Western North Carolina Woman

profile: vera struck
by rachelle rogers

She begins, “I was once told, 'Vera, you lack the art of subtlety,’ and I was very depressed for a long time. Very depressed.” We are in the living room of her home, her sanctuary, as she calls it, sitting in front of the first fire of the season. “Because I wanted to be the most subtle thing ever.” Vera pauses to rethread a needle. She is sewing blue-black feathers onto a man’s silk tie to raise money for The McCartney Project: Enduring Ties, one of the many charities with which she is involved. “And only after long soul searching,” she continues, “did I realize and come to accept that there’s nothing subtle about me.”

Although Vera Struck may not be subtle, she has the ingenuity and perspicacity of someone who is. Not the physical “Amazon Woman” she perceives herself to be, Vera takes up big space energetically, yet respects another’s presence. She gives the reassurance of solidity, authenticity; that, like it or not, what you see is what you get. And this kind of largeness is reflected in her art. Whether it’s an iconographic swirl of color, a bal masqué nude, or a six foot Buddha, her emotional objective unselfconsciously leaps out.

From the time she was very young, Vera drew in the margins of all her notebooks. Art, she felt, was her calling. But when, on a museum field trip, she wandered away from her class and got caught fondling a Gaston Lachaise sculpture to experience the huge shoulders and arms, the tiny waist, the big hips and breasts, her mother burned all her drawings.

Since Vera possessed a natural gift for numbers, excelling in science and mathematics, she eventually pursued a very successful career as a CPA. Not until years later, when her marriage dissolved into divorce, did she go back to her art.

“You should have seen me.” She’s talking about Philip Gustin’s class at Boston University. “I’m in a Dior suit, with no shoes on, and I’m drawing crazy with my fingers smooshed with pastels, totally unaware of anyone around me.”

Most artistic hopefuls are encouraged not to quit their day jobs. Vera was told the opposite, although she was reluctant to rush into anything. So, receiving a full scholarship to the Museum School in Boston, she attended night classes, earned an MFA, and later taught at The University of Pittsburgh and The Art Institutes of Phoenix and Pittsburgh. Experimenting with a series of genres including colorfield abstracts, wildlife, erotica, Greco-Roman images, Native American and Buddhist iconography, Vera has, for the past 35 years, gained international recognition for an amazingly prolific body of work.

But it was in the 1980’s that she began to develop her Quadrum Matrix series, a personal synthesis of the science, art, and spirituality inherent in all her previous genres, plus the addition of time. “Quadrum means square, and matrix means mother grid,” she explains, “thus the grid of all science and nature.”

The Quadrum Matrix is based on the golden mean, one of the mysterious natural numbers that seem to arise out of the basic structure of the cosmos. It is clearly and regularly perceived in things that grow and unfold in steps. In mathematics it is seen in the “Fibonacci” series, a list in which each new number is the sum of the previous two, and the ratio of any two sequential numbers in the series is within hundredths of a percent of 1.6 or phi.

In geometry, it is seen in a rectangle whose sides are related by phi, called a golden rectangle. If a new rectangle is formed by swinging the long side around one of its ends to create a new long side, that new rectangle is also golden. Likewise, if you start with a 1” x 1” square and swing its sides around to make rectangles, you wind up with golden rectangles without even trying.

“Everything is riddled with math,” Vera explains. “If you look at the pyramids you can see them as receiving towers for transmissions, or as burial towers, depending on the math you apply to them. You can look at the Tree of Life, a symbol that appears in 16 different spiritual belief systems. It’s very interesting. Ancient architecture is filled with golden rectangles.”

As is the Quadrum Matrix, a series of golden squares and rectangles on which Vera has created images and textures. The golden mean, as a mysterious, underlying construct that permeates all things, connects all things, and Vera sees this as the basis for developing a relationship between her and the collector or buyer or viewer of her work. The individually designed sections can be combined and interchanged to create a custom work of art. Constructed and deconstructed, she calls it, likening the process to wave theory (which would need a whole other article to explain), and introducing the idea of time. An initial configuration can be altered. A damaged piece can be replaced, older sections can be taken out, new ones added. The work evolves.

Vera sees the Quadrum Matrix as the beginning of her most mature work, and Asheville as the perfect place to support that. Vera had visited many times, and like so many others, felt this ancient stretch of North Carolina Blue Ridge would inevitably become her home. When the time was right she moved herself and her studio here from Atlanta in one month.

“I was looking for a place that would sustain and support me as I found the courage to live with authenticity.” Being authentic is very high on Vera’s list of aspirations. And, for her, Asheville nurtures that. “My only legacy is to be awake and present. I came to Asheville because I felt more awake here. I had less resistance to being who I truly am.”

Like Picasso, Vera sees art in everything. And experiments with all of it. She might awake one day and decide to work with anything but black or brown. Or not to paint with any traditional tools. “So I grab the first six things I see and learn how to paint with rags, towels, bars of soap, combs, anything.” Toward the end of his career, when Picasso was asked how he can be so prolific and have so many styles, he replied, “Oh, but young man, all I do is put my hands in my pockets and pull out the fingers of all the artists before me.”

“Essentially,” Vera explains, “he was saying that to be a gifted artist, you are born with and have in your cellular structure all those masters you have appreciated and understood from the past.” She points to a drawing of her sister done in a style reminiscent of the Mona Lisa hanging on the wall across the room. “You look at that and that is a Da Vinci/Michaelangelo drawing. That is taking the style of a certain century of art and being able to show that I understand how they did eyelids, noses, mouths. I understand how they cross hatch. I understand exactly what they did, exactly the way they drew back then.” She pauses. “So the thing is, where do I go from here? What do I do with the Quadrum Matrix.” Vera grows silent, pokes at the fire logs, drawing her energy inward. “Maybe I’ll just finish my 3-D here and go on to work with light…” she says, and for a moment, I imagine her becoming subtle as air.

Visit Vera Struck online at struckstudios.com

A poet, fiction writer, and freelance editor, Rachelle Rogers is author of Creative Crafts Desk Handbook (Prentice-Hall, Inc.), has received competitive recognition for short story, memoir and poetry, and was awarded a 2002 Wildacres Artists Residency. She has also been a reader with UNCA/Great Smokies Writing Program’s Writers at Home series. Her work has appeared in several publications and literary journals including Lucid Moon, WNC Woman, Pointed Circle, Passager, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women. She lives in Asheville, NC and is currently at work on a second novel.

Rachelle offers complete professional, creative and business editing services and manuscript critiques. [ 828.252.4123; rachelle@rachellerogers.com; rachellerogers.com ]

Western North Carolina Woman
is a publication of INFINITE CIRCLES, INC.

PO BOX 1332 • MARS HILL NC 28754 • 828-689-2988

Celebrating the Spirit of Place in Western North Carolina