Mother of invention
Sitting at her kitchen table, she is every bit the doting mother and grandmother, matriarch of an artistic and close-knit family. Only the paintings dotting the walls of her Livingston home hint at another important aspect of her life: Vivian Press has been involved in creating art portrait painting, print-making, pen-and-ink drawings, and now abstract painting from early childhood.
“It’s always been in my blood,” she told NJ Jewish News in an interview. The evidence of her evolution as an artist was visible in a recent exhibition of her work at Livingston Town Hall abstract paintings in muted colors, blocks of irregular shapes and occasional thin, jagged lines. “I don’t use a brush,” she explained. “I mix my colors, pour it, and let the paint form its own natural shape.” Press was both animated and amused as she described the way her work defies the stereotype of aging she maintains that she has become less rigid, more flexible as she has developed as an artist. “I keep changing,” she said, “expanding the media, developing new techniques.”
She made a quick trip to the living room and brought back of a pen-and-ink drawing of a young woman, completed many years ago, which Press carried into the kitchen to illustrate her point. “I used to work in a very detailed style,” she said, but then she found herself “fighting the tightness of pen and ink. I wanted to break away from this” tracing with her finger the precise outline of the portrait “and get into other [styles]. I have moved from the very realistic to layers of colors.”
Today, she has more choices and time, but when her children were growing up, she painted only on a part-time basis. “I had no studio,” she recalled. “I worked at home.” She has four sons: Jan is a photographer; George, a jeweler; Rich, a medical photographer; and Ken, an oral surgeon. Her sons, along with seven granddaughters and three grandsons, are all artistic. When her children were young, the family belonged to what is now B’nai Shalom in West Orange, where they were founding members. She located one of her etchings from that period, a small, narrow illustration of a Torah scroll with a menora in the background, so different from the freeform abstractions that characterize her work today.
“My sons I know they liked my work all these years. They are proud of me.” When she was invited to show her paintings in Livingston, “George, Jan, and [grandson] Raime came over and wrapped everything and hung the art. All the work they did I could not have done it as well.
“I’m not the usual artist who goes to sell things. It stays in the family. I do it for joy, therapy. My friends and my children have [the paintings]. If the boys didn’t push me, I wouldn’t have been in the Livingston show either,” she said. She paused momentarily and then added decisively, “I’m never going to retire. I’m 85 and I’ll never retire.”
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