Thaddeus Radell wrote in his review of the 2013 Kyle Staver Tibor de Nagy Gallery show:
…“Staver is a brilliant inventor whose success lies in her commitment to her inner vision that is at once original and sophisticated and she is remarkably adept at rendering that vision into cohesive luminous constructs. From a broad, almost confused spectrum of diverse shapes and shielded color, she synthesizes clarity. And so she transforms the modest room allotted her into a theater of sorts, where the viewer can expand their own imagination by feeding into her ever-ebullient, seriously odd vision.”
I was fortunate to meet Kyle Staver recently and interview her at her home and studio in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve long been enchanted by her paintings and was excited to finally be able to see her work in person. I would like to again thank Kyle for taking the time to speak with me at length about her work and concerns as an artist.
I told her how much I marveled over her incredible compositions but it wasn’t just the formal beauty I responded to; it’s also the humanistic dimensions–I feel empathy with her characters and storytelling, that this was a refreshing reprieve from the grimmer examples of postmodernist nihilism and irony. She responded that it was critical that her paintings:
“communicate what it’s like to be a human being for Kyle Staver” and that “The humane part of painting for me, It’s just that I’m not a jerk.” She then went on to say that “It’s so much easier to say I hate you than it is to say I love you, there is nothing risked in saying fuck you, nothing; but everything is risked if you say I love you and mean it.” When I paint, I’m always trying to not pitch, if I have two figures close together and it’s romantic I want to hold it and give it teeth. I’m not against irony, I’m against a kind of ironic delivery system that only delivers the fuck you. If I made romantic paintings without the pull in the other direction, and I think that’s why a a painting needs irony, to keep the painting taut. I don’t want to be a sentimental painter or have the paintings be flabby. I think that the irony is the pull in the opposite direction.”
Kyle also discussed how important the community or tribe of artists has been for her growth as a painter. Kyle gives back to this tribe not just with her influential paintings, teaching and personal support to her many artist friends; but also with her Facebook postings, which for many painters around the world, has become an important new way to start their day, reflecting on the vast power and interconnectedness of art.
LG: What has been some of the most significant influences for you as an artist?
KS: Whether you’re writing, making music or going to a bar to talk to people, it’s all about connecting. I happen to find myself a visual thinker and maker. At a certain point in my life, a woman at a boarding school named Mrs. Moses told me she knew what was wrong with me and what was wrong with me was that I was an artist. She said that it was ok, that there was a whole tribe of artists and not only was there a whole tribe but there was a whole culture. Meaning I wasn’t the only person that did this.
If Mrs. Moses hadn’t told me that I was an artist I probably would’ve stayed in northern Minnesota making knit sweaters and macramé. I would have made things. Minnesota artists make marvelous things, I’m not dismissing that. It’s just that I had the good fortune of finding out that I needed to make things.
I had the great good fortune to have someone direct me to this great culture of visual making and communicating where I met my tribe. Natalie Charkow, who helped me apply to Yale – as she was going through my slides said “you know the one thing you need is you need more culture”, and that was exactly right. I knew nothing except I had to make.
LG: By culture she meant?
KS: That I didn’t know enough beyond a certain group of painters that I liked. I thought the sun rose and fell on Soutine. I still like him, but I don’t love him like I did, but that’s like thinking that when I moved to Brooklyn that Brooklyn was tiny but once I lived in Brooklyn it’s enormous. And so that’s all Natalie was saying to me, it’s wonderful to fall in love, to feel connection and feel like your nervous system is being understood by another artist.
LG: So you studied with Natalie Charkow Hollander? I’m curious how she may have influence your bas relief studies for your paintings.
KS: I studied with her at Yale. I took Natalie’s sculpture class and it was the best drawing class I ever had in my life. I started off as a non-figurative sculptor, came to painting late. I took Natalie’s class when I went to graduate school and she would have us do these little figure models. At the end of the day she would make us smash them telling us “no one would be making Christmas presents in her class“! You’d work on this piece and then she’d just make you trash it.
At one point we had to make a relief of a painting and of all the paintings in the world to choose from I chose a landscape by Van Gogh, a hay wagon in the middle of a yellow field. It has a massive space, a crazy thing to try and make a relief out of, I don’t know what I was thinking. This relief was extremely thick. Natalie said the best thing that could happen to you was to just drop your relief face down, flat on the ground. But after Natalie’s class I always built my paintings into very thick reliefs, I don’t know what Natalie would say about that but it helps me with some things in my paintings.
LG: When you say you build the painting you mean your clay moquettes, you make these bas relief as studies for paintings?
KS: No, I make them concurrently. I do a lot of different things when I’m working on a painting. Sometimes when I’m painting I get into a corner and I have a painting that’s like a mule that just sits down and no matter what I launch at it, it won’t move. So, if I back out of the stall, back out of the studio, make a print or work on a relief—I can usually find another way in—that the mule isn’t expecting. So everything that I do is alleys to plow back into the painting. I do build paintings, I do watercolors of them, I do a million drawings of them and it is all concurrent—it’s like the debris that the painting generates. But Natalie was the first person that I made a relief with.
LG: I’m curious to hear about Gretna Campbell who you studied with at Yale. What was it like to study with her there?
KS: Yale was an extraordinary place, a very exciting time—William Bailey was there, Lester Johnson, Mel Bochner, Andrew Forge, and Bernard Chaet. However, this was a boy’s club. Natalie was there some but Gretna Campbell was the only full full-time woman. Every time Gretna came into the studio it was to bring you a miracle, I’ll never forget this, she walked into my studio with a Bruegal book and flipped to a page and you probably know the painting there’s a figure and looks like his falling out of the painting and he is pointing at the back of him and there is a guy in a tree, do you know this Bruegel?
It was like a key in a lock that turned, and Gretna always told me that if I ever got my handle on space, I’d go to the moon. She said that where it’s happening, but I couldn’t get a handle on it. I knew I wanted it but I didn’t know how to see it, I couldn’t do it. And Bruegel was the key for me and that particular painting. I’ve never forgotten that painting. That’s how marvelous she was, she’d come into your studio and you’d be struggling, trying to keep your paint clean or something and she would give these little helpful hints like put your medium in one of those plastic squeeze soap bottles. and your like, “really?” “I’m at Yale at you’re telling me about soap bottles?” She said 20 years from now you’re not going to remember what Mr. FuddyDuddy said but you’ll have clean medium! It’s true, all of her tips about making paintings was enormously generous, humane and to the point. Like I say, she brought me miracles.
A professor, once came into my studio, I was making landscapes then-I’ve always been a representational painter— I had a big Birch tree in the painting, my paintings are always big, and he said “this object event over here…” I said you mean the Birch tree? No! this object event. I asked “are we talking about this Birch tree”? I didn’t know what an object event was and so blah,blah, blah…
So then next crit, in walks Gretna and says “what a beautiful Birch tree”…(laughs) and it’s not that this teacher didn’t have a point, it was important to see it as not a birch tree but Gretna believed in the importance of naming things. Gretna would recognize and take care of the personal connection, the actual love you had for the objects you were choosing, for the things you were trying to make. She never forgot that this was me trying to communicate to you and always recognized that as a kind of generous act.
LG: You stated that your paintings are always big, why is that?
KS: Because it’s a one-to-one ratio with me. I’ve gotten a lot of crap about the size of them but I make small prints, small reliefs, and lots of small stuff. I’ve tried but I have no interest in making small paintings.
LG: Do you see the large size as monumental?
KS: It’s a one-to-one relationship, like sitting here talking to you. I don’t have to have a ladder. These are my rules—so I can move the canvas myself, I can get it around the stairs, and that it’s on a one-to-one.
LG: Your paintings are big but the space is limited, constricted—you don’t have enormous vistas, the space is clearly defined and thoughtful space but it’s like you could only fit so many people into the painting, like in an elevator or something.
KS: I haven’t really thought much about that but I think of them more as holographs. They have to behave as shape… and to take something off the canvas I actually have to take out a permit. To have an arm be cropped, I have to apply for a permit. It’s such a serious thing to me to break my horror of elements going outside the boundaries of the canvas. I do it but only very cautiously because I think the minute you break that thing it’s like you bleed energy. I think that the more you crank down on it, the more taut it gets, the more it pounds the energy, to feel the force of those connections and shaping.
LG: You mentioned before about how important the composition is in your work where the subject in the painting as much about the composition as it is about anything like the story or myth. I know that’s probably true with most paintings but I’m curious to hear more of your thoughts on this. Your compositions are so intriguing and thought provoking.
KS: Well I like telling stories, they are important to me, the myths are a later in life development. The stories used to be personal but then I tried to turn them into something universal. At a certain point I took universal stories and tried to personalize them. So I now start with a story we all know. Some people don’t know myths, and I don’t know them very well either, believe me, I don’t know them very well. But I start with a story, boy meets girl, random stuff happens and you didn’t deserve it. Biblical stories are different are more like morality plays, myths are really trying to explain the cruel randomness of just trudging through your life. I think Bible stories are always like “you are bad so this happens” almost without exception, nobody’s bad in myths.
So the stories are important, myths are a universal telling or explanation of something that’s random thing and that’s just the way life goes, the random thing, so I like that. And that’s developmental—I’m at a certain age of my life where things happens and it’s not because I’m crummy, it’s just what happens.
LG: So you’ve never done any Biblical stories?
KS: Yeah I’ve just finished Jonah and the Whale, the old testament are better because God in the Old Testament is awfully random. Do you know what I mean?
LG: They are probably more directly connected to the original myth, like what Joesph Campbell might say about the connection from the Bible to pagan or other ancient myths.
KS: Yes they are all connected, so the stories are stories and then I particularize them or personalize them. Instead of trying to take a personal story and turn it into a universal truism, I take a universal truism and try to personalize them. Again and again, artists of mid-career to late-career do that. Lennart Anderson, his Idyls, you know he didn’t do those until sort of later on.
Composition is the delivery system, there are lots of different aspects of how the painting delivers its message. You need to have the horse firmly in hand or else you can’t do it. Composition helps me contain it and release the message in the way I want it.
LG: When you’re saying contain it, these forces, do you mean like a sense of balance of forces or weight? When you look at Titian or Rubens, they use various formal compositional theories and mathematical structures like the golden section or similar. You have your own, more intuitive balancing structure but perhaps done in a similar spirit as the old masters? Can you say something about how you think about this?
