Megan Liu Kincheloe

Emily Kiacz

Emily Kiacz is a painter and sculptor currently living in Brooklyn New York. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, graduating with a BFA in painting in 2009 and received a MFA in painting from Boston University in 2011. She is a current Fellow at The Corporation of Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, NY. Over the last five years she has participated in numerous exhibitions in the New York area, most recently a two-person show with Maria Walker at Cuevas Tilleard Projects.

Emily Kiacz: Compared to my previous constructions, I’ve flattened out a lot. I’ve paired down my materials to paint and wood. It feels good to set parameters, it structured this new body of work. I’ve been working with a shaped format since undergrad. The paintings I applied to grad school with were shaped.

Megan Liu Kincheloe: What do you like about working shaped?

It is part of my process, but also my subject. I sometimes feel claustrophobic working in a square format, by making my own surfaces I feel like I am building my own world.

This reminds me of that installation of smaller wall constructions (Circuit Board, 2014) at Launchpad.

I’m still interested in the space around the works and the shadows they create. With this Prism Installation I’m more engaged with painting than I was with those older constructions. I am hesitant to overwork things, but with the new work, I have been pushing myself to work out of my comfort zone. This form came from sawing a piece in half after I thought it was already finished. I would have never landed in this place had I not, I recreated the process with the others.The forms I have been working with feel visually futuristic. I have an interest in Art Deco and projected ideas of the future, in relationship to abstraction. I try to envision what a common everyday object would look through a future lens. I get caught up in the mystery and ambiguity of it. Creating an unnamable thing in a specific way is not easy. Recently, I have been referencing crop circles and UFO’S. These works are like space ships, but they’re also portholes. Looking at a painting is a type of time travel. I’m interested in abstraction invoking something unnamable, but could be a tangible thing—like a mirror or a void.

My last body of work played with a lot of sci-fi titles. That’s how I titled the show I curated for Spring Break last year—Four Sided Triangle is the name of a movie where two scientists create a duplication machine to clone a woman they are both in love with. Neither of the women ends up being in love.

Prism Installation, 2016, 96x60 inches

Sci-fi and art deco both play with future narratives differently. They’re both heavily stylized visions. Sci-fi has elaborate and specific prop detail and design, but with the same future unknowns as a hole at the center of all that information. And Art Deco seems more optimistic somehow?

I became interested in Art Deco at the same time that I began to focus more on object making. Before I had been painting interior spaces, where I depicted everyday, average life. I began to imagine what these average objects that I was so involved with would be like hundreds of years from now, if they would look the same, or like nothing familiar. I focused on personal items hats, combs, and shoes wanting to develop my own visual language, a kind of a personal iconography.

When I am making, I am immersed in my inner experience. There is a lot of joy in my work, it comes from the mental state I am in when I am the studio. I am hopeful for the future, but my mind goes to mysterious or dark places, like science fiction. Science fiction is something that I have recently been investigating, after some of my forms began to visually go in that direction. I like the campiness of older science fiction; I started watching more movies, and even went to Alien Convention in Roswell.

Interstellar Overdrive, 2016, Acrylic on shaped panel, 48x48 inches

This one looks digital.

Yeah, this one has these little pixels, made from small pieces of wood. I love the idea of very slowly making this digital image—making something virtual out of the analogue. In all of my work my hand is very present, which is really important to me. It’s part of my practice in whatever I’m involved in.

Eightbit 2, 2015, Acrylic on wood collage, 72x12 inches

They’re very modular. 

My work has become more modular I have been trying to make the work relate through negative space. One of the ways I combat this is by adding perspective. This is one of the first ones I made in this process, all of them have a lean to them. I felt they were kind of shifting and tilting through space.

While on a residency in Provincetown I started painting circular paintings to to break away from the angular mode. I never really like to get stuck. I work from body of work to body of work. I’m sensitive to my surroundings and living here in New York—everything around me is geometric. I feel like I’m also responding to the materials I use—dimensional lumber—which is also very structural . It’s baby-steps for me.

There’s so many of them.

Yeah I do a lot of works on paper—that’s how I start everything. I work faster with paper, and I am less precious with it. In Ptown I reacted to the natural setting I was in. Being around trees and the landscape, I was able to start to break away. I also did some plein air painting there, which has also been part of my practice for a while. I never really show landscape painting but I go out and do that as much as I can. It forces me to be affected by my immediate surroundings.

I recently started a collaborative project with my mom. I’ve been sending her drawings and fabric and she’s been turning them into hooked rugs. I took them to the Detroit Art Book fair, they were well received. It’s been cool to collaborate with her—working together matching the colors and sourcing the materials. We are making a whole series.

Studio installation 

That breaks the hard geometry very directly—seeing them in soft pliable forms.

Totally, and they have a completely different surface too. I like the fact that they’re on the floor.

How does the color operate like that? Because with these the painted effect here is very much like radiant light.

They translate well. They have that luminosity too because her and I really painstakingly picked out the colors. And some of the colors are cashmere, which absorbs dye in a special way. We source colors and materials from clothes too. I was just home in Ohio and we went through all the colors and I numbered them like a paint by number.

Blush Blaze, 2016, Acrylic on panel, 24x24 inches

How does she feel about it?

She’s excited about it. I sold some of our first rugs at the book fair. She had never sold one of her rugs before so I think she was really energized by that. I had the idea to collaborate on the residency. I was trying think about what I wanted for the future, I really wanted to connect with my mom creatively.

Recently, I’ve been interested in rainbows and begun doing some research. I just made a rainbow book that I also brought to the fair. This is the prototype.

What research?

A couple months ago I had an epiphany. I was on Instagram and there was a rainbow in Manhattan, and my entire feed was all rainbows. Across the board, everyone I knew—not just artists—were posting the rainbow. There is something magical about them and they are puffy in painting—like it’s taboo to paint them. Then I started looking at rainbow paintings and there are a lot of good rainbow paintings like Balthus, The Mediterranean Cat. I realized that I make rainbows. It’s just this shaped color in space and I feel like that’s what my work really is. They are here and they are gone, ephemerality is something I am drawn to. I am on a new quest.

I remember you telling me that you took a trip to Las Vegas especially to look at the neon lights.

I went all over Vegas to see neon lights. I visited a neon graveyard there. It was all old lights from the strip piled together. Some of them still work and they turn them all on for you just for a second. I love neon— a radiant object, it hypnotizes me. And that’s effect I try to achieve with color—to achieve luminosity or a glow. It’s how I know a piece is finished. I am able to achieve it with these pieces specifically by not priming them—I let the wood shine through. But if for some reason I do overwork it, I paint it black and am able to achieve the same effect. You can’t tell that the works were black at one time, but I start from a black ground. It’s a strange way of working.

Spaceways, 2015, Acrylic on shaped panel, 33x24 inches

Yeah I would think the opposite: a white ground to achieve that sense of light.

