My Neighbor the Artist

Written by KMAC Donors’ Circle Member  Merrily Orsini

Denise Mucci Furnish used to be my neighbor across the street. Before she was a known artist, she was an innate artist. Apparently born as such, she was encouraged by life’s experiences to make art whenever possible. I have a vague memory of meeting Denise, or at least seeing her work, as far back as 1970, when, in Lexington, I saw some cloth dolls she had made. Occasionally, these dolls still haunt my mind. They were ethereal dolls with little bound cloth bodies and round sock faces— beautiful dolls, and dolls that seemed to scream, “Let me out!”

It was a few years later, in 1979, that I ended up on Everett Avenue, across the street from the Furnishes. In 1980, Denise started attending the Louisville School of Art. Her quilts morphed from folded,piles on the top floor of her one time elegant and gabled three-story house, to hanging on the wall, as art. It was a bit later, in 1984 that I purchased my very first original piece of art, Salute to the Sun (Eclipse), from a real gallery. It was the first official piece of art that Denise ever sold. This quilt, made lovingly by Denise Mucci Furnish, still hangs proudly and emphatically, at the entrance to our home. I still enjoy it daily, if not hourly, and it is still as poignant as it was that first time when I was drawn to purchase it, even though it was well beyond my means at the time. However, that quilt is priceless when it comes to the enjoyment and the memories it evokes.

The years between 1980 and 1985 were some of the most interesting years as I watched an artist come into her own. The Mount St. Helens’s eruption in 1980 somehow consumed the artist across the street. There were many variations in her artistic obsession with Mount St. Helens. One of the most interesting, and, a variation of which I have now framed in my office for daily viewing, is making little volcanoes out of dryer lint. The dryer lint is screen filtered into a circular doughnut shape with a small hole in the middle. When dissected into fourths, it makes perfect little volcanoes. A housewife might see dryer lint as something to be cleaned from the filer and tossed, but not the artist. The artist sees opportunity. The artist sees possibility. The artist sees.

Note the color of the lint? It differs according to what is being dried—reds,colors, or denim. The texture also differs, and that is what the artist saw. Try tossing feathers in the dryer and see what happens (not to the poor unsuspecting clothes, but to the lint filter art fodder residue?) What about glitter? It is really amazing how much art can come from a common household dryer when seen through the eyes of the artist. And, those volcanic lint quilts and collages got better and better, more colorful, and more textured, until the eventual end of that dryer. And, for the artist? Another medium to explore with one exhausted.

A life making art. A life enjoying art. Are these two so far apart? I think they are. The artist has a special way of looking at life, interpreting it, finding ways to use common items or common visuals as art. That interpretation, of course, is not what the viewer, or the art collector understands, even when articulated succinctly by the artist. Because, as everyone knows, art is in the eye of the beholder. But the joy, sorrow, jubilation, and emotion are resident as well in the viewer of the art, and, it is this emotion that moves one to enjoy art, to buy art.

Denise Furnish & Walter Early: Color Stories is on view through March 16.

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