Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Als Ick Kan, 2011, oil on linen, 48 x 36 inches
Release, 2011, oil on linen, 16 x 12 inches
Thought from Afar, 2011, oil on linen, 20 x 16 inches

One, 2011, oil and spray paint on canvas, 20 x 16 inches 

Say the Other, 2011, oil on canvas, 68 x 52 inches

Doves Pigeons, 2011, oil on linen, 48 x 36 inches

Studio views

PB:  How are things going in the studio and is there anything new to you out there in our culture that you've come across that's working its way into your work?

JS:  Things are going well in the studio. I recently finished a bunch of new paintings that are headed to Steven Zevitas Gallery in Boston. Things that are providing starting points for the latest work include 3D images, commercial printing techniques, children’s drawings, magazine advertisements, quilts, excised images & documents, and basic shapes (triangle, square, rectangle). It’s a collection that comes from culture and what we produce to mark our environment and try and communicate with others.

PB:  I remember a couple of years ago when we were talking, you brought up the phrase, "image making by any means necessary," could you elaborate on that?

JS:  As I set to work, I can say, “Do whatever it takes to make the work”. There is a liberty implicit in that, however the choices can also be overwhelming, and have consequences. The spirit of that statement resides in being aware of limitations, using those limitations to react.  Sometimes the result is efficient, sometimes it is elegant, sometimes it is introspective, and sometimes it is brutal.

PB:  You've been mentioned in a few articles lately as a "provisional painter" and in other similar terms. What's your take on that?

JS:  I think it’s an interesting label. Contingency is an element in the painting process and also definitely in the air when the stock market can swing wildly, or the news cycle can jump from one concern to another at break-neck speed. The paintings are purposefully open in the way that they are constructed.  Even when a painting is finished, not all is locked into place. Things are shifting.

Whether a “provisional painter” or a “new casualist”, when I go into the studio I try not to think about that, I do not want that to affect the work. In the studio it is about what the painting needs and wants. It is wonderful that people are aware of some commonalities among several artists work; that is a place for the discussion to start.

PB:  So in the studio, you're keeping yourself open to what's going on there, pushing forward and giving each painting what it needs. When you speak of constructing a painting that's purposely open in the way it's constructed, does that mean that you're leaving room for contingency to flourish?

JS:  When I start a painting, there is often a structure, system, or image that I am reacting to. The paintings are not planned out; in effect I am constantly introducing contingencies to each work. Limits and unexpected occurrences are barriers to be embraced, challenged, and creatively addressed. If I look at the logic that resides in a particular painting or work of art, there is what is known and unknown. It is that play between the two that creates a poetic challenge that we have to wrestle with, just like the known and unknown of life.

PB:  How do things change for you when making large works vs. smaller works?

JS:  I generally work on several paintings at one time. Three or four large ones and ten to fifteen smaller may develop in the studio at the same time. I think about the difference in scale and how we relate to them with our bodies. The 8’ x 6’ painting envelopes the viewer. The 20” x 16” painting draws you in to a more intimate space. A 48” x 36” canvas is a difficult scale, it cannot quite envelope you, nor is it that same intimate space that a smaller canvas creates. Recently, I have been really trying to figure out this size around 48” x 36”. It sounds silly but it is a complicated size, also exciting because of the challenge of figuring out a painting that is neither small nor large.

PB:  Are there any other artists you're excited about or draw inspiration from?

JS:  Morandi’s work is so wonderful. It seems so simple and limited, yet he scrapes out this amazing territory, with a handful of vessels and bottles, using some brushes, paint, and canvas. The paintings are unassuming but completely transfix the viewer. I keep lots of books and images around me in the studio. They keep me company and challenge me. Ellsworth Kelly’s “Plant I” (1949) is such a hauntingly elegant painting, fourteen inches high, black and white and all that presence.

This summer I had a chance to meet Nicole Cherubini and Mike Andrews at Ox-Bow in Michigan. They both have a way of using materials and tradition and get so much out of it. Nicole works in ceramics primarily. Mike uses fiber/yarn to make tapestries. Both make work that I want to spend a lot of time looking at and thinking about. They start with the familiar and take me into new territory.