I gesso it black and build the structure of the painting in white, the color comes last.

You tend to assert a lot of energy to the edges—creating borders and subdividing the complex shapes into more basic shapes.

That was something I was interested in: painting on every plane, making the viewer walk around the work. I want the divisions to wrap all the way around and have them be even more segmented.

The linear segments cutting the tall works bring totems to mind.

Yeah, people call them columns or refer to them as pillars. I like that they reference a lot of things. Sometimes I think of them as walking sticks.

Leaning pieces are a form I’ve stuck to for awhile. I think the first ones I made were for the winter rooftop show you curated a couple years ago. I was trying to work out how to make my work more sculptural, I didn’t know where to start. I settled on an in-between by having them lean against the wall—but my first thought was that they should have legs. My first leaning works were roughly the same height as me. I still think of them as anthropomorphic or self-portraits, they are more figurative than my other work.

Shifting Sands 1&2, 2016, Acrylic on shaped panel, 96x40 inches

They conduct the wall space between. Or relating them together makes them even more anthropomorphic somehow—have a dynamic together.

I’m am currently at Yaddo working on two foot square panels, I made before coming. There is so much space and light in my studio it is nice so see all of the shapes relating to each other. This body of work feels more personal than other that I have worked on previously. I have been trying to focus in on ideas of transience and rainbows, I’ll see where I land. 


For more information about Emily check out her website or instagram

Additional Images:

Nicholas Shindell

Nicholas Shindell received his MFA in painting from Boston University in 2011. Nick creates odd, lush paintings loosely derived from a collection of wooden folk dolls he uses as models. Between marks that construct the painted faces framing expanses of pooling painted grounds, the work takes a close attention to surface and a curiosity to the physical properties of paint to their logical end.

Some people have of a lot anxiety about seeing figuration in painting. I think these are tough to deal with, but they should be. That’s a bigger challenge. I never knew how to use figuration to develop anything new. Since people don’t think figuration is fresh, people would say things like that to me. I always thought that was a lot to ask, but finally found what I want to be doing with it, which is to just let it be a lot more mysterious than having to find ideas about it.

You start each painting with these grounds built in layers of transparent paints. They have this mysterious sense of deep space, but also exist right on the surface. Or you do things to reassert the surface like with this one with the paint splatters.

Yeah, I dripped into it—both layers wet. This was dry. I have a background making stuff like this. I could’ve developed it into a form I appreciate, but now I just think of it as an amateur, affected way of making like a splatter painting. It’s canned abstraction like something you’d see on the wall in a TV show.

In the last Steven Seagal movie my roommate and I watched, I’m think there was a Wolf Kahn, and also there was definitely a Frank Stella in it. I think the coolest movie that featured art was in Batman 1: The Joker (1989). He goes around smashing art in the museum—Do you remember that? But when he sees a Francis Bacon, he says, “I kinda like this one,” and so he leaves it alone.

What do you like about starting with this kind of place—with ‘amateur painting’ or that sort of pose?

I don’t know what has to happen next, but something will eventually come to mind. I guess what it does is throw a wrench into it, and keep there from being a preassigned process. It can end with something that is a formula, but was never like a recipe.

You said that you also look at a lot of film stills? 

Yeah and I take a lot of screenshots as sort of notes for painting. I’ll see things, and wonder how the painting can incorporate it without being too literal about recording the beautiful thing that is the film or the still. 

Like the folds of that sweatshirt, the shadow of that red into the blue?

I think it was mostly this color relationship. I take a lot of these shots and I throw a lot of them away. It will give me an idea—and whatever thought triggered it might have something to do with that painting, but it doesn’t always work that way. This one was a window. There was a specific color underneath that before it got really dark. I was trying to understand what to pair with that, and I didn’t know if I was going to try and carve out another image.

The way you create these two color relationships in many of the grounds—with the fluorescent or bright color underneath and the over-layers of transparent paint—that creates a quality of light in a similar way to how an illuminated screen feels.

I don’t know what they do in these films to make this beautiful color unity. But yeah, it seems like this whole image could have started with this single color all over, and then proceeded to get darker transparencies over it in these areas. You can tell that this was shot on film. You realize that you can start from light and get darker, but the film insists that you have to have the right amount of light and dark for it to read as such.

Sometimes I use a projector wanting to get that sense of light—those blue and orange color hazes or halos at the edges—but I’m never able to capture it.

With through mixing you can never get that sense of light. But look at this one. Here’s a neon sign: if this sense of light is able to read digitally on my screen then what would be the right way to express that in paint—in a system, which isn’t totally opaque like pixels?

Do your paintings feel like screens to you?

I think now they do more, but these older paintings, like this one, used to be more like a wall. I would do some rubbing through on those, but, for the most part, I wanted it to look like you could put your hand on it in any area and there wasn’t a perceived depth more than what that physical expanse would be.

That changes how the faces read so much—this sort of amorphous, expansive space versus having solidity.

I like for them to have form, but not to feel totally palpable. I like the work of this artist who was in Greater New York and I think he teaches at Cooper Union too. He’s making something that reads like a face, but it’s like a system. It’s a basic paired down sign of the face. It ends up looking like glasses frames and a nose looking through a fence, but he repeats that set of forms all the time and it becomes legs.

You’re interested more in the system or those simplest forms that can be read representationally?

I want that back and forth. The fact that it’s from a real thing. I want the face to be understood more as surface instead of wanting to read too much into the exterior subject matter. I want you to be able to experience the paint—and the marks, mark to mark—and sometimes that doesn’t happen in full capacity if it’s a well-defined figure or narrative.

The face is also something people think of as amateur or outdated. Like art doesn’t need to deal with faces unless they’re described in a really crude or cynical manner. Think of Yuskavege or Currin. When figuration came back it was really backhanded.

Yours are more sincere.

Yeah, I hope they have that quality, because I got sick of looking at that.

How do you relate the faces back to the ground? You seem to deal with them separately in different points in the process.

Well, with them together, I think it lets the ground speak more. Your eye wants to do things with the materials to build through your own psyche an image of a face or relate it to that. And that gives a variance in the ground—like a potential voice, but nothing too defined. 

I think the trouble with having a painting of something like grass is—you’re like, “okay, grass.” And you go from element to element and put together the narrative.

You’re avoiding the sort of recognition that stops the looking—

Yeah, when you see a painting of a guy on a horse, sometimes it just stops your eye from exploring the surfaces—unless you’re an artist like Rembrandt who makes the surface so intriguing that you can read it texture to texture, with bits of light versus big sharp shapes of light that would make it read more like a composition—or like a composition composition. Staying in the realm of mystery is important. I want to be able to move through it, or around it, but have the option to do both. I guess the antithesis of what I want would be a silhouette against a stark white background. I would like the flatness that takes place inside the silhouette. [Laughs.] But you know, it’s too much of what I’ve already done with portraiture in the past and with my training—so that’s what makes this new territory for me.

