Monday, August 25, 2014

MICHAEL SWANEY

Happy Juggalo, 2014, 130 x 97cm
 
 
 
What are you working on in your studio right now?
 
I'm working on a new series of medium sized format oil paintings on stretched vinyl table cloths. The paintings are a kind of like a game about camouflaging figuration. From a distance you can't really see what's happening but upon closer viewing you can see where the paint texture contrasts with the vinyl and a figure emerges. Simultaneously I'm making a more uncontrolled series of assemblage/sculptures. I don't know exactly how to classify these works as they are kind of like sculptures that hang on the wall. A mixture of painted clay, wood, found and purchased objects, photographs, fabric and whatever ends up in my studio. Also, a really large tapestry-like carpet is soon to be in the making.

 
 
 
 




 
 
 
 
Can you describe your working routine?
 
Very variable. When I have a show I'm in there everyday, but for the last couple months I've been going every other day only for a few hours. It's nice though because when I go I really make use of my time there and get down to work. 
 
 
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
 
I have a 40 sq meter space in a big warehouse in the industrial neighborhood of Barcelona called Poble Nou. It has really nice light in the mornings because of the almost floor to ceiling windows. Size wise, it's the biggest studio I've ever had so that definitely affected the work immediately. The formats got bigger and I began working on stretched canvas and making larger sculptural things. Also being able to start a lot of big works at once and to be able to step back from them has been amazing. It's probably freed up my process because of the fact that I don't have to worry about spilling on the floor and collecting and storing useless garbage etc. 
 
 
 




 
 
 
Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
 
I draw smaller stuff at home and when travelling. I'm always taking photos of the surroundings from which I select and print the most interesting ones and bring them to the studio along with the drawings. My sculptural stuff comes out of the photographs of odd moments and human-made found objects, and the paintings usually come out of the drawings. There's always some sort of overlapping happening and one always creeps into the other. 
 
 
 
Fertile New Year, 2014
 
 
 
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
 
The most challenging part at the moment is sticking to one thing. I love trying new mediums, techniques and ways of making things so it's hard to resist sometimes. Not sure if that's something that needs resolving though. 
 

 
 

 



Drawings
 
 
 
 
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?

 
Yes, all the time. I'm at a point where I could do each body of work with a completely different medium and overall feel. I was really into doing collage/mixed media work for a long time until I got tired of it and needed to change drastically. The best parameters for me are changing whenever I need to make a change. Always challenging myself when I get too comfortable with something.
 
 
 
 



in progress
 
 
 
 
What does the future hold for this work?
 
I want to get into doing more big installations and sculptures, and hopefully some public sculpture.
 
 
 
Is there anything else you would like to add?
 
 
Thanks a lot Valerie for the invitation! It's a really interesting archive of interviews and photos you've got on Studio Critical and I'm proud to be a part of it.
 
 
 
 
Youthful Thieving & Conniving Shitheads,
12013, 114 x 146 cm
 

 
 


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

MARGIE LIVINGSTON

Crumbling Block of Blocks, 2013,
Acrylic paint on powder-coated stand10.5 x 13.5 x 24 inches (dimensions variable)
Photo: Richard Nicol
 
 
 

 

What are you working on in your studio right now?
 
I’m making draped paintings out of white paint skins. Just to clarify, a paint skin is what I get after pouring out whole gallons of acrylic paint to form a sheet and then leaving that sheet to dry. So far, most of my paint skins have been multicolored, but I’m pouring special white skins for the draped paintings, and I’m developing a way to create a white-on-white pattern so the surface of the painting will shimmer in the light, kind of like a damask tablecloth. I stumbled across the idea of making draped paintings when I tied some scraps of dried paint into a big loopy knot and hung them on the wall. The white paint I’m using is a reference to the white canvas that paintings traditionally have been made on. It also recalls drapery, which has been an element of painting for centuries, and a classic subject in drawing classes. For me, the suggestion of drapery also brings to mind all the female bodies in art history, bodies in the process of being covered or being revealed.
 
 
 
 



 
 
 
 

Can you describe your working routine?
 
On a typical day that I’m going to spend in my studio, I take the bus from home so I can catch up on email during the commute. I keep a laptop at the studio but try to take care of most computer-related business at home so I can focus in the studio on making work. If I’ve been gone from my studio over the weekend, I usually start by sweeping and tidying up. That helps me get fully present. Most of the time I will have left a “to do” list on the counter, and I check that list to set my priorities for the day. Then I start working. Instead of going out for lunch, I bring leftovers or ingredients for a salad. A normal day in the studio runs from 10 in the morning to 6:30 or so.
 
