Couple Study, 9 x 11", 2014
What are you working on in your studio right now?
This first answer is from August, when I began writing this piece.
My 'studio' for August is the backyard of a fishing 'shack' in RI. For years and years I've worked in natural environments and there developed imagery that comes back with me to NYC. I brought a heavy-textured watercolor book I began in my Queens studio. I was listening to jazz and became taken over by thoughts of my mother, who played jazzy piano and died 8 yrs ago. This book has become about thoughts of her life and her early decline. This is now spliced with garden imagery.
I'm working on new canvases, creating rhythms and linear characters as the animation around me soaks in. I’ve brought small unfinished canvases from the last months and years. My abstract paintings try to express living presences in the forms I delineate by drawing w/ the brush and graphite. One painting suggested two abstract figures in cage-like structures; one comfortably ensconced and the other struggling to get in or out of its cage. This was an interaction I saw but could be read or not read any number of ways by the viewer, and has since disappeared anyway! That struggle is gone and it now seems to be about a window to the boat marina across the street with a figure trying to look out. Another suggests a tree-form gaining traction with a slumbering cloud-rock form above it, like Zeus holding the weight of the sky, and now has an amber barely visible dusk light. Narrative elements arrive for me after the automatic drawing and forms have begun to inhabit the space. I develop or discard them according to what the painting is trying to express.
Can you describe your working routine?
It takes me a long time to get to painting. I read, I write, I peruse the computer (here at this retreat I do outdoorsy things) I have to get through veils and veils of consciousness and emotions. After hours of this, much of it happening in the studio while taking in my work I 'give in' or 'give over' and I start. A deep rhythm catches hold between all the pieces and I'm off. Working on new paintings always frees up the older ones. At home in Queens, and before that in Williamsburg, by far my most productive work periods start in the afternoon, when the rest of the working world is coming home! From about 4-10pm. When I have shorter periods to work. I'll develop a body of works on paper, or focus on one or two larger paintings I'm involved with.
Can you describe your studio space, and if, at all, that affects your work?
My studio space has been a portion of my home or loft for 20yrs and has been a strong presence in developing my vision of the world. What becomes dramatized in addition to the light and structures is the inner-outer play between inner life, studio realm and outside world. My current studio in Queens is the front room of a first floor house apt. with a wall of windows facing the tree-lined dead-end street. This after 17yrs of being suspended in a concrete box over the East River and Williamsburg Bridge!
My initial work here was an abstract meditation on coziness, furtiveness: The weathered browns of the wood floors and doors, the shade of the big sycamores and the procession of Queensy semi-attached houses. In the loft, with a wall of windows overlooking the bridge and river from up high, my work in one form or another took in that expanse. I saw color as blocks, sheets and panels of light, with the linear imagery of loft or bridge elements woven in. It was at rural residencies where I not only continued my parallel involvement with landscape but began dividing the canvas into quadrants as a response to the studio windows cutting landscape into separate compositions - I began 'reading' the imagery from top left(nw) to bottom right(se). These divisions of forms resonated on a primal note with my psychology as an identical twin with identical twin brothers – one of a set, and a set amongst two sets: The push-pull of identity, the incremental changes that make each twin unique. It also fed my interest in narrative readings of abstract paintings. Imagery sometimes took on the look of 'specimens' resting in shelves. I saw or read the imagery simultaneously and these separate but connected rhythms was important to me.
painting in RI
Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve, etc.
Firstly, with the oil paintings I don't work on white when I start, I tone the gesso out with a color.I then start drawing creatural forms. The line in art is the essential ingredient that inhabits my imagination. Forms can be branch-like, crazy-figurative hybrids, rocks, pillow-forms. Often they are unseen energy. The energy of the forms needs to inhabit a space, which as I've referred to above, gets worked in. There is a power-play between large and small forms. Forms reach toward one another, pull away from one another, or maintain a solitary distance. In my life I've generally been attracted to big personalities – this took root with my father, my sister and then onward. The dynamic is there and fuels my work, which in a way is a pushing back at these personalities. This leads to colors that bolster that – heavy and intense, pale and fragile. Red and black are alive and demonstrative, green and blue are soothing. Pastels are unsure, guiltless. Yellows, life-affirming. And there is anger there: I want some of the forms to be safe, enclosed, and others to be looming, oppressive. This place I go in the last several years tends to be an invented landscape – I want the viewer and myself to be able to move into a realm. Landscape doesn't push back, like the world. It just is, in all it's generous independence, unlimited stature and fragility, minute animations, causes and effects.
