Joe Fig Princeton Architectural Press | New York
published by Princeton Architectural Press 37 East 7th Street New York, New York 10003 For a free catalog of books, call 1-800-722-6657 Visit our website at www.papress.com © 2009 Princeton Architectural Press All rights reserved Printed and bound in China 12 11 10 09 4 3 2 1 First edition No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the publisher, except in the context of reviews. Every reasonable attempt has been made to identify owners of copyright. Errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions. All photographs © Joe Fig Pages 2–3: Inka Essenhigh (Floor Painting #1) (detail), 2007–8. Mixed media, 48 × 96 × 8 in. Pages 225–226: Inka Essenhigh: August 31, 2006 (detail), 2006. Mixed media, 11 × 11 × 9 ½ in. editor: Linda Lee designer: Paul Wagner
special thanks to: Nettie Aljian, Bree Anne Apperley, Sara Bader, Nicola Bednarek, Janet Behning, Becca Casbon, Carina Cha, Penny (Yuen Pik) Chu, Carolyn Deuschle, Russell Fernandez, Pete Fitzpatrick, Wendy Fuller, Jan Haux, Clare Jacobson, Aileen Kwun, Nancy Eklund Later, Laurie Manfra, John Myers, Katharine Myers, Lauren Nelson Packard, Dan Simon, Andrew Stepanian, Jennifer Thompson, Joseph Weston, and Deb Wood of Princeton Architectural Press—Kevin C. Lippert, publisher Library of Congress Cataloging-In-Publication Data Fig, Joe, 1968– Inside the painter’s studio / Joe Fig. p. cm. isbn 978-1-56898-852-8 (alk. paper) 1. Painting, American—21st century. 2. Painters— United States— Interviews. 3. Fig, Joe, 1968– 4. Artists’ studios in art. I. Title. nd212.7.f54 2009 759.13—dc22 [b] 2008053197
Preface Painter’s Studio : An Artist’s Questionnaire
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Gregory Amenoff Ross Bleckner Chuck Close Will Cotton Inka Essenhigh Eric Fischl Barnaby Furnas April Gornik Jane Hammond Mary Heilmann Bill Jensen Ryan McGinness Joe Fig interviews Joe Fig Acknowledgments About the artists
128 136 144 152 160 168 174 182 190 198 208 216
Julie Mehretu Malcolm Morley Steve Mumford Philip Pearlstein Matthew Ritchie Alexis Rockman Dana Schutz James Siena Amy Sillman Joan Snyder Billy Sullivan Fred Tomaselli
The Painter’s Studio : An Artist’s Questionnaire
➝ When did you consider yourself a professional artist, and when were you able to dedicate yourself full-time to that pursuit? ➝ How long have you been in this studio? ➝ Did you have a plan for the layout of your studio or did it develop organically? ➝ Has the studio location influenced your work? ➝ Please describe a typical day, being as specific as possible. For example: What time do you get up? When do you come to the studio? Do you have specific clothing you change into? ➝ Do you listen to music, the radio, or TV when you work? If so what, and does it affect your work? 10
➝ What kind of paints do you use? ➝ How long have you had your painting table, and how did you decide how to set it up? ➝ Do you have any special devices or tools that are unique to your creative process? ➝ Are there specific items here that have significant meaning to you? ➝ Do you work on one project at a time or several? ➝ When you are contemplating your work, where and how do you sit or stand? ➝ How often do you clean your studio, and does it affect your work? ➝ How do you come up with titles? ➝ Do you have assistants? ➝ Did you ever work for another artist, and if so, did that have any effect on the way you work? ➝ Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by? ➝ What advice would you give a young artist that is just starting out? 11
Gregory Amenoff: March 28, 2006 2006, Mixed media, 11 × 11 × 9.5 inches
Gregory Amenoff Chelsea, New York City March 28, 2006
When did you consider yourself a professional artist, and when were you able to dedicate yourself full-time to that pursuit? In 1971. I graduated from college in 1970. In 1971 I finished teaching elementary school for a year in Wisconsin—which I did just to make a little money—and I literally declared myself a professional artist. With no qualifications whatsoever, I moved east to New York and began painting as though I knew what I was doing. And then I pursued that continuously into the present, initially with odd jobs—hauling Sheetrock, having a sign company, and doing other things to make a living—then with, you know, gaps where I was able to sell work and pursue painting full-time. How did it come about that you were able to start doing it full-time? I began showing at a gallery in Boston, the Nielsen Gallery, in 1974 or ’75. Expenses were low, and even a couple sales of a drawing here and there or a painting would tide me over for several months. So I was able to pay my meager rent and survive fairly easily. And then how long have you been in this studio? This studio I’ve been in for eleven years. When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically? Well, I had the space divided with my loft mate who has the lion’s share of the space, and he wanted to be in the back, and I wanted to be in the front. I needed a storage area and fourteen hundred feet in order to function. So it was fairly straightforward, nothing fancy. Has the location of your studio influenced your work in any way? Well, this studio I got at the very, very beginnings of Chelsea, and I had no idea— as none of us did—what Chelsea was going to become [over five hundred galleries located within ten city blocks]. So, it is kind of interesting to be convenient to Chelsea, but that’s a plus and minus too. I probably don’t go into the heart of Chelsea any more than I would if my studio was in dumbo [Brooklyn] or Harlem. 14
