Today's meeting began with an incredible slide show of Joan Snyder's work spanning her very early (maybe even college) work to more mature work. Harmony accurately guessed that what we miss in this program is the opportunity to view work with an advisor/teacher and discuss it. We're told to go "look up" this or that artist. But we don't then get to have a conversation.
Harmony wanted me to see how personal iconography develops over an artist's career. How it's not a linear thing, but rather these things come in and out, and resurface. It was wonderful listening to Harmony just describe what was in the work. The way particular marks are laid down. Do the horizontal marks appear to start from the outside and move to the inside? Or do they go back and forth. To see from the beginning the interest in the materiality of painting (including bringing in non-paint materials, like gauze) and the body. How personal events and states of being and relationship appear. In the early work, the "pimples" (my word) of paint foreshadowing the eventual cuts in the surface, the sutures, and the poultice of paint filling the cuts. I never thought about Snyder's use of the grid, and it was so interesting to see the way she used it and broke it and how it changed in function and form over the years.
No Skeleton for Evsa, 1971. oil, acrylic, and spray enamel on canvas, 78" x 108" (http://www.joansnyder.net/paintings.php?image=36) (c) Joan Snyder 2010
Altar Painting III, 2009. oil, acrylic, cloth, on linen, 48" x 48"(http://www.joansnyder.net/paintings.php?image=335) (c) Joan Snyder 2010
I feel I brought in two successful paintings that I feel excited about:
These a have a boldness and freshness that I am drawn to. There's this idea of the direction of the stroke and coming in from the edges toward the center. There is layering and you can see through to the layers below. I like the idea of looking through something (a screen, a fence) and both of the source photos did this. In one the "screen was flower petals" in the other, it was a gate with a landscape behind it. The paint has a substance and surface. At the same time the color is working (Harmony noted that I am using the source as a reference for my palette, and it's coming from the landscape). I also didn't bother will all the cropping of the source images. I just began, and only used the source very, very loosely. Harmony picked up on this and suggested allowing the palette to come from the source, and not so much the composition. That is where I can be inventive.
Then, tough love.
Surface Surface Surface
The absolute biggest issue I need to address is the surface: the flatness of the material (separate from pictorial flatness). The challenge is learning how to create a surface that is alive and interesting. Right now my paintings -- in general, and specifically on canvas and panel -- don't have a painting presence -- they are flat. And it is about the surface and materiality and their readability as a paint object and art object. Some of them read okay online. We talked about how this is a dilemma of the times -- not that my painting dilemma is of the times, but that so much art is seen on-line and it's a flat way of seeing things, and it can mask a lot of deficiencies of surface (Barry Schwabsky alluded to this in his talk at AIB/BU, "What Not To Paint and How Not To Paint It". I completely agree with this and I remember talking to Deborah about this my second residency. I'd done a couple of larger paintings, and I just felt there was this surface issue that I couldn't figure out -- and I remember talking about the rest areas being plasticy and flat and just not working for me. I couldn't figure out why and what I was doing (or not doing) that was making it look unsatisfying to me.
So, how to I work through this?
Above all, Harmony said just do a lot of painting. There is no thinking my way out of this. I have to paint and paint and paint.
Load up the brush. Harmony noted my tendency to "scruff in". In my notes I drew a big circle with a line through it. She mentioned this last time. So far my successes have been on paper. Moving to canvas requires a lot more material.
Look at a lot of paintings. Observe the surface and how paint becomes material. Harmony gave me a list of galleries to regularly visit. (I still don't know if I can get to NYC or LA).
Learn to go back into a painting. This has been an ongoing issue for me. Harmony suggested approaching the painting as if each time I work on it was going to be it (forgetting about this idea of building up in a more traditional way with an underpainting, etc.). Again, I need to just do this a lot -- discover how I go back in.
I brought the issue of oil paint up again. I just think I should be painting in oil.
I have really worked to de-personalize critiques of my work in this program. And I decided that I would be open to suggestions and be willing to take advice. Harmony acknowledged this as a positive thing. At the same time, she encouraged me to begin drawing some lines: just because something is observed, I don't have to take the advice. I can accept it as an observation; nothing more. It's important to develop my own choices and my own judgment. I'm beyond the point of needing "assignments".
Bring it up to the present
Harmony's suggestion for research was to bring it up to the present. Her feeling is that it's great to look at history (the Baroque period, the AbEx period, etc.), but that it would be more relevant to look at what is happening today. I interpreted this specifically to mean to challenge myself in developing the skill of visual analysis. One suggestion was to do a visual analysis of work by somebody like Joan Snyder (who is both "historic" and contemporary) and Tomory Dodge or Benjamin Butler. I'm excited by this idea.
