Friday, August 2, 2019

Outline by Rachel Cusk

In the review of my recent show on Hyperallergic, author Lev Feigin notes, "Looking at her paintings, I couldn’t help but think of the autofictional books of Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, which focus a microscope onto the everyday minutiae of the authors’ personal lives. Like these novels, Levinthal’s paintings create a sense of unmediated access to their creator’s world and interiority." 

I knew Heti and Knausgaard, although I haven't read their work but admit I had never even heard of Cusk.  So I figured this summer that would be a good place to start my reading.  I just finished Outline, the first in a trilogy by Cusk and I'm so thrilled.  First, I loved the book.  And also, if my paintings could be writing I would like them to have a lot of what is here so I'm flattered.

It's a really unique take on a simple subject.  The narrator takes a plane to Athens to teach a one week writing course.  She tells the story by sort of retelling the conversations of people like her neighbor on the plane, a coworker, students in her class.  

I identified so strongly with her and yet she tells almost nothing of herself or her opinions.  She creates this complex character through erasure.  She's barely there yet you identify so strongly with her, she isn't easily definable but she is specific.  And through this way of writing the form becomes the function -- she is showing us what it is to be a mother, woman in a literary (art) world where men are constantly telling her things, people are speaking at her to impress her, students are challenging her authority.  

Cusk clearly wrote a book about her own 'everyday', unremarkable life and it is anything but expected.  While being highly aware that the book is about the form, its never just to show off her ability, its absolutely to make a bigger statement about her main character.  It's hard to explain the style, here is an excerpt where she is speaking to her seatmate from the plane:

“All the same, it seemed to him now that that life had been lived almost unconsciously, that he had been lost in it, absorbed in it, as you can be absorbed in a book, believing in its events and living entirely through and with its characters. Never again since had he been able to absorb himself; never again had he been able to believe in that way. Perhaps it was that – the loss of belief – that constituted his yearning for the old life. Whatever it was, he and his wife had built things that had flourished, had together expanded the sum of what they were and what they had; life had responded willingly to them, had treated them abundantly, and this – he now saw – was what had given him the confidence to break it all, break it with what now seemed to him to be an extraordinary casualness, because he thought there would be more. More what? I asked. ‘More – life,’ he said, opening his hands in a gesture of receipt. ‘And more affection,’ he added, after a pause. ‘I wanted more affection.”

Friday, July 12, 2019


I really can't get enough of Foujita.  Probably partially due to how rare it is to see his work, I have never seen one in person and the books are very rare and expensive.  There is just one in the library that I keep on renewing and pray no one else ever requests.  I absolutely feel this work.  His interests are unapologetic and require no artist statement -- looking intensely, self-portraiture, cats, line, composition.  Its so steadfast you think well what else could there be...nothing.  You are in his universe so you can't question it.  This is a painter.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Two Summer Shows

I'm in two shows this summer in NY.  The first is at my gallery, Nancy Margolis.  It's a show loosely around the theme of flowers.  I have this painting above, the one below and a couple others in the show.  Other artists include Kathleen Craig, Xico Greenwald, Gail Spaien and Anna Valdez.  I'm thrilled to see it and meet some of the other painters, the opening is Thursday June 13, 6-8pm.  Exhibition Catalogue

The other show is called About Face organized by Patricia Spergel and Director Shazzi Thomas at the Painting Center.  Its a big show with work from Dasha Bazanova, Jeff Bliumis, Alexandra Rutsch Brock, Deborah Brown, Pam Butler, Susanna Coffey, Kyle Coniglio, Donna Festa, Kyle Hackett, Ryan Michael Ford, Barbara Friedman, Lavaughan Jenkins, Catherine Kehoe, Aubrey Levinthal, and Elise Siegel. That one opens Thursday June 20th 6-8pm.  Exhibition Catalogue

I'll grab some install photos when I am up for these shows. Please come!

