Writing about talking, part one: Thoughts on / responses 2 “Painters Beyond Painting”

I find in conversations with people all over town that the project that Mari Eastman, Rebecca Morris and Jill Newman are presenting at Mandrake over the course of three Sunday evenings has struck a nerve in many artists – painters as well as sculptors and writers and….. hybridists. (Is there a title for artists whose practices are inclusive of several material investigations?)

I want to be certain to remind myself that these panels are, in fact, titled “Talks On Painting.” Probably this is important to keep in mind…. because virtually every practice has been represented in the audience at each of the first two talks.

These conversations have been in the making for several months – the organizers have taken their self-assigned task very seriously, doing studio visits, reaching out to a variety of artists – people with whom they are familiar as well as meeting with artists recommended to them. Word of this serious approach has spread. The depth of their research and the respect which they are showing to the practices of art-making have resulted in the “Talks On Painting” drawing audience members from every practice – so when people feel left out it is not a criticism, rather it sounds to me like people are saying, “Oh! This is wonderful – I want to join in, how do I fit?”

People want to talk.

And people want to listen.

There is room for this conversation to grow.

I am starting here, on Notes, by turning some of my conversations into interviews. I’ve got a few electronic and some face to face interviews ongoing and I shall upload the text as I can. When possible I will include images of work from the voices I am sharing, and perhaps additional images as the context asks for them.

These first two parts came just after the second Talk on Painting, “Painters Beyond Painting,” June 26, 2011 at Mandrake.

I’ll link to transcripts on East of Borneo when they are available there.

Cheers.

Thomas Lawson, Confrontation: Headbangers, 2010, oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches, image courtesy David Kordansky Gallery which is linked

Thomas Lawson, Confrontation: Headbangers, 2010, oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches, image courtesy David Kordansky Gallery which is linked

Thomas Lawson, Magic Mountain: Drawing the Veil  1983, oil on canvas 66 x 96 inches, image from Artnet. which is linked

Thomas Lawson, Magic Mountain: Drawing the Veil 1983, oil on canvas 66 x 96 inches, image from Artnet. which is linked

 

June 27, 2011

Dear Tom (Lawson),

It was a pleasure to hear your thoughts on the painting panel last night. I am excited to learn that East of Borneo (EoB) will be presenting transcripts of the various associated talks on the site. What a great
opportunity for learning and indeed for further conversation in the community!

I look forward to linking to and sharing in the discussion on Notes on Looking.

With this in mind, may I ask you a couple of questions? I can use your responses to supplement my posts in advance of the final July 31 event. I’d like to get as much attention as possible for that date as well as the EoB posts.

Can you talk about some of the ways that painting has inhabited the space of idea-based art in the time since Fluxus and Conceptual Art “provided a rupture” (I think this was your turn of phrase) that
allowed ideas to serve as the (or one of the) media of art, augmenting and sometimes replacing the material media?

I think if I may I ask that you approach this question both from your position as a painter – how this might be reflected in your practice – and also from the point of view of a cultural observer.

Thomas Lawson, Memory Lingers Here, Dunstan Soap Works, Gateshead, 1991

Thomas Lawson, Memory Lingers Here, Dunstan Soap Works, Gateshead, 1991

Thomas Lawson, Highland Games, 1977 Oilstick, charcoal, and enamel on canvas 64 x 90 inches, from Thomas Lawson website which is linked

Thomas Lawson, Highland Games, 1977 Oilstick, charcoal, and enamel on canvas 64 x 90 inches, from Thomas Lawson website which is linked

Thomas Lawson, Deep in a Forest Glade, 1984 pastel on paper 26 x 38 inches, also from Lawson's website, linked

Thomas Lawson, Deep in a Forest Glade, 1984 pastel on paper 26 x 38 inches, also from Lawson's website, linked

While addressing the question of failure within your various practices, you had a distinct understanding when a painting fails but you seemed much less certain when a piece of writing has failed. This
is really interesting! Can you tell me more about this challenge?

Finally, at the beginning of the discussion you stated your practices: painter, writer and “I head an art school” as I recall. (Lawson is the Dean at CalArts.) Then it sounded like you summed this up as “Basically all my work is about death.” Did I hear you correctly? Will you correct me or tell me more please?

Thomas Lawson, Zarquawi / Goliath, 2007 oil on canvas, 12 x 24 inches, link to Lawson's site

Thomas Lawson, Zarquawi / Goliath, 2007 oil on canvas, 12 x 24 inches, link to Lawson's site

I know you have a busy, demanding schedule and I will appreciate your time spent on my questions.

