On and Off the Wall is a series of brief
reflections on or about works in the collection, including those that
may not often make an appearance on the gallery wall due to shortage of
One of the perks of working for the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph
College is that every day is spent surrounded by incredible art. During
my time as the Office Manager of the museum from 2001 to 2005, many
of the paintings in the collection became old friends. One of my
favorites has always been Tana’s Sink by Joyce
Stillman-Myers. I would often stop to spend a few minutes with this
painting as it hung in the gallery or on the museum’s storage screens.
I love this photorealistic painting of a kitchen sink for its use of
color and the treatment of light reflecting in glass and water and
off the metallic stainless sink. Standing away from the painting, it
appears smooth and nearly photogenic to the eye. A closer view reveals
it to be almost abstract, and the artist’s brushstrokes are painterly
The baster hints of a turkey dinner. Some of the dishes in the sink
resemble those of my grandmother. I imagine a story of Tana as the
matriarch of a large family preparing a meal for her noisy extended
brood, much as my own grandmother did every Sunday as I was growing up.
I eventually became curious about the “real” story behind the
painting. In March 2003 I contacted Stillman-Myers who agreed to answer
a few of my questions:
KF. An artist once told me that she simply wanted
people to “feel something” when they viewed her work. Do you have the
same goal with your paintings?
JS-M. I remember saying 25 years ago with the ego of
a young beginning artist: “All I want is for people to fall down on
their knees in front of my paintings, overcome with emotion and awe.” I
know better now, but I would have liked to be that good. Having an
affect on people is still my biggest thrill, my deepest concern, and
the spark that makes me live.
KF. Tana’s Sink is one of my favorite
paintings in the Maier’s collection. I never get tired of it. I wish I
could have been at Tana’s for that meal.
JS-M. See? That is what keeps me painting when I feel low, stressed or hopeless.
KF. Was Tana a real person?
JS-M. Tana was my best friend, my support, and my
biggest fan. She lived in a weird, round house a couple miles away from
mine. I lived with my husband. She lived with her lover. All the
girls always hung out at Tana’s. We talked feminist politics and
listened to music. I often preferred to be there instead of home.
KF. Was she a good cook?
JS-M. Not especially. We all were good together.
KF. Was the sink full of dishes from a party?
JS-M. Yes… and no. Everyone had chipped in helping
to create some giant salad. I made a cheese omelet DRIPPING with
cheese. It looked like Alien!
KF. When you painted Tana’s Sink, did you work from a photograph?
JS-M. Yes. After things were cleaned up, I set up
the sink and put the pestle in the bowl. (We hadn’t used it for the
meal.) I climbed up on the sink (which was set in a counter of mosaic
tiles—very seventies) with my camera and tool some photos as the
afternoon light streamed in the window.
KF. Do you always paint from photographs?
JS-M. Although I used photographs, I found it necessary to have my
sink removed from the kitchen and brought down to my studio so that I
could see it as I painted. (I had a new sink put in my kitchen.) I took
the stuff in her sink home with me and set it up like the photographs
best I could. Tana’s sink was stainless, so I had to remember the
beautiful purples and other hues I had seen in it that day. Of course, I
was always running over there to get another look. Hers was a double
sink, but I only painted one side.
KF. The museum has categorized Tana’s Sink under the genre of Photorealism. Would you agree with that assessment?
JS-M. You are the analyst. I am the manufacturer. Is
my work Photorealism? My dealer, Louis Meisiel, insists it isn’t. I
say it is. On the other hand, compared to other Photorealism, I think
it’s more—let me see—it has more mass. I want it to have more
presence—to be more palpable than just straight Photorealism. I am not
painting the photograph. I am using the photograph. I am painting the
thing. Unlike the Photorealists, I don’t have to give any excuses
about why I use a photograph. I’m not interested in “flatness”. I’m
interested in illusion. The photo is just another tool to help me stop
KF. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Have I talked your ear off enough?
JS-M. NO. Do you still wish you had been at the meal?
My answer to Ms. Stillman-Myers was then (as it is now, seven years later) yes—I wish I had been at that meal.
Kathleen Fort ’10 is a former office manager of the Maier
Museum, and during her studies at Randolph College, she served at the
museum as work study and intern. She continues her relationship with
the Maier by providing web content management and graphic design on a
Software Proficiencies Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, Illustrator, PhotoShop, Lightroom, DreamWeaver, Acrobat); Flash, After Effects; WordPress; Weebly; Microsoft Office; Microsoft Expression Web, in both PC and Mac platforms