But yeah, I’ve also found out that I like having a horizontal format, because your eye immediately wants to read that as a landscape. A vertical format is a very traditional format for a reason, because the way that we read bodies is top to bottom. It’s been a way to confuse the figurative element, and it is also kind of like a movie screen.

Using the dolls as painting models plays into this sensibility?

The doll is made to be this totally understandable thing that you physically animate, and you can look at and sort of conceptually animate through your imagination or try to figure out how it moves. I guess why I’m painting these is so that every opportunity I take I can make a surface that animates them in a less physically literal sense. I don’t want the viewer to think of them as blinking objects, but objects that have texture within them and outside of them that move and breathe—as paint, and less so as eyebrows or cheekbones.

When you’re playing as a child looking at a doll, the simple marks on the face become so significant and expansive. They read and you read into them—

Yeah, when you’re a kid, it’s like they are really looking back at you. When you do that when you’re a kid, your emotions are a lot stronger and you’re able to project that onto objects like that and see yourself. And I think it’s the same when you’re painting whether you are conscious of it or not. You’re always putting life into something whether you like what you’re working on or not, or if it is something you’re passionate about or not.  

Are you thinking about certain people when you’re painting? I can almost recognize a few faces.

Sometimes that manifests after. Usually I don’t think about a person, real or imagined. But sometimes, after the fact, I kind of see things I have to own up to— the fact that I probably was making decisions based on the memory of someone. I don’t care when that happens but it’s not my intention. Stuff is burned into our brain, and you’d like to think that your hands don’t know it, but they do.

And you show up.

In the paintings, yeah. Especially in the beginning when I was working from the original doll—Elvira. [Laughs.] I mean she too has pointy eyebrows and little nose and mouth close together so I think a lot of them ended up having similar features to me.

Only Elvira has a name?

One is Delia. I think another one of them might have a name. But one of them has reddish blonde hair and one of them has blonde hair, but you usually only find them with this dark pelo.

They come with the names?

Elvira is written on her chest. But you’d think, buying these in person, they probably refer to them as, “Oh yeah, okay. You want an Esmeralda?” just to avoid calling it this one versus that one. I would like to meet the people who make these instead of buying them from some third party on eBay. I mean the first one I bought was from an antique shop, but it would be nice to meet someone who paints these or makes the papier maché. My grandmother made these— 

Really, these animal dolls? They fit right in. 

Yeah, she made everything. She made all kinds of stuff. She made like three a week. That one was supposed to be a snowbird, because she lived in Phoenix and people would come in in the winter.

They’re great, bizarre. This one’s part paper roll and egg carton or something, but the combination of shapes—that huge heart shape of the head and what’s that piece of leather on its chest?

Yeah, it’s weird. I’m not sure what that is. I think it’s a fanny pack. She had all kinds of weird little stuff she would recycle into pieces, and she would make these really cool needlepoints.

Is that why you were originally attracted to collecting this type of material?

To trinket-y stuff, yeah.

Do you collect other trinkets?

In Phoenix maybe, but nothing great. I like this stuff a lot more. The things I have in Phoenix is probably a lot more polished whereas with these they’re distressed and wonky from the beginning. I wish the lion wasn’t falling apart, but that has some nice qualities too.

I mean they are all painted objects, but the way they are distressed makes them look more like painting.

Exactly, they’re dealing with this form that really doesn’t look like a head, and then they hake a painting the on the head. But there’s something in the way that you look at it that you could imagine the head in profile. If you look at it, the way it’s framed by the shape of the hair. Starting with something that already looks like a painting, you get that painting within a painting quality without it being so literal.

There’s such a huge divide between your source material—The silky digital images and the rough wooden folk dolls.

[Opens Screenshot] Well, I like this one. It’s crazy because without them there you would think it’s just a close up of distressed metal.

They’re barely articulated as people like the dolls’ faces are—only two little legs on the right of the frame.

Yeah, that was a bad movie, but it was made by Rick Alverson who did The Comedy (2012). Do you know that?


I constantly watch stuff. With the screenshots, I like a lot of these things taken out of context. And I like the bits of text and things you see in subtitles that are disjointed, especially when it relates to images.

I think that’s going to somehow translate to a painting. I used to take screenshots and think I’d have to make paintings that involve the actual printed-paper in a still life setting. I was at a loss about how to use these. I wanted to add imagery to the painting that was from a screenshot. I knew I liked them, but I thought it was my direction to print that out and be literal about the reference and about putting that into a still life. I was against what I started doing later on. I would put the printout against a bowl or something and painted the screenshot.

Did you make some paintings like that?

Yeah, they weren’t very good, but I’ll find the image and you can look at it. There was a good still in it—it was a shot of Peewee Herman and a lion.

I like picture in picture.

Yeah, I like stuff like that. Fairfield Porter is really good at that.

This (digital painting) I made with the eye dropper tool—actually pulling those colors from a screenshot—color that isn’t found from the subject matter I’m working with. I do a lot less mixing now. I used to mix, mix, then over-mix.

But in using transparency, a sort of color mixing is happening between layers instead.

I’m glad for that. I was taught in this macho alla prima opaque painting. I was always thought transparencies sounded like too much of a time investment. But in art school there’s still a macho connection to opaque painting so I feel like now it’s helped me get away from that and be somewhat more lighthearted in subject matter and the way I’m painting it.

They’re not lighthearted.

No, I don’t look at the paintings as lighthearted, but I look at lighthearted intentions as a good way to approach—rather than trying to be a slash-and-burn painter or something. It’s better having it end up as a moody piece through that confusion rather than starting out with that subject matter.

I feel like procedures between layers get a lot more complicated when you’re using transparencies. It requires more thinking and strategy between layers—more like of what a lot of printmaking requires.

Yeah, and I don’t really like that. I like the surprise. I don’t like actually thinking two layers from now. I like to have a problem occur that I have to deal with, because otherwise it’s tedious. I only like direct printmaking like woodblock and monotype. Are you into printmaking?

No, it’s too procedural for me too. But I like that way of thinking and building surfaces between layers in multiple steps and sorts of applications that work on each other.

I don’t know. Some people who get involved with that are such technique dorks.

Yeah, but I think you like technique too, but in a different and more open way. I mean these are accomplished in that way—

Yeah, technique is one of those difficult things where post-1950 it’s frowned upon and seen as institutional. But then you have to understand that everything—no matter how crude or refined it is—is going to have technique. I’ve come to the conclusion that I like paint so much that I’m going to have to think about it as a material that has properties that I want to understand. That’s the fun part.

For more information about Nicholas and his work please check out his webiste

Ribbon Mountains

Meredith Reseda Hoffheins visited by Megan Liu Kincheloe

Megan Liu Kincheloe: These paintings all seem focused, whole to one world, like a series of snapshots of the same other place.

