Painting Studio – East Wall, Summer 2008
Brent Kevin, you sent a studio shot of your new pieces. I can see how they fit with the flatter paintings, and what this new wood and paint work is doing. You mentioned that these pieces come about much quicker. Have you been going through a process of redefining time in your work? Do you think that changes a lot of things? Or is it that you have just redefined time?
Kevin The new works you see in the studio shot are essentially plywood and wood reliefs. I make them very quickly in an attempt to free myself from the often-laborious process of getting a painting surface prepped. I paint them rather quickly to maintain this spirit of freeing myself up in the studio. Here I’ll note I don’t see this as some fantasy of freedom on my part. I’d say being free is a completely romantic notion and there is no such thing: But I digress. Let me stay on point.
A bit of descriptive history is useful in our discussion. I have a full woodshop where I physically produce my work. I paint on MDF, various plywood, lumber and plastic. This produces a fair amount of high quality scrap. I also crate my work when it is shipped out for exhibitions. This generates even more plywood scraps. It was from these very scraps that I made the first two painted reliefs. The first was simply a situation of two boards resting against one another that were left over from a crate. I glued them together, attached simple hardware for hanging and painted the piece that evening. I came-up with a simple rule of glue it, screw it and paint it. So the relief series was born.
I titled the main series A List of Things We Said We’d Do Tomorrow as a nod to all the things we say we shall do and never get to. This was a bit of a wry comment on how so much is tossed aside in the studio when an artist is preparing a solo show. I find I have to very narrowly stay on the path of a show with little to no deviations. There isn’t any other way to complete a cohesive show.
Do I feel that I am redefining time in this new work? Not actually as it would be folly to think you can do that in working. I do think better work should impact the viewer’s sense of time, or perhaps more importantly, a work of art should be mutable, appearing to change with the viewer’s understanding of the work as the work is experienced over time. I do not believe that the amount of physical hours an artist spends on a work of art has any bearing on the work’s success or functioning in the world. I think that after 30 years of painting, you come to realize that the simplest gesture is sometimes the best or most adequate.
Time remains a problem for most people in the post-industrial world. I have the conceit that I am making work that a viewer has to experience over time. I want to lead the viewer into contemplation. Now I am fully aware of just how this flies in the face of much of contemporary culture. A culture that I will note is hyper-mediated and completely over-technologized. I believe it both necessary and slightly perverse to make something that demands someone to slow down and spend time with the work. Or at the very least, experience the work in an unfolding manner over duration of time (i.e., as they live with the work).
Brent Again, from the studio shot I can instantly respond to, not a world, not a singular thing, nor many singulars, or many things, but worlds… within worlds.
Kevin I suppose that my painting studio may reflect this problem I’ve mentioned that is posed by contemporary culture. I’d like to believe that the accretion of drawing upon drawing, color tests, painted-out areas (and the like) actually helps me to make my work. Something fragmentary from a former work can often inform something that I’m currently developing. I’ve consciously allowed this to happen. It also adds an element of unpredictability to my process. I’ve encountered this idea that viewers take of my work that it is all completely rational and thought out. I can assure that it is not. Even my color choices are impacted by what ever I have at hand that’s often already mixed and sitting on the shelf.
Brent In the worlds within world’s reference I was thinking not only about the studio remnants as traces but actually how those traces exist in different dimensions and layered time. The lines on the wall declare two dimensions. They are there, and aren’t easily removed. The color swatches declare a color dimension exposing how simple and complex that strange dimension works. The absence of earlier work suggests another position, one that went before, but is still there. And this all becomes especially apparent, and up front, when all that history sits with the newer work.
The solid, the object, the concrete, has color sometimes taking a right turn. Where the color on one surface, usually the front, shares the space with another color, when it folds around it reacts off the color that sits front plane, but that also inflects upon the whole composition. It’s simple enough. Though it works! Within a very strict vocabulary you have created what appear as visual poems, a play with what is, and what happens when this expands with time, and position, and changes when… with the newer work you are definitely jolted by the outward play of form and color, and despite your current favor for readily usable materials and color the subtly is in how you see them.
