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©2019 by Jennifer Bilek. 

Linda Montano Series
SEVEN YEARS OF LIVING ART

 

In December, 1984, I began a series of portrait paintings of renowned performance artist, Linda Montano. The series became a chronology of Linda’s seven-year performance, expressing her experience with the seven main energy centers in the spine (Chakras).  

 

During “SEVEN YEARS OF LIVNG ART”, performed by Linda from December 1984-91, I painted sixteen wildly colorful, brazen portraits of Linda Montano in the colors significant to her performance for each year.  The portraits vary in size and style. Three of the portraits include other subjects, including myself in one. Linda Montano owns three of the portraits, several others have been sold, and some are in my possession.

 

When I first encountered Linda, I was living in New Paltz, NY, a small college town upstate.  I had an open art studio, which meant the public could join me while I honed my skills as a traditional portrait artist and held rotating exhibitions of my work. One day I came across an article in the NYC Village Voice newspaper, about Linda and another performance artist, Tehching Hsieh, who had tied themselves together at the waist, by an 8ft rope and had intentions of living that way for an entire year.  I was in my mid-twenties and had up until that point, never heard about the kind of performance art that Linda and Tehching were involved in.  Fascinated, I vowed right then, if I were to be anywhere near them during one of their performances, I would meet them.

 

A year or so later, Liinda was hosting the opening of Seven Years of Living Art at a nearby studio. I went to the opening, met a woman in a red room, dressed all in red, and on the wall was a description of the art performance Linda was intent on living for the next seven years.  There was one note playing in the background the entire time I was there. From the description, I learned it was the note that stimulated the energy in that specific chakra that she was embodying and expressing the first year. The description of the piece invited other artists to join in the piece in whatever ways they wanted to.  I was hooked, decided I wanted to paint Linda and we discussed it.

 

Originally the plan was for me to paint Linda each season for the seven years of her performance and the first few years went according to plan. During the fourth year, the piece took an unusual turn and became more about life than art.  I painted three portraits that year, but Linda’s mother Mildred was dying and having become close to Mildred over the years, I stayed by her bedside in alternation with her family. Linda and I would leave each other notes in passing about Mildred. During the fifth year, Linda and I grew apart.  I painted one portrait in the blue year and took numerous photographs. During the next to last year, I hadn’t seen Linda, until she arrived one night in the lab part of the hairdressing school, where I was studying. I dyed and cut her hair and we laughed at how I was still doing her portrait. In the last year of Seven Years of Living Art, the crown chakra, Linda had moved to Texas to teach for a year and I sublet her all-white studio, where Seven Years of Living Art would be performed if Linda were home.  

 

This work with Linda Montano changed the direction of my work.  I never attempted traditional portraiture or strived toward a realism I had originally been fascinated with.  I used colors, I never dreamed I would. I painted strange poses, working from tiny figurative pieces to 3ft heads.  It allowed me a freedom to explore what was possible.

 

Our friendship did not evolve past the project we embarked on but the experience carries over in my work to this day.