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COPYRIGHT NOTICE


This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Florida.

Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.

This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
used.

For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida










MARCIA ISAACSON INTERVIEW


MB: Marcia, I'd like to ask you about your childhood and your background in

Atlanta.

MI: OK. Specifically related to art?

MB: Yes, but I'd like to know a little bit about your family. Are you the

youngest?

MI: No, I have an older brother, who's about four or five years older than I

am. I have a sister who's a year older. I'm somewhere in the middle. Then I

have a younger brother who's about four years younger than I am. So, there

are four of us. My mother did not work, she was a homemaker. She stayed at

home pretty much, and we did have a maid, as all Southern families did, for a

short while--about the time until we all entered school...elementary school.

My father was in business, 'several businesses. He came from Russia and did

not marry until he was about 48, I believe, and my mother was 20 years

younger, and they were fixed up, it was a blind date, and they met in Atlanta.

So my father was in business with his brother for a short while, and then

somewhere along the line he bought a liquor store. He did not graduate from

even high school. He came over here when he was about 17, fleeing the

persecution, I guess, in Russia, and then immediately joined the Army, because

that was the way you gained citizenship. And he worked in the cavalry,

probably doing what most people wouldn't want to do [laughs] with horses.

So...but he did pretty well for someone who didn't have an education. He

managed to send us all to college, and sent my brothers to dental school at

Emory. My sister and I went to the University of Georgia.

MB: Then you wouldn't remember your father's parents.

MI: No, I think they were dead before I was born.










MB: Did he reminisce about his childhood?

MI: Not often. I think one of the problems was his age. By the time we came

along, he was middle to late 50's. I really...I don't know. I just think he was a

king of quiet person, and he did have brothers and sisters in Atlanta. And

they would get together and talk, but, you know, like all kids, we'd go out and

play. So there was not that much of that. My mother's family, however, was

from South Georgia, and we would always go visit the family home. And so I

did know her sisters and brother, but her folks were also dead by the time I

was born.

MB: Well, one of the reasons I was interested in that is because of your

interest in old photographs.

MI: Well, I can tell you where that came from. In college, I guess this was

about graduate school time, I was searching for imagery and was

interested...and we did a lot 61 figure drawing when I went to school. So it was

natural to use figures in art rather than to do abstractions. And the simplest

way to get figures was to take photographs of people, and that sort of thing. So

a friend said, "Well, I'll take pictures of you doing whatever you want to do, and

then you can draw from them." And that satisfied me for awhile. So while I

was interested in the aspect of the photographic look of people caught by the

camera, he...this friend...brought over these photographs. He was interested

in antiques. He brought over these photographs from an old picture album.

He said, "You might want to use these people." I'd never really seen these old

photographs before...at least a lot of them, anyway. And I found that people

had a certain charm about them. I was very interested in the fact that the

people had to sit for a full minute to have their...

MB: I was going to ask you about that.










MI: Right, un-huh. When we take photographs of each other, it's done in a

fraction of a second, so you get a glance...

MB: You get a glance, you don't get that mystery...

MI: [Laughs] That mysterious air...and these people in the 1900's [sic] had to

sit still for a full minute, and I would imagine in some rather uncomfortable

situations. Sometimes they had these clamps for their heads and their bodies,

so that they were perfectly still. And they had to have this pleasant look on

their face for such a long time, that it sort of almost transcended this idea of

sitting for a photograph.

MB: Yes, it really is like posing for a painter.

MI: Yes, exactly. Also, I was intrigued by the soft lighting... the kind of

lighting they used. I've never investigated that, but there's, there's...I mean,

you don't see quite the microscopic examination of skin and hair that you can

with modern lenses and all, so it's that soft quality that softens the features

that I liked, also. So the glazed look in the eyes and the soft lighting on the

features was what I was intrigued by. It seemed to go with the way I drew,

which was soft kind of modeling.

MB: Yes, uh-huh, and it must have struck a chord, because you didn't really

probably have much of that around your house...