PB:  I'm familiar with Cherubini's work and I count myself in as a fan, and thanks for shedding light on Andrew’s as well—JoshFaught is another great weaver I've been impressed with. How has a cross-disciplined perspective of a painter looking at ceramics and tapestry enriched your own practice of painting and taken you to that new territory you've mentioned? Also, how do other contemporary painters figure into things for you—the German painters and, just throwing a name out there, how about Twombly and his contribution?

JS:  I think Mike Andrews and Josh Faught are both making interesting work that comes out of fibers tradition and certainly deal with painting, drawing, sculpture, and installation. I like how Nicole Cherubini and Mike Andrews have this wonderful sense of history as it relates to their work. They know the traditions from which their work comes out of, and they are pulling from painting’s discourse and further afield to enrich their work. It is so important as artists to understand our creative heritage, to in fact own it. That said, by looking outside of art or discipline and importing new or unexpected ideas is how one maps new territory, invents new ways of working.

If we start talking German Artists, it is hard to know where to begin. Richter, Polke, Oehlen, Kippenberger, Blinky Palermo, and Joseph Beuys are all amazing and influential for me. Then you have artists like Eberhard Havekost and several other younger German Artists. There has been a lot of amazing painting from Germany. Tomma Abts. Anselm Reyle. So many of them have an amazing rigor to their work, while at the same time having incredible breadth.

Cy Twombly is really amazing. The constant presence of handwriting in his work is brilliant. His drawing, mark-making, helped me understand and think about the larger types of “hand-writing” in the world around us. How we mark, design, alter our environment and the things we place in it. Each painting is like a monumental whisper. He uses this epic subject matter that is scrawled on his walls (paintings). Seeing the Twombly room at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is an overwhelming experience.

PB:  What's on your reading/listening list lately? 

JS:  Mira Schor’s Decade of Negative Thinking
Mira Schor’s blog http://ayearofpositivethinking.com/
Marilynne Robinson’s Absence of Mind
I have been reading W.G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn and I just started reading Harold Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence
What is playing in the studio...The National, The Cold War Kids, The XX, Darcy James Argue’s Infernal Machines, and Jonny Greenwood.

Also watching the TV series Friday Night Lights, but not while I’m painting.

To see more:  jeredsprecher.com

On view at Steven Zevitas Gallery in Boston, Sept 8th--Oct 15th, 2011:
Jered Sprecher | Als Ick Kan

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Ship of Fools, 2007, oil on linen, 84 x 60 inches

Ross Bridge Heads, 2006, oil on linen, 60 x 97 inches

Rescue up the Creek, 2007, 82 x 120 inches
PB:  How did you arrive at the idea of using such personal imagery in your work?
GN:  It started very early in Tasmania.  I suppose I discovered art at age 4, making fantasy drawings when I attended primary school. That initial burst became lost amidst the intense distractions of daily school life until later, after leaving school at age 15, I worked at Silk and Textiles Factory learning to draw master sketches for fabrics.  That lasted 3 years during which that business encouraged me do to life drawing classes at the Art School in Hobart for one year.  The repeated patterns I worked on at the factory are in a way present in my painting now.

The childhood memories that I remember most fondly and vividly I found in nature. They include the dry ochre coloured bush beyond my home in Lindisfarne, the wild gum trees with white, gray, pink peeling bark and the variety of shades of earth peering up between fallen varieties of eucalypt leaves forming a bed of subtle and raw colour.  The occasional scattered bones of dead animals and birds come to mind easily in this tableau of contrasting textures, shapes and things soft and hard to the touch.

My father’s attempts to grow fruit trees in our backyard have influenced my paintings to a large extent. His successes and failures at trying to cultivate fruits that weren’t entirely suited to the southern Tasmanian climate I celebrate in my paintings. The passion fruit on the vine, apples, peaches and pear trees are realistic vivid memories. The tropical fruit trees that did not succeed were memorable too.  I include all those fruits in my memory as still life arrangements in my oil paintings.  I want to retain some of that personal memory of intense colour, heat, texture, sound quality and momentum of plants striving to grow in that climate, and fenced landscape.

Sounds that are a vivid memory include sqwarking parrots in the trees, flocks of blue / red, gray / pink ones flying overhead making noise everywhere, especially in the bush in Tasmania.  I want my paintings to suggest these sounds.  

