Interview with Arthur Pena
Arthur Peña: I was caught off guard by your paintings. I immediately knew I was into them but didn’t necessarily know why. I read your writings, not really looking for hints but afterwards everything came together. I think it had to do with the bountiful references and storytelling that happens in your writing. Can you talk about the role, if any, that your writing plays in making your work?
Cynthia Daignault: In a cross training metaphor, to engage in artistic processes outside of painting (writing, music, etc.) is to strengthen secondary creative muscles to bring that empowerment back to painting. This could be renewed ideas, interests or ways of thinking. Yet, perhaps most important for me, through writing I tapped back into a pure and unfettered love of creating - of communicating ideas and feelings through an aesthetic medium. As painting became professionalized, it became more fraught. Each painting felt anchored to my ego - to some sense of self-worth - purpose - success - meaning - and the stakes became correspondingly high. A failed painting could represent something crushing in that it doubled as some grand failure or my life or my choices or my future or my Self. It is an understatement to say that such thinking isn’t good for the work. It can lead to inaction, standing before a sheer mountain of fear, or worse over-thinking, strategizing a way up or around the cliff face. To write is to engage in a process in which I have no personal or professional stakes, where I allow some endless freedom to suck. It is transformative. I could be the worst writer in America - in the world even - and it wouldn’t matter to me. So what? I’m happy. I love it. I am throwing myself into it without any reservation because what reservations could there be in a world without consequence. I just make with honesty and enthusiasm, and the success of the endeavor is decided based upon terms which I alone set. It’s hobby mindset. And I needed to bring some of that Sunday garage painter vibe back into my painting practice - both for my own enjoyment of my life (one can only do so much sighing or binge drinking), and for the work, which wilts beneath the shadowy clouds of doubt. Every writing project is a casting off; I return to the paintings on a clear and cloudless day of infinite blue sky.
I could say other things on this that are less important or interesting, so I won’t. However, the one thing that feels really critical is the notion I have that the writing is my idea landfill. My Staten Island. The paintings need to be reductive - how much can I take out while still the works feel completely full - overflowing. The paintings need to be open-ended, non-didactic, minimal, elegant, not overly clever and essential. In that I get really excited about ideas, I have a tendency to over think and overwrite - and the early work probably suffered by cramming too many of those big ideas into the small box within the four sides of a painting. Hoarding. So writing became a practice of exorcism to get those ideas out of the paintings and into the world. Or actually more like a junk drawer. My apartment is minimal and immaculate. I don’t dig clutter - so there is nothing on the counters or shelves or tables. Yet, that order can only practically be achieved because there is that one drawer in the kitchen where all the myriad (yet critical) elements of homemaking must reside (the screwdrivers, tape, napkins, flash lights, scissors, and matches of this world). I need those tools, but I don’t need them strewn about on the mid-century furniture. When I started writing, it was like sweeping everything off the counter into that drawer. All the bits and bobs were together in one place where they needed to be, and the paintings were finally in state in which you might consider having a guest over for drinks. Essential minimal tidiness. The Martha Stewarting. The end of hoarding.
AP: When you do come to painting, the work is so fleeting; glimpses of possible sunsets, a painting that directs you to look at another painting across the room, screen shots of a paused distorted video. Fast edits, yet they are very much slow reads. What is it about this sense of “timing” that you ask the viewer to engage with?
CD: The question of time is paramount. Painting is intrinsically a durational medium. Every painting has an innate rhythm in its brush strokes and paint handling. Each drip of a Pollock suggests duration and the aggregate splatter a layering of tempo and timbre, as an orchestral score. The duration of the drips — of its making — is experienced in retroactive phenomenology. Painting is time-based. Certainly, this isn’t novel. Cubism and Futurism are all over painting as a time-based medium. Yet, post-cinema, the vision and theory of film—specifically around the frame or the cell—do effect how a viewer might experience space and time between two paintings, or within a room of paintings. Gallery as cyclorama - painting as frame. This is what interests me. The expanded frame. I suppose I’m less interested in an isolated image because I have single image fatigue. How many singular images do we look at daily (Instagrammatical). So to create real meaning across a series of images - as a film is composed from thousands of frames - is to construct meaning in a way that google image search cannot, outside of matching formalist memes or non-sequitur serendipity. A cat looks like a cat. A goat looks like a goat. A Judd looks like a box. Look - Dick Cheney and a potato. Nihilism.
