Alice and Richard Matzkin, painter and sculptor respectively, are artists whose work focuses on aging. Now in their 70s, they express their thoughts about their own aging and offer wise advice for all of us.
Have you been actively engaged in making art your whole life?
Richard: In my early years I was immersed in art but then completely lost interest in it as I began to pursue a career in music and psychology in the early 60's. Then, 25 years later, my wife, Alice enrolled me in a clay sculpture class. From the first day onward, I began to produce figurative sculptures with ease and without reference to models or photographs.
In my career I was a therapist, men’s group leader, Adjunct Instructor in the California Community College system, director of a court mandated treatment program for domestic violence, and program director of a psychiatric hospital. I hold a Masters Degree in Psychology.
Alice: I have received no formal education in art but as long as I can remember, painting and drawing have been my love. After a 22-year hiatus from painting, while I raised my son and daughter, I returned with passion to my paints and canvas. After moving to the country with Richard, where we share a studio, I painted two paintings - one of the famous potter and sculptor, Beatrice Wood at age 100, and feminist, Betty Friedan - which were purchased by the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution and are in their permanent collection.
Did something happen that provoked thoughts on your own aging?
Alice: I was about 58 years old when I began thinking of my mortality. I realized that part of coming to terms with the aging body is appreciating just how precious life is. And I also knew that if we didn’t change our attitude about getting older we would be very unhappy.
How have you used your art to express your thoughts on aging?
Richard: Fear can be inspirational and I sculpt my fears in clay. I began a series of “Naked Old Men” and I also worked on a series of old lovers which is all about us. My art helped me work through the issues of getting older. If you look at an old face without judgment, you see the person, the history, the character. And that has its own beauty but most people don’t do that.
Alice, you have painted many older women, famous and not famous, naked and clothed. Is there something universal that you sense with all of these women?
I see how the body, although very different for each woman, is simply not what constitutes the person. It’s inside that is important, living in the moment, accepting one’s self. When we get older we tend to compare ourselves with youthful beauty but we’re only young for a very short time and each age has its own beauty. Part of coming to terms with the aging body is realizing how precious life is. To focus on lines and wrinkles is a waste of time; it’s just life taking its course.
Richard, what has been the impact of your art in writing the book?
For us these art projects were very important and generated thoughts for our book THE ART OF AGING: Celebrating the Authentic Aging Self. It just came about as a natural expression from our art. We’d like to pass on some of the things we’ve learned to the baby boomers because it is an important time for them. We want people to read the book, see the art and get from it some of what we’ve gotten. It’s a gift. The whole of our life is our work of art whether we use paint or clay as a medium of expression. Our real art is how we live day to day. It’s how we live with integrity, how much of ourselves we give to our work, to the people we love and to our world.
Are you working on a new project now?
Alice: Yes, we are working on a traveling exhibit to museums around the country to expose the highs and lows of aging.
As part of our personal growth and our responsibility as elders,
our intention is to share what we have learned about growing older. By exhibiting our art, speaking and writing, we intend to spread
the important message that aging is not the end of life, but can be a positive new beginning and the crowning culmination of a lifetime.
- Alice and Richard Matzkin