Thursday, September 13, 2012

RANDOLPH: Laurie Sverdlove: A Portrait of an Artist by Dian Parker

Laurie Sverdlove: A Portrait of an Artist in Randolph
by Dian Parker

There are many stories of small town girls moving to the big city to be discovered as an artist. Rarely do we hear about older professional artists from a big city, already recognized, moving to a small town and continuing to progress with artistic discoveries as they continue to sell their work. In both cases, these artists face a daunting task. The young woman seeks to work professionally in the city without any experience. The other, just as difficult, wants to continue working professionally in the small town.

In Vermont, a number of artists face this very dilemma today. The list of professional artists, many of them women, moving from cities to small towns in Vermont is many: Altoon Sultan, Susan Walp, Bunny Harvey, Holly Walker, Bhakti Ziek, and Laurie Sverdlove, to name some of them.

Four years ago, painter Laurie Sverdlove moved to Randolph from San Francisco with her husband, Gregg McCurdy. “For a variety of reasons, mainly due to my husband’s medical issues, I found myself, almost overnight, leaving my life in the Bay area behind,” Sverdlove said. “It was, in a sense, a forced move, sudden and unexpected.”

Prior to her move to Vermont, Sverdlove was a working artist who supported herself by working in the non-profit sector. She held jobs as Assistant to the Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and on the curatorial staff of both the Berkeley Art Museum and the Jewish Museum of San Francisco. From those positions she moved on to become the Executive Director at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. These and other jobs in the nonprofit sector offered more flexible hours in which she could paint. And paint she did, every night after work and on weekends, amassing a large body of work. 

"Risk Management," oil, 54" x 42" (photo by Michael Sacca)

Before receiving her M.A. and M.F.A. in painting and drawing at the University of California, Berkeley, Sverdlove completed her PhD coursework in Russo-Iranian History at the University of Pennsylvania. Then, for three years she lived in India, returning to the Bay Area where she raised two sons. Before moving to Vermont, her most recent job, which Sverdlove held for 11 years, was as the Director of Planning and Analysis for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research at UC Berkeley.

Sverdlove has been painting for four decades. Her work has been exhibited at the Berkeley Art Center and at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, as well as other art venues. For ten years she was represented by a gallery in San Francisco. When her gallery closed, an art consultant began purchasing her work for corporate art collections. Today her paintings hang in corporate collections owned by Genentech; the UC Medical Center, San Francisco; UNOCAL Corp; and Bank of America, to name a few.

It has been an interesting transition from such an intense, urban life to small town life. Sverdlove has always been a big city person, raised in Brooklyn and then living in the Bay Area. Her connection to rural life was spending all of her childhood summers in the Adirondacks with her family.

Sverdlove’s first year in Randolph, 2008, was not easy. “We arrived at the end of summer and I experienced my first winter in 40 years. The snow came to you rather than you going to the snow.” So she kept herself busy. Along with her husband, she renovated their old house in Randolph village. She joined the book group at the library. At Chandler she was on the gallery committee and co-curated the art show, Into the Woods, successfully selling 75% of the art work in the show.
"The Force that through the Green Fuse" - dyptch - oil painting, 72" x 36" (photo by Michael Sacca)
“When we moved to Randolph, my husband, a lawyer, and I were eager to be involved in our town’s government - being a citizen in a meaningful way.” Today she is on the Design Review Advisory Commission for the Interchange District (Rt. 4), as well serving as the Planning Commission’s current chairperson.

In a big city one can select one’s friends, usually based on sharing the same views. A professional working artist can choose her access to other working artists. In a small town it is different. “Because you depend on your neighbors more,” Sverdlove said, “you end up interacting with people whose views and values are not like yours. This leads to interesting, informative, fun, and sometimes frustrating interactions, which increase your flexibility. Surprisingly such a radical life change has made me more tolerant.”

When she moved to Randolph, Sverdlove had to change as a painter as well. “I was able to retire when I moved out here and focus full time on my painting. I have the luxury now to be in my studio whenever I want.” This has had its pluses and minuses for Sverdlove. Artists need inspiration to create and often that comes from the stimulation of being with other artists. It is a romantic notion that an artist can walk into their studio and create everyday. There is no one asking you to do this. It takes hard work and focus, just like a regular job.

Laurie Sverdlove at work, photo by Dian Parker
For Sverdlove, this presented an unexpected challenge. She was used to the art world of New York City and San Francisco. “In big cities the art scene is large and lively. I was used to many galleries, museums, curators, reviewers,” Sverdlove said. “It has been challenging finding a community of professional artists here, but slowly I am doing so.” While her many years of networking and friendships with artists can’t be replaced, she is eager to embrace the possibilities of this new life.

In addition to creating a new network of artists, Sverdlove must contend with the fact that her work is often different than what most galleries in Vermont and New Hampshire show. “Here, the work exhibited is more traditional – most often representational landscapes, conservatively painted and focusing on pastoral scenes. My work doesn’t easily fit in. I feel I’m at the top of my form, working better than ever, yet there’s less opportunity for getting my work out there.”

An opportunity recently presented itself. Sverdlove has been invited to show her work at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, N. H. On September 14, Sverdlove’s latest paintings will go on display at AVA through October 12, 2012. The show is a new body of work which Sverdlove has made since moving to Vermont. “I’m thrilled. Artists need their work to be seen and talked about. This is a wonderful opportunity for me.”

These new oil paintings are striking in size, color and content. The paintings are large, some as big as 6’ x 4’. The canvases are densely populated with bold colors. Sverdlove weaves the delicacy of new plant growth and flowers through the hard steel of roller coasters and industrial waste. This incongruity is powerful and surprisingly beautiful.

Recently Sverdlove won the juror's third prize at AVA Gallery’s 19th Annual Juried Summer Exhibition. The juror, Janie Cohen, director of the Fleming Museum of Art, said of Sverdlove’s prize painting, “It was an honor and a pleasure to give the juror’s third prize to Laurie Sverdlove, for Quick Now, Here Now, Always. Its spatial disruptions; juxtapositions of natural and industrial landscapes; and saturated, unnatural palette cannot help but bring into question issues of sustainability and our past and future impact on our landscapes. Its equal parts beauty and disturbance create a tension that is palpable.”

Big city gal comes to small town and is making it happen, just like she did in the city. Perhaps here, it’s just at a different pace.

For more about Laurie Sverdlove, visit her Web site at:

A version of this story was first published in Randolph Herald, September 6, 2012. Printed here by permission. 
Photos, courtesy of  Michael Sacca and Dian Parker.