 
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
 
The studio is set up for all the processes I use to make my Paint Objects. Probably the most important thing in there is the rack I use for drying paint skins. It looks like a ginormous flat file. It saves space, and it also gives me level surfaces to compensate for the six-inch drop at each end of the studio floor. The rack has five drawers, enough room for five skins to be drying at any one time. Each paint skin measures five by ten feet, and I have a custom-built work table that’s big enough to hold a skin.
 
 
 
 



 
 
 
 

Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve, etc.
 
It takes a few steps to produce a Paint Object. First I choose the color palette and order the paint. I mix custom colors and Golden Custom Lab matches my colors and makes them by the gallon. I’ve also been working with Golden to develop a special recipe for paint that’s thick but still pourable. Golden also has a machine that takes out the bubbles, which is a good thing, because when I stir by hand, the paint is too bubbly to make a smooth skin. When the paint comes from Golden, I pour the skins. On my website there are a couple of videos that were made a few years apart, and they show two very different types of pours. And the skins have evolved over the years. In the beginning they were fairly simple, just four-color designs on a white ground. Now the designs are really complex—some use as many as seventeen colors as well as multilayered figure-ground relationships. After the paint skins have dried, I modify them by folding, rolling, or cutting. For example, lots of the Paint Objects are simulations of commercial wood products, whether that means something like a two-by-four or the log it came from. So I might roll several skins up together, sanding and gluing them as I go, and then use either a handsaw or a waterjet cutter to mill the rolled-up skins into a log, and then do the final cleaning, sanding, and varnishing. Let’s just say that when I first poured out a big paint skin, I saw right away what a great opportunity for painting this process was going to be!

 
 
 
 

in progress
 
 
 
 

What are you having the most trouble resolving?
 
I’m struggling now with what you might call a guilty pleasure. These multicolored paint skins have been the raw material of my work for a while now, but lately I can’t help noticing how luscious and just plain beautiful they are—so beautiful that it’s getting harder and harder for me to keep putting their beauty under wraps and making it incidental to the official project of creating objects from paint. So I’ve started investigating some of the different aesthetic and historical and ideological issues around the idea of beauty, so I can maybe understand why making beautiful work can feel like such a liability for a contemporary artist. I’m teaming up with another painter, Shaw Osha, and we’re co-curating a show about beauty. We hope to get a public dialog going around these issues.
 
 
Do you experiment with different materials a lot, or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
 
Without experimentation, there never would have been any Paint Objects. And every new piece of equipment has an impact, too. Like when I got my hands on a big paper cutter, the same kind that printers use to cut reams of paper, and discovered that I could layer and slice paint to make it look like chips of wood, and then collage the chips together into something that looked like a sheet of waferboard. And not long ago I brought in a heavy-duty vice that belonged to my dad, so I’m curious to see how that will change the way I work. Then there are those times when you’re separated from your equipment. A residency in Switzerland was that kind of time for me, and it was a real challenge not to have all my tools, but that actually turned out to be a good thing because it forced me to work in a different way, and it led to the start of a major new piece.
 
 










What does the future hold for this work?
 
I’m looking for ways to push its narrative potential, and I plan to do that with Roadside Attraction, a piece of work that’s coming up. This is going to be a massive slice of acrylic log, with intensely colored growth rings. It will be the biggest Paint Object I’ve ever made—huge, a real spectacle. And it’s going to be outrageously beautiful. I hope people will respond to its visual qualities, including its beauty, even with all my reservations about that. But this piece is also going to embody a story about what’s been happening to the environment, and I hope people will respond to it on that level, too.


Is there anything else you would like to add?

Another word about Roadside Attraction, the piece I just mentioned. I think it’s going to have an outsize impact on my art practice. How could it not? Making it will be one of the biggest physical and logistical assignments I’ve ever given myself. But I think the project could turn out to be pivotal in another way, too, if I can bring it to the point where it’s not only a successful work of art but one that packs a political punch. Because, look—the old-growth forests are almost gone. They’ve been almost completely disappeared. Huge, ancient trees used to be everywhere, but that knowledge is almost gone from living memory. So I want this piece to seduce people with its size and beauty. I want it to get under people’s skin. Understanding is not enough. Everything we’ve lost, everything we’re still losing—that has to be felt. I want this dried-and-cut Paint Object to provoke something more than another cut-and-dried conversation about a few dead trees.





Draped painting,

Monday, April 14, 2014

STEPHEN MAINE

HP13-0306, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 ", 2013
 
 
 

What are you working on in your studio right now?
I usually have several paintings in progress, as I do now. These range in size from 20 by 16 inches to ten by eight feet. It takes a long time for me to finish a painting, even though I don’t spend a lot of time physically working it. It has to sit around for a while at various junctures in its fabrication. Not much material is deposited on the painting’s surface, but there is a lot of preparation and forethought. For example, I deliberate for a long time over color choices. To clarify my position regarding color, I have in recent years stripped it way back to a binary palette; the newest work is only slightly more diversified chromatically. In any case my color is most interesting when I arrive at it slowly.
 