Thanks very much, and all my best,

Geoff

Sent from my iPhone

June 28, 2011

From Tom Lawson:

Hi Geoff,

Let me think about your questions a bit, but a quick correction — ‘theft’ not ‘death’

June 28, 2011

Great, thanks!
Wow – theft is even more interesting

Geoff

Later on June 28:

Hi,

The question about painting inhabiting post-fluxus space is a big one, and I’ll need some more time I think.
Thomas Lawson, Green Grotesque, 2010 oil on canvas 22 x 19 inches, courtesy David Kordansky Gallery, linked

Thomas Lawson, Green Grotesque, 2010 oil on canvas 22 x 19 inches, courtesy David Kordansky Gallery, linked

Thomas Lawson, He Shot His Best Buddy, 1982 image from Leap Into The Void blog, link to Michael Buitron review of Lawson's 2009 exhibition at DK: "Thomas Lawson 1977-1987"

Thomas Lawson, He Shot His Best Buddy, 1982 image from Leap Into The Void blog, link to Michael Buitron review of Lawson's 2009 exhibition at DK: "Thomas Lawson 1977-1987"

Thomas Lawson, Civic Virtue/Civil Rights, City Hall Park/ Public Art Fund, New York, Summer 1988

Thomas Lawson, Civic Virtue/Civil Rights, City Hall Park/ Public Art Fund, New York, Summer 1988

The failure question is tricky, but here’s a stab at it. A single painting has a gestalt, you stand, or sit there in front of it and can see the whole thing. This means you can size up its success or failure relatively easily. With a piece of writing you have a much more slippery thing wiggling about in your short-term memory. So for me that makes it that much harder to assess. Plus I don’t like going back over written work once it is finished – I rake over things obsessively while writing, but then it’s done. Whereas I like looking at older paintings again, trying to re-assess and rethink.

Hope that helps,

Tom

(Lawson will have work in “Baker’s Dozen III” which is opening Saturday, July 16 6 to 9 pm at the Torrance Art Museum.)

Jill Newman, Flat Sculpture II, 2009, oil and acrylic on canvas 16 x 20 inches, link to Newman's website

Jill Newman, Flat Sculpture II, 2009, oil and acrylic on canvas 16 x 20 inches, link to Newman's website

Jill Newman, Downtown Triangle I, 2007 newspaper and metallic tape on paper 18 x 18 inches, link to Newman's site

Jill Newman, Downtown Triangle I, 2007 newspaper and metallic tape on paper 18 x 18 inches, link to Newman's site

Jill Newman, Untitled I and Untitled II, 2009, vintage record albums and wood veneer, 10 x 10.5 inches each, linked to Newman's site

Jill Newman, Untitled I and Untitled II, 2009, vintage record albums and wood veneer, 10 x 10.5 inches each, linked to Newman's site

 

June 28, 2011

Dear Jill (Newman),

The work that you and Mari and Rebecca are doing is fantastic! Inviting the LA community into a conversation about painting with artists.who engage so deeply and thoughtfully with the practice of
painting seems generous . and also timely for a lot of us who think about painting and those who paint.

I made some notes on Sunday and plan to post about this. I’d really like to extend the topic to include the entire series, this way I can cover more and also emphasize the EoB connection.

Would you answer a few questions?

I’ve heard a bit about the background for this most recent talk, can you share with me the process by which you organized these? Has there been an “orientation” meeting for them all, as there was for the recent one? To me that impulse – to connect as a group beforehand is great, although I can imagine it going awry if participants lose steam or something.

It feels like the idea (for the talks) comes from a very personal place for you – can you tell me what in your own practice leads you to ask these questions?

I know that you have a painting practice and also work sculpturally, with clay last time I visited with you. With Sunday in mind, how do you connect the two practices? And how do you draw distinctions btwn them? Are the distinctions media-based? How are they conceptually different?

A question worth extending, in my mind, was Tom’s “who fetishizes painting?” the fact is that our culture does, or we allow it pre-eminence among our attentions. Hmm, I do not know of this is the case in other cultures.

A way to get deeper insight may come from personal insight: why did Jill Newman choose to be  painter? Any thoughts?I hope all is well with you and that I see you again soon.Sincerely,Geoff

Sent from my iPhone

June 29, 2011

Geoff!!

Thanks so much for your enthusiasm! We are thrilled that folks are so interested– it shows there’s a real hunger for something like this.

I am traveling all day today, but will write you tomorrow– I hope that works for your timeline.

All my best,

Jill

Sent from my iPhone

June 30, 2011

Dear Geoff,

Greetings from Lake Winnebago!  I’ve answered your questions with a bit of wandering.  Thanks again for your support and intrigue– I appreciate it so much!

Rebecca, Mari and I each came up with a concept for one of the three talks, with help from each other in developing the theme and determining who might be good to get involved.  Rebecca’s was the first panel, and she asked Corrina Peipon to moderate, who really took the ideas and ran with them, carving out her own approach to dialogue about what’s happening in abstract painting right now.   Mari is currently working with Daniel Dove, who is moderating the third panel.  Loosely, the concept will focus on the pendulum-like shifting in art world focus on abstract verses representational painting.  Mari and Rebecca were excited about Painters Beyond Painting, we all believe it is pertinent and are curious about the idea of a “multi-lingual” painter– which seems in contrast to expectations outside of the artist.  But you are exactly right, for me this questioning comes from a more personal place.
Jill Newman, 41st and Alameda (Plugged-In), 2006 watercolor and gouache on paper 13 x 18 inches, linked

Jill Newman, 41st and Alameda (Plugged-In), 2006 watercolor and gouache on paper 13 x 18 inches, linked

I love painting.  Particularly, “painter’s paintings”.  I am also invested in a broad view of contemporary art dialogue and, in general, have a pretty conceptual approach to painting.

