Delaware artist Constance Costigan: A life lived through art

From making little animals out of melted crayons to being a world-renowned artist, Delaware’s Constance Costigan has come a long way.

“What I remember most from childhood, just constantly making things,” from those simple beginnings Lewes Delaware’s Constance Costigan began a lifelong love of art.

Constance grew up in the New York metropolitan area. As a child she would hop on a train and go to where the art was. “I would just go to shows or go to the Metropolitan museum or go to the Guggenheim,” Constance said.

By high school Constance’s teachers recognized that she had talent and encouraged her to make things. Her talent eventually led her to George Washington University where she became a professor of fine arts in 1976. “It was very gratifying, and I enjoyed it tremendously, and it stimulated my work,” Constance said.

As part of her job Constance was required to have a body of work being shown in galleries, “That is what the program was about, that the people who are doing the teaching are out there.”

In 2003 Constance retired. “I said ‘that’s enough of the teaching’ so I retired. And I’ve been doing art since then.”

The Art

Constance’s work looks at what happens in the space between the things we can and can’t see. “This sort of transcendental attitude about the nature of reality,” Constance explained.

Behind the work is, “Always the spiritual impulse, we’re here a short time, there’s a lot of matter in the universe, it never gets lost, it changes all the time.”

She uses layers upon layers of lead meticulously applied to create the depth and almost dreamlike quality of her work. You think you are looking at a black and white photograph, perhaps some place you may have visited. “Sometimes people thinks it’s a photograph of the real place, but none of my work is the real place,” Constance said.

Constance decided to not use color because “It was too referential to a given time and place.” She describes the work as not being about a given time or place, but a moment from a larger story.

Without using color Constance was able to create luminous black and white images and actually change with the light. “I work on it with that in mind, because I want different things, that’s part of the experience,” Constance said.

It takes a long time for Constance to produce one of her works. “It required building endless layers of lead on the paper,” Constance said. Time plays a big part not only in the creation but the meaning behind them as well.

The horizon in her work is endless, “It suggests timelessness.” Constance uses the horizon as a metaphor of time, “or the lack of it.” “And when I’m painting, I do layered paintings, which also take a long time. So, the work and the result are related in that way,” Constance said.

Constance says of her work that “they’re essentially meditation pieces,” and that people like the work because of its meditative qualities, that it creates an area of calm and peace.

But what do you see when you look at Constance’s work? She loves to find out. When people come by her studio to see the work she loves to have a conversation about what they see. “I’m always interested in what they see and what does it mean to them.”

For an artist as successful as Constance over all these years, why keep going? Why keep making art? “It’s never enough, I never quite see what I want to see.” The only way Constance says she can see what she wants is, “I want to see this, and the only way i can see it, is i have to make it.”

She doesn’t plan on stopping either as long as she is standing you will find her at her easel, working. “Its not something that ends. You don’t stop being an artist if you are one.”

 

You can find more information on Constance and her work when you visit her on the web, she shares a page with her husband Michael Krausz, whom we featured last week.

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