An Interview with Wendy Artin

Wendy in the Whisper Knit Cardigan

Attersee’s first print collaboration features watercolors by the Rome-based artist Wendy Artin, whose figurative work explores the interaction of light and pigment on surface. Over the last two years, Attersee worked closely with Artin to create a textile print based on a series of the artist’s female nudes. Painted in lush sepia watercolor, Artin's figures stretch and dance across a selection of new and signature styles in silk twill and silk-cashmere voile.

In honor of the collaboration, Elizabeth Crocker spoke to Artin about her unique approach to painting, her favorite places to walk in Rome, and her upcoming exhibition, "Livia's Garden, Frescoes and Figures," which opens on November 3rd at Gurari Collections in Boston.

At first glance, Wendy Artin’s classical nude figures might look like something you’ve seen before. Look again and it quickly becomes clear that the American-born, Rome-based watercolorist brings a wholly original technique to traditional figure drawing. She doesn’t sketch her figures prior to painting; rather than simply painting the body, she paints the reflection of light and shadow on the body. The form emerges in pools of sepia pigment on paper and in the blank spaces between each brush stroke. Artin’s figures are sensuous and filled with movement, every detail rendered with masterful precision.

Deft manipulation of water and pigment is persistent in Artin’s work, whether she is painting nudes, ancient frescos or a still life of fruit. “I want [my painting] to be very fresh and very loose and very precise,” she says, “so that it looks like a miraculous moment where the watercolor just happened to dry in exactly the right place.”

This technique is elusive even for renowned artists.
(Eric Fischl, a contemporary and longtime fan of Artin’s, once said that she has achieved “something I very much want to do but can’t.”) But Artin manages it brilliantly, deliberately painting very wet so that the pigment moves along the surface of the paper quickly — “almost like a living thing,” as she puts it. Indeed, Artin’s mastery of the medium has made her one of the art world’s most celebrated watercolorists, though she humbly attributes some of her best work to chance. “The watercolor miracles — the really magical, beautiful, crazy wonderful stuff —happen when there’s a little bit of luck,” she says.

Artin credits her parents for encouraging her talent and ambition at a young age. Growing up in Boston, she spent summers drawing from life in her parents’ friends houses and took classes at the Museum School at Tufts University and the Museum of Fine Arts, where she later earned her MFA. She also studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and has painted in New York, Mexico, London and Rome, where she has lived for the last 25 years.

Artin is currently working on a film about her relationships with her live models — dancers and actors whom she counts among her close friends. She attributes some of the magic in her work to their deeply personal poses, which are held for between 30 seconds to 20 minutes.

Below, Artin shares her painting playlist, her favorite walking routes in Rome, and what to expect from her upcoming exhibition in Boston.

What is your earliest memory of seeing something with an eye towards art?

We spent the semester abroad every other year for most of my childhood, and drawing was my refuge. I remember when I was 4-years-old and living in France, one of my friends complained that the teacher put up my drawings and not hers, when the assignment was to draw houses and I had drawn chateaux. When I was 9, in Kyoto, I found a Japanese painter on display in the giant handicrafts mall, behind velvet ropes on a platform, and I learned the route and went to watch him as often as I could.

What is your favorite artwork by another artist? 

There are so many. I spent such a long time in front of the Raft of the Medusa at the Louvre and had gorgeous figures by Degas on my wall for years. Possibly my most favorite is the endlessly fascinating Parthenon Frieze, with delicate detailed manes and rhythmic compositions — legs, drapery — and the unexpected fragmentation that turns it to abstraction.

Do you listen to music when you paint? 

I love to listen to music when I paint, and occasionally books on tape or podcasts. Lots of Chopin — Etudes, Preludes, Ballades, Nocturnes; Bach’s Goldberg Variations and violin chamber music; Beethoven’s late quartets, and Schumann’s Opus 47 Andante. I also love all sorts of latin music — from Cuban son to bachata, Eydie Gorme y los Panchos, and salsa remakes of Italian singer-songwriters. I love the old neapolitan songs, jazz and Janis Joplin, as well as dance music from the 1980s and 1990s.


We spoke about how you paint everyday, and that your daily routine involves a long walk — often in the park above your house. What are some of your other favorite places to walk in Rome?

I love to walk along the Tiber river, down at the level of the water. It is also wonderful to walk through the city, alongside the ruins, and through Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon.

Tell me about some of the works from your upcoming show, “Livia’s Garden, Frescoes and Figures.” [Dated to the 1st century BC, the magnificent garden frescoes once adorned the home of Livia Drusila, the wife of Roman emperor Augustus. They are now on display at the Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Massimo in Rome.]

Many years ago I went regularly to Palazzo Massimo [in Rome] and became enchanted with the frescoes from Livia’s Garden. I was going to paint my children’s bedroom walls like the garden. I did a first layer and realized the enormity of the challenge and how I would be so distressed if the kids even touched it with a crayon, so I put Livia's Garden on the back burner.

A possible project of painting in Amalfi recently brought landscapes back to mind, and I returned to Palazzo Massimo with the plan of painting a series of the beautiful garden, which are in some way for me a fusion of wall paintings (I painted watercolors of urban walls for many years) and ancient art.

These ancient Roman frescoes will be displayed in Boston alongside the very contemporary and monochromatic figures of my live models.

A selection of Artin's nudes will also be on display at The Attersee Studio in October and November. For all inquiries about her work, please email