Oldwick Artist Resumes Career After 40 Year Hiatus
The painting unfolds under Lisa Macchi's brush, with colors, forms
and textures ebbing and flowing in an improvised ballet of expression. For the Oldwick
artist, composition becomes choreography as she progressively harmonizes lyrical, visceral
"My work is very process driven
the enjoyment of the physicality of painting and
interacting with the medium," she said. "What excites me most is applying the paint to
the surface scrubbing it, roughing it, taking away and drawing into it."
The vigor and charisma of Macchi's recent works in acrylic and mixed media appear in
abundance at a new exhibition that fills the River Gallery of the Hunterdon Art Museum.
"Lisa Macchi: New Works on Paper" presents more than 20 paintings chosen by curator Ellen
Siegel from among the profusion at the artist's Pottersville studio.
"I was astounded by how prolific she is, and how she's constantly evolving," Siegel
said. "I decided to select works on paper all done within the past year a mere footstep
in Lisa's continuing journey."
Siegel recognized that a solo show of Macchi's work fulfills perfectly the museum's
mission of exposing often neglected contemporary artists to the attention of a wider
audience. She resolved to highlight the special qualities that radiate from the artist's
most current productions.
"I was drawn to the immediacy of the works on paper the collage elements, the energy of
approach, of creating works that move the viewer in and out of the surface," Siegel said.
"The work is fresh and vibrant, engaging the viewer to explore and experience the work in
their own way."
Siegel had known Macchi for many years as part of the museum community. When she discovered
that her friend had resumed dedicated art making, it piqued her curiosity.
"I was intrigued by her story and impressed by her commitment," Siegel said.
An exodus from art
Macchi's artistic odyssey can be characterized as a career interrupted. She received a
bachelor's degree in fine arts from the Tyler School of Fine Arts at Temple University in
1966, and subsequently studied with renowned modernists Knox Martin and Peter Golfinopoulos
at the Art Students League of New York during the 1970s.
Macchi honed her skills and sensibilities by immersing herself in the New York art scene,
and started gaining some recognition by participating in group shows. But the daunting reality
of her situation gradually dawned on her, bursting into clarity upon a casual comment by artist-
instructor Leo Manso of the Provincetown Workshop at Cape Cod.
"Leo said that if you can find five people in your lifetime who truly understand and appreciate
your work, you can consider yourself lucky," recalled Macchi. "He didn't say it to be discouraging,
but his words confirmed for me how tough it would be to make art my livelihood."
Macchi recognized that as a young woman in a masculine dominated art world of the 1970s, the
deck was truly stacked against attaining financial security as an artist. She redirected her
efforts toward a business career, and worked her way up to a major sales and marketing position
for a large regional real estate firm.
"I believe my art training contributed to my success," Macchi said. "I could visually grasp
things and situations that others often couldn't."
Macchi advanced in her career, got married and raised a family. She put art on hold for 40 years.
"But I always knew I'd go back to painting," she said. "I wanted to do it wholeheartedly and on
my own terms, not as a dilettante or with contrived expectations."
Back to the future
The "returning point" came when her beloved husband Albert was diagnosed with cancer. The serious
yoga devotee proposed that they get away for a while, so he could calm and center himself before
"We went to Nicaragua for six weeks, where he did yoga and meditation," Macchi recalled. "That's
not for me, so I needed something compelling for myself to do. I packed art materials more art
materials than clothes."
By the time they returned, Macchi know she would not be returning to her business career. With
their finances in order and Albert's condition under control, Macchi established a studio in
Pottersville and got busy. Though she had set aside paints, brushes and easel for four full
decades, Macchi soon realized that her life experiences had empowered her and enriched her work.
"If anything, I think my work currently is more confident and thoughtful," she said. "I don't
have to worry about my future in the arts. I'm painting for my own satisfaction."
Macchi inclines naturally to expressive abstraction. But references to scenes and elements from
nature underly most of her compositional features, as evidenced in titles like "Palisades Cliffs,"
"Low Tide," "Snow Against the Hill" and so on.
"I can say candidly that I have the skill set to do figurative work," Macchi said. "I choose
abstraction because I want to open the viewer's eyes to a different perspective."
When painting, Macchi immerses herself in a spontaneous speculative calculus involving formal
principles like color, texture, line and form. She applies fresco patterning to her ground for
depth and substance, amplifies evolving elements with pastels and such, and integrates torn paper
and other collage materials. Still, Fauvist concerns take precedence.
"I consider myself a colorist," she said. "Color and its interactions are central to my work."
Once Macchi begins a work, the painting process assumes an oracular character, as she relinquishes
conscious direction and permits autonomic inner forces free revelatory sway.
"Paintings paint themselves," she said. "I may have an initial idea, but all of a sudden the
painting takes over and dictates a different direction. My hand knows better than my mind it
moves off on its own."
Macchi often works in sequential sets of related paintings, moving back and forth among them as
they mutually inform one another. This approach broadens her field of exploration, with insights
sprouting and blossoming before forming the seeds of further series.
"I see myself working continuously," she said. "The work is never boring it's frustrating and
it can be terrifying, but it's never boring. That's a gift, never to be bored."
Macchi has started to attract a following, with exhibits at Connexions Gallery in Easton,
Pennsylvania, and at New Century Artists in the Chelsea Arts District of Manhattan. She recently
sold out a solo show at Kathryn Rust's Riverside Studio in Pottersville. She very recently
initiated work on some large canvases as a departure from her studies on paper.
"For me," she said, "art is an evolution a commitment, an addiction it's my passion."