Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why Is It "Bad"?

Ralph Pugay, Liondix, Acrylic on panel, 12" x 16", 2010.

Why do we feel the need to call our paintings "bad", "naive", "hobbyist", "crafty"?  
Why can't we just let them be what they are going to be?  
Is it because we are insecure?  
Is it because we want to make sure everyone knows that we are self-aware?  
Does it legitimize the paintings?  
Does it make the paintings humble?  
Does it make the paintings pretentious?
When we make a humorous painting, is it automatically sorted into one of the categories in my first question?
Who does this sorting?
Why are we uncomfortable laughing at a painting?
Is it because it lowers the entire art form?
Is this a bad thing?
Is painting not supposed to make us feel those emotions?
Does a painting have to be witty or conceptually intriguing if it is also "bad"?
Can a strong concept make up for poor aesthetic choices?
Who is evaluating this balancing act?
Must we always tip the scale one way or the other?
What is the difference between painting and illustration?
Is an illustrative aesthetic "bad"?
Why do we have to put "bad" in quotation marks?
When will irony die?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hot Bodies

Dana Schutz, Frank on a Rock, oil on canvas, 2002. Schutz says, "I have been working on a group of paintings loosely hinged on the act of painting a fictional man from observation...the paintings are premised on the imaginary situation that the man and I are the last people on earth. The man is the last subject and the last audience and, because the man isn't making any paintings, I am the last painter."

Brooke Shields at age 10, photographed by Garry Gross in 1975 and rephotographed by Richard Prince in his 1993 work, "Spiritual America." The version seen here was found on the internet and has been further altered; someone has cropped the photo, changed the color, and added a black and green border. Shields has unsuccessfully fought to gain control over the photographs in this series for years. Courts have said both that Shields' career was built on her sexuality (and thus she has no reason to complain) and that the photographs are not sexual in nature: "They are pictures of a prepubescent girl posing innocently in the bath." Prince's version of the photograph was sold at Christie's in 1999 for $151,000.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Painting is Dead Because

Painting is dead

because painting stops my body.

because painting ask us to see more in ourselves than what is in front of us.

because painting asks for contemplation, which has been removed from our times.

because words are not given and it is up to you (and only you) to find them (if you would like to).

because it is time-consuming.

because I am more anxious to take a photo of a painting than to be in its presence.

because I am bored with myself.

because I am bored with others.

because I’d rather be texting.

because painting is not like Las Vegas.

because what is old is useless.

because Picasso has died.

because everybody keeps talking about him.

because I can’t get a job.

because I need alliances.

because there is really no way be objective.

because I will end up teaching painting, if I am lucky, to kids who, if they are lucky, will spend their time teaching painting to kids that will…

because I need an ego.

because painting is too much like knowing myself.

because painting is intimate.

because is it beautiful and it could cause me to cry.

because we are scared to make no sense.

because we need approval.

because there is enough paintings in the world.

because my child can do a better job.

because pink is the new black.

because I have Photoshop.

because engineers are the painters of our times.

because in my mind the euphoria over a new Caravaggio at the late 1500s was like the euphoria over an iphone today.

because I never know what to say in studio visits.

because what would Roberta Smith write about?

because I might be dead (and dreaming).

because oil paint could give you cancer.

because I need to validate painting by using uncommon materials so there is something new to this old thing.

because painting is also sculpture that is also a video that is also a collage that is also…

because Greenburg would approve.

because I need to deconstruct painting

because painting is.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Shape of Things

1. A reality TV show
Promotional poster for Face Off, a reality-competition TV show featuring complete
 face/body transformations through prosthetics and make-up, 2011. 

2. A photograph I took in undergrad

Adair Stephens, Other no. 1, Gelatin silver print, 2008.

3. A recent painting
Bruna Massadas, Mother of All, Acrylic on canvas, 2012, 42 x 54 in.

4. A music video
Cropped still from the music video for "Rio" by Duran Duran, directed by Russell Mulcahy, 1982.

5. An older painting
Henri Matisse, Femme au chapeau (Woman with a Hat), Oil on canvas, 1905, 31 1/4 x 23 1/2 in.

6. A play and movie
Movie poster for The Shape of Things, a play (2001) and movie (2003)
written and directed by Neil LaBute in which a woman slowly and secretly
 "sculpts" a man by convincing him to alter his appearance and personality.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Thoughts on Ambition