MI: Not around at all...

MB: I mean it's like a generation that really didn't exist for you, essentially.

MI: Exactly. It was a little intriguing. I didn't know the people I was...

MB: Well, you wouldn't really have to, but you'd speculate about their lives

probably.

MI: Well, a lot of the photographs came from antique dealers or stores that

were from Pennsylvania. I noticed that I would always end up drawing

someone from Pennsylvania [laughs] or Maine. And I'm not sure why. And...










years after I came to the University of Florida. And then I started wanting

more to happen in the images, and so I needed to use models. And I couldn't get

the kind of things in people's hands...I couldn't have them hold things and all,

from the old photographs. I could use their heads, but it got more and more

difficult to change the situations. So I went to using photographs of friends.

And my close friend was a woman and, you know, young...about my age. And

so I started working with her, from her, and so all of the drawings seemed to

take on, you know...they seemed to be this same woman.

MB: That's interesting...it really is, because the women {I'm losing my, my

thread here) ...the fact that the feminist movement has been so strong makes it

seem as if you were really very active in that, at one level or another, or it

may have just been a coincidence.

MI: Exactly. It was, it really was. And it's interesting that women...certain

women's groups have wanted to use my work.

MB: Sort of adopt you [ both laugh]...

MI: Exactly, exactly. Not a lot, I wouldn't say it's, you know, but yes...I've been

approached by women's learning centers of various colleges or women's

magazines or journals. There was one put out in Jacksonville that used my

work. So in a way...

MB: Well just a coincidental thing, really.

MI: Yeah, it was.

MB: But that's the way it is so often with things like this, and then people

with hindsight make a big thing of it. You know, something can be just a

spontaneous inspiration.

MI: Well, I don't know. You know, just recently I was approached by Planned

Parenthood [laughs].

MB: Oh me [both laugh]. What did they want you to do?










MI: They wanted to use one of my images on a calendar that they were going

to distribute to young women, high school, college age, women in the city, in

Gainesville.

MB: Well, were they going to suggest a pose?

MI: No. Oh no. Just use one of the images that they...

MB: Which one did they...

MI; Well, they wanted to make an appointment to look at them. They saw a

calendar that was printed for Jacksonville Women's Center at Jacksonville

Junior College, and so they liked that calendar, and they wanted to do their

own.

MB: I wonder what it is that appeals to them. Do you suppose that it's this

quality of thoughtfulness or seriousness?

MI: Vulnerability, I think, too. The women seem is some way to be...they seem

to be in some way vulnerable, but wise. I don't know if that's possible [laughs],

you know. The poses are in some way vulnerable...makes them...but the look in

their eyes, they seem to be older than their years, or they seem to be wise.

MB: I think that maybe it's a little like I mentioned the situation with poetry.

You see this image of this woman, and it seizes your attention, in a way that

you decide to be serious about this, and maybe you would feel that you could

confide in someone. You say that they're vulnerable and though they would

be [not sure of words there], and it's a difficult subject maybe to talk to with

the counselor...about such a difficult subject. So you might find that somehow

this image would make them feel trusting, somehow, you know. There must be

something, because I have a feeling that there's nothing frivolous about these

women.

MI: Right, that's good, yeah. That's great. I never thought of that, yeah.










MI: They wanted to use one of my images on a calendar that they were going

to distribute to young women, high school, college age, women in the city, in

Gainesville.

MB: Well, were they going to suggest a pose?

MI: No. Oh no. Just use one of the images that they...

MB: Which one did they...

MI; Well, they wanted to make an appointment to look at them. They saw a

calendar that was printed for Jacksonville Women's Center at Jacksonville

Junior College, and so they liked that calendar, and they wanted to do their

own.

MB: I wonder what it is that appeals to them. Do you suppose that it's this

quality of thoughtfulness or seriousness?