What can happen between two frames, between two paintings? Some possibilities: that a series of frames aggregates to a durational animation; that between two frames of a jump cut lie unseen time or space or action; that a series of strategic edits might suggest a larger space never pictured. These hypotheses, along with others, are present throughout my work. The beam of light implied between the projections. The compaction of time in the Sky Clock. The scrim of a secondary hypothetical space laid over the White columns gallery. The exploration of so-called real-time in the CCTVs. When is now? How long is now? Where is here? I ask these questions over and over to different ends. I like this idea that we can read montage theory (Vertov or Eisenstein) back into serial art. Take Sol Lewitt’s 100 cubes. One hundred frames of cube. One hundred edits. The cube, whole, is never pictured, yet is constructed within the mind of the viewer by conceptual architectural animation. In that way, I suppose my paintings are fleeting. In the way that any one frame of a film slips away unseen and unnoticed in the flicker of projection, in the turning of a sprocket. Ephemeral in the way that any one of Lewitt’s cubes is democratized. The cumulative whole—the event—the narrative—the transcendental meaning—exists only in mind, constructed somewhere between vision and memory.
That - These - Time - Presence - Memory - Vision - Cinema - Space - are at the core my new show. Through these lenses, on one level I do read the show as an expansion of two ways that we experience time (which loosely could be read through film theory as montage and deep focus). The front room, eight paintings of walls, is real size, flat, vertical and frontal. It is the expanded moment, in which a single instant is stretched into a deep focus space through which the viewer can move - as around the rooms of Kane’s mansion. The singular moment is slowed down, pulled like taffy, turned over, and unfolded. Yet time is complicated by delays and repetitions, by tracers and inconsistencies, like tripping. Psychedelic singularity. The momentary experience of the present. The happening. Phenomenological time. Lived time. Acid Time. Life. The back room - 365 canvases - 365 depictions of the sky over a year - is the compaction of long durational time into a singular moment. Little windows. Deep receding space. Abstract time - a year - knit, folded and gathered into a portable, potable, and wearable instant. This is conceptual time. Collective time. The way we experience the past. Memory. Death.
AP: What did you learn looking up into the sky every day?
CD: Foremost - I learned that though I have always lived right below it, I have never seen the sky. A shocking fact really. I had been imagining a room of blue monochromes. Subtle and minimal, a fairly abstract piece about minimal shifts in the color of light. Not so. Turns out, there is a lot going on up there. Every day is an event—endless dramatic shifts in light and in color. Plus there are a lot of clouds. Like a lot. There were no repeats and very few monochromes. Accordingly, the piece became a lot more about paint handling than I had imagined, as mushing painting into clouds and light definitely puts your squarely in paint pushing 101. I like the sky as a subject. I like any subject where you begin from a position of failure. Obviously - no painting will ever capture the sublime complexity of the sky, the shifting prisms of lights, the passing majesty of clouds. It’s absurd. So from the start - in some traditional sense - I fail. The paintings will always fall short of their subject and as such deny a 1:1 relationship between object and subject. It’s a great short cut past questions of representation into more meaningful territory for me. Meaning - meaning. The piece can be about the sky - not the look of the sky - but the meaning of the sky - its significance.
What does the sky mean? How about this: People leave - they die - they run - they duck out in the night - they run to the corner store - they leave the room - they leave the state - they hop busses and trains - they go to Africa and Alaska - they go to prison - they break our hearts - they disappear. Are they coming back? Were they ever here? Looking up at the sky is an act of projection. Abstract and infinite. It’s a rift place - a stargate. Looking up at the sky is to commence astral projection. Looking up at the sky is to locate oneself in the sub-firmamental collective, life under the curvature. Looking up at the sky, you can send your mind across the infinity of a circle - across the orbital geometries of the horizon elsewhere. To the other side. To the past. To the future, the future that hasn’t happened and already happened and never will happen. Superman style. That is the premise. The premise is distance. The shape of air between two bodies. The compaction of time. The unreality of space. The permeability of absence. To project myself. Also to return. The premise is distance. The distance between two bodies. The Leaving. That one leaves, yet is never gone. Was never here. You leave. I leave. He left. She left. Even now I am leaving. Resolving into dew. The premise is the sky. That I look up at the big sky. The same sky. The sheltering sky. The clouds that float above us in the space between nothing and less nothing. Big sky looks down at all the people looking up at the big sky. I think of the big sky, and nothing matters much to me.
