Artist to Watch

RACHEL EULENA WILLIAMS

Portrait of Rachel Eulena Williams in her studio. Image courtesy of the artist. 

NB: What are some of your earliest memories of making art, and how does it relate to what you’re doing now?  

REW: I’ve always been interested in collage, for me moving things around feels super powerful. I don’t know what it is, but I feel there’s so much interesting and amazing information in the world that there’s something very connecting about actually looking at an object and connecting with that object that you use in your every day. Collage is a way of inserting culture into any conversation that you’re having on a two dimensional surface. For me, collage has been that inspiration that began when I first started cutting up pictures or scrapbooking. Scrapbooking to me was so thrilling because information wasn’t just alone, it had a companion and a whole narrative around it.  You could save a receipt, or save a little pressed flower, and those are simply really humble and sweet things that we naturally do as humans.  

Then I turned it into my own practice. I feel like what I’ve done is I’m saving my own paintings and my own moments by creating those lines and marks, like scrapbooking them together so this collage is a kind of collective and personal memory. When I’m working I am remembering or  going through a certain moment as I’m making something. A lot of times I’m looking at what I’m making, and it feels like there’s these really free open things that then I kind of layer into each other. I can remember each of those moments when I’m working, and I can see how they connect over different works. That’s something that will always be really exciting for me, and I love that the painting is time and energy and abstraction in itself – it  becomes a ‘tool’ that I get to play with.   

Rachel Eulena Williams, Muddy Peace, 2024, Acrylic, printing ink, cotton, canvas, hooks, wire, and rope on wood, PVC and MDF panel, 64 × 48 × 6 inch.

NB: Can you walk us through your process?  Where do you begin?   What guides you through your composition and how do you decide when the piece is finished? 

REW: So as I mentioned, when I’m starting a piece I’m working freely and I’m not really thinking so much about the end product. I go into the studio and just work on these large splotches of paint and canvas. Then I sort of compose them and break them down and move them around. I usually have something in mind and I have sketches and I have drawings, but then those drawings usually just end up being more like a blueprint or a map.

I accumulate and gather all these elements over months and years, and then I work with them. I go into this awareness (or non awareness) and then build up the work over time. I know that for me, a painting is complete when every element is shining through and there’s a flatness that blends in and also moments that show the structure and the different color combinations. Each work is sort of a journey and it’s a lot like a mystery. It’s one of my favorite things to get lost in that journey.  

Rachel Eulena Williams, Star Root Crossing, 2024, Acrylic on canvas, rope, wood, PVC and fiberboard, 33 × 32 × 5 inches

NB: This is just tangential, but in your studio, do you have a cataloging of your materials or is it more of a free for all?  

REW: I would say because of the way I’m working I usually collect a lot of things and save them. There’s tons and tons of cut moments on the wall, and then tons of like cut fabric moments, and then there’s painted moments. They all kind of live on the wall together. So there’s this wall with just tons of hanging things. Then I have another area for my panels, so everything is ready for me to grab – one of my favorite things is having everything ready and allowing there to be fluidity so everything can come together.  

NB: So where do the materials in your paintings, like the pieces of canvas, rope, and paint come from? What do these represent?  

REW: For me I’ve always been very interested in working with rope and string. There’s always this kind of dual or double meaning and function for things, and for me it’s about the freedom that I get to do all of this very freeing stuff with it, going past the representation of the rope and go into the function. This is a very metaphorical, and symbolic representation of life and living. I’ve always kind of described my works as this sort of portraiture in existence or of my own existence without my body or actual physical representation of me in it.   

Rachel Eulena Williams, Soul on Ice, 2024, Acrylic, cotton, canvas, hooks, wire, rope, and fiberboard on wood panel, 76 × 68 × 7 inches. 

NB: So what are some artists that you’re looking at that inspire your practice?  

REW: When I have to speak at different schools or connect with lots of different audiences, I usually like to express all of the artists that inspire me.  Usually those are: Howardena Pindell, I love that there is both that function and symbology metaphor within her work, which is abstract, but also there’s just something that makes me feel so connected to her work. Then there’s Alma Thomas, who is a painter that I feel for me looks like collage. It feels like she’s painting a mosaic and she’s very intentional about how things don’t speak or touch each other. There’s also David Hammons, that I’m always thinking about, in some of his most simple works there is form, function, and materiality going past materiality.  I think about Theaster Gates as well and how there’s a lot of works that make me feel validated, you know, and how those artists make me feel validated.  

Yet, I think it’s important to look at all the work, you know? Especially as an artist, it’s important to appreciate the journey of art as much as you want people to appreciate the journey of your work. It’s critical because otherwise in your studio, you’re just painting in a vacuum in this kind of insular world, just painting iterations of yourself versus the actual world that we live in. 

Rachel Eulena Williams, Coded Healing Roads, 2024, Acrylic, dye, canvas, thread and rope on canvas, 60 × 50 × 1 inches. 

NB: Can you tell us about your most recent exhibition ‘Dream Speak’ at Canada Gallery? 

REW: For me ‘Dream Speak’ is an interesting and complex exploration about symbols. I think symbols are like speech, and sometimes it’s hard to find the courage to figure out the perfect way to say things. I wanted to go through some of my thoughts through symbology.

There’s a lot of pillow shapes within the show and a lot of small moments of symbols within the work that are made with rope, drawn, or painted. For me, there was this kind of imaginary ‘journaling exploration’, sort of what we were speaking about earlier, where the work is this collective of memories put together. I have a lot of different books and different glossaries of  symbols, so a lot of the symbols are added to the growth of previous symbols. Some of the first ones that I used were actually the inspiration for my first show at Canada Gallery and I wanted to create a second iteration of it.

NB: Just as a side question, when you speak about your work, how do you refer to them as paintings, sculpture and/or air reliefs?  How do you prefer people to refer to your work?  

REW: It’s a really hard question because some of the works feel so sculptural and others feel much more like painting, so there’s moments where I’m thinking of them as paintings and sometimes I’m thinking of them more as sculptures. For me, I find it really interesting that the canvas and the rope have the same properties – I use them together and there’s a transformation of what the canvas does and how it reacts gesso and paint and it all becomes one. I love the way that I’m looking at this canvas and I’m thinking of it as the fabric that it is and how I can sew it and move it around, playing with its physical properties. So I think that’s kind of where the painting and the sculpture are going in each other’s circles because the line becomes the rope and that’s sculptural, but it’s still a line within this painting. 

Artist to Watch

JOSH PETKER

Portrait of Josh Petker in his studio. Image courtesy of the artist. 

NB: When did you first pick up a brush and what drew you to becoming an artist?   

JP: The short answer is I first picked up a brush and fell in love with art making in my early 20’s, by happenstance. I didn’t grow up around fine art or admiring museum artists. It was the making of a painting that awoke me to the realization that I’d be making paintings the rest of my life.

Growing up, most of my creativity was spent writing and playing music. My father is a musician so I grew up studying music and learning instruments which eventually led to playing in bands with friends. So, the discipline of studying a creative practice was imbued into me at an early age. Eventually, when I left home for college, I wasn’t in a musical band anymore, I was just a guy trying to figure things out. So in college I signed up for a foundational art course and I remember feeling a little guilty, like it was a waste of my education. I was thinking ‘why am I doing this? I’m not an artist’. However, I took the course and I absolutely fell in love with art making. It reminded me of making music because I experienced it as a meditative process where my brain was clear and I followed an inspiration to fruition. Making art has fewer rules than making music and you don’t have to perform for people which is a part of music making I don’t enjoy. I discovered that I enjoyed making art so much more than making music. I wasn’t thinking about becoming a career artist at this point, but that evolved over time. 

Josh Petker, The Bard, oil and acrylic on linen, 61 x 138 in, 2023.

NB: Your work is characterized by drawing inspiration from historical works. What are some of the artists or art history periods you draw inspiration from the most? Why these?   

JP: The first thing to say is that many of the historic artists that inspire my work are historical inspiration as opposed to technical artistic inspiration. When I look at Frans Hals or Johannes Vermeer, for example, it’s the fact that they painted scenes of leisure and everyday life, where people relate to each other, that inspires me far more than their impeccable detail or technical virtuosity. Looking at art history allows one to time travel.

Visually, I feel that the way I employ layers of figuration atop the historical references creates an effect that appears similar to cubism at times, although I am not making cubist paintings. It’s the layering of references that naturally creates the result. Then there’s influence from the psychedelic rock n’ roll poster art from the 1960s, which combined Art Nouveau with clashing neon colors to make their look, and of course the musical references of the day. 

When I was studying art history a lot of movements were introduced as if they’re in opposition to the movement before them, but I don’t feel like I’m on a timeline. I like it all: I love abstraction, I love surrealism, I love historical, academic, painting and all for different reasons. Why not use them all? In one sense, my work is about time, but it’s about how it all blends together and not so much about a chronological order.

Josh Petker, Blue Beach, oil and acrylic on linen, 69 x 61 in, 2023.

NB: OK so then how do you approach the canvas? Do you do sketches at all first?   

JP: No, I don’t plan out the compositions. In my studio I have numerous folders of inspiration, categorized by many things I’m interested in, including time periods, ideas, and moods. I use the folders like a DJ would use albums and turn to them over and over again. Once I land on an idea that I think is compositionally interesting, I start painting a version of it on canvas. I anchor the painting with a historical reference and then once that’s ready, the real painting, layering, and expression happens.

Josh Petker, Red Pinscher, oil and acrylic on linen, 60 x 50 in, 2023.

NB: So can you tell us about the characters and subjects in your paintings that are often drinking, celebrating, and performing? What is interesting to you about these scenarios?

JP: What’s interesting to me, and what’s the most fun about these scenes of taverns, is that they’re scenes of basic human nature. I feel like despite all the changes that happen through time with science and technology, human relations is still a universal theme. I recently marked out something that curator and writer Kathy Battista wrote that I loved: “Despite changes in technology, politics, fashion or health standards, humanity remains the same across epochs. We eat, we work, and we long for meaningful connection with our friends, lovers and community.” I feel that’s the gist of it.

In my paintings, I often include a Bard. It’s not a rule, but there is often a musician or someone playing music. I have an affinity for the multifaceted agency of the Bard: they are the fool, the story-teller, the brave traveler, and inebriated comedian. Though I prefer the solitude of my studio, I relate to the trope of the Bard. 

NB: Yes, I remember your most recent show at Rachel Uffner was called ‘Serenade’.   

JP: That’s right. And my last show at Anat Egbi was called ‘Tambourine’. That’s because they are about music and I think paintings can be heard like a ‘moment of still music’ somehow. I suppose I view myself as an ‘art Bard’ in some way. Shakespeare was a Bard. Bob Dylan is a Bard. A Bard is all about sharing stories about the human condition and then people hear the stories and retell those stories and so on. The literal embodiment of passing time through song and story. The Bard is akin to the fool in terms of historical work. It’s a character that can reveal universal truths while also making fun of the king and the absurdity of the system. I like Bards.

Josh Petker, Courting in Red, oil and acrylic on linen 20 x 16 in, 2021.

NB: As you were talking I thought that I see that the larger scale works are more of these group scenes and the smaller paintings appear to be more detailed shots. Could you just talk a little bit about that?

JP: I think of the smaller detail works as suggestive fragments or crops. It could be about the touch of one hand on a shoulder, or the dangling of a shoe that really exemplifies another layer of what’s going on at any moment. In the original painting that I’m pulling the crop from, let’s say there’s a wash maiden who’s just dangling a shoe – yet cropped on its own it suddenly becomes so much more, you know? It’s suggestive of domesticity, intimacy, leisure, flirtation, exhaustion, etc

Josh Petker, The Card Game, oil and acrylic on linen, 69 x 61 in, 2021.

NB:So let’s talk about color palette, and how this relates to the themes you explore.   

JP: I’m very affected by the 1960s explosion of psychedelic art and the psychedelic music that the art corresponded with. I think of the psychedelic light shows taking place behind live music groups and how the colors and forms change and go with the music. These early pioneers of popular music were sort of like the Troubadours of new sounds and new ideas. In my work, like in those rock posters, I’m interested in colors that move and clash against each other. Glaring orange and green fonts outlined in neon pink make the eyes move all around the image and suddenly you’re in that dreamy, trippy place. That’s where I like to be. 

The fragments or cropped paintings rely on color play a lot of the time. They’re mostly blue with just a hint of red that accentuates what I was describing as a ‘moment’.I’m painting historic images, but then by giving them these contemporary colors it makes them live somewhere in between past and present. The colors sing out to me, ‘life is but a dream’.

NB: So last question, what are some projects you’re currently working on? Any upcoming exhibitions you’d like to share with us?   

JP: Right now I’m working towards a solo show that will take place in early 2025 with Rachel Uffner Gallery in New York City. I also work with Anat Ebgi Gallery in Los Angeles and things are coming up there soon as well.

Artist to Watch

MICKEY LEE

Portrait of Mickey Lee in her studio in Mexico City. Image courtesy of the artist. 

NB: So what are some of your earliest memories of art? What aspects of those early encounters remain relevant to your practice today?

ML: My earliest experiences with art are with my father. He is a woodworker and he had his own shop, so I would often go with him while he was working. To keep me occupied he would give me scraps of whatever was around, whether it was paper or pieces of wood. He had those pencils that carpenters use that are kind of flat and fat and thick or leftover house paint, just sort of whatever materials were there. Anything to keep my hands busy. 

Also, when I was young, I struggled with speaking. Although I knew how – I refused to. So my dad realized that my way of communicating or to see what was happening within me and if I was OK was through my drawings. I credit him a lot for having that as a method of communication and it was something that just continued to develop. 

The imagery in my work has a very honest, uninhibited quality to it, so maybe not much has changed from those early encounters. 

Mickey Lee, Untitled, oil on canvas, 17 x 14 in, 2024. 

NB: Great! So let’s talk a little bit about your process. How do you approach each new painting? 

ML: That’s a good question. That’s a tough question. I draw almost every day, almost every morning. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up, it’s sort of my version of note taking. So if I have something going on in my brain, putting it to paper is the first thing I do. And then when I’m approaching a canvas, I look through my “notes”, my studies, and I kind of flesh out what story is being told and what images and characters are speaking to each other. 