So, Harmony felt (and I completely agree) that the primary task for me is to tackle this surface challenge. My goal is to paint a lot and consider all the possible ways that I can build the surface, whether that's preparing the support, using acrylic thick out of the tube, using oils... I need to figure out whatever that needs to be or works for me. In the studio, pull down everything except my "successes" and let those be my guide. I've got six weeks until our next meeting and two papers mixed in there.
On the one hand I feel a small let down that I'm not where I would like to be. On the other, I feel completely energized and excited.
"I try to tell students to do the things that come the most naturally, but at the same time do the very thing that you don't know how to do and that you're afraid to do. You should do two things at once: what you do and what you don't do. I think what you do instinctually proceeds from your heart. And what you don't do is what you need to learn with your head. So you need to do both." --Amy Sillman in Joe Fig's Inside the Painter's Studio, p. 197.
Barry got back to me with feedback. He thought I'd been able to capture a thorough and honest look at myself and some of the issues I face. He said that the questions and recommendations encompass more than I'll be able to explore in one semester.
I feel good that I'm dealing with issues that will sustain my practice and interest for a long time to come.
He highlighted a specific dichotomy that I can set to work on: the possibility of introducing more variety into the construction of the work (bearing down in some areas while letting up in others) versus greater uniformity. He said that these ideas are not in contradiction and that I could go back and forth. However, it would be useful for a short period of time to choose in order to conduct the experiment into what would happen. He suggested looking at Benjamin Butler as an artists who has chosen (at least for now) to work with a certain uniformity of marks within each painting.
Jill Christian Group 3 Advisor: Barry Schwabsky Paper 1 - Residency Summary 1 August 2010
Third Residency Summary
This June residency, I brought quicker, smaller and more experimental work, mostly acrylic on paper. My intention with the work on paper was to break away from the still life studies represented in the 12”x12” panels. I also set up exercises for myself (limited palette, starting with different source material, etc.). I wanted to see what would happen if I got really close up into the still life so that it becomes more completely about mark. I displayed the work in a grid to encourage people to consider them as a single exploration.
The issues that came up during this residency related primarily to the compositional structure of the paintings, creation of a pictorial space, intentionality, and the need to uncover a larger subject for the work. Also brought up was a question about the level of technically proficiency my work suggests, which points to a need to expand my painting vocabulary and skill. (Another possibility relates to John Kramer's comment that the fact that he might wonder how much painting experience I have is an interesting clue about the motivation, principles, and goals of this body of work).
Composition/Structure I am still searching and working through some basic painting issues. I continue to hear the complaint that I’m not letting the viewer into the painting. Laurel and others noted that I tend to paint everything up to a similar level. I work everything up to a certain frontal point and then stop. Laurel suggested “bearing down” in certain areas and letting up in others, which would increase the dynamics, tension, inner space/inner world of the painting. She also suggested that if I’m interested in my work having a certain ambiguity, then I need more contradiction. One way to achieve that would by to tighten up in some areas, and let other areas be loose. For example, an artist like Tomory Dodge creates paintings that never quite get realized as an image, and so are suspended between image and something that asserts the paint and color and its subject. [One the other hand, I do make (or did make last semester) frontal images that don't have many places to enter].
I am working towards discovering just what type of composition I am dealing with: is it related to representational painting? How? What kinds and what time periods? Likewise, to what kinds of abstract composition does my work relate?
I received many observations that my painting seems tentative and somewhere "in between." There was a feeling that I need to be more definitive. I think this is not only a pictorial question, but a question of subject. I need to examine the relationship of looking at source material to my work. Right now, I cannot fully articulate that relationship. My second semester mentor, Gerry Snyder, was very supportive around this area, saying that just because the relationship is difficult to see does not make it wrong, it just means it will take a while to find the connection. He reassured me that if I consistently do something, it is because it is important and needs to be acknowledged, even if it seems irrational or inexplicable.
Both John Kramer and Audrey Welch encouraged me to be authentic and stay in touch with my process. That the work becomes exciting when it becomes an investigation. If I keep paying attention and engaging in my process, then the work will begin to tell me what is required. It was suggested that I hold onto the energy and vitality of my brushwork. John advised me to not stress myself out by having to figure it all out before I make the first mark -- stay loose and free in the process, but then step back and have a process for looking at the work after the fact.
Below is a summary of the questions that were raised and recommendations for this semesters.
- What does it mean when there is a dichotomy between how the work looks, and how one arrives at the work? What artists are/have dealt with this question? What is the idea driving the dichotomy? What does it mean to deny the viewer access to the source of the experience? What does it mean to share that with the viewer -- the attitude that we are all equally together in the work.