AP: After your done making, after you’ve looked at the sky and contemplated the ephemeral nature of all of this, after you’ve stared at walls and wandered in the absolute present, after you’ve made the work and it is all over for just a little bit, what do you do?
CD: First comes the release. The liberation from the perpetual state of doubt that envelops me in the weeks before a show. Surrounding light. The eradication of shadow. Encompassing whiteness. The first impression is one of great sadness. The work will neither be the disaster nor the masterpiece I had envisioned. There is so much to let go of. The divesting. As the days progress, I will come to see the work for the disaster and masterpiece which it is. Learning to love the artist who you are, not the one you would like to be. Each time, I have to do that again, each time.
Foremost, I try not to dismantle my life. Working toward something for two years leaves an immense vacuum of absence. It is likely akin to giving up nunning. Kicking the habit. Coming down from the alpine convent. Black Narcissus. It’s a manic clearing house. Burn it down. Burn it all down. Mania that is a bent on rebirth, but the sort that is predicated on total annihilation. The Phoenix state. I am Shiva the Destroyer. The Transformer. I buy motorcycles, call off weddings, travel to conflict zones and drink. Heavily. Rumspringa. This is to be avoided at all costs, as pragmatically I cannot crash my ship against the rocks every time I take my shore leave. I must find a lighthouse. I must find my way safely back home.
So, I start something new before I finish a show. Something that brings me back to the studio, that forces me to keep working. Charting the next course. Concurrent celestial navigation. Rejoining the Odyssey at once, for there is ever the danger that even after my shipmates are rescued, I might still remain on Circe’s island eating and drinking and fucking for an extra year or two. It is just so nice in the vast and vibrant world outside the dank ego cave of the studio. There is sleep. There are movies. There is sex and bourbon, parks and puppies, naps and beaches, eternal sunshine. There is expansive comfort outside the chocking Lands’ End turtleneck of narcissism. Breathing. Deep breathing. On the shore, on the island, there is always the danger that I might not return to the ocean - infinite and untamable, baneful and remorseless. Danger that I might be pulled into brackish currents that do not flow back through the studio. So after, at once, I begin again. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. And repeat.
Interview with Mark Loiacono & Artsy.com
Andy Warhol’s legacy has manifest itself in popular consciousness in ways both obvious and nuanced; the artist’s appeal lies in the fact that his work transcended boundaries between high and low art, music, cinema and plastic arts, as well as concept and execution. His influence extends far beyond the Pop revolution he helped to proliferate. Both celebrating Warhol’s enigmatic influence and building upon it, “Eric’s Trip,” now on view at Lisa Cooley Gallery, is named and themed after Reel 9 of Andy Warhol’s 1966 filmChelsea Girls. Reel 9 depicts performer Eric Emerson delivering a free-associative monologue while tripping on LSD. Warhol punctuates the piece with his own adornments of psychedelic cinema technique and technicolor floodlights.
Curated by Cynthia Daignault and Mark Loiacono, “Eric’s Trip” takes its lead from Chelsea Girls’ experiment in consciousness, transcending any one chemical or artistic influence and instead revealing to us the potential depths of artistic perception, and the value of looking inward before looking outward. The show expands upon the musicality of the film, as Cynthia (a painter on the gallery’s roster) and Mark (a curator, critic, and Warhol scholar) play in a band together. They drew inspiration for the exhibition’s title in part from a Warhol-influenced Sonic Youth song of the same name. Artsy spoke to the curatorial duo about the exhibition’s thesis and what unites the diverse range of disciplines and artists included.
