Brent: In “Treble II” you have an envelope-proportioned structure that has a fold but not like an envelope. There is a corner missing from one side: And a corner protruding from the other. The whole thing is one sheet of color, and of two forms… how did that come about?
Connie: In the “Treble” pieces I’m working with parts of a whole, hence the single color. As to whether these parts become a single entity or are in the process of individuation, well… it can go either way. That’s the point – the uncertainty.
Transformation, the presence, and a stimulus are all part of the move. There is always a “present”: And there is in every piece a “movement” just as there is a pull to and away from gravity. I work a disturbed equilibrium. And it’s there where I find the accord.
I’ve worked off the square/rectangle shape for years. This four-cornered parallelogram is static, constant, perfectly composed. But I take that parallelogram and cut into it, knock it off balance. I have it strive toward another less stable shape and then strive back for perfect containment. The shape wants to stay intact, but countervailing forces are always eroding and pulling at its perfect equanimity. The differing depths of the components in the piece are intended to enhance the notion that this is a changeable, morphing form.
Brent: The moment, or the moments, where things start to impress upon you differently can you talk a little about this in terms of “plate” and “shifting”?
Connie: I could be “new agey” and say these moments are a gift, but I won’t. On the contrary, I believe, in a sense, they are earned. They come about as a consequence of thorough engagement with the creation of the storyline. My work informs itself. I rarely decide off the wall that I’m going to do this now, or that now. Rather, as I work thoughts and ideas permeate and suggest alternatives and shifts in the storyline. It’s important to register them because they can send you off in an otherwise unexpected or seemingly new direction. For example, I may have executed a body of work a few years ago. I may be using a certain kind of palette on a newer body or work, and the thought may cross my mind, “What if I had used this palette for that body of work? How would that have affected the impact of those pieces?” I’ll follow up on those questions. Or perhaps I used a horizontal orientation for a series of pieces… “What would happen if I turn those pieces and orient them vertically?” I do a great deal of elaborating. Occasionally, as in the “Phasis” series (which is ostensibly about moon phases), I’ll have sat on an idea for years. Something boils over into the present, and I’ll start to make sketches of my ideas. This germ of an idea seems to suddenly become concrete.
The shift into using differing depths or layers was something that grew out of my long-time use of multiple panels. For years the multiple panels emphasized the notion of metaphor. Then as I left imagery behind and was incorporating the space around and in between panels into my compositions, I began to use the differing depths as code for change vs. stasis, impulse, the constant ebb and flow of forces. It made perfect sense in relation to what I had been doing all along. When I try something new it has to resonate with the internal logic of my little world or it feels disingenuous. I have strong convictions in that way.
Brent: Does the ebb and flow always go the way you want? Or can it work that sometimes you just have to go with the flow, and ebb back when you know you have something?
With “Arena XII” a front plane is white, and the back plane looks to be a gray. You mentioned there is a change in color at the edge, which I can’t see. There is no sense of fold here. It’s rotation. The white rests. The gray moves, rotates. The cuts are calculated to a precision, but as you say they’re figured while you are working, nothing happens on the drawing board… there is no suggestion of preplanned. Yet, once you make a cut, in what you are using, mdf, I think you said… once that cut is made you can’t really do much to repair it. How then do you work with “change” when the material only gives you one chance?
Connie: I always have to go with the flow. I learned a long time ago that I couldn’t impose my will on my artwork. I can have preconceived ideas, but inevitably they go by the wayside to one degree or another. Once the panel or panels are made, yes, I’m stuck with them – but not really… There is plenty of room for intuition, whether that means surface, color, or even eliminating a piece from the whole. And of course I’ve done that. Inevitably the piece turns out better if I follow it and give it gentle nudges as opposed to squashing it so it conforms to my expectations. It’s a give and take relationship.
