Ryan Steadman writing for Artforum recently described the conflation of painterly styles in your artwork as a "carnivorous appetite for the canon of two-dimensional figuration." Are there specific painters from history that have impacted your manner of representation?
Well, it's more like, history doesn't shape the present, history is shaped by the present. So I don't know if I see it as the impact of art history on my work but that my work sort of freely time travels using the loaded languages of history. For me it's more about our understanding of time and possibility. In terms of painting and choosing a timeframe or a place to start, I've been finding myself drawn to certain motifs, some of which are known more from the history of painting than in any other form of everyday image. Bathers, for example, if you google image search the term, you get paintings that are of bathers. If you google "people taking bath" or "swimmer" you get more stock photography, sports images, entertainment, etc. There is something about certain narratives that arrive to us still primarily on painting's terms. I often choose images from these categories - images about a kind of repetition, whether historical, psychological, or formal. So work I'm looking at recently might include: Charlotte Solomon and Hannah Ryggen at Documenta last summer (and Solomon's show at the Jewish museum years ago was life changing for me), Sonia Delaunay, Marie Laurencin, and what little I can find by Clara Tice. Also the shape shifting easel painters Andre Derain, Max Ernst, and Picabia of course - I'm drawn to artists who are always keeping me guessing about their intentions.
Similarly, this usage of a sort of Neoclassicism was one of my original ideas for pairing your work alongside that of Michael Jones McKean, currently on view in the back gallery. Do you find inspiration in antiquity and ancient cultures?
I refer to antiquity, sure. But it's not that simple. In my work, I might also be referring to a neo-classical period Picasso or Cocteau more casually than I would riff on Ingres. These are different strains of antiquity - what I like is that you can't be so sure of what you are looking at when you are looking at a painting. How could they not look more like the anti-modern version of neoclassicism from the 30's, or even the 80's appropriation of the neoclassical 30's in neo-expressionism or in the fashion of the time? These are not classical universals, completely outside of time - they are classical delusions specific to other eras, sensibilities, and even politics. If you saw that great Guggenheim show a couple of years ago, Chaos and Classicism, you know there is a whole art historical connection between the return of classical motifs in early 20th century modern culture, part of a call to return to the figure, to order, that eventually fed into fascism and other extremely policed aesthetics. For a while it was almost impossible to see the reductive modern classical form as anything but kitsch, sports and far-right wing politics, except when you get to camp fetishes about Star Wars and disco and Giorgio Moroder taste.
In the 80's, you see some of that in neoexpressionism, but I might like to refer to another side of neoexpressionism that I find more playful or decorative, and more socially progressive - like certain deco modern styles or pattern-decoration artists, or women who riffed on expressive macho gendered heroism for other reasons than to be inserted into art history. To return to your question about whether art history (or different artists) affect my manner of representation. I see it more like throwing my voice. So yes I may have a classical looking character who looks like he woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and he is out-of-focus and his brushstrokes are all choppy. Like he woke up in a romantic painting.
Your paintings often seem to exist in a state of in-betweeness where paint becomes image and ground becomes figure. How and when do the images emerge on the canvas?
There is no set point for an image to emerge but there may be a certain moment of recognition once an image starts to appear in the process of painting. It's a very open ended process; I like to watch the paintings unfold, the narratives, characters, and abstraction continually shift until I see something that stops me. Then the question is what is it? and what does it want to be? I'm told that this idea of emergence is something that comes out of a complexity, or between systems, which sounds very scientific, but in this case it could be that the resemblances, the figures, the stories, the recognitions emerge from the friction between different ways of painting or imagining representation. There has to be room left to speculate.
You've referred to earlier paintings as portraits, do you still consider your paintings to be portraits? As you spend time with the characters whom come to life in your pictures, are there stories that help you formulate who they are?
All of the above. One of the best things I've read so far this summer is Kate Chopin's very brief defense of her book, The Awakening, which in July 1899 was enjoying all sorts of critical condemnation. Her defense is as if in the process of writing the characters themselves were to blame for how their story came out: “Having a group of people at my disposal, I thought it might be entertaining (to myself) to throw them together and see what would happen. I never dreamed of Mrs. Pontellier making such a mess of things and working out her own damnation as she did. If I had had the slightest intimation of such a thing, I would have excluded her from the company. But when I found out what she was up to, the play was half over and it was then too late.”
In the paintings Gray Eminence and Between The Acts, both on view at the gallery, we see a shift to a much larger scale than you've employed in the past as well as a drier, softer, almost fresco-like surface. How did these discoveries come about and does this mark a new approach to painting for you?
The large scale is something I've been moving towards for the past few years because the narratives in the painting demanded more space and scale. The soft dry fresco-like surface came about by accident. The art supplier was out of the molding paste that I've been mixing to make my ground so I bought another version called "light molding paste" thinking it would be similar. Of course the ground was already half applied to a giant canvas by the time I realized it was not the same texture. I'm fairly practiced in using my mistakes as a part of my process and I often paint with ink, gouache and watercolor in my works on paper so it didn't seem so out of the blue to try to make use of this ground. I think I've kicked a few doors open this summer, the stamping seen in the gouaches in the back of the gallery is another one, we'll all have to watch to find out what happens next, I let the paintings tell me where they want to go.
Reviews in Brief: Jackie GendelWendy Vogel, Modern Painters, November 1, 2013
Lower East Side Gallery Round-UpMaria Brito, July 15, 2013