I think storytelling is really what my work is rooted in. Each piece is sort of its own ‘fable’. The story unfolds as I move through the canvas and build out these characters and the world they live in. I don’t always know where I’m going. It almost feels like working with a block of clay, you’re taking things out and then you’re putting things back in, there’s a push and pull to the painting. I’m surprised by it sometimes, just as much as the viewer. The paintings, moreso the figures, reveal themselves as I keep painting, I often feel as though I’m under their lead. 

Mickey Lee, Untitled, oil on canvas, 24 x 19 in, 2024.

NB: Can you tell us about the way you portray the female body in your paintings and the characters that surround it, like the rabbits, the babies, wolves, and spiders? 

ML: The figures are kind of me and kind of not. They’re an idea of something, whether it’s something ugly or beautiful, that is how they take shape. I enjoy playing with the idea of the nude figure, especially if I see myself in it, being distorted and exaggerated. I like them a little grotesque. You have to remember that the word grotesque is not necessarily a synonym with “gross” but an umbrella term for strange, mysterious, magnificent, as well as disturbing or ugly. That is how I feel. That is how this world is, and theirs too. Strange, mysterious, magnificent, disturbing and ugly. 

Now the animals – I simply love them. They are fantastic story tellers, they’re such an excellent vehicle for conveying things that are unpleasant without being overtly salacious. They’re just as much, if not more, of the narrators of the painting. 

Mickey Lee, Arachnid Embrace, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in, 2023. 

NB: Where do you draw your inspiration from? What are some artists or aspects of life that are significant to you and your practice alike? 

ML: Expanding on what I was discussing before with the animals- you know how Cecily Brown was able to do these orgy scenes with rabbits, right? Even though it is a violent orgy scene, it’s more palatable because they’re bunnies. I like that trickiness and I am always attracted to something that has a dark undertone or that is immediately unsettling. I want to be challenged. I enjoy having to visually dig through an image and having to keep coming back to it. I think a really great living artist that does that and who also explores sort of this mad genius ugliness is Dana Schutz. 

Although my favorite artist in the entire world is, Maud Lewis, a folk artist from Nova Scotia. She too painted lots of animals in the bright and cheery landscapes of her home. The work is nostalgic though, there is something that makes your heart cry a little bit. Perhaps it is the honesty. I think she was ahead of her time. 

I love pretty things like rabbits and trees and flowers, but I also want my stomach to turn a little bit, you know? 

Mickey Lee, Untitled, oil on canvas, 5 x 9 in, 2024.

NB: So, you moved to New York last year and you’re now in Mexico City. What’s next? What are some future projects, exhibitions, or places that you’ll be visiting that you would like to share with us? 

ML: Right now, yes, I am working in Mexico City. Though I return to New York in April, and all of the work I’ve made here will be coming back with me which is exciting. As for the near future, I have a small solo in East Hampton that I am very excited about, as well as a show in Stockholm with Loyal Gallery at the end of summer. The future looks bright, I get to keep painting, which is all I can ask for!

Artist to Watch

YIRUI JIA

Portrait of Yirui Jia in her studio. Image courtesy of the artist. 

NB: Your paintings evoke a sort of childhood nostalgia. Can you tell us about how your practice has evolved over time and how you either deal with this nostalgia or keep the inner child alive?  

YJ: That’s just who I am, being honest about what I feel and being honest to the painting. My practice is more like a play, like flying a kite. I lose the string first and then it’s all between gaining and losing control. I always start with losing control then pull some control back. It’s always the painting that leads me, although sometimes it leads to a dead end. Then I just start over.   

Yirui Jia, Home….Sick, 96 x 85 1/8 in, Acrylic, gel, glitter and map collage on canvas, 2023-2024.© Yirui Jia. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.

NB: Who are the characters in your paintings? Where do they come from and what do they represent to you?  

YJ: I used to have many characters that went in and out of the frame, but for this new series I’m focusing more on their solo presence. A lot of my most recent works are about the astronaut, the bride, and the skeleton. This painting behind me is sort of a mix because I painted pharaoh figures before and I’m very amazed by the visual look of the pharaoh’s head cloth – its shape feels so fictionalized and scenic, the pattern and volume… So this figure is actually a mix of astronaut outfit and pharaoh head (Home…..sick, 2023-2024). Then there’s the girl, I call her ‘The Bride’, and there’s the skeleton, that little guy over there (pointing at skeleton painting). 

For me, all these characters are connected and they morph between their visual forms. I began with the female character ‘The Bride’, which I think has some reflections of myself, fearless but at the same time sentimental. When I was painting the white dress, very loosely, I started to see this translucent, almost structured outfit. That’s how the dress evolved to a physical shell or a cocoon of the figure, similar to what an astronaut suit means to an astronaut. Conceptually the astronaut for me is about someone who’s devoted themselves to outer space – to the danger of the unknown. As for the skeleton I think about how we are all skeletons with different skins, which is also at the core of all the other characters. The skeleton resonates with the astronaut in a funny way visually because I like to think that this astronaut I paint could undress from their white NASA outfit into a skeleton. The astronaut sounds futuristic, and the skeleton belongs to the past, so you have the past and future meeting in one character. 

Yirui Jia, stand shall I, shall I, 92 x 142 in, Acrylic, gel and glitter on canvas, 2024.© Yirui Jia. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.

NB: Would you describe your painting process more as storytelling, or as a play/game with paint? (Perhaps both?) What does that look like when you’re working on a new piece?  

YJ: In some of my early paintings there may be a feeling or a sense of narrative in them, although the narrative parts seem very fragmentary and temporary to me. The parts that seem to be narrative are only fragments of information. In other words, the visual forms and shapes of objects are always more important in my paintings than how they serve the painting to ‘make sense’. My newer works start to lose that intentionality and external narrative, they rather feel more grounded and internalized, with more dimensions and depth of emotions.

Yirui Jia, Yellow is the color of their eyes, 92 x 72 in, Acrylic, gel and glitter on wood panel, 2023. © Yirui Jia. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.

NB: We are now in your studio. What do you keep in here that you draw inspiration from?   

YJ: I draw inspiration from how I feel in my life. I had a honeymoon period with New York, because I moved to the city a few years ago from a small town, Gettysburg, where I went to college. So at the time the paintings were about all these sorts of objects, dissonance, speed and city life. There used to be a lot of objects that would fly in and out, like cigarettes, cherries, matches, lips.  

As I stay longer in the city, I feel I’m more and more internalized. Now I tend to go back to natural things like flowers, weather, and seasons that are always around – I think they convey a more pure and liberating feeling.

Yirui Jia, Waiting for a bud, 120 x 57 in, Acrylic, gel and glitter on canvas, 2023. © Yirui Jia. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.

NB: So can you tell us about your upcoming exhibition with Mitchell Innes & Nash? What would you like to highlight about this new body of work?  

YJ: The show will open on March 14th, very soon! I’m done with the big works and now I am just spending the last months finalizing the sculpture and some smaller works. I think there’s been many changes since my last show. The latitude of the paintings is expanding, and there’s definitely more personal emotions and more sides of me reflected on the new works.