Meredith Reseda Hoffheins: It's my other world. I spend a lot of time there. Much of that world comes from where I grew up. A friend from Pennsylvania visited the studio recently and immediately recognized that sense of place in them. That landscape is definitely scrawled onto my brain. I remember as a family driving my sisters to college in Western Pennsylvania when I was around three-years-old. My sisters are twelve and fifteen years older than me and I was a quiet kid always in my own world. And During the drive I would stare out the window, and we’d be driving along the highway in the mountains and through the tunnels into the mountains, and I would look at the forms that the bridges make and the running fences. Those things have definitely seeped into my paintings and me as a person. So that’s the consistent quality I think—that everything relates back to a certain place, even if it’s a different place. 

A different place?

This painting (Secret Obelisk, all works 2015), which obviously is of a cemetery is an example. I live next to Greenwood Cemetery and recently came across a portion we’d never seen before—a huge grassy field set down on a lower level. Part of the cemetery is positioned on the highest point of elevation in Brooklyn. There was a glacier there ten thousand years ago. When you’re walking around, you can feel where the ground levels off and where the land is raised from where the glacier kicked it up. There was a row of gray stones arranged almost in a perfect circle near that ground-shift, with a smattering aof grave stones in the center. It’s those bizarre things that strike me, and make me want to investigate them more in painting. 

The rest of the landscape is radiating from that point.

The landscape is offering up the Obelisk. It’s a feature. Like the bushes are features, where again, it goes back to Pennsylvania. I used to go jogging in a cemetery in my very suburban neighborhood, and these bushes—these very well manicured hedges in the painting are articles of those memories. They’re simple. There’s no wildness to them. They are these concrete things, like a landscaper just decided, “We need a bush right there.” The radiating landscape isolates these features. 

Secret Obelisk, 2015, Acrylic on canvas on board, 24-1/2" X 19"

There’s these artificial shapes sprinkled in many of the environments you paint. There’s something halfway between something imperfect and something made platonically ideal—or blunted and overly symmetrical. The forms in your work are at a point in between that seems to put all these things on an axis. 

That tension is important to me and it helps to build mystery into the work. To me, the places I’m painting feel real, like I could go to them, but they are not real at all. They don’t make any sense, but to me they feel believable. You’re not going to see ribbon mountains, or shadows that turn red when they hit the water, or mountains that look distant appear in the foreground while background mountains appear closer, but for me that’s a language I understand. I notice things and distill it down to the essentials of what makes that place or that thing that I see.

The imagery sounds internal, but they start with an observation first?

It’s coming from the imagination also. That’s something I had to teach myself over the past few years. In graduate school, I was a TA for a Foundation Drawing class. The professor, Doug Wirls, spent about three quarters of the class year teaching drawing techniques that led up to the last assignment which was to depict an invented space. You can learn to draw anything in your head based on some simple rules of perspective and understanding how an object sits on top of another, and being aware of your point of view and that relationship to the picture plane. It was fascinating to see what students can do when they are not necessarily trying to make something look like something else. If you can picture how things work in space, it gives you a lot of artistic freedom. The imagery is completely yours. 

But yes, you see something, and you have a reaction to it, and a reaction to certain forms. I start working based on that one reaction, but then it develops. It’s process-oriented on the surface while I’m painting. I don’t know if the paintings have that feeling like I was searching for something, but when it’s finished I want it to have the sense that it was a concrete vision.

Yeah, they feel psychological, and also solitary.

There are no people. It’s just a vast place. The feeling of emptiness is important in these; taking away as much as I can to still have something there, and keeping these few elements that relate to a specific space, place, or thing— thing being, tree or fountain or cave. 

There are elements that suggest that they were manipulated by people at some point: perfectly round bodies of water, fountains, fences, dwellings, the perfect chasm, ditches, and cement walls. It’s a little mysterious, but even when I draw these little structures I never imagine people in them. They aren’t meant for other people, just the viewer.

Like a sanctuary—a place where people visit, but don’t actually inhabit?

Yeah. They’re something you could stumble across in the middle of some strange place. They just keep expanding. The cave in particular is such a mysterious form. About a year ago, I was painting a lot of these cave dwellings like that one, and looking to cave imagery specifically from Bellini’s The Ecstasy of St. Francis. I went to Sicily after undergrad and visited the Necropolis of Pantalica, a gravesite from a thousand years ago, with tombs built into the cavernous mountains. I wanted the space here to be flat and to have depth at the same time—as if you could physically enter that space, but there would be nothing there to experience if you were to enter—like a two dimensional plane to walk into.

Cave, 2015, acrylic on canvas on board, 23.5" x 20”

It makes your eye weave through the painting in a different way when the space in the painting doesn’t make sense. 

You spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. These layers are almost mirror images of each other. One almost looks like a shadow of another, and shadows are always something I’m fascinated by. This sounds silly, but breaking it down it becomes interesting: the sun controls its light and the object shoots out its shadow that is both completely controlled and determined yet entirely ephemeral. I’m interested in those crosses between what’s a solid thing and what’s a moment: a grassy plane versus a shadow or a light source.

There is that confusion between solidity and flatness.

You start to ask, where is the light source? Is that something I can use to make sense of this? But it usually isn’t. Part of why I love these silly little round fences (Alluvium) is the shadows that are thrown off of them. They’re playful and thrown off in every direction. They still make some sense even though they’re so wrong: some are being cast to the right and others are being cast to the left. It’s like there are a few different moons casting light all at the same time.

You’re highlighting the parts of the observation that are activating to you.

Yes, mountains don’t actually look like ribbons, but if someone asked me what mountains look like, I’d say ribbons.  

That sounds like a Kōan.

It’s not representational, but that basic way of representing a mountain and it’s continual nature—like the white empty frames I was making toward the end of graduate school is a basic way of representing emptiness.  

Is it literal? It almost sounds mundane the way you describe it, but it’s not. 

Yes, because a lot of the time the paintings start off with a lot going on. There’s a history of process and editing down that gets it to that point.

I’ve also been looking at a lot of Early Italian Renaissance paintings and religious paintings—particularly at the weird landscapes that you see in the background. Those landscapes really intrigue me much more than the figures in the foreground. They’re awkward and simplistic, but they speak a language that I understand well. Everything is tipped up in a strange perspective–I don’t think perspective was completely understood.

I’ve been looking at medieval paintings for similar reasons. Those strange compositional issues where everything will be working around a series of embedded circles  for example. The representational forms become awkward adhering to that structure and in trying to work with the math of the whole, they get distorted in satisfying and unpredictable ways. The effect of that lends a weird gravity to the picture. Pedestrian Walkway and Secret Obelisk have that quality where in both several layers of landscape in the background meet, line up, and come together perfectly at these two distinct meeting points.

I have a lot of fun with those intersections. It’s one way to pull together a whole composition. It creates that symmetry and syncs it all together.

There’s a tension in that unreality. I remember in Life Drawing Class, if things happen to work out too perfectly like that, we were taught to move the point over a little because it doesn’t seem real.

But at the same time, I remember learning in Life Study that Michelangelo would draw the body by boiling down the human form to a continual series of convex C-curves. When I’m painting these, it’s finding those relationships that just make everything feel more solid—and solidify an imaginary space. 

I went to a Catholic high school and took an Iconography painting class there. I think a lot about that painting process; those traditional techniques, a slow build up of changing value, surface, and solidity.

The way you are using acrylic looks like egg tempera actually. Do you think of these as icons? 

I definitely think they are. They’re all different, but each represent specific points in a place. You can imagine this landscape moving off into the distance, but I’m pinpointing this one little segment, and making this part significant for some reason.

The paintings do all have a definite center.

Those ribbon mountains emphasize that something out there just keeps going—the landscape, the image could keep going on forever. But then the fountain, or in this one, the big fissure, or the dwelling place, the pear trees—it’s telling you what’s important at this specific location.

These fountains feel ecclesiastic, ecstatic. 

I sometimes think of the icon paintings of the Virgin Mary’s Annunciation—a big sword of light coming in and hitting her, and those light and water marks blasted into the air in a really controlled specific fashion. And for this one, I was playing around with those ideas. Driving through the countryside, you see ponds with fountains built in the middle. There’s something in the effort of trying to build something natural, and obliterating that natural thing with some tacky water feature that’s funny. It’s kind of like those early paintings. There’s the strange ray of light that’s so controlled in those landscapes, and it’s like things haven’t changed in a way.

What hasn’t changed?

In those Early Renaissance paintings there are elements that are strange and out of place, but those parts held a kind of symbolism to the Early Renaissance viewer. It's a lot like landscaping, which is also artificial and kind of bizarre if you think about it—imposing abstract order onto landscape. There’s a little bit happening in both that I like to work with—that overlap of intentions. There’s something absurd. Although the people who spend so much time of their landscaping are probably really proud, or excited about their new water features—as symbols of something meditative or beautiful, the sound of water rippling in their backyard. 

Fountain, 2015, acrylic on canvas on board, 24 1/2" x 19 1/2”

They’re aspirational, representing ideals—tranquility, wealth.

Or even trying to be something heroic. I was just looking at a picture of the Bellagio fountains. They manipulate them to make these amazing patterns. The fountains in my paintings are not so grand, they are just dinky, little trickles, but it’s the patterns— there’s something greater happening in the linear effects. 

They’re the humble versions.

That wanting to have your own idyllic taste of nature in your backyard—looking for a watered down version of the sublime. I’m placing these things into vast landscapes that aren’t real, and could go on forever. The fountains anchor the landscapes somewhat to reality—they’re something relatable, a symbol you can easily understand. It’s mitigating that sublime notion with a Home Depot gardening kit.

That makes them more like icons, and you’re pitting the awkward symbol against the real thing. Like this little orchard?

I started this painting when we were staying at my brother-in-law’s house in Birmingham, Alabama. He lives on a tall hill, and across the street looking down there’s a little house with a yard with these tiny pear trees just like these. There were those almost perfectly round shadows cast at the base of each tree. 

The painting started there—from these trees that you see everywhere, in any suburb, and even on the streets here. The tree brigade will come and plant these trees to try and green up the neighborhood with the same trees over and over again. 

Birmingham, 2015, acrylic on canvas on board, 18" x 18"

The concerted effort, the neighborhood initiative, the street tree tree…

Yes, the quintessential street tree. That one was definitely based on my suburban Birminghamian experiences. The city of Birmingham sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains all around. That visual experience found its way in as well—this enclosure of mountains holding in this space.

Like a snow globe.

As a self contained, artificial community—Birmingham is a nice city, but it relies so much on this suburban sprawl that it has this strange feel. The ideal is to live in the hillsides above; to look down into that city in the middle.  

If the real estate value is tiered that way, the class structure is sort of physicalized into the landscape itself.

Historically with White Flight, the further away from the city you were the higher the status, but that structure is being reversed a lot for different reasons.

Class ambitions and ideals are very embedded in the subjects you depict—water features, white picket fences, and pear trees. Somehow the manmade things are rendered the least real.

This one is titled Pedestrian Walkway. The walkway is something that you could use to navigate the space but it’s also impossible. You could more easily skip across the rocks depicted than traverse the walkway. 

Pedestrian Walkway, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 23.5" x 20”

Other features are out of place: these half-finished fences to fence off nothing, or this fence that almost makes it the corner of this lot but doesn’t or depicting this kind decorative edging for a garden, the kind which are so flimsy you can just stick them into the ground by hand and move them around.

Yeah, like croquet wickets.

They just cave in and fall over—a frustratingly terrible quality. I picture taking the dog out and hooking its leash so it doesn’t run away, and the pressure of the dog’s leash is enough to ruin the fencing around your garden plot.

The decorative edging of the garden plot…These are words are from my upbringing too. They remind me of my grandmother at least—her yard was so much of her identity, her public presentation. She worried over the state of her lawn to such a degree she had trouble leaving town for even a weekend. It’s definitely a kind of Americana.

Trying to maintain this perfection in this plot or property, trying to maintain ownership or declare ownership over a certain area—it’s something you can’t do in New York City at all. Nothing is yours.

My parents’ friends have children in their 40’s who own this house in my hometown where they let everything become overgrown into this jungle. They have duck ponds and ducks walking around the yard with huge trees and bushes growing wild. It definitely doesn’t feel how it’s supposed to feel in that neighborhood, but that’s their identity—going against everything else in the town. I loved that, but their parents were so embarrassed that the kid they raised grew up to take care (or not take care of) their yard this way. 

This one gets so representational. It’s such a departure from your work I knew at Pratt, which was equally great, but reductive, minimal, and without imagery.

Graduate school was so much about removing imagery for me. I was making this non-pictorial work in paper, trying to pair it down as much as possible and the paper frames were just the ultimate removal of the image. And we would look at the piece in the studio, and it was all about why it’s still an artwork. Even though it’s this really simple thing, it has the right amount of off-ness and intentionality that if you saw it in a vacant lot laying on the ground, you would still be sure that it was an artwork. There’s something about that—those few simple moves—competing with yourself in figuring out this problem of art: How can I make art without it looking like art? 

Getting back into imagery was a slow crawl, but I started looking at color again, looking at shadows, looking at landscape while I was the Vermont Studio Center, and finally finding forms again that actually meant something—there was a story there, and it was about me, and this place, and it was about something mysterious that everyone can access or everyone can consider. There’s still a huge editing process even when there’s a lot of imagery, and what I learned about editing with the reductive works that carries through to now. It really feels good to have something to keep me going that might never end and liberating to be making work more involved in the world.

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Sophia Flood: Objet petit a

I first saw Sophia Flood’s sculptures and paintings in her solo show at Sadie Halie Projects last year and again at Gowanus Open Studios last fall. In March we met in her studio off Smith and 9th Street as she was wrapping up a profile project with Great Big Iceberg and getting ready to travel to China in April. 

The paintings, sculptures, and your collections all seem to be coming from a particular place that I can’t exactly locate. They share a specific palette and formal shape language.

I like the idea of a world of objects and paintings that trade places. I think of the sculptures as markers in a space, like a pipe that ends abruptly or those rings of decorative edging that you see in front yards around the city. That’s where I get ideas for some of these forms—these strange, tender entities that populate public spaces. The sculptures can locate the paintings in a half-domestic, half-unfamiliar setting. It makes you aware that the images come from the world and refer to a familiar realm of experience, but seen in a certain light.

I’m coming from dealing with a lot of found color—painting in a way with found objects and materials. This process might involve picking out objects because of certain colors, but not necessarily generating color. That’s a driving point of why I'm keeping some of these just painting now: I like that they can more directly create an atmosphere or mood. 

They all emit the same color and radiance of night lighting.

Lately, I’ve been interested in my apartment at night. I try and absorb it. The forms are darkened and hard to read, but at the same time everything has its own light. It’s impossible to describe outside that experience, and you can’t quite take a picture of it. 

Yes, that quality where everything is on the verge of a color the eye can’t exactly read.

That reminds me of that darkened gallery in the Chris Olfili exhibition. There was almost no light in the room with these monochromatic paintings—narrative scenes in dark blacks, blues, and purples. Your eyes had to adjust. It was the weirdest optical trick. And it was fascinating because it wasn’t gimmicky. They slowly revealed themselves in a way that was about sensing them and feeling them. It was like seeing something at night without quite understanding it, and having it become an image over a period of time. That whole phenomenological space between you and the paintings was just so activated. 

It was an incredible experience that I’d never had with painting. It made me want to paint at night, too. I’ve done some plein air painting over the past couple years. It’s a totally different and more direct way of working. 

You seem to be attracted to traditional modes and mediums—plaster sculpture, oil painting—but there’s always play. Things are reopened, like 3am (all works 2014): a small oil-on-canvas landscape on plaster-coated kitchen scrubbing sponges.

The traditional mediums are relatively new to my work. As recently as two years ago I had never made a painting that was just a painting. I was using mostly ephemeral materials in collage and installation – painting expanded. But I got to a point where I wanted to reign in my material palette. It was getting to be too much. Around that time I started working for a conservator, which made me think about art objects differently. Dealing with things that existed for hundreds of years got me interested in ancient objects, ancient things, and their heavy materiality. I set some different parameters for myself, but you’re right, there’s always play within them. Finding ways to work objects into the mixture– sponges, birthday candles, a cup, a sock – is second nature to me. They can provide specificity, and subvert an otherwise predictable process or surface. And even with painting materials, I find myself resisting when the language feels too familiar. Staining, scrubbing into raw canvas, slopping and smoothing and digging into plaster…this is yielding a lot for me right now.

3am, 2014, kitchen sponge, plaster, and oil paint

Everything is handled a lot, the plaster on the surface of the sculptures are modeled like painting and remade as painting even.

Yeah, painting them on the surface; using dye in the surface…the material holds the imagery to some degree. Paint is absorbed in the canvas.

It’s interesting that this sculpture has such a definite flat side to it, which relates to painting. But it’s awkwardly freestanding, tethered with a rope to hold up this unwieldy trunk.

Yeah, right around the time I was starting to make contained paintings I was starting to think of making a freestanding sculpture (rather than working everything directly into the space). All these ugly, lumpy parts were created in the moment, trying to find some way to just make the piece stand! I planned the whole thing out in a pretty methodical way. The rope was essential. The base at the bottom that I drilled into is concrete. But even with these preparations, it was still doing its own thing as I added more material. And it resulted in a weird, Brancusi-like form. The flat side is some kind of display unit I found at a Russian banya in Brooklyn, on Coney Island Ave.

I’ve been there before: the little café with the Astroturf patio, the hot and cold pools.

That place was my dream. I was obsessed with it for a while, and with bathhouses in general. The regenerative promise in such dingy, corporeal form.

Even something about the physical look of a steam room—the steps, the plaster—could seem reminiscent to some of the work.

The steam room at the YMCA is also something I’ve tried to work with several times. Finding that piece of Masonite from the banya was a gift, because I wanted to make work that was situated there in some way; but I didn’t quite know how to do it until then. It was almost like this figure stepped right out of the bathhouse. 

You sometimes start your paintings by looking at objects or still lives that you assemble in your studio… 

Yeah, I never know how much people can actually read. It’s such a mysterious thing to me, but you probably can read what the sort of subject is in there, right?

Is it a ring dish?

It’s a fountain actually.

I wonder if I had not seen your collections here, or if I wasn’t familiar with your previous work, if I might not read any particular thing in these paintings at all. The surrounding space is weightier than the objects, although each retains a presence and weight in space and leaves a shadow. That feels important, and the objects themselves seem erased and become like placeholders or monoliths.

I’ve gone back and forth a lot, over the years, on how I use objects in my work. Sometimes it’s direct and at the surface. With these paintings, I wanted to make it more about the encounter with the object, the space around it, and that moment of first finding or understanding it. It’s not just about the object or its specific history or reference, but everything around the object and your relationship to it. 

What kind of experience with the object?

With this painting, Open Omen, I was thinking about this mysterious window display in my neighborhood. There’s a deck of cards in the window, with two cards facing up: one is an eight of diamonds and the other is a seven of clubs. It was like that for a long time, but then one day I walked past and noticed that one of the cards had changed. I wondered when this might of happened and why. 

I intended to make a painting of those cards and other things from the window, but when I started, I couldn’t. I already knew what those things were. The moment I scrapped that and started dealing with what was happening in the painting, it opened up a whole space that felt much closer the original, lived experience. 

With a lot of these objects, they have some sort of significance that I could never fully understand. And that keeps me interested in them, as a kind of an omen. There’s something that could be read, someone else’s gesture, or a situation someone else has created but I can’t totally access.

And the same for Clearing?

This is actually the only piece that comes from something I didn’t experience firsthand. My friend, Julia, told me about a painting that her grandma had made. Her grandmother lives in Germany, in a house nestled in the Black Forest. The painting featured a sculpture she had made of my friend’s sister as a baby next to a tree stump, with her house in the background. The image seemed strange to me and it just stuck. Normally I’m working from sensory experience, but Julia's telling contained enough sensory information in it. I loved her version of that painting and all the different levels of remove in the story, and I decided that I wanted to make my own approximation of this painting. I ended up with this series of pedestals – maybe the stump is a stand-in for the baby.

Starting with someone else’s intention is an unusual decision.