Kevin The concrete is always difficult for me. I always change my mind at the last minute. For instance, I will consider a painting move for a day, even though I know this to be ridiculous. Something will enter my mind haphazardly, as it did yesterday when I cut the flap off of a box from Malaysia. It had a pink stripe on it that I felt the perfect solution to my painting quandary. So I will attempt to paint pink and cardboard brown today. Naturally it will become something else as it always does. But I think these unpredictable entries into the studio are the best thing for the work. I had a friend sending me wrappers from India at one point as a completely unpredictable vector. I ride around the ghettos on my bike looking for bad color choices. I refer to this as vernacular color.
Brent I have a funny little theory about this ‘at hand coincidence’ related to a Buddhist and Hindu idea that we see what we want to see, and thus find what we want to see, so to speak, or as we speak.
Kevin I would completely concur that we often find what we want to see because we already desire the thing seen. Again, we unnecessarily romanticize the process of discovery. We want to find something and so we do. That said, I do think there are some truly serendipitous visual events for artists remaining to be found in the world.
I remember crossing the Rhein over the Hohenzollernbrücke, the famous bridge in Cologne. This is the one shared by both pedestrians and the train. It is also sadly the one that travels to the station where many deportees took their leave. The Allied Air Command had bombed the structure at the end of the WWII so that it fell into the Rhein. I looked south from the middle of the bridge when I was crossing it back into die Altstadt. In the river was a channel marker. One side bore a panel red over orange, the other side was the same panel but red over white. I will tell you that this was something like an epiphany for me. I had been making object for approximately 10 years. I was essentially burnt-out from the process. Here was my solution floating in the Rhine: Two panels functioning as a diptych with the simplest color relations imaginable. You could say I wanted to find this. But it was a damned good thing I did as it pushed my work into a whole new place.
I don’t know if there is any truly complete realization of understanding. I do know that there are times of great clarity in artists’ lives. These moments are fleeting to say the least. The greater concerns of the world take care of that for most of us. But we can and furthermore, must allow moments of understanding to enter into our studio practice. I don’t believe interesting work is the result of purely rational processes. There has to be both the haptic and the haphazard entering into the work.
Brent What are you currently working on?
Kevin What I’ve been thinking about lately, is that for the most part, what artists do has become superfluous or completely of no use to anyone in general society. I was having dinner with a friend who is working in cognitive studies. We have conversations of great substance. But we both have to acknowledge just how out of step we are with much of what is taking place around us in America. Art making has become like many other old media forms; in that it once served a purpose that it no longer serves at all at this time. Printmaking is a good example of this as much of it has been surpassed by other technologies. Lithography is a particularly poignant example of an outmoded technology for reproducing images.
Brent You will probably find that by the end of the year dead art would have made somewhat of a comeback as I eye a piece created by an offset printing press *(computerized?) – a highly sensitive machine made in Japan shipped to Germany, used by a London artist to produce a halftone set of shimmering monochrome pieces, of which one made it here.’ Indeed things live on, and things change, and die. Yeah, what a cluttered, boring, and stagnant world it would be if all things just grew in volume, statue, but stayed the same.
Kevin That London artist wouldn’t happen to be Tom Benson would it? If so, Tom and I have known each other for almost 10 years. He stays here at the Compound when he’s in town for shows at Larry Becker Contemporary Art.
Brent Right! Tom.
