Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Hey! mister sky, oil on canvas, 116 x 73 cm, 2011

What are you working on in your studio right now?

At the moment I’ve just finished preparing for a show at Pulliam Gallery in Portland, Oregon, which opens on the 2nd of November. I always find these moments difficult. After working with the show in mind for the last couple of months I find the rupture and the emptiness of the studio challenging. The options are to do nothing until I come back from the trip, or to start something so it’s waiting for me when I get back. The first choice often means simply delaying getting back into the swing of things, and the second means the work I started before I left can sometimes get sacrificed on my return.

Can you describe your working routine?

First thing I do in the morning is make coffee and take it through to the studio. I potter about, read the paper, and look at what I did the previous day. It’s that moment - which we probably all share - when things either look better or worse than I thought they were when I switched out the light the day before; when I can resume the dialogue under a different light and from a fresh point of view. Then I go for a swim, run errands, cook lunch, interact with the world. I live on Spanish time so my working afternoon in the studio is from around 4pm until 9pm. That’s when I paint.

of elephants & hares-home, dry-run installation

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

Lately my studio tends to expand and contract. I always have two connecting rooms in our apartment, one for working and the other for storage and clean-up. However my partner and I also run out of the apartment a sporadic project space called JiM Contemporani. When there’s not a show up, which is most of the time, I move into some of the space used for that. This allows me room to paint and work on paper at the same time, to be able to move the paintings around to see them in a different environment, and to photograph work easily.

For many years I was a night painter so the issue of natural light was never even entertained. At one time in the early 90’s I shared a studio in the old meat-packing district in New York which had previously been used as a giant, walk-in refrigerator for sides of beef and so obviously had no windows at all. Nowadays I’m very privileged. I’m on the fifth floor with a balcony which gives onto one of the main streets in Barcelona. My painting room is about 4 x 5 meters with 3.25 metre ceilings.

I’ve had much bigger spaces and also much smaller ones. I’ve done small work in the big ones and big work in the small ones. I’ve lived in my studio and I’ve had my studio separate from where I live. What I’ve never thought important was to find and fit out the perfect studio before I could work. For me the container has always been of less importance than the content.

I was in love with the place, oil on canvas, 81 x 100 cm, 2011

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

When pushed to describe what I do I call myself an abstract painter, but it’s a tag I’m fairly ambivalent about. Everything I do comes from some external source. I’ll jot down a note to myself or take a bad photograph with my mobile phone just to remind me of what I saw. It can be an object, or a play of light, or a colour combination. That then is the basis of the painting. In terms of drawing and composition I really don’t change things much after that, in matters of colour a lot can happen.

I used to work in series but the series would dry up and I would have to find something else, and eventually it felt forced and false. And it was slow, and I’m a slow worker to begin with. About sixteen years ago I was finally able to move away from the series, and started making paintings which each had their own internal logic and autonomy. But I was still inventing the painting at the surface and I found that an incredibly painful way to work, and it was discouraging too. Also, I could no longer sustain belief in the notion of everything coming from the inside. The next step from there, and I’m not altogether sure how or when it came about, was to start using outside input. In the same way that I often use song lyrics as titles, using images I see around me kind of lets me off the hook. I may choose them, but ultimately I’m not responsible for them.


What are you having the most trouble resolving?

I don’t like my work to be painterly, which doesn’t mean that I deny one of the basic characteristics of the medium. I just don’t find interesting a painting made from a series of painterly gestures which ergo signify an abstract painting. Moreover, I have very little facility for paint. I don’t have this huge bag of painterly tricks that I can draw from. As I said earlier, the composition of the image doesn’t change much from the beginning so I don’t get all those layers of paint, and wipe-outs, and palimpsests. So the problem for me is not letting the work end up too graphic, because I don’t want it to be that either. It’s a thin line. I have to just let the paint be paint, which sounds simplistic and stupid, but I find it hard.

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

I certainly used to, and often such experiments would be dictated by economic reasons. When I first moved to New York in the mid 80’s and was working as an art- mover, for a while I painted on old wrapping blankets. I also used industrial materials such as enamel paint or deck varnish. I’ve painted on wood panels. I used raw powdered pigment for a while, lumpily suspended in an oil medium. I used to mix gesso and liquid pigment in a blender to achieve a coloured ground where the colour really went deep into the surface. I twice tried to switch to acrylics. But I’ve always gone back to oil paint on canvas or linen. I like the give of the fabric. And I love the smell of the paint - since the first day I walked into art school. On paper I’ve worked for the last five years or so almost exclusively with gouache.

Thirsty´s calling, oil on linen, 65 x 54 cm, 2011

What does the future hold for this work?

That I go into the studio tomorrow and do something. I suffered a lot from bad discipline in the past and it took me a long time to figure out that if I wasn’t in the studio doing the work it certainly wasn’t going to do itself.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for asking me to participate in this. It’s always good to have to sit down and think about what I actually do, and why, and it’s been fun too. Also I’d like to say that while everything I’ve said is true today, happily, tomorrow it could all be different.


1 comment:

  1. A really great interview, very honest and concise. I've always felt unpainterly in the same way, and that same doubt runs through my mind of being to graphic, so its really refreshing to find these same thoughts happening in great paintings. Thank you Valerie and Jack, your paintings are stunning.