Chatting with Roxie Munro

January 25, 2010

I spent a delightful evening with Roxie this week, chatting over a glass of red Cote du Rhone. Give us a glass of wine and the chatter follows.

In the interest of fairness, I should disclose that Roxie and I are good friends, but you’ll have deduced that for yourselves by now.

Roxie is well known and most people have seen her work, even though they may not know it’s hers. Every year, in shops, we find Christmas cards that are unmistakably Roxie’s – often snow scenes of New York, things like Grand Central Station, Park Avenue or the Chrysler Building. (Roxie also sends them to her friends at the holidays so we are building a nice collection of her work.) If you’re a long-time reader of the New Yorker, you’ll have seen Roxie’s covers of New York subjects. Plus, she’s been writing and illustrating children’s books for about 20 years and speaks regularly on the lecture circuit to librarians, interest groups, and children. In fact, Roxie is one of the lucky few artists who have earned their livings as artists through their entire careers.

So I wanted to talk to Roxie about things we don’t usually get to, related to the business of art in general and her work in particular. Before we get to this week’s chat, I want to give Roxie kudos. Roxie was the artist who started us on The First Frame – she had the idea for showing work directly from artists’ studios, and a grand time we’re having too.

So don’t read further if you want facts and statistics. There are enough of them in every artist’s bio where you’ll find training, shows, date of birth, date of death, and so on. At The Second Hanging, we’re more interested in choices and decisions.

The one factual point in Roxie’s bio that we’re going to talk abut is the art contest Roxie won at the age of 6. It was a nationwide contest and her entry was a bowl of fruit.

You have no idea how curious this is, because if you know Roxie’s work, you simply aren’t going to find a still life – ever.

Roxie loves architecture, she adores buildings and bridges and engineered constructs. So winning a contest with a bowl of fruit? She was and wasn’t impressed – at least not impressed enough to decide on art as a career. In fact, Roxie went to university to study pre-med. Having gotten to know her, I can see her scientific mind working, but I’m afraid that biology was too soft to be enticing enough to complete a pre-med course of study. What actually happened was that Roxie took an art course her first semester and produced a really good drawing – so she decided to become an artist – and with her parents’ blessing too.

Most of us can’t conceive that our parents would support a decision to become a writer, painter, musician or actor. The arts are not precisely the source of wealth that our parents hope for when they send us off to university. They’re hoping we graduate as doctors, lawyers, bankers or something with fabulous earnings potential.

Conceive my wonder when Roxie said that her parents were delighted with her career decision. Nothing wondrous about it when you hear the story. Roxie’s older sister, Ann Munro Wood, began her art career at a very young age too. When Roxie was a child, her sister was already studying painting. Plus, her father’s family had had professional artists in the family for several generations. So, to them, it was only natural that their second daughter would follow in the family tradition. Wasn’t she lucky?

Actually, I suspect that Roxie was born under a lucky star. Besides being hardworking and lucky, she’s also extremely analytical and scientifically oriented. She has all of the components of a successful career: talent, intelligence, diligence, and luck.

Curious, I asked Roxie how her work had changed over the years. (I’m used to seeing changes in content and style over time.) I was expecting to hear that she originally did still life and landscape and was attracted to portraiture because of her work in the DC courts. But Roxie didn’t answer the question and talked instead about her love of architecture and buildings. Specifically, she discussed the beauty of buildings drawn freehand and compared them to the coldness of formal architectural renderings. She even talked about the difficulty of finding buildings to paint in Hawaii. So we infer that Roxie found her voice at a very early age and, being the grounded person she is, recognized her truth.

As we bounced from non-interview subject to non-interview subject to interview subject, we landed on the subject of Roxie’s website, http://roxiemunro.com. If, like me, you think of Roxie primarily as an artist of urban life, you’ll be curious about why it’s all about being an author of children’s books with games for kids and such.

When Roxie moved to New York after getting her first New Yorker cover, her optimism and confidence about being a fine artist resident in New York City flagged a bit. (Artists have to eat too, you know.) In the interest of eating, she took some of her work to publishers, hoping for assignments as cover artist for paperbacks and book jackets. Instead of giving her an assignment, one of the publishers referred Roxie to a children’s’ publisher. That very kind woman liked Roxie’s work and told her that she would publish something if Roxie had a children’s book. In the middle of the night (the hallmark of a truly creative mind), Roxie saw Inside Outside New York painted in red on the inside of her eyelids. She took the concept to the children’s’ book publisher and the rest is history. Today, fully 50% of Roxie’s revenue is from her children’s book and the remainder from her fine art work.

The website is for librarians and other buyers of children’s books. Her fine are is sold through her galleries and The Second Hanging. We are lucky to have her friendship, her work, her thoughtfulness and her encouragement.

Like I said, I suspect that Roxie was born under a lucky star. Isn’t it great?

– Christine Debany,   Jan. 22, 2010

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