Monday, July 27, 2009

Residency Summary #1

Here is the summary for the first residency (just e-mailed off to my advisor today).

Jill Christian
Residency Summary - June 2009 - Group 1
Advisor: Laurel Sparks

The themes of this first residency are: increase my vocabulary, simplify, do a lot of painting. The main formal issues I need to work on for this semester are to vary my mark-making, refine my color, and explore spacial relationships. More open-ended questions were about my subject matter. As an abstract painter, what is it that I am trying to express and communicate? What is it that compels me to make this particular kind of painting? This semester my goal is to select a handful of the ideas for shaking up my current process and to explore color and mark-making. I approach my paintings intuitively, and I believe the discipline I impose will help me grow my understanding of the processes I use and that through working I will discover my subject matter.

My first group crit was with Michael Newman. He felt that the paintings are generic in that they show a “certain facility within already established limits.” This feedback was challenging for me to consider objectively and rattled me a bit. At the same time, it is important for me to separate myself from the work during the evaluation process (as separate from the painting of it). I believe this assessment is valid, and I need to think about what makes the work generic and how I might change this through interrogating my process and what interests me about my source materials.

Tony Apesos agreed in that my painting vocabulary feels “circumscribed” (I interpret this as meaning I’m using a limited, narrowly restricted mark-making vocabulary). He said that there is a way that I’m painting that reminds him a bit of Cecily Brown; maybe de Kooning. It’s not bad, but the important question is what do I do with that and where do I go next?

Tony thought that my paintings seem to be about an overlay of mark in “a kind of thicket of paint” and how that creates a sense of space. If the mark is the subject, I should explore varying my marks (1).

While I got positive feedback about my sense of color and the energy of my gesture, the feeling was that I should explore restraint. In other words, I should be more deliberate and selective, not only in mark-making but in color and composition. There is an all-over quality (and maybe a “horror vacui”*see note) that can be confusing and end up being a “knot of color” with no place for the eye to rest. The massed marks were most successful where thin and fat co-exist, with things escaping out of the edges.

Suggestions for pushing my mark-making included:

• Try oils (2).
• Push the size of the strokes. Get big house brushes, squeegees. Try really small brushes. Think about those two things next to each other.
• Vary the type of mark-making. There’s a lot of thick stuff going on. Try more subtle applications, through glazes and other methods.
• Spend a month on one canvas. See what happens to the energy of the piece. See what happens if you use panel and you don’t have the give.

I start a painting by selecting a photograph or sketch and draw right on the canvas with paint, usually with the primary color I want, and then rough the composition in with bigger shapes. At the same time, I begin to build up brush strokes. I was asked if I’d thought of further abstracting the photos I use as source material. For example, overlay the photo with velum to obscure the image -- “dumb it down” to force me to start big rather than with lines.

I stop the painting when it’s the end of that session in the studio -- when some other commitment makes me stop, or I run out of energy. I struggle to maintain the same energy and perspective when I try to go back in on a different day. I was asked to consider setting specific time constraints for a painting, for example, give myself a half hour to do one painting. Another day carve out six hours and stay with the painting -- no matter what. Laurel said to look for an uncomfortable place to stop.

• Set up arbitrary rules to break habits and expand vocabulary. Use a timer.
• Start opposite my convention.
• Experiment with proportions, distortion, asymmetry.
• Journal. Track my states of mind and emotions as I am painting
• Spend a month on a single piece. See how that varies the energy over time.

As with my mark-making, I need to be more definitive in my color choices. Using only my intuitive sense of color inhibits the development of a larger color vocabulary. The paintings with a narrower color range read better, and the group felt that I would benefit from using more grays and mixing more. Heather thought that the colors are all very “high” and sweet. It was suggested that the high color might be the result of working in acrylics and not using wet on wet techniques(3). I also got feedback that the palette was borderline “pretty” and that there are too many jewel tones competing. I need to pay attention to variation within a color and the overall tone of the color range. A lot of color washes out to peach, and I should look at how colors can be used to create illusion and depth, since a lot of my paintings read as flat. Jan asked me to think about what compels my palette.