MI: Vulnerability, I think, too. The women seem is some way to be...they seem

to be in some way vulnerable, but wise. I don't know if that's possible [laughs],

you know. The poses are in some way vulnerable...makes them...but the look in

their eyes, they seem to be older than their years, or they seem to be wise.

MB: I think that maybe it's a little like I mentioned the situation with poetry.

You see this image of this woman, and it seizes your attention, in a way that

you decide to be serious about this, and maybe you would feel that you could

confide in someone. You say that they're vulnerable and though they would

be [not sure of words there], and it's a difficult subject maybe to talk to with

the counselor...about such a difficult subject. So you might find that somehow

this image would make them feel trusting, somehow, you know. There must be

something, because I have a feeling that there's nothing frivolous about these

women.

MI: Right, that's good, yeah. That's great. I never thought of that, yeah.








-










MB: So that they would respond to that. But, uh... Well, to get back to your

historical things, when did you start drawing?

MI: [Laughs] Well, I suppose like everybody else I started when I was about

four or five. What I guess, what was...got me going was like a Saturday

afternoon class at the High [spelling?] Museum of Art in Atlanta. My mother

would take me over there, drop me off. I'd do art for the morning, and she'd

pick me up, and that was like a major thing in my life, was to go over there.

MB: It would be. How old were you?

MI: Well, I don't really remember. I was in elementary school, so I would

think 12 or somewhere...

M B: But it was something where your mother discovered or a teacher

recommended, or...

MI: I truly don't remember. But I will tell you, if I can go back a little bit

further...we were in a elementary school...when I grew up, you know, you

think they're huge, and then you go back and you see them and they're small.

But we were in an elementary school that was built, you know, eons ago, and in

the back of each of the classrooms was some sort of panels that came down, and

if you lifted them up, the kids put their coats and lunches back there, and so,

for every PTA, the teachers wanted these things decorated, depending on

whether it was Thanksgiving or Christmas or Washington's birthday. And

somehow or another, I got involved in doing that, and I remember when I was

like in the third grade, my brother came in with his camera and took pictures,

slides, of these things...they were so fabulous. And the teachers would, you

know, all come into Mrs. Jone's class and look at what her student had created

for PTA...

MB: And so you...










MI: Absolutely, I was a celebrity. I remember in the 7th grade, I did a report

on Ichabod Crane, and it was an oral book report. But unlike anyone else's, I

got it into my mind to get permission to go into the classroom while everyone

was at lunch, and I did these drawings of like a horse and a pumpkin and all of

this...the big tree, and everything. And I just got them started though. I used

colored chalk. And so, as I talked out the book report, I drew these shapes and

things. Well, the teacher loved it so much, I had to do it for all the 7th grade

classes. So it was sort of like, you know, it was like it was good, but it was bad

[laughs].

MB: Oh my. Well, that's really terrific. You got early, early recognition.

MI: Absolutely. And the teachers would say to my parents, "You need to do

something. You need to push this." You know. So I guess it was pretty much

determined.

MB: From lots of encouragement...

MI: Before I even went to high school, that I was going to go and study art.

MB: So you were really focused from the time you were in high school...

MI: Except that I never really understood what it was to be an artist. There

were no books in our house. We never had a stereo. And the only paintings I

can remember hanging on the wall...there was maybe a photograph of us

lying around...were some paintings that were...some uncle had brought back

from a trip to Israel. You know, these things weren't even put up until I was

in high school. So I had no idea what it was to be quote an "artist".

MB: Well, when did you become aware of what there was in the field and

[aimed at? can't understand] art history. When did you first start [can't

understand]

MI: I think when I was in college.










MB: In other words, in high school you weren't given the opportunity,

especially to go to the museum, the High Museum, or to just look at ...

MB: Well, yeah, I guess I should take that back. In elementary school, when I

went to this Saturday afternoon thing, I ran through the museum all the time.

I played in the museum. And so I did see these paintings. They had, you know,

a lot of Renaissance, Baroque paintings, but I never quite connected that with

me.