Pablo Picasso, Guernica (detail), 1937 / My old dog Cooper

i'm in my childhood bed and my feet are cold

there's a watercolor on my desk but it has too much color on the edges, it looks like it's coming apart, the yellow on the bottom falling off the edge in a flat sheet the color of dog piss

soup in a bowl on the floor is the same color, a slice of it cooling in the spoon

the walls are full, josh hartnett, george clooney, the guy from the o.c., oh alright i know his name, adam brody

mulder and clark gable in white shirts

a painting my mom made of me as a girl looking out the window with red light at my back

my face is blue, the curtain is white and slippery in my small hand

these days i feel like a child waiting for my life to begin

there are things you can't do as a child, you have to wait

i knew it wouldn't come easy but i thought it would come easier, time after school laying itself out like a quilt

for awhile i sat in the sun and worked on my tan, i felt stronger

"gathering my strength like a consumptive in the sun," like diane cluck says

preparing for something unknown that would require a whole warm body and the appearance of athleticism or at least 
health, emotional flexibility


now i'm a little brown and my breasts are two white triangles, which i like

but the sun is further away and i have to wear socks at night

once again i search out the heat like a snake

in parking lots, corners of rooms, small squares of sunlight, flickering

i'm jealous of people i know who are getting shows, good jobs, i'm happy for them but i feel so far from a world in which that is possible

this bed with the red sheets, red walls, yellow lips of a man from a cut-up catalog, dark green fleece and the copper folds of his face like the gleaming back of a horse

i make paintings almost every day and when i look at them later and see the gray against the pink in the drape of a blanket i feel a surge which is love for a thing that is mine and not mine

but how do you fill a life, especially one so sick with ambition

rising in my throat when i lay down

unemployment, a long half-sleep

although last time i went to the art institute i didn't feel the itch of what i haven't done

i let all those people each have their moment in my day

not like they really need more moments but it isn't a tally system is it

some of them did what they had to do and it's beautiful

here are two gold-colored bookends shaped like shells, i will bring them to my new apartment when i have one

pay my rent with newspaper clippings from my grandmother in colorado and the pieces of my bottom lip that i have bitten off

bringing tears to my eyes

i read that as a girl margaret atwood wanted to write the great canadian novel and then she did

sometimes i go a whole day without touching anyone, even the dog, because i am using my hands to fan my fire

isn't that what those great painter men did all their lives? was it lonely for them?

i think it feels like selfishness because it is selfishness

for me and them both

though what is selfishness and what is just keeping warm

i can have grace sometimes when i need to and i must call upon it now like so many of us

ruined pride keeps us bobbing at the surface

debt a black rock

what are my abilities and are they in me like diamonds or do i call upon them and have them come to me from some 
other place, the field or the street beside it?

a grocery store on the corner has a picture in the window of marilyn monroe, does that mean i am home

today i did not make a painting

does that i mean i will die tomorrow

i want us all to have success, the best kind and on our own terms

i want to love all the people who are better at everything than i am

if they are good enough to let me

Monday, September 17, 2012

Looking: A Painting that Is Not Mine / A Painting that Is Mine

Anita Malfatti, A Onda (The Wave), c. 1915.

Anita Malfatti, A Onda (The Wave), c. 1915, (Detail).

Anita Malfatti, A Onda (The Wave), c. 1915, (Detail).

A Painting that Is Not Mine

I first see a painting from the distance. I am far away from it, but I can identify its size and its relationship to other objects and/or people around it.  I walk and the painting moves with my body. I realize my body’s relationship to the painting changes constantly (and so does my perception). Then, I stop. Take it all in. To me, this is the distance that excites me the least—medium distance. This is the place where I “understand” the painting the most because I see its entirety. This distance from the painting feels like I am looking at the painting through a computer screen. I slowly get closer and closer, until I get as close as possible. My nose becomes the only barrier between my eyes and the painting. My eyes wander and I cannot see anything in the corner of my eyes but the painting. I look at each stroke, lump, residue from one corner to the other. While I stare at each corner, I realize the painting is many small paintings. The painting multiples and moves in ways I never thought it would. The painting transforms in front of me—it is not as static as I though it was.

A Painting that Is Mine

When I make a painting, I see it from very close. My first encounter with a painting as a maker is the materials, then the shapes, colors, textures as I create it. Every painting is created very intimately at first. The more I add to the painting, the more distance I need from it. (I am one of those who keeps checking every distance and angle possible). The process of making is the process of detaching. A painting gets closer to being done when I am able to detach my body from it—believing it can live by itself and it doesn’t need me anymore.
The act of making paintings does not allow me to see paintings so statically. 