Color recommendations included:
• The paintings are chalky (through the use of white). Try transparency/glazing instead of using white to mix lighter colors. Create translucency.
• Look at the Golden website color mixing section. Do color exercises (e.g., paint with a “dead palette”: Venetian red, yellow, ochre, black, white). Use some "school" ideas such as the use of complementary colors to achieve push/pull. Look at how Hans Hoffman does this.
• Fully research and work with value relationships of one color.
• Make my own “Pantone forecasts” to develop my color sensibility. Pick colors I see off the street, etc.
• Look at art just for the color palette.

It was suggested that I reconsider my use of standard size formats. I seem to be hitting the edge of the canvas and the paintings feel like they want to go beyond the borders of the canvas. I was told that it feels like my full body is involved. When I paint, the physical energy of my body to energizes the brush on the canvas, and I like to move while I paint, which I would like to maintain. Body position might be an issue and it was suggested that I change things so that I have to change my body position.

Recommendations included:
• Work larger.
• Open up the format. Work in three formats and do 3-4 paintings in each: just off square horizontal, vertical, and square.
• RJ suggested that when choosing size, I first consider the context of my subject, rather than get a bunch of 40x40s and start painting. The size is a huge way of how we experience the painting.
• Put the canvas on the floor see if it changes my engagement with the work.

Composition / Space
In the context of my mark-making and color, I received a lot of feedback about how space is or is not created in my paintings. There was an overall sense that my paintings sit on the surface and need more depth. A number of people wanted there to be more locations for the viewer to enter and they were most engaged where there is contrast, figure-ground, and spacial relations. The mark-heavy paintings seemed to hold the viewer on the surface.

I feel that the suggestions about mark, color, and format will help me work with this. I feel the biggest impact will come from me following the suggestion to spend more time returning to the same canvas -- going back, simplifying, and making decisions. My studio practice this semester will include longer sessions and multiple sessions. I want to explore how I feel about spacial issues: am I working figure-ground? Am I working with attmosphere? What is form and what is gesture? Do gestures become form?

Observations and recommendations included:

• Imagine the surface as a stage with different ways to enter. How do I want the viewer to experience coming in out and around? Colors and lines can be characters and have a presence. Think about the way a color shape sits in relationship to other characters.
• Make bolder decisions (see Philip Guston, Cecily Brown).
• Use a viewfinder to look at compositions as I am working.
• Play with the ambiguity of what is closer and further away in the picture plane.

Content / Decision making
Tony asked me “What are these paintings about for you?” He said that if I am making a mark, I am making decisions. That content helps you decide which marks to make and how to make them. Also, you can’t know if you’re done with a painting without some kind of criteria in mind. In the critique, my group talked about how the criteria for what you do usually comes from content, or something that you are trying to express – the thing that is giving you the push to make the painting, even if it not visible(4).Similarly, a lot of discussion in the Critical Theory One seminar was about an artist needing a bigger reason to paint than mere self-expression.

In my artist statement I say that I am expressing emotion and energy that I see and feel in response to something I am looking at. It might be something in the landscape or my environment, a figure, or a photograph. When I spoke to Melissa Kulig, she summarized my process saying, “So you’re referencing something and you’re wildly abstracting it and you’re trying to express your interpretation of the thing -- something different than the original -- that being…?” The answer to the question, “what is it that is different from the original” is what I need to explore this and future semesters by thinking more concisely about what it is that I am trying to express. One suggestion was for me to document and journal about my process, and I believe this will help me be more self-aware and clarify what about painting is important to me.

Suggestions for exploration were:

• Explore my “oddness” as opposed to my generic/gestural style.
• Reproduce paintings. Study paintings. Put my work in dialog with the history of painting. For example, notice how Titian uses a particular color. Set up tasks.
• Try to render an illusionistic still life and then obstruct it. Go into it, over it, and through it.
• Think what it would be like to look from the inside of something out instead of outside in.
• Nourish my interests outside of painting. Feed the soul, do outside reading, and let it seep in and percolate. Readi about nature, Emerson, Thoreau, Transcendentalists.
• Discover my “taste” and where my taste comes from. Identify artists who I like. Identify artists who I don’t like and figure out what gets under my skin.
• Do a lot more painting. Develop a daily practice.

