find objects to use in your work? Do you have a collection of things you can pull from?

I have amassed a rather large collection of cool, unique and unusual things over the years. These are either stored for future use in my studio or carefully arranged in a room in my studio building which I think of as an installation in itself. Anything in there is fair game for use in a piece should it catch my eye at a given moment.

How did your collage ideas begin? Have you always been making them since you were a child? 

I first got very interested in collage when I was introduced to the medium in college and a good friend was making them. Before that I was a printmaker and experimented a lot with incorporating papers into my etchings (Chine colle) and torn up etchings into collages. I then did a lot of representational painting in watercolor, oil and acrylic. But material things kept jumping onto the canvas so I quickly realized that it was assemblage I was most interested in constructing, not an image. Assemblage has taken me to learning book arts and all its fun, varied components. I have liked making things since I was a child. 

What is your first memory of your awareness of art?

My mother used to set us up outdoors with child sized easels and poster paints. She had painted a large panel of our family that she hung in our kitchen. It was done in the 1950’s and looked it. I love that painting still.

 Did you grow up in a creative family?

Oh yes. My mother designed greeting cards and painted before she had kids but stopped making art altogether once the babies began arriving (five in all). My father taught English and Theater, and wrote poetry, as did his mother, who was a published poet. Sometimes I have felt fortunate not to have the complications of child rearing. I’ve been able to pursue several different careers: teaching and landscape design primarily. I had a garden design business, ARTgarden, for 20 years. I loved working outdoors, loved designing with plants. I worked in the studio on my art only in the winter. Making art feels more like a continuum now that I don’t have the design/install business anymore.

Advice to young artists? 

Take as many classes and as many workshops as possible. Learn as many techniques as you can stand. Then dedicate a space to your artistic production and experiment, experiment, experiment. Something will stand out and stick. Don’t judge your own work for a long time, until you really feel you have found your own voice. One’s voice is not determined by one or two pieces alone, it is uncovered in the discovery process.

What do you think is your biggest stumbling block as an artist? 

I have no discernible blocks in the creative process; I am very forgiving. I make a lot of stuff I throw away later (or should throw away!) Getting the work out of my studio and marketing it is difficult for me. I would rather just be involved in the creative process.

How do you promote your work? 

I am not very good at promoting my work. I am only minimally interested in self promotion. I wish I had an agent to do that for me. It takes too much of my creative energy and time. I tend to be lazy about it and wait for opportunities to present themselves. Since 2013 that has been happening more and more, as my name and work get out there.

How does living in Maine support you as an artist, or how does it hinder you? 

I love the relative isolation, and lack of busy-ness especially in the winter. It is not often that I dislike the isolation. I wish I could go to New York or Boston once a month just to run around looking at art.  I like to get away but I am always relieved to get home to Maine. I’m busy just about every weekend between November and April because I am an avid curler and I participate in bonspiels, which take place on the weekends. In terms of hindering, I don’t think there are enough venues for artists to show their work in Maine. It is very difficult for galleries to stay open; it ends up being a labor of love, and that can only last so long. My very favorite gallery, Aarhus Gallery, in Belfast, was forced to shut its doors recently after seven years because there wasn’t enough financial support from buyers. I don’t think a lot of people know that any gallery will take payment in installments, no matter how small, just to get the work sold and support the venture. What better way to feed one’s soul than to buy art that you love? 

What is your favorite piece you’ve made so far and why? 

A large mixed media installation I call Library. It is a construction 7 ½ feet high and growing in width. I make it in two foot wide panels and there are now 27 panels so were it to be installed somewhere it would stretch for 54 feet. But it is in sections; a ten foot length is in the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Doha, Qatar for the next three years. It’s part of an exhibit of eight Maine artists brought there by the Art In Embassies Program through the State Department. An 18 foot length was included in the 2013 Portland Museum of Art Biennial, “Piece Work.” Currently most of it is in my studio. I keep working on it because I am so engaged both with the hand crafting process, the invention of new parts and the challenge of making a three dimensional collage. This past year I’ve taken periodic breaks from it and made collages and smaller constructions but I keep returning to Library.

 

What is one thing that people may not know about you?

Anyone outside of Waldo County would not know I am an avid curler. My husband Bart and I curl at the only curling club in Maine, in Belfast. We've done that for 16 years now. Soon there's going to be a new curling club in Portland.

 

Thank you Abbie for the fabulous studio tour and for sharing your work!

Find Abbie Read here: