The reticence of the artist / the anticipation of the questioner. Mario Correa and Geoff Tuck
November 29, 2012
Hey Geoff. Good to see you at LACMA last night. I wanted to let you know that I’ve got a show up at Redling Fine Art through Dec. 22. It’s so good to see Notes on Looking is going strong. I hope this finds you very well.
November 29, 2012
It was great seeing you! Really great, in fact. I just left Redling Fine Art. I like the show a lot. I’m really interested in connections I see to previous bodies of work. I’m curious to talk with you. Can we get together sometime?
November 29, 2012
Hi Geoff. Thanks for seeing the show. Getting together would be great. Evenings and weekends are easiest but I could make time on a weekday with some notice as well. Next weekend is open as far as I know.
December 1, 2012
In anticipation of our meeting next Saturday, I wonder if we can begin our discourse now, and by email? Honestly, but for the fact that I was with a friend, and we were looking at other shows around town, I would have responded with questions to your initial message to me. Ideas came to me even while I was looking at your work in Erica’s!
We spoke on the phone today of the history of your work, and more specifically you pointed out how much I have witnessed. Life is good; I am very lucky to have so often been present.
During our phone conversation my mind went to the first painting of yours I recall seeing, at Acuna-Hansen in Chinatown (in 2001/2). The surface of this painting was figured (patterned possibly like the sole of a tennis shoe?), I recall it being grey, and matte finish. Chris (Acuna-Hansen) told us about Mario (you) as a skateboarder, and I remember that the perspective in the work felt canted and low, as though from a skater’s pov, near to the ground and leaning into a curve. I think this ptg was on panel, or, more correctly, on two panels. Before I forget – this was an awesome painting, Mario, as was its mate in that early visit to the gallery office. The painting was taciturn and masculine, and I was aware of it physically. There was an erotic sense about it too, or so I felt. Also, the painting made me think, not by telling me things, not so much through language, but by demonstration. This body sense has continued in your work.
Many things happened in my head on the several times I visited that ptg. The surface of it seemed very important: instead of first paying attention to a ‘picture,’ I found myself focusing on that surface. Except… the paint was not thick and figured, in fact it may have been a thin layer on the panel which itself had been shaped; so my mind slipped back and forth between the surface of your ptg, and the area – the space – between the sole of a shoe and the surface of the ground. A negligible area perhaps, but on it is written our history, our personal histories – not the grand arc of History and Narrative, but a story of the endurance of individuals.
While my friend and I were in Redling seeing The Muslins exhibition, Lucy (Lucy Campana – Redling Fine Art Director) pulled up images from Mas o Menos (Correa’s second solo exhibition with Redling Fine Art, in 2010), the press release for which I just reread. The Neruda quote you use in it is beautiful, and its references to work, labor, the effort of conveyance; walking, walking upon, walking on(ward) feel so present in the work you showed then (and these concerns remain in the new work).
“It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable burdens, sacks from the coal bins, barrels, and baskets, handles and hafts for the carpenter’s tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth, like a text for all troubled lyricists. The used surfaces of things, the wear that the hands give to things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things – all lend a curious attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be underprized.
In them one sees the confused impurity of the human condition, the massing of things, the use and disuse of substances, footprints and fingerprints, the abiding presence of the human engulfing all artifacts, inside and out.
Let that be the poetry we search for: worn with the hand’s obligations, as by acids, steeped in sweat and smoke, smelling of lilies and urine, spattered diversely by the trades that we live by, inside the law or beyond it.”
Toward An Impure Poetry – Pablo Neruda1
I recall walking on wood blocks that made some of the unique prints in the exhibition Mas o Menos, and feeling (once again) an awareness of that negligible space at the ground. In that exhibition, the space between was inhabited by my physical presence (which came between the wood blocks of making and the art on the wall) and, because I’m a susceptible type, I understood this physical fact emotionally, I felt it.
I’m abandoning chronology now and wondering about the second show at A-H. The boxer paintings. First, how does the moment of impact for a boxer relate to the moment a shoe hits a floor? Was this in your mind? I recall these paintings being stretched canvases. Am I mis-recollecting your work in thinking that most often you do not use that traditional, or normative manner of support?
As I keep suggesting, I feel a consistency to your work over time, and by revisiting past exhibitions we may find several ways to talk about the work in The Muslins.
While I did not ask you any questions, I am hopeful what I’ve written offers you some way in, and allows you to respond. Let me know if you can work with this.
December 6, 2012
Hi Geoff. Sorry for the late reply.