This semester I am going to focus on what I am putting in to my paintings – the marks, the color, the tools, and the process. I believe that discovering what my paintings are about will come through exploring my process, pushing my use of formal painting elements, journaling, and paying attention to what interests me. As part of that discovery, it was suggested that I explore the “lineage” of the artists that I look at and research this semester.

Note: horror vacui. The fear of empty spaces (cenophobia) is the filling of the entire surface of an artwork with detail (see wikipedia).

Artists to research
• Amy Sillman (esp. First Person Singular. Look at range of marks and space.
• Josh Smith (look at for collage, lush lines)
• Charline von Heyl
• Jacqueline Humphries
• Mary Heilmann (for nuance)
• Elizabeth Neel
• Albert Oehlen
• Cecily Brown
• Philip Guston
• Rodin (figurative watercolors)
• Turner (Slave Ship)
• Francis Bacon
• Marlene Dumas (painting of her daughter)
• Barbara Takenaga (for her use of movement, depth using a limited vocabulary)
• Elinor Carucci’s portrait of Cecily Brown (art
• Late Picasso (John Richardson’s Picasso biography, 17th c. portraiture, Catalog for Picasso: Mosqueteros show at Gagosian)
• Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, late de Kooning
• Brice Marden
• Terry Winters

Reading list
David Batchelor, Chromophobia
Briony Fer, On Abstract Art
Gary Garrels Oranges and Sardines
Yve-Alain Bois, Painting as Model
Vicky Perry, Abstract Painting Concepts and Techniques (for vocabulary)
Barry Schwabsky, Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting
Raphael Rubenstein, Provisional Painting. Art in America, May 2009
“Parkett” (

Other recommended reading
Klaus Kertess (curated the Whitney Biennial)
Maurice Tuchmann, et al. The Impact of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943): de Kooning, Pollock, Dubuffet, Bacon
Margaret Livin, Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing
John Hyman, The Objective Eye
Karsten Harries, Meaning of Modern Art (SPEP)
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
James Elkins, The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing
Gerhard Richter, The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings 1960-1993
Barry Schwabsky, Alison Gingeras, The Triumph of Painting, The Saatchi Gallery
Merlo Ponti, Phenomenology of Perceptions
Frank Stella, Working Space
Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Harold Rosenberg, The American Action Painters” (1952 essay, out of print)
Maurice Tuchmann, et al. The Impact of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943): De Kooning, Pollock, Dubuffet, Bacon
Hans Hoffman (Small book, on moving in and out of space. Search for the Real?)

(1) In the small group critique on June 21, we discussed mark-making. Tony Apesos asked, “what happens when mark contradicts meaning?” He went on, saying that we like pictures; more than real things, in a different way. The way the objectness of a painting separates us from imageness of the picture—the flicker between image and object. It’s there and not there at the same time. Mark making both shows us the thing we are looking at – it describes the form – and at the same time pushes us away and establishes the materiality of the painting. There’s a tension of creating the image within the structure that’s containing it. Tony talked about how 16th century Venetian painting does both: there’s richness of paint and richness of imagery. They were experimenting with paint for the first time. And, Tintoreto and the others were training their audience how to appreciate this new type of painting.

(2) Tony Apesos thought I would like the mark-making possibilities of oil. When acrylic dries through evaporation, the mark relaxes and actually loses volume. Oil expands as it dries and absorbs oxygen. He thought that would be a difference I might like. Impastos will stay crisper. But it would require some changes in strategy like working more paintings at once because I won’t be able to pile up paint. I’d need to wait in order to do wet over dry. But, it would allow me to do something I’m not doing, which is wet on wet. If I stick with acrylic, look at Golden retarders; open acrylics.

(3) A number of people (RJ, Heather, Brenda, Tony) suggested trying oils. (Laurel says maybe not). The idea was that oil would allow me to mix on the canvas. It would slow down my decisions.

(4) Tony said that it’s important to distinguish what you are trying to express from what gets communicated. They are not the same thing. What we express is not necessarily what the viewer sees. As artists the only thing we can really care about is expressing. The viewer cares about communication. If as an artist you start caring about communication, that is when you start doing propaganda or kitsch.

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