Bruna Massadas, The Giant's Eye, 2012. Acrylics on canvas,  10 X 14 inches. (Detail).
Bruna Massadas, The Giant's Eye, 2012. Acrylics on canvas,  10 X 14 inches. (Detail).

Bruna Massadas, The Giant's Eye, 2012. Acrylics on canvas,  10 X 14 inches. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Interview: Jake Ziemann at Tartine Bakery (San Francisco)

Jake Ziemann, Pull no. 1, Acrylic, spray paint & collage on paper, 2012, 15" x 11" (unframed).

the face painters:  Congratulations on your show, Pull, currently up at Tartine Bakery!  It seems like you haven't slowed down a bit since graduating from California College of the Arts in May.  How do you think your work has evolved over these last few months since completing your MFA?

Jake Ziemann:  Thanks.  It's true, I was in a high-paced rhythm near the end of my MFA, and one of my goals I set for myself was to continue this momentum after graduation.  Sort of "hit the grounding running" if you know what I mean?  When I took a step back from the body of work I came out of graduate school with, it was clear to me that my work was edging into a more non-representational realm.  I began the series of paintings thinking of each one as a different landscape scenario, but it was apparent that with each new painting I was less interested in the landscape and more concerned about the formal aspects within the work, i.e., the shapes and forms I was creating, the way the paint was interacting on the surface of the canvas, and the color relationships that I set forth.  My new work embraces this lack of subject matter, and in most cases source material, and is blatantly about the formal decisions I make in the studio.  The work does not hold onto any particularly subject or theme, yet there are forms and colors that get recycled and reused throughout the show.  The work has essentially begun to reflect what has been occurring with my painting process, and visually depicts the breaking down and building up of formal layers, teetering the line between structure and debris.

Jake Ziemann, Teeter, Oil & acrylic on canvas, 2012, 53" x 53".

tfp:  I'm interested in the relationship between your small-scale drawings and larger oil paintings.  What amount of influence does each have on the other when you're working in the studio?

JZ:  I think the smaller works are a way for me to get the ideas out more quickly, a way for me to use the process of translating cut-up old work and found forms to create fragmented sections of what appear in the larger paintings.  In the smaller drawings, I limit myself to only a few gestures, whereas in the larger paintings, I usually labor over them and use many methods of applying layers of pigment over the surface.  I think of the smaller work as extractions pulled from the larger pieces.  I take a single thing I see present in a larger oil painting, for example a cutout form, and make that the main focus of a drawing.  My works on paper are refreshing to make and act as a reprieve from over-thinking and over-working.  I foresee them influencing my paintings more and more as methods of isolating potential solutions that could in turn help me un-complicate the irresolute mess I make on the canvas.  They ultimately help me make decisions and become less hesitant with the brush, which for me is not always an easy task.

tfp:  Where do you think your paintings will go from here?  Will you stay on your current path or shake things up even more?

JZ:  It's hard to say.  I'm quite enamored with the process of formal translation and extraction I've begun, and by no means have any plans to stop it.  I can envision getting more entrenched into my method of rebuilding and breaking down forms to a point that it implodes.  I don't know what the resulting work would look like or have any clue how long this would take, but the possibility of taking something so far that it almost obliterates any sense of lucidity within the work truly tempts me.  I do, however, always have grand ideas and plans for the next big project.  For the moment I've written them down and decided to focus on diving headfirst into my current method of making.  I'm sure I will get restless, but I think I'm going to let the work lead me blindly into an uncertain terrain for the time being.

tfp:  Do you have anything else exciting coming up on the horizon?

JZ:  No upcoming exhibitions; I, however, am going to Vermont Studio Center for a four-week stint this winter.

tfp:  Thanks, and congratulations again!