The paintings you’ve referred to first are (urban and suburban) landscape paintings. They are skate spots. The paintings are photo-based, I gathered images from skateboard magazines and videos, the photos are wide-angled, taken by skateboard photographers, on skateboards themselves, tracking alongside the featured skater as he navigates the terrain of stairs, ledges, and handrails. For the paintings I removed the figure and painted the fish-eye scene in a hard-edge manner, the lines and curves of the distorted perspective of the architecture made for some dynamic op-ish compositions, pushing a line between abstraction and representation. The shoe print was an all-over device used to give the super flat treatment of the surface some texture or material substance, as well as to reference the horizontal nature of spaces (and act of skateboarding) the pictures depict. The panels were also fit together in a jigsaw manner, lines running through the composition were chosen to further break up the pictorial window… As I write this I have to laugh at how packed these things were, I wanted them to do so many things at once! Now I try to keep a painting at one or two things.
The boxing ring paintings are another photo-based series, and like the skate spot paintings the figure is removed. My initial interest in the boxing rings was their geometry; I liked the idea of making (nearly) abstract paintings while remaining (nearly) representational of a scene. I remember being pleased with the tension of these scenes despite economical way they were painted. They were stretched canvas, a new thing for me at the time, but I liked the play between the canvas of the ring and the surface of a painting.. A hokey kind of pun (that I also made with the skate spot paintings, as they were made of maple plywood, the same material of a skateboard deck), but one that I hoped was made peculiar enough to operate in an interesting way, also it served as another acknowledgement to the horizontal plane. The exhibitions Ducks and Drakes, Mas o Menos and The Muslins demonstrate a shift I’ve made from what to paint, to how to paint. I began to investigate subjectivity in mark making and explore process-based strategies.
I think I’ll pick up from there tomorrow or Friday. Looking forward to Saturday. M
December 7, 2012
Hey Geoff. I’m sorry but I won’t be able to continue onto the next bodies of work via email, I’d be happy to do it after our meeting if you’d like the text. We can start our conversation from there if you like. These last two days have gotten away from me. I’m looking forward to our meeting. Mario
December 8, 2012
Mario, do not worry. Everything works. I’ll see you at 11:00.
December 10, 2012
I’m going over Saturday’s conversation in my mind, as well as reviewing my experiences over the years with your work, and I’m trying to develop, well – a line of reasoning is the closest way I can express it. I’ve noted in the past that talking with an artist about their work, and indeed looking at that work, are similar to learning language. So what I hope for isn’t so much a narrative thread, but something like a grammar, a structure and a set of tools that allow our mutual exploration to be of your work, and not of my ideas about your work. I forget how hard it is to do this. (And, in retrospect, I seriously doubt my ability to change my focus from me as the viewer…)
You describe your first two publicly exhibited bodies of work as being photographically based, speaking now of the skateboard paintings from your Grad show (as well as your first commercial gallery show), and the subsequent Guinness Book paintings (which have not been shown, save for an open studios event in 20xx). Both sets of images were culled from commercial sources, one which is nearly ubiquitous (the general purpose reference to world records) and the other (skateboarding) is specialized but still popular; it is likely that both the Guinness Book of World Records and skate ‘zines can also be characterized as populist. So rather than capture or depict a particular scene, for which I’d think one might take one’s own pictures, were you going for a feeling? What did these bodies of work share in terms of what they convey? A thing I note is action: skateboarding is solo physical sport stripped of gear. You need only a body, a covering, a board, and wheels, plus attitude. Hmm. The Guinness Book challenges are often solo as well, what is there in this? Mano a universo?
It strikes me that when you dropped photography as a tool of depiction, then the making of your paintings began to resemble photography, or better said, you often use printing techniques. These have more in common with photography than either do with painting, at least until Warhol. Who figures to you as precedents in this way of working?
I made note of two quotes from you, or near quotes. One relating to the ability to render, to illustrate: “Being able to draw is like having great penmanship. What does one write about?” The second isn’t really a quote, you observed that early on you became interested less in what to paint and more in how to paint, what is honest to the materials and the tools of painting. Will you tell me more about this?
I can see that this exploration and evocation of how relates, especially in your work in The Muslins, which engages me deeply in a conversation about your act (action again!) of making AND of exhibiting the work. Your own labor as a craftsman is demonstrated in your use as woodblocks of worn out Masonite table covers from your day job furniture making. (Am I correct about the furniture? I recall woodworking.) Your body, (your physicality, or ‘the body’ in artspeak) is present in my imagination when I think of you impressing the scarred/scored Masonite image on the muslin, and this you do on the floor. (Suddenly I’m getting a flash of life drawing, of that bête noir of yours, rendering. For isn’t great life drawing and painting the exquisite depiction of the way that muscles move under the flesh? And haven’t you done this in The Muslins? Or, rather, let me assure you that you have. Looking at these new, loosely hung paintings I picture in my mind shoulders – muscles and bone – pushing as the image grabs hold, and as the fabric sometimes slips between two smooth surfaces; I can feel how my stomach muscles would tighten, and my knees become sore, on the ground, making. This totally reminds me of paintings and statues by old masters and the Greeks that make my body move because I can feel the rendering so. Damn! Well done. Looking at the images online I did not expect this, but looking at the paintings, at their fluttering presence, at the curiously diaphanous fact of them – the very delicacy of these paintings belies and at the same time evokes the strength necessary for their creation.)
If we can consider your focus on how as granting some authorship to your tools and materials, then this authorship continues into the gallery. As you note in the press release, the paintings “are made upright by the walls they hang on.” In conversation you mentioned the work of Bob Law as being of the context for these works. To my mind his earlier work was a bit autonomous, it stood apart and yet through simplicity the paintings incorporated the space into their sphere; your own paintings seem rather honest in evidencing, declaring their need for support. Physical support. This feels political to me, and here I may be imposing my own vision onto yours (ha, in a double seeking for support!). I feel like now is not a time of strong men wrestling alone with blank canvas… to craft some singular message, it seems rather a time of sharing and of community. Not to say the paintings aren’t yours, or that what I write is not mine, but to acknowledge that you in your studio, and me at my desk, are joined when we work by the larger social group on whom we draw: teachers, friends, artists who inspire us, people and structures who host our work, etc. Does this resonate with you? (I know I just ‘painted’ in broad strokes, and for sure my question is weighted in its own favor. Tell me if what I put forward has no presence here.)
I look forward to more!
December 16, 2012
Mario, I just saw the paper. Congratulations on Christopher Knight’s review! It is well deserved. (Link to Christopher Knight’s review in the LA Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/dec/14/entertainment/la-et-cm-mario-correa-redling-fine-art-20121211)
December 19, 2012
Hey Geoff, thanks! I’ll have some time over the weekend to respond to your last email. Hope you’re well. Talk soon. M
December 23, 2012
I hate to get ahead of myself in our conversation, but on Friday I felt the need to revisit your show and to address your works of art as objects. I took some notes. I have been getting so far into my head with our conversation, and I want to return to the work, to the subject of our looking and your making.
Can you tell me again about your decisions relating to the formal organization of the paintings? I recall that you attribute much to chance – is this correct?
I wonder too about the titles, is Claveles y Martillos a reference to the writing of Pablo Neruda? To the love sonnets? As we discussed, you quoted Neruda extensively in the press release for Mas o Menos. This is an ongoing conversation you seem to be having with Neruda; what about his writing speaks to you and how does your experience with his literature inform your work? Carnations and hammers, I suppose this could also refer to romance and to labor, which again makes me think of Neruda, who, for all the intricacy of his ideas, states them in plain language, in approachable language. I think he didn’t try to hide much of his means in crafting his stories and poems.
I also keep coming across your work, your job in the titles. Rise and Run for the Stringer is clearly about crafting a staircase, I think… are the particular pieces of masonite used in printing this painting derived from such a task at your work? As a completely off the wall observation, I know that Olga Koumoundouros has been working on a staircase piece, or perhaps a banister sculpture. I saw part of this sculpture in Olga’s studio early this year when I visited with Karen Lofgren, her studio mate. Without trying to force a direct connection between your work and hers, the two practices do share a questioning of labor, and of work, and possibly of value. I feel as though we have edged around the question of value several times so far: the value of penmanship as it relates to communication in metaphoric terms; in Mas o Menos, and again in The Muslins, you draw attention to the value of physical labor, or walking and carrying, and bearing a burden; in this show I can think about your day job and also about your making of the paintings. This seems like politics of the personal to me.
Are titles a way for you to include references in the work other than to the making, to go beyond the problem of “how” and into the “what”? Can this bring psychology into the work, as well as portraiture and representation?
By the way, Mario, the perfect holes, or circles in the paintings, for instance as in Rise and Run, make wonderful moments. Returning again to photography, for me they function like Barthes’ punctum, a detail which captivates me personally and emotionally. Making a necessary pun, the holes feel whole, my eyes can encompass them in a single moment. With the lines in the paintings, even those that have sharp edges, I must follow them and so lose track of either end in my examination. Doing this causes me to slow down, and I noticed, especially in Claveles y Martillos, that the lines curve where the fabric support drapes from the corners. Is your decision to only fix the paintings to the walls at their upper corners, where the demarcating outline designates space for such support, an example of honesty in the making, of transparency of means? Would a nail at the center have been gratuitous, beside the point, and simply dishonest?