Artist to Watch

PATRICIA GEYERHAHN

Portrait of Patricia Geyerhahn. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: Can you tell us about some of your earliest memories of art and your recent experience completing your BFA? 

PG: My grand dad on my father’s side is an art collector in Brazil so I was exposed to a lot of art from a very early age. His house and our house were used as storage for art, so there were always paintings around. My grandmother was an artist too, a painter, poet, musician, and philosopher. She was probably the person who inspired me the most to become an artist. Although she passed away before I was born, I heard stories and was sort of identified with her a lot by my parents. I would be drawing all the time when I was younger, and they would be like “Oh! you’re just like her!”

In terms of my BFA I was doing a dual degree with philosophy and since I was partially educated during the pandemic, at times there was a big limit in terms of what I could make. Being forced to stay in made me obsessed with the idea of ‘internal worlds’ and ‘virtual worlds,’ ‘places’ beyond those that we physically exist within, and so I was painting a lot of smaller works that I could escape into. 

Patricia Geyerhahn, Distorted World, A Clear View, 6×6 inches, gouache on wood panel, 2020.

Later on for my thesis, my sense of self felt very far from my body, so for my thesis I tried to bring myself back to my body through bigger body movements, therefore working at a larger scale. I went from painting small (more intimate) pieces where I was really isolated in my practice, where my movements and gestures were really small, to larger size canvases depicting more complex relationships. In some of my earlier works, I have this bulb-like kind of flower based on a dandelion, a symbol of a possible wish, that came back during my most recent work.  

Patricia Geyerhahn, Untitled (Field), 60×42 inches, oil and acrylic medium on linen 2023.  (from thesis: Projection)

NB: What’s your process like?  When you begin a new painting or a series of works,  where do you draw your inspiration from?

PG: I think primarily it’s from emotion, because my works are metaphors of people and relationships. In terms of what the work looks like II’ll often get a vision or an image in my head that I think comes from my subconscious. There’s something about it that just really speaks to me even if I don’t fully understand it, so I try to understand as I work on it. There are times I try to depict ideas from a more intellectual route, where I think about how to use this language that I created for myself to illustrate an idea I think is important.

Patricia Geyerhahn, Confrontation, 18×28 inches, oil on linen, 2022.

NB: Well, that’s actually a great segway into talking about your most recent show and recent body of work Doppelganger that was on view at Andrew Reed Gallery last month. Can you tell us a little bit about that?  

PG: It was an amazing opportunity, my first solo show right out of my BFA. It started with Andrew seeing a piece from my thesis and really liking the work. We met up and after talking a bit he included some pieces in a group show and a few months later he asked me if I was interested in a solo show at his Tribeca gallery space. I was like ‘Oh my God, I can’t say no!’ And so he was like ‘OK great, it’s in four months and I think it should be a whole new body of work’. So it was a lot, and since I didn’t have much time I just pulled from whatever ideas I was thinking of at the time: After my thesis I was thinking about how I reduced all subjects to just this one icon, a sort of repetition or symbol, which made me think about how we’re all just people and we are all the same to some extent. There were also some painting marks I had noticed I kept making over and over, very repetitively without thinking. They were becoming copies of each other because I kept using that same motion, same symbols and color palette—so the word ‘doppelgangers’ kept playing in my mind.

Also, when I was brainstorming the show with Andrew we spoke about loss and  it stuck with me. I began thinking about how, even if you lose a person, they still have an imprint on you and you have an imprint on them. In a way, if you spend time with someone for long enough, it’s almost like you become mirrors of each other in many ways, especially if you spend a lot of time with that person, or are codependent and enmeshed.

Patricia Geyerhahn, Longingly, 60×44 inches, oil and acrylic medium on linen, 2023.

NB: Why don’t we talk about your use of color and how that is related to the themes that you explore in your paintings?

PG: The kind of red I have recently been working with in my thesis and Doppelganger was a bit of a random thing that just stuck with me. I heard this story on a podcast about a woman who had a fourth color cone (another red) in her eye. People usually have three color cones, and we see colors differently than other animals which have different sets of color cones. This woman specifically could see more reds than the average person, so when she looked at the sky she said she saw red in the sky.  

There was another story in that episode where a color scientist asked his kid ‘what color is the sky?’  and the kid couldn’t answer, he hadn’t been indoctrinated into just labeling the sky ‘blue’. Red became this color my mind associated with whats beyond things, or with things being more than what they appear to be. When I paint with red, when I use repetitive symbols, I’m reducing the things I’m painting, like when I’m painting a flower but it’s just a ball and a stem, the simplicity leaves room for interpretation, for the stem and ball to be a head and a body, for red to be red but also subtly complex.  

I also have a background in black and white photography, so I do tend to see things in light rather than in color, therefore ‘monochrome’ makes more sense to me. I was feeling very overwhelmed by color and limited by it because I felt like I had to do it correctly. There’s so much science to color theory I felt like it was holding me back to some extent because I’m a bit of a perfectionist.   

Patricia Geyerhahn, Pentax 35mm 400ISO,  Tri-X Kodak Black and White, 2018.

NB: Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming projects or exhibitions that you’re most excited about or are you in recovery mode?   

PG: I’m in a little bit of a recovery mode. When you’re working in a big body of work you put away certain ideas, like random split offs that in this case didn’t necessarily make sense for Doppelganger, so I’m working on those pieces now that are fun and exciting to me but unrelated to a bigger project.  Also, my partner Devin Düster is the one that made all the frames for the Doppelganger pieces, and I would like to learn how to make them myself.    

I am also now represented by Andrew Reed Gallery, which is very exciting. So there will definitely be a few projects coming with him.   

Artist to Watch

KATINKA HUANG

Katinka Huang in her studio. Image courtesy of the artist. 

NB: What are some of your earliest memories of art and how does it relate to your work today?   

KH: My earliest memory of art was drawing people in my grandmother’s living room and trying to make a perfect circle for the head with a jar cap and she was like ‘you know heads aren’t perfectly round’ and I remember having a sort of revelation. I think that sparked an interest in art as I started paying closer attention to details, and the ways we decide to represent what’s in front of us.

I grew up in Shanghai, and moved to London when I was about 11 years old and went to an all girls school there. Shifting from East to the West at such a young age and going into a totally female centric environment was definitely a shock. I was surrounded almost entirely by women, most of my teachers were women, my friends, and my ‘housemothers’ who were the women who looked after us and put us to bed…  

All of that really ignited my interest in exploring the female psyche and female body, comparing and exploring the difference between the ideologies of femininity in the East and in the West. I create these satirical images of women, giving them kind of animalistic bodies. It’s all about diving into absurdism and capturing those raw and turbulent emotional states through the figure. The female body in my work is always a site that rebels against the ‘sophisticated’ portrayals of women across culture. 

 Katinka Huang, All things not in moderation, 2023. 48 x 60 in. 

NB: Let’s talk about your process. Where do you begin?  How do you approach a painting?

KH: I never really plan or sketch before I paint. I do a lot of drawings and small canvases, but I don’t consider those sketches, these are works on their own. I don’t have a premeditated narrative, simply because I always want to focus on the body first. I wet my surface and I spontaneously draw a very vague figure with acrylic paint. I let the paint really seep and bleed into the canvas, forming its own shape. And then through these abstracted organic shapes, I find a figure and a narrative. It’s similar to cloud gazing where a familiar form emerges when looking at clouds.This is how the bodies are found in my work, and I allow the material to do its own thing and really guiding the direction of the work.