If you would like to see more of Jake's work, check out his personal website here:  

And if you're in the Bay Area, don't forget to come to the opening reception of Pull on September 19th from 8 - 10PM at Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco, CA, 94110).  See you there!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gaga and Bonnard in the Bath

1. Diagram by myself

2. Lady Gaga, "Marry the Night" video, directed by Lady Gaga, 2011

3. Pierre Bonnard, Nude Crouching in the Bath, oil on canvas, 1940

4. Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance" video, directed by Francis Lawrence, 2009

5. Pierre Bonnard, The Bath, oil on canvas, 1925


1. Lady Gaga, "Yoü and I" video, directed by Laurieann Gibson, 2011

2. Lady Gaga, photograph by Terry Richardson, 2011

3. Pierre Bonnard, Nude Washing Feet in a Bathtub, oil on canvas, 1924

4. Lady Gaga, "Marry the Night" video, directed by Lady Gaga

5. Pierre Bonnard, Large Blue Nude, oil on canvas, 1924

6. Lady Gaga, live performance

7. Lady Gaga, publicity still, 2011

8. Pierre Bonnard, Nude Crouching in the Tub, oil on canvas, 1918

9. Lady Gaga, "Judas" video, directed by Lady Gaga and Laurieann Gibson

10. Pierre Bonnard, The Spring or Nude in the Bath, oil on canvas, 1917

11. Lady Gaga, "Yoü and I" video

12. (Center) Lady Gaga, "Marry the Night" video

Monday, September 10, 2012

"I Need a Reason to Make a Pink Painting"

Wayne Thiebaud, Cakes, 1963. Oil on canvas, 152.4 x 182.9 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Bruna Massadas, Untitled, 2012. Acrylics on board, 18 X 24inches. 
David Hockney, Man In Shower in Beverly Hills, 1964. Acrylic on canvas, 65 1/2 x 65 1/2 in.
Jordan Kantor, Untitled (113577), 2011. Oil on canvas, 21 x 28 in.
Henri Matisse, The Pink Studio, 1911. Oil on canvas, 181 X 221 cm.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Paint + Fabric

Adair Stephens, Fantasy Boys, 2011, Acrylic on cotton, sewn into pillows and stuffed with rice and polyester fiber.

As painters, it's tempting to think of fabric as simply the support, something to build on top of, to cover up. But it is much more important than that.

We live our lives in fabric. It is on our bodies nearly twenty-four hours a day. We are wrapped in it soon after we're born, and it lines our caskets in death. We sleep surrounded by it, draw comfort from it, have sex on top of it. It is there for everything.

Skin is fabric too. We cut it up and sew it back together. It sags, wrinkles, folds, can be pulled taut. It encloses us, encapsulates the stuff we're made of. We wash it clean, put make-up on it, decorate it with metal and ink. This is what we do: paint over fabric.

But there is also paint inside us.

I want to know what happens when the inside spills out.

Robert Rauschenberg, Bed, 1955, Oil and pencil on pillow, quilt, and sheet on wood supports.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Still Life

Still from Blue Valentine, a Derek Cianfrance film starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, 2010

When I paint a still life, I feel the shapes of the objects in my body. When I explain something to another person, something important that must be understood, I feel the shape of that person's mind in my body. Both of these are acts of love.

Katelyn Eichwald, Untitled, watercolor, gouache and charcoal, 5.5" x 6.5", September 2012

"Anything that's of any value in my performance is because of who I had to respond to."

Two Pears

Two Tongues

Monday, September 3, 2012

Do Painters Need Vision?

Edgar Degas, c.1905. Pastel on paper, 28-1/8 x 24-3/4 in. Norton Simon Art Foundation. 

Most painters with long careers go through some critical changes in their exploration of the medium. Phillip Guston, Pablo Picasso and Edgar Degas are some of the painters I have seen change most radically. When I think of Degas, for example, I think of how most works are delicate and precise in theme and formal nature. While at the Norton Simon Museum, however, I came across Degas’ Woman Drying her Hair. Degas, once again, depicted a delicate scene of a woman. However, formally, the drawing differed from the rest of the large amount of Degas being displayed there. On Woman Drying her Hair, the lines were reckless, aggressive, nervous and fast—like small cutswhile on the other Degas’ drawings, the lines were placed methodically as a vehicle to illustrate a specific feature or object. 

While painters like Guston or Picasso seemed to have changed aesthetic intentionally, what happens when a change in aesthetic is triggered by a physical difficulty—where the artist's intention was not to change the aesthetic? This seems to be what happened to Degas, whose vision problems altered how he saw his own work. 

Michael Marmor, MD, wanted to know what it was like to see through the eyes of an artist. Literally. Marmor blurred the image in “Woman Drying Her Hair” to a visual acuity of 20/300 to replicate what Degas might have seen. Credit: Michael Marmor

A great article on Michael Marmor's research on how eye diseases have change the way painters see their work:

I highly recommend to zoom in into the work and listen to the audio tour: