Uncanny Coincidence

The image left is the map of the energy displacement of the Chilean earthquake. The image at right is Carolanna Parlato's Hyshot, shown on Color Forms, Part 2 , the post just below this one. (I made the connection when I saw both images on my Facebook page: the quake map via C-Monster; the painting via the artist). Wow!


Color Forms, Part 2

Color Forms, Part 1
This detail closed Part 1 so for the sake of continuity I'm opening with it here. The work is by Scott Richter, who has a tour de force show at the Elizabeth Harris Gallery in which pumped-up paintings flex their geometric muscle.

Push Comes to Shove, 2009

Some paintings by Scott Richter, above and in installation below. I love that they don't have to be big to be strong

Info and links are at the end of the post

The painting below is second from the left in the installation above. In some instances, as here, Richter has painted in oil on wool carpet, so while his paintings are about the paint--god, are they about the paint--they've got some internal support

Scott Richter, This is Not a Landscape, 2007

Scott Richter, Clattertrap, 2008
with corner detail below .

. . . . . . .

As if one fabulous show at Elizabeth Harris were not enough, Carolanna Parlato has the second gallery. Form here is relative. Compared to Richter's paintings. Parlato's are flat. But look closer. Her surfaces are roiling with rills and currents. Even her titles suggest activity that's taking place just below the surface: Upwelling, Streaming, Undercurrent. Parlato is an action painter. More precisely, she's an active painter who pours and tilts as much as she brushes. There's form here, all right.
As for the color, I'm not sure "pretty" could stand up to the muscularity of the paintings, so it's fittingly strong and sometimes acidic. I particularly like the passages where the colors flow together. Or maybe they're repelling one another? Or maybe both, which would be a fitting dynamic for the literal push/pull of Parlato's process.
Carolanna Parlato, Hyshot, 2009, acrylic on canvas
You can get a sense of the scale below


. Upwelling, 2010 (shown in situ above) with detail below that shows you how the surface has been built through pouring
. . . . . . . .

Chrisopher Tanner at Pavel Zoubok
Christopher Tanner's work is an otherworldly hybrid of geometry and biomorphic form that pulls in paint, leather, mirrors, shells and other shiny materials. It's an understatement to call them dramatic; indeed, Tanner has been a Downtown performance artist among other things during his creative career. These works have a sense of Romulans-Go-To-Mardi-Gras-On-Acid. I can't say I love them, but they provoke me, and I like that.

Christopher Tanner, Sunday in the Park, 2009, mixed media assemblage
. . . . . . .

Diane Ayott, Twice Forgiven, 2990, oil on paper, 16 x 22 inches
At Kathryn Markel, Diane Ayott's work is more about color and pattern than color and form, but the Boston-based artist is working her circles, dots and lines with structure and dimensionality. I find her surfaces seductive, and because you have to get close to really see what's going on, viewing them becomes an intimate
.ere's an intimacy

. Diane Ayott, Open Eyed, 2008, oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches
with detail, below .

. . . . . . . .

. Renee Magnanti, installation wall at "Waxed in Time" at Tenri Cultural Center
(The show, curated by Thalia Vrachopoulos, also includes Nancy Azara, Joan Giordano and Kathy Stark)
In the grouping of small works shown above, Renee Magnanti has drawn from patterns of tiles and textiles from various cultures. The color is sublime--the yellow of a Chinese silk ceremonial robe, for instance, or the turquoise of a Tibetan ornament--but the hitch is that she's carving the surface of her paintings to create the image. Talk about color and form! In terms of process, what Magnanti's doing is not so different from lacquer work, in which layers of tree resin are built up and carved into. Magnanti is using wax, so her buildup is higher and her carving deeper..

Renee Magnanti, Auspicious, 2010, carved encaustic on panel, 30 inches in diameter

Synchronicity being a particularly poetic feature of the Universe, there was a beautiful show at the Met, Cinnabar: The Chinese Art of Carved Lacquer, which I saw the week before it closed. Another little gift: I photographed with no intererence from the guards. Here's my favorite:
Lacquer platter at the Metropolitan Mueum of Art
What's Up and Where
Scott Richter at Elizabeth Harris through March 13
Carolanna Parlato at Elizabeth Harris Gallery through March 13
Christopher Tanner at Pavel Zoubok through March 13
Diane Ayott at Kathryn Markel through March 13
Renee Magnanti at Tenri Cultural Institute through February 27
Chinese Lacquer at the Met ; over as of Feb. 21


Family Tree

Leonardo Drew: Love child of Louise Nevelson and Anselm Kiefer?.

You be the judge. Drew's solo is up at Sikkema Jenkins through March 6.
Installation view of middle gallery, above
The view as you enter the main gallery, below


Marketing Mondays: The Studio Visit

View of my cleaned-up studio, 2006, in preparation for a solo at the Marcia Wood Gallery, Atlanta (The "studio visit" here was photographed for a postcard to announce the show; this is the image that didn't get selected)
The studio visit is its own special event. It’s business. It’s social. It’s intimate. It’s work. It might be a fishing expedition for one dealer, a deal-sealer for another. Here’s curator Mary Birmingham, who has been so generous with her comments in previous posts. Substitute curator for dealer, critic, or art blogger, and the advice is the same:

“Curators visit artists for all kinds of reasons. Maybe I'm planning a show and am considering your work; maybe I'm curious about work I've seen in an exhibition and want to see more; maybe I'm doing someone a favor or accompanying another curator on her rounds; maybe I'm actually interested in possibly offering you a solo show; or maybe none of the above. The important thing is to not read too much into it. I sometimes sense an impatience on the part of artists I've visited when nothing immediately comes of it. Curators have lots of other factors that influence whether or not they will work with a particular artist--often out of their control. Remember that if a curator visits you there's a good likelihood he/she liked your work to begin with. That may be all you get--at least for the moment.”

So take the visit seriously and be prepared for whatever does, or doesn't, happen.

. Directions: Provide them if you’re in a hard-to-find location. Be prepared to take the elevator down to meet the visitor if you’re in a building with a rickety lift (it’s reassuring to the vistor) or if the hallways seem foreboding (s/he doesn’t know the building the way you do). If you’re way out of the way, offer to pick up the visitor at the train station. A few across-the-river artists I know have even picked up dealers at their Chelsea galleries and driven them back after the visit
. Food: Some years ago Ivan Karp came to my studio on Saturday morning on his way to the gallery. I’d put out a small spread with coffee, juice and some breakfast nosh: bagels and cream cheese, croissants, fruit. He looked at it and said, “So you don’t think I had breakfast before I left for work?” OK, too much. (I had a full breakfast every day for a week.) On the other hand, water is always appropriate. And on a hot day, a cool drink is appreciated. I think that chocolate or fruit is nice, too. Make sure it’s set out on a clean space. Provide napkins
. Bathroom: If the dealer has traveled expect that s/he will want to use it. If it’s a shared bathroom, make sure it’s clean. Put in a roll of paper towel and toilet paper
. Heat or A/C: You may be willing to work in a barely heated studio in the winter or in 90 degrees in summer, but provide some kind of comfort for the person who makes the special trip to see your work: a space heater, a window fan—even a hand held fan, which most people don’t usually carry with them
. To clean or not to clean: You don’t have to overhaul the space—it’s a working studio, after all—but the visitor should be able to negotiate the space without stumbling.
“I went into one artist’s space and felt as if I needed a miner’s hat,” recounted a dealer friend, describing a space claustrophobically full of stuff. If you’re using toxic materials, close them and ventilate. (You should be ventilating anyway.) If paintings are still wet, keep them away from a traveled pathway. Visitors who leave with paint on their good clothes—and most are working, so they’re dressed for work—will not be happy if your paint has ruined their clothing. Clean the chairs!

Now, On to the Work
There are a few ways to set up. Personally I like to ask the visitor ahead of time, “How do you like to see the work: all at once, a bit at a time, or do you like to be surprised? If you don’t ask, consider these options:
. Make it like a gallery visit. Don’t cram the walls. Show the work in a way that allows the dealer to see how your work would hold a gallery wall
. Create a salon show. There’s more work here, but it’s still an opportunity to “show” the work. Leave one wall empty (or provide an easel) so that you can move specific works there for closer viewing
. Show work in progress with a few finished pieces. For curators who are interested in process, it’s a change to talk about the how as well as the why
. Bring out the work in a way that allows you to control the presentation—one work at a time, which you place on a viewing wall. I’ve never done this, and I’m guessing it would be a shock to the visitor to walk in to empty walls, but you’d get her attention right quick. You need a sense of the dramatic to pull this off. Think of it as the overture, Acts 1 and 2, possibly an intermission (see Food, above), and then the Denouement
. By the way, don't leave out anything you don't want the visitor to see. It once happened that a painting I'd rejected was the only painting a dealer wanted. I let him take it and hated myself for months afterward

. Show your work in the best possible light. Literally

Pick a Chair
I make sure there’s a comfortable chair as well as a straightback chair for the visitor. Call me an armchair psychologist, but the person who goes for comfy is at ease in the studio visit process and likely to stay a while.
. I also make sure there’s a notebook and pen. Visitors like to take notes
. And did I mention to make sure the chair is clean?