KS: I think of the canvas as an arena… I set up my rules, something going to happen and the painting must resolve, I don’t leave them hanging. Everything has to be accounted for, every piece of the painting has to be introduced and informed and in working order with the rest of the painting. There is nothing casual about the components of my painting’s relationships to everything else. There is nothing that I’ll let go. It’s like cat’s cradle and I’m in charge. How do I know if it’s working or not? It’s not a plan as if I were dismembering a bomb or something. You can read all you want about composition but until you’re there and you have your hands on; you can’t know. So it’s only in knowing the painting, so I feel my way through and I trust that. That’s my job.
LG: You do your job incredibly well. I’d like to ask you about your morning Facebook albums. I’m really curious about it as it’s had such a big effect in how many people start their day. I love how it get’s us thinking about the interconnectedness of the painting language, how so many paintings talk to each other as well as getting the painters themselves to literally start talking to each other on Facebook.
KS: I think we painters are a tribe and I think that a lot of painters are terribly isolated. Some or a lot of the reasons they are doing this, not just that they are visual thinkers but that they don’t interface well in social endeavors. So here we all are in our studios, wishing we had the life they have on commercials, so Facebook comes along and gives us an opportunity to communicate in our jammies with our coffee, safe. You sort of feel like I can do this, it’s just sort of built from there.
What I want to talk about to other painters is what I’m looking at. I’m working on a painting, I’ve got maybe something’s not going right, I’m looking at Titian cause Titian did it right and then I’m thinking that reminds me of that Renoir, Renoir must have been looking at him and then you go to look at the Renoir and then you realize there’s a cave painting and then all of a sudden I’m all over the map, I’m talking with all these other troglodytes in their jammies and coffee, and there saying no that Renoir doesn’t remind me of that, look at this and then all of a sudden my little tiny world becomes enormous.
All of a sudden I’m sent paintings from China and the world gets bigger, and then you say well, it’s Facebook. But that’s not all it does, because when I actually go out and I meet Facebook people I know them. You know it’s not like a dating service when you meet them and you think, eeww, oh god. You know we’ve talked maybe if it was a dating service it wouldn’t work but because we’ve talked about paintings, we’ve made our position clear; we actually do know each other. So it translates into the real world. So by doing these albums, and by problem solving or thinking out loud to my tribe, they have responded because it’s a safe way to respond. In doing so it’s changed all our lives. I’m sure they feel the same way when they go to an opening, they feel a little less overwhelmed, a less like I don’t know anybody—cause now we do.
So I think it’s a really good thing and for me it’s changed how I am in the world. I’ve gotten teaching jobs, and until I did this and started to write about what I think—I didn’t know I could do that, I didn’t know I could talk about painting this way.
LG: Are there any situations where people’s comments/submissions piss you off in some way? That you’ll feel this is an inappropriate use of my album. How do you handle that?
KS: I delete them and back message them saying I deleted your post, you’re welcome to participate but not in this spirit. Then there was a big deal when I don’t want people to post their own paintings. There was a groundswell a couple of months ago that was awful. I don’t mind occasionally, that’s terrific but it’s just not the format for that. Put it on your wall, I will come, we will come— the tribe will find you. This works because we’re not invested in it on a personal level, it’s not a… I post on my paintings on my wall if I have a show up or something happens then I use my wall to post it but not in that morning album format.
LG: What about someone who might, for whatever reason, post many, many paintings on a particular album?
KS: That’s another thing I’ve had to back message people about. I post three painting qne the maximum you can post is three.
LG: That sounds like a good rule to have, I didn’t know about it.
KS: If it happens one day I don’t say anything but if it’s consistent then I will step in. I don’t want to curb the excitement that somebody feels when they’re on a roll. So if you have one day that’s fine but the couple of people I’ve back messaged about this if was a consistent thing.
KS: There are usually a million different points at which my albums match, there will be a compositional thing, there will be like a frontal, there will be three quarters, there will be a certain scale, they should try to match them on as many points as possible, its not just subject matter. I had one the other day where trees marked space.
LG: I remember that one, a very good one.
KS: It wasn’t just about trees, it was trees that were making space, in their placement they were making space. So when people were posting stuff, some of them got it and came up with incredible things and some just posted generic forests. But I don’t care about that.
LG: So tell me this, if you could get all the points of connection (between the three paintings) possible that you could win a Kyle Staver’s Morning Album t-shirt or something?
KS: (Laughs) there is one woman who always back messages me and asks if she’s getting it… I thought that was very sweet and said yes that was a good (observation? – audio not clear) I’m saying this to you about the points I don’t make that public, I haven’t said that. I don’t make rules except the only you can’t post 5 thousand images and you can’t post your own work. So it has a life of its own, I have rules but I’m not a very good enforcer and it’s fine. There are a couple of times I’ve deleted paintings but it had to be so in my face.
When I have a good album there is nothing better. I have a great one for tomorrow; I’m a day ahead. A cartoonist once suggested to me that, to always make them a day ahead. I used to make them every morning very early and it takes me up to 45 minutes or so. But now I make them the day before.
ArtPneuma Video Interview with Kyle Staver Filmed by:
Sunny Miller (http://sunnymillerphoto.com/)
Feb 22, 2012 Interview by: David Campbell,Jay Walkerand Alison Stigora
Filmed by: Sunny Miller]]>
Blue Mountain Gallery recently send me an email to remind me that they are still accepting submissions for their 2014 annual juried exhibition with John Dubrow as Juror. The exhibition dates are December 23, 2014 – January 24, 2015 I decided to help them out by posting their press release below:
APPLICATION DEADLINE: OCTOBER 28, 2014
Blue Mountain Gallery accepts online submission only.
For more information, and to apply, please visit www.bluemountaingallery.org
DOWNLOAD PROSPECTUS: http://www.bluemountaingallery.org/2014-juried-exhibition/
BLUE MOUNTAIN GALLERY, founded in 1980, is located in the heart of New York City’s Chelsea art district, and is sponsoring its second Annual Juried Exhibition in 2014-15. The gallery’s exhibitions are frequently reviewed in both the New York and national press. Our invitationals are part of the gallery’s outreach to the artist community. With this juried exhibition we are offering artists from across the United States, not only the opportunity to exhibit in an established New York gallery, but to have their work reviewed by John Dubrow, a renowned American painter.
JOHN DUBROW is a prominent contemporary American painter. As a member of the National Academy of Design, he has received numerous awards from the Academy. Dubrow has also been given a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant and the American Academy of Arts and Letters award. His paintings have been seen in many exhibitions, including at the National Academy of Design, Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, Forum Gallery, and Lori Bookstein Fine Art, where he currently is represented. Recently he had a mid-career retrospective at the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. His work is included in several major collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Academy of Design, and Harvard University. Dubrow has been making ambitious figurative paintings of New York scenes since 1983, and lives and works in NYC.
I am planning a new section for Painting Perceptions that will include listings of juried shows and competitions. Anyone who knows of any upcoming good juried shows or places to go to find this information please send it to me and I will post. ( firstname.lastname@example.org )]]>
I’d like to share some information Michael Kareken’s gallery sent me about a show that starts in Minneapolis this week. I made a video interview with him awhile back, and wanted to post an update about his terrific new body of work of Parts – or his Auto Salvage Series.
Michael Kareken / Parts October 16 – November 29, 2014 runs in two galleries,
A show of his paintingsThe Burnet Gallery
as well as a concurrant showing of his drawings at the Groveland Gallery
From the gallery press release:
About two years ago, Michael Kareken began painting urban landscapes featuring automotive salvage yards. While some of the cars were damaged in accidents, most of them were deconstructed for their parts, leaving behind skeletons of cars, their inner-workings exposed. For Kareken the forms were strongly suggestive of the human body, and there was a disturbing sense of violation in the casual way that the vehicles have been dismantled. The pieces were bold, powerful statements, rich in context on the economy, the environment and an exploration of the subject matter.
In his new show, Parts, Kareken, a Minneapolis-based artist, looks inward and takes his study of automotive salvage to someplace more intimate and personal.
“Automobiles consume a huge portion of our culture,” explains Kareken. “They’re so ubiquitous. I find these discarded elements resonate with me on a number of levels – as a symbol for society, but also for the human condition. “My earlier urban landscapes were looking outward at society and were more observational, while the works in Parts are pushing inward and are more meditative. I want the work to embody the sense of vulnerability, fragility and disfigurement that I perceive in the subject.”
Kareken’s drawings are composed of individual parts and pieces: pulleys, fans and belts are sensitively rendered and their forms brought into crisp focus. These elements are anchored by shadows and expressionistic marks that suggest the chaos of the larger mechanics beyond the composition’s focal point. Kareken’s larger ink and acrylic paintings on paper present a complicated tangle of car engine tubes and wires. These dynamic compositions explore the figurative aspects of these inanimate objects, and the artist’s use of collage lends his paintings a tactility resembling the subject itself.
“In several new pieces I am using a collage technique to construct the forms of the vehicles themselves,” explains Kareken. “My newest work is created from dozens of old, abandoned drawings that I have ripped apart and recycled into a new image. This technique creates a rough, layered surface that viscerally conveys the feeling of fragmentation and disintegration inherent in the subject matter. At the same time — and paradoxically – the technique gives me a sense of physically building up the subject, as if the collage and painting process is a means of reconstructing or resurrecting the dismantled vehicles.”
I’m passing along this information, still have a few days left to submit if you haven’t already.
ROBERT BERLIND, a New York-based painter and writer on art, is a member of the American Academy & Institute of Arts and Letters and the National Academy. Numerous honors include grants from the NEA, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and the Benjamin Altman Award in Painting.
Public collections include the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of the City of New York; Colby College Museum of Art; National Academy Museum, and the Neuberger Museum.
A Professor Emeritus of the School of Art+Design at Purchase College, Berlind writes on art for The Brooklyn Rail, Art in America, BorderCrossings, and other publications.