MB: Yes, I can see how that would be. Another world...

MI: Yeah, I was drawing fruits and vegetables. I never really understood that

connection...those big things in gold frames. I think when I got to college,

and slam-bar, I was in an art history class, I suddenly realized that it was this

whole big thing.

MB: It must have been exciting, wasn't it?

MI: It was scary [both laugh].

MB: Just think, well what will I focus on now, for my little part of this?

MI: I don't know when I ever finally decided. I guess my parents finally said,

"You know, you're in college. What are you going to do when you get out?

How are you going to make a living?" I mean, all this time they pushed my art,

but I don't think they really realized that you could just be an artist. I don't

think they had any idea...

MB: Well, you mentioned going to camp. You taught art at camp?

MI: Mmmm...no. Camp. I was a counselor at camp, but I didn't have anything

to do with the art program. That was right after I graduated from college, for

one summer.

MB: Well, did you have anyone in college who would be a mentor, say?

Somebody who would maybe prepare you for a real serious career in art?










MI: Well, I guess there were quite a few faculty, you know. Lamar Dodd was

the Chairman of the Department, and he is somewhat known. Maybe I

shouldn't have said it like that [laughs]. He's a fairly well known painter. My

mother seemed to know who he was because he was born not far from where

she grew up. He was the Chairman, and he was a painter that a lot of the

students somehow knew him and recognized him as a painter. He went to the

Art Students' League and that sort of thing. And then there were other faculty

that I really found a connection with, and really got to know and like as artists,

rather than just teachers. So I guess there was...I still feel like this one fellow

that I studied under was what I would consider an artist...not a teacher, I would

never put that word first. I would say artist-teacher, whereas I think

unfortunately when you start teaching college, it gets more lopsided teacher

than artist.

MB: Well, do you stay in touch with him?

MI: Oh yeah. I see him all the time. And he still gets up every day and goes in

his studio and paints like crazy. I mean, he considers it a bad day if he hasn't

turned out a painting. He's also a filmmaker and, he's, you know, won lots of

awards and everything, so he's definitely what I...I mean, you know, if I could

ever be anything, I wished I had his drive, his passion.

MB: Well, we were talking about Georgia O'Keefe, you know, and how

important Stieglitz's book... It seems as though there was a time in her life

when, even though she had tremendous desire to be a painter, that she was on

the edge of backing away.

MI: Exactly.

M B: And do you remember when he had installed her paintings in his

gallery, and then she wanted them taken down or something, and panicked?

MI: Right. And he refused to take them down.










MB: It seems that...you just wonder what would have happened to her if she

hadn't had someone with his conviction.

MI: Yeah, and I'm sure that being around people who are living as artists,

earning their living as artists, or struggling to earn their living as artists,

would make a big difference. As I see it, I'm very much an educator.

MB: But what I'm getting around to is, what do you think you need or would

like to have for yourself? How do you get rejuvenated or re-energized or

something when you've been in a situation where you don't see a lot of these

people. I mean, do you find it difficult?

MI: Absolutely. I think what...I don't know if it's exactly...I guess it might be

two things. It might be that you go into your studio and you just try anything

and keep plugging away, and then somehow energy comes when you discover

something, or something happens, and then you're going. It's like you're

gone. And it's a nice...

MB: In other words, you just keep on going whether anything happens or

not.

MI: Right. Even when there's this, "Why am I doing this", you know. The

other thing is being around people, no matter if it's someone doing visual or

not. I don't think that's...

MB: Now you have a good friend who's a poet. Now her problems would be

very similar to your problems.

MI: Absolutely.

MB: So there really doesn't have to...

MI: But when I hear her talk about, you know, well, when I go to a reading

and she reads her poems or...you know, I say to myself, "My God, she's got that

in her...I've got this in me."

MB: Of course you have.