 Katinka Huang, Please stay in one lane, 2023. 36 x 36 in. 

NB: Can you tell us about the theme of the female body and womanhood?

KH: I am really intrigued by the history of female hysteria and the accounts of witchcraft. Many women were labeled and punished for being ‘witches’ or considered ‘hysteric’ simply because the female anatomy and behavior were misunderstood. I am really fascinated in exploring how misconceptions of the female body led to the ongoing sensationalization of women. French neurologist Jean Charcot attempted to uncover the root of female hysteria using hypnotism to identify mental disorders. Charcot experimented on mainly marginalized women who displayed dramatic symptoms associated with hysteria such as thrusting, contorting, convulsing and shaking, in front of male spectators. Charcot’s sensationalized displays of ill women were popular amongst his male contemporaries in the auditorium at the Salpêtrière.

History aside, I want to address how society sensationalizes women today especially on social media and in films. Take Jennifer Coolidge’s character in The White Lotus, for example—she’s this mix of needy, sensitive, obsessive, simple-minded, neurotic, and sexual, which basically sets her up for some serious mockery. Or Britney Spears back in 2007, whose spiraling mental health was exploited by the media used as a source of entertainment. I’m looking into how today’s culture dishes out images of ‘unhinged’ women, and consequently the women I paint are painted in a similar way, never depicted in an ‘appealing’ way. It’s always slightly morbid, slightly grotesque, and you can say it’s confrontational.  

Katinka Huang, Catch and do not release, 2022. (2) 20 x 16 in. 

NB: How does your use of material and color relate to those narratives and themes in your paintings? 

Well, my color palette is red and flesh tone oriented. For me red is a symbolic color, it echos vulnerability, passion and conflict which are subjects that I explore in my work. But more than anything,  I’m just really attracted to all tones of red. Not all of my paintings are red but I certainly always start with it. Red really resonates with me, sometimes I think my aura is red.

The cigarette and long black hair in my painting are both symbols that connect the characters to me. These are not necessarily self-portraits and I’m not a chain smoker, but I wanted to bring these fantastical, often beastly looking women in my paintings down to earth reinforcing the fact that they are human and they have a bad habit, and that’s ok. It’s a sort of play on how these figures can be so uncanny yet human at the same time. 

There’s also a ‘dog looking’ creature that repeats across a few paintings. This came from the ancient diagnosis of the “wandering womb”. Doctors would diagnose women with the “wandering womb” when they were unable to explain the cause of the illness. The wandering womb is when the womb “ moves around your body” causing all sorts of ailments. This diagnosis was taken seriously because the female body and organs were a foreign site in the world of medicine run by men. So the ‘dog’ is sort of a symbol of the wandering womb. It’s not really a dog, but rather a little creature that meanders around the body mocking the absurd misconceptions of the female body and and echoing the enigma around the female psyche. 

Katinka Huang, 1998, 2023. 48 x 48 in. 

NB: So what are some current and upcoming exhibitions that you’re excited to talk about?  

Currently in New York I have a show at the Latchkey Gallery. It’s a newly renovated viewing space within the gallery at 173 Henry St and it’s open until the 22nd of November.  I also have a two person show with artist Claire Bendiner coming up at Galeria Leyendecker in Tenerife, Spain on view through December 16th.

Artist to Watch

CHRISTOPHER PAUL JORDAN

Christopher Paul Jordan in his studio. Image courtesy of the artist. 

NB: Can you tell us about your experience with art before starting or completing your MFA and how you arrived at where you are now with your practice? 

CPJ: I’ve always thought of myself as a public artist. I know perhaps that’s a bad word in the Gallery scene but there’s something about work that has a sense of collective ownership that has always resonated for me. Over the years I’ve created a lot of public murals, but throughout the displacement and forced migration of thousands of folks out from my hometown a lot of these murals ended up lost, painted over, and removed. I also grew up next to a salvage yard that has remnants of Black neighborhoods demolished over the past 60 years. Some of them were torn down when i-5 was built. That made me want to create. So as I struggled to maintain my sense of home despite the world around me being shredded to pieces, I started painting on fragments of buildings and houses and eventually window screens.   

There’s something about the way that screens respond to the brush, pushing back and even fighting against me. Painting a window screen is to some extent a futile process, the paint falls right out, so it takes layers, and layers, and layers of activity to have a surface to begin with. Negotiating with futility, with the completely illogical compulsion to do something like paint at the world’s end…I didn’t realize it at first but painting the screens had physicalized my process of working through grief. A lot of the material in my paintings is me reckoning with the experience of loss and surrender. What excited me about grad school was equally what scared me the most: the reality of leaving home. School took away my defense mechanisms and challenged me to develop a deeper faith. Both my own creative power and that power of my community. A power that won’t be stopped.

Chris Paul Jordan, floating row, 2023. Acrylic on frost blanket. 

NB: Let’s talk about your process. Where do you begin? How do you approach each new painting or installation?  

CPJ: Each painting begins with the trimmings, the scraps, bones, and remains of the previous painting. I have painting ‘grounds’ that I re-use, each one with its own history that has accumulated over time. So the painting starts with me responding to fragments that remain on the surface. Oftentimes I work layering color on a surface over the course of months, not really knowing what it’s going to become. After cutting, reorganizing, and collaging together different sections, I use a window screen material to peel those paintings off of their original surface and see what kind of information is left behind.  
It’s funny because during school I went through a kind of horrible breakup, and that final loss pricked open my unaddressed grief. Grief of my own estrangement from my parents, the loss of family and friends, grief of the loss of my spiritual home. So I’ve ended up working essentially with separation, peeling and painting off, or ripping apart, seeing two things that are interconnected, and the ways that their histories are forever embedded in one another. The process of painting has really deepened my understanding of the way that experiences of relocation shape us (whether in terms of forced migration, family estrangement, or changes in relationships) and I’m learning about how all these losses contribute to who we become. When I look at some of the paintings, all I see is the pieces that are missing. Actually, in order to convince myself to let work go, I had to actively start painting memories that I needed to separate myself from. In some ways, I think that the loss these paintings undergo helps me appreciate just how vulnerable and how fleeting our memories are.  

Chris Paul Jordan, a fix, 2023. Acrylic on window screen. 96 x 60 inches. 

NB: Beautiful. How do you relate your painting process and photography, to the themes of memory and the internet?   

CPJ: There’s this concept of ‘living systems’ that is fascinating to me. These are systems in constant change, like the human body or the weather and if you introduce a new element it is impossible to predict how the system will respond. There’s a degree of chaos, autonomy, and unpredictability, which expresses its existence beyond our control. 