I am planning a new section for Painting Perceptions that will include listings of juried shows and competitions. Anyone who knows of any upcoming good juried shows or places to go to find this information please send it to me and I will post. ( email@example.com )]]>
Stanley Lewis’ current exhibition at the Betty Cunningham Gallery reaffirms his stature as a great landscape painter and goes beyond. I have been following Lewis’ work for a few years now with greater and greater attention, and I was poised for several hours of demanding visual engagement with his remarkably obsessive, robustly structured images. And indeed the work continues to stagger me with its almost overwhelming scope of intent and rigor of execution. This time, however, though my feelings relative to Lewis’ ever-impressive plastic virtuosity were, if anything, enhanced by his sheer honesty an biting devoutness to the motif, the exhibition was now breathing another, less pragmatic air, that of an inspired Faulknerian syntax of construction, and, most poignantly, a palpable sense of loss.
Lewis’ paintings dictate a precise sense of light and harmonize mesmerizing scales of urgent descriptive content. One sees a weathered wall, a weed-raged field, a gleaming white 18-wheeler, a few beached rowboats, a fence, a house, telephone lines. As one explores further and further into these pastoral kaleidoscopes, one can never exhaust the multiple layers of densely packed details nor the broad range of mark-making used to describe them. They are fiercely won painted trophies of intimate spaces ravaged by Lewis’ intrepid eye. The squared and multi-colored negative spaces that staccato a brick wall in Backyard Jeykll Island, GA (2014) or the white pointed red-stone pillars of Winslow Park, Westport (2010-2014) are truly delightful to discover and thrilling to visually digest. The deployment of details in the drawings is equally terrifying, be it the stacked crucifix of bricks that unites Family Group Based on Durer Woodprint (2012), the spanning rafters of Westport Train Station (2013) or the laced-to-infinity branches in the magnificent Hemlock Tress Seen from Upstairs Window in the Snow (2007-2014).
Of more interest, however, than Lewis’ prowess in amassing these seething layers of details is the dynamics that he employs to exceed both the details and the marks themselves. In this respect, a parallel drawn to Faulkner might be ventured. Faulkner wraps the broader scope of his narrative into a labyrinth of language that entangles time and space, creating profoundly evocative studies of the human psyche. Time, space, narrator, characters, plot and theme often leap ahead, double back or splinter off, only to find themselves part of a breathtaking orchestration, resulting in some of the most poignant tales in American literature. In a similar way, Lewis knots and weaves his painted or drawn passages into the formal context of his subject: in part, by literally cutting and pasting, and in part by recklessly juxtaposing areas of dissimilar spatial orientations. The assembly results in a densely tactile, rich phrasing while maintaining a certain buoyancy of light and atmosphere. Lewis reaches for his own heights of interpretation- almost in spite of his steadfast observation of the motif.
In both the paintings and drawings, the constant presence of cut and pieced bits of painted description is indeed stimulating to the eye, and subsequently keep the large quiet areas of the image as alive as the more visually pregnant passages of lush, brisk detail. The sky and snowy foreground of Hemlock do not lose vitality against the weight and density of the tree. The sky in Boat on the Beach is likewise as present as the scraggly field in the foreground. Moving beyond such astounding rigor, Lewis proceeds to heighten the intrigue of his pictures by punctuating them with passages of contradictory space—almost as coherently, if not as sublimely—as Faulkner does his novels with time/narrator vacillations. In his Snopes trilogy, for example, the plot weaves through shifts in the time frame and is told from the viewpoint of three different characters, all building into a thousand-page edifice of astounding insight. Likewise, Lewis does not limit himself automatically to the same spatial construct in adjoining areas although each part adds up to achieve a coherent and convincing whole. On the contrary, sections of the paintings are seamlessly juxtaposed (or sometimes not-so-seamlessly!) that allow alternative readings of the space. Lewis’ paintings/drawings are, in truth, syntheses of painted fragments, some of which are slightly out of tune with others and serve to syncopate the rhythm of the pictures and add to their rich meaning. Returning to those tightly observed pillars in Windsor Terrace, especially with the pillar on the right, the forms of the pillars become almost translucent and weightless as they blend into the road behind, becoming rippling stones in a blue-grey river of pavement. Other examples include the grey-violet boat on the left of Lake Chautauqua Boat Scene with Woman and Boy (2013) as it launches itself flatly against the picture plane, as opposed to the sculpted perspective of the other boats, or the windows of Backyard Jeykll Island, GA, that appear almost as small paintings hanging on the side of the house, or the erupting foreground of Matt Farnham’s Farm with Truck (2014) that plays so well off of that miracle of a white truck. Lewis, like Faulkner, is able to bind all of the elements of his pictures together into highly cohesive images, with his language and narrative tending to follow a sometimes jolting and circuitous, ambitious route.
Of all the revelations and delights that this exhibition offers, the most enduring are triggered by the majestic drawing that opens the exhibition, Hemlock Trees Seen from Upstairs Window in the Snow. Studying its impossibly fathomed and mapped depths of marks, lines of another sort came rippling unexpectedly into my mind.
O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
What one is left with, in the end, upon truly contemplating and corresponding with Lewis’ work, is a poignant sense of loss. Lewis’ frantic quest for every detail and nuance, so desperate, so purposeful, unveils a broad sense of unease with capturing what he sees. The natural elements that he faces on the motif are so overwhelming that he must rip his work apart and reconstruct it after hours and hours of determined observation. Conversation with the artist is permeated with the difficulties faced by the painter in crossing the unbreachable threshold into true painting. This exhibition is often refreshed with such simply pronounced images as Late Eve Study of Boats (2013), Study for Big Painting (2013) and the joyful Woman and Boy by Lake (2013), but the weight of the major works—the drawings, again Hemlock and Trees and Family Group Based on Durer Woodprint (2012), and the paintings, Matt Farnham’s Farm with Truck (2014) and Boat on the Beach, Lake Chautauqua (2013)—drive the exhibition and point to a state of pathos, the defeat of the hero at the hands of the gods. Lewis is a hero. His work grapples towards a comprehensive vision of nature that is truly rare and beautiful. And the most beautiful part of all is that he is so desperate to achieve what he has missed.
Stanley Lewis at Betty Cunningham Gallery, until October 25, 2014]]>
Elizabeth Wilson is a painter living and working in Philadelphia and will be having a show of recent work at the Rosenfeld Gallery in Philadelphia from November 2nd through November 23rd.
First studying at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., she transferred to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where she received a four-year certificate in 1984. Prior to settling into her studio practice, she studied art history and anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. For nearly two decades she taught as adjunct professor and adjunct associate professor to fine art and architecture students, teaching design and drawing at Temple University, Philadelphia University, Community College of Philadelphia and The University of the Arts. She currently serves as acting vice president of the Alumni Council of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Elizabeth is best known for her luminous and intimate landscapes which have been appropriately described as having a “quiet energy”. Her work has been extensively exhibited throughout the United States and is included in numerous public and private collections here and abroad. Permanent collections include the Woodmere Art Museum, State Museum of Pennsylvania, U.S. State Department Art Bank Collection, Bryn Mawr College and McGraw Hill Publishing Company. Gallery representation over several decades includes Gallery Henoch, New York, Mulligan-Shanoski, San Francisco, The More Gallery, Philadelphia, Marian Locks Gallery, Philadelphia and Gross McCleaf Gallery, Philadelphia, among others. In 2009, Rosemont College’s Lawrence Gallery, Rosemont, PA, held a Retrospective that included work spanning 30 years.
Elana Hagler: Thank you so much for joining us here, Liz. I’ve taken a fair bit of time to sit with your paintings and think about the things I want to ask you. I read your very interesting interview with Taryn Day from 2012 and you discuss your early artistic formation and your working process there, so rather than go over that again, I would like to focus on gaining a deeper understanding of your aesthetic vision and goals.
What I find so remarkable about your work is that although physically your paintings are small gems, they seem to exude this incredible sense of expansiveness in them. There is a wonderful impression of moving air and deep distance that holds this delicious tension with certain asserted edges that bring us back to the surface of the picture-plane. These edges and your painterly patches rhythmically take us on a 2-D journey at the same time that atmospheric perspective works to suck us deeper in.
Can you say anything about your consideration of deep space versus the assertion of the picture-plane? Is that tension something that you have consciously worked with over time, is it something that just comes naturally to your particular touch, or is it somewhere in between?
Elizabeth Wilson: The tension you describe Elana, between the picture plane and recessive space, does come naturally. At the start of each painting I am aware instinctively of a structure or hierarchal order; I see in a hierarchal way, very quickly. Whether looking at a landscape, an interior, figures walking on the street, a painting on the wall, or even listening to a piece of music, I can quickly pick out the rhythm, the dominant aspects of the composition, shape, color, light, shadow, texture and so on.
In each painting, I work to maintain the two-dimensional structure of the picture plane. At the same time, I make a conscious effort to break through the picture plane, giving equal consideration to the recessional space as I do the composition or design of the surface. The ‘activity’ of painting is mostly a subconscious event or series of events. I don’t have a formula, nor am I consciously making specific on-the-spot decisions such as soft versus hard edge; it’s happening intuitively like gears working in tandem with the exception of color and value transitions, because color is a highly considered technical discipline unique and integral to that painting and to its success. Only when I stand back to analyze what works and what doesn’t, in whole or in part, am I looking at it with regard to edge, color via relationships, shape, light, texture, visual harmony, the overall design and its effectiveness. Then, after that, I will rework where necessary. This process can take days, weeks, months and sometimes years.
EH: Your color seems to me to be less concerned with a literal response to nature and more with establishing a mood or concretizing a sense-memory. What are the ways in which you approach color in your work?
EW: More and more I’m working with a limited palette and integrate higher-key (prismatic) colors if I think the painting needs it. And I do straddle both the literal fence and conceptual fence on color.
As I evolved as a painter, I didn’t need or necessarily want to make an exact replica of nature or life, but instead wanted to draw from its energy. It was freeing to be able to tweak the color field to make a new reality that is very much based in the real world.
The attributes of a particular subject and creating a sense of place or personality are extremely important to me, but act more as a springboard. Color and light play a significant role but that has more to do with warm and cool color and specific qualities of light than an absolute realistic, in a photographic sense, depiction. I want my paintings to breathe and I use color and a limited set of tools when painting to keep the work and the subject alive.
In the late 1990s, I started a series of paintings in the Lake District in northwest England that has a particular coolness and deep blue-green color field. I was once criticized for not making the paintings warmer because then the paintings would be “more approachable” to buyers, which in the end was incorrect. By happenstance, a visitor to Philadelphia from the Lake District came to my opening and immediately recognized the area because of the particular nuance of green and identified the locations before reading the labels. When that happened, I felt that I had captured the atmospheric qualities and the essence of the place very successfully. More importantly however, it is my intention that the paintings stand on their own regardless of where the initial seed came from.
EH: How have your paintings and the things you are after changed over the years since you have left art school? What do you focus on more recently that you might not have given as much attention to earlier on?
EW: The most profound change in my evolution as an artist is that I am seeing more than I ever have before. Having spent so many years looking, and looking deeply, I am now better able to see nuance and layer in the world, to see beyond its surface. It is like “seeing into” or “seeing through”.
Because of this I am a much more confident artist now then I was during the first years out of school. As I touched on previously and which is related to seeing more deeply, I can intuitively grasp a complicated set of visual stimuli and reduce it to its basic core that ultimately gives me a sense of freedom. I’m not struggling to look but delight in what I see. This entire process inspires me; intrigues me. I’m now experimenting a bit with texture, which is something I left behind years ago. Whether it will last for the next series of work to come, I don’t know. This is reflected in the fact that I am working more with oil, rather than with gouache which I have used somewhat (but not entirely) exclusively for the nearly two decades.
For the past several years, I’ve been studying and painting water and rocky beaches on the Long Island Sound at the far end of the island. The landscape in the North Fork is infused with large dark shapes at dusk, which is the most alluring time for me. The topography is often times reflected in the sky. Perhaps this focus replaces the negative of space under the bridge or hill in a landscape against a large sky. My preoccupation with this form only became noticeable to me when putting together a lecture on my creative process and how I work. So there is a strong continuum, regardless of the subject matter.
In addition, a new series of paintings has been developing which I call, “Character Studies”. These are self-portraits that have aspects of people I know/have known or are personality types from observation that emerge subconsciously when I’m painting. These are painted from life, in front of a mirror. They are generally small, 6″ x 6″ average, oil on wood or canvas mounted on wood. This series evolved from a large number of oil on wood self-portraits that I began years ago but have never shown.
Part of my maturation as artist has included a strong appreciation for and alliance with abstract painters who bend reality, in part because of my natural preoccupation with structure and a shared aesthetic that is based on pure design. I began to really focus on this appreciation and alliance in the 1990s and they remain a constant in my creative life. Since then, I have found a place to marry the worlds of literal and conceptual reality and so, in a sense, I’m reaching backwards, taking parts I liked in my earlier work and using the skills and interests that evolved over time and re-making what I have been always searching for in my work, to make each painting a unique, intimate environment that invites the viewer to experience and offer contemplation on a multi-faceted level.
I think students coming to art school now are exposed to a world of images and writing that was simply not available (or easily available) when I was a student. We had to search through libraries and bookstores for what can now be located in seconds or minutes on the Internet. Truthfully, I am envious of the wealth of knowledge, visual and otherwise that students entering art school have at their fingertips. It might have taken less time to get where I am now in my work if I too, had that good fortune, but then, there is no substitute for experience when it comes to truly seeing.
EH: Much of your work is done in a square or almost square format. Why do you keep coming back to that specific shape?
EW: I never really left the square. I worked in a square format on occasion when I was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. On my walls hung in the museum during my third and fourth year, were two large 60” x 60” still life paintings, along with smaller paintings that were rectangular and a combination of the two shapes. Without speaking the words, “design” or “format”, we were encouraged to work asymmetrically within that then popular format of the rectangle, because, it was implied, the square was too tempting or at least too easy to work because of its symmetry. When teaching design and drawing some years later, I would not allow my students to work within a square at first or symmetrically for similar reasons.
I have come to think of the square or near square as an object by its shape alone. It is an unexpected shape in nature. It is a fixed and powerful shape.
In thinking more about the square, I have noticed that it has proliferated along with the evolution of the Internet. I think it owes itself in large part to graphic design, which has become the one visual art discipline that has become mainstream out of necessity (website design, for example). The importance for visual readability and flow of web designs is essential and the square and circle have become big players today, graphically. The interest in late 19th and early to mid 20th century design and in particular art movements like Modernism, Futurism, Russian Constructivism, Dadaism and De Stijl have made a significant impact on modern life. I have to wonder if the Internet has been an important force in this interest.
And for painters, you can now buy pre-made square painting panels and canvasses. It seems the square has become the new acceptable and standard format. But to break the square and make something organic work, or not, within it and with it is actually a real challenge.
When I started traveling on a regular basis to England and working with gouache, I would take a book of paper with me that had near square dimensions, which suited me and my aesthetic and so that format as ‘object’ has endured.
EH: You stated in the interview with Taryn Day that you are interested in in the “subtleties of the changes between the permanent and impermanent landscape.” That’s a really beautiful idea. Can you elaborate more on that particular dichotomy and what about it you find so compelling?
EW: I have been a sky-watcher for as long as I can remember. For me, watching the sky is the most interesting, thought-provoking part of the landscape. Living in a suburb of Philadelphia, it’s rare to see large open spaces. I’m usually capturing glimpses when I’m driving or walking, looking up or at the end of a street between buildings or trees. I rarely see horizontally.
As much as I have an aversion to shopping centers, they have become one of the few places near me where I’m able to view an uninterrupted expansive sky. The skies I see that tell a story in the round; they are a space of transition and impending weather, from left to right, from top to bottom. They are almost never predictable and almost always in flux.
In contrast, natural or built landscapes are essentially static in their foundation with the exception of weather events, the changing light and the passing seasons. The energy of the sky and fixed landscape work independently though collaboratively, quietly and often times quite dramatically.
The ‘wow’ moments of late afternoon light in autumn that create strong contrasts, long cast shadows and shapes of color is something dynamic and visually exciting in its abstract beauty and nuance; it is something I grab onto visually. Just as wonderful however, are the overcast days where structure is less obvious, values are closer together and color is muted—there is a quiet poetry in those moments, which I deeply covet.
EH: You work both from life and from photographic reference. What do you do to “translate” the photos and keep the paintings from becoming too literal?
EW: I use a lot of imagery for painting ideas. I have boxes filled with decades old torn-out black & white and color newspaper images and magazine images and am still adding to them, saved for future painting ideas or reference. On my computer are fifteen or more years of images pulled off the Internet saved for the same reason. All the images I collect are carefully selected and some eventually discarded if they don’t keep up with my current ideas/current aesthetics.
The photographs I take which are solely for painting purposes (I’ve also been doing street photography as serious study) are taken with specific information in mind. First, I strive to compose the photograph well from the start. From the actual image(s), the bits of information I grab are those that allow me to remember a particular subject, light, shadow, shape, color, texture, composition…..essentially the abstract qualities.
But I do separate myself from the photograph, taking only particular aspects and rely on memory or years of accumulated visual knowledge. When I am working with a photograph, at some point I turn the photograph face down so not to rely on or be it influenced by it. I may bring it out at some point to re-familiarize myself with what I found so inspiring in the first place. Sometimes I never see what it was I saw.
That’s why a thumbnail sketch or color study is more valuable than a photograph (the combination of the two is invaluable) because the eye and the brain are capable of registering limitless nuances that the camera cannot. When I look at a thumbnail sketch, it becomes animated to me; recalling that exact moment (ie: the warmth of the sun, the smell of honeysuckle, the mosquito’s biting, a chorus of baby birds chirping to be fed, the song on the radio, etc…..). It can recall your state of mind, how you were feeling, what you were thinking at the time, your ideas. The sketch becomes real and tangible. By comparison, photographs are sterile references, so I have to be conscious of what I’m experiencing when I’m out taking photographs. Sometimes I’m painting and drawing in my head even when I’m out there photographing or just afterwards when I’m digesting what I saw and experienced.
On a side note, three and a half years ago nearly all of my sketchbooks were stolen by workman who had access to my studio. These sketchbooks were more precious than my paintings or even my photographs. It is a terribly troubling and deeply serious loss for me. Among these were sketchbooks spanning of five consecutive weeks in Europe in 1990 full of notes and sketches that also included self-portraits and drawings of my former husband.
EH: That’s heartbreaking. I’ve had work stolen, too. Most notably, my portrait of my grandfather was stolen when I brought it in to a class I was TA’ing in grad school. I can’t imagine someone actually enjoying a piece of art that they stole. Maybe one day these pieces will find their way back to us.
What are you after, Liz? What keeps you making your work?
EW: My interest lies with making little environments, a whole world of them. Sometimes they are based heavily on real experienced realities and sometime they are entirely invented. These are representational souvenirs of observation and thought.
Philosophically, I’m not really certain what keeps me making my work; why I need to do this. I can say it derives in part from a supreme preoccupation with nature at its core; its beauty, the wonder of it, its power and how humans and nature collide. Being in the company of great art, interesting music, dance, smart design and smart architecture (if not great architecture) as well as the extreme opposite of beauty or when beauty is derived from something ordinary or unpleasant, all plays a role in inspiring an idea. It generates a kind of energy and stimulates a need, if not a demand, to make images to record, to document, to reinvent.
Most honest painters will tell you, that there is an intellectual and physical battle going on in the studio every time you step inside and close the door. It’s an intense struggle between balancing what you want, what you don’t want and what the painting wants. When the painting is going well, it feels like an adrenalin rush of satisfaction. Sometimes getting to that point and being ‘in the zone’, so to speak, I wonder if I’ve forgotten to breathe. Those moments of euphoria during and after a long, successful battle stimulate a need to keep doing it (I am guessing). Part of that struggle is to make the next one better than or at least as good as a previous one, but at the same time you want the work to evolve as you evolve. It is a delicate balance.
You develop an enormous appreciation of what artists have always had to go through to make their work. Not just physical or financial sacrifices in order to work, but the intellectual battlefield of seeking perfection through years of intense observation, study, experimentation, patience, enormous self-discipline and very hard work. It’s part of the reasons we’re willing to travel 3000 miles away to see their accomplishments]]>
I met Lennart Anderson during the summer of 1968. I was an undergraduate student at Mount Holyoke College, attending a summer program run by Boston University at Tanglewood, and Lennart was the painting instructor. We painted from the model, and Lennart painted along with us. Later he expressed some guilt over being paid for a summer of painting with very little active teaching, but nothing could have been more worthwhile for a beginning student than to observe firsthand how he worked. What I remember most from the silence and subdued light of that studio is Lennart’s palette and the orderly piles of paint he had mixed. That color could be so beautiful and that painting could involve these subtle, unnameable tones was a revelation to me.
Ten years later, after several years at the New York Studio School and a period of working on my own in Denver, Colorado, I found myself once again studying with Lennart in a still life class at Brooklyn College. I remember a large room with a wall of north facing windows. We students lined up our easels, and we each set up our own still life on the narrow shelf running the length of the east wall. Lennart made the rounds and sometimes, with permission, would work on a painting, bringing our unruly tones into relationship, softening and eliminating edges, helping us to see the big notes that could provide a more reliable basis for moving towards the smaller forms and details.
There was also a weekly evening session from the model that he supervised and that was open to all of the students in the MFA Program. At the time I had an inexplicable aversion towards Degas. I remember one evening becoming frustrated with how Lennart was going on about him, and I blurted out, “I think…[grasping for the right example]…Giotto was a greater artist than Degas!” After a few moments he gently, and with great kindness, replied, “I agree that Giotto was a greater artist, but…Degas, I believe, was the better painter.” I cringe a little now to look back on the naiveté of my comparison. His pithy response (he, of course, has no memory of any of this) was one of many things he has said to me over the years that went to the heart of some underlying obstacle in my own thinking and gave me something to contemplate for years to come. I was a slow and sometimes resistant student, but over time came to more fully appreciate the other painters in his pantheon (Matisse, Corot, Poussin, Velasquez, and Titian), the amount of time he spent studying their work, the detail in which he had memorized so many of their paintings in his mind’s eye.
After moving to Vermont in 1985, for a number of years on my visits to the city I often would bring along a painting or two to show to Lennart in the beautiful north light of his Brooklyn studio. He loved talking about painting but was reluctant to continue in the role of teacher as critic outside of the class situation. He had to be coaxed. I would ask questions, and eventually I would get something out of him, some insight into the work, a limitation, an obstacle, something to contemplate and work with until the next visit. I am guessing I am not alone among his students in saying that I didn’t turn to Lennart for compliments, which were rare, but rather for his honesty and knowledge, and I think also for the privilege of witnessing the integrity of his own inquiry, its clear focus and spirit of open questioning, the absence of dogma, the intimate and fluid relationship between his thinking mind and the activity of seeing and painting.
I have remained a student of Lennart’s work for most of my painting life. For me this has had nothing to do with imitation or with blind faith. It has been a repeated and evolving experience of recognizing qualities in his work that I quite selfishly want for my own, things that his paintings know that my own paintings want to know. Recently I have been studying a reproduction of his Portrait of Matthew Devlin (2001). I remember seeing this painting in a 2008 exhibit on Staten Island, and now I find myself marveling all over again at the subtlety of the tones, the exactitude of the drawing, the smallest details in perfect relation to the larger forms, and yet the brushwork so completely free, open, alive. I have been asking, how does he accomplish this? It is like seeing more clearly the next step for my own work, in this case a more compatible relationship between accuracy and spontaneity, and recognizing the habits that are blocking the way and not serving the seeing.
Is it possible to say in a few words what I have learned from Lennart? To zero in on something essential that could be of benefit to younger painters who are finding their way and haven’t had the opportunity of studying with him? I think back to that magical Tanglewood summer and how he opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the world, as an interconnected web of relationships, of colors and tones and light and space, free of the limiting labels of trees, grass, arms, and noses, and how thrilling the experience was of finding an equivalent for these relationships in paint. For lack of a better word (and one he might not approve of), it was an abstract world. Entering it was entering a realm of infinite possibility, and from the very beginning I loved dwelling in it. He has remained my guide and friend ever since.
This past August I was very fortunate to get invited to Lennart Anderson’s studio in Brooklyn where I went with Kyle Staver to talk informally about his thoughts and experience on painting and drawing. Regretfully, The first few minutes of our discussion failed to record properly and was lost. My recollection of this early part of our talk centered around his approach to drawing; Specifically with his use of three points along a vertical in drawing (especially the figure) to determine the width in relation to the height. He also talked about the importance of finding horizontal and vertical relationships of points seen in nature in a grid-like manner.
Lennart said he wrote an essay on drawing and painting that covered many of these concerns, saying, “I wrote that essay so I wouldn’t have to be interviewed!” (link to that essay below) I then asked how Lennart’s approach differed from the British painters like Euan Uglow, William Coldstream, etc. who had a similar preoccupation with measurement. Lennart, as I recall, said that to them measurement was everything but that wasn’t enough for him—he was more interested in other composition aspects besides just the vertical and horizontal alignments. I had asked him if perhaps their painting was more about mapping than traveling. This lead to asking what he thought of Euan Uglow’s more planer approach to form and color. Lennart seemed to be less interested in this approach, saying we don’t see form that way. This in turn lead to talking about the role of color in painting which is where the conversation began to be recorded properly.
LA: …Color in painting is almost not important. It is really a very simple thing.
Larry Groff: If that’s true how come so few people can use color as well as you?
LA: Because they are probably thinking of themselves.
Kyle Staver: Who should they be thinking of?
LA: They should be thinking of what they are painting and the relationships of those colors. It’s all about trying to paint what you are looking at.
KS: How do I know it’s your painting? How come your color and your light is particular to Lennart Anderson…what makes it your unique color?
LA: This gets complicated. It has a lot to do with the key that your painting is devolving to. It(the painting’s key)changes as you work from day to day, so that what you end up with is not exactly what you’re looking at. It’s as close as you can, but is dropped some, or probably will be dropped in tone from that because paint tends to drop in value as it dries. So, the decisions I’m making are against that kind of thing, I’m trying to hold it(tones) up. So that gets into my look to some extent. I’m always trying to get the what the relationship is…
It’s all Corot, you know, you’re a landscape painter, he’s the great tonalist. The real intimate kind of exactitude of a light in a spot. The ideal I like to refer to is his Bridge at Narni… what do you see when you look at it? oh my god, it’s the sun and everything, yes, you look at it and you see that he took a real… he saw something that no one else would have seen, that the shadow under the bridge is a blue, it’s BLUE – and the whole thing works because of it, in a sense.
I wouldn’t want to be able to tell how anything really works but that’s the excitement in the picture, really. That’s the excitement. It’s a relationship, as you said before, it’s about comparisons. You get excited when you look at it That’s A BLUE – but when you isolate it that spot through a pin-hole, you certainly wouldn’t see blue, it would be some nothing.
I was looking at a catalog of Sargent, and he was trying to paint somebody, and he was in the sunlight or something, a real Sargent tour-de force. and he couldn’t get it( he couldn’t get the right color) and all of a sudden he slapped his head, Its MAUVE! MAUVE!-(laughs) but if you isolated that you wouldn’t think it was mauve, in the context of the picture of a figure in the landscape It probably wasn’t really mauve but only in context.
Boy, that was a good question, why my pictures look different from someone else is because I see something that someone else wouldn’t see, somebody might even see it better. What I do is not necessarily better. but I think actually what makes my pictures the way they do… its hard to say because I’ve painted different things, different ways. Generally – landscapes are all one shot paintings. So that the light that is in the canvas is used to help out the light in the scene to some extent. You don’t want to lose the brilliance of the outdoors by mudding up the tone underneath. Try to hang on to the white, so you paint thinly.
LG: Do you use the knife when painting outdoors, scraping the paint to keep the painting thin, to keep the paint layer very close to the white ground, to keep the light up? to keep the paint layer thin and more transparent, close to the ground..
LA: No, no, never did, don’t use a knife, I’ve used a knife but never for that.
LG: So, you prefer to paint thinly to begin with then?
LA: Lately I’ve been trying to put more paint on the canvas. I’m trying to paint thickly now but its just developed but (I hate to bring up my eyes) try to keep that light tone underneath. and it had a lot to do with the surface of the canvas…
KS: The first time I met you were wearing a really nice suit with a blue tie and I remarked on what a nice blue tie you had, and you said don’t you know I’m a tonalist. Do you remember that? Can you tell me what you meant by that?
LA: Well, everyone is a tonalist, some are poor tonalist and some are better at it. I make a case for myself when I work but I don’t. I think people who are fighting it are hampering themselves. Matisse is a great tonalist. His color is never away from tone…
…(Matisse)… He’s basically a tonal painter. I don’t know what a color painter is, actually. I like to say that the only time there is color is when it’s in the tube. It’s in the tube, the screw is on there – that’s the color. It’s in there. Once you bring it out, it’s tone. Once you put in on the table, or on the palette, it’s a tone. It’s in a place; it’s taking part of the area. I think I more agree with Picasso that color is very tricky, and I know it’s true in terms of how light changes the picture so much. So tonal painting or value painting – the less color the better in a sense, because it stays there, it doesn’t keep shifting around.
Painting, to play with this business of certain intensities of different colors together that are the same value, is very interesting. There’s a saying, “Nature is best at the distance, it’s all together.” There’s a harmony, and I guess that’s what interests me: harmony. That includes color – color is an element. I made paintings based on black and white Muybridge photographs. There’s no color in them. But I don’t have any problem dealing with that. To me it’s not hard to understand what the colors might be when you look at a black and white photograph.
from an interview with Lennart Anderson by Jennifer Samet -see full interview here.
It’s all tonal, where you get into bad tonal painting–the question is it (tones) all together or not. I think with Kandinsky when he was painting realistically, he was out of his element but afterwards when he was painting abstractly–more kandinsky-like, its ok, not great but its ok. but color, I don’t like to get into this because people make color into a religion.
LG: Why is that?
LA: Because of Cezanne, I think, mainly.
KS: But you’re considered a colorist?
LA: I am, but so is everybody, you can’t put something down without it also being a value. That’s what tone is about, value.
LG: Perhaps the colorist’s have better tones because they think about value more. I always thought the tonalists are more about the drawing, drawings with color added–using the tone to accentuate the needs of the drawing rather than the sensation of color in its own right… or do you think I’m off base here…
LA: Well we talked about that to some extent, this is sort of like the difference between the Florentine and the Venetians. The Florentines put drawing first, I think the Venetians put drawing along with the color, with the value – especially value.
So much of what is great in painting is that if you reproduce it in black and white it comes out great too. You know because of the relationships. (of the values) I’m sure that the Bridge at Narni will look great in black and white because that blue is a surprising value there, and it will show, that when you expect to see something darker, it isn’t.
LG: Does the process of comparing tones and close study in observational painting offer advantages in color that invention can sometimes lack? Of course it’s still possible, but isn’t it harder to get at because you’re not comparing it to anything external? You have to do it all in your head.
LA: I do make up painting and I key them where I want them.
LG: so it’s the key, the keying is the key…
LA: Yeah, it’s still dark, middle and light but it isn’t necessarily black and white, but something else. It’s about key and value–what is the value that picture has assumed, or fallen to, or risen to. I think everything should be together. I don’t know of any painting that…, You would have to go a great deal to put up a still life that you couldn’t manage the color of no matter what you did on the table, you would still be able to handle it– because it’s taking the light of the room, it’s taking the place and it blesses everything together, you know?
So you can get things that a designer might say, would counter; “you can’t put orange there, we know that orange doesn’t work with such and such, or that you can’t put blue with green”–like Manet did in The Balcony, if you’re a painter you can do a lot with–the color, that’s good tonal painting.
LG: On many of your paintings you reduce or compress the range the values, keying the painting to a certain range of middle tones, often avoiding extremes of light and dark. Does this allow for much richer color, working in this more compressed color space?
LA: No, it think it has more to do with my different periods. When I was painting in the 50’s I was into what I call “kissing color”, things that were so close that you could hardly tell them from one to another, hardly tell them apart, what they were… I was into that and you could have something that was orange or pink. Well, de kooning was into that stuff too… maybe I got some of that from that kind of painting. But that is what I was doing to some extent… but generally, I think I make a mistake in that I don’t go dark enough in the darks because I know I’m not going to be able to keep it, that its going to move and I don’t want to try to move dark tones underneath things, you know what I mean? Its covering you don’t want to have too much to cover, I think I may have overdone that. I think I could have a better, a richer range from dark to light but I don’t think that necessarily follows from what you said what you just did… you are really just talking about a certain pictures at a certain time. You can’t say that (about my work as a whole) on really essential pictures like Barbara – no one would say that I’m cheating cutting back down (on a full range of color value) on her… but I am because there’s no black.
This is something I take on, what is the word… like a religion. The way I’ve taken it… there’s got to be space in the picture so there’s no black, the black is in the tube – once it goes out it’s part of the room, as it moves back into the picture it can’t be black..so that’s something I’ve used as my… sort of a rule.
KS: That you can’t have a black?
LA: You can’t have a black if you’re painting nature
LG: Not even in a nocturne?
LA: Well, I’ve never painted a nocturne…
LG: You don’t like to paint dark paintings?
LA: No, I don’t tend to like dark paintings, actually. However, Lois Dodd has painted black.
KS: You don’t like dark paintings?
LA: (laughs) You’re getting more than you figured on…
LA: Rembrandt, is he dark? is he black? Where as Caravaggio, he can be black…
LG: What about the notion of holes in the painting? Is that the reason you avoid black or is it more that you don’t want that kind of contrast…
LA: That’s interesting, holes in the painting. If you are Manet, you’re not making holes when you use black. When you’re Matisse and use black you’re not making holes – so it is a tonal thing if you are making a hole, it’s not good tonal painting if (your black) results in a hole.
LG: But if black is used as a great color? that sings as a beautiful color note in the…
LA: Well, I’ve said that, Matisse and Manet are the modern painters of black
KS: Also, Renoir’s blacks are beautiful. Like in the painting of Madame Charpentier, the woman with the black dress…
LA: I’m not saying I don’t think his blacks are beautiful but I don’t think they’re there. It’s a very tonal, dark paint. There may be a black in it.. Manet would have a black but no it wouldn’t be characteristic of Renoir… you wouldn’t characterize that painting as black. The whole picture is a middle value…
LA: If you’re saying Renoir painted beautiful blacks you may be right, if he uses it, he probably uses it well. But I don’t think that characterizes Renoir. You don’t think of Renoir as a painter of black.
LG: What painter have influenced or driven you the most – I’ve been told you spend much time in the studio looking at art books before you even start painting, what painters do you go to the most? What do you find, or is this something you can’t really answer – that it’s different in every situation?
LA: Right, it all depends on what I’m trying to paint. If I’m painting heads, I have a whole table full of books on paintings of heads that I like. If I’m painting landscapes I’m looking at landscapes, looking at Corot, for instance.
LG: I wondering if you might have anything to say about Ingres and how his work might speak to you or about why he may be relevant. You have some great books here on Ingres…
LA: I have this big book on Ingres, it has a photo of a painting that isn’t anywhere else – that I look at over and over again, it is a painting he did of his girlfriend – they just discovered it I guess.
Ingres, he’s a terrible painter, nothing worse than Ingres except maybe Courbet – of course the two of them have different ways of being terrible. They’re terrible when they are terrible.
LG: Why do you say that?
LA: Well, Courbet is his own problem. Ingres, he doesn’t seem to know, He knows he’s great but he doesn’t know when he is bad. Ingres doesn’t seem to know when he’s bad.. he knows he’s great. he does these terrible pictures, spending a lot of time on them. The truth is he probably doesn’t have a good imagination. I mean he can’t imagine really well, so, he does better when he’s working from something or from drawings that were done from (looking at) something.
KS: So those big allegorical paintings are horrible?
LA: No – they’re the best ones (laughs)
LA: The Apotheosis of Homer is a wonderful painting. That was one of the inspirations for my street scene that I did in the 50’s. The grandeur of those male figures, it’s just fantastic. You may not like the whole painting, I do, but it is full of wonderful painting, and a conception of what people could be. He was up to it, yeah, he was up to it. That was meant for a ceiling in the Louvre. You know what struck me about him was when I went to Paris for the first time, especially seeing pictures like that, what struck me was, what wonderful color.
I think that all had to do with fresco painting trying to make oil painting compete with fresco in the key, the value – it’s up. It’s not Delacroix. You see the difference and there is a big difference between those two artists. And you are right to think Delacroix. But for me as a painter, I was all Ingres – I didn’t like Delacroix at all.
LG: Why was that?
LA: I never liked that kind of overstatement that he was making with his values. I did like the The Massacre at Chios and The Death of Sardinopolis but generally I don’t like Delacroix…. But I’m searching for another great Ingres – that little Ingres is just so incredible…really like that little Ingre portrait. There is nobody that can compete with this… This is one of the few unfinished pictures that you can really study. Just shut up and look at the eyes…
LA: Aren’t those eyes unbelievable!
A few weeks after the interview, I wrote Kyle to ask Lennart for the below follow-up question about drawing and color in relation to Ingres and Charles Hawthorne’s teachings about color and painting written in Hawthorne on Painting . Also, A great essay by Francis Cunningham comprehensively explains Hawthorne’s Color Spot ideas in depth as well as its relation to Edwin Dickinson can be read here.
Kyle Staver recorded the following conversation in Lennart’s studio.
Drawing does not simply mean to reproduce contours; the drawing does not simply consist in the idea; the drawing is even the expression, the interior form, the plan, the model. Look what remains after that! The drawing is three-fourths and a half of what constitutes painting. If I had to put a sign over the door of my atelier, I would write: School of Drawing…and I’m certain that I would create painters.
LG: Some painters advocate painting along the lines of Charles Hawthorne’s color spot approach, giving the resolution of the big color notes priority over precise drawing. Do you see Hawthorne’s advice as contradictory to the Ingres’ quote above?
LA: One makes a picture with a number of things, drawing is one of the ways to go about certain subjects, especially figures. However there is no reason to think that a painting that has many figures in it that was not passed through ideas about areas of color. So it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t end up with an Ingres-like look, but the original composition could
KS: Did Hawthorne start with color? Was that his deal?
LA: I don’t think anyone starts with color, everyone starts with tone but also they’re usually (inaudible) thinking about the size of the canvas and where to place whatever it is you’ve decided to paint.
KS: Previously you told me you always go back to drawing when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing with the painting. Can you talk about that?
LA: If you are painting… I wrote a little piece about drawing while painting.If you lose track of that you end up without painting, you end up trying to solve the problem with drawing.
KS: When you lose track of the painting?
LA: If you lose track of the painting approach to it, which is one of place and shape. But mostly place, the minute you start shaping actually you start drawing and it sends out the form. One should have in their mind the composition. If this is just a simple composition of the figure, which often times that’s what these (Hawthorne) quotes are referring to. The problem I can see with this is that once you draw it how do you begin to paint it? Where if you paint it, if you’re using relationships of place it’s easy to locate where you’re working to – from, you can – drawing just naturally begins to make definitions for you, the paint has to be there. You’ve put the painting through a succession of relationships that support what you’re saying, the drawing is almost put in late.
KS: What you’re saying is that there isn’t a real contradiction to what Hawthorne and Ingres are saying?
LA: No, I don’t think either one of them are talking about…, they are talking differently I suppose, I don’t know how, where Hawthorne fits actually.
KS: What do you mean?
LA: Is he a Venetian or is he a Florentine? (http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/painting/colorito.htm) I would think that he tends to go towards Venetian painting. Ingres with his determination would go toward Florence.
KS: So Florence is drawing and Venice is color?
LA: Yes but I don’t think I made anything up when I was pressing the thought that drawing has to be carried on at the same rate as the painting. It shouldn’t be in advance of the painting more than a stroke. You don’t draw it and then paint it because the painting has to include things that cross over divisions of subject matter.
KS: So there is no argument? So why does Ingres say it’s all drawing, drawing, drawing?
LA: …When you’re painting it comes down to that to some extent, it’s not something that… in spite of what I said it’s still so integral to what you’re painting, the drawing is being struggled with as well but no ahead of everything. You’re dealing with proportions, relationships of tone – which includes color. You have to understand when I say tone, it includes color. There’s no elimination of color, if you want to eliminate it you use value, you use chiaroscuro or something. And you can do that and then break that into color and it will work but if you do it with line; it won’t work. Which is probably an Ingres thing, he would be a person who was going to solve it with line. It’s true that his paintings are linear or have a compositional element in his best paintings that can be seen as drawings. However, did not Ingres say that you finish your painting with drawing, put the rage of drawing into your painting at the very last, so it’s drawing at the end not at the beginning.