Of course all painting is conceptual, but I mean an approach that is more akin to the parameters and negotiations of a conceptual practice, which historically doesn’t include much painting, especially not “painter’s painting”.

I remember being in grad school at CalArts and and one professor in particular, whose opinion I truly respected and whose support meant the world to me, made a couple of comments about this rub that continue to sit in a drawer of my mind.  He said he thought I needed to make a choice, I was either a conceptual artist or I was really a painter, but I can’t be both.  He also said that my paintings were a lot more successful than the other work I was doing (sound work & installation), and I should just paint.  I was halfway through school, I abandoned my non-painting work and dove into painting, embracing and learning the particular discourse and history while trying to teach myself to paint (I had been painting like a print-maker, which I believed wouldn’t hold my interest over a life time of painting).  My thesis show contained abstract and representational painting that had a conceptual/psychological relationship.

Even though all of the work was painting, the critique was mixed.  Some supported the abstract work, others the representational, but I don’t recall any support for negotiating the two together.  Ultimately, I wanted to make paintings for people who loved painting, like me, but work in (the) realm of concrete ideas outside of painting, within painting discourse, and the intuitive all at once.  I was beginning to think it was impossible, or that I was setting myself up for failure, or maybe even self-sabotage, but its what I wanted to do, and still do.  I don’t exactly know why, but I’m still totally invested.

Jill Newman, Boat-car on Mateo, 2009 watercolor and gouache on paper 18 x 20 inches, linked

Jill Newman, Boat-car on Mateo, 2009 watercolor and gouache on paper 18 x 20 inches, linked

The rub between desire to work with painting discourse and particular ideas outside of painting continued, and after a few years out of school I allowed myself to make work in whatever medium seemed to make the most the sense for what I was thinking about, again.  Many people who visit my studio zero in on the work in a particular medium and have a hard time taking it all in as one practice.  For me, its all completely related, but I struggle with the viewer’s legibility of the relationships.  Sometimes I care about that, and sometimes I don’t, but it exists and is a challenge.

I had an embarrassing moment where I tried displaying the work of various mediums in my studio in groupings based on color, just to assist the viewer in seeing a connection! Luckily, that didn’t last long.

In a way, it comes back to the question you asked at the panel, about the pressure to work in one particular language coming from outside of the artist.  At the same time, there is much to be said about tunneling down into something and exhausting it, while allowing for some contradiction or even impulse. This is what I am consistently dancing with.

Jill Newman, Relocated Trailer, 2008 Lightjet Print 24 x 32 inches, linked

Jill Newman, Relocated Trailer, 2008 Lightjet Print 24 x 32 inches, linked

Jill Newman from the exhibition "Site as Symbol," organized by the Survey West Collaborative, a joint curatorial project of Newman and Bari Ziperstein. Pictured are Jill Newman, Flag, 2010 hand painted linen flag and an untitled work by Melissa Thorne. Survey West with additional images and essays, is linked

Jill Newman from the exhibition "Site as Symbol," organized by the Survey West Collaborative, a joint curatorial project of Newman and Bari Ziperstein. Pictured are Jill Newman, Flag, 2010 hand painted linen flag and an untitled work by Melissa Thorne. Survey West with additional images and essays, is linked

Within it all, I believe I approach all mediums like a painter and feel uncomfortable if I don’t allow myself to respond to each move that is made in a piece.  If a work is overly dictated from beginning to end, I feel dissatisfied or even robbed of making the best piece I could.  It might not be true, but I feel like that’s the painter in me.  I think that’s part of why I became a painter. The way that an artist approaches making a painting, the relationship between looking and responding seems to be a part of me, while the challenge of the weight of its history is daunting and exciting.  And mark-making in painting—I love the strange, particular and sometimes indescribable way its communicative. No other medium seems to have that particular combination—maybe the way abstract photography is approached in contemporary art, but the technology of it gets in my way and its history, while totally specific, doesn’t turn me on in the same way.

Here and below are images of "This House Has A Bright Future," a Survey West Collaborative project, linked

Here and below are images of "This House Has A Bright Future," a Survey West Collaborative project, linked


Okey dokey my friends, I’ve got a plane to catch and a wedding to attend.

There will be more discussion, additional postings and perhaps (good lord please!!!!) a few of you will be inspired to comment here by Lawson’s or Newman’s comments or by your own experience at the talk.  I’d love to draw this conversation out.

Cheery bye,

Geoff

1 Comment

  1. Geoff, I don’t remember how I stumbled upon your site, but I appreciate all of the images and effort. I used to do art trips to LA several times a year when I lived in Vegas, but since moving to DFW I haven’t been. I didn’t think I’d miss it, but you keep showing stuff that reminds me of how much is going on out there. Even when the art is bad, it’s bad at an elevated level, so at least you don’t feel insulted. And when it’s good, it can be oh so good. The Shoshone show put together by chain email is the best idea I’ve ever seen come out of that space. Good for them! Wish I could have seen it. I’ll keep checking in for more images of the art of the moment:)

    Cheers,
    Jim

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