Speaking of which: I do not paint the inside edges on all the works. When I have insisted on doing that I found that (at times) it could become a visual jumble. On the “Brook” and “Arena” pieces the inside edges are not painted. With “Brook”, when I attempted to do that things got too busy, and I decided it was enough to let the differing depths express the metamorphosis. You are correct in your description of the “Arena” series. There’s no fold, although there still exists the change in panel depth. There is, though, still a movement toward change and an effort to maintain harmony – opposing forces. As you say, the white center was stable; that is until it had a corner cut off. And in the periphery the action is happening. For me it evokes a feeling I had when I was pregnant with my daughter. As she got big in the womb I frequently had little elbows and knees poking me. That’s what’s happening in Arena. There are elbows and knees poking out of the mother figure, portents of things to come.
Brent: I’m still intrigued with how the panel shapes are decided. A darker pair of plates “Arena 1” feel so worked out. I can’t imagine you just randomly cut bits to see how they worked together, but you say it all happens on the wall.
Connie: I didn’t mean to give that impression. The compositions are decided ahead of time. I do a lot of drawing, thumbnails at first. I will work out ideas, drawing free hand, but eventually they are firmed up on graph paper so measurements are precise. What I was talking about before was the paint process. That’s where intuition happens. Yes, the general form is firm, but there’s plenty to play with after that. By the way, I love the graph paper drawings that precede the paintings. I fantasize about someday exhibiting those. I’ve also done finished pieces on graph paper. Graph paper plays a big role in my life.
Brent: In the “Phasis” series the planes, the plates, do not overlap.
Connie: The “Phasis” series was one of those bodies of work that percolated literally for years. I always wanted to do something about the moon, about its phases in particular. The constant flow, the waxing and waning are so obviously connected metaphorically and literally to what I do, what I seek in my artwork. But it could be so easy to come up with something so trite that I kept putting it off. It isn’t necessarily consistent with how I normally work using the differing depths within a given piece. However it is very consistent in its use of negative space. I was drawing one day, and it dawned on me that I didn’t have to use a sphere or quasi-sphere to depict the moon. The negative space could be the moon shape, and the positive space could express the passage of time and distance. The ephemeral became the tangible and the tangible, the ephemeral. It was great fun. I love the shapes, how at times they are plant-like. There is more there to explore, and I know I’ll go back to it.
Brent: So you are quite happy working with metaphor, or even narrative where one piece aligns and talks to the next, here also the moon as ephemeral body shining, the arc suggestive of a full-blown, or as curves the crescent. There are formal things too, in that you need to look to take the information in. Because of the severity of the column or bar in absence between the pairings, while sometimes there is three or four compiling one work it is in the space between two parts that appears most dramatic. Of the curves, they fill and suggest. There is a gentleness to them, yet also a pinch in the positive space when a curve and a straight edge end at a razor’s edge.
Connie: I see the space between the panels as necessary visual air. I tried and didn’t like abutting the panels because that seemed too severe. It also seemed too illustrative of moon phases per se. Providing space between the panels offered more of a time and space lapse and, of course, simple breathing room. In my mind the space trips the viewer psychologically and visually just enough to remove the piece from too literal a reading. It reads more strongly as metaphor this way. The squared edges on the periphery of each piece are my nod to the fact that while I am addressing unending processes, this is still an enclosed, formal composition. That’s why I set a prescribed distance between the panels. Too much or too little compromises the composition. (Ever the formalist…) It’s a challenging thing to marry the formal, narrative, metaphorical. But, of course, that’s the defining measure of successful art – how well these support one another. If I return to this body of work in the future, I know I’ll tweak the goals or concerns whether they are formal or metaphorical. That’ll change the game plan and thus set up a roadblock to any formulaic devices that could possibly try to manifest. That’s something one has to be vigilant about.
To answer your observation about how I allow pieces in a body of work to play off one another, I’ll offer a resounding affirmation. I do tend to create suites of work. Very seldom do I make one-off pieces any more. An idea will manifest, it will germinate for a long time, and I will try several or many ways to elaborate on the theme. Thus the grouping of pieces as a whole takes on a symphonic quality. I like the notion of there being an orchestration of the individual pieces as well as the larger body of work. I guess in a sense I’m an installation artist. But really, all artists are if they publicly exhibit their work.
