Squeak Carnwath at the Lux Art Institute - K.C. Alfred
Squeak Carnwath’s friend was upset. Although the friend was stricken with melanoma, that wasn’t what was disturbing her the most. Someone had told her she should have seen the doctor earlier, and she was ridden with guilt that she hadn’t. n “She was really upset by it,” Carnwath said. “And I said, ‘Well, X shouldn’t have said that to you.’ And X shouldn’t have, because X had already been through breast cancer and eventually died of it. It was her own call on herself, probably.” n So Carnwath did what only an artist could do. She created a guilt-free zone for her friend. n Literally.
Carnwath set aside a portion of a painting she was working on and labeled it “Guilt Free Zone.”
“And then I realized, I could use a guilt-free zone,” Carnwath said. “And couldn’t we all? So I just started putting it on all of the paintings.”
Three of Carnwath’s paintings on exhibit at the Lux Art Institute, where Carnwath is in residence through July 11, have a Guilt Free Zone. The designation is absent in her most recent work.
“I don’t put them in the paintings anymore because I feel I’ve kind of absorbed it,” she said. “I feel less guilty about things.”
Over the course of four decades, Carnwath has created a vital, highly regarded body of work, much of it combining words and images. But as much as she’s created the art, the art has created her.
“Art-making is how you build yourself,” Carnwath said. “My mother never got to do that. I don’t think she got to build who she was, because she dealt with all this other stuff and never did what she wanted.
“You always have stuff you don’t really want to do. You have to wash the dishes; you have to do other things, but if you mostly do what you really want to do, you’re in the process of building who you are.”
Just as her paintings have an appealing openness to them, Carnwath shows an openness about the complexities of a childhood spent growing up on the East Coast, partly in eastern Pennsylvania, where she was born. Her father, a businessman who constantly moved the family around as he moved from one position to the next, was an alcoholic. But he was supportive of her artistic aspirations.
Her mother apparently could never get unstuck, and just as her own father had dismissed her ambitions to be a writer, she discouraged her daughter from becoming a professional artist.
“My mother was a fabulous negative role model,” said Carnwath, who started to draw in elementary school. “Really. It was a gift; it really was. Because she didn’t do anything she wanted to do, not deeply.”
The household was in a constant state of drama over her father’s condition. And Carnwath realized at some point that ultimately only her father could make the decision to change, or not. After dealing with her family and spending a year studying art at Goddard College in Vermont, Carnwath did what she needed to do.
View article at The San Diego Union-Tribune