I am completely beguiled by the book form as a delivery mechanism for work on paper.  Actually I have gone a little book-crazy since last summer, and I have ten or twelve books in the studio that, like the paintings, are in various states of completion. These are unique, hand-made objects; they are essentially sculpture with pages. I work on them at a very different pace than I do the paintings—manically—and usually when I am frustrated by the glacial slowness of the paintings. Working on books, it quickly became clear to me that the space of the page is fundamentally different from other manifestations of pictorial space. It is fascinating to me that I have made boring drawings into exciting pages simply by folding them in half. I have made dozens of books combining new work on paper, repurposed older work, technical experiments and found printed material. At 120 pages, including gatefolds and overlays, Book #14-0103 is to date the largest of these.


 
 
 
Book 14-0103 in progress


Book 14-0107 details
 
 
 
 
 

Can you describe your working routine?
When I was younger, I used to love to work late into the night. On rare occasions I still work until around midnight, but doing so is no longer a productive approach in the long term. It’s just not sustainable. Evidently I am more verbally focused in the morning and visually focused in the afternoon; focus of any kind tapers off as the light fades. So to the extent that my teaching schedule and other commitments allow, I try to arrange things so I can write in the morning and go to the studio after lunch.
 
Despite its location in a building on a busy commercial thoroughfare, my studio is relatively quiet. I used to listen to music when I work, but that too has changed. Several years ago I recognized madly crescendo-ing electric guitars as something of a distraction from the task at hand, and I retired my CDs. Now I sometimes talk to myself, which is weird, I know—but I gather that doing so clarifies my focus.
 
After a few hours in the studio my thoughts turn to dinner, so I wrap up whatever it is I’m doing and begin to consider menu options for the evening meal. I like to cook for my wife, Gelah, who is an enthusiastic, discerning audience for my efforts in the kitchen. It’s nice to know that, at the end of the day, one will have an enthusiastic, discerning audience.

 
 

Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

 
The studio building is a massive three-story brick structure on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn. The second floor, where Gelah and I have studios, has a fairly high ceiling, not much natural light, and a concrete floor incised with a precise 12-inch grid. The grid is useful for squaring up stretchers. Otherwise the floor is pretty crappy, so I am free from worry about making a mess. When we took it, the space was raw but we put up plywood and drywall, so it feels acceptably white-cubish. The largest unbroken wall is about thirty-five feet long and 14 feet high—useful even when I’m not working large, because a small painting on such an expanse of white needs to hold itself, needs to really broadcast visually. I once knew a painter who made it a practice to test each new painting by hanging it alongside a little Matisse he owned. I don’t need a Matisse. My big wall is enough.

 
 
 
 


 





Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.

I paint on canvas that is stretched over a firm but flexible panel made of wood and cardboard. I have several such panels, in standardized sizes—20 x 16, 25 x 20, 30 x 24, 36 x 30, 50 x 40, 60 x 48, 90 x 72 and 120 x 96 inches. I do like that 5:4 ratio. Painting with these panels backing the canvas gives me the resistance I need to the pressure of the stamping process. Afterward, I transfer the finished painting to conventional stretchers exactly the same size as the panel, so the edges and corners fit nicely.

I put on the first color—usually a fairly saturated glaze—using a big brush, a roller or a spray gun. I mull that over for a few days, deciding what to do next. That second application is usually one color but sometimes more; it is applied all at once, in a monotype fashion. I use a piece of plastic, plywood, Styrofoam or something similar, roughly the same size as the canvas. There is a particular product that gives me the pseudo-halftone mark when I print with it. Then I take a few days or weeks to decide whether to stop, continue or give up on the painting altogether.

I do not intentionally prolong the process out of some idea about performativity, or to enact a ritual. In fact I loathe ritual. The pictorial result is primary. But each painting presents the evidence of a series of decisions that come about in its proximity and coinciding, at certain crucial moments, with its surface. The monoprint mark is the residue of a clumsy, imprecise operation. That imprint is all that remains of a protracted and complex action otherwise lost to time. It is futile to try to foresee this outcome. To the extent that I suspend control over the process, the result is surprising. I insist on being surprised.

The studio-bound business of mixing colors, selecting and arranging tools and so on is preparation for the moment of contact between wet paint and substrate. One or two such moments usually suffice for a painting. Maybe three. The technical means of making needs to become incidental, so the density and the weight reside in the painting itself, where the energy is focused in a few square feet. That is what I like most about painting: the energy is focused.



 
 

in progress
 
 
 

What are you having the most trouble resolving?
 
With regard to resolving paintings, I try not to sweat it too much. If I struggle with a painting, we both lose. So lately I have embraced the idea of the “tactical retreat,” meaning that I discard a lot of unfinished work before it sucks up too much time and energy. Because, you know, some paintings are just doomed. Generally speaking, I believe the trash can is a tragically under-utilized studio tool.

