Artscapes in minia­ture


Pasatiempo - - CONTENT - Michael Abatemarco

Joe Fig’s in­ti­mate look at artists’ stu­dios

One of the ques­tions Joe Fig asked artists when he in­ter­viewed them for his new book, In­side the Artist’s Stu­dio, was if they would “de­scribe a typ­i­cal day, be­ing as spe­cific as pos­si­ble.” Sculp­tor Tony Oursler is up by 7 a.m., eats break­fast, works out, makes a list of things he needs to do, an­swers his emails, and then makes a plan for the rest of the day. Tom Fried­man, also a sculp­tor, be­gins his day with cof­fee in bed and gives his golden re­triever Jemmy a belly rub. Mul­ti­me­dia artist Roxy Paine used to be a night owl, but th­ese days he gets up early. “Kids do not let you sleep past seven o’clock, so if you stay up late, it means you’re go­ing to be get­ting very lit­tle sleep, and that gets tir­ing,” Paine told Fig.

What In­side the Artist’s Stu­dio re­veals about the artists them­selves — their child­hood, ed­u­ca­tion, do­mes­tic life, and ca­reer — is re­fresh­ingly can­did and down-to-earth. But it isn’t just the in­ter­views that make this an in­trigu­ing book, and it isn’t just the pho­to­graphs that, rather than depict­ing the artists at work, are fo­cused more on the in­te­ri­ors of their stu­dios. Rather, it’s Fig’s cre­ative re­sponses to each stu­dio visit — cat­a­lysts for his own artis­tic prac­tice. Fig de­ter­mines whether a meet­ing will re­sult in a paint­ing of a stu­dio or a to-scale minia­ture, depict­ing in minute de­tail a scene that’s al­most in­dis­tin­guish­able from the pho­to­graphs on which they’re based. “It’s very daunt­ing to a stu­dio visit,” he told Pasatiempo. “I al­ways feel, if you were to go in cold, you have to look at the work and think of some­thing smart to say. In a way I lucked out with this list of ques­tions I have, es­pe­cially this go-around.”

He starts by ask­ing each artist where they grew up, what their high school arts pro­gram was like, and if they re­mem­ber their first work of art. “A num­ber of them still have those pieces with them,” he said. “For me, not be­ing smart enough to say some­thing about their work right away, it’s kind of a way in. Through that process of them talk­ing about their child­hood, how they set up their space, and if they lis­ten to mu­sic, I start to get a glimpse into their work and through that I get an un­der­stand­ing of it.”

This is the sec­ond book Fig has writ­ten about artists in their stu­dios — the first was In­side the Painter’s Stu­dio. He opened the new book up to artists work­ing in dif­fer­ent medi­ums. “I didn’t want to just do an In­side the Painter’s Stu­dio 2. There are a hand­ful of painters in this book, but the ma­jor­ity of the artists work in sculp­ture, video, pho­tog­ra­phy, in­stal­la­tion, or a com­bi­na­tion of all that stuff.”

Fig, whose Self Por­trait: Collinsville opens the book, sees each stu­dio he cap­tures as a pic­ture of the artist. So much of artists’ time and en­ergy is spent in kind of a sa­cred space that’s rarely seen by out­siders, and the artists sur­round them­selves with ob­jects for use in their work, for in­spi­ra­tion, or just be­cause they col­lect things. Oursler has a mer­maid fig­urine on a ta­ble in his stu­dio and a bust of E.T. the Ex­trater­res­trial on a book­shelf. Mul­ti­me­dia artist Eve Sussman keeps an old film pro­jec­tor in hers. In­stal­la­tion artist Lau­rie Sim­mons has a can­is­ter full of lip­sticks. Painter Philip Taaffe, who lis­tens to Mozart when he’s stuck for ideas, has a stu­dio di­vided into sev­eral rooms, each with a ded­i­cated pur­pose. One of them has a bil­liard ta­ble. “When I do a stu­dio visit, I’m sit­ting there talk­ing with the artist and while I’m in­ter­view­ing them I’m look­ing around and see­ing how things func­tion, look­ing for the lit­tle things in the cor­ner and what lit­tle things they have on their walls,” Fig said.

