Monday, December 2, 2019

Kudos by Cusk and Two Important Reads

I finished the third book in the trilogy I have been writing about here by Rachel Cusk.  In the final book Kudos there are two passages about female artists that struck a nerve.  First, a character is describing the work of Louise Bourgeois:

And then she goes on to some commentary on Joan Eardley:

Very powerful.

I was then excited to read a recent article by Cusk in the New York Times about similar topics:

While I found some passages important, I did not like the format of more or less pitting Celia Paul's experience against Cecily Brown's.  Paul having negotiated the complicated existence of being Freud's muse and lover and the fall out and Brown sort of mimicking the existence of a man in the arts.  She finds nuance but is there not a third, fourth, fifth example of what it means to be a woman painter?  It can feel limiting to try to carve a career as a female painter but to simply draw that binary of options does not feel useful.  And as her discussion of Bourgeois and Eardley points out there are examples of women tackling the art world in other ways even if they are denied the attention they deserve.

The really satisfying follow up I read was Zadie Smith's review of Celia Paul's new book: 

Here is an excerpt:

"This debate is usually posed in the banal form of an either/or. As in: Can I still love X great artist given that he or she behaved in Y way? Or must I shun them? In the case of misogyny, this mode of argument may miss the point. Lucian Freud’s art, whatever its merits, contains within itself the fundamental limitation of misogyny, which is a form of partial sight, a handicap with precise consequences if you happen to be a portraitist whose subjects were often women. For example, the Celia Paul whom Freud believed he saw, whom he set out to paint—that pretty, mild girl with her eyes downcast, “meekly ‘there,’ for him to do whatever he wanted with me”—was not really the person lying before him. This is not to claim that Freud’s portraits of Paul are either “wrong” (whatever such a word could mean in this context) or even bad, but simply that they are notably partial, being blind to so much, indeed, to the essential quality of the subject in question. Freud thought he saw it all, purely, clearly, without distortion—that was his fame.
Painter and Model, 2012; painting by Celia Paul
Celia Paul/Victoria Miro, London and Venice
Celia Paul: Painter and Model, 2012
But, when it came to women, he did not see. Misogyny, whatever else it might be, is a form of distortion, a way of not seeing, of assuming both too much and too little. It was beneath—or beyond—his notice to capture that the pretty, apparently passive body lying naked before him thrummed with painterly ambition, just like his, and intended to save itself for the purposes of art, just as he did. And even when Freud realized, belatedly, that Paul was a painter (rather than a muse or a mere art student), he was blind to the idea that this person, the “woman painter,” might still be a whole human, capable of erotic passion, just like himself, and not a fake man, with a set of violently phallic toes. (Perhaps to demonstrate this, Paul shocked Freud, two months into new motherhood, by having an affair with an eighteen-year-old student she met on a train.) Many years later, after Freud died, Paul painted her own Painter and Model (2012), in which she need make no choices between being a woman and an artist:“I have it all. I am both artist and sitter. By looking at myself I don’t need to stage a drama about power; I am empowered by the very fact that I am representing myself as I am: a painter.”

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Sylvia Plath on No Man's Land

Image result for alice neel drawing
Alice Neel, Alice, 1932 (same year Plath was born)

This is a really excellent podcast episode reclaiming what is most valuable about Sylvia Plath.  I always feel there is an explanation needed in loving her work, its often thought of as melodrama, attractive to people similarly prone to what we know best about her depressed and suicidal mental state.  But that's not it and finally someone explains it.  Here it is, this is the secret: 

"You realize you've been distracted from the best of Plath which is her actual work not her biography...She wasn't necessarily a confessionalist but a surrealist."

