Saturday, November 19, 2011


Untitled, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 9 "

What are you working on in your studio right now?

I’ve been working much of the year on a cycle of smaller paintings, most between 8 x 10” and 11 x 14”. In between works on paper are being made and unmade.

Can you describe your working routine?

I have a working/not working routine. There are periods of a month or two where I’m in the studio painting or drawing for some substantial amount of time every day and this continues until I reach an impasse and am forced to regroup. But what I really like is to be in the rut of work and it makes me nervous to not be making anything.

I’m relatively disciplined in my work habits but only in order to have massive room to mess around, get bored, stare into the abyss and freak out. If I’ve worked the previous day I’ll go into the studio once light is decent and see what I’ve done. Artists know this is a horrible thing. Unless a piece needs immediate attention there’s a period of coffee drinking and padding around, cleaning brushes, cleaning the cat litter box, reading a little, spacing out on the internet, trying to get a feel for what I’m working on. Maybe I try to ignore the work and just live with it. Maybe a painting suddenly reveals itself as complete if I can catch it off guard. This happens.

I like to listen to podcasts of interviews or lectures while I’m working. Sometimes music but mostly not— music is always perfect and just totally convincing. My hand is too easily led by it. I like the clumsiness of speech which is more in sympathy with my approach to painting. Voices are engaging in a way that keeps me somewhat detached from the work at hand and that small remove allows for just enough criticality on my part.

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

I’ve never had a dedicated studio and have always worked at home—right now I use a spare bedroom in an apartment shared with my girlfriend. It’s multi-purpose, so things accumulate, disappear and later resurface.

When I first became ‘serious’ about art-making as a vocation I was drawing with a charcoal pencil and all I needed was a table. When I began painting a little while later I couldn’t get used to an easel and stayed on the table. My studio is strictly okay but my table is amazing.

All of the spaces I’ve worked in have been small and I make small work, and this condition of working in living spaces has affected deeply the way I relate to paintings as objects in the world. I’m interested in making THINGS which address the smaller, uglier, intimate spaces where our private lives play out. I relate differently to work on a smaller scale, and a small canvas or bit of paper is an incredibly sensitive recording device. That said I’m eager to make some huge paintings.

Careful, 2011, acrylic & glitter on canvas, 8 x 10"

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

Beginning with a blank canvas there’s usually the desire to finish a piece in one go, and I do try, and I do fail most of the time. Maybe if a painting feels done I’ll hang it up and go to sleep that night very satisfied. And then over a period of hours or days the work dies on the wall, or just keeps repeating the same joke. But if it can get off the wall and walk away, a painting is done; then it’s my job to interview it and see if it knows anything about the next painting. Vija Celmins said she knows a work is nearing completion when it begins to push back; I relate to that measure completely—a sense of fullness.

Most of the time in the studio, however, I’m not dealing with beginnings but with work in progress. Sometimes images are allowed to evolve organically but more often I’ll paint everything out that isn’t working. The discarded image is still there; the memory is still there influencing the painting but it informs indirectly.  For the genesis of images I’ve often restricted myself to the very familiar—lines, dots, simple shapes. As general and inclusive a vocabulary as possible. It’s become increasingly important to leave behind an image to which no concrete meaning can be attached, only possibility. I’ll put some things down, have a look, paint around them and paint them out. There are all these intuitive, oblique strategies improvised to bring me possibly to a place where I can make a really great mistake and then things can get going. I’m not as interested in the hand of an artist as I am the eye; the ability to remain sufficiently present while painting in order to recognize that (suddenly!) a composition is done, regardless of preconceived notions.

What are you having the most trouble resolving?

I’ve often worried about the finish of a work. Finish or finished? First thought best thought? Myron Stout tweaks for years? Nozkowskian tectonics? All are interesting and feel pretty good. A range of such strategies is something we’re often led to believe is problematic within one’s work and I repeatedly remind myself that it isn’t true, that a fucked up mixture speaks more honestly to an experience of being in the world.

I also wonder a lot about the wide open spaces between intentionality and reception—I mean, this is an afterthought, not a painting-thought. My painting thoughts are less than verbal. But it’s such a curious thing—from time to time I get some image down that satisfies me in a deep and totally ineffable way, and then for what reason do I need other people to see it? To have a comparable experience, maybe. That’s how I look at other peoples’ work.

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

At times the work calls for strict controls. There was a period from 2007-2009 when I first began using gouache and used it full-strength from the tube, making quasi hard-edged, geometric paintings (lines were ruled out but not taped so it was like a one-shot performance, performing the edge). I was maybe setting out to establish a baseline for myself. Prior to all the right angles I was painting Joan Mitchells, or Joan de Koonings, really. That was a cool time because I had no idea what I was doing and no idea what they had been doing, and it was enough just to be influenced. The time of the right angles was like political reeducation and in the end I became really fearful of doing anything without a ruler. Lessons learned. When I did reintroduce more gesture I found I’d gained some knowledge about control and economy of means that was initially lacking. Early on I wasn’t making choices when they needed to be made.

Untitled, 2011, acrylic & glitter on canvas, 9 x 12"

What does the future hold for this work?

The next work. I’ve gotten myself to a place where the drawings and paintings are really generative, and the bonus prize is that individual pieces have become less precious to me. I’m interested in the dialogue among works from the past year; some are rather severe and others are very chatty and outgoing. I didn’t anticipate the latter but am pretty curious. I’ll find out what’s going on.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for creating a platform for this sort of exchange! Artists gain so much from blogs like yours. It’s fabulous to be forming communities outside of a particular geography—strange and new and absolutely positive.


  1. I couldn't agree more! To the whole thing. Yet another brilliant description into what it is like to be an artist. Thank you!

  2. Wonderful indeed. I have a crush on that yellow grid painting in the box... went to website to enjoy more. Thanks so much: inspiring.

  3. This discussion is very valuable. It reveals what's in the artists mind. I learned a lot from this article . Thanks for sharing!

    Jeavon @ Buy Art Online

  4. good to read this! so articulate. gratitude to Peter Shear and to Studiocritical.

  5. Woke up at 3:30 on a Saturday morning, unable to sleep but wanting to badly. Gave up and went to the computer. Read this and became happy that I was awake. Now I'll have some coffee and go paint. Thanks Peter and Valerie!