Takeaway Material
. A small package with resume, statement, a CD with images, and a printout of the images on the CD; couple of reviews or articles
. A card with your contact info

How Long the Visit Lasts
I’ve had art professionals literally “stop in”—say hello, give a once over, and then leave. It’s a disappointment, but they don’t want to waste their time on a visit that will go nowhere. It happens. On the other hand, I've had studio visits last the afternoon. I once had a studio visit from a prospective dealer who spent five hours looking at everything, and then we went to dinner. I’ve been with her gallery for over a decade and had three solo shows there. If someone travels a long way, expect a reasonably long visit (see Food and Bathroom, above)

Studio Visit with Another Artist
Most of this same stuff applies when another artist comes to visit, though they understand—probably in a way a dealer or curator does not—just how much it takes to get a space presentable, so you don’t have to set up in quite the same way. But studio visits can and do lead to connections and opportunity, so take it seriously.
. Don’t have just anyone over. Your studio is as close to the inside of your mind as a physical space can get. I think about this when I blog about my studio visits. I want to give my readers a look into the artist's space, but I always ask, "May I photograph your bulletin board? Your in-progress work? Ideas and unusual techniques could, and do, get ripped off

. Beware the impromptu studio visits from your building neighbors. Visitors come knocking when they're on break but you're not; that can be a huge timesuck. (I used to put up a sign that said, "No Visitors Right Now. Thanks." )
. Then there's the more devious issue. “Every time [artist's name] visited my studio, I ended up seeing work just like mine in her studio,” complained F, an artist friend. “I finally stopped opening the door.”
. Some artists "hide the silverware," so to speak, to keep expensive expensive brushes or tubes of paint from disappearing. My feeling is that if you can't trust a visitor with your supplies, that's not a visitor you want in the studio. (Open Studios are, of course different because you are opening your space to the public. But the same caveats apply.)
Apropos of artists visiting studios, here's artist Lisa Pressman talking about her visits to other artists' studios for a talk she's giving in June.
Over to you: Readers, your comments and stories are welcome.


Color Forms, Part 1

Richard Bottwin at OK Harris

This post began a month ago when I saw the shows of two artists, Richard Bottwin and Stanley Whitney. Both were in SoHo, Bottwin at OK Harris, Whitney at Team, and I was struck by the geometric brilliance of their work--Bottwin's so spare (and deceptively complex) as it juts out from the wall; Whitney's flat canvases so packed with relationships--color to shape, brush stroke to surface, layer to layer, field to edge--that they felt sculptural. Before I published it, I saw additional work that fit the theme and so I postponed the post. Then I saw so much more I had to revise the post to the one you see here.
Most of the work is what you would call painting, but there’s a strong sense of dimensionality in even the flattest work, Whitney's painting a case in point (just as there is a strong sense of painting in Bottwin's sculptures). Much of the work is geometric, even if there’s a sense of the organic about it. The hand is everywhere present, process is implied, and there is a deeply satisfying sense of materiality.

Above and below: The view along the wall of Bottwin's work, the planes shifting as you move closer
.Below: Turn and look in the opposite direction and what was wood becomes color, and vice versa
Bottwin's sculptures are constructed of birch plywood covered with two distinctly different surfaces. One is laminated in a graphically beautiful wood--ash burl, birdseye maple, and dark, striated veneers--the other is painted a flat, saturated hue. The conversation between the two surfaces is amplified by the angle and form of each work. There's more about Bottwin's work in my studio visit with him last summer. In fact, you're seeing in that post a preview of the work in this show.
. . . . .
Stanley Whitney at Team: Agean, 2009s; right, Bob's (Rauschenberg's) Smile, 2009
Below, Wonderland, 2009; all oil on linen, 72 by 72 inches

