Special to Berkshires Week

By Carrie Saldo, Thursday July 26, 2012

A cup of coffee on the table and the sound of "caffeine" int he air. The day has begun for artist Marilyn Kalish.

"Initially, early in the day I need caffeine in my music," Kalish explained during a recent Sunday morning interview.

That auditory buzz comes from the rap stylings of Eminem or 50 Cent. Kalish says she appreciates the honesty in their work. The music and coffee are part of a warm-up ritual she developed over the course of the 25-or- so-year career to psych herself up for the day's work.

Inside her Great Barrington studio, about a dozen ink-on-paper sketches of a woman's head, neck and shoulders are scattered on a coffee table, some still damp. There are tell-tale smudges on the artists' fingers and even a wisp of ink on the left side of her nose.

Ink is Kalish's preferred morning medium because of its fluidity, she explains, and the sketches may inform a new portrait series in-progress.

The portraits, some near full-body works, range in size from 16 inches by 20 inches to 60 inches by 70 inches. Two of the unfinished charcoal-on-paper pieces, approx imately 5 feet by 6 feet each, hang a few feet away. Kalish says she is in the process of determining how to treat the finished pieces to assure longevity. She envisions them hung un-framed.

That conservation process will become part of Kalish's artistic cannon, much like the glass beaded panels she created years ago as a painting surface, or the mounting system she invented to hang the panels.

Kalish has long worked in series -- which she adds pieces to as the spirit moves her -- and is best known for her "dancers," more like Isadora Duncan than P Diddy despite her taste for rap.

When it is time to create work -- typically in the middle of the day -- she will replace her vigorous morning soundtrack with classical music.

The sound now helps her to enter the meditative-like state she needs to create work.

"I'm going in, and I don't want to be learning a new move at that moment," Kalish said. "Classical music helps me ... and [I play it] as loud as possible. That helps shut down the thinking. And then I start to feel it."

That feeling she translates in her work prompted collectors Barbara Cohn and her husband Ralph, of Delmar, N.Y., to purchase their first Kalish piece eight years ago.

"Marilyn's individualism, and her depth of emotion and passion, are apparent and a part of each piece," Cohn explained in an e-mail. "Marilyn's energy is contagious, her art captivating."

Cohn said she and her husband discovered Kalish's work by chance as they walked past it at The Vault Gallery, directed by Marilyn's husband, Alan Kalish. The couple opened the gallery a decade ago to present her work and the work of a handful of other artists they know.

"It was love at first sight," said Cohn, recalling a Kalish painting on one of her signature glass beaded panels. Cohn first bought an abstract rendering of a bird in flight -- followed, through the years, by several pieces from Kalish's "Dancer" series and a print entitled "Firebird."

"What comes to mind when we think of her work: Alluring. Dra matic. Elegant. Exquisite. Sed uctive. Magical. Passio nate." Cohn said. "Her art transports us."

Individual words often inspire Kalish, as a phrase inspired the series "She Came To Stay," which is among her work now on display at The Vault Gallery.

In "She Came to Stay," Kalish uses loose lines to create female figures that appear to be moving toward the viewer through mist or clouds. The strokes in her work are more suggestive than definitive; the wisp of feather collar framing a face, a delicate hand creeping along the seam of a dress. Some of the women wear dresses, others buttoned garments. Color is intermingled unexpectedly in the black-and-white works. There may be a touch of color in the eyes, on the lips, or a section of clothing.

Kalish arrives at her studio to work seven days a week. And at the end of each day she said she asks herself two questions -- "What's working? What's not working?" -- to ponder overnight.

"What's not working needs to be fixed," she said. "What's working needs to spill into the other work."

Despite the demands she places on herself, Kalish insists parity is also important. She and Alan have raised two children.

"I believe the balance of your other life, carving out that life, surrounding yourself with people who respect and treat you very well, that will help your work," she said. "And it will never be ‘work.' You can remove that word. It will be a full, balanced life."

To reach Carrie Saldo: www.carriesaldo.com