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Maria Artemis, Polytropos, Duluth, MN  photo: M Artemis

Maria Artemis

 with Susan Cofer

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Maria Artemis with Polytropos, fabrication photo: Mitchell Biggio

Maria Artemis is one intelligent woman, fearless to explore big ideas through a wide variety of media. The first sculptural work I saw of hers so many years ago was not so grand in scale; but after obtaining a degree in architecture, she has enlarged her scope, placing daring site specific work across the United States. The thing that has been consistent, no matter what the scale, is her love of materials. Often a work will include stone, glass and metal--and land, and water, and words, and once even a fossil. The energy that results as these elements come together replicates the vitality of the universe--time, space and the unknown.


Her brain is full of enthusiasm for learning. Every work she makes represents this and invites the viewer to join her in the exploration. Often the title will nudge the viewer to investigate further, giving us words like Polytropos and Epigenesis to ponder. In the 2015 exhibit titled Anamnesis, she included works from throughout her career and gave my eyes the most exciting surprise: large charcoal drawings that just swallowed me up. She’s not a one-dimensional artist and she clearly hopes we are not one-dimensional in our response to her works. I’m tremendously grateful to Deanna Sirlin for giving me this opportunity to ask Maria to open a door into her art. It’s certainly given me new understanding of her life’s work.


Maria Artemis, Polytropos (detail), Duluth, MN  photo: M Artemis

Susan Cofer: Maria, you have been a student and a teacher for much of your life. Do you think of your art as a continuation of your teaching? Are you hoping to “teach” the viewer?  


Maria Artemis: No, my art is an invitation to the viewer to enter into a conversation with the work, bringing who and where they are at the present moment to the dialogue.

SC: Many of your works have Greek titles. Do these Greek words seem to you to better express what you mean in your work?  


MA: The naming of a work usually comes towards the end of my creative process, but I am drawn to Greek words, not only because they reflect my heritage, but because they have been referenced in something I have recently read, and they seem more nuanced, more like an invitation, an open-ended way of entering into a relationship with the work. For me, a title seems alive if it is suggestive, rather than leading to a precise message or meaning. Take the naming of Polytropos, for instance, my recent work for the Advanced Material Sciences Building at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. I was reading an interview with Emily Wilson, the first Woman scholar to translate the Odyssey into English. The first line of the text uses “Polytropos” in describing Odysseus. Wilson mentions the many layers of meaning certain words from ancient Greek suggest. Polytropos literally means “of many turns,” but she notes that in the other 200 or so English translations, the word Polytropos is given many nuanced shades of meaning, for instance: “tossed to and thro by fate” (George Musgrave), “of wide ranging spirit” (Walter Shewring) and “ingenious” (Samuel Butler). Although she notes that it could also be translated as “wayward husband,” Wilson’s translation tries to embody the original sense of the story that holds both inferences of being “turned” or being the “turner”; she chooses “complicated man.” “Tell me about a complicated man.” So, for me, Greek words, that are etymologically the source of many English words, often allow the door to stay open when considering what my work is about. I hope that those who encounter my artwork can do so through multiple contexts. This nourishes my curiosity and reminds me of how everything we do in our lives, every turn, contains unexplored possibilities. I rest my case!  


Maria Artemis, Quotidian Rift, 2004 - 2005, Wood, Blue Stone, Video, and Water3’ x 9’ x 12’, Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta, GA

SC: Is the experience of the body central to you? How do you see the balance between the body’s experience and the mind’s experience in your work?


MA: Our minds and bodies are not two separate entities; there is an ongoing dynamic connection between what we experience physically and mentally. My work, through its materiality and scale, is a physically engaging presence. In my own experience, I feel most alive when my attention is embodied.


In 2020, so many of our experiences are mediated through our phones, tablets or computers. Even more so during the pandemic for those working from home. Personally, I feel we need an antidote to so much disembodied screen time.    


Maria Artemis, Quotidian Rift, 2004 - 2005, Wood, Blue Stone, Video, and Water3’ x 9’ x 12’, Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta, GA

SC: In 2000, you said in your artist statement: “Our imagined destination is always known, our real destination is discovered in the process of the journey.”