I wrote about Whitney's work just about a year ago. It was the first time I'd seen it. Whitney is like the Agnes Martin of geometric abstraction in the way he hews to his particulars: same-size canvases, same strong saturated palette, same kind of rhythmic composition--two rows of large blocks over two rows of more compressed shapes. It's easy to think you know this work until you spend time with it. I'm still getting to know it.
. . . . .
View from the street: Roy Newell at Carolina Nitsch Project Room
I'd not heard of Roy Newell (1914-2006) before. This show of about two-dozen small and glorious paintings was curated by Richard Dupont. The paintings were a revelation: tiny compositions with a tangible physicality that developed as he repainted, overpainted and then repainted again and again over a period of 50 years.
I wish the press release were online. Here are a few excerpts: "Newell adopted the framework of the grid because it offered endless permutation; it was a place to put his mind so as to focus more on color and touch. Color would vary depending on his mood. The touch is what remains of the work. He would capture something, lose it, and then paint it again on top of itself. He never finished a painting. For him they were never finished. They were an extension of his body, growing and deteriorating in time. A density of feeling builds up in them. The works have a certain memory in them; even if you can't see it, it is felt."
And: "During his lifetime the total number of solo shows was less than ten."
Above and below: I don't have titles for these two Roy Newell gems, and the website doesn't provide information, but I can tell you that these two paintings are small, under 12 inches at the longest dimension. The oil paint is build up to the point that there's actually a nap

. . . . . .

Matthew Langley's show, The Series (with Heejo Kim) was at Blank Space, a new small gallery on 25th Street, until February 2. Langley's grid-based work is built up in layers, some of which have been scribed into or scraped back, so the surface is informed as much by what's barely visible as much as by what used to be there.

Matthew Langley at Blank Space: Installation view, above, and a painting I particularly like, below. More images on Langley's blog

Below: All Her Songs, 2009, oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches .

. . . . . .

Installation view: Lloyd Martin at Stephen Haller: Large work is Current, 2009, oil on canvas, 72 x 144 inches

Lloyd Martin shares with Langley a sense of the hidden and the revealed. Martin's work, larger and often composed of two or more abutting canvases, has a sense of rhythm as well. Cadence is the word that comes to mind. Strictly formal, they nevertheless suggest notation for music. The sense of lush and spare makes for involved viewing.

. . . . . .

Rick Klauber at Howard Scott: Red Stripe, 2009, 20 x app 17 inches
Below, installation view with Quick Sand, 2007, 39 x 117 inches; both acrylic on white cedar shims with wire brads

Cedar shims are used to level an architectural frame. Here they throw you off balance: Is the work sculpture? It is painting? The shims are the substrate and ground of a painting, the form and stucture of a sculpture. As a painter I am concerned with the archival quality of the paintings I make; it's a burden. With this work there's a sense of being in the moment, unencumbered even by canvas. Very Zen. And very beautiful..
. . . . .

Scott Richter at Elizabeth Harris Gallery: Installation, drawn from stuff in the artist's studio, with detail below

We're ending with Scott Richter, and we'll begin with him in Part 2, which I'll post next week. My totally unacademic response to this work is Wowsa! The wall you see above is the amuse oeil to the rest of the show, which I'll show you next week (or which you can see for yourself on the gallery website). There's nothing refined about this work. It's juicy, luscious, sensuous, slathered and swiped. Eye sex. I love it!
. . . . . . .
What's Up and Where
Richard Bottwin at OK Harris through February 20
Stanley Whitney at Team; over, Jan 6-Feb 6
Roy Newell at Carolina Nitsch Project Room through February 20
Matthew Langley (with Heejo Kim) at Blank Space; over Jan 14-Feb 2
Lloyd Martin at Stephen Haller through February 20
Rick Klauber at Howard Scott through February 27
Scott Richter at Elizabeth Harris through March 13

In Part 2, next week
We'll we’ll begin where Part 1 leaves off, with Scott Richter
Carolanna Parlato at Elizabeth Harris Gallery through March 13
Christopher Tanner at Pavel Zoubok through March 13
Diane Ayott at Kathryn Markel through March 13
Renee Magnanti at Tenri Cultural Institute through February 27
Chinese Lacquer at the Met through February 21


Rupees. Gold Dust. Miss Monalisa Wuko. I've Got Mail!