Artsy: How do these works interact with one another?
Cynthia Daignault and Mark Loiacono: Have you ever imagined your dream dinner party? You’ll invite some people you really admire (heroes, idols, mentors), some old friends, some new friends. Everyone will bring something different to the night: the wine, the charm, the humor, the looks, the love. This show was like that for us. We invited a dream list of artists, including idols (Nancy Shaver, Judith Linhares,Sheila Hicks), old friends (David Kennedy–Cutler, Margaret Lee, José Lerma), and newer faces (Mathew Zefeldt, Victoria Fu, Kamau Amu Patton, and Rory Mulligan).
We had strong impulses about how they would relate, yet were still surprised by the specifics. It was moving to see the spark between Rory Mulligan’s black-and-white photographs and the colorful gestural paintings of Judith Linhares. It’s so rare to see straight photography placed anywhere near a painting in a contemporary gallery. Similarly, it’s rare to see Sheila Hicks in relation to new media work like Kamau Amu Patton, a pairing which drew new connections between the undercurrent patterns in textile and video technology. We worked hard to make sure that each work had its own niche such that any of the works could easily be billed as the star of the show.
Artsy: What are some of the non-Warholian traditions these works draw from? They’re pretty diverse.
CD & ML: Breadth is something that was central to Warhol’s practice, and we chose to highlight it here in order to expand what is meant by the term “Warholian.” Our intention here is to broaden Warhol’s legacy to be more true to his works, rather than the myths that have come to be built around them. We selected a diverse group of artists, each who draw on their own wide and unique set of traditions.
Take David Kennedy-Cutler. David’s clear plastic sculptures are the embodiment of gestural action sculpture. They reference the forcefulness of Pollock’s gestures, yet simultaneously efface that history in their transparency (just as Rauschenberg erased de Kooning). They are specters ofAbstract Expressionism, shadows of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, and tracers of dancers like Judith Jamison, Yvonne Rainer or, for that matter, Eric Emerson. Or Judith Linhares. Judith’s paintings reference a broad spectrum of traditions around color, fantasy, and “the nude,” relating to artists as far-ranging as Manet, Joan Mitchell, Kiki Smith and Matisse. Like Eric Emerson in Warhol’s film, the figure in Linhares’Polly, for instance, may be offered up for the visual enjoyment of the viewer, but there is a distinct sense that she is much more interested in her own enjoyment than ours. Her stare is directed inward, not outward. Just like Eric Emerson, she is “grooving on her own body,” and in her disinterest suggests that we might want to do the same.
Artsy: Is the subtext here that artworks have the power to alter perception in a way similar to a psychedelic trip?
CD & ML: To us, the notion of a “trip” simply suggests a transversal narrative, from point A to point B. Transformation is implied, but not necessary. Life is perhaps the ultimate trip. Consciousness is intrinsically hallucinatory—overwhelming, immersive, shifting, and intensely singular. As such, the notion of “tripping" puts pressure on whatever modes of linguistic or visual representation are called upon to communicate the experience with others. Any attempt is intrinsically flawed and bound to fail.
Warhol knew this. His film of Eric Emerson’s trip in The Chelsea Girls is, on the one hand, a perfect depiction—we can approximate an understanding of LSD even if we have never experienced it. Yet, on the other hand, it is a total failure. Eric struggles with language, finding it ever limiting and stilted. (“I groove on the easiest words to say,” he tells no one in particular. “But it doesn’t even have to be said.”) The lights flicker and the camera wavers, distracted. No one can ever see or feel what Eric felt.
The works in the show each propose a unique approach to this problem. They examine and describe the limits of subjective perception, using art as a bridge between the singular body and the communal one. They may not ever really cross that bridge, but we feel that this is beside the point. What is important is not where you end up, but how you got there.
INTERVIEW WITH KATE DONNELLY
“I moved my desk outside. Undeniably there is a heavy administrative component of being a contemporary artist. However, I realized that those hours spent tending my digital life need not be passed inside. I now take care of those tasks outside. There is no doubt I am both happier and healthier having shifted that part of my practice to the other side of the window.”