Suicidal Ward, Philadelphia General Hospital, 1931, Pencil Drawing by Alice Neel(who I think can be similarly misunderstood)

I have read where both Plath and Neel commented that they were not mentally ill artists who were making work while sick.  And I don't think they were making work in spite of their illness.  I think they were brilliant, sensitized people making brilliant, sensitized work who also struggled.  But in the struggle they were not able to work, they were completely paralyzed by sickness.  And I think that is an important thing to remember, and respect, and not romanticize.  The work may touch back to personal experience but it is not just a mad retelling, it is altered and crafted, controlled expression aware and studied in the form of each artists' chosen medium.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Gertrude Abercrombie

Pink Carnations, 1939

Pink Sand, 1964

Shell and Drapery, 1952

Still Life, 1945

I present to you Gertrude Abercrombie's charged and haunting still lives.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Describing the Self from the Outside

Okay, I've been trying to synthesize what feels like a really big and important thought for myself and my work.  It's been months and its still forming but I want to try to put down some of it.  I just finished Rachel Cusk's sequel novel, Transit, and simultaneously finished playwright/actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge's series Fleabag.  Two women who in other creative forms are tackling the notion of self in really searingly new ways.

So I listened to a bunch of their interviews on podcasts and here are some of the things:

The interviewer/podcaster/novelist Elizabeth Day remarks to P W-B on her How to Fail Podcast 'as a female novelist I have often found that when women write about families it is always assumed that it is their family and they don't have the intellectual imagination to make the cognitive leap into real fiction.  Whereas when Jonathan Franzen writes a family novel like The Corrections its about the state of the nation."  This.

When my show hung a few people remarked to me, 'are you okay, did you have postpartum', one person actually diagnosed me with D-MER, some kind of hormonal imbalance that occurs during breastfeeding.  And I just laughed it off. Which I sort of hate now, but that is my go to when I feel uncomfortable but want to avoid confrontation.  What I really felt like saying afterward was 'none of your business, and also I'm good, but motherhood is insane and everyone must feel changed by it and also none of your business and also that doesn't have anything to do with the paintings'.  But I know my paintings are about intimacy and derive from personal experience so when they hang in a public space those things can feel permissible.

Nursing(Boot), 2018, Oil on Panel, 24 x 18 inches

But every painting is by its nature a fiction anyway --so these questions are just missing the point entirely which I guess makes it ultimately okay to just laugh them away.  I don't want people to feel like I'm not approachable but I do want them to make an effort to focus on the fact that they are looking at paintings, which may be derived from my lived experience, but must be altered realities and about something beyond an unexamined itemizing of my life if they are to be any good.

I agree with Day, there is a very real gendered response to subject.  I find that if a contemporary male painter and is painting something tender and personal there is much more critical interest. I think this is because it butts up against the stereotype of a heteronormative man's perspective, especially in the history of painting.  This kind of painting by a woman is more expected so it feels safer and therefore somehow less important. Which begs the question, should I, as a woman, have to be conscious of my identity and reactions to it to make a painting?  I want to live in a world where the answer is no and when something speaks truthfully it is noticed for that power alone.  But we are not there.  So how do you make a painting/writing/film do that in our current state?  I think the answer is in the form, awareness of the form and breaking of the form.

Night Fridge(Milk), 2019, Oil on Panel, 30 x 24 inches

Which brings me back to my current obsession, author Rachel Cusk.  Her character becomes so real because she is describing herself through her perception and witnessing of others.  Describing the self by looking at yourself through someone else, hearing how they talk to you, what they feel they can say to you.  I think Phoebe Waller-Bridge is also thinking about this and it is why her character addresses the viewer directly.  She is aware of how she is being perceived and watched.

Cusk spoke on the podcast Canadaland of her earlier works being memoirs.  She wrote in that genre because the subject matter was personal.  However, she felt people reacted to them as if they were below examination, a woman's feelings about life ultimately brought only questions about her life and relationship and motherhood, not her art.  So she went on to write these new novels, of which I have read Outline and Transit.  She said she 'is always trying to put lived experience back at the heart of art which is where its always been until recently.  To reconstruct the idea of the writer as a person who lives and then tells the tale.  The relationship of that living to the tale that I tell is essential...  But everything is form and if someone breaks form it is very noticed.'  Which I think is why these books seem to say more clearly what her memoirs also attempted.  The world brought assumptions to her memoirs and she needed to find a way that broke the form so that the same content would actually be read anew and digested.

