Willa Cox

2019, No. 3

Etching Ink, Monotype on Paper


Although nature was never the subject of my work while living in Hawaii, since moving to New York City in 1983, all my work has been based on nature.  My main inspiration comes from qualities of water, rock, earth, atmosphere, light, and vegetation that I remember from my childhood in Hawaii or that I now experience throughout the seasons in New York. My work is also informed by my love of Asian ink painting (in particular, Shitao, Fu Baoshi, and the Rinpa school), Middle-Eastern manuscript painting (in particular, the Safavid period), and European landscape painting (in particular, the works of Caspar David Friedrich, John Constable, and Emil Nolde). Three twentieth-century artists who have been especially important to me are Joan Mitchell, Willem de Kooning, and Richard Diebenkorn.

I find it natural (and in fact necessary) to move back and forth between representation and abstraction in monotype and mixed media.  Studying and depicting the forms, lines, rhythms, and atmosphere found in nature inform my abstract language.  The processes and ideas that I continually develop doing my abstract work give me tools that I use when I return to representational work.

To make a monotype, I apply etching ink to a flat, rectangular metal plate using a wide variety of materials. When I am satisfied with the image I have created, I place a dampened sheet of paper over the plate then run it through an etching press. This transfers the ink to the paper. If I am not satisfied, I sometimes re-ink the plate and run the paper through the press again. As only one image is created, the process is called monotype.  I often work in series of a particular place: Hawaiian waterfalls, oceans, and mountains; Bear Creek in Ashland, Oregon; the peach tree shadows on our garden fence; Central Park ponds, lakes, and trees; Chinese Scholar Rocks; clouds seen in our neighborhood and in Holland.  While the size of my press limits me to a maximum paper size of 23×12 inches, I sometimes make multiple-panel pieces to increase the scale and engage in more complex compositions.


I was born in Montana and grew up in Hawaii.  My first art class, when I was around age four, is also one of my first memories. I have been painting ever since.  My grandparents lived near the ocean on Maui, and I spent many wonderful childhood hours beach-combing.  As a teen-ager and young adult, I loved hiking in the mountains and swimming in the pools at the base of waterfalls.  These experiences of nature in Hawaii remain important to me and are a continual source of visual inspiration.

Entranced by New York City (my first visit was in 1982), I moved there in 1983 upon receiving a Master in Fine Arts degree from the University of Hawaii.  I worked in an Upper East Side gallery until, in 1986, I began my career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I managed the Registrar’s art storeroom from 1988 through 2018, when I retired from the Met.  I now dedicate all my energy to making my own work.