A sample of recent email that made it through the spam filter:

Rupees? For Me?
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Maybe No Rupees After All
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Then Again, Maybe Just Maybe Those Rupees are Still There
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A Born-Again Senora from Kuwait
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Gold Dust From Jerry Konoyima
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Screenplay for a Made-for-TV-Movie? [parens mine]
From: Miss Monalisa Wuko to you
Dearest One,
Good day and how are you today? I hope fine? After going through your profile, permit me to inform you of my desire of asking you to be a guardian or foster parent to me and then help me out in what i am about to tell you. I know this may sound strange to you , receiving a mail from an unknown person, but my condition has forced me to do that.

[Act 1]
I'm Miss Monalisa Wuko 19 years old, the only daughter of Late Mr. & Mrs. John U.Wuko. My father was a very wealthy cocoa merchant here in Abidjan, the economic capital of Cote D'Ivoire. He was poisoned to death by his Brothers on one of their village meetings, my mother died when I was a baby. Before the death of my father on March 2008 in a private hospital here in Abidjan, he secretly called me by his bed side and told me that he has the sum of Eight Million United State Dollars USD ($8,000,000) deposited in a suspense account in one of the big banks here in Abidjan.

He then strongly advised me not to seek for assistance in the investment of the money from his lawyer nor any of his friend here but to seek for a foreign partner from a country of my choice (outside our country, Cote D'Ivoire) that will assist me in the wise investment of the money. I have since left the money in the bank with the view of my making use of it for investment purposes after my education carrier here. But as you may be already aware by now, our country (Cote D' Ivoire) is presently at political crises. Rebels have already taken over the whole Northern part of the country and making efforts towards to capture the commercial center of the country, Abidjan, where i am now. For this ugly development in this country, i have now decided to take quick actions and have this money transferred out of this country before it is too late for me in doing that.

[Act 2]
I now want to transfer it out and use it for investment purpose like real estate management or hotel management. Because of this i am honorably seeking your assistance in the following ways: (1) To serve as a guardian to me and then assist me transfer the money into your bank account.
(2) To make arrangement for me to come over to your country to further my education and then settle there parmanently.

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[Act 3]
The bank will then contact you and communicate with you on the transfer. You shall then be giving me information on when the transfer will be over. I shall also send my pictures to you and shall also need yours own too. No matter what your decision may turn out to be, please i beg you to keep this highly secret for my safety, as I believe that those people that killed my Daddy are still after me. Indicate your willingness to help.

Thanks and God bless you.
Best regards,
Miss. Monalisa Wuko

And god bless us all, Miss Wuko


Marketing Mondays: How Do You Define Success?

It's been over a year since Marketing Mondays started. I wasn't sure I could sustain 52 weeks' worth of ideas, but here we are seven MM posts into the new year and there are plenty more topics to consider and some to revisit.

Artist Karen Schifano suggested I revisit the topic of success. I first posted on the topic in June last year, but now that readership is way up (1600+ of you every Monday!) this seemed like a worthy topic to revisit.

