Studio Visit: Sylvia Arnstein
Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, a chat with Sylvia Arnstein, 59, an artist and freelance interior designer who is showing her works in the exhibition "Sojourn" through June 26 at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, 601 S. Lincoln Ave., U.
Q: I saw your art at the Alumni Center. Are they oil paintings and pastels?
A: Probably three-quarters oil paintings and a couple are oil pastels. I do a lot of oil pastels when I travel.
Q: Your style seems to be impressionistic, expressionistic and fauvist.
A: If I were Scottish, I would call myself a Scottish colorist with a hefty injection of abstract expressionism.
Q: Didn't you live in Scotland? When was that?
A: I was probably in my mid- to late 30s. I sold my art there and was represented by a gallery there for years, and I sold my artwork directly to people. I love the Scottish painting tradition — they recognize and absorb impressionism, and I find the people are incredibly generous. I would stay with somebody and go out and draw, and people would see my art and invite me to their place or bring me cups of tea or tell me stories.
Q: Where else did you live?
A: I lived in New York for six years, in a 5,000-square-foot loft in Brooklyn with many other people, and it was rough going. I originally went to New York to get a master's in printmaking at the Pratt Institute, and then I stayed on after I finished. By the end, I realized I was primarily a painter.
I moved from New York to San Luis Obispo. One reason was I wanted to learn how to do landscape paintings on site, and Manhattan is not the place for that. I discovered in San Luis Obispo that many consider the light in that area the closest to Mediterranean light of any place in the U.S. I think I added 10 years to my life there. I learned to truly relax.
Q: Then what?
A: After I moved out to California, I went to Edinburgh with my mother, Charlotte, who's a musician. I got to know people there. So I stayed for three months, then went back to California.
I went back and forth. I figured that I spent almost three years total on the West Coast and three years in Scotland. I also spent a winter up in Seattle.
Q: How did you get into art in the first place?
A: When I was growing up, there were musicians in our house, and we went to museums. My grandfather had taken up painting after he retired, and I received paper and paint and pencils.
Q: Were you born in Champaign?
A: I was born in Chicago and raised there and in London — my father, Walter, was a professor of British history, and then we came down here when I was in ninth grade.
Q: What high school?
A: Centennial, right after it opened. I graduated in '72. Then I got my undergraduate degree in painting at the UI. I spent my junior year in London, studying at the Sir John Cass College of Art. I loved it. I spent every evening up in the gods at Covent Garden. That's what they call the seats at the very top. It was an incredible education, and it really saved me.
Q: With whom did you study at the UI?
A: James Lynch, who died recently, and Billy Morrow Jackson, Bill Briggs and Philipp Fehl — he taught art historiography, the study of art history. Also Jonathan Fineberg. I had him for contemporary art history, and he really opened that up to me.
Q: When and why did you move back to Champaign?
A: I wanted to be closer to my family, so I came back to Chicago and lived there for 20 years and then I moved here three years ago. I knew my parents were getting ready to retire to Clark-Lindsey, so I came down to facilitate the move.
Q: Aren't you vice president of the Central Illinois Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters?
A: I'm second vice president. It's a philanthropic organization that supports young artists at the beginning of their careers. They're people who have reached a point of maturity and focus by the time they come to our attention.