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Seminars with Artists Amy Sillman

Seminars with Artists Amy Sillman


I was talking to an eminent art historian recently and in the course of conversation I realized that he didn’t know that the different colors of paint have different weights. That if a painter was blindfolded, she held two tubes of paint in her hands she would know which tube wait I can continue after i drink water okay so I was talking to this eminent art historian and then I said did you know that if an arti if an artist if a painter held two tubes of paint in her hands she would know which tube were Cadmium Red and which tube were cobalt violet even if she were blindfolded. and the art historian who knows a lot said no he didn’t know that and this was a little bit of shock because this simple difference in what we knew expressed the schism between Newton and —?–(unable to recognize the name) in a nutshell the light rays of color versus the minerals of color. But in a way it wasn’t any of a surprise because because it was kind of like color theory versus color practice in which there is a schism which was addressed fifty years ago because of Albers in the introduction of his book the interaction of colors. In which he he declared us on page one of the introduction that he will reverse the normal academic order by putting practice before a theory. So taking Albers as my model I too will speak about the practice of color and by that I really mean the pragmatics. In fact, for the next 35 or so minutes I will usually not even make a distinction between color and paint okay caveat this is a personal idiosyncrasy , a shorthand vocabulary I employ in my own daily life. Though in German the word for farm is the word for both color and paint I always liked the word hundle which is this German word that if you put it next to a book for instance book hundle which makes a sort of book store but it sort of means book handling and I always thought that that was funny to an American ear to make a story behind handling but I would like to talk about color as just that as a kind of treatment and handling or touching in a practical way that if butcher might talk about the slab of meat that’s left up on the table or the way a baseball player would discuss the pitches. The handling, touching, diluting, pouring, sloshing, fueling, weighing and holding of colors is primordial in in painting. And so I use those words fairly in terms without distinction. And before color before it becomes the mysterious and complex force that has been theorized to be, before color is a philosophical or a chemical problem or assist at the socioeconomic demarcation it is a tool the ready art hand colored stuff that you wield in making a painting. To paint by hand is to manipulate color and painting for a painter is an inherently synesthetic experience that merges the sense of touch, smell, sight even sound while the painter makes the painting. I once asked conceptually minded curator why she loved Richard Serra’s so much I thought it was odd that she was such a big fan and she said well it’s phenomenological and I thought for the artists there’s no such distinction there’s no kind of art that’s not essentially phenomenological since you’re the artist you always feel our advance brought into being and similarly just like any run-of-the-mill sophomore in Cooper Union already knows what the artists join in the beginning of my — he doesn’t know the weight of pigment we know something about holding color but it’s weight that I don’t think even Newton is bigger known. In fact our students even can figure out which brand of paint they’re holding by it’s very texture. Williamsburg paint touch grain Rembrandt paint is sleazy, old Holland is creamy, Gatlin’s dull, Utrecht doesn’t weigh enough. Well frankly we’re always too much after him with the various pigments for a short time you get to know them almost as characters Naples yellow is turgid, chromium oxide green is over bearing flake weight has a dryer difference. favour blue seems insubstantial but ends up domineering everything else. Kings blue look is good at first but it’s kind of happy. But first things first, how do you get these colors? Well oil paint is a bohemian luxury experience. But the painter Peter saw once said that modern art was the triumph of art supplies over art. If so, is because the purchase of color at the art supply store is entirely capricious. A heat mists paradise maybe notice thing about it these places are pure fetish they don’t call color pharmacon for nothing as you probably know pharmacon in greek means color, poison, drug, remedy, talisman, cosmetic or an intoxicant. Art supply store for the supermarkets for all of these things simultaneously and the good metropolitan art supply store is at least two if not three four stories tall and is packed with products what the customers can touch and put in their baskets. Here i must add a eulogy for score formerly on Canal Street that red and white checkered color go again of art supply sports now closed for business pearl was the jewel in the crown that is brokenness Canal Street. they define art supply experiences for an entire generation of artists like me who were basically born and raised there we would see the art starts there filling baskets and we endured the mean clerks and the long lines and vertically climb up the stairs and the Byzantine chapter brocade system role was opened in 1933 but they closed on April 7th this year and ended by firing 39 union workers illegally some