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It does make it convenient for groups, collectors, and so forth to bring people by because of the proximity to the center of the New York art world. For most of my time in New York, I was on Canal Street just above TriBeCa on the West Side, and I think that had more of an influence because I was on the [Hudson] River. Having a studio on the river, I think, made a big difference to me just in terms of feeling expansive. I’m not a particularly urban person—although I’ve lived here for twenty-six years, I still consider myself somewhat rural as I’m from a small town. So any glimpse of the space outside of New York, even if it’s New Jersey, feels like a real experience. Can you describe a typical day? And be as specific as possible. Well, my typical day has changed a good deal over the last twenty-five years. I have a lot more responsibilities, both professional and personal, than I used to have. A typical day involving the studio—once I shake off the responsibilities of getting my kids to school and running whatever errands I need to run: I come down to the studio around nine thirty or ten. I pick up an iced coffee, and I come in and sort of putter around a bit. I don’t really jump on the painting right away. I usually try to clean up a little, take a look at emails maybe for a few minutes, try to catch up on a few things in my life business-wise, and then put on my Tyvek suit, my gloves, and walk over and address whatever disaster I have on the wall from the last time I was here. And I usually feel fortunate if it is a disaster because I know what I need to do. And I poke back and forth between one or two paintings over the course of the day, and usually I’m interrupted by the phone more times than I care to admit. I try to put out some fires at Columbia [University] where I teach. I speak to my wife four or five times about things I can’t quite determine [laughs] and go back to painting. Order some lunch. Have it delivered. Make a few more phone calls and then go back to work. I never believe artists who say they work for eight or ten hours at a stretch. I think I work for three or four hours. If I get four good hours in of solid “standing in front of the painting and working” I consider myself lucky. That’s the actual work time—when I’m not sitting around looking at it, reading the paper, reading a book—when I’m actually in front of the painting. So I don’t have any comfortable chairs in my studio. If I get tired, I lie on the floor and take a quick nap, but for the most part, I just like to be standing right in front of a painting working. I’ll occasionally turn off the phone. Then around five thirty, I drive home. I pick up food at Citarella and go home and cook a meal for my family. I drink too much wine and then go to bed. Is that specific enough? [laughs] That’s very specific. That’s great. And do you listen to music, the radio, or tv when you’re working, and does that affect your work? After 9/11 I have tended to occasionally turn on the television for the news. I listen to npr most of the time. I do listen to music, mostly Bob Dylan, and of late I’ve been listening to books on tape. I find that to be a really great way to lose consciousness in the studio, to let decisions get made without necessarily fixating on them, and to remove myself from the secular world around me—the 16
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telephone, worries, all those issues. So the books on tape take me away into another world—be it nonfiction, Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt  about how Shakespeare became Shakespeare, or a Paul Auster novel, The Book of Illusions —I’m just thinking about things I’ve listened to recently that take me to a world. And because they’re long—they will span over the course of four or five days or a week of working—they really create a continuity with a painting. Years ago I used to listen to talk radio, and it also did the same thing. But with the advent of the Republicans, it’s too upsetting to me. So I listen to books on tape, Bob Dylan, npr, Lenny Lopate. That’s my day. I can’t work in silence. I have to have something on. I go insane if it’s quiet. What kind of paints do you use? I am a real devotee of Bob and Martha Gamblin. I really like their paints. They’re not too stiff like Old Holland, and they have no filler. I like their colors, I like their pigments, I like the family, I like what they do. They support a lot of interesting things, and they’re friends of mine. Of all the high-quality oil paints, I find it’s the easiest to work with. It’s not sloppy like some cheaper brands. It’s