InLiquid artist members come from many different places, backgrounds, and material approaches. It is this variety that is evidence of a thriving community. InLiquid member Donna Backues is a practicing studio artist, freelance designer/illustrator, and painting/drawing instructor at the Village of Arts and Humanities. Her paintings, drawings, and designs undulate with dynamic, organic energy and evoke a sense of roiling depths and currents. Her beautiful mark making reveals a genuine love for her medium.
When did you become interested in making art?
I remember loving art at age five. I drew on everything – even surfaces that weren’t meant for that. My mother and grandmother were artists and I remember them saying, “She has it.” And I didn’t know what they meant.
Where are you from?
I was an air force “brat” and was born on Guam, moved to Alabama, Michigan, New Hampshire and then lived in England till I was 11 and then lived in a small town in Southern Illinois till I was 22. I lived in Indonesia with my husband and two children for 18 years before moving to Philadelphia in 2007. When I don’t feel like explaining, I say I’m from Illinois.
Do you feel like where you grew up affected your approach or process?
I have always had a love for landscape – from all angles & distances – even aerial. Maybe travel and having a geologist father who, when we traveled, would tell me about how the land was formed and why it looked a certain way. Of all the sciences, I always loved geology the most. So I seem to approach most subjects in light of place.
Is process meditative for you?
I’m not really sure how to answer this question. I guess it depends on what is meant by process. Often I will think for months or years about what I’d like to do for a particular body of work. I seem to have several ideas at any given time that are “shelved” for the future. So I believe my thinking process can be meditative.
My preferred process of actually making the art has become more and more meditative over the years. I have a general idea of what I want to do but I like to get “lost” in the mark making and let the work develop more organically. I like the element of surprise. I take risks more than I used to. I care about the process being enjoyable more than worrying about the result.
Have there been any times of growth/challenge that you’ve encountered in your art career that you would like to share?
Being a mother and an artist is always a challenge. When my kids were really young, I had to make art that was easy to clean up and small. There were years when all I could do was draw in a sketchbook with a pen. But, I always kept drawing and those stacks of hardbound sketchbooks are very precious to me – full of drawings of my kids sleeping, my husband reading, my garden, the rooms in my house.
During my watercolor years ,when I was in my early 30s, Winslow Homer was my hero and of course my watercolorist mother. Later as my work began to change I started looking at Mathew Ritchie’s chaotic lines, Cy Twombly’s scribbles, Mark Tobey’s white “writing” and Odilon Redon’s brooding pastels. Novels such as Thomas Wolfe’s Time and a River and Malcom Lowery’s Under the Volcano have been hugely influential for me especially in the authors’ use of landscape as metaphor.
Concerns about the contemporary art world?
I think it’s an exciting time to be making art. There seems to be no limits on what can be done. Having stated that, I do believe that it takes time to create art that will outlive current trends. I think most young artists need to draw from observation more, even if they are abstract painters or conceptual artists. This takes time and discipline – something that might be harder now that computers and cell phones are so much a part of our lives.
What are some important/interesting life/professional lessons you’ve learned?
I think that as I have gotten older I realize how much more significant a disciplined studio work ethic is compared to having lots of natural talent. I have seen former art student friends, who seem so mediocre in their youth, become very good seasoned artists. I think the old saying, “10% talent and 90% sweat” rings true.
Do you have any advice for younger artists?
Develop a daily habit of drawing in a sketchbook from observation – not just doodling.
I would really love to spend six months just working in my studio. Because I have to work, I don’t get into my studio as much as I would like. A larger studio would be nice one day as well.
Be sure to check out Donna Backues website for updates on her portfolio, events, and exhibitions! She was one of three winners of the 2nd American Batik Competition last year, and I am sure that she will have many more accomplishments to follow in the future!