“Though I paint inside, I like to remind myself the world is still out there. Right now, I’m spend a lot of time thinking about global context, like sun and earth and time and space. So it’s important that I remember that I’m always on Earth.”
“Painting is messy. Sometimes we forget that it’s still just moving colored mud around with a hairy stick.This is one of those pictures I feel embarrassed sharing. I’m a fairly self-taught painter. I know just enough to know that I don’t do anything quite right. My colors aren’t laid out right. I have terrible palette organization. But I always say, painting is learning to love the painter you are, not the one you wish to be.”
Cynthia Daignault was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and currently lives in New York. She attended Stanford University, and was a MacDowell Colony Fellow in 2010. Her work was featured in a solo show at White Columns in 2011. Her first solo show at Lisa Cooley, New York opened in Fall 2013. She has published two limited edition artist books, titled CCTV (2012) and I love you more than one more day (2013). Daignault will present a new body of work at Frieze New York in May 2014, and she will be included in the group exhibition, Crossing Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Museum in the Fall.\
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
CYNTHIA DAIGNAULT: The life of a painter is cleaved in two halves: painting and administrative work. The painting is unglamorous; it is simply a rote procedure of putting paint onto fabric, often inside, sometimes outside. I think of it as a daily practice, like jogging, yoga, showering or cooking. A routine—a series of motions— that I repeat daily. Showing up is the most important part, and success in in the aggregate, not in any one session. As to the administrative side, I realized that those hours writing emails and making plans need not be passed inside, so I moved my desk into the forest. The canopy of trees keeps me shady and the hummingbirds keep me company.
FYD: What is your favorite sentimental object at your workspace and why?
CD: I don’t keep any sentimental objects in my workspace. The only things around the studio relate to the project at hand, and after each project I completely empty the studio and return it to a white cube state. That emptying is important to me; it creates a space of visual purity where I can focus. I suppose I don’t want to be held to my past ideas or decisions. Even if any attempt to escape them is futile, I do try to be reborn with each project, like reincarnation, like the ending of 2001 (future space baby).
FYD: What is your favorite or most required work tool?
CD: I don’t really use any tools. Brushes, paint and canvases are all used up fairly quickly, and as such are materials rather than tools. Perhaps, this story will explain what I mean: I remember a painting project in high school where our art teacher had us paint a vase of flowers first holding the brush with our dominant hand, and then again holding the brush with our feet. Once finished, we viewed the two finished paintings side-by-side: right hand and feet. Despite some difference in looseness, they were nearly identical. My two paintings were clearly mine. Every students’ painting retained their signature uses of color and brushwork. “See,” she said, “you don’t paint with your hands. You paint with your eyes, your heart and your mind.” That really stuck with me. I still think about that all the time. My hand and any tool in it are merely learned conveniences. In their absence, I would substitute them for alternates.
FYD: Are you a sentimentalist?
CD: Yes and no. I do like things and do form attachments to them, but I am always happy to let anything go, to collect new treasures and forge new bonds. For instance, I may decorate a whole house, coming to love each chair and lamp, but when its time to move I can happily donate, gift or sell every single thing inside to begin again. I think this is a good mentality for a painter. I treasure the object while I have it, but have no trouble letting it go and starting again from scratch. I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I couldn’t let the paintings leave the studio, or missed them terribly when they did.
CD: That we live right below it always, that we see it everyday, yet it never stops surprising or inspiring. In that year painting the sky day after day, I thought that I would begin to see repeats—recognizable patterns and categories—but the iterations of clouds and light are infinite. It was an act of noticing I suppose. For instance, on one hand, I say sky and may think of a plain blue rectangle. Yet, to pay attention to the specific sky at any moment on any given day is to discover an infinitude of detail, a endless array of swirling and shifting color and shape inside what is a flat rectilinear linguistic signifier. This reminds me: I’m rereading Swann’s Way and there was a lot of Proust in that show: “Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.” It’s good advice.
FYD: Have you always held respect and reverence for nature since you were a child?
