It's 2005, and this is how the collaboration between the sisters starts: Janet unscrolls a stack of new drawings in pen and ink, charcoal, lithocrayon, chalk and pencil. What’s the subject? Cheryl wonders out loud. Heads, Janet says. That is, the semi-abstract human head in various states of mind, its psychology graphically shown and connected to the abstract background by its particular vulnerabilities. Those are depicted and distorted through the artist's vocabulary, anchoring it to the background and making the metaphor succinct.
One drawing in this set came about when one of Janet’s friends showed her the brace on his broken hand. It looks like something Helmut Newton would photograph on a skinny Vogue model, Janet told Cheryl at the time. But where would Helmut place it on the model’s body? He never puts anything in the expected place. Hmm, Janet said and began to think in images, because Cheryl never heard another word about it until she saw the drawing called Split.
I think in images, Janet says. I work like an expressionist, with the figure in the style of the German expressionists, and the space, abstract expressionist. To present images in a more definite space, I improvise in a spontaneous vein. I’m led around by the brush in an automatic way that allows for sensitivity. Subsequent decisions are then made from practice and experience. Executed premeditated meaning makes lifeless art—--no improvisation, no process.
The touch of brush or charcoal to canvas or paper leads in an intuitive direction. When I'm doing a painting that I've already sketched out, the painting doesn't exactly look like the sketch--fortunately--or the process would get boring, with little room for imagination or spontaneity. The meaning in my work is the poetry between image and space—implied rather than overt. Landscape is abstract and can be felt. The figurative elements are the elements I often start with, with the space improvised.
In my drawings, I make figures in a space suited to them. Using the figurative head in an abstract space focuses the relationship between the figurative and abstract elements and lets the viewer experience the psychology of the human figure. To connect the head to its surroundings, I add various elements to establish the psychological relationship between head and space. I am especially interested in what happens when the space becomes an image.
The Prisoner's Dilemma series was done all at once. The poems followed slowly, with much back-and-forth and revision. False starts and paper cuts. Theme emerged, and fought for a toehold.The big connector between the sisters' work is their shared sense of melancholy. Janet's characters are always trying to see, or to connect, and Cheryl puts a narrative to the image and uses it as a springboard for her own. That's probably the biggest difference, within all the similarities.