These systems relate to photography and the internet through latency, which is explained as the time delay between cause and effect. For example, we can talk about pandemics, whether we’re talking about HIV/AIDS or COVID, there’s a latent time between when an illness is introduced into our body and the period where we actually are able to recognize its symptoms and effects – which is a complex concept for us to deal with socially. In photography, the concept of latency is present when you are developing an image. The image isn’t there at first, but when dipped in this liquid and the image surfaces. So this concept of a latent image just fascinated me from the very beginning. I’d say my paintings are reckoning with the concept of latency in different ways: At a personal level, there are qualities of our parents and grandparents that perhaps we’re unaware of, and that suddenly get expressed through a new generation, meaning we can probably trace some of our most bizarre tendencies from family members generations back. In a way my paintings take shape in a somewhat similar way whether it is through the course of several paintings or maybe through just one painting: Let’s say you’re looking at the surface and you see one little speck of of magenta, but then you look back and there’s all this background of magenta, teeny dots of history peeking through little small quirks that are the sort of like latent histories, like ready to announce itself, ready to burst forward.  

Chris Paul Jordan, than i can bear (detail), 2023. Acrylic on tulle. 62 x 51 inches. 

NB: So now, can you tell us about the subjects in your paintings? Who are they, how do you choose them, and how does this connect to your community?  

CPJ: All of my images come from daily life, from about 4 to 6 years ago, and anyone in the frame is usually a friend, relative, or someone I’ve spent time with. It’s often the strange ones that speak to me, the photos I don’t understand. I paint them because I don’t understand them.

But my most painted person is Gwen Jones. She is the inheritor and manager of the salvage yard. She’s a photographer actually, and describes herself as my muse. She’s kind of an archivist of neighborhood history. My family lost the house where I grew up, and so the salvage yard, that space, is literally physically, the closest thing that I have to home. So I end up there with her often. In there the world disappears. 

Chris Paul Jordan, and watching thereunto,  2022. Acrylic and window screen on boarded vinyl window. 96 x 60 inches. 

NB: What are some of your upcoming projects, residencies or exhibitions that you’re excited about?  

CPJ: As far as public art projects I’m working on two large scale sculptures, they’re both around 35 feet. One is a freestanding structure and the other one is a suspended structure that’s almost like a metal tapestry piece. I’m working with a couple engineers on those pieces right now. My favorite thing about that work is that I can do it from anywhere, and so we get to collaborate online and play with different pieces of things, share models, etc. The sculptures will be sited along the new transit line between Seattle and Tacoma and Washington.

And at the moment I’m in Mexico City for a couple months working on a solo show at Naranjo 141. I’m reprocessing a lot of my own religious conditioning from early life, engaging with biblical rapture to work through aspects of fundamentalism, spiritual displacement, abduction, forced migration, and the all too common queer experience of estrangement from one’s family of origin. Honestly it helps being away from home to process some of these things. The exhibition here opens on December 9th!    

Artist to Watch

CAMILA VARON JARAMILLO

Portrait of Camila Varon Jaramillo. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: What’s your earliest memory of interacting and/or experiencing art?  

CV: When I was little I would come home from school and grab a block of printing paper, sit at the kitchen table, and draw through the entire block. I also remember feeling when I was younger that it wasn’t easy to meet other people or kids that were interested in the same things. Then, when I was thirteen, I visited New York with my mom and she took me to MoMA. I remember looking at some paintings and just being like “Wow! This person sees the sky same way I do!” or “this person sees flowers the same way that I see flowers!” And that sort of made me realize that “these people” were thinking in the same way that I was thinking.

My grandma always painted too. She had a room in her apartment filled with oil paints and paintings of (mostly European) landscapes. Looking back, her paintings were bright, and had a great sense of color.

Camila Varon Jaramillo, Madre, 2023. Acrylic on Silk and Cotton fabric. 30 x 48 inches.

NB: Can you tell us about the themes of space and landscape in your work?  

CV: As a young girl I always knew that I wanted to be an artist, but then I ended up studying architecture. Studying architecture felt like studying anthropology or psychology through space, and not so much physical spatial design. So what I learned was how architecture can affect or respond to people, communities, and places. Therefore over time every space acquires an emotional value, and what this means is that a space can affect you emotionally, it can alter your state of mind, and perhaps even shape who you are. So the surroundings that we chose, and more importantly the respect that we have for them, whether it is a constructed environment or a natural environment, has an immense psychological impact in every aspect of our lives and consequently the world around us.

In terms of landscape specifically, that in itself, is loaded with context because I grew up in Colombia, one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. I remember traveling and driving through the mountains, going up and down and around, seeing as the landscapes changed from one place to the other. Colombia has some of the wildest, most beautiful places in nature that I’ve seen, and all of them are extremely different from each other: there’s the Atlantic and the Pacific ocean, the Amazon, the Andes mountains (that splits into three), deserts, valleys and flat plains. At the same time, during the 90’s and 00’s Colombia was very unsafe because of the political situation with guerrillas and narcos, so many of these places were sort of mystical and magical because I grew up hearing about them, but not being able to physically go there, so there was a lot of imagination involved. 

Colombia is much safer today, and my generation is sort of rediscovering these places that we grew up hearing of, and rediscovering our own country. I think this says a lot about the psychology of a generation that is interested in traveling within their own country and to nature rather than to other cities around the world. At a personal level, these paintings are perhaps a way to research and reconcile the fact that I am here, and not there.

Camila Varon Jaramillo, Dos Mil Seiscientos, 2023. Acrylic on Silk and Cotton fabric. 30 x 48 inches.

NB: How does your process, color, and material relate to these themes?  

CV: When I first started to really focus on landscapes, I was trying to work in a way that would resemble how nature works in real life, so I could learn from it: Working with a lot of water, with movement, rhythm, light, and gravity. I think of these as the ‘common denominators’ and ruling elements of every living thing whether it is a landscape, a flower, or a human being. 

While experimenting with textiles, I discovered a silk and cotton fabric that changed the way I used paint and that responded very well to these aspects of nature that I wanted to explore through my work. For example, the fabric allows a lot of light through, and instead of applying paint onto canvas, the fabric absorbs the paint and the color travels to where the surface is most ‘hydrated’. The process is also psychologically more freeing because there’s physically a lot of movement, like being on the floor and working with my hands, letting go of excessive control. These landscapes are created in such a way that they evoke the natural movement of the body, the fluidity of water, the lightness of the material, and the organic shapes that are created through a repetitive rhythm or vibration. All of this energy from the process comes to rest as a painting of a landscape, that then radiates this same energy through an image. 

 

Camila Varon Jaramillo, The Dancing Force, 2023. Acrylic on Silk and Cotton fabric. 30 x 48 inches.

NB: So what are some books or images that you currently have in your studio?  

CV: There’s all these little messages on the wall that I like to write around reminding me of what’s important. One of them is “do the dance before con amor” which is a reminder to stretch and dance and leave everything out, to put myself in the right state of mind before beginning to work. There’s Georgia O’Keefe, of course. There’s a book that I love that’s called The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton, which speaks about all these themes that we were just talking about and how to build accordingly. There was this one professor of mine at architecture school that once said “a license to build is also a license not to build” and I think of it very often because of the state of the world today and the rate at which we build and destroy.  There’s Fierce Poise, which is Helen Frankenthaler’s biography by Alexander Nemerov, and a little postcard of Alice in Wonderland that my studio neighbor during my MFA at School of Visual Arts gave me because she thought that I was like Alice in Wonderland when I was in the studio.

Camila Varon Jaramillo, Norte del Sur, 2023. Acrylic on Silk and Cotton fabric. 36 x 48 inches.

NB: So what are some projects that you’re most excited about in the future?  

CV: Well, I’m very excited about my first solo show in New York at 89 Greene, the project space curated by Kathy Battista at Signs and Symbols which opens on October 19th. I also have two paintings at a gallery in Chelsea, Tuleste Factory, where I collaborated with a friend of mine who’s a very talented architect Ceren Arslan. It’s like a whole immersive room, there’s these two paintings and it’s so colorful and fun and otherworldly. There may be a few things coming up in December for Miami, and next summer in LA. I’m happy and curious about what’s to come this year after my MFA, and just spending as much time as possible in the studio (or the Met).

Artist to Watch

ALANNAH FARRELL

Alannah Farrell. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by A Klass.

NB: What are some of your earliest memories of art and how do they relate to where you’re at with your practice today?

AF: My mom and matrilineal grandmother are painters, although both sides of the family are creative. My earliest memories were seeing their process, which relates to my paintings today on a technical level, like motor skills and eye-hand coordination. My mother and I have very similar hands. It’s almost witchy. It’s a little freaky. Beyond the technical, I saw their devotional relationship with painting as a place to land, solace in an often relentlessly challenging world, which I learned young and continue to this day.

Growing up around creatives, I also witnessed adversities around the artists’ lifestyle, including financial hardship. My parents didn’t necessarily encourage me to be an artist, they were very realistic and said this life is a struggle and this lifestyle is unpredictable. My mom said I would always run home after school, throw my school shit, probably rip off my clothes, and start making something immediately. Over time, once they saw that there was no stopping me, they became much more encouraging.  

One fond memory is of my Nana, Ginger Fox (Yes, that is her real name, maiden surname), entering her home studio, which was a mess, walls covered in paint and strongly smelling of turpentine. I loved seeing her paintings which often included cats and women, goddess-like and voluptuous, some based on her daughters and grandchildren. It sounds like stereotypical grandma subject matter, but her paintings were weird, wild, and slightly erotic. She’s in a nursing home now, but recently, my mom curated a show of her paintings installed throughout the facility—it brought her and the residents a lot of joy, and they’ve left her work up. I think it’s important not to forget the humanness of art and art-making outside capitalism and the art world. 

Alannah Farrell, Omari (FiDi), 2023. Oil, acrylic, flashe, and spray paint on canvas. 60 x 40 inches.

NB: Can you tell us about the subjects in your paintings? Who are they, and how do you think of painting as a way to share a story or narrative ? 

AF: I met many people I painted when I started doing New York City nightlife in the 2000s, on the fringes of the queer club kid scene. Club kid culture largely died out at that time because people saw it as more of a 90s thing, but I was part of a lingering downtown scene. I recently watched the film “I Hate New York,” which documents (several) trans people in this scene from 2007 to 2017, which is around the same time when I went to those clubs. It wasn’t until that point that I’d met anyone in my life where I was like, “Ohh, these are my people.” So I started working with people I met from those parties, and some of the people I paint now are the younger generation of that scene, an evolution. They’re doing these incredible things in queer and trans nightlife—which seems more prominent and exciting than ever.

And I’ve always been interested in figurative work. Still, I’m cautious about sharing real people’s stories because of the possibility of exploitation, especially if it’s something that the public will consume. I think of the person, and then I think of the potential audience. I think about money exchanged because money is involved, and I’ve concluded that it’s fair to share bits of stories with consent and share the money with the person or people sitting for the painting. 

There is also a fair amount of fantasy to each image, even when working with real people and places. Sometimes I envision a painting almost entirely, even before I meet the person/subject, so ultimately each work becomes ‘auto-fiction’ filtered through my perception. I often think about human emotion and life experiences, and I’m interested in how that changes over time and in learning from other people. We all have complex interiority, and it blows my mind the depth that every person contains that another person can never really know. 

And, of course, many paintings reflect my frustrations, insecurities, sense of humor, or sadness at how pathetic, beautiful, or painful being a human in a body can be.  

Alannah Farrell, X (Pearl Street), 2022. Oil, acrylic, and latex on canvas. 78 × 50 inches.

NB: Could you tell us about the relationship of identity and self expression with the spaces and objects in your paintings?

AF: These spaces are real-life places where the model(s) and I are in. I want to focus on the emotionality and psychology of these spaces, so I aim to balance familiarity and off-kilter anonymity. Even though I have a personal relationship with the cities and rooms I paint, I want them to feel accessible to people who haven’t been to those locations. It’s more about how place, space, and architecture can strongly influence the human psyche. 

In terms of objects and fashion, these usually come from the subjects in the portraiture or self-portraiture. I am selecting certain people who most likely have a particular taste in how they present themselves. All clothing and objects contain coded language about their culture and who creates and consumes it, and those meanings change throughout history and contemporary cultures. My paintings’ objects and ancillary clues, like clothing, speak more to identity than the spaces. Except in those paintings without people, the settings play a more prominent role in expression and story and tend to be more deeply personal.

Alannah Farrell, Downtown (detail), 2021. Oil and acrylic on canvas. 78 x 50 inches.

NB: How does color relate to these themes in your practice? 

AF: Color and lighting are my painting’s primary elements, which sounds weird because I’m working with real humans and places as subject matter. Still, I almost think light and color communicate emotionality the most. I have nostalgic attachments to specific color palettes, which feel intuitive when painting. I don’t even know how to articulate it, but it’s something that I’ve always had a strong emotional reaction to. As a kid, I remember a salmon-pink kindergarten, a public school with very institutional fluorescent lighting in its classrooms. I remember being so disturbed by that lighting, everything bathed in a sallow green and those primitive bulbs buzzing a la horror film. Those sensory elements, especially the visuals, color, and light, made me very distracted and uncomfortable.  

Like train lighting, nobody looks good on the subway. We all know on some level—conscious or not—these mass public spaces and lighting are designed for oppression. They become psychological spaces. And this is how I think of color and light in painting— means to create psychological space and narrative.    

There are photography influences in my paintings too. When I started at Cooper Union, I took half a semester of painting and panicked about surviving financially after school. So I wanted to learn something more technique based, practical, and applicable to the world, outside of just the art world. And I was like, ‘Photography! That makes sense.’ Little did I know that it was on the verge of becoming somewhat obsolete with phones nowadays. But I learned lighting, analog, film, and digital photography, which was helpful because I started getting little gigs in school—I did nightlife photography and assisted photographers in setting up lighting for fashion or commercial shoots. I also had some experience with the modeling world in New York City at that time. I think about how all these different worlds are so complicated on their own, but they’re all now converging through painting.   

Alannah Farrell, Tommy Venus (Bushwick), 2022. Oil and acrylic on canvas. 30 x 40 inches.

NB: What are some projects that you’re excited about in the future?

AF: I’m tremendously excited about attending the Denniston Hill Artist Residency in October. I can’t get over my excitement for that. I’m also happy to reconnect with upstate New York in this new way—Denniston is a sanctuary that’s allowed space to grow for many creative visionaries I admire. It’s an honor to go! So that’s my focus right now. I’m in a hibernation chrysalis back-to-the-drawing-board phase, recovering from two exhausting shows in the past year.  

I’m excited about what’s to come because I want to communicate something I can’t articulate in words or images. But it feels like whatever that is, it’s just under the surface, and I know something new will come out on the other side. Hopefully, it is something I’m proud of and work that communicates with others who see it.

Other than that, I’m in the Armory Show with Anat Ebgi, and a few shows soon open at Alexander Gray and Sean Horton. Both shows address topics I deeply care about and feature work by artists I respect and admire, art heroes like G.B. Jones, Justin Vivian Bond, Hugh Steers, David Byrd, and Peter Gallo.

Between Us

Sept 1st—Oct 15th, 2023

Alexander Gray Associates 

224 Main Street, Garden Level

Germantown, NY 12526, United States

Place — World

Sept 7th—Oct 7th, 2023

Sean Horton

515 West 20th Street, 3rd Fl

New York, NY 10011, United States

Artist to Watch

KATARINA CASERMAN

Katarina Caserman in her studio. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: What are some of your earliest memories of making art, and how does it relate to your work today?  

KC: I often come back to this specific memory when we were children. We had these notebooks with blank pages  that were called “memory books” and we gave them around to our friends and family so they would draw  something in it and write something like ‘for the memory of Katarina’. I remember my mom one day she  made this drawing of two deers, and back then it was one of the most beautiful drawings I’d seen. I remember I told myself ‘one day I’m gonna be as good as she is at drawing’. So my motivation was just to get as close as I could to my mother’s drawing.  

With time I realized it’s just about practice and sometime around high school, I  got pretty good at realistic drawings by observing things around me and copying them on paper. So these were my earliest memories of making art, trying to match my mental image with what I was drawing on paper. This always brought me comfort and happiness and something that has always made me feel something and luckily for me I was also good at it. 

Now it’s of course very different. For me it’s not enough to just look, and mimic what I’m seeing. It’s more  about ‘what else is there’? It’s not enough to just observe the world around me and then reflect upon it. I aim  to turn inwards, reflect upon that and relate it to the external in order to create alternative structures of the  visible reality. 

Katarina Caserman, Otnasletyeshosch, 2022. Oil on linen, 9.5 x 14 in.

NB: Can you describe the process when you’re starting a new painting, where do you begin? How do you move  through it?  

KC: I’ve attempted to do sketches many times in the past but it’s just not working for me. My body reacts  completely differently in front of a canvas than it does sitting down and making a tiny paper sketch. I lose the  momentum and it feels forced to match the painting to the sketch.  

I usually begin by making a very thin layer of oil paint and then I take it off with a cotton cloth, creating an  image by bringing back the whiteness of the canvas. The very first stages feel more like building or constructing  than solely painting. I let the layers interact with each other, see the direction of different drips and just let the  paint and gravity do its thing and let it sit for a bit. There’s a lot of sitting time involved because I need to be  patient to recognize which trajectory the painting wants to go. I also need to take into consideration that the  painting will change over a span of a couple days because of all the drying and dripping and other micro  chemical processes. So this is how it usually goes, there’s a lot of waiting and observing and reacting upon it  over and over again. 

NB: So it  requires a lot of patience, right?  

KC: Oh yes absolutely, a lot of patience. Especially because there are many things that I do in the painting that are  rather complex and I often forget how difficult they are. It’s quite simple though, complex forms require a high  level of complexity and it’s impossible that you would achieve complex forms with simple solutions.  

Katarina Caserman, Trysémla (Sivi.), 2023. Oil on linen, 47 x 65 in.

NB: Your work exists between opposing themes: it is organized yet chaotic, strange yet familiar, and dynamic yet  still. Can you tell us more about these themes and opposites/binaries in your work? 

KC: I used to say that my work has this notion of the opposite. I’ve been investigating this for over a year, ever since  I came across Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein in which the use of words is so specific in how to describe  certain conditions. For example when she says that the creature is reanimated, it goes from being ‘dead’ to  being ‘undead’. So the creature was neither alive nor dead, it was in the zone of being ‘undead’. It was a  walking contradiction. That just provoked me into thinking about how we can use language in order to expand  the possibilities of the opposite.  

For instance, if I ask ‘what’s the opposite of black?’ the answer would probably be white, which would mean it’s white and nothing else but white. If you say ‘non black’, then it would mean it’s everything but black, giving you more possibilities of what the opposite can be. When I talk about my work I use the proposition of ‘non’, meaning I don’t say there’s order and chaos but rather ‘non-chaos, artificial/non-artificial, movement/non-movement and so on. This sets the paintings in almost a ‘third zone’. I’m playing with the idea of opposites that exist in the same reality, so it has this notion of impossibility, like  with these spaces where you constantly have some sort of a glimpse of light and at the same time a glimpse of  darkness.  

So it’s not about depicting something in particular, or descriptive, but they are setting a mood. When you stand  in front of the painting you are getting primed/ready for the zone that you are about to enter, and this zone is  the painting itself, but there is a specific mood that surrounds the painting.  

Katarina Caserman, Pandora (Sivi.),  2023 . Oil on linen, 112 x 59 in.

NB: How does color relate to these themes in your process?  

KC: It’s very, very, intuitive when it comes to color. At the beginning I don’t overthink it, I use any color that  resonates with me in that moment because I know that the specific color will not determine the outcome. I  usually just like to play with layering and getting different shades that don’t necessarily exist if they were only  on one layer. These are colors you get once you layer one color over the other, in order to get a third one. It’s  the optical mixing of the colors instead of just a physical one. I enjoy playing around with this because it gives  me a unique experience when I’m moving around the painting. It seems as if the painting is changing all the  time due to its multiple layered structure. 

NB: Where are you currently drawing inspiration from? What artists, movies, music are you looking at?  

KC: I’m not being the best artist right now because I don’t think I’m seeing enough art shows and I’m not  intentionally looking at any visual art. On the other hand I am looking at all sorts of things every day because  Instagram exists. I’m also the last person in the world to watch ‘Twin Peaks’ by David Lynch so this is something  I’m currently obsessed with. It feels as if the whole series puts your brain into a dreamlike state so everything  suddenly has a thin layer of ‘Twin Peaks’ over it. 

I used to listen to a lot of music while I painted, and I still do, but now I mainly listen to podcasts or audio  books. I recently realized that music has too strong of an impact on me. It will either make me paint faster, or slower, or evoke memories, which is very distracting. I switched to podcasts and audiobooks because as you follow the story, you’re in an ‘in between zone’ of being present in the painting, yet not fully there. I think of it being similar to how a pianist is when having a performance. When they are playing they are in this ‘flow’ estate where their body is acting instead of their brain.

Katarina Caserman, Sousarano, 2022. Oil on linen, 9.8 x 21.5 in.

NB: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or exhibitions that you’re excited about?  

KC: Yes! I’m represented by Tabula Rasa Gallery, and we have so many exciting projects coming up this year. I do  have a group show in Beijing, in November and before that I’m also having a group show at a London-based  gallery, which will be announced very soon and that I’m very excited for. Then there’s also art fairs and a couple  of other things as well so it’s gonna be a very, very, busy year. To which I always add: being busy is a good  problem to have.