PB:  Do you ever feel the pressure to go in a more formal/conceptual direction with your work, or lean toward more symbolism, rather than the fine balance your work is now at?
GN:  I feel no pressure to be anything other than a working painter. I explore the concerns that are currently important to me -  pushing paint around on any surface available to me, continuing to use symbolic colour, shifting around my scale to surprise myself and keeping my narrative interesting.

PB:  How did you survive upon arrival to NYC?
GN:  I had early success in Australia before I left the first time, showing in a top gallery in Sydney whilst still a full-time art student.  That success initially resulting out of a facile talent, hard work, early ambition and luck being in the right place, which brought me attention—and the Marten Bequest travelling art prize award then facilitated and hastened my departure for Europe.  I received a full scholarship to attend the New York Studio School after 6 months travelling around Britain and Europe.  That part seemed easy as events fell into place.  What I encountered in New York was another matter.  My visa situation meant that I was compelled to stay a student to remain in the States.  That was not a difficult choice as the school and its philosophy on art education was the most difficult challenge of my life.  I stayed at the school for 7 years, thriving as an advanced student after falling on my head the first year and a half.  In my last year at the school I started exhibiting in galleries in New York and soon thereafter in Australia again.

I discovered the hard way, that while you are in the throes of exhibiting and getting early attention, success can seem easy and it flows from one show to another, from one grant/award to another and so on.  Once the artist becomes too precious about their art, too aware and careful of the traps and pitfalls of the art business, too intimidated by it, that initial earlier impulse to just make art can get lost. An initial, aggressive, naive approach can get an artist a boost onto the scene and quick success.  Staying there for the long haul is very difficult. Many successful artists settle on maintaining an identifiable style, a style that sells and stay with that, while the artists who want to challenge themselves to evolve and grow generally have the harder road.  I’ve been told by more than one professional that any artist is lucky to have two years of sales of their art in New York.  The art scene is very fickle, fast and can often seem to digest, chew and spit out artists faster than they arrive in this city.  It is always fascinating, always intriguing and sometimes a wonderful place of support for the arts.

PB:  Do you feel satisfied with the point at which your work is now at?
GN:  At this stage of my life and career I am very aware of my abilities and my unique personal vision, which I always attempt to express confidently through my artwork. The response to my story about the actual Ross Bridge in Tasmania, the convict artist who carved the reliefs on it, as well as my family’s involvement in it, has elicited some amazement from my New York friends and the artist community that knows me. The collection of my paintings that focuses on that subject has been very well received by artists, gallery owners and critics, often without them knowing the background story surrounding the carved panels on the bridge.
I am still drawn to the Tasmanian landscape as it provides me with endless material for my artwork. In my paintings I often include and describe cherished, retrieved objects from that landscape: toy ship models, scattered animal bones, and ancient paths - all visual memories.  My symbology of colour - ochres, greens, yellows to reflect the lush palette of the Tasmanian rain forest flora and fauna, contrasted with the black, red and white of the dry heat.  I think of the history of that place and expand on this narrative with a grand vision.

The paintings start with a structure from the nature transcriptions, left as open as possible to allow me to introduce throughout, a flow of contrasting shapes and symbols, built with a process of layering oil paint, heavily and thinly applied, erased, reapplied, and glazed until the images are resolved. These paintings represent a synthesis of ideas I continually explore in my work. Not unlike my attraction to places I spend time divining (dowsing) in, a gift that I have to use, and which I spend much time practicing.

PB:  Is there any other medium that you plan on working with in the future?
GN:  The Weathervanes I have been producing as wooden prototypes in my studio will need to be fabricated in metal, probably aluminum, to exist outside permanently. There are 7 Ship Weathervanes so far.  A Brooklyn foundry has given me some support this year with research into making them as editions. That material should embrace strong patinas that represent the integrity of the existing surface colours on the prototypes. I am endeavoring to take this project as far as possible, with as much commercial success as I think it warrants.
I still love just painting with oils on wood surfaces or heavy linen.  I'll keep doing that for the foreseeable future, with a view to returning to woodblock and silk screen printing.

To see more of Garry's work:  garrynichols.com