Cartoon by Eric Gelber

The paradigm for success looks something like this:
Get a BFA.
Get an MFA.
Set up a studio in a large city, preferably New York.
Tap that font of inspiration to make art every day.
Sweat, agonize and work your little fingers to the bone to create a substantial and worthy body of work.
Do the obligatory Open Studio or two.
Exhibit in group shows.
Get a solo in a non-profit or small commercial gallery.
Receive some blogger attention.
Apply for and receive a Pollock-Krasner grant or other award that marks you as an up-and-comer.
Invite dealers and curators visit your studio--and have them actually come.
Move from being an assistant to having an intern.
Get invited to join a good gallery in which you've previously been included in group shows.
Have a solo show there.
Sell out the show.
Receive a great review in one of the print publications we all read.
Be the subject of a raging debate on one of the art blogs.
Be invited to a Whitney Biennial.
Find yourself hated or lionized (envied either way); pick one.
Have kids that your wife/partner/nanny takes care of.
Have your dealer take your work to the art fairs, where big-name collectors wrangle for the opportunity to acquire it.
Hire assistants (no more pesky interns).
Jump to a bigger, higher-profile gallery.
See your big-ass dealer sell your work for a six figures (maybe more).
Find there's a waiting list for your work.
Move to a larger studio. Make that a much larger studio.
If you're teaching, get tenure.
Apply for and receive a Guggenheim (because you really need the money).
Make the cover of Art in America.
Better still, hit the trifecta, AiA, Art Forum and Modern Painters.
See your work curated regularly into ever higher-profile museum shows with ever more lavish catalogs.
Soar into another level with a MoMA retrospective.
Receive a MacArthur "genius" grant.
Renovate your loft after you buy the building it's in.
Get a second studio in another place--Greece, St. Maarten, Berlin, Rio--your choice.
Have your assistants do the work.
See your work be the subject of multiple monographs by high-profile art historians or critics.
See your work included in the art history books.
Watch your work go for seven figures and your bank account bulge.
Die happy and rich.
(Did I miss anything?)
The reality for most artists is anything but:
Working two part-time jobs with no benefits.
Working a full-time job with benefits but not enough time to make art.
Making art but getting little attention.
Getting some attention but making no sales.
Making sales but never getting into the good collections or seeing your career advance critically.
Sleeping on a futon when you're 35 and all your non-artist friends are buying homes.
Living and working in New York; spending all your time in the studio or working to support the studio.
Not living and working in New York; it's an easier life, but it's not New York.
Not living and working in New York and it's still not easy.
Not having a tenure-track teaching job, but struggling to patch together some adjunct teaching.
Seeing your students get the galleries and the attention.
Not getting the adjunct teaching jobs.
Having kids and regretting it.
Not having kids and regretting it.
Not getting the Pollock Krasner, Guggenheim or MacArthur.
Not getting on the cover of Art in America.
Not getting reviewed in Art in America.
Not getting a retrospective even at your regional art center.
Not getting retirement benefits because you never put in enough hours at any one job to be vested.
Not having a 401(k).
Moving your studio for the fifth time in 20 years because your rent has gone up higher than you can afford--and losing four months with each move to the pack, move and setup. (And, yes, you're doing it yourself with a rent-a-van.)
Battling with sexism or racism for decades only to find another ism biting at your angles: ageism.
Enjoying the privilege of whiteness and maleness for decades only to find your bald or gray-haired self in the same boat as your non-male, non-white colleagues whom you've secretly thought of as complainers.
Losing your gallery, if you ever had one, because it's closing, or because your work isn't selling, or because you're past middle age and the dealer won't admit that's why they're dropping you from the roster.
Losing your studio when you're 75 because the building is going co-op and you don't qualify for credit--plus you couldn't come up with the down payment.
Dying with a studio full of art that gets thrown out when the landlord comes to clean out the space.

OK, somewhere between those two extremes is the career that most of us have, neither big-ass blue-chip nor its black-and-blue opposite.

And that's the topic of today's Marketing Mondays: How do you define success for you?
. Is it based on the art world paradigm?
. Or is it something else--integrating art and life in a bucolic setting? Teaching, raising a family and showing every couple of years in a regional co-op gallery? Finding a way to combine your art and your politics? Working nine-to-five so that you can be free to outside of the gallery-go-round?
. Whatever it is, how close have you come to that ideal?
. Has your ideal of success changed during the course of your career?


Studio Visit with Karen Schifano

The viewing wall in Karen Schifano's Williamsburg studio
I visited Karen Schifano’s Williamsburg studio in September. I knew her work from the Minus Space website, and from group exhibitions around town, including the summer group show at the Minus Space Gallery in Brooklyn the month before.
Schifano's studio is a large, well-lit square of a space in a work-only commercial building. To orient you, if you were looking at a floor plan, I entered at the bottom left of the square. Facing me was a wall with large windows. To my left was a viewing wall, and on that wall were the two paintings you see above, with that little row of maquettes between them. Karen and I sat on chairs facing that wall.
A door-size work, with maquettes of new projects
With artists who work minimally I’m usually careful not to make associations—an acute angle is just an acute angle—but looking at these paintings, which are twice as long as they are wide, I’m thinking door, doorway, hallway, passage, the unknown, maybe even escape. These “doorways” are only slightly “ajar,” with what appears to be a shaft of light. Like I say, it could be just an acute angle, but I’m free associating despite my intentions. There’s nothing about them that says “welcome,” and indeed those “shafts” have an almost menacing shardlike quality. .
Yet when I step away from the associations, the cool geometric formality of each work invites closer viewing. In that light, it’s simply about what’s happening at the edge in relation to the rest of the field. Shape and color. And Schifano has a quirky, Truitt-like sense of color that maximizes her minimalism.
Apparently I'm not alone in the door association. “It’s true, they kind of loom and cover the walls here,” allows Schifano. “I think I’ve been in a transitional space mentally for a while, and so maybe they keep me company, support me in this. I think I’ve envisioned my life changing, the world changing. The paintings in hindsight have been ways of keeping that desire going without necessarily conjuring up an answer. Then again, I so also just look at them and see what works, what doesn’t, what could come next in the series.
“I couldn’t continue the series at one point because I was unwilling to see them as figurative. When I got over that, it all became easier.”
The maquettes up close
The maquettes are similar but different. Up close I see that these paintings are more sculptural. Where Schifano implied a foreground in the large paintings, here that space is physical, extending out to meet you. The space pours from the wall to the floor. And since I’m making associations, it crosses my mind that those floor elements function conceptually as, well, welcome mats.
I’m thinking about all of this as we’re talking. And we’re talking not so much about art but about ourselves—we have some commonalities: Italian American daughters, with language and familial connections to the Old Country; we’re of the same generation; and we both work reductively.