Yeah, but I don’t necessarily feel like I can possess a lot of the things I look at, especially walking around Brooklyn. It’s not where I grew up and I feel a little like a voyeur sometimes. My interest in windows and looking into private worlds is about my experience with the things I see, but there’s a lot that I could never understand there and I need to respect that or be aware of it. 

There’s a distancing or an elevation in some of these works, or an interest in display. Some of the sculptures resemble showcases for real or readymade objects, such as the New Year’s Eve hat in Endless Spring or Gatekeeper’s plastic mask. 

Definitely. In some, the pedestal is more important than what’s on top. It’s also an impulse to push an object back or to bury it, and then find it. That’s how I see Endless Spring functioning; it’s about this fleeting connection with the object. Well, I say fleeting, but it’s a frozen moment. And the sculpture restages that moment or tries to create some space around it.

 Endless Spring, tinted plaster, ceramic tile, cement, new year’s hat, plastic sheeting, 2014

Like in retail display?

Certainly. Retail display is where that dynamic is most commonly staged for us. It’s funny: I’m actually making window displays for work right now. 

It’s research.

It’s a bizarre experience working on the other side of the window. People walk by and watch what you’re doing. You’re physically in the space and role of the object. And window displays illustrate that whole relationship. The thing is held off at arm’s length, and the whole space between you and it becomes this arena to project whatever your wish for the object is and what it might fulfill. 

Sometimes it’s on the surface, like lifestyle branding, selling people an image or a version of themselves. But I think it’s something deep in our psychology and really specific and personal for everyone. Retail has simply found a way to harness that space.

There’s an eerie reversal of space around the mask. Its interior is facing up, so that the concave forms are pitted, imprinted, on the top of a plaster mass. It suggests the face down body posture of a kowtow. It’s interesting that you start with such a thin, disposable object and then add mass and weight around it. The inversion reminds me of how that thick atmosphere is functioning in your paintings.

It’s like a ghost image—there and not there at the same time. Ben always says that too; the objects are falling into themselves or out of themselves. I think I’m trying to obscure a certain amount, and it’s the result of that push and pull. 

Yeah, the negative information that holds and encases a subject is really dominant.

It’s also a result of the plaster. The mask is kind of a fossilized thing, and these intimate objects and experiences become monumentalized. I tried to give it geological presence, as if it were preserved in this form over a long period of time. Maybe someone would re-find it and have this token. 

For me, the New Year’s hat is a really sad object. As soon as New Year’s is over, it’s just hanging around. It’s already performed its function, and it’s kind of off-duty. It embodies all this celebratory hope and party and yet New Year’s Day can be such a bummer. 

That after-the-party quality seems related to the cosmetic bottles in some of your arrangements. There’s an eyelash brush and plastic lemon at the center of Silver. That sculpture is already trophy-like in its scale and with its pedestal. With all of these cheap, disposable objects you’re preserving that hopeful sense of getting ready, which becomes so sad when unfulfilled. Decorations have that same pressured function of creating or adding to a moment’s specialness.

Yeah, it’s the immanence of something. “Getting ready” is a great way of putting it, and that feeling of excitement bumped up against the disappointment of a moment passed. The way I’m thinking about objects has so much to do with desire, and an attempt to satiate or fulfill some deep-seated ideal.

I like the desire—to stay present with some fleeting moment—that you keep coming back to. Even with the story of Clearing, trying to hold onto the immediate impression, even if all the initially intended components don’t get realized. 

Yes, it’s the significance of finding this moment and trying to dig out what’s there. Why am I remembering this? I think all these materials and objects, too, are sedimentary. Much of the sifting process happens in your conscious mind, and you’re left with these parts and pieces that resonate for whatever reason; that’s what I want to go back to and explore. It’s a process of revisiting something—going back and back. 

And although they’re fleeting, I think they persist. That’s something I was thinking about today: this idea of ancient history being frozen time that you can’t access. And maybe that’s another way to think about fleeting; the access is fleeting, but not the thing itself.

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Daniel Herr

Daniel Herr is a painter’s painter. He was born and raised in California. He received his MFA in Painting from Boston University and is represented by M23. I met him at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant in Crown Heights where a confused hostess sat our two parties together at a single table. I bumped into Dan at openings later that week and often since. That was about two years ago, and now we’re talking painting in his East Williamsburg studio over iced tea and doughnuts.

Daniel Herr in the studio with   PB in NY   (2014) in process behind him

Daniel Herr in the studio with PB in NY (2014) in process behind him

When there’s text, I can’t help to read first and then look. So the text in this painting: What is “PB in NY”?

It stands for “Palm Beach in New York.” I think of this painting like a cheesy advertisement that’s selling all the comforts of suburbia right in the city, and selling a kind of art that’s somehow an extension of suburban comfort. You can have the beach, your mall and movie theatre, your textured plaster walls, and your Starbucks. It’s that sense of comfort and security that is sold to you because you can afford to buy into it. It’s comfortable because you’re accustomed to it. It could also be “Peanut Butter in NY”—that would be good too—“Skippy in NYC.”

I mean I still love New York, but it’s becoming more like the sales pitch than an actual place where people live.

But your work also takes a lot from your relationship with the city?

I still feel very attached to this place, and I think the painting always takes on what’s around you. Yeah, the energy or the attitude—the aura. Especially in a city like this there’s layers of energy and activity, and also the obnoxious people and sounds—so the paintings themselves can’t be too nice. The art has to be a little obnoxious.

What do you mean the art has to be obnoxious?

I think New York is pretty obnoxious. Even when you’ve lived here awhile and you’re used to it, still you wake up to some cab blaring its horn at 7 am in front of your apartment. I have a painter friend who always says painting should be “irreverent.” Maybe that’s close to what I mean. I prefer “obnoxious” because it implies absurdity and goofiness—two things I’ll take with me to the grave.

Do you feel that way about California? 

When I visit California I always think how peaceful it is there. The weather is perfect, the street is clean, the people are nice, the food is wonderful, but I don’t feel like painting there. That’s how I grew up, but I can’t work that way.

What do you find motivating about being here?

Being in New York, you wake up and you always feel like you’re running late—I have to be somewhere, I have to meet this person, I have to work on this painting.  My first studio in California was like this one, with no windows. I would sit in my studio and paint these little black and white abstract paintings while it was 100 degrees and sunny outside. I was trying to get away from the California thing.

Were you reacting against California painting?

Well, no. There’s a lot of good painting being made in Northern California. Wayne Thiebaud is a great painter. Dave Hollowell is pretty insane. I love Diebenkorn, Bischoff, Park, Joan Brown. But I was interested in the East Coast, the authoritativeness of it. 

It’s strange; I was always drawn to this kind of painting even when I was in California—though there’s not really a legacy for it there, aside from the Beats. In New York, there is such a strong legacy of painting and abstraction, and you don’t have to do anything to be a New York painter. That’s what you are, because you are here painting.

