Duane Paluska and Ellen Golden live in Woolwich and work in Brunswick in the building that houses ICON Contemporary Art, the gallery that Duane has owned and operated for the past thirty years.
Ellen: One of your first presents to me was the last painting that you made before you stopped painting in your late twenties. When I asked why you had stopped painting, you said that you could only do one thing at a time. At the time, that one thing was teaching. How do you feel now about doing more than one thing at a time?
Duane: The circumstances were different then. I had a young family and was expected to be the breadwinner. I had a gallery in Boston and enjoyed some success, but it wasn’t enough. The important thing is that I continued to make things. That has always been important to me. Even before I stopped teaching, I was designing and making furniture and eventually houses and other buildings.
Ellen: What brought you back to painting?
Duane: The experience of restoring a wood and canvas canoe started me thinking about using canvas in the furniture that I was making. The first pieces were boxes with painted canvas sides. Soon I was making cabinets with a similar technique and, before too long, the furniture element disappeared. I was left with painted canvas on shaped wooden panels. Along the way, I discovered that I could do more than one thing at a time. Going back and forth between furniture and painting was useful when one or the other wasn’t going well.
Ellen: How have you managed to integrate ICON into your studio practice? Doesn’t the gallery take time and energy away from your work?
Duane: In many ways, ICON has added to my practice. Although the weeks when I am hanging a new show leave little time for other activities, I have gained a lot by working with so many varied artists. Each show is up for four weeks, giving me time to look closely and consider it thoroughly, and the conversations with interested gallery visitors are stimulating and often enlightening. Of course, having my studio and the gallery side by side makes it possible to manage ICON and continue to make things.
Now, let’s talk about you. For years, you talked about getting back to making art and then about fifteen years ago, you started drawing. What happened?
Ellen: Soon after I moved to Maine, I worked for a few years with a potter painting pots. Eventually, I didn’t like being so dependent on someone else’s skills. Around the time I quit, I also stopped painting even though I had done it for most of my life. I am not sure that I can explain it. I credit an intensive drawing workshop taught by Andrea Sulzer with setting me in motion again. Even though I didn’t like anything that I made in the workshop, it inspired me to keep going. I pursued various ideas and quickly discovered an affinity for ink.
Duane: Wasn’t it challenging to build your practice while you were working full time?
Ellen: Initially, I didn’t mind squeezing my drawing into evenings and weekends. I didn’t have any expectations about outcomes; I just knew that it was something that I needed to do. Over time, it became increasingly difficult to balance the demands of a full time job, volunteer commitments and other activities with a growing interest in drawing. At one point, I started drawing at meetings instead of taking notes. My colleagues were surprisingly enthusiastic and supportive. Once I started showing my work, the constraints of working at the kitchen table and in my ‘free time’ became increasingly frustrating.
Duane: What is it like for you now to have your own workspace and more time?
Ellen: I am so grateful for the time and space. I left my job at the end of 2015 and it was a seamless transition. My last work day was a Friday and the following Monday, I was drawing in my studio. I feel that I have to make up for lost time, so being in the studio is my priority. I am definitely influenced by all those years of regular employment – drawing is what I do and my studio is where I do it and I have a pretty regular schedule.
Duane: What about other interests and obligations?
Ellen: In some ways, it is hard to make time for other things in my life and not resent the interruption. On the other hand, being in the studio is pretty much a solitary activity, and outside stimulation is important. As a consequence, I try to maintain social and community activities but spread them out. There is probably a natural balance, and I am still trying to find it. I think that having our work and home lives so connected makes finding a balance easier.
Their work will be on exhibit at ICON from June 8 – July 6, 2019 every day, except for Sundays, from 1 – 5 pm.
Image at top of page: Ellen Golden, How Do You Know?, Ink on paper, 14” x 11”, 2019