MI: And so you say, "Well, I'm going to go home and see if I can find it." So I

think being around people that are somehow doing this creative thing,

whatever it is...and it doesn't have to be an art thing. It can be anybody with a

passion. It's infectious...you get...

MB: It is. That energy helps you.

MI: Yeah. You start to say, "Well, wait a minute, now, I've got to go do this..."

MB: Do you have some kind of pattern for getting ideas...for ideas? Do they

come to you, say, when you're waking up or do you get up and write things

down at night.

MI: Yes, I used to, I used to. Right before I would fall asleep, my mind would

just start...and I would purposely say, "I need to start...I need to kind of close

my eyes and imagine..." Now I'm so tired I fall asleep [laughs]. I don't know. I

think right now a lot of things are changing. A lot of my ideas about my past

work...so I don't think that /technique is working for me anymore.

MB: What do you think you'll be doing?

MI: I don't know. And I'm wondering if there's another approach or, as you

say, a pattern, or a mechanism for that now. I don't have the answer to that

question. I know that some people go through a routine. They put themselves

in certain situations. They read. They listen to music...or something. I can't

say anything about that now.

MB: You'll know it when it happens, maybe.

MI: Well, right now I'm just sort of up in the air on that.

MB: Well, do you see your work taking a real shift in style or content?

MI: I would like it to...in all of the above. I do feel that, like we were talking

about before, the feminine quality about my work is in some ways a negative.

I'm not sure if I'm expressing this right, but the "prettiness" I suppose is

maybe the better word.










MB: I don't find them pretty.

MI: I find...well, I think in some respect they're pretty, the way they're, the

formal aspects of them and some of the content, like the way I handle fabrics

and hair and skin. It's very nice and sensuous and I think that that has an

immediate appeal, it's pretty, I mean you know, some of the fabric patterns, the

patterns, the...

MB: Do you want something raw? Is that something? A breakthrough.

MI: I, I think I'm the break, I think I am. I think I'm that way and that, I

don't know, I think I'm that way a lot of times and I've heard people...I've

listened to people talk about my work and I've heard them say things like, well

there's this other side of you and somehow when you make art this other side

of you has a chance, that you are a nurturing, soft, sensitive person and it's

coming out. But when you're out there in the world you're assertive and

you're a little bit more abrasive and so... but you don't put that into your art.

Well I kind of feel like maybe I should, you know, maybe I would get more

from my art, because sometimes when I look at it it just looks too soft, too

pretty.

MB: It isn't the real you. Is that it?

MI: Maybe, maybe that's it, maybe it just doesn't show enough of how I feel. I

have all these other feelings, I don't know where that softness came from.

Technique, I think, led me into that. It started with technique and then...

MB: Do you have any particular painting that you can think of that is most

like what you are aiming at?

MI: Oh, that's an interesting question. That's a toughie. Well, I can think of a
6(( ese',e
painter who, I like his work, it's Gregory Gui-espe and the reason I like his

work is because it's done with the same kind of tender loving care and










concern, meticulous quality that my work is done. But there is this other

thing operating in his work, it's spooky, it's eerie,

it's...

MB: Well I think your work has that quality.

MI: Not enough for me.

MB: I see, you want something sinister is that it?

MI: Yes, uh-huh. Now...

MB: Do you think Balthus has this quality?

MI: Oh yeah, now he's been a hero.

MB: He has been.

MI: Even though he's dealing with very cute pretty young little......

MB: Nymphettes or whatever they are.

MI: Yeah, whatever. There is this other haunting quality about his work.

MB: Now I'm not familiar/with uipe, now would he... is his work anything

anything like....

MI: Not at all. No.

MB: It isn't.

MI: It's umm... it can be very raw, I think he's sort of out of that period. But

he does spend months and months and months and months on paintings which

is the same thing I do on drawings. But that has to do with the technique see,

but then instead of the technique being, you being so aware of it, you see these

figures that, that just sort of look kind of other worldish that are to me very

intriguing. My figures still have that sense of reality about them.

