IFWA interviews Debra Pearlman


Interview with Debra Pearlman  ( link to video )

International Foundation for Women Artists (IFWA) interviewed artist, Debra Pearlman at her studio.

Debra talks about her work, her most recent work in progress, her views, and her take on being a woman artist.

Debra Pearlman focuses her work on children through print, photography, sculptures and many different mediums. She has had her work shown in numerous galleries and are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum; the New York Public Library; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and more. She has also lectured at The Museum of Modern Art and taught at the Lincoln Center Education.

For more information about the artist, check out her website: debrapearlman.net

For more interviews with women artists, check out our website: ifwartists.org


Gail Goldsmith has been creating figurative clay sculpture for more than 20 years.  Her subject matter has sources in children’s toys, portrait faces, and in memory.  Her sculptures convey a wide range of emotions. Gail Goldsmith has exhibited extensively in New York and New England.

When did you start doing art?

I was ten years old and my family was living in Los Angeles with my aunt. I was given a drawing book, which showed how to turn letters of the alphabet into faces. This fascinated me; I sat on the living room floor for hours making pencil drawings. My aunt said that she wanted to send me for art lessons. At that moment I realized I would be an artist.

What do you do? Tell us about your art.

Almost all of my work is based on the human figure. (The “Everyday Weapons” series you saw is a prominent exception!). I started out as a painter, drawing from models. Then when I was at Cranbrook Academy of Art, I began working with clay, doing small clay figure studies. After graduating I continued with pieces that are abstracted from the human figure.  I have worked in a range of sizes from six inches to six feet. I have developed many techniques for working in clay in addition to the typical techniques of modeling and slab building. I have made plaster molds into which the clay can be pressed and the resulting forms combined into sculptures and other ways of working with molds. Another technique is imprinting clay slabs with fabric or other patterns as it rolls through a slab roller. Sometimes my sculptures are constructed in sections either to make larger work or to make the finished piece (clay sculptures get quite heave) easier to handle. Starting perhaps fifteen years ago, I also make collages of paper images. When I do this, I keep a piece on my drawing table and move the papers around, often stopping while walking by.

Is it difficult as a woman in the industry? Can you give us examples/personal experiences?

It’s difficult for everyone in this industry. I think of a friend who was never  able to get a gallery to take her paintings seriously; always they said, “You’re just going to get married and have children.” She was so discouraged that she quit. At that time I remember showing slides to a director who shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know – I just don’t like them.” I don’t know if this had anything to do with being a woman, but I suspect that it did.

How do you overcome these difficulties?

It’s always been difficult.   Anyway I am very persistent and have learned to follow up on whatever comes my way.

What’s the best thing about being a woman artist? Are there any advantages that only women have?

The best thing about being a woman artist? Friendships with other women artists. Possibly women are more intuitive and/or more willing to explore their intuitive feelings.


Elephant, 22 x 18 x 17 in.

You mentioned that a lot of your work references children and memory, what inspires you to work with these themes? How does your work communicate these themes to the audience?

I had started working on a genealogy and had carried off a large box filled with unsorted photos, several generations of children including many of my brother and me. I used a copying machine, cut and rearranged the images. These images still speak to me. It seems to me that all of us wonder about our lives, how we got from there to here. Also I believe that every work of art that I make can speak to some person, though not necessarily to everyone, and that part of what I do is to try to find that person or persons.

Have you ever considered using a medium other than clay? Have you experimented with other sculptural media?

When I was a student traveling in Italy, I found classes for artisans that taught the basic techniques of carving in stone and in wood. From time to time I have done some carving, especially using driftwood logs from the beach. I have also done some casting in iron and in bronze. Right now I am working with cut pieces of crumpled paper.

Tell us about the process of making a new piece.

That is a difficult question because the process can vary. I might start from a toy or object that interests me and build the form with large slabs of clay (the larger sculptures must be hollow). Sometimes with small pieces I pinch and twist a piece of clay until it suggests something. There is a series of standing figures which started with large clay shoes. I didn’t know the form the figure would take until it revealed itself to me.

What is your favorite piece/project?

A favorite project is titled “Grandmother’s Apron.” It’s a series of eleven pieces which originated from a single sculpture based on my grandmother’s Russian doll. If I have to choose one single sculpture, it would be “Spiritual Warrior.” This piece, 34” tall, was created with techniques of hand-building and improvisation within the possibility of what the clay could and would do.

 grandmother's apron

Grandmother’s Apron #6, 25” x 18” x 19”

What was the proudest/most memorable moment of your career?

The opening night of my exhibition at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture in November of 2011.   The School showcased a range of my work from early in my career to the present time. The School curated and installed the twenty pieces. When I walked in and could see what I had accomplished, I myself was astonished.


Pandora, 38 x 11.5 x 13 in.

What are your future plans? Do you have any new project coming up?

I have started a new body of work, using pieces of cut paper and building on my lifetime relationship to the figure. I hope to find an audience for these and for my earlier work.

What is your dream project?

Hmmm – – – a great many. an outdoor large elephant, based on my clay elephant. To live another fifteen years and have another retrospective. To turn my studio into an exhibition place for my artist friends.

What does art, making art, mean to you and how does it affect your life?

