Studio Visit: Viktoria Ford of Champaign

Q: What are you working on now?

A: This one (points to painting behind her) I just finished. It's a picture of Brazil and South America; it's about the deforestration of the rainforest. It's about how we're breaking up systems. People have said it reminds them of rivers, trees, blood vessels, the lungs. It's all those things. It's any system that carries life.

Q: Does your work explore themes like that?

A: A lot of my work has layers of meaning. There's a lot about the inner world and the outer world, and where those two meet. They're a bit psychological in nature, and abstraction is a good way to do that.

Q: Are you going to be showing your work anytime soon?

A: I have work at the Cinema Gallery (in Urbana). There's always an issue because I like to work large, and mostly small paintings sell. So I'm working on some smaller ones. I call those antidotes. I call some of the smaller ones my "Memory of Water" series. In them, there's always a tension in the sky and a calmness in the water. I think we try to keep calm, as a people. If we really look around us, there's not a lot to stay calm about. To me my paintings represent the juxtaposition of the calm we would like and the tension that's boiling up.

Q: Do you ever work with acrylics?

A: No, it's always oil. I work with glazes in the old Italian way. I build up layers of transparency. Seeing the process is really important in my work. I document my steps with photographs. It's the way I look at where I'm coming from.

Q: How do you find time to paint when you teach full time (as an art specialist at Barkstall Elementary School, Champaign)?

A: I mostly do it during breaks. I have six weeks off during the summers, and I'm on a balanced calendar. What really works well for me is I get something going and when I have a moment, I sit down and work on it.

Q: I didn't know you had four art degrees from the UI.

A: That's about enough, isn't it? I started out in metals, then I was out of school in 1973 and metals went sky-high in price, so I started waiting tables and singing in a rock group (Homeward Bound).

Then my first son came along in 1978 and I started taking a class at a time, and I finished my (BFA) painting degree in 1982. I got a lot of encouragement from (Professors) David Bushman and Jerry Savage. They arranged it so I could attend school for free.

After I graduated with my painting degree I worked for (artist) Frank Gallo. I did testing of different papers and dying of handmade papers. I wrote a book ("Guide to Papermaking"), which was printed and distributed through Pyramid Paper Co.

Then Frank said, "Why don't you get a degree in sculpture and you can be my assistant?" I did that for two years. I was working more in 3-D, which I still enjoy doing a lot. I worked for him again in production, then I started working at Krannert Art Museum, doing exhibition design.

Q: Why did you get a degree in art education?

A: Because of my concerns about my body. It was a hard job, building exhibitions, because you work on cement floors and you're up and down ladders. I just said, "Maybe I should think about something else." It took me a long time to get my master's in art education because I could take only two classes at a time because I had two sons.

Q: Congratulations on being a National Board Certified teacher. I heard that is difficult to achieve.

A: The first time I tried I missed it by two points, and then the second time I tried I was bound and determined I was going to get it.

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