MB: I think that you think that because you've lived with them so much, but I

think others who view them see them as timeless other worldly people.

MI: Yea, I suppose, like....










MB: You know, umm, maybe because you know what the elements are and

you've worked with them, that maybe you don't see them as having this

tremendous atmosphere and this sort of compelling, compelling attitude or

whatever it is that they have, because I find them very intriguing.

MI: Thanks.

MB: Yeah, and I think that's a......

MI: Well you know umm, the fact that they're in pencil or black and white, I

think is something I've thought a lot about too, because I think if you were to

see some of them in full living technicolor, they would just seem a little too

natural, too ordinary, too normal. But the fact that they're in black and white

kind of removes them from the everyday and keeps them from looking too

generic or something, they somehow, this black and white quality gives, it's

sort of like seeing movies in black and white.

M B: That's right. It dates them right there. Takes you back to the old

photographs and the old people.

MI: But you like seeing the movies in black and white, or I do. I'm sucked into

those because I don't even, I don't imagine it in color, I never think of it in

color.

MB: No, no, you're right.

MI: I never try to guess what this actresses dress color is, it never even...

MB: Well it's a strange thing because if you see a film that's filmed in color

and see it on a black and white television, it's a shock, because the values make

it so much different. It's as though you can't even see what's going on because

the values are so close.

MI: Exactly.

MB: And somehow, maybe the black and white, the fact that you're using the

black and white makes you really distinguish creations and things









in a way that you wouldn't do otherwise. It'll be interesting to see where you

go from here.

MI: Well, it'll be interesting for me too.

MB: Yes, well are you, have you anything started right now?

MI: I have a drawing that I started at the beginning of the summer that I

must be at a dead end, because all summer long haven't been able to do

anything with it. So I think it's time to...

MB: Is that the one with She /ig White /Space? J

MI: No that's one that you didn't see. It's in the studio but it just has a figure

in the center and nothing else. I have no idea what to do with the background

or what the figure should be doing, I've just got the head and shoulders. So I

think I'm gonna put that aside and ah... Well I never throw anything away,

but ah, put it aside and who knows, start something totally unMarcia like. Now

that could be just a waste of /time but it's bound to be...

MB: No it won't be a waste, it'll tell you something.

MI: Tell me to do it or not do it. At least I tried it if it didn't work.

MB: Do you think you might like to try something without photographs?

MI: I would like to get that quality of not using photographs in my work. I'm

not sure I can go out and find enough things the way I want them without

using photographs. I mean all artists use photographs. A lot of them say they

don't but just about everybody has to have some reference for something. I've

seen people who do still life that they've set up in their studio that are

available to them everyday, still take photographs.

MB: Oh, they do?

MI: Oh some of them do, yea, and a lot of times, it just is real difficult to get

things the way you want them, so you photograph whatever you can when you

can and then, you know, hopefully I can use life, draw from life, and draw










from photographs and have it work like it's... I really am not happy with

quote any kind of photographic quality in my work. That's why I haven't

been using the old photographs for the last five years.

MB: I didn't realize it had been that long.

MI: Yeah. And if I do use them...in fact I tried using one the other day, not

the other day, but the last time I was making some drawings, I ah...what I do is

I try to look for one that I can somehow...that I know, the lighting and

everything, does not look like an old photograph. Something about the

features of the hairstyle, I can change the hairstyle or something, to keep it

from looking like 1900, cause I really have gotten to the point where I don't

want to do that.

MB: That's something that Georgia O'Keefe mentioned too. The early

photographs that Stieglitz took were the ones where she had to hold the

position for a certain length of time and she commented on that. Do you

remember that?

MI: No, it's been so long since I...

MB: It's been a long time since you've seen her but that's the thing that made

me think about your again, you know, that that ....

MI: That's an important quality of those photographs, absolutely.

MB: Well do you want to stop?

MI: Might as well. You can always pick it up.

MB: Yea, we can pick it up again.




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