Some artists, like Car­roll Dun­ham, who places plas­tic tarps over his paint­ing ta­bles to keep the sur­faces clean, main­tain neat and or­ga­nized stu­dios, and oth­ers, like sculp­tor Leonardo Drew, whose bins and shelves are stuffed to over­flow­ing, not so much. Mul­ti­me­dia artist Red Grooms keeps his col­ored pen­cils in decades-old Alpo dog food cans. “I thought they were beau­ti­ful and said to him, ‘Th­ese cans are just gor­geous, aren’t they?’ And he said, ‘I didn’t even know I had those.’ ” Fig’s minia­ture Red Grooms: April 4, 2014 mea­sures only 15 x 22½ x 15¾ inches but there, de­picted on one of the artist’s ta­bles is an Alpo can fash­ioned out of poly­mer clay.

Most of the artists in­ter­viewed in the book live and work in New York and sur­round­ing states. Fig wrote this sec­ond book af­ter mov­ing away from New York five years ago to his cur­rent home in Con­necti­cut, two hours from the me­trop­o­lis. “Af­ter my last show in New York I was sort of go­ing through the post-show blues and think­ing, What should I do next? I had vis­ited a friend of mine who’s a video artist, and I re­al­ized that I missed that in­ter­ac­tion with other artists. I started think­ing at that point of the pos­si­bil­ity of do­ing a fol­low-up book.” Fig has used the artist stu­dio as a sub­ject for more than a decade. For a se­ries be­gun in 2002, he fo­cused on paint­ing ta­bles, those sur­faces found in nearly ev­ery stu­dio that are scarred and pit­ted and ac­cu­mu­late layer af­ter layer of paint, re­flect­ing the full spec­trum of an artist’s pal­ette. “Gre­gory Amenoff [who is not in­cluded in the book] had two ta­bles: one on the left side and one on the right side. He kept paints on one ta­ble and brushes on the other. Where all the paints were, there was just years and years of caked-on paint. It was on all his tools and the ta­ble sur­face, and it was just beau­ti­ful. He would say that when col­lec­tors came over to his stu­dio, they would grav­i­tate to­ward his paint­ing ta­ble over his work.”

It’s th­ese de­tails that make In­side the Artist’s Stu­dio so re­veal­ing. Not only is it a cross-sec­tion of artist por­traits, but it’s an in­ti­mate one at that. His por­trait of Judy Pfaff — a wa­ter­color of a small kitchen, in­clud­ing a ren­der­ing of her dog and hang­ing items in a mul­ti­tude of bright col­ors — is not a stu­dio im­age, but it cap­tures the place where she spends most of her time. “I found out her dog passed away about a year ago,” Fig said. “It still upsets her. She has a huge com­pound in up­state New York that used to be­long to the Snap­ple iced-tea drink com­pany. It’s this big, beau­ti­ful set­ting with lots of dif­fer­ent out­build­ings. But her kitchen, which is not that large of a room, was re­ally the con­trol cen­ter. The kitchen it­self, even though the ceil­ing was un­fin­ished, had all th­ese hang­ing lights and col­or­ful Chi­nese or­na­ments. I think it was in the fall so there were pump­kins on the ta­ble, and all the pots were orange and green. It was just like her work.”

Poly­mer clay, or Sculpey, is one medium Fig uses to re­al­ize his small-scale vi­sions. He also uses bits of wood, plas­tic dow­els, and paints, among other ma­te­ri­als. In the case of his por­trait of Drew, splat­tered paint cans, a box with Sty­ro­foam peanuts, a stack of wood, and even a roll of mask­ing tape, are all ren­dered with ex­ac­ti­tude in hy­per­re­al­ist sculp­tural form. “The hard­est part is do­ing the tools on the ta­bles, but in some of the sculp­tures it’s re­ally get­ting the sur­face of the floor cor­rect be­cause there’s paint drop­pings and to get it to the right scale is a lot harder than it looks. You can’t just flick paint on the floor.”

Fig sees the stu­dio visit as a kind of priv­i­lege. A vis­i­tor is af­forded the op­por­tu­nity to see be­hind the veil, into a kind of al­chem­i­cal lab­o­ra­tory where artists turn their vi­sions into gold. “Most peo­ple see the art­work on the walls of mu­se­ums and gal­leries, but the stu­dio is where every­thing hap­pens. For the artist, it’s prob­a­bly where you look at your work the most.”

“In­side the Artist’s Stu­dio” by Joe Fig was pub­lished in Oc­to­ber by Prince­ton Ar­chi­tec­tural Press; images cour­tesy the pub­lisher.

Tom Ot­ter­ness in his stu­dio, 2014, photo Joe Fig

Leonardo Drew in his stu­dio, 2013, photo Joe Fig

Joe Fig: Adam Cvi­janovic: Oc­to­ber 1, 2012, 2013-2015, mixed me­dia, 11 x 9 ½ x 2 inches

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