*The press I used isn’t computerized; it’s run by an electric motor and rotates a series of cogs, gears and rollers that even out and transfer ink to a metal plate, which has the ‘image’. (The plate is produced with the use of computers, eyes etc.) Then transferred onto a rubber blanket (roller) and finally onto the paper. As for the technology, I doubt its evolved much over the last 80 years… pretty much everything printed commercially uses a variation on this. Hope this helps. Tom Benson
Kevin I don’t believe any art is actually dead per se. I perceive various image production technologies as essentially outmoded; therefore we might well agree that we could view them as somewhat dead. Certainly not much is happening in the field of stone lithography to push it into the 21st Century. There certainly aren’t the concerns of commerce to make that happen. Or at least I imagine not much to be happening, as I am not a printmaker. But I am someone who spends a hell of a lot of time thinking about paint, preparing surfaces for paint and actually putting paint onto those surfaces. I haven’t made a pure painting in some time – maybe 8 months – as I’ve been making painted wooden objects again. But tonight something came to my attention that was very nearly imperceptible. It was a dark sign painted out with a pewter colored paint. I saw it against an ultramarine violet-blue clouded evening sky. The sign nearly matched the sky in terms of value. It was the sheen of the pewter surface that differentiated the fields. I thought I want to paint this. I have no reason other than it works with another low contrast work that I made 8 months ago. This was in fact my last painting.
So is painting dead? I don’t think so really. I do think individuals whose best interests are served by such pronouncements would like us to believe it so. I’ve heard about the death of painting something like once or twice a decade now. And somehow painting keeps mysteriously returning. Or would it be that artists continue to experience visual phenomena that lead them to return to painting? I know that as long artists want to make things they can’t necessarily put into words, then there will be people somewhere on this earth making paintings.
OK, I need to start surfacing a canvas.
Brent It seems to me that painting is a lot of things… and, OK, a particular temperament that perhaps distinguishes a dog from a cat. Other than that…
So you are making a painting today. Did I get that right?
Kevin Yes, I have gone back to a painting I began months ago. It’s just a surface at present. But for me the preparation of the surface is everything. I am using a Lascaux product that I modify and trowel onto the surface to make it smooth. I often work for weeks on a surface to get it to a place where it is completely transformed from where it began. This painting is 110cm x 150cm. I didn’t know what I wanted to paint until the image of the painted-out sign presented itself tonight. I am a tad bit burnt-out with the objects right now. And the woodshop is so cold the glue won’t properly set. So for now I stay in the painting studio where it’s warmer. I have the luxury of having two separate buildings for my studios.
Brent So in this painting you are going to transform the experience of that painted over sign locked into the sky as a form relationship, color relationship, or both, or somehow transform the info/experience into the language you do? The painting language: You start where you left off?
Kevin I never start where I left off with anything. I can never remember exactly how I made a color or form or any of that. I prefer to forget what I did. So I’ll use this experience as a starting point for a new painting. Certainly I will continue to pursue my interest in translucent fields/grounds in the painting; which would mean the image I came upon fit my concerns for this group of paintings. I didn’t know I wanted to paint this until I happened upon it. Do we find something because we are actually looking for something we already have in mind? Perhaps.
Nothing I do ever refers to any source so literally, so yes I will be transforming the experience in both form and color. I can tell you I am immediately beginning with a reversal of the sign as field and sky as figure. As for the color, it never performs as anticipated once you actually start painting. You begin with an initial color choice only to end-up with something very different that works in the context of the painting. I ‘counter-paint’ colors in the course of a painting more often than not. It’s the struggle to get to the final color that makes the painting what it is in the end.
A beautiful discussion, really. On all fronts- spiritual, technical, practical, and ever curious.
I’ve admired Finklea’s work for years, felt I knew it well– and still, mysteries unfold…..
thank you for the adventure.
Thanks Kate. Very much appreciated.
Everything an interview should be – informative, direct & without pretention. For me personally it pinpoints the essential in art – it is not the solutions that one finds in making paintings but more what are the quality of the questions one asks.
Thanks Tony. And don’t forget the bit of magic🙂
Are you in Paris today?
Great interview with Kevin. I can relate to just about everything he talks about here, especially regarding those slippery moments of clarity.
I saw some of the painted wood pieces in a group show recently and they seemed like a natural outgrowth from his paintings, which often have the feeling of objects.
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