Memory Paintings

      When I started planning this book, I looked up the words “memory painting” in a dictionary of art terms and was directed to “mind’s eye,” the faculty of the mind to imagine or remember visual things. That is precisely what these paintings are all about but I must add this caveat: none of them are about an actual place. They are all based on the reality of life as I knew it in the 1930s, but they came from my imagination.
            I am often asked “Why the thirties?” Why? Partly because I think that it was a very special time in the United States and partly because it was my time of growing up. It was a time of new inventions, new technology and freedom to explore and open up new territories in art, literature and music. There was also a feeling of neighborliness and mutual respect. I have tried to capture on canvas some of the places and activities of those times. The thirties were also a time of transition, combining the past with the latest and newest. Many homes still had and used their Victrolas while also enjoying radios. There were automobiles and trucks but some businesses still used horses and wagons.
            I selected the painting “Merry-Go-Round” as an introduction to the book as a kind of symbol or metaphor for the thirties. Merry-Go-Rounds were a popular and inexpensive form of entertainment. No matter what their physical condition was they seemed colorful and exotic. Riding on the animals was living a dream. This is the only painting I have done on which I also wrote a poem and a date.
      We spend our lives on the Merry-Go-Round Riding the
      animals of our choice, our ears are filled with its music
      Spinning, Spinning faster and faster
      Until the landscape is blurred and memory falters
      It stops
      At last, it stops and we, poor weary riders
      Stumble off
      Trembling at strange new sights.

            Looking back, I can see how appropriate the poem is for the time of the thirties. Those years were part of a twenty year intermezzo between two great wars. Like the riders our ears were so filled with the music of the present that we did not hear the ominous drum sound of the future.
            I am often asked questions that are specific to my painting. One is “how do you decide what to paint?” I am quick to say that there is no lack of ideas. Ideas for paintings can come from the memory of a place, a situation or special event. There are always suggestions from family, friends, even strangers.
            I am also asked about the names and numbers in my paintings. I “borrow” the names of family and friends including birthdates, telephone numbers and street addresses. Sometimes I use the date of the day I am painting. And whenever I can, I use my birth year, 1919. In some cases I make up names for products and places. I have only used my name once for a store and that was by request from the person who had commissioned the work.
            A few years ago I started using canvas with wide stretcher edges so I could continue the painting around the canvas edges. In my mind, the painting goes on beyond the physical barriers. I always include as much detail as is needed to convey what I want the viewers to see in the painting. The details are the language of the painting.
            I was not a child prodigy. I started painting in 1974. As a self-taught artist, painting has always been and continues to be a learning experience. Painting is a way of life for me and yes, I still paint every day.
      --Marcia Muth