Then I see that the bottom, loose corners of the paintings curl inward toward the wall or outward toward the room, as is natural to fabric, and that the centers bulge a bit, and I think of other things that one makes using muslin: a table cloth (and considering your simple colors and your patterns based on function, probably one from the Bauhaus or other such design movements devoted to humble materials and simple hues), a simple dress of a working woman, and maybe a pattern for a fancier garment than the worker’s dress.
Your use of the CMYK colorway restates the conceptual nature of your painting practice: I think not so much of color as an experience, but of color as a representation of color.
The fabric casts beautiful shadows and their color is carried through to the wall. Hanging threads along the edges resemble, mirror and twin the strange curved shapes in the paintings that result from your printing process, where a string or a curl of fabric is caught and becomes impressed. In these places in the paintings there is a definite organic line surrounded by a printing halo. I find this effect in two paintings, Rise and Run and White Gloves Come Off; in the first the halo is of uncolored muslin and in the second, because of the layering, the originating line is blue and the halo is yellow. In fact, every foreign object that becomes caught in your human printing process gains a such a halo when printed.
Again in Claveles y Martillos the curve of the drape occurs where lines already curve, and this chance of installation and of the nature of the fabric causes a weird tweaking of my perception of perspective; this feeling is similar to the feeling of the skateboard paintings and was for me very physical. I did not intend to return to those first paintings again, but as I wrote I sat down on the bench in front of Claveles y Martillos, and my physical relationship to the new painting reminded me of first seeing the the skate painting in the office at Acuna-Hansen. Some memories are better understood with the body than the mind.
There is a Jo Baer painting on display in the permanent collection at LACMA, and you spoke of Baer during our visit. Your use of the outline in The Muslins you related to, among other things, similar moves in Baer’s Minimalist paintings, and for this reason I stopped to see the painting last week.
Then, on Friday at Redling, in a moment of looking at La Mesa Preparada I noticed how wrinkled the muslin is, and how creased, and I noticed that the bottom center this painting has a permanent fold created during the printing process, and suddenly the surface of this painting, filled as it is with color, line and incident, seems as devoid of subject as does Baer’s painting at LACMA. All is content and process. Nothing on your sheets of muslin represents anything. The enamel paint, the wrinkles, the pen line, the pattern; each is what it is and also is a record of its own application to the fabric.
Suddenly I feel like patting myself on the back. You made a statement about a lack of subject matter in your work when we first met, and I nodded my head, pretending comprehension. At the time I failed to grasp your meaning. Ha. I guess I should thank you for helping me to understand Minimalist painting!
By the way, are the holes places where eyes have been removed from the wood? But it is Masonite, isn’t it? Which doesn’t have eyes…
All the best cheers to the holidays,
Because of the translation, your title Claveles y Martillos (carnations and hammers) makes me remember seeing Lionel Bringuier conduct a performance by the LA Phil of Pierre Boulez’ Le Marteau Sans Maitre (the hammer without a master). I suppose this comparison comes under the heading of surreal art writing – not only free association but also automatic and probably nonsensical. It happens though, that as with your work, the Boulez piece is very much about its own making, too. Boulez’ Serialism provided the composer with a way to organize notes without a direct reference to aesthetics. In this sense musical Serialism is similar to painting’s Minimalism and process-based painting: Boulez would set his structure in motion and the music would follow. Boulez’ particular genius in Le Marteau was to insert moments of subjectivity into his process, thus complicating and humanizing the outcome. This relates in my mind to your placing of the body at the center of your own paintings.
February 4, 2013
Hey Geoff. I’ve got this down so far, it kind of follows some of the questions in the emails chronologically. Please let me know if more come up or if there is something that needs clarification.
The shift from photo based imagery to the more recent work, for me was a slight one. You pointed out that the photos were not taken by me, in the boxing paintings, as well as the wide-angle landscapes of the skate spots, I was interested in finding from what already exists, something that related to issues of painting. In that way the photos were more of a ready-made material. A thread through all of those paintings, including the Guinness Book work, is the solitary event/discipline/expression of those activities in relation to art practice and painting in particular, that even though these pursuits are somewhat singular, they do not exist in isolation.
I moved away from using, or depicting, photographs because I was always wrestling against the didacticism of the photographic image, or even more closed and heavy handed, the painted photographic image (some do it beautifully, Close, Richter and Polke come to mind). I found a way (or justified in my mind) to make marks and use printmaking techniques that allow me to make paintings that are out of my hands enough to be more open and not so pedagogical or authoritarian- I don’t want to be behind the painting, but in front of it like/with everyone else… I don’t think that is a neutral position. I absolutely agree that it’s a time of sharing and community rather than singular messages from canvas wrestlers (ha).
