by arlene winkler
wasn’t sure I wanted to go to art school at all. Now I can’t
imagine not going.”
Her remark takes me so by surprise, I drink an entire cup of tea while
I think about it. The notion that heros are made and not born is the
stuff of mythos, but until this moment in Liz Tomasetti’s kitchen,
I had no idea that the same could be said of an artist. I start to play
with the notion of artist-as-hero but the parallels just aren’t
there. In my personal dictionary, heros and heroines are anonymous people
who are suddenly moved by the plight of others to step out of character
and take unselfish action. But the artists I’ve met over the years
are driven by “the work” and more often than not, fully
capable of shutting out the world to pursue it. Furthermore, the command
to go forth and create art isn’t sudden; the vast majority of
artists claim to have heard it in early childhood. I’m beginning
to suspect I’ve fallen in love with an idea of my own manufacture.
“Why don’t you follow the advice of the Queen of Hearts,”
I say to myself, “And just begin at the beginning and keep on
going until you get to the end?”
was born in Wisconsin,” she opens, “But my father, who was
Italian, moved us to Milan. We lived there for eight years.” She
pauses, sidetracked, “I attended the International School but
I always felt like a foreigner while we lived there … and when
we moved back to the U.S., I felt like a foreigner all over again.
was already in high school by the time I got into art in a serious way.
When one of my teachers, Anne Wills, encouraged me to pursue it independently,
I could have avoided it. But the truth is, I knew it wasn’t an
option to not do it. It would always be there, like an itch on my shoulder.”
there it is again. In my personal dictionary, heros and heroines don’t
respond the first time they’re called, they resist repeatedly.
The quintessential hero Jonah booked passage on a ship to another city
when he was needed in Nineveh, and then he went below decks to sleep
when the storm struck. But I refuse to go there, saying only, “Italy
must have been a profound influence.”
was, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Milan is so big
and dirty… and amazingly historical. For centuries, young people
entered apprentice programs by the time they were 12 or 13. You can
see their legacy in the way attention is paid to the smallest details.
Everywhere you look, whether you’re in a library or an old factory,
you see that someone put a lot of time and care and intention into that
molding … that corner piece … that turning. There are amazing
frescos and murals everywhere and incredible architecture.” She
throws her arms out, encompassing the work-in-progress that is her current
home, “The Duomo, the Galleria, that was my surround. And when
I think about it now, I realize that all those amazing works of art
that note, we climb the stairs to her studio to look at her canvasses.
The walls are covered in sketches of nude and half nude women that remind
me of the artist and as I deal with my discomfort I realize I have been
granted admission to the intimate narrative of the painter. I tell her
the sketches remind me of Egon Schiele, in both their feeling tone and
their economic use of line and color. She agrees, pleased, but points
out others more focused on family relationships such as the haunting
portraiture of Alice Neel, Ida Applebroog’s visions of painful
violations in nurturing relationships, the nude family photographs of
Sally Mann, and the work of Audrey Niffeneger, a visual artist and author
of The Time Traveler’s Wife.
company you keep,” I comment.
am intrigued,” she says quoting her artists statement, “By
the limits or confines of personal space. By the invasion of that space
when overstepped to experience another’s emotions.”
she exposes in her work are the feelings that the less heroic (like
me) may prefer to hide. But hiding is no longer an option, because she
has drawn me in as a participant in her small almost perverse mental
sketches are simple, direct, more subversive than in in-your-face, but
definitely uncomfortable. In one a nude woman wearing only a flotation
vest is almost, not quite self-explanatory. In another, a bowed figure
on a chair appears to be haunted by her own shade.
struggling to keep as much life in my paintings as I have in my sketches,”
she points out.
paintings are far more complex and scrupulously unsensational, in one
a woman in the foreground has had her hands cut off, but the wounds
are distressingly bloodless. This is not about terror but about a feeling
of creeping discomfort. In another, a little boy dressed up for church
in a tiny man-suit blinks in the glare of direct sunlight, waiting to
be photographed. That she has captured his awkwardness is immediately
apparent, the sadness is like an after-taste. The action, if it can
be called action at all, takes place somewhere between dream and fantasy
as the figurative discipline kicks in with real-world details.
we came back to this country,” she resumes, “I entered Rhode
Island School of Design. The painting department was not their strong
point, but it was a place to grow and I’m glad I stayed there.
In fact I stayed in Providence for three years after graduation. But
the artists kept getting pushed out of the ratty buildings we were living
in so they could be sold and demolished. After the second time it happened
Tom and I came to Asheville to visit a friend of his, a jeweler named
stayed. It must be very different for you to be so isolated.”
“I’ve slowly met a few artists here, but its very different
than Providence where I had what amounted to a running conversation
with my roommate, I never got stuck. Here I’m on my own. I’ve
only met one or two painters, both of them really talented women. But
there’s not much support here for the kind of art that challenges
your assumptions. The galleries here are more about craft than art.
But the reason I chose Asheville was I wanted to do community murals
with kids. If I could do more of that and make my art that would be
Tomasetti has lived in Asheville for three years now, where she creates
her art and also paints signs and murals under the name “Wild
Chicken Pictures. You can see examples of both on her Website at www.elizabethtomasetti.com/sito.htm.
has been exhibited at
The Wedge /Asheville NC
The Art Garage / Columbia SC
as galleries in Brooklyn NY, Providence and Warwick RI.
mentored and participated in local community projects including:
Senior Mural Project Mentor/Reynolds High School 2005
Claxton Elementary School Mural Mania program 2004
STEAM mural project 2003-4
Cultural Renaissance summer program 2003
YWCA mural project in 2003
is a freelance financial writer, who is passionate about art. A
former ad agency president and enthusiastic participant of life on the
New York fast track, she moved to Asheville in 2002 with her sculptor
husband, Robert Winkler. A mother of three, a grandmother of four, and
the author of three screenplays, she is dealing with her culture shock
by writing for WNC Woman.