Checking in with Beryl Solla

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What are you working on right now?

I’m currently working on next year’s gallery lineup. At work, I curate the gallery, and I’m the chair of the Art Department, so there’s a lot of organizing and administrative stuff, plus teaching. So I’m doing all of that, all the prep for next year. I just finished a big personal project at my home, and this summer I’m hoping to make a lot of excessive, über-ornate, centennial garden structures for my personal use.

When we reached Beryl Solla she had just picked up a reimbursement check for the Chocolate Chowdown at PVCC—where Solla, head of the art department, lures visitors to the student show with the promise of copious amounts of chocolate. “It’s a high-calorie event,” she says.

Locally, who would you like to collaborate with?

Actually, I’ve been talking with this Richmond artist Noah Scalin. He’s the guy who did the Skull-A-Day project, and I keep sending him public art project notices, because I get a lot of that kind of stuff, having worked in the area for a while. We’re talking a little bit about doing something. I’ve always wanted to do something with Rose Hill, actually. I’ve always wanted to do a big tile mural with her.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood?

My grandmother was a seamstress, and she was very much a self-made person, a hard worker. Every time I went to stay with her, she would sit me on her lap. This was maybe 3 years old, 4 years old for me. We would sit in front of her Singer sewing machine that was powered by a foot pedal, so there was no electricity; it was just her doing the treadle with her feet. And she would put her hands on top of my hands, and we would run the fabric through the sewing machine. And I remember seeing my little girl hands on her old lady hands, and seeing the black enamel sewing machine façade with red roses on it. 

What is your favorite building?

In South Florida there is a building called the Bacardi Building, I don’t know how tall, maybe 12 or 14 stories. But it was all tiled, and I would see it going downtown as a kid. It was a white, tiled building with big, big images, painted in a cobalt wash, of plants growing up the side of the building. It was very big, so it wasn’t super busy. I always loved that building.

What piece of public art do you wish was in your private collection?

I love Claes Oldenburg’s public work, and I would not mind at all having his spoon and cherry bridge and fountain in my garden.

Item you’d splurge on?

For over 30 years, I’ve been looking for a certain fan vase that I saw once, a big gladiola vase. If I’m on eBay or I go to an antique store, I’m always on the lookout for that vase. And I ask myself, what would I pay if I finally saw that vase? I think I’d pay a lot. I always tell my students about buying art, that I’ve never regretted buying art. I’ve only regretted the things I didn’t buy.

What is your favorite hidden place?

My garden. I live out in the county, and it’s very secluded, very private. I kind of walk around out there, a bit like a crazy person, just sort of patting my flowers, putting my face in flowers, in the summertime when the hydrangeas are in full bloom, or when the Lady Baltimore, sort of a hibiscus flower, is in full bloom. They’re as big as your face. I just always, when I’m out there alone, I put my face in it and think, Oh my God, what a big flower. 

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