The blocks/plates used in The Muslins are first arranged somewhat randomly, four of them painted, blue, red, yellow and black, I then roll a canvas over them and press, this is then repeated so that the colors and shapes overlap. Two passes allow for chance composition, the marker line is made after the final pass, I kept the line, which was originally used to register the canvas when stretching, to maintain a squareness to the canvas since the plates are not arranged in perfect 90 degree angles, the canvas is then cut approximately 3″ from the outermost paint on each side. I hope that makes sense, it’s much less complicated than the telling.
The titles come from woodworking terms and also made from lines of Neruda. Rise and Run for the Stringer, for example, comes from making stairs, the rise is the height between treads, the run is the depth of the tread and the stringer is structural support usually made by notching out the rise and run on something like 2×12 lumber stock. The Neruda titles are from his ‘Odes to Common Things’, Claveles y Martillos comes from ‘Oda a la Mesa’ (Ode to the Table), the first line is ‘I work out my odes on a four legged table’ (hammers and carnations are among the things that get set out on Neruda’s table. I love Neruda’s simplicity, from an ode to a table, to an ode to a pair of socks, his lines are direct and full of humanity. For me, the body, labor, and gesture in painting are links to our subjectivity and humanity, they are common and communal.
February 6, 2013
Thanks so much for persevering!! I’ve uploaded our exchange so far, check it out and let me know if you wish to add anything.
February 7, 2013
I wanted to tie up some questions that were left hanging from the emails. You asked about honesty to the tools and materials, something I said in our studio visit. In the last few years I’ve developed a habit of acknowledging the tools and materials I use by allowing the process of making to be seen or deduced, I think it’s a common practice, or I feel like I see a lot of artists ‘showing the shit’, I wanted to push that with this show and collapse things a bit further, my tweak of a Nauman quote would go, ‘if I’m an artist that makes marks then all the marks I make are art’. I was always compelled by the scarred up masonite sheets I used to protect a work table, and the marks were not unlike the marks I would make in more conventional paintings. I kept them for about a year before figuring out how to use them. Erica put it very well in the press release: ‘They are about removing space: between the works and the gallery walls; between the layers of paint and the raw canvas; between Correa’s day job and his practice; between the paintings and the bookshelves, cabinets, tables, chairs, beds… that formed them.’
Though much of my recent work has utilized print making techniques, I don’t have any training or expertise in printmaking; what I like about it is it’s physicality (I print by hand) and I like to think that my naivete allows for some diy ingenuity, or wrongness in printmaking can make rightness in painting… I’ve got a group of paintings made by painting on wine bottles and then wrapping and wringing canvas over them, and another group is made by painting through a blank silk screen, the screen clogs as I go, making it’s own marks until its no longer useful. You asked who figured as precedents in this way of working, I would say Sigmar Polke, Llyn Foulkes (Foulkes’ show at the Hammer is great), and Lari Pittman were my first heroes for unconventional painting processes, then Christopher Wool was a gateway to many more… Simon Hantai and David Hammons got me thinking about prints… they all have a unique relationship to the artist’s hand, it’s there and not there.
I do find a value in labor and in painting’s relationship to the body, I think it’s the cornerstone of our receivership and understanding of the medium. It’s funny you made a connection between Olga Koumoundouros’ work and mine, I see it too, labor/work come through in very personal way in her recent projects. Olga and I have actually talked about working together on something in the near future, her work has always been very exciting to me (we were in the same class at CalArts).
To answer another question about titles, I can get personal and poetic with titles, you referenced White Gloves Come Off, it’s a little dedication to Allison Miller, a friend and an amazing painter, I thought it fit the show, she used to work as a conservator so I always had this picture of her working on paintings with white gloves at her job, then getting to the studio and taking them off to work on hers.
Link to Mas o Menos press release: http://redlingfineart.com/exhibition/mario-correa#Press_Release
Link to The Muslins press release: http://redlingfineart.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Correa-PR.pdf
Mario Correa’s exhibition The Muslins appeared at Redling Fine Art from November 2 to December 22, 2012.
Redling Fine Art website: http://redlingfineart.com/
dayoutlast website: http://dayoutlast.blogspot.com/
Partial text of Rene Char’s poem Le Marteau Sans Maitre:
The furious craftsmanship
The red caravan on the edge of the nail
And corpse in the basket
And plowhorses in the horseshoe
I dream the head on the point of my knife Peru.
Wikipedia entry for Boulez’ music: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/