MA: This is simply a statement of what I see as central to the lived experience of human life in the world. We have plans or desires concerning how we want our lives to work out. Although our agency is real and what we do matters, we are part of the larger web of events over which we do not have control. Often events do not turn out as we desire or expect them to. In the studio, or when designing work for a public space, for me, the best work comes through a process of discovery. So, in the beginning, I follow what gets my attention, or as Peter Brook writes, concerning his creative process as an Avant Garde theater director: "Every choice I've ever made has been dictated by a formless hunch rather than by strict logic.” I like this open-ended declaration. It unapologetically acknowledges that with any creative endeavor, we begin with a question, not knowing for sure where it might lead. I have come to trust this process of taking a step towards some provisional idea through drawing, modeling or gathering materials; then, the next opening appears. On the way to a fruitful outcome, there are many blind alleys. At times these present something we need to move in a new direction, or we have to allow the work to gestate for a while. We can believe we know exactly what we want to do, then execute it. But allowing the work to stay alive means you continue to respond to what it is becoming until it is done.  

Maria Artemis, Lure, 2015, Basswood, Oak, Graphite and Wax, 10 x 5 x 2 feet 

An example of this came in creating Lure, a wall sculpture, in my exhibition Anamnesis at the Zuckerman Museum of Art in 2015-16, which was completed through drawing the Sun’s shadow, cast by the work at noon on the Winter Solstice and again on the Spring Equinox. Although a sun study of the site was completed and part of the exhibition, the experience of creating this work was revelatory.   I set up the conditions for the work to happen: the plan was, at noon on these two days of the year, I would capture the shadow cast by the Sun through the only window in the museum where light entered directly. On each of those days, I would outline the shadow and fill in the drawing on consecutive days with graphite, until the wall drawings were completed. But what actually happened was something quite different. Due to the scale of the work, it was impossible to outline the shadow at noon. The earth continues to rotate; the shadow of my sculpture was slowly moving across the wall as I was attempting to trace it. There was no pause button! So, I entered this moving relationship, a sort of dance, with the shadow traveling across the wall. I began to understand in a visceral way what the flow of time felt like--it was no longer a mental concept, a collection of instances, but a persistent flow and I was in the stream. I also had to surrender the absolute need to know how the finished work would appear until it was done several months later.


Maria Artemis, Events That Rhyme, 2009, Video installation, Basswood, Steel, Granite, Moss, Fig andPoplar Wood, Beeswax and Pigment, MOCA GA

Maria Artemis, Events That Rhyme, 2009, Video installation, Basswood, Steel, Granite, Moss, Fig andPoplar Wood, Beeswax and Pigment, MOCA GA

SC: On your Website you introduce your Artemis Studio Team. At what stage of the process do they join your efforts? Do you make drawings and maquettes first or is the team in on the discussions from the beginning?


MA: The term “team” is a bit formal, but it’s useful in acknowledging the assistance and contribution that my part-time assistant(s) lend to my practice. Assistants often work with me physically in making parts I need while working out ideas in model form and, as my current assistant Mitchell Biggio did for Polytropos, by taking the physical model and my ai drawing for the water-jet cut elements and creating a 

3-d CAD model in Rhino to be used in fabricating the work.  

SC: The beautiful works you made in charcoal made a strong impression on me. Are you still working in that medium?  


MA: Yes, recently I began working again with charcoal. I love the medium, we will see where it leads.

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Maria Artemis is an Atlanta based artist who holds an MS Degree from Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Architecture, an MFA from the University of Georgia, and a BA in psychology from Agnes Scott College. Artemis taught for over 25 years at the Atlanta College of Art. Artemis lives and works outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

photo: Patrick Siegrist-City Visions, Minneapolis MN

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Susan Cofer is an Atlanta, Georgia, native. She attended the art school at Mrs. High’s house as a child. That school eventually became the Atlanta College of Art and the house gave way to the Woodruff Arts Center. She left Atlanta to study Art History at Hollins College (now Hollins University) in Roanoke, Virginia. She received her BA degree in 1964.

Cofer  taught art and art history at the Lovett School for several years in the 1960s and took studio art courses at Atlanta College of Art and Georgia State University.  She had her first solo exhibition at the Heath Gallery in 1976. She has been exhibiting regularly since then. 

photo: Jerry Siegel

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