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A Conversation with Tish Corbett

Artist and teacher Tish Corbett lives on the South Side Slopes in a former grocery store painted dark green with a mauve front door and classroom and studio space inside. Her key chain-necklace reads, "Change is forever." In November...

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How are you preparing?
I have to go through my life's work and I'm a little surprised at what I find. It's like reading a diary of my life. I was in the [Carnegie] museum one day and I remembered starting in the "Tam o'Shanter" class there when I was 11 years old -- the grade schools would send children they thought showed a little spark of something. And I got to laughing because many years ago there was a pimply faced boy in that class whose name was Andy. And Andy Warhol's famous but Tish Corbett is alive!

How was Andy then?
We were different ages in the same class. When I go to the Warhol Museum I see some of his drawings of some of the same subjects that I drew. But I never kept the stuff like that, like Andy did. He had boxes and boxes.

Did you go to art school?
My father didn't think it was proper for a nice young lady to go to art school because of all those crazy dramats and those crazy musicians. So he required that I go to [women's college] Margaret Morrison, and I studied costume design for a year. It used to be for dress design, and homemaking, child rearing, home economics. I remember one time breaking an egg on the edge of a bowl, and I got fired from the class.

You're not supposed to use the bowl?
No, you use a knife.

I never knew.
I didn't want to ever use a knife. I didn't ever want to have someone tell me how to live my life. And being a rebellious young lady, after having [my father] tell me what to do my entire life and what not to do, I just took off, and got married. That was my escape route.

You were rebellious?
I think it was the women's movement that started me being rebellious, with my girls egging me on. "Come on, Mom," you know, that sort of thing. Life is good now.

Your hair is a similar color to your doors.
That's interesting because my hair's a different color every day according to how much sun it gets or when I colored it last. When I was at the pool yesterday, a lady said to me, "What color of purple is that?" And I said, "On the Clairol label it says 'red.'"

You were among the first artists in the Brewhouse in the early '80s?
Yes. There were a group of artists that lived there under raw conditions. I would have a brown bag of lunch on the table and a rat would come and go off with it!

What's this painting?
I had no idea what this one was gonna be about. I had some big red lines here, I was thinking about a roller coaster -- I've been painting a lot of birds lately, and all of a sudden a lot of birds came. This is me, and this is my garden, and these are all the birds in my garden. I'm just painting so much and so fast. This is a really funny one, talking about birds. This is a family vacation, and there's dad [as a bird] -- surfing out in the ocean. And that's mom [with one wing on her forehead and two chicks under the other]. These are about my life.

What about teaching?
What I do here is not a regular art school; it's not the ABCs of art. It's doing and seeing, and discovering your intuitive art self. My students now are from 38 to 84. I don't have more than eight at a time. If they ask me, "How do I make orange?" I'll say, "Here's some colors, see what you can get. You tell me how to make orange." I think they have it all in here [points to her head].

Here's [artwork by] a woman I've been trying to work with. She was abused. She responds very well. I was at a party one time and I met a doctor who said to me, "You're an art therapist, aren't you?" I said, "No, but it works that way."

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