You mentioned that your father is a California painter.

Yeah, my dad (Doug Herr) paints landscapes where he lives. He was a big influence on me. He taught me that painting was a regular activity. His work was all over the house. He would paint right there at the dining room table. He makes amazing, extremely detailed landscapes that I would never have the patience for. Although I probably spend the same amount of time as he does on some paintings, it’s just a different way of working.

But all painting is good. I feel like most painters can go to a museum and appreciate a really good painting made by anyone. And it’s more than just the craft aspect. It’s also about the initiative and concept to make something with the material that’s interesting. There is really no bad style. Picasso or somebody said that, I think.

Then how would you want your paintings talked about?

I mean, how is contemporary art being talked about? Right now, I feel like it’s being talked about mostly in terms of the market—around investments and global capital, flipping, and 24/7 art fairs. And what is Contemporary American Art? Is being an American artist really different than being a German artist or a Japanese artist when everyone is looking at everyone’s work online and seeing it at fairs? And if an artist is showing here, chances are they also have representation in Europe and in LA. We all come out of our own value systems, but so much is shared. I’m interested in what it means to be an American artist, but I’m not sure what the answer is.

I guess what I mean to say in my work is that pictures still have intangible value—the medium still matters to me. It can still be genuine and not cynical.

White Nights,   2014, oil on canvas, 60 X 60 inches 

White Nights, 2014, oil on canvas, 60 X 60 inches 

You seem to start a painting with an idea that moves you, and enjoy being in a place that pushes you, aggravates you even. It’s not the serenity of landscape painting.

Well, some of them actually just start as a crude drawing of a figure, or a crude object, or a word, or I’ll have a picture I took some place to begin with as a compositional set ­piece. There’s kind of everything in every painting. It’s sort of absurd. I will start with an idea, and I’ll try forcing and forcing it, then I’ll just abandon it, and ride the wave to somewhere else. Ultimately, it becomes a different thing. The way I work has always been restless. And yeah, I tend to like the pictures that are the hardest to make, the ones that resist me. They say “NO WAY.”

What about all this intense patterning?

Sometimes I do something because there needs to be some sort of bridge or patch. It’s like Photoshopping in real life. 

 CB Faces Drug, Weapons Charges,   2014, oil on canvas, 60 X 50 inches 

 CB Faces Drug, Weapons Charges, 2014, oil on canvas, 60 X 50 inches 

So overtime there’s all these layers of different intentions. I guess that’s true of a lot of painting, but exaggeratedly so here. The images are constructed from these different ideas and areas patched together. 

There’s probably too much pattern in some of these. I just change my mind. It’s rare that I use a single idea from start to finish unless it’s a joke painting. Like this one was supposed to be about a strictly nighttime feeling. It’s a city kind of like Miami—a street scene. But there are passages with daylight and blue sky. So I get to have both. I get to do whatever I want ‘cause it’s my picture.

Tom Butter saw my work once, and he had a really interesting observation. He pointed out that nearly all the elements in the paintings get negated as if there were an equals sign with a line through it. Everything nulled. There’s no fully completed gesture or shape or recognizable or definite form, because everything has been interrupted. 

That sounds like the city too.

Yeah, you can only push so far before it all pushes back.

That sort of interruption relates to collage somehow—the sense of different and multiple sources pasted side by side. Do you think of your paintings in terms of collage?

Well, paint and the interaction between two wet colors has always been what I’ve been most interested in—the “chord changes.” That said, I’m really into the way of thinking associated with collage—the randomness, the everyday, Dada, stream-­of-consciousness, disorienting subject matter, and turning something on its head. And then there’s the political legacy of collage undermining war efforts and creating a kind of anti-propaganda—so there’s a lot to work with. And lately I’ve been reading these political essays by George Scialabba so I have that on my mind.

I used to do a lot of actual collage, but I don’t like the texture. I don’t like moving my brush across the surface and over this piece glued onto the top. I like working on canvas, and there isn’t a good way to work with the materials I use to make it really seamless, and to not mess with the integrity of the surface. It’s difficult to keep collaged elements from becoming the central subject of what’s happening in the picture, but I like to have a lot to look at.

Also, with collage, there’s always an edge separating one source from another as opposed to painting where everything is knitted down to a common surface. There are no seams anymore.

Yes, with collage, it’s defined. It has a complete edge. I do think of my paintings as a continual layering process—they’re always malleable, always moving. You don’t always know where the edges are.

It’s clearly knowing what’s on top and what’s on bottom really that gives collage a sort of grammar, but your paintings seem to be using a sort of confusion between contexts and have a sense of simultaneity.

That’s the big thing with De Kooning’s work. I remember when I was a teenager looking at those paintings for hours and not being able to figure out how he did them. You can’t read what was done first, then second, and third. Everything is immediate. And he consciously made it look like that over the course of months and months. Well, some of his work was actually very immediate. But the ones that weren’t—he had so many tricks that you notice if you look at them long enough.

What kind of tricks?

I can’t tell you. They’re too good! You have to just find them. It’s all about tricking the viewer as if it were all instantaneous. 

Trade secrets. Well, how do you come up with these titles? They are very literary, i.e. A Fisherman’s Dream of Hot Plastic (2013) and Rip Monte’s Venetian Room Beside the Gowanus Canal (The Electrician’s Less Than Ideal Living Arrangement) (2014).

Well, sometimes I don’t know what to name them. I’ll work and work, searching for a name for what I’m doing, and then a phrase will just stick in my head that I just have to make a painting for—whether it’s something from the news, a quasi-gibberish phrase, or something somebody texts me. I did a series of paintings off lines from a Bill Corbett poem once. I just like finding something new and unusual.

You’ve been making these text paintings that I’ve never seen before. 

I made a few small paintings with ink on trash bags. They were kind of trashing the idea of Zombie Formalism and playing at using trash to scam someone. The bags crinkle up as the ink dries. But David Hammons did that a few years ago. So I guess they’re Zombie David Hammons.

And this one (small painting) has a crazy story to it. I was almost a victim to a cashier’s check scam where this guy was emailing me saying he wanted to buy one of my paintings. He claimed that he would send me a cashier’s check that included shipping, but I would wire him the shipping charge ahead of time. I knew this was a scam but I kept going along with it anyway. I actually went as far as having him send me the fake check, and then I kept writing gibberish to him—but progressively more delirious and rambling. It was funny, but then I was thinking that I would actually send him this painting (FUCK YOU ASSHOLE!, 2014). It would be totally different than what he ordered, but I would actually still be sending him an original painting.

It’s a cared for painting. There’s honest work put into that.

He could’ve had it for free! The problem is that the address he gave me wasn’t real. I google mapped it and it was just some alleyway in Glasgow. 


Additional image:

Daniel Herr in the studio with   PB in NY   (2014)

Daniel Herr in the studio with PB in NY (2014)