Brent: You mention that there is plenty of room to move even once the plates are set, and that further elements can be taken out. Color? Are you adding? It feels more that you are tweaking, looking for a resolve. Sometimes, I notice, colors in certain situations clang when they meet halfway…
Let’s go back: Once the shapes and plates are set, when you feel you have them performing the way you want, is color the next place you go?
Connie: When starting a painting or a body of work I’ll have ideas for color schemes, color relationships, and surfaces. But I’ve also learned to be flexible. Color is the icing on the cake in the painting process. It’s palpable. When you hit the right combination it’s vibratory, visceral. I liken it to how we know when what we’re whistling or singing is on key. It feels right, physically. It can take awhile to get there. Occasionally you get lucky and hit upon it quickly.
In painting sometimes I think it’s there, but later find that it’s not. This happened today, incidentally, whereupon returning to the studio ready to bolt a work together I had to stop. The color just didn’t have the impact.
Color relationships sometimes have to be jarring. With the “Treble” series when you view them frontally they are monochromatic, calm, and harmonious. However, walk around any piece and you’ll be met with a really jolting or surprising color relationship.
Surface plays a huge role in my work. Sometimes I’ll juxtapose different surfaces for expressive purposes. For instance, in the “Arena” series the center squarish piece is smoother and more matte than the outside pieces, which are a bit more textured and a little glossier. The difference here is important to the visual and “narrative” impact. This takes time. The surfaces and color are built up very slowly. I use oils because of the quality of the color and finish. I build the layers sanding the paint sometimes adding “china clay” or “cold wax” to the medium. I work this until the surface quality looks “right”. It can take four layers; it can also take ten.
I’ll admit to fussiness, but it stops well short of fetish. The last thing I want is for the surface to be cold or industrial. It’s important that a sense of handedness is present. If you look closely at the surfaces you will find that they’re quite imperfect, and very warm. The rub is always what level of imperfection is acceptable: And that’s an aesthetic decision.
Brent: Interesting that you say that color is the icing on the cake. Does this mean color sits as a secondary value? That it adorns something sculptural?
Connie: Well, that’s a provocation if I’ve ever heard one (she said bristling). I’ll agree and argue at the same time. I can’t separate the two. I won’t separate the two. I call my work painting because that’s my native language. If I were doing performance art or printmaking I’d probably call it painting. It’s all the same to me. My work has evolved to a point where it has characteristics of both painting and sculpture. Call me what you will. I really, really like straddling the boundaries. But it confuses those who want neatness. The categorizations are purely for other people’s convenience. When I said the color is the icing on the cake I wasn’t implying that it’s fluff or decoration. It meant simply that I love color. If my work didn’t feature color as an essential formal element it would lose a huge amount of its impact. If Anne Truitt or Richard Tuttle were here they’d take you to task, Brent.
Brent: Both sculptors!
Categories get bruised. I often hear painters say, painting is about paint. And it sounds true enough. However painting is a very open forum. In your case you put color to the service, and choose a particular vehicle, that of oil, mentioning that you like the give and the quality. So the “paint is about painting” or an aspect of it, of which there are other parts in the play, in a sense. When something works it ceases to be a problem that needs to be worked out. Or, in your case, when a work is done is it complete?
Connie: Here’s a blurb by Charles Biederman (American, 1906-2004) who coined the term “Structurist”. Biederman said, “a Structurist work is neither painting nor sculpture, but a structural extension of the two.” Conclusion: I think if we ask three more people we’ll get three opinions. I’ll leave that there.
I kind of like the possibility that not all queries can be completely answerable. That’s what keeps the art fresh and me going. As long as there are propositions and problems there remains fertile ground. That’s not to say that a particular work isn’t resolvable in terms of the specific questions that it poses. But I think it’s important to push away from conventions and invent one’s own language and logic. Even better, isn’t it great when the work invents its own language? That’s what good and challenging art is all about. Yes, one has to tip one’s hat to what came before and be informed. But if that’s a given, I believe you can create a unique and viable vocabulary with its own internal logic just as long as all the variables are doing an acceptable job of being mutually supportive. And it may be okay that things get a little messy along the way, even if it’s uncomfortable. I really hope that the work I make is always a little open-ended. If I don’t have curiosity about what’s possible I don’t see any use in making art.