Debbie Siegel’s first gallery show, ‘Fashion on Canvas,’ is on view at Spring Street for the month of February. We sat down with Siegel to discuss her influences and her expectations for the show.
Though this is her first official gallery show, Debbie Siegel has been involved with the arts for years, teaching art at summer camps and at an all-girls Catholic school in Massachusetts for over 20 years. Her students are one of the main inspirations for her work. “I think a lot of my influence is working with high school girls,” she says. “It was so much fun, and my philosophy is a little different than the strictness of the school, so I had a lot of visitors in my art room…they painted just about anything, but what I always loved about it was that I wanted it to look different, and when I did a display, everybody’s painting was different. I was taught old school curriculum where everything kind of looks the same and is uniform but that’s not who I am, I don’t like rules.”
Siegel also strove to create an environment where the girls could be creative and comfortable with themselves in the context of fashion, and even helped them create their own prom dresses. “I just helped them to see what was flattering on them. I think that the problem is role models, you know like the Kardashians, it’s hard to beat that… you know, so in this day and age, cause of the media, it’s hard for young women to be comfortable with themselves.” Unfortunately, school administrators weren’t always supportive. “There were a couple of girls that did sew, and they would come in and make their prom dresses in the art studio, and we used to get in trouble because somebody would be standing there, like one of the teachers, and [the girls] would be in their underwear, and I’d get in all kinds of trouble, and you know I almost got fired a couple of times, and you know it was like an all girls school….I don’t know how I lasted there but I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of leaving.” One of her inspirations for creating a supportive space was Mr. Rogers, who stressed the importance of role models. “The reason I stuck around there so long was, he always said, “everybody needs a helper,” so I needed to help those young women.”
Her artistic influences also come from certain art-historical movements, such as abstract expressionism, post-impressionism, and constructivism. In particular, she finds inspiration in artists like Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Gustav Klimt, and Georgia O’Keefe. About O’Keefe, she says, “Do you know what’s interesting about her? Gloria Steinem and a lot of other people wanted her to speak but she didn’t want people to think of her stuff as erotic, you know, erotic art, it was not her intent. Her intent was what she saw when she painted, so it used to get her a little bit not happy… so she just wouldn’t do it. So she was a real rebel.” In addition to her inspiration from specific artists, she says, “Even though I’m not Catholic…being in so many Churches (I had to go to mass) so some of my art, I think it’s the illuminations, and some of my stuff has copper color in the back of it.”
In regards to her expectations for the show, she feels confident in the power of art. “I have enough confidence in what I do, that I don’t… you know, it’s hard to explain, but, the one thing I know that I’ve always had is my art. So I’ve had a tough time growing up, but would save me really is… some people have music, but it was my art that really got me, it just helped me through so many things. So, am I a gifted person? no, I’m a person who has a flair, and I enjoy it, and I’m just a very very creative person.”
Debbie Siegel’s work will be on view at Spring Street from February 1st-28th, 2019. We hope to see you at the reception on Friday, February 2nd, from 6-8 pm for great art, refreshments, and a chance to speak with the artist.