For K.R., 2019, Oil on Panel, 11.5 x 11.75 inches

P.S. -- The painting above, For K.R., is for Kay Ryan, the poet. I have tried a few times to make a painting in response to my favorite poem, The Light of Interiors. I so want to capture that delicate, simple island of flowers with no gravity but so much past she writes of. Here is her exquisite poem:

The Light of Interiors
by Kay Ryan

The light of interiors
is the admixture
of who knows how many
doors ajar, windows
casually curtained,
unblinded or opened,
oculi set into ceilings,
wells, ports, shafts,
loose fits, leaks,
and other breaches
of surface. But, in
any case, the light,
once in, bounces
toward the interior,
glancing off glassy
enamels and polishes,
softened by the scuffed
and often-handled, muffled
in carpet and toweling,
buffeted down hallways,
baffled equally
by the scatter and order
of love and failure
to an ideal and now
sourceless texture which
when mixed with silence
makes of a simple
table with flowers
an island.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Valerie Hegarty

Five Tulips with Wan Li Vase Elegy
Five Tulips with Wan Li Vase Elegy, 2019, Wood, canvas, wire, foil, epoxy clay, acrylic paint,40” x 33” x 9”

I love Valerie Hegarty's work.  Just through following her on instagram I found she is a writer and published a stunning story in the New England review.  I have read and reread her short story Cats vs Cancer.  It does what I wish my paintings to do -- it is visceral and haunting and felt in the stomach, but also appears somehow casual and simple.  Its so easy to get into and so difficult to forget.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Virtual View on Eazel

My show ends tomorrow!  The gallery did an interesting thing with a company called Eazel.  Through many photographs they have created an archived digital version of the exhibition which can be seen here.  There are quite a few galleries who document their shows this way.  While I hope it isn't the way future art viewing will go (and don't think it will be) I do think its a good next best thing to see scale/space if you are not local or able to make a show.  

Friday, May 31, 2019

Good Painters Getting Some Love

I saw two shows I'm so happy about.  The first was at Rowan, where I used to teach.  One of the art historians there is writing a book on Sylvia Sleigh so they put on a show of her work and other participants of the SOHO20, a co-op gallery for women artists in the 70s.  Here's the link...  

(detail) Sylvia Sleigh, Soho20 Group Portrait, 1974
 It brought to mind the group portraits Mimi Gross did in the 1960s, recently on view in a great show at Eric Firestone.  Link here...

Mimi Gross, Grand Street Girls, 1963

Then I dropped by PAFA feeling like, 'damn why can't they do something like that?' The whole time I was a grad student there I felt figurative painting was always about large scale, heroic man painting.  And then I was told to check out the new installation of the permanent collection and it blew my mind because it read my mind.  Joan Brown, Sylvia Sleigh, Kyle Staver, Judith Linhares, Mequitta Ahuja, Gertrude Abercrombie etc.  It was so good to see.  

And seeing two Joan Brown paintings in person was especially timely for me as I'm reading her monograph The Art of Joan Brown by Karen Tsujimoto.  

Here are a few really compelling statements in there that I marked to remember:

"When I found that the painting was getting monotonous, when the inspiration and the struggle were no longer there, no amount of success and money and fame would influence me to give up my freedom.  As far as I am concerned, success is an inside thing, a feeling of growth, of change of in-goingness in terms of the creative process -- and outside mean very, very little, if anything -"

I didn't realize how much success and fame she had in her early 20s, aligning with the Bay Area.  To completely abandon that work and receive such negative reviews as she did takes a lot.  Its a very important thing though to paint for yourself first, a necessity to be engaged and struggling.

"Raising a child I was able to explore and express another dimension of myself, the more I am able to express the various dimensions of myself, the richer and freer the art will be.  I'm not any one thing: I'm not just a teacher, I'm not just a mother, I'm not just a painter, I'm all these things plus and the more areas I can tap, the richer each one of the others will be.  I've always wondered why nobody has ever asked me how I did it and what I thought about raising a child...It's been tough from time to time.  Sometimes there's an overcompensation; sometimes I put out too much energy into one area and not enough in the other.  It's really hard to keep that balance but...everything really feeds into the other...I find that the work is a by-product of myself as a person and therefore it's much richer because I have lived and have been involved in other dimensions."

I've been of the pessimistic mindset recently that the idea of 'having it all' is utter bullshit.  That stereotype alone asks women to do too many things really well without any structural support like free preschool, which make feeling like a failure very easy.  But I like this take, that having a child and being a painter and teacher and whatever else creates a new and impossible other universe in which the parts work together and would not happen otherwise.  Its certainly true for my new body of work.  I feel the most connected to this show than any of my previous shows, I feel it is so much stronger because it is more vulnerable and personal and that is certainly a by-product of my life.  And that makes me care a lot less what the outside world thinks.  I definitely want my work to be seen but I don't care how it is received.  And she's right, there is a lot of freedom in that.
Good reminders from a trailblazer.