(Littpod)"I wanted to dispense with conventional narrative, the book doesn't have a narrator it has someone who is observing things but because there's no omniscience, there's no god, there's no prior knowledge in the book you never actually find out anything about this person.  Just as perhaps you don't find out anything about yourself simply by being yourself -- you find out about yourself through a process of reflection, so the book is composed of various things, she is seeing that give her a reflection of herself.  And to an extent the things people say in the book, the stories they tell about themselves to her they describe the person listening which is a point about perception and reality and how we see the world in terms that related to us and what does that make of identity. Reality itself is something constructed by other people and by the time you're in the middle of your life it can start to look a bit shaky."

I think this form is especially appropriate because it also gets at her point about how women are often spoken at, the ones listening, the ones whose true inner thoughts remain unshared.  What is not said by the main character says a lot.  This kind of wit in reimagining narrative in a way that also aids the content is impossible to shrug away as expected.  It allows Cusk to then express her truth and experience and be taken very seriously.

(Canadaland)"What a woman feels with a 6 month old and tell people she's enjoying it vs. 20 years later about the deceptions she went in for.  People accumulate some significant moral burdens in their lives and the people that interest me are those when they have a moment of elevation and are able to get a view of themselves are able to see that and are interested in finding out what the truth is.  People wanting to find out what they truly think and what appears to be."

Family Vacation, 2019, Oil on Panel, 48 x 48 inches

Friday, August 2, 2019

Outline by Rachel Cusk

In the review of my recent show on Hyperallergic by Lev Feigin he says, "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.  

Monday, April 29, 2019

Installation Shots and Gallery Talk 5/4

Here are installation shots of my show courtesy of Nancy Margolis.  

I'm going to be giving a talk in the gallery this Saturday, May 4th at 2pm.  I'm talking doubt and anxiety -- should be fun!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Exhibition Catalog and Announcement

The catalog for my show has arrived!  Click here to view the digital version.  

Here are details for the show:

Nancy Margolis Gallery
April 18th - June 1st, 2019

Opening Reception: Thursday, April 18th, 6-8pm
Artist Talk: Saturday, May 4, 2-3pm

Below is the text from the catalog essay by Samantha Mitchell.  I feel so honored to have such a thoughtful and gifted writer and artist respond to my work.

"In his definition of heterotopia(of which utopiaand dystopiaare types) Michel Foucault writes about the mirror as an agent of transformative realization of self in place – simultaneously illuminating and falsifying our own image: “I see myself where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface… [f]rom the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there.” 

Mirrors are a frequent theme in Aubrey Levinthal’s work, both literal and implied. Her self-reflexive paintings often feature figures that resemble herself and her family – a brunette woman, a bearded man, and a young child – and self-portraits in the studio with brush at hand are an homage to a classical tradition that is very much alive in her technique.   The work creates a narrative thread that explores a specific kind of contemporary domestic life that mirrors her own. These reflections present a complex, brooding image of young motherhood, at times a bright floral haze, at others a dimly lit miasma. 

Nursing (Boot)is at once an aggressive and tender depiction of motherhood, a feminist reimagining of Madonna and child. The body of the infant, almost indistinguishable, melts into its mother’s body, while the mother confronts the viewer with a direct, withering gaze and the sole of her boot. In Breakfast on 13thSt, a scene at a nuclear family breakfast table, mother and father appear completely consumed in deep, dark, thought while a baby stares intently out from the background. Seemingly unnoticed, a bouquet of flowers morphs into a surrealistic globular lozenge, bubbling out of a vase, suggesting the existence an alternate reality within the grim intensity of this one. Echoes of influences like Nicole Eisenman and Berthe Morisot reverberate through Levinthal’s uncanny mealtime scenes, where figures congregate with brooding expressions, rendered in thin, feathery strokes and washes.

