Wearing Two Hats

Janice LaMotta

Curator will share her own paintings

Over the five years that Janice La Motta served as executive director of the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum, she set aside her own work. 

“I hadn’t given myself the time to be in the studio, but I was constantly thinking about it,” she says.

La Motta has long juggled making art with overseeing spaces that hold it. Before her job in Woodstock, she spent 18 years at the helm of the Paesaggio Gallery (later La Motta Fine Art) in West Hartford, Connecticut, a position that she says helped her “understand the wearing of the artist’s hat and allowed me to be more sympathetic and compassionate about understanding their talents. I embraced the two [roles] and applied one to another.” 

Now it’s her turn to be the artist: An exhibit of her work, A New Path to the Waterfall, opens Feb. 5 at the Garrison Art Center. 

Two years ago, amid the pandemic shutdown, La Motta was inspired to leave her job in Woodstock and dive back into creating art by “Of Power and Time,” an essay on the creative process by Mary Oliver. 

“Work poured out of me; it has been gestating for four-plus years while I was otherwise engaged,” she says. 

The Garrison show will showcase the results of that pent-up energy. “At a certain age, you are more reflective and want to give attention to the things you value; as you get older, you’re more inclined to do that. This work happened because I gave it power.”

The work proved to be quite different from La Motta’s earlier pieces. “I worked figuratively, previously,” she explains. “It served as armature for emotional content. After reading the essay, I started mucking around and, from left field, a bolt of lightning struck. I made one piece, then another. 

“Your work can come from strange and disparate places,” she says. “For me, right now, I care about the painting process informing the creation of the piece. Everything I’m absorbing through walking through the world is in there in subtle and obvious ways. I want to push that idea, or I want to work with this shape; let’s try making them on rolls of Yupo paper.”

La Motta says she studied studio art in college and “had no thoughts to a specific career. In fact, I didn’t take any painting classes. It was the tail end of the conceptual art period, so I got involved in mediums like video, a little bit of film. There weren’t programs for curatorial studies or arts administration; everything was approached from the perspective of an artist.”

She feels fortunate that she can “move easily between both hemispheres of my brain: the creative side and the analytical side. As a curator, I try to be sympathetic to artists’ voices, but it’s also helpful for an artist to use the opportunity of seeing how someone else is reading their work.

“It will be interesting to me to see how this show reads, especially working now with an abstract vocabulary,” La Motta says. “We tend to look at visual art in a narrative way, but what a painting is about is the process of how it emerges. I’m sure I’ll see things, once the show is up, differently than how they look in the studio. Paint isn’t finite; exciting pieces can be unresolved. I like the tension of the mystery of it.”

The Garrison Art Center, at 23 Garrison’s Landing, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. See garrisonartcenter.org. A New Path to the Waterfall continues through March 6, along with an exhibit of works by Patricia Zarate titled All Together Now. 

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