Shirley Fuerst

I come from a family of artists and craftsmen, but I wasn't an artist. I was a musician and played chamber music. It wasn't until my second child was born in 1958 that I started to study art. I became a landscape painter and my works depicted vast panoramas of sea and sky. I had always loved nature and I was immersed in these evocations of spaces which I longed to be in.

In the late sixties, I started experimenting with etching and printmaking. I saw other graphic artists cutting their etching plates apart into separate shapes, rearranging the shapes and then printing them. That was a very freeing kind of thing - one wasn't limited to a rectangular format any more. One of things I tried was to make colored acetate overlays for my black etchings. It was a disaster. The acetate slipped in the press and the prints were ruined.

At this time, I was also going for a Masters in Fine Art at Hunter College. For my thesis, I tried to develop a printing process which would use translucent colors. My husband, Adolph, had received patents for new kinds of inks and I decided to try them in my work. After a year of experiments, I developed an art technique for printing these inks on clear Mylar plastic without using a press. This was something I could do in my home studio and no longer be away from my young children.

I was entranced by the process - the ink became part of the Mylar and the colors were radiant. However, the look of the material was so different from my paintings and etchings that I wasn't sure what I could say with this entirely new medium - or even whether this work could be considered 'art'.

In 1972, I made a sculptural work using two layers of colored Mylar. I was invited to show it at the "Unmanly Art" exhibition at the Suffolk Museum in Long Island. This was at the beginning of the women's movement and every important woman artist was in this exhibition. When I saw what women were doing - each creating completely individual work and every woman singing her own song - I decided to devote my life to develop this unique medium which was totally mine. The next step was to think of what kind of subject translucently colored Mylar would be good for. I decided that it might be perfect for clouds or wind or underwater environments - areas which traditional sculpture cannot deal with.

The entire process of creating these sculptures remains for me a kind of alchemy. I take a flat plane of plastic, and in my process, shape it and add color and pattern to it in ways I can't quite control. I use a very low tech process. I buy Mylar in very large rolls, cut out shapes and color them. Sometimes, the color will suggest the shape. I believe that somewhere a perfect form for the sculpture already exists and it is my task to discover it. Sometimes that takes a very long time.

I'm trying to expand what sculpture can say. There are things in nature which are so fragile and so complex and so momentary, that it becomes at once both difficult and exciting to try to use them as a subject. I not only want to use these subjects, but also to add something which embodies that burst of energy, that spirit within nature.