Where Levinthal’s paintings are often celebrations of sumptuous offerings – food, flowers, ornately patterned wallpaper and textile – this current body of work casts these joyful trappings in a distinctly ominous and foreboding light, operating instead as memento mori. The bouquets are dark and wilting, flowers bent at the stem. Tables are littered with Chinese takeout containers and various fruit rinds, and the refrigerator is only occupied by condiments and milk. A scene from a flesh-toned office where a fashionable young therapist charges her Apple device while in session is a bright pink foil to the other largely greyed-out paintings, and features the same confrontational boots, now submissive in their spot on the analyst’s couch. In Double Mirrors, a woman stands in a bathroom with baroque wallpaper while the faucet runs, considering reflections of her shoulder and half of her face cut up between two mirrors above the sink. These moments of decorative indulgence are counterpoints for the figures within, who are at once intense and absent, slipping between presence and invisibility. 

With this work, Levinthal offers the viewer a world within her own that is simultaneously real and surreal. Familiar visual themes that appear throughout the work – face, flower, earbud, boot – are a refrain, arresting in the same way that one might recognize their own body within a dream. Like the mirror, the paintings both reflect and dissociate, opening an illusory space where narrative becomes fractured and plays out in a suspended reality."

- Samantha Mitchell, 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Shows NY and Philly

I've seen a bunch of good shows recently.  Here are some highlights from Chelsea and LES, most of the shows are up through mid April:

Alice Neel at David Zwirner on 20th was freakishly good.  I have always loved her and felt a certain pride as she went to art school and spent time in Philly but something about the curation by her daughter-in-law Ginny was so spot on and timely, I felt even more in awe and thankful to her.  Mostly depicting pregnancy or stays in hospitals, this work was the pulsing, riddled, racing human condition at its rawest.

Milton Avery at DC Moore, its a small show of four paintings but these were gems.

Jackie Gendel at Thomas Erben

These three paintings Temma Bell(detail above), Gwen Strahle(left) and John Goodrich(right) were part of a nice show at First Street Gallery put on by the still life collective Zeuxis.  A lot of good perceptual work there.  

I need to get better at taking more pictures and also taking better pictures.  
These basically function as notes, but there were a ton of good things I didn't take: John Bradford, Susan Lichtman, Ying Li...I know everyone takes photos and galleries probably like it at this point.  But I still feel like I have .005 seconds to snap a covert photo before getting yelled at for some reason...

Angela Heisch at Davidson Gallery

Polina Barakaya (detail) at Monya Rowe Gallery

Jonathan Gardner at Casey Kaplan

Susan Jane Walp at Tibor de Nagy, this show was all paintings around a foot square simply framed and hung in an even order around three walls.  They were so cared for and had such integrity, I don't think a painter could not admire them.  I love her work so much.  Its a reminder among a sea of loud and slappy stuff in LES about the kind of painter I want to continue to aspire to be so I can be working in 30 years.  These are paintings that I would kill to live with because they will continue to give the slow secrets that went into their making.

In Philly two of my favorite people and painters are having concurrent solo shows at Gross McCleaf Gallery.  These are Evan Fugazzi, and the color embraces you.  Its a welcome relief from the shitty weather and state of the world.  Thank you Evan.  Nice review of this show in Hyperallergic by Stan Mir here.

Rebekah Callaghan's work is generous like that in its color but much different in process.  The relentless search and rich subtlety that results from that in person is sublime.  (Side note: I started thinking about a few words: sublime, haunting and exquisite.  If work in person can hold any of those it's tops.  I've been trying to demand that same feeling for myself in the studio...easier said than done)

It also got a well deserved review on Two Coats of Paint by Bea Huff Hunter here.

And next week Sarah McEneaney has a solo opening at Locks Gallery.

It's finally feeling like a hopeful season.