CD: Many of my happiest or most profound moments where spent outside. I had deep attachments to certain plants and trees in my yard; they are central characters when I replay the memories of childhood. I stared at the Catalpa outside my window, considering its broad velveteen leaves. I liked to sit inside the Lilac tree and under the Forsythia, bathed in shade, color and inebriating scent. Plants I knew then, intimately, but names I learned much later.
FYD: You spent a few months in the woods working. Did this change your practice or method? Did it change the way you worked? What does isolation do to the soul?
CD: I think I work much the same, but I do find the biggest change is one of presentness and focus. When I’m in my studio in Brooklyn, I find my attention split. If I’m out of the studio at some social gathering (party, beach, movie, opening, work), I feel as if I should be at the studio; and in the studio, I’m aware of all the things I’m missing. When I’m in the country, I never feel that pull. My studio is the only action. I am a happy prisoner. Similarly, when I do take a day off, I feel more present with my company, neither distracted by guilt, nor lured by the temptation to try to do it all, get to every party, see every person, and still make it back to work on the paintings. There is a real presentness in a simpler life with less options. As to the isolation, I think the painters I know are isolationist at heart. It’s probably part of the job. If I were not happiest alone in the studio, I would not be able to sustain the vocation.
FYD: Your Das Tauschregal show allowed art collectors to barter valuable or sentimental objects in exchange for 30 of your paintings (a few pictured below). What were the most interesting trades?
CD: I received 300 submissions, and from those did a blind selection of the 30 objects for which I would trade. Some had aesthetic value, some sentimental value. Some were expected things: books, vessels, artworks, family treasures. Yet, by far, my favorite objects were the ones that I couldn’t categorize—the confounding things. For instance, one object was described as “a very old and yellowed plastic box containing, two staples and a tiny scrap of paper which reads ‘Woodscock Poster Staples.”
FYD: How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
CD: In the months leading up to a show, I take on a very single-focus mania and don’t do anything except paint and sleep. I am a hermit. It is lonely, frantic and unsustainable. It is also totally solipsistic. Too much me. So, on the back side of the show, I try to focus the lens back outside myself. I reconnect with family and friends. I travel. I work. I lend my time to other artists and projects. I look at the world. I look at art. I visit other painters. I curate. I collaborate. I have sing-a-longs in the park. I go to movies. I read. I look at plants. I pet dogs. I lie down in grass. Anything that focuses my attention away from myself and back into the world. Anything that refills my tanks of inspiration with the things that actually matter in this world. Love. Time. Light. Space. Life. Sex. Death.
Interview with Lola Kramer
How does an art work start for you?
It’s starts with a bottle of Jack Daniels in the back seat of a hatchback. Actually (according to my parents) that’s my conception story, but it sounds about right. Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to paint something, like a goat, or a cloud, or a flower; sometimes I have ideas, big ideas, hypotheses for experiments I want to conduct in paint—and sometimes I have deadlines. Yet of all the ways a painting could start, I’ve come to believe that the best way is in the primordial ooze of palpable feeling, deep-seeded emotion. I remember being dissatisfied with my early work because I wanted painting to be more than just cleaver gamesmanship. Overtime, it was artists like Sean Landers and Kara Walker who reminded me that art could mean more if I expected more, striving always to be vulnerable and authentic. Clearly, it’s really hard to be perpetually raw. Think of it in The Lord of the Rings terms. Of course you’ll have to go through the dwarf mines, and of course you’ll end up in the darkest depths of Mordor alone. The road ahead is always the most treacherous, but that’s how you know you’re going the right way and not just kicking back in the Shire, smoking grass, waiting for the world to end.
What motivates your practice?
Destroying my enemies. Or rather, I love painting. I believe in painting. It has a privileged relationship to vision (time, light, proximity, scale, expression). Yet, in its inherent imperfections, it is humanist. Painting is so messy. Really, life is messy. So unsettling. There are no answers to the most critical questions we ask: Why am I here? What should I do? What will happen when I die? For me, the best artworks create moments of illumination within those ink-black darknesses. Take Samuel Beckett. His insights are so simple, so obvious: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” What a small phrase—yet I think of it every morning. Or another: “Just under the surface I shall be, all together at first, then separate, and drift through all the earth and perhaps in the end through a cliff into the sea… a ton of worms in an acre, that is a wonderful thought, a ton of worms.” How much more palatable the thought of death, of decay, when considering the cubic ton of worms into which we will transmigrate—the brutal beauty of metaphor. That is art.