Perhaps because of the less-is-more sensibility, we're both neat. You can certainly see that here. "I can't seem to think straight unless their order in my space," says Schifano. "I sometimes rearrange the furniture as a way of clearing my head." I can dig it. .

The space opposite the viewing wall...

At the opposite wall, shown above and below, there’s a work table with a freshly gessoed canvas the same distinctive size as the others. On the wall itself there are some small relief works: monochromatic panels whose space is bisected by a flat orange line that continues on to the wall.

I ask: "How much of you is a minimalist and how much is a conceptualist? How much of you is a painter and how much a sculptor?" Of course I don’t expect numbers, but I am curious to know how Schifano places herself in the scheme of things.
“I think of myself as a painter primarily, who conceives of paintings as objects as much as illusions." she says. "I think I’ve come into my own in a reductive way. I’m now more interested in getting to essentials, in being direct and clear, saying what I can in as strong a way as possible while still being complex and sensitive. I have a strong analytical streak, so my working in an intuitive way as a painter—even while preconceiving my pieces more or less, I can keep my brain and gut in synch.”

On the wall near this just-gessoed canvas are small sketches that she had completed during a residency at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center a few weeks earlier, along with a number of images of space that has been divided by one kind of line or the other.

Stepping back a bit, you can see the wall of sketches, above, and . . .
. . . continuing to the right, images that make connections between the spaces she sees and the spaces she makes.
Karen Schifano in her studio

On the window wall, there’s another grouping of images and sketches—mundane but graphically interesting stuff like crosswalks and painted curbs—that seems both tangential and essential to Schifano’s work. Seeing their abundance, I realize why she conceived and curated (and, disclaimer, invited me to participate in) Bulletin Board: Inspiration Information, a Minus Space Viewlist project that asked artists to talk about what germinal images were on their own studio walls.
“Funny, I thought I had a sparse collection,” Schifano says when I remark on the large number of sketches, photographs and images that she has altered to define the space with her colored line. “There’s not always a direct connection between what I see and what I do. Architecture definitely plays a role in my mental/emotional stew.

“I also like to look at other artists’ work: Ellsworth Kelly, Blinky Palermo, Stephen Westfall, Donald Judd, for example. Seeing all that stringent work feels supportive and jogs me into being brave enough to take more chances.”

Inspiration information: the wall of images that both contribute to and reflect the artist's visual thinking

Schifano mentions a picture of her father—the man in the winter gear standing next to a large sculpture in the top right corner of the image above. “He’s almost 85 and still working on welded figure-size pieces after a long career in advertising. His favorite artist is Ellsworth Kelly. My mother, who was an art teacher, loves Barnett Newman. Good heritage, no?” Indeed.

I didn't want to take up all of Schifano's studio time on this afternoon. She works four days a week as a painting conservator, so studio time is precious. I thanked her (taking, with her good wishes, the rest of the salty chocolate bar she'd put out during our conversation). This is the view of the way out, below: A third elongated painting on the viewing wall and a cogent definition of space via the small wall/floor piece.

Above, the view on the way out of the studio
.Below, a few blocks away: A hint, perhaps, that the universe has been listening in on the conversation and is trying to communicate?

Want to see more? Schifano will be part of a two-artist show at Blank Space in Manhattan (with Paige Williams), April 1-30.