by Michael Rutherford
Gyan Shrosbree is one of those artists who have a knack for inciting enthusiasm about the practice of art-making. In my own conversations with her, I’ve found Gyan to be consistently positive about the current situation and convinced that the present time an artist finds one’s self in is always an occasion to make the most of.
While she’s currently an assistant professor of art at Maharishi University of Management, Gyan also maintains a rigorous work schedule in the studio. There’s a continual pushing and retranslation of materials in order to advance her work to other levels aesthetically. Gyan is also an art historian of sorts, having worked as a studio assistant to the late artists Nancy Spero and Leon Golub—and of course, she has many interesting stories about them both. I’ll certainly be looking forward to seeing her next show.
PB: You’re always pushing the materials and moving forward with your work. What is your studio practice like and what challenges have you run into along the way?
GS: Thank you, it is nice that you see it as moving forward. I have a fear of being an artist who just repeats over and over again—becoming old news. My studio practice is usually very consistent. I mean, life can get complicated, but in general I am in my studio a lot. I used to work at all hours of the night and felt that I got my best work done in the middle of the night. For the last ten years or so, I have changed my ways and am all about routine and sleep is a part of a good routine. I find that I am very productive during the day, even more so than I was when I stayed in my studio until late at night.
I always work on a lot of stuff at once. I always have at least 20 paintings going on at the same time. It allows me to give the work and myself the breathing room that I find necessary for letting the work happen organically; it allows me to have a conversation that is not forced with the work. It also allows me to be unattached to the work, not to say that I don't care about it, just that I am not being precious about it and working from a tight place. When I find that I am being precious or fearful or overly concerned with ruining a painting, I leave it alone and start a new piece or series in a new material. I always leave the work up on the walls so that it is in my vision and can bother me when it is ready to be ripped back into. I guess these are the challenges that I face during most studio days.
PB: What's your take on the time period that we’re in and the freedom it offers?
GS: I love the fact that anything kind of goes right now. It is really a great place for the way that I make my work and the way that I think about painting and what can be a painting. In another time period I probably would not have even known that I could use certain materials that I use. Instinctually, I would like to think that I would want to do the things that I am doing with materials and paint and working on and off the walls, but who knows.
I think this is an exciting time in the art world. It is also a kind of overwhelmingly impossible time in the art world because there are so many artists and so much work and so little money and everything is so crowded and you kind of have to know someone to get anything, so it can feel a little bit impossible sometimes. I was just in New York though, and I saw a lot of really awesome shows and felt really inspired, which is wonderful and not always the way I feel when I go to a bunch of galleries. I left feeling inspired and excited about getting back to my studio.
PB: Tell me about some other artists you're excited about or draw inspiration from.
GS: Matisse has always been a strong force in my life. His use of color and flat shapes and patterns. How he creates so much space with color. I recently saw the cut-outs in person at MOMA, and I was blown away. So in love. Jessica Stockholder (who I have always kind of considered a modern day Matisse) is also a strong influence in my life. I adore her work. Cindy Sherman has also always been someone who has resonated with me on that deep level that is just gut. So many people have influenced me. Lately, I have been really inspired by El Anatsui as well as the quilts of Gees Bend. I am always excited about African, Native American, Mexican, and Indian -- art, rugs, fabrics, clothing, objects, and pottery. All so drool-inducing for me.
PB: How do you approach teaching at the collegiate level?
GS: Well, I approach it with the idea that I am there to mentor the students and help them realize their full potential. I am kind of into nurturing them, but giving them a lot of push outside of their comfort zones. Teaching them that being an artist takes hard work and a good routine is something I think is very important to instill in them. I also feel that it is important to give them a strong formal basis and language so that they have a stable ground to go back to when they are alone in a studio trying to figure out what is wrong with the painting they are trying to make work.
PB: What's on your reading/listening list lately?
GS: I am reading a book of collected writings and conversations with Philip Guston right now. I am finding it to be really interesting to read while in the studio. Some of what he talks about resonates so strongly with the way that I think about painting. I am also reading the book on Leon Golub: Do Paintings Bite? I have been listening to Arthur Russell a lot lately. Not listening or reading, but watching; and I have been re-watching Twin Peaks in preparation for the new season, and that has been really exciting and visually awesome!
PB: What kinds of things outside of painting catch your interest and keep you going?
GS: Fashion. Clothing in general. Fabric. Quilts. Color combinations. Language—conversations that I hear. Movies. Books. Nature. Family. Friends. Good food. Children. Travel. The way things look in Mexico and India. Humor.