I work from all 4 directions, 4 scenarios. Works sit for awhile, then I add transparent areas of color to create a density that I like. I start to work on top of that with new imagery, and wipe back to forms from below. There is a metaphor for the interior spaces and consciousness we have while maintaining an exterior whole. They're also like secrets, or like seeing the totality of a landscape and then noticing the little rabbit under the brush. I incorporate memory: A landscape I've visited can stay in my mind for months, years, as a personal archetype of a journey. There's a lot of destruction, losing earlier imagery to build new tensions. Unresolved paintings get picked up again - this process goes on for months and years. Others funnily can start and conclude, like hopefully ones here at the beach, and be a wrap.
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
I am trying to resolve paintings for a show in a few weeks and I'm not sure what they need, or what needs to be taken away. When a painting is nearly there I have a terribly difficult time seeing it to the 'end'. Generally what I see is not what others will see. When that comes together, or the differences are articulated, that process is invaluable. Paintings that are worked on over a long period of time are the most difficult to resolve. You lose touch with the possibility for clarity. You need to either go for destruction – the big moves -or adapt the slower skill of burnishing the details, making every relationship count.Paintings that start fresh look good – light, clean, hopeful, like children. This is suspect, as we all know it's easy to start a painting and hard as hell to finish one. This is a philosophical dilemma, but I force myself to mess it up, deepen the space, complicate it, and then return eventually to clarity. The painting tells you after a while if it no longer has the tension to sustain it and needs development. That said, there is so much growth in starting new canvases – they can give us more than the staid older ones, which reference another time, another you.
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
I'm straightforward and rather traditional: My parameters are mixed media on paper, oil on canvas, panels and gessoed paper. I'll add new kinds of pigments to the works on paper – like adding Guerra pigments a few years ago, and different papers, like this heavy watercolor that is handmade, or very thin rice paper, or graph paper. I started painting the oils on wood panels that I found on Williamsburg streets and gessoed foamcore. On the panel paintings I found myself drawing by cutting away with a blade to the layers of color or white support below – I love this somewhat violent act, because it's delicate at the same time. I've also done quite a bit of collaging drawings onto canvases - one rectangle within the larger whole – there's a footnote, inner-outer dialogue I like. It's like experiencing a place and then the small drawing is the memory of that place seen simultaneously. I often mount painted paper onto a stretched canvas.
I recently started a group of collages, cutting up old works on paper and reconfiguring them – this is something I've really never done, and is a great process. It is more crafted, gluing flat pieces of drawings and watercolors together to create new shapes. I was teaching elementary school art last year and the kids did great collages, they were an inspiration to me.There was a period years ago when I was making drawings of men I was in relationships with, like intimate drawing diaries, and I created tableaus collaging them into painted wood wine crates. Paintings opening up to little theaters. One day it would be interesting to return to those.
Marina, oil on canvas, 18 x 18", 2014
What does the future hold for this work?
I've not been using the 'quadrants' for awhile and will probably continue this way and then possibly return to them. I need the work to be more and more emotionally present. I want to push the place that the painting occupies in a more dynamic way. This means I have to be really present and unguarded. We have secrets, hidden personas that should be out there. Also more texture within the imagery to get in between forms as my aesthetic is rather graphic. I've been enhancing my color again, after this 'brown' period. My drawing-based work can get so frail, championing the moth over the steer, I want to oppose that.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
I'd like to thank Valerie for her interest, kindness and patience in putting this piece together. Also, I'd like to mention my upcoming show at Andre Zarre gallery, Chelsea, opening on Nov.13, 2014.It is with Dana Gordon and Irene Rice Perreira