Painting specifically is a medium of presence (time, light, shape). The greatest paintings reanimate the physical world and locate us presently in it; to notice shadows; to perceive micro shifts in color and light; to unify body and consciousness. To reside, not in the events of day planner many weeks hence, nor in the pixels comprising an endless string of virtual correspondence, but here, in the physical world of complex optical geometry. Mindfulness. Painting has that ability to imbue the world with the magic of infinite spectrums. Go see Monet’s The Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. It is a place that I think anyone who sat long enough in front of, could understand the true meaning of painting. Study them for an hour or two or three, more than you could bear. Think about each stroke, each color, each dapple and wave. Pay attention, please (as Bruce Nauman would say). Then, upon leaving, notice how the whole world has changed, color, light, shade, shape. The infinitude. The world just looks different coming out of a painting. That is why I paint. It is a declaration for the physical, material, visible, imperfect and humanist world. [It is] a solid-state manifesto, at this moment, when we teeter on the edge of the singularity.
Your work, Any window, any morning, any evening, any day (2012) juxtaposes a painting of a window with a separate canvas of painted text. Can you talk about how you relate to the narrative power of images?
Pictures speak their own language. In an anthropological sense, visual intelligence came first to the cave dweller. Sight and memory are hard-wired to survivalism. Is that the same berry that killed my brother? Is that a pre-historic people-eater over there? Language is much newer, millions of years newer. Yet you wouldn’t know it, given the trumping position of linguistic didactics on our websites, museum walls, and books (or in the over-emphasis on reading and talking in MFA programs and the art world at large). Somehow, we’ve reached a point where every image needs a qualifier; paintings need explainers, justifiers, and “contextualizers.” I disagree. I think of the relationship between image and text as more slippery. They can compliment each other. They can argue. They can lie to each other. They can cheat. They can overrule, override or just give each other the silent treatment (a real Fred and Ethel). Actually, I am reminded of a story about Picasso here. Legend goes: Picasso made a painting of Gertrude Stein. When he presented the painting, she remarked that it looked nothing like her. To which Picasso quipped, “Oh, but it will.” Reality, image, text, memory, they’re slippery. And narrators (artists, curators, historians, paintings, books, photographs) are notoriously unreliable. After all, isn’t that what Picasso meant? History is written by the victors.
The idea of framing seems to be both a reappearing compositional and conceptual technique for you. For example, the work This Uncertainty (2013) and Sky Clock (Marfa), (2013) both frame and crop the central focal point. You even depict actual frames and borders in your paintings—can you speak about this a bit?
For me, framing is a way to delineate where the work ends and begins. If I move the frame, what else can I pull into the work? The room? The gallery? The city? The world? The entire course of human history? The 20th century saw a lot of conversations pushing artwork outside its physical boundaries. Think of comics which imply time, space and action in the gutters between frames. Or minimalism, which implicates the viewer’s phenomenological experience as part of the artwork, as the artwork, weaving space, time and subjectivity into the work. Frames are unpredictable; the further you move them out, the more the work becomes unstable, as a black hole, dark matter. It can implicate everyone and everything in relation to it. I like that. Empty fullness. White noise. A sound that is everything and nothing at once. The way air is everywhere and nowhere. But not clutter—essentialism—entirety that’s specific. That’s Rothko I guess, or Morandi. Empty bottles, minimal and monochromatic, containing the entire war: fascism, hunger, hope, violence, and the quiet contemplation of peace. I’m not trying to be grandiose, but I think if it’s not about everything, it’s about nothing.
Scale and specific installation are often highly considered aspects of your work. For example,Barcelona Couch (2011) and Barcelona Stool (2011) are life-size realistic paintings of the objects they represent, and they are hung on the wall about an inch from the floor, extending the illusion that they are 3-dimensional objects in the same room as the viewer. Do you find yourself thinking