not so overly dense that you have to break it down. I’m a fairly impulsive painter, and I don’t like to have to unpack an Old Holland or a Blockx paint where I have to break it down. The only difference is they have a little more oil in the paint. The colors are great, they’re constantly inventing new colors, and I’ve settled on it. I think it’s a very good product. It’s tested well, and I like the ancillary products that they make. The alkyd mediums are a great boon to artists now: they don’t yellow and are much more reliable than the old formulas, which are outdated and will damage your paintings. Damar varnish and so forth have too much linseed oil. Tradition out the window! The new tradition is much more interesting to me. And then your painting tables, you have two of them. How long have you had them, and how did you decide to set them up and set up your painting configuration? gregory amenoff
Yeah, I’ve always had the set up I have now. I like to work in a slot where I’m in a space between two tables. On one side [the left] I keep the brushes and the cups—and I work with cups, I don’t use a palette, I mix paint in cups, and I have for years—and the solvents to clean the brushes and any tools that I use, such as scrapers and palette knives. And on the other side [the right] I keep all the paint and mediums. So I move back and forth between the two, grabbing brushes, cleaning brushes, and moving from one side to the other. I stay in motion that way, and I have to pass by the painting every time I do that. So I’m really set up that way, I’ve always had two tables. And then I use the wall. The wall is very important to test colors and to wipe off the colors I don’t like. The wall becomes sort of a sight of activity, so all the walls I’ve ever had become these incredibly corroded, bumpy, barnacled surfaces. So it’s a little frustrating. I wish I was a neater painter, but I’m not, and that’s the way it is. I try to keep the neatness on the painting and keep the mess on the tables and the brushes. I don’t use expensive brushes—I’m much too careless. Brushes are just things I buy, and I buy them again when they wear out. And I’ll buy a few hundred dollars worth of brushes, use ’em up, throw ’em out a year later or a couple of years later, and then buy ’em again. I’m very practical about materials. I don’t have any religion about, you know, maintaining things. I just want to get on with it. And then the tables, how long have you had them individually? Well, the main table is the one where my paints are, and I think I took that tabletop from my old studio in New York—so that would be going back twenty-five, twenty-six years. I’ve only really moved studios once in New York. The corrosion and the buildup of paint has really taken place probably over the last ten or twelve years. Are there specific items here that have significant meaning to you? Most of the objects that have meaning go back a long way. They probably go back thirty-five years. I have some tools that I started out with when I used to work 18
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in wax and when I worked extremely heavy with impasto. I’ve managed to keep those with me as sort of talismans of times gone: that was a palette knife and that was a paring knife—they are totally encrusted with paint. There are other things that I really care about as sentimental reminders of how I used to work and of the romance that I felt about painting when I was younger. I think I used to feel more romantic about my paint table. Everybody has their own little romance about their own practice, but after all these years, some of that romance has sort of fallen away, and I’m not as romantic about it, but it is part of what I do. For some reason, I’ve always had a hatchet, I don’t know why. [laughs] I’ve had this hatchet since I was very young, and I can tell you when I was younger and more impetuous than I am now, if a painting was going particularly poorly, it found its way into the wall and occasionally found its way into a painting. But that is one of my relics and why I keep it here...It’s a little threatening, isn’t it, to have a hatchet? And then do you have any tools, aside from those tools that are sort of objects, tools that are unique to your creative process? The only tools that I really use...I’m very fond of filbert brushes because you can draw with them, paint with them, and they’re great for gestures. Those are my favorite brushes; they’re long and thin. And the only tools that I really use seriously and I buy all the time are various kinds of putty knives for scraping things out. I don’t sand, and for scraping and creating different kinds of surfaces— more faceted surfaces more like what one would use a palette knife for—I like something a little more muscular. I do buy commercial paint scrapers, which you’d scrape an old beam with, and I occasionally will strip—mostly paintings on wood panels—back a long way if they’re getting way out of control or scrape a shape out if I’m really sculpting a new form in a painting. Those are the main tools. Do you work on one painting at a time or several?