- What does it mean to make work that appears gestural and “automatist” but is actually arrived at by looking, cropping, and editing something observed in the natural environment? Is there a possibility of finding out something about this by painting more realistically? Or at least giving some kind of distillation of what is observed that is more clearly pre-arrived at?
- Do I want the paintings to have a nebulous quality that might create a certain anxiety or discomfort in a viewer and a desire to have things be more tangible and defined?
- How might I edit out things that are secondary (the work seems indecisive, and at some mid-point where what it is hasn’t yet been fixed).
-Is the surface part of the subject, or is it just a vehicle for something else?
-What is the nature of the marks, and how specific or generic should they be? Is my emphasis on construction of the space? Right now, they seem “in between”.
-What is the relationship between the mark and the structure overall? What would it mean if some marks were very different from the other marks? What would it mean if they have less individuality?
- I am in an experimental place with respect to illusionistic space versus flatness. How might this be a function of composition? How might this be a function of color (e.g., using blue is a strong trigger as a way to organize the picture, typically as a landscape)?
-Is this about landscape? When you look at something under a microscope, it suddenly becomes its own space, its own landscape, with its own crevices and horizons. Deborah suggested looking at late de Kooning, Joan Snyder, Joan Mitchell, Mondrian, late Monet, Jackson Pollock, Cecily Brown, Dana Schutz (thinking of he vigor of the brushwork and the energy).
- Set up a project each month with my advisor that will really be very productive. For example, work on a specific kind of mark-making or the construction of a specific type of space.
- Employ a regimented manner of applying the paint (e.g., a brushstroke of one size, shape). See what you can build with one basic building block (Barry). Look at a lot of work in person. Try to schedule a trip to NYC. To teach oneself to paint abstractly, you mimic and look at a lot of work. Observe how the paint is applied.
-Look at paintings solely to understand the compositional structure. Write about how different paintings are organized.
-Take a painting class. It appeared to some that I don’t have a very big painting vocabulary, and I need to immerse myself and get feedback on my mark-marking strategies. My work is now very flat and on the surface and it doesn’t allow the viewer to, as Judith said, “go on this journey of discovery with you.” However, I am not sure that I will be able to manage taking a formal class in the evenings and also have time for my own studio work and research.
-Consider bringing drawing skills into the paintings to anchor things.
-Research the history of abstraction. Make a canon of people I think are important and know exactly why. Then, analyze their painting in order to understand what they do, and how they do it.
-Change the source material/subject matter. The still life might be too limiting. Consider taking my own photographs. Consider not using the computer to manipulate or crop, and instead squint or use a viewfinder. Consider painting from photographs of interiors that have recession in space (kitchens?). Look at someone like Julius Shulman.
-Think about composition. I am producing the same spaces: flat. It does not seem like I understand color and value on an intuitive level. I need to do it enough so that “it’s just there” and I don’t have to think through all these things every time. It needs to become a facility, like speaking a language.
-Write about your own work. Describe it. The language that you use will start to tell you things. Hang up work together with the sources. Look at what is crossing back and forth. Don't restrict yourself or segregate the work. Keep it open. Document.
-Consider exploring issues of beauty, with regards to what kinds of things I want the viewer to walk away with and what attitude I think the painting manifests. For example, Albert Oehlin often starts with a beautiful painting, and then has to mess it up in some way.
-A lot of artists talk about going to the studio and having daily drawing or something that is a limbering up exercise. I was advised to not make that my work this semester. Jan felt that it would negate many of the issues that I’m struggling with, namely the kind of relations between composition and size and how I’m going to organize my mark making in different scales. Jan suggested I consider the larger passages versus something that is more intense or rapid or even staccato -- to think about where there is stasis, where there is activity.
-I want to work in a larger scale. My larger paintings don’t seem to have the same surface quality as the smaller paintings. I want to challenge myself to tackle this issue. Deborah suggested that they may just need more work and more building up. I’ve been thinking about this since the residency. In studio classes, I learned to work “alla prima.” I never got away from that and I have developed a way of working that allows me to finish quickly and avoid a disconnect if I am not able to return to a painting for some period of time. I think it is worthwhile to think about how to sustain a painting over time so that it can develop.
-Finally, be four-fifths of the way done with the thesis research by the end of this semester. More than one person said that it is very important to be very solid about where I’m going with this body of work by January since the draft thesis will be due in April. John Kramer and I talked about the long span of time and experience required to uncover and understand your deeper subject (Gerry and I discussed this, and Jan said "it all comes down to how much time you can give it). He suggested that I "could" consider a thesis that is about an investigation, process, and a goal.
Artists Recommended - Tomory Dodge - Late Monet - Brice Marden - Louise Fishman - Mary Heilman - Milton Avery