of whom had worked at store for more than ten years giving them only ten days notice of employment with no layoff package. Workers union Local 169 has filed charges against propane which is still pending meanwhile the building is listed for rent or for sale and as advertised as outstanding condo opportunity and 15 million. Anyway, Paint Stores in America are setup in such a way in America that is not Europe where you can touch and smell and feel everything with your hands because the smart store owners know that if you can pick it up feel it you will get what you like whatever you can afford. That new gold lacquer finish, that little jar of metallic lilac, that new kind of creamy modeling bitch. You can’t not get your head very request more nothing is more satisfying than this equipment and it’s so linguistically specific. The nomenclature of the paint is all beautiful adjectives. You don’t say pink you say dianthus pink, Hematite purple, flake white, turkey umber, hookers green, Egyptian violet, cinnabar green etc. The poet Lisa Robertson wrote : quote color acts like a hormone acts across embarrasses seduces it stimulates juicy interval in which emotion and sentiment twist we cannot control it. We can barely control ourselves in the aisle fold this profligate luxury item. We throw as much as we can into our baskets and hemorrhage the money to pay for it. Here I have made a breakdown of premier economy of oil paint and cadmium red white costs the same amount as an ounce of the best caviar available in the Upper East Side.It also costs the same as an ounce of pet human red blood cells and a quarter ounce of cadmium red paint if painted by Barnett Newman makes a meter which costs same amount as as that of of golden a small tube of cobalt violent costs the same amount as a bottle of a Dom Perignon. A very large bag of pigment we’ll set you back as much as a very large shipment of cocaine. I need it graph of my calculations in color value across the top is the value one cent to two million dollars of the vertical axis’s is the amount of time the material lasts for one minute to forever. Here’s where cars fall, here’s where drugs fall, cocaine meth and heroine here’s mink coat here’s a building in Williamsburg which I calculated my weight , and here a gold and finally diamonds which last forever and this is where cadmium red falls between the mink coat and melmet. What I spent on the last pack Sierra color alone I could have spent buying a Honda or a blink but if you figure oil paint by the time factor in longevity rather than in dollars per ounce paint is actually way better than drugs because here’s when I figured I cocaine last costs about 60 times more than oil paint routes but cocaine only lasts for an hour well cadmium red lasts for a hundred years or hundreds of so that means if you figure it backwards and pleasure hours the tulip oily pain is equivalent to a hundred million dollars . and like a crack addict to myself often do find myself up late on various nights with a razor blade scraping desperately to get at some last visible speck of stuff other than exhaustive tube of colors because I just need more of that substance as the poet Lisa Robertson says color is structured like a market. Now to add to the luster of the language consider the esoteric feeling when working with such stuff as a color like carmine a pigment from wit which is made from acids which are extracted from the body and eggs of the female cochineal insight to lives on prickly Bears for in the anomaly of color with an accompanying myth about being made from the kiss of cows which are fed up mango needs or period or Tyrian purple that dye substance made from secretions drained from the glands of predatory sea snails. All pigments need to be also diluted with special lubricants which are made from the oil succeeds, herbs and flowers were robbed melted beeswax to heighten the healing the mes enteric death and into the fact that these substances are wisdom a painting studio is a kind of haphazard chemistry lab where non scientists like me work, like medieval alchemists with little protection from treacherous metals, like lead, copper, aluminum oxide, arsenic and cobalt to work with these materials one really should wear protective masks and latex gloves although we often don’t. The work requires ventilation systems metal storage cabinets and industrial waste removal. Paint uses parable volatile solvents diluted like Naphtha benzene and gamsol. Yet these precious poisons are applied to the finest of textiles which are stretched and rubbed fetishisticly as though one were preparing a papyrus for a pharaoh. Seismic glues which may be made from polarized rabbit skins that have been warmed twice to exactly degrees in double boilers and then layered sanded and layered again with such things as milk proteins, marble dust, chalk powder or polyvinyl acetate and all this stuff I’m describing is just the one of the bill stuff which any normal fetishist aka normally will have in use. In fact most painters have their own special recipes and techniques for these artisan preparations all to create just the right time to run through their colors to lay on just rave these services are standard with special sponges mix and brushes made of the hair of goat or meat or Mongoose with handles of hard river bamboo. The best brush is called Kandinsky sable. I always thought Kandinsky was a Jewish russian but Kandinsky is also a kind of weasel who lives in the snow in Siberia. Part two paradoxes: making a painting is so hard that it makes it crazy I actually think oil painting is, it makes you mentally ill. Before even the vicissitudes of color you have to negotiate tone, wide, space zone area layer scale speed and mass while simultaneously interacting with meaning, thoughts, sign tactical language, intentions, concept and history you have to go your own way to cut away from your heroes and influences and still be utterly conscious literate above the discourse. You have the simultaneously predict, diagnose and ignore past, present and future all at once. You have to remember and to protect at once. You have to both deny and grease all your impulses towards romanticism and irony. You have to both love and hate your objects and your subjects to believe every shred of romantic and passionate myth about painting and at the same time to castor gimlet eye upon it. Color is even harder to negotiate, you embrace the vicissitudes of this toxic, expensive and unpredictable substance while trying to keep it looking fresh, maintaining the illusion that it is effortless. When they talk about color as betterment I just don’t know what the they’re talking about. It tried mixing oil paint 95%of the time it’s just hideous, those shimmering beautiful powders from the paint store turn immediately into pasty slop buckets of sickening green or energy brown. This is where the fetishism goes horribly wrong, all peers speak regularly of the peak of their colors becoming wild. I was horrified one night late at night during a long car ride from Boston to New York. A famous art journalist admitted to me that he really did regard painting as a sublimation of sneering shit on wall. I protested strenuously but later in my studio surrounded by buckets of blood and piles of paper towels I wonder, speaking of shit and the materiality of color we come to one of colors primary paradoxes. The schizophrenic nature of it is rhetoric. A millennium color is the very method of freedom, beginning with the rainbow God’s covenant with us the very part of the divine. Newtonian color is light raised in the sky, it’s biblical, it’s from Genesis. Color that goes on throughout history to represent everything emancipatory, sublime, beautiful, subjective, excessive, romantic, extrinsic the language, radical, structural, post structural the rainbow is the symbol for both gay pride and Jesse Jackson. Color is the wild card that be stabilizer, but those are the wild beasts who overthrow the Renaissance order iridescent sits contingency. Color is feelings, its shape-shifting newness and alternative resistance of the language in law in Europe. Walter Benning the rates the colors the very essence of the childhood imagination, a powerful form of innocence which subverts the logic of capitalism. On the other hand there’s color production image at its best your organization, corporation the mercantile meted up to us these are tech world governments set rules sold to us by the Pantone company and swatches and it’s worse pure evil a substance worse than opium whose production and anything serious that should not be laughing matter requires the most oppressive systems in the world. Slavery, mining, Nazis, the chemical industry, colonialism, indigo plantations with laborers working in baths the IG Farben company the biggest German manufacturer of dyes in the first half of the 20th century who simultaneously produced Zyklon B gas used in concentration Paris. Walt Disney who sold lives and outsource the labor of animation to India and China. Foxcom where 13 year olds killed themselves making our iPhones with their wonderful color sentence of billions. Meanwhile above all that with this kind of supreme indifference the stable color wheel keeps steady as the Sun the unchanging visual theorem for color from the 17th century the 16th and century sorry from the 16th and 17th century with its earliest color wheels. And on all the way from Newton to Goethe and to the Bauhaus no matter what ideological system coiled below. Color theory was usually a nice, clean pyramid or circle pleasingly divided into perceptually uniform slices. From the color wheels first depiction by Isaac Newton in the 17th century and on to the Russian Revolution through the post-war American ramp of it, till now this platonic form has stood for color theory and orderly pie chart with six seven or groups twelve neatly sliced up chromatic slices making it into a clean-cut whole. What straightened to me has been in the 20th century the color wheel particularly remains so consistent. Here are three famous artists and art teachers who went out for their courses in color theory at the same general time period, although they were ideologically completely different. This is Gustav Klutsis the Russian productivist artist who taught the color courses at the state graphics VkuTEMAS in Moscow in the early 20s. Here is Johannes Itten the robe wearing mystical we mystically be named Swiss painter, simultaneously plot coverage of alchemists around the same time. And this is his most famous student Josef Albers who in 1933 under-graded from Nazi Germany to the US and became pennant Black Mountain college in Asheville. As different as they all were their colored wheel saw follow the same basic principles as their Isaac Newton’s in the 17th century. In the 1930s in America there was professor Albert Munsell of Boston Massachusetts, who taught color at what is now mass heart and he updated the system a bit finding the traditional means foolish, that was history and offering instead of a new decimal system of decimal rotational system along with a new hole shaped model. However the colors themselves were now nearly called by their first letters red was ‘R’ yellow red was ‘YR’ yellow was ‘Y’ and so forth and then creations of hue value and chroma were introduced to the system but in a decimal point system so you still had a basic color clock with the new updated scientific color name like 7.5BG or 1.5EE. The Munsell system didn’t really make its way into the domain of art school learning by the time I got into art school in the seventies the details of this mathy system were largely ignored or forgotten, instead Munsell was employed one as a kind of index of quasi scientific data. Here’s a color diet in 1947 using Munsell to show you which colors and which gradations should be used alternatively by a male or female executive. And here is a USDA guide to the possible gradations of acceptable color for french fries using the Munsell effects of intensities. Now you may laugh. By the 1970s in art school the sciences of Munsell is no longer taught to us at least, but we were literally fed a schizophrenic diet about how color was to be handled. To paraphrase Rihanna, we found color in a hopeless place.We were instructed in a nineteenth-century method of laying out brown colors and dogs on glass pallets. Meanwhile we had to reconvince beyond the spiritual and we were taught that the great lesson of color was in a French art where color was actually light. At the same time we made it in the light of fluorescence and TV screens if we painted at all since painting was dead. So color theory boiled down something like astrology a system of optimistic predictions wherein as libras are always fair and geminis are always fun, blue always wants to receive and red always wants to come forward. And as good anarchist Bolshevik art students under capitalism we threw off all of this superstitious nonsense and went shopping, where we found ready-mades at the art supply store the best ready-mades on earth the kind you could buy, and in the end we put our colors and buckets of cups any which way we wanted to rejecting colors theory altogether except as a kind of stimulating shopping trip. We had pearl paint in 1970’s theory as an earnest put structuralist friend recently said to me color is and I’m quoting “The name given to forces that allow us to confront the uneasy task of marking difference”. He’s right of course color marks value, regionalism, gender, pathology, lust, shamed, humor, camp, excess, vulgarity and bad taste. There was no color theory but there were productiveness understandings. Part three color operations. To illustrate the point that there is no color theory really, I spent one afternoon trying to examine the actual method of color in the practices of various painter friends just anyone who came to mind with interesting color in their work. In this one casual afternoon’s overview I realized that each one uses color in a completely different way but there is no longer any coherent or systematic approach to color among a random sample of my contemporaries. Here are 22 quick examples of this manifold. Ohh. With an odd first Justin Lieberman who arranged one of the only new updated color wheels in the form of who wore it best So Cameron Martin doesn’t use any pump and his work in India’s work instead one finds the color of the spectral glow of monitors cathode rays or nuclear winter. Jacklyn Humphries whose colors are both harsh and sensitive who uses silver, gray and they glow to accentuate surfaces with her extremely tactile marking. RH _________ whose colors speak of mirrors, windows screams of illusion and who insists on shadow which he knows that shadow is impossible in modernism. Cheyney thompson who purposely, purposely implicates systems into each other like pine and pasted in color to make a parody of word and ends up with something impossibly excessive. Steven Westfall who uses the colors of civic space, science and geometries. Stanley Whitney in which in whose work the interaction the freeform and the systematic makeup harmolodic rainbows. Odili Odita whose color is literally woven like textiles and applied directly to walls and surfaces of some kind. Sometimes architectural scale emergence. Rodney McMillan reduced palette of symbolic reds, Browns, blacks and whites each describing a desperate and social space with images flawed and desolate reds of sire and despair. Glenn Ligon colors that started symbols but which degrade and become illegible or impossible through systematic reproduction. Charline Von Heyl who consistently counters the logic of the move before or after with a sequence of interrogated color responses. Dona Nelson who wrestles action painting into an absurdly insistent materiality. Rochelle Feinstein and whose work colored literally demonstrates the feelings of distrust and falsity, off colors, leading colors, impossible colors like pastel fluorescents for queasy incandescent. Jutta Koether in whose work color acts as a kind of psychic signalling to shine a light on the history, as though plugging the cosine monitor into the crazy beam. Jennifer Packer who uses glowing colors like tints over a world of black and white figures with an amplified kind of flesh and bones. David Reed who uses the techniques of Technicolor a filmic overlay. Bill Jensen the literal colour of gestures and washes and whites. Laura Owens, graphic colors matched up with digital space in all their glowing and whinning emptiness distraction, each screen went leaving into the next into hyperspace. Halsey Rodman who uses color to distinguish between logically absurd repetitions and displacements from one stroke to the next almost as a memory experiment for an absurd form of semiotics. Rachel Harrison where color is a kind of resistance to order trash and belligerents who spins, jabs and screws Thomas Eggerer ghost camp negotiation between the desire for mysterious killings in the pictures and feelings of pictures. Kerry James Marshall whose colors of comic books, maps and social spaces are plotted out and cunningly deployed on top of black and white gaps and David salle David salle where the partially illuminating and compulsive leg of the showrooms and Capital, the seam of the dark undertone through a coldly appraising and desiring hide. What if I here, if there’s an overview to be made his color now used to be nature or a natural form. Color as a form of adversity and humour and color in an interaction with the digital, with screens of all kinds, with processes of production and reproduction and with no sense of being applied to the surface as being a secondary force for the beating of forces on its own. Part 4 a few more problems in age of digital reproduction. “Color is the shattering of unity” says Julia Kristeva, Is the shattering a good finger of bad things? To add to the confusions of the historical color struggles like team Newton and Greta is the new hall of mirrors the digital color delivery systems bring and the mishaps between systems where every color is basically just a compromised formation. For many years I regularly painted with this color a mixture of cadmium lemon mixed with cinnabar green, in person this was an acidic yellow-green color that hit your eye a particularly accurate way but the same color in my painting was basically invisible with slides. It simply didn’t reproduce in photographic spectrum of analog photography on all Kodak film it went to a kind of warm ochre, in the coldness of Fuji color it went straight green. I have more luck we’re producing that same color now because that digitally brings a kind of acidity where I can more easily render these kind of ugly after chase with various camera settings. We’ve given all the different viewing platforms, this color and all colors basically must sculpt back down into the limitations of 4-color CMYK printing. Since artists mostly experience these days and reproductions then the very specifics of my palette are just more simulacra as they go out into the world. The experience of my work is still more profound it is so-called “real life” is this different from all times? I don’t think so, But you had the be there. But an artist now can choose to focus either on the phenomenological experience of their work in person or to focus on logics of reproduction and distribution such as, this earlier 1996 Rachel Harrison work called 5×7’s in which the artists took a photograph of an anthill to ten various commercial photo printers and assembled varying results. Perhaps one of the most poignant gestures in modern art about color and the systems which underlie it is Kliens 1957 patterns of IKB or international client movie, a gesture which literally offsets and contaminates the idea of attainability in art, the gesture of the artist and the acquisitions of its material all offset to somewhere else. Again Lisa Robertson quote this is the farm where our bodies exchange information with an environment but lurking underneath these problems of mechanical reproduction and art distribution is the basic shear unknowability of color who is the standard viewer and how would you know what colors they saw there is no way to measure it as Josef Albers said 50 years ago in one of this book on color we each see a different red even if the same standardized coca-cola sign this is actually what Albers wrote even if the same standardized coca-cola sign is proposed to a thousand people they will all still be thinking of a thousand different Reds not to mention a thousand different ideas about the coca-cola bottling company part 5 hi I finally figured out the only thing I’m interested in is change, change over time constant changes and transformations, until I find a way to in a surprise that tells me something I didn’t already know more a process of fate or involvement of progress and as for me color is the tool for engine of these changes the little machine for transformations overhauls negotiations colors that blot each other out that contradict each other that occur from a process of continual destruction in its construction i mix paint more than anyone else I know to find a kind of weight of the pallets I go along and my pallet starts with everything in the world paintings iPhone apps cartoons magazines flowers clothing buildings landscapes but I realized that I’m doomed to use the colors of the oil space that I buy a palette which is predetermined for me which was chosen for me by this guy Richard from us who owns enough pigment Vetri I noticed at some point that my palette leans toward a kind of 80s kitsch in their lives that my palette is not necessarily discolored but some choices of the colors were made for me by Richard even if I try to mix them away and Richard would probably buy an island, field breaker which is greener so by workers as much as much about the wrong colors as it is about the right colors first the colors I can buy then the weird way I can mix them then the color of anger shame and frustration while I walk around not doing what I’m doing, I basically work with the colors until they’re ruined and then I rescue them in pots of buckets and we’ll eventually mix all the graves Browns and intermediates that I have scraped off the painting and to mix them together and put them in with those sort of weird renovates that Richard came up with that I put new. Color is the engine of changes at my work and I went really slowly making radical color overhauls as I go along I always tell people that and then they don’t really believe me so I thought I’d show a quick slide shows the progress of one painting which was being done for a year and occasionally I would remember to take pictures of it as it was developing so this was like a year ago how it looked like when it started and this is what happened yes it ended the other day going down here in a blur of race up and over painting actually I want to literally give a shout out right now to pan wins because I think that my friend Pam gets a photo of every single minute of every single painting and she always tells me to stop and I never do sorry I’ve been doing these I found animations lately ,this literally probably will go to the garbage can and it’s thick I’ve been doing these iPhone animations lately and I just wanted to conclude this part of the talk like talking about the way that the digital is he made its way into my work. I’ve been making I’ve been making iPhone animations with up it started on my phone and they make them with my finger and then I realized oh sorry this was a looks like where it started where it ended. I make these iPhone animations by making thousands and thousands and thousands of adjusted drawings and that’s saving them all and dropping them into iMovie and then and sort of editing them into cartoons and so I’ve sort of started working with the animation as kind of a drug activity to my painting so I just wanted to like I don’t know if I can I think I can do this. The animation sort of looked like this like they just keep I make these things just like one after the other and they don’t I don’t know what I’m doing they just keep sort of doing them we don’t have to watch any of it but I just want to do to see the it sorta scrub through with all this stuff happen this is what happens in an animation so each one of these stills. is stilled that I can that I can hang up and I can use it as an individual drawing and what is happened over the past couple of years is that I started hanging these in shows and having these big grooves for these kind of animation sequences and then I thought well what if I started a painting with one of those in the images so the thing that you see here on the left is this picture that I drew in my phone with my little finger and the thing on the right was a painting that I tried to make directly from the first you know just from the simple drawing and it doesn’t ever really work but I keep anything so this would happen but in the end this one I mean I don’t really think that these sequences are any different from movies actually that’s where it started and that’s where it ended I guess all Ireally wanted to say about this is that time is to me and I think this is also the case in the work of Helio or the Seco, time is actually in inseparable from color because it’s all about change and finally I just wanted to say that time color and I hope there any changes or the willing the willingness to make incredibly risky changes and to just lose things and throw them away and not worry about them as commodities at all are the keys subjects to me in my painting and the method is responsiveness aggression and emotional and analytic change in fact it is a kind of anthropomorphize painting and at the very least you could call it a choreography. Each set of colors is organized in relation in response to the other colors which is a classical Atheist way of working but whatever the emotional aspect of the colors are whether it’s garish or strident or aggressive or girlish or dull the paintings and the colors that make them up our act emotional relationships for me this is a painting I made in 2007 after one of these year-long struggles and at the end of 11 months I accidentally took a palette knife to this painting and in a horrifying moment of technical disaster after being peeled up off the surface under the palette life because of my mistaken primer application so that might in escape the despondency I could wombly have dinner with a painter for Bobby Bordeaux and asked him how to deal with this loss both how to rescue the painting and how to deal with the loss I felt for this surface that I’ve been in relationship with for a year my friend Bobby said you take your stethoscope and you place it on the painting surface and you say to it painting what do you need to regain your light so I went back and I found a way to reconstitute the blue great light of the former background and I was actually able to get this painting back from the brink of the dumpster and it went into a show at the Harsh one I don’t claim that any of this is anything special all of this is completely normal for any cleaner but in my case the engine of this work is constant adjustment, dissatisfaction, emotional struggle and color which has nothing whatsoever to do with color theory and this is what interests me the most about color that it has its own problems vexations and characters the fact is that color theory is not a theory it is merely a description for the protein world of our sensations or an attempted prediction of what might happen next? Thank you

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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