 

 
 
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
 
I get what I need from acrylic paint: fluidity, saturated color, fast drying time. The material of the substrate has been more of an issue. For a few years I worked on panels of various kinds, including plywood, mdf, prefabricated gesso boards and reinforced paperboards. Despite taking a reasonable level of care in my craftsmanship, I nevertheless have seen these panels warp or bow in a number of instances. This dimensional instability is heartbreaking because the only remedy is to cradle the board ever more heavily, which makes the object bulky and defeats one of primary reasons to paint on a panel in the first place. It is no accident that stretched canvas is the default substrate for painting, and to it I have lately returned. 
 
To avoid the expressionistic associations of the brushstroke, I use tools such as paint rollers and spray guns to apply color, as well as the monoprint procedure described above. One of those fabulous old-school atelier skills is laying down a smooth, unmodulated wash of paint with a soft brush. I wish I could do that, but either I’m doing it wrong or they don’t make brushes like that any more.
 

Whereas the paintings possess a certain restraint and refinement, the books I make provide a place for technical (chromatic, procedural, material) experimentation and play. There, I discard little, and the editing process is mainly about the sequencing of pages. I work with found imagery, accidents, scraps, jokes, etc., and reserve the paintings for more developed pictorial strategies. The relationship between the two is complex and vital. A friend says that my books “establish the conditions of spectatorship” for my paintings, and I agree with her.
 

 
 
 
 

HP13-0909 (detail)
 
 
 
 

What does the future hold for this work?

I expect to further diversify my two-color, binary palette, particularly in larger paintings. Paintings in the eight-by-ten-feet range would seem to call for a greater chromatic range. The indirect, monoprint type of application, in which paint is transferred to the canvas mechanically with a kind of stamping or pressing method, certainly feels like it’s here to stay in my work. I like the unpredictability of it—the lack of control—and that the materiality of the paint becomes primary to the process. I’m interested in the use of machines in painting, for example the Gutai group in postwar Japan, and also some of the crazy shit Richard Jackson does to get paint on canvas. I’m looking to embrace more chaos, more indeterminacy, more nebulousness within the procedural paradigm of the imprint.
 
Also, I will make many more books.
 
 
 
 

"ever evolving index of most favored colors" (April 2014)
 

 






Thursday, April 10, 2014

AMY PLEASANT

Cityscape, oil on canvas, 72 x 60
 
 
 


What are you working on in your studio right now?

I have just come off my first solo exhibition at whitespace gallery in Atlanta, GA.  It included paintings, drawings and clay objects.  This was the first time for me to show sculptures and I was really excited about it.  So there was a good deal of post-show follow-up and "cleansing the studio".  I am now working on new paintings, drawings and a few new objects.  

 

Can you describe your working routine?

My routine is always centered around drawing with ink and brush.  All the work comes out of the small daily drawings.  So I usually start by making several small works on paper and then work on larger paper pieces and the paintings.  It always depends though.  Sometimes it is clay work or monotypes etc...





 
 
 
 
 

Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
 
My studio is a ground floor space on a busy street in downtown Birmingham.  I am very private so my windows are frosted but I still get great light.  No one really knows what goes on inside that space and I like that. My home studio is very different.  I am a gardener (I don't mean vegetables), so my backyard is my "other studio".  When I work there I love to have the doors open, to hear the birds, and see the space that I have created there over the years.  It feels like an extension of my inside practice.  It is an activity that is quite precious to me.





Head VII
 
 
 

 

Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
 
The process as I stated above is that all the work comes from small ink on paper drawings that I make.  I explore an image over and over until I find how it works best.  Sometimes that is all it needs to be and sometimes I have to take it to a large work, painting or paper or clay most recently.  It is a process of finding an image through repetition.  I love the xerox machine so I take my small works and copy them again and again, blowing them up, shrinking them down, cropping them, collaging and copying again.  The paintings go through a much longer process of painting and erasing and I usually work on a few at one time at different stages of completion.  




 

Untitled, On the Ground Below, ink on paper, 24 x 22
 

Untitled, Two Figures with Shadows
24 x 22, ink and monotype on paper
 
 
 
 
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
 
I make things too hard on myself.  Making things harder than they need to be. 
 
 
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
 
I do like to experiment.  I just recently made my first clay pieces which was thrilling and now working on some new works with wood/clay.  
 
 
What does the future hold for this work?
 
In the long run I have no idea.  I never know what life it will live once I make it. But in the short term, I will have work in a group show, Roving Room, co-curated by Kelly Kaczynski and Cori Williams, that will be installed in the historic Habersham Mills May16th-July 31st and then I will be working towards my next solo show in NYC at Jeff Bailey Gallery. 
 
 
 
Sunshine on my Face, oil on canvas, 24 x 18