I used to work on one painting at a time and generally speaking that’s still true, but I often have two or three remnants of things going at once. Then how often do you clean your studio, and does that have any effect on your work? Well, about every month or so I just flip out about how filthy it is, but I rarely do it myself. I usually have somebody come in and do it. Just have them clean the brushes, organize everything. It makes me feel like I’m starting fresh. They’ll paint the wall white where I work so I can see what I’m working on. When you’re contemplating your work, where do you sit or stand? I just sit in the middle, back about twenty feet. I used to have a rocking chair here that I sat in, but I gave it to my wife after the last baby. So I sit in a [different] chair, and I look at it. Mostly, I think about the paintings right when I come in and when I’m leaving. And I try to stay up and engaged, and stand somewhere in the middle right between the speakers. How do you come up with titles? When I was younger I used to spend hours thinking of titles. In fact I used to joke that sometimes I spent more time thinking of titles than I did making paintings. I took the whole process so incredibly seriously, and at some point it just became weary. I wearied of the process. So I’ve done a number of paintings where I’ll set up a title that will be an umbrella for a whole group, something as generic as View # X, Y, Z or View #54 or View #55. I always thought Diebenkorn1 was lucky, it was always Ocean Park this, Ocean Park that. I kind of thought, ok let’s get on with it. I don’t have time to render an emotional register for every single thing I do, which by all accounts I wish I could. So I’ve had these groups of ideas—Portal, View, Stand—various images that I liked that are very simple, that I can attach numbers to. I’m trying to keep it very simple . . . it’s not easy. I steal from Dylan. Whenever I hear phrases that I like, I write them down and eventually use them: “fair nature’s light,” “keen is the frost,” you know, those kinds of expressions. Those are both from Dylan songs. I find them very poetic and simple descriptions of conditions. I’ll occasionally, with bigger works, spend more time. Do you have assistants? I have people come in a few times a month but nobody regular. I have in the past. In the old days I used to when I did a lot of really big paintings. Did you ever work for another artist? Never. I didn’t know any artists when I was young. I was the only artist I knew. Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by? That’s interesting. I never thought of it—a motto or a creed—I mean I have some very deeply held beliefs about how artists function in the world and what our responsibility is, and I take those things very seriously. If there were three or four tenets they would be: I think that it is very important that artists support other artists, and one can do that in a number of ways. When you’re younger, you’re part of a community; when you’re older, you can create opportunities for younger artists, and I do a lot of that kind of work. I think that artists have 20
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1. Richard Diebenkorn (1922– 1993), American. He is identified with the Bay Area Figurative Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. His later works, known as the Ocean Park paintings, were generally based on aerial landscapes and the view from his studio.
a responsibility to work as fiercely as they can in their studios in exchange for the privilege of making things that the world doesn’t necessarily ask for. I think artists should be engaged in the world in other ways outside of their artwork— politically, socially, not necessarily through their artwork, but just as citizens. I don’t much believe in the hermit artist, in other words. And I believe in some overall sense of, you know, generosity of spirit in the work that gets transmitted, hopefully to the audience. Those are my tenets. And lastly, what advice would you give the young artist that is just starting out? Yeah, I have a lot of advice—probably too much. But the art world’s changed a lot, and I understand that. Mostly, I believe in the fraternity and sorority of artists supporting each other and creating opportunities for each other. I think that [relationship] is time-tested and continues to happen despite the heavy mercantile art world. I think that’s really what it’s about. I think you should hang out with other artists, support each other. Create opportunities for each other. Form collectives. Rent spaces. Have shows. Don’t wait around for the dealers and the curators to come to you. Create opportunity that brings them to you. Stay away from art fairs. Hang out at museums and look at old art. Keep your studio separate from the art business—what happens outside of the studio is the art business, what happens in the studio is your work—the art business is a business, so it’s good to keep that distinct. Try to think in the long-term, which is pretty hard to do if you’re successful when you’re young. It’s hard to understand how things change and how the art world is structured, but I think you have to think in the longer-term and make allowances for that. Understanding that whatever success you have, or whatever lack of success you have, all things will change if you stay at it. A body of work that may have a lot of success may lead to a body of work that won’t. Continue with your artwork distinct from that and find a way to survive. I believe very much in the power of artwork to not necessarily change the world but to create glimpses of transformation on a personal level, and I think artists are extremely important in the mix of things. I’m not naive; I don’t believe that my painting is going to change the brutality in Iraq. But it’s a look into a world that could perhaps exist. It provides another kind of tonic in opposition to the kind of brutality and violence that we have around us. Is that an answer?
Ross Bleckner 2007 (detail) 2007, Mixed media, 23 Ă— 60 Ă— 40 inches
Published on Sep 19, 2011
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