Lila Lewis Irving on Helen Frankenthaler

Who has been a driving influence in your work? Have you had a teacher that just inspired you to push the envelope, to keep challenging yourself to innovate and to never settle for “good enough”? Who has inspired you as an artist or cultural producer?

Who have you inspired?

In a career spanning over fifty years, Con Spirito artist Lila Lewis Irving has taught many aspiring artists. Over the next few weeks, you will hear from her students about the influence she has had on their lives. Lila was a student herself once, and she counts American abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler as one of her most influential teachers.

Frankenthaler was a major contributor to the history of postwar American painting. Her work has been the subject of several retrospective exhibitions, including a 1989 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and been exhibited worldwide since the 1950s. In 2001, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

The Art Gallery of Mississauga recently asked Lila to share one of her favourite memories of Helen Frankenthaler. Here is what she said:

I attended a month long workshop with Helen Frankenthaler in the summer of 1991 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There were twelve of us.

I was just at the very beginning of my journey into abstraction and was very uncertain of myself. We painted on large pieces of raw canvas, 4 by 8 feet, on the floor. She came in for critique two times out of each five day session.

It was a struggle for me. I had many colours and used them in each canvas. Once she came over to me and said “Gray is beautiful, you know.”

That taught me a lot.

At the end of the month she said that I had come a long way.

Con Spirito is on exhibit at the Art Gallery of Mississauga March 1 – April 29. Details at 

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