Sheryl Oppenheim interviews painter Tess Bilhartz whose exhibition Purple Nights was recently on view at Arts + Leisure, New York.
Bilhartz remarks: Narrative is something that I’ve always been interested in. I read a lot of fiction and movies and dramas, but I never really found a way to make it a part of my work. One of the things that I really fell in love with about that project [collborative film project with Holly Veselka] was that it suddenly freed me up to bring in everything that I had ever been interested in and it throw it at one project. And I think this work [Purple Nights] really comes out of that. That collaborative project helped me to see a way forward as a painter."
Callander comments: "I’m not a certain-minded or directed painter but I am a confident painter. In other words, I never really know what I’m doing but am confident I’ll be able to find my way in the end. This kind of uncertainty allows for richly painted surfaces. I scrape, sand, wipe, scratch my paintings – subtracting paint happens about as often as adding paint. In moments of frustration I also spit on them, step on them or smear food into them so that they don’t shut me out. That sounds weird but there’s a strange control dynamic that painters know about and deal with in different ways. There comes a point when the painting starts talking back and telling you what it needs to be finished. That’s a dangerous time because doors start closing, avenues of discovery and spontaneity disappear. And one can just proceed on the easiest path towards completion – the one they have trod before. I detest that feeling and so fight to be open to a painting flipping to completion in an instant."
Rubenstein observes: "The depiction of power, though its presence is immaterial, has been a source of fascination for painters since, well, there has been painting. Michalangelo, David, Rembrandt, Benglis, Golub, Kruger, and Longo come to mind. Schor plays with the relationship of the figure, immense and monolithic, against the ground, delicate and ephemeral. ... Like Picasso, in his last self-portrait (Self-Portrait Facing Death, 1972), Schor gives us a schematic depiction of time at work. The Mangaaka figures which were the catalyst for this group may have had talismatic properties for their creators, but for the contemporary artist, Schor seems to ask, does art still have that power? Schor’s drawings are meditations on time and aging, and on the power of art to transform and transcend the temporal."
Greenwold comments: "I'm a formalist... I still feel like my language is essentially a formalist language, essentially a language of abstraction because my paintings I feel are very much abstractions; they're not narratives from my point of view. They're not telling a story because paintings can't tell stories as far as I'm concerned... figurative paintings in the history of art notwithstanding, I feel paintings is what Bacon said it was: 'a moment trapped.' ... I wouldn't be able to tell you what this painting's about specifically, because it really isn't about anything specifically. It's more about this cacophony of stuff that's meant to be as agitated as I feel, or as complicated."
Fisher comments: "I think one of the most interesting questions in a painting practice is how to be simultaneously of the present in the work and at the same time speak to a well-articulated lineage. This binary is at the core of painting, as it is essential to develop the ability to move fluidly through an ascetic relationship to influence and an immersion with in it... Work that relies on thematic concerns of an era can be limited in its consideration of the universal. Painters such as Morandi have the most revolutionary of paintings as they function outside of their epoch of making. They function on a level that is outside of dichotomy. While polemical modes of argument are useful as a way to amplify distinctions within a range of considerations, a painting is not an opinion on a scale, it is an ineffable investigation which is a result of an engagement with simultaneous phenomena. Abstraction is both a structure and a language and does not negate representation, rather it is at its core."
Ray writes: "In the best paintings, like Alphie (2015), Larsen’s descriptive economy feels expansive rather than reductive... Unusual perspectives in Alphie and Punch (2016) reinforce the mood of selective engagement by shifting the viewer’s perceived distance to foreground and background, mirroring the wandering focus of inattention... The warping of space produces a sensation of empathy heightened by distance; the image seems to reach us from this woman’s perspective, as if from the inside out, as she dreams the scene, perhaps including the viewer. This reversal of emphasis has an intuitive logic that recalls Cézanne’s views of Mont Sainte-Victoire, where the distant mountain feels closer and more important to the painter than the ground."
Witkowski writes: "Mernet Larsen maintains a sense of human relationships among her depicted characters. Larsen’s constructed worlds are not measured attempts to categorize or create various types. Her character’s faces speak of individuality and are immersed in every-day activities. Their rigid, architectural shapes suggest a ‘built’ origin, not unlike built environments, but with a consciousness."
Robb remarks: "Drawing is essential to me; I use it as a means of investigation. I use it to probe. I draw when I have a structural/formal painting problem and I draw from observation to collect specific information for a painting, so I draw a lot. I don’t draw for aesthetic reasons, but I’ll discard a drawing that doesn’t work aesthetically because I can’t bear to look at it."
Mansdorf comments: "I often want a tension between formal elements such as form, light, color and other elements that are more subjective and psychological. I guess the Freudian part is the psychological aspect of the painting. The Kantian part is the formal part... When you’re doing figure painting, one way is to paint the model as a kind of objectified form where the model sits and poses for you and you’re treating them a bit like a still life object. Once you move away from that and become concerned with creating activity in the painting, a social world, a contextual space, a psychological tension develops in the painting. It is inevitable in some ways and, as the painter, you have to manage the dynamic that is coming into being. You are starting to create artifice. Some people call this narrative. Many observational painters are uncomfortable making that leap–they feel it is dishonest somehow. I am not interested in a really overt narrative. I find it too confining. But I am interested in creating metaphors and relationships between things that are not simply formal."
Yau writes: "These are Bradford’s “Deluge” paintings — that’s what I mean by breakthrough. She has done something unforeseen — the envisioning of an all-consuming catastrophe of biblical proportions. She is not only updating Guston’s own take on a subject that stretches as far back as Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of cataclysmic storms, done in the last decade of his life, but she is also gaining parity with him, endowing these new works with a particular gravitas that wasn’t always apparent in the earlier work. Bradford has transformed the whimsical into the catastrophic, its polar opposite, without losing her offhand humor."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.