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Archive for January, 2016

Damon Freed What Babies Art Made Of

Damon Freed, “What Babies Are Made Of”, 2014, oil and acrylic on canvas, 72″ x 72″

 

Today’s installment of “On Finishing” comes from painter Damon Freed.  Freed’s production is varied–painting, drawing, poetry, art writing–and this short interview  touches on most of those.   Freed has recently exhibited at Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis and Sherry Leedy Gallery in Kansas City.

 

Are you a good closer?

I am sometimes. With the nonobjective work it’s often about two things. How empty can I get the painting to be while working it enough to feel finished, and on the other hand, how packed full of stuff can I get the painting to be without it feeling forced or labored. It’s different with the representational work. I work from a source when working representationally. I have a charcoal study that serves as the structure for the painting, and the marks in the drawings provide energy and inspiration for color. So, I’m trying to not lose what the drawing has and at the same time I try to let the painting be autonomous. But yes, I am often sure when it’s finished.

Is it easy or difficult for you to be finished with a piece?  Do you make a clean break or let it go kicking and screaming?

I try to make a clean break, and often do. But, I must say, it’s rarely easy. You work and you work until the piece can hold no more, and that’s when I stop. Or else I work it just a little past that point, and then have to edit a bit. Or, I work it way past that point, and lose the painting entirely. The funny thing about painting is that it is an additive process, you know, there’s no erasing. Although, some marks you lay down can negate others you’ve already applied, others that you perhaps don’t want anymore. So, you work with every attempt to hide the previous marks without the painting feeling labored.

When you call it done are you smiling?  Is your relationship to finishing troubling to you at all?

I’m smiling on the good ones but the good ones, I mean, the ones that really fill you up inside are far and few between. A gentle, quiet smile is more often the case with the smaller works, but when you nail a big one, you know you’ve done some real good. And you feel as though the stars have aligned for you and that all will be well for a time and it is.

How do you see yourself compared to your peers, in terms of how easily you call an artwork finished?  How much does the idea of calling things finished affect the type of painting you make or how you define yourself as a painter?

I feel as though it must be every bit as difficult for my peers to finish as it is for me, unless of course they are much younger, and in that case, it must be more difficult. The thing with art making, it seems to me, is that you get closer to your successes and failures the longer you’ve been working, which means you know better when you have succeeded, and you know better when you have failed. You know more about what you want and how to achieve what you want. It’s very hard to do so at a young age; what’s in your mind and on the canvas can be quite disparate things.

As far as the finish affecting the type of painting I do – it makes all the difference. I used to work very tight, and the finish was seductive–the final appearance that is. I would hide the pencil lines, the history of mark making, and everything I thought would lend a painting to a fresh and easy read. Well, in the end, to me that kind of painting was not only stressful to do, but stressful to look at because as a painter when looking for the painting’s history I was held out from the process, how it came into being. For me, and for some others, I know that there is some pleasure derived from the transparency of a painting’s process. And now my work is looser, the marks are more fancy-free. So it’s all right there on the surface; how it’s made and how it came into being.

Any other thoughts on finishing?

Just this one thing – I wrote this brief notation on finishing not too terribly long ago. It still serves as a good analogy, I think, for the way I work. Here it is…

I think making a painting is like packing a suitcase for a long sustained journey. How do I fit everything I need into this rectangular or irregular bulging bag and still zip the zipper? Finishing a painting is this way. How do I carefully cram everything I want inside without the zipper breaking! You try to zip it once or twice before everything is in just to see where you’re at and once it starts to get snug and a little harder to zip you know it’s getting close and the decision making gets real important. That’s when you have to really start to negotiate the necessities for your trip, what is sustainable and needed, what can go, and what have I forgotten? It gets even tighter! Finally, you make a last attempt to zip that zipper and it either closes or it breaks. If it breaks, unfortunately, you have to buy a new suitcase. It sucks, you’re anxiety ridden, pissed off, and you might miss your flight. But damn if it doesn’t make you a better packer!

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Teresa Dunn, “Cleaning Out the Rabbit Hole”, 30″ x 24″, oil on panel, 2009

 

Here’s another installment of our series, asking a painter how she or he decides a painting is “finished”.  This one comes from Teresa Dunn, a painter living in Lansing, MI.  Her most recent solo exhibition were at Hooks-Epstein Gallery in Houston and First Street Gallery in New York.  In this interview, Teresa counters with the idea of being good at lingering on painting, and how it is exciting to make an object that feels like a move toward rather than an end itself.

Are you a good closer?

I have been both a good closer and a not so good closer. I am not convinced it is a good thing for me to be a good closer. In fact, being a slow closer seems to be a more positive and productive experience for my paintings. At recent body of narrative paintings work that I had developed over the last few years ended with the paintings coming to a close too quickly. Perhaps this was due to too much solving in collage studies, maybe I’d lost touch with observation, or the story telling ideas had just lost their luster and I was painting to the image. Since ending that body of works I have made an abrupt and clean break from almost everything familiar to my previous processes and ideas. This has effectively made me a bad closer but a good lingerer. I linger in surface, color, and the sensation of a fresh discovery. I hope to simultaneously maintain the drama of initial and frantic notation while developing a deeper connection to the senses. This means leaving many discernable traces of imagery behind, abandoning (for now) the story and the figure, and placing roadblocks in my way when I am in danger of knowing and showing too much. I am enjoying the space of discovery, the unknown, risk, keeping closure at bay.

Is it easy or difficult for you to be finished with a piece?  Do you make a clean break or let it go kicking and screaming?

Currently it is difficult to call any of my works finished and difficult to want to be finished. While in the past I have been committed to working one painting at a time until I can do no more, it seems almost necessary to juggle multiple pieces, moving back and forth between differing degrees of open and close. Although when I find resolution or certain satisfaction, I can let the work go, even if everything isn’t solidified. If a painting points to something else engaging I move towards that. I need to re-open the new question in a fresh surface where it has room to run and breathe.  

When you call it done are you smiling?  Is your relationship to finishing troubling to you at all?

With this new work I feel both relief and an enduring itch when I set a piece aside. Ideas that are still unresolved, or maybe questions that emerge during the painting process are wide open to be explored in new work.

How do you see yourself compared to your peers, in terms of how easily you call an artwork finished?  How much does the idea of calling things finished affect the type of painting you make or how you define yourself as a painter?

Finished and resolved are two different things for me. A degree of polish used to be a marker of finishing a painting, or pushing an image to an envisioned zone. That is not important to me now as an overall goal. I prefer to gauge my work through resolve. Am I resolving the painting through surface intrigue, unexpected mark making, variety in tightness or looseness, breadth of pattern and texture, atmospheric sensibility, and sensuality in color and touch. What this adds up to for my current paintings are making images that are abstractions or moving towards abstraction. Yet I am much more in touch with observing the world around me than I have been in years. This is not to say that there isn’t a sense of object-hood or figuration. Only that thingness and the narrative are taking a back seat.

Any other thoughts on finishing?

Perhaps the figure, the story, and illusion will filter back into the work in more discernable ways. Maybe I will find more importance in closing again. But I am relishing the world of lingering. Being immersed in the painting stew where colors and surfaces simmer and bubble is a really exciting place to be.

Great!  Thanks, Teresa!

UPDATE:  Here’s one of the recent paintings referenced above:

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60″ x 118″, oil on paper mounted on canvas, 2015

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