KS: So he would be in agreement with Hawthorne? I don’t know Hawthorne’s work…
LA: Well, you don’t have to know Hawthorne’s work. I could say that what he painting like up to a certain point was like what he taught but the ones I’ve seen often times end up with a drawing being separated at the end. Being at variance to what one would think Hawthorne was teaching.
LA: (Edwin) Dickinson curiously eliminated color from his tone, almost totally, almost all together, so Hawthorne is making the case for color, his most famous student is negating it. I don’t have his book (Hawthorne, so I can’t quote exactly) I understand or thought that Hawthorne was interested in using almost impressionist color but he’s not evidently, he’s really interested in solidifying the color of impressionism into a larger tone. That’s what Dickinson seems to be agreeing with in his work. In some ways he’s a Hawthorne student but he’s not a Hawthorne student because he’s not a color person. Hawthorne himself is not a Hawthorne! If you know his work, he returns to drawing at the end and often times I found it to be the case, not altogether, he’s a very traditional kind of Velazquezian painter, in many ways. I mean there is a big school of Velazquez that taught everyone how to paint but not how to compose, how to think about the painting as a whole. So it tends to be simple and simplified composition.
Everything I say is to be denied! I don’t know that many (Hawthorne) paintings. Coming from Detroit I know that they had I think two Hawthornes that were in the Detroit museum. I can only recall the first one, which was there when I was a youngster. The second one I came across when I visited this museum a few years ago. He’s a kind of bravura painter and tried, I’ve seen reproductions of his paintings from Cape Cod. Doesn’t seem to be about color they are too complicated and filled with forms that don’t really make you think I wish he had painted with more color, it wouldn’t have helped them.
KS: Would anything have helped them?
LA: Well sure, but you’d have to redesign the painting. They’re not bad paintings but he’s emblematic of Cape Cod with his fishermen and their life. He tried to paint the fishermen, their occupation and struggle. I suppose that’s a good thing but it doesn’t matter if the paintings are heavy and not euphoric.
LG: It’s hard for painters today, do you think it’s any harder for painters today than when you were young? What advice do you have for a young painter who really wants to learn how to paint from life. In terms of study, what would you suggest?
LA: Study, who cares about study. You’re trying to make great painting from day one. When you’re in a class you should try to make a great painting, to hell with studying, you know! Only recently, since I can’t see have I had to study, you know…
KS: You are still trying to make great paintings.
LA: Yeah, I’m looking at things very closely that I’ve looked at for years and never really, they’ve become more… I can understand them a little bit better… I shouldn’t say understand, I should say I can appreciate what it takes to do and how simple it is. You look at the painting of the Cardinal by Velazquez that is in the Hispanic Society.. I was just telling someone, Velazquez made it so simple it was a joke. You look at it and wow, everything is there and there is nothing to it. So what were you questioning me about?
KS: What do you say to students who come wanting advice?
LA: This is a difficult thing to answer honestly, because you know, the truth is, they are not going to make it. I wasn’t going to make it. They are not going to make it. Forget about what year they are painting in, they are not good enough, they are not committed enough, they don’t use their brain enough so they can push away things that aren’t essential, you know. In a sense it is intellectual, you have to look at it, you have to discern what makes things really interesting and as you paint you find out that that wasn’t right and find out that it was even more interesting.
And another thing, people think that when they’re painting their best, that that is enough. but no… that’s just where you start. You have to paint better than your best and then even better than that! And sometimes when you are really lucky you get one that happens by accident and those are the best.
LG: Sometimes it can be confusing to decide which ones are best, isn’t this something you learn over time to recognise?
LA: Sometimes, yeah sure. I’ve found pictures that initially dismissed and then found I….
KS: Lennart Anderson, come on, when you hit like a big white shark you know you’ve hit, right?
LA: No, No, I should say that in my racks I have pictures that I didn’t consider much, but then later on, wow, that was really relaxed, that it really came out. When was relaxed enough to let it happen, it’s nice.
LG: The commitment for students is hard for them to get these days, especially with so many distractions. Especially with facebook, smart phones and things like that…
LA: (laughs)I don’t know anything about that.
KS: What were the distractions for you when you were a young painter?
LA: There was never any distraction, never distractions.
KS: You just painted no matter what?
LA: Well, I didn’t paint all the time but I was always about it, which I still am, I sleep with it, try to figure it out. I’m really, at night, thinking how to get the head right, (ask myself) what is it? all the things that I do, that I make up out of my head that I think about at night – perhaps I should try this or that. But it’s all washed away when you look at nature. Nature is just so much better than anything you can think up.
KS: Are you glad you are a painter?
LA: There was a time when I didn’t know if I could make it as a painter and that I might need to do something else to support it. I was thinking then maybe I could do some sort of minor crime and then (get arrested) and they would put me in a cell where I could paint all day.
KS: How did you get to be a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters in Rome?
LA: That’s a nice story. I was in Rome and certain painters came through to check out what was going in the studios in the Academy. This is something that happened to me a number of times, They discovered me then it’s like I’m their personal discovery, you know? And I was doing things that were touching them, I was really into it… it would be like “he’s not painting my dream but you know it was like that. I was grabbing things and holding them to myself, you know.. Piero, Ingres, Degas, Poussin – I was grabbing them all and I was treating them as my thing. And that was important and my work had some of that quality in it. And they recognized that, I shouldn’t say “they” there weren’t that many people I suppose but Rapheal Soyer was critical. He’s the guy who put me in Arts and Letters. Philip Guston was there, he came by, that was a thing.
LG: He was there while you were there in Rome?
LA: Yes, he just visited. I was somebody that fulfilled something that they sort of envied, like they were thinking “I should have done that…” “He’s doing it” There was a kind of envy there at times. I don’t know if it was honest by these big deals, especially somebody like Guston. When I came back to the States and I had a show at the Graham gallery in ’63. Guston got Barnett Newman to come, I had Barnett Newman at my show and we were talking away because he knew all about “French Academic art” and so he could talk about to me! (laughs)
LG: Did you give him an earful?
LA: No, Not really – we talked more about Larry Rivers, he thought Larry Rivers was a fake.
LG: Did you?
LA: No, he was a very interesting painter
LG: Who were some of the other people you meet who came to your shows?
LA: Lots of people, Nicolas Carone, Carone was a big fan. My last show, this was before he died, he was living in upstate New York in Beacon or something like that, he was upset that he couldn’t get down to see my show.
Brief edits of I-Phone video footage taken by Alex Goldberg of Lennart Anderson talking with Israel Hershberg and others about comparing vs looking in painting, thinking about a painting, the power of artbooks and some discussion about his current drawing process during his 2010 visit to Sienna, Italy at the JSS Summer Program in Italy.
These figure drawings were done in class with poses lasting five, ten or twenty minutes. I always begin with a measurement that encompasses the length of the figure. The problem is then one of width. Using a standing figure, I take a measurement from a specific point. usually under the foot that bears the weight, to a specific point, perhaps at the bottom of the crotch. This measurement, taken at arm’s length, is held on a pencil. The pencil is then raised until the thumb, which is at the foot, is found at the point of the crotch. The point of the pencil is now found at a specific point in the face. I now have three points. The distance from the first to the second, and the second to the third, is the same. I then decide on the size of the figure I want to draw, and place my points accordingly on the page. These points are regarded as true. The bottom and middle points are fixed. The top may wander to the left or right based on the movement of the model during the pose.
My drawing develops from these points by a series of guesses, casting lines about trying to get a feeling for the mass, asking questions: How near? How far? Is it above this point or below? Is it to the right or the left? I have no aim to finish in the time allowed, but feel that everything is tending to its proper place. I concentrate on place rather than thing. This is especially important for painting, because I feel I can move a place more easily than a thing–for instance, a hand. In painting, certain qualities of place, such as tone and scale, can be dealt with before distinguishing it as a specific object. Paint has an advantage here in that it can approximate a visual effect more directly and completely. I find that working this way emphasizes relationships rather than subjects, and maintains spontaneity through the process.
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Lennart Anderson, Sept 2014 from Gorky’s Granddaughter on Vimeo.
Fantastic new video interview at the Gorky’s Granddaughter’s site. Many thanks to Christopher Joy and Zachary Keeting for their incredible gift to Painters with their “Gorky’s Granddaughter” documentary art project, where they visit studios and talk to a wide range of important artists.
I visited the studio of Anne Harris and had a peek at the some of her new paintings and a glimpse of some drawings that did not make the cut for her last exhibition. We discussed her process as she pushes further and deeper into what she feels is true in her painting, excavating and digging into the various stages until a physical palpable physical reality emerges.
Anne Harris has exhibited at venues ranging from Alexandre Gallery, DC Moore Gallery and Nielsen Gallery, to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute, The Portland Museum of Art, the California Center for Contemporary Art and the North Dakota Museum of Art. Her work is in such public collections as The Fogg Museum at Harvard, The Yale University Art Gallery and The New York Public Library. Grants and awards received include a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and an NEA Individual Artists Fellowship. Harris currently teaches in the BFA and MFA programs at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is vice president of the board of the Riverside Arts Center and chair of its exhibition committee. She also is the originator of The Mind’s I—a collaborative drawing project designed to investigate the complexities of perception and self-perception through drawing. The first iteration of this project took place at Julius Caesar Gallery in Chicago, Nov.-Dec. 2012. Harris lives with her husband, the photographer Paul D’Amato, and their son Max, in Riverside, IL. —- from Anne Harris’ bio on her website
Tina: The early work makes it clear you are a gifted observer. How has your work changed over time?
Anne: I don’t think of what I’m doing as observing. That implies an objective point of view. Painting for me is subjective—interpretive, felt out. But regarding the early work: I’d fallen in love with northern Renaissance portraiture. I was trying to understand how subtlety led to intensity, and how detail and description could be used in a meaningful way—not as illusionistic indulgence, but as something essential. I also was trying to understand how those paintings were invented. Rhythm, simplification, the character of the light (luminosity emanating from inside the painting) figure/ground tension, the compression of form—all those things are fictitious inventions.
Since then, my paintings and drawings have gradually opened up, become softer edged, with areas of focus shifting. Lately, sometimes, the figures are translucent or transparent, functioning more as ground than figure.
Tina: How is the perceptual in painting relevant to your work?
Anne: I think painting is fundamentally perceptual. It’s experienced in a sensory way. I don’t mean just seeing. Touch, movement, memory, imagination and emotion—all can be understood as perception, and all are involved when making paintings and looking at paintings. Painting from life, which I do, is another aspect of this. We each perceive the world differently: information passes through our senses to our minds, through our bodies to our hands, which then touch a surface to make marks that are specifically ours. That said, when I’m painting, I’m always looking at something. It may be that I’m just staring down the painting trying to figure out what it is, what belongs there, what’s next; or I may be looking at myself, or at a model or at other drawings or paintings in my studio.
Tina: What role does drawing play in your art and what is its relationship to the painting?
Anne: I draw a lot. I tend to have periods, particularly after finishing a body of paintings, when I only draw—drawing binges. Drawing is more natural for me, it tends to be in front of my painting, pulling it along. One of my ongoing struggles is trying to figure out how to paint more like I draw, to allow the painting to grow naturally, to evolve rather than be knocked about… painting is just really hard.
I have a definition that I use for drawing—an organization of marks that transform a ground. So a mark on paper transforms that paper into light, air, weight, movement, etc. A mark can be anything and the ground can be anything. This can apply to a broad range of media, to any subject, representational, abstract, 2-D, 3-D. The key is the transformation. That’s the magic. It’s what I look for in art.
So, I think about drawing all the time. Lately, I’ve been using paint on paper, but have been thinking of them as painted drawings. I’m paying close attention to how the mark transforms the ground it sits on, thinking less of the paint as an overall skin. I’m trying hard to set a mark down and mean it, to not think of it as something that will disappear under layers of paint. This is different for me, difficult.
Tina: If you could work with any artist, past or present, who would it be?
Anne: I’d like to be invisible in Rembrandt’s studio. Just let me watch.
Tina: It is interesting to say you would watch. Your figure paintings appear to look, or are aware, but are not hiding from us.
Anne: I’m interested in what it means to be looked at and what it means to look back, particularly as a woman over the course of a lifetime. I like that you say the paintings are aware. That’s a nice way to put it.
But… if I were able to visit Rembrandt’s studio… I’m boringly literal when I fantasize. So, I want to be invisible because I imagine a 21st century women standing in the middle of Rembrandt’s studio would cause a ruckus. Really, I just want to spy on him, to see exactly how he does it. Let me spy on him for months. I’ll be very quiet.
Tina: Do you refer to the paintings as self-portraits?
Anne: I don’t call them self-portraits (I tend to title them “portrait”), although I’ve looked in a mirror at some point for pretty much every painting, but they are self-portraits in that some aspect of them comes from me (probably the anxiety part). I want them to have the presence of a portrait, the presence of an individual, and the sense that they contain something beneath the skin—self-consciousness, emotion. But I’m not so interested in describing exact likeness.
Tina: Do you look at any particular painters for inspiration?
Anne: I look at a broad range of painters, as well as other artists. The list is long—I keep adding to it. It starts with the Venus of Willendorf. It includes everyone you’d imagine I’d like, plus some surprises (maybe)—I love Ad Reinhardt, for instance, and Agnes Martin, and Robert Irwin. I respond to work that mesmerizes me. It’s not about the subject. It’s an experience, a feeling—hypnotic slowness. But then I also really like Joan Snyder. And her paintings are a kick in the gut.
Tina: Are you trying to illicit a specific reaction from your audience?
Anne: I hope for some reaction! No reaction would be bad. But I can’t presume to control what the audience is going to see or think or feel. I’m not comfortable dictating the meaning of the paintings. That comes from the conversation it has with you, the viewer.
Tina: In the studio, we looked at a stack of drawings that didn’t make the cut for her last show. What criterion is required for you to exclude this work from exhibition?
Anne: Actually, that’s not quite right. The drawings we looked at were from an earlier body of work called How to Draw Your Self Out of a Hole. They weren’t excluded from this show, but preceded it. They’ve been shown in other places.
As far as something “not making the cut,” I find that I continue to be very good at making bad work. My worst work now is as bad as anything I’ve ever done. Sometimes the work fails because it’s overly facile—a glib facility demo—or mannered. Stupid, affected. Unfortunately, sometimes I don’t realize that’s happened until it’s too late; the work is out in the world and there’s no recalling it. Sometimes it fails in blatant beginning-painting ways—I kill the light; the painting is dead. Usually though I’m not excluding finished pieces from an exhibition, but rather, they hit the trash or land in a dark drawer months earlier, and that’s that. Every now and then, I revisit something I thought was bad, and realize it’s good. But usually, bad stays bad. I should throw more away.
Tina: Can you talk a little about your process?
Anne: I work with oil paint using very few colors. I don’t have a precise plan or system, just things that I generally do. I’ll often start with raw umber and lead white, working in thin washes. Temperature shifts occur right away that suggest color and so I’ll add colors as I need them, and often another kind of white (lately I’ve been very into Williamsburg zinc buff). The color functions relatively, that is, the hues can’t be named—it’s subtle, a product of layering and of side-by-side color interaction. Certain colors will seem blue or violet in the context of the painting but are actually mixtures of raw umber and white. I work in thin translucent layers, like skin. Sometimes I might introduce a very intense color, but that usually winds up buried in the strata of the painting. It definitely changes things. There’s a certain kind of light and certain kinds of grays that just can’t be created with opaque paint. Usually I get into trouble at some point and the painting goes somewhere that surprises me. Sometimes, that somewhere is a black hole I can’t get out of. If I’m lucky though, the surprise leads me to the point of the painting.
Ed Note: Painting Perceptions offers many thanks to Anne Harris as well as Tina Engels for their generous contribution of time and energy with this interview.]]>
British TV’s Channel Four’s exclusive tour of Lucian Freud’s studio and interview with David Dawson, Freud’s assistant and model for many years, who inherited Freud’s house and studio.]]>
( ed. note… Painting Perceptions give many thanks to Noel Robbins for sharing these brilliant notes on perceptual painting which were originally written for his students in Texas.)
In order to make believable paintings of our visual experiences we have to translate them into a language of painting focused on visual experience. Painting perceptually means painting masses of colors and edge qualities as they appear to the eye. Seeing subjects figuratively has to be suppressed in order to paint conditions of light and space; we have to interpret the people, places and things we see as masses of color.
Details are not important. Well observed color relationships are what make paintings feel believable and real, not details. No amount of careful detail work will ever give a painting the qualities of a unified visual experience if the painting does not have well related colors. Let go of the desire for detail. Instead, condition your eyes to appreciate how a few carefully related colors can create a world within the picture plane. Study great paintings with this in mind.
Squint at the subject. The more we squint, the more the image in our eyes is reduced to essential color masses.
Determine the overall qualities of light, space and form by looking indirectly at the subject. Glance at it, squint, look at it in a dirty mirror, a curved mirror, think about the dark colors while looking at the lights, think about the light colors while looking at the darks, think about the whole effect on your senses while looking away from the subject. Is there a color quality to the place? What is the tonal range? How much can you simplify the color masses and edges and still capture the visual impression of your senses?
Start with your favorite color, relate your second favorite color to the first, then the third to the second, and repeat until the whole composition is blocked in.
Look for the similarities. If you see multiple parts of your subject as similar in value or color, then group them as one color and make the difference later.
Do not draw outlines; a few quick notations of related points in space will give all the compositional structure needed to start massing in the fundamental colors. Reduce the subject to the fewest number of color masses possible. Use measuring and mapping techniques to determine the placement of the center of each color mass.
Paint from the center of color masses out to their edges. Do not paint outlines or contours and then fill them with color. Paint from the center out to find edges and where one color meets another.
If a color inside an object is similar to a color in the background next to it, lose any edge between them and group them as one color.
Start with transparent oil color and paint simple masses. Scrape, scrub, and wipe to achieve desired colors and edge qualities. Use more paint to get darker colors and less for lighter colors.
From the great painting teacher Charles Hawthorne: “Let the eye go from one spot to another without the aid of outlines. Jump from the center of one spot of color to the center of the next. Keep your eye away from the edge a little more – don’t insist that the eye shall stop at the edges. Mechanically lose them by rubbing the palette knife though them…. Don’t paint up to a line, work from a center; don’t fill in an outline but make the inside form the outline.”
Once the essential color masses are blocked in add opaque paints to deal with particular qualities of space, atmosphere, light and form.
Transparent paint applications typically feel more textured and spatially aggressive, while opaque applications feel softer, more atmospheric and recessive. Look at paintings done by masters in museums and galleries – not in reproduction – to examine how they used transparent and opaque paint applications to achieve particular effects. The Blanton Museum has some good examples in their permanent collection.
One common approach to using transparent and opaque paint applications is to paint the light colors opaquely and thickly after painting the dark colors transparently and thinly. This can be reversed – opaque darks on top of transparent lights – to achieve different qualities.
Elaborate on the block in by adjusting color masses and edge qualities. Use all the tools available to you including brush handles, knife, fingers, Q-tips et al. to add, remove, and manipulate the paint as needed to achieve unified visual statements.
Lennart Anderson, another great painting teacher, said in an interview:
“You paint the quality of the place. The figure or objects or whatever your subject is comes out of the whole, not the reverse. You can’t get a whole, a unified composition, by painting the parts. The problem people run into is they try to pin down parts as they go, which ruins any chance of getting a unified composition.”
Perceptual paintings are not mere descriptions of what we see, and they do not serve narrative. They are artistic inventions made in response to sensory experience of the external world and the medium itself.
Let people find their own closure. People naturally make figurative images out of abstract masses of color, so it is not necessary to paint every detail; play with perception by leaving parts of your paintings unfinished. People feel a connection to images that they have to complete from their own memories. If you have captured the essential qualities of your visual experience then you can leave the painting as abstract as you like. In fact, it may be better to leave a particular painting in a more abstract state if by continuing to work on it you risk losing unity.
The method of direct painting (a.k.a. alla prima, premier coup) can be broken down into the following steps:
Painting Perceptions greatly appreciates the generosity of Noel Robbins’ in sharing above notes on perceptual painting which were written for his students. Noel Robbins received his MFA and taught painting and drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the mid-nineties and currently teaches at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.]]>