Being an artist is my identity; it is me, who I am. As a young girl, I felt that I had something to say. Now I feel that I have many things to say. I live in a loft/studio with my work around me. When I travel, I look for locations to feed the spirit of my work. At times that I am between bodies of work, starting something new, I can feel lost, outside my real self. Then I walk along the ocean and find the confidence to continue.

spiritual warrior

Spiritual Warrior,  35” x 16” x 12”

Learn more about Gail Goldsmith here.

Presented by the International Foundation for Women Artists.

Interview / Mary Coss

“My sculpture explores narratives that are personal, yet globally informed meditations on our cultural landscape”.
-Mary Coss

3 Graces

3 Graces

This week we present Seattle based artist Mary Coss who makes artwork inspired by life’s stories. Born in Detroit and raised in an atmosphere of politics, art, and spirituality she has lived throughout the United States collecting stories and telling them through her artwork. Coss received her Master of Fine Arts from Syracuse University and has accumulated an extensive national exhibition record, focusing on alternative venues and community and public art projects. Coss has received residencies and grants from institutions such as the Candyland Arts Center in Stockholm, the National Endowment for the Arts, the San Juan Island Museum and Sculpture Park, James Washington Foundation, and Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture. Mary Coss’s public art experience encompasses a wide range of commissioned installations and written community art plans. Her public work is in numerous collections including King County and Seattle Housing Authorities, McNeil Island Corrections Center, and Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. Coss’s curatorial experience includes exhibitions at METHOD Gallery, North Seattle Community College Art Gallery, the Columbia City Guest Gallery, Another Roadside Gallery, and co-curated projects for the New City Gallery.

My sculpture explores narratives that are personal, yet globally informed meditations on our cultural landscape. I am interested in the intersection of nature and the human made, nature and the sociopolitical. I explore issues through the universal commonalities of ancestral bones, feminist struggles, and artifacts from nature. Often my projects engage community or create interventions in nature.

I am working in the space between the real and the imagined; abstractions from our lives are reworked using metaphor, nostalgia, humor, and ultimately, reflection. Poignant interpretations use the unexpected, navigating scale or unusual material that reflects and builds on the intention of the work. The layering of text and sound has organically evolved from my use of story as inspiration. Integration of sound and story with the visual creates a third form of experience.

Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your works?

People are my inspiration. I have done a lot of work around issues of identity, both others and my own. I’m inspired by stories and also simple things I come across in life. Strewn broken umbrellas on the street in NYC inspired my umbrella formed skirts. A long saw blade in a trash pile inspired a protective hoop skirt.

Finding an incredible overgrown tree with thick Ivy growth inspired ladderwalk- I wondered how a calculated machined wood intervention would appear inside such rich organic growth.

The Frameworks of Who I Am

The Frameworks of Who I Am

Serendipity Installation with video

Installation with video

How do you look at your previous pieces?

I see them in the same way I look at my memories, they are poignant, sometimes naive, sometimes worth revisiting and sometimes not.

How does your cultural background affect/inspire your work?

My recent work is a lot about this. Bloodlines is a  body of work on cultural inheritance and an investigation into my ancestral history. Blood and Water was inspired by genealogical mapping. Plotting the emigrant points of my ancestors on a map revealed a pattern; most of my family lived near the coastlines. Water has guided my personal moves from the great lakes to the east coast to the west coast. Finding I had a commonality with centuries of ancestors living near the water inspired this work. The poem Blood and Water is recorded in four voices, dialects from my ancestral countries of Ireland, Scotland, and France, layered with the sound of waves crashing. You can read the poem here. Here is an excerpt from the soundtrack.

Artist installilng blood and water

Blood and Water mockup

Blood and Water mockup

Blood and Water

Blood and Water

Blood and Water

Blood and Water

What’s the best thing about being a woman artist?

Haha well I do think women have a tendency to be able to multitask which is a required skill for artists. I think I have to think a while on this one.

What is the most difficult part of being a female artist?

Ha ha again, all the multi-tasking. because we can, we take on too much.

How do you manage in such a situation?

Lately not so well, I’m trying to say no to things. But I stay afloat by making lists and staying up very late at night.

What do you think is the artist in society?

To make people reconsider, question, it’s a way to communicate and have others rethink their assumptions on life. To understand the world in a different way to see it differently to push the culture forward socially and politically and through what we value and to keep in touch with what is important and has meaning- beauty, nature, life.

Layers of the hijab

Layers of the Hijab

Layers of the hijab

Layers of the Hijab

Layers of the Hijab

Layers of the Hijab

Did you ever feel like giving up? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given at that time?

Only say yes to the things you really want to do. No matter how difficult it is to say no to things- if they aren’t on your chosen path, say no, otherwise those very things you do not want to do will fill the path.

Once I started saying no to the things I didn’t really want to do, the things I did want to do started filling up my time.

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Follow what has meaning for you. That is what keeps you going.

This Birds has Flown

This Birds has Flown

What is your dream project?

Not sure, have to think about this.

What do you want to do next?

I am working on some female imagery that is inspired by a mix of social issues and whirling dervishes.

bebés la leche

bebés la leche


Her exhibitions are going on now in Seattle. You can check them in our blog!

Images of the Homeland by Mary Coss / January 14- Fabruary 7, 2014
Public Debt to the Suffragette by Mary Coss / January 2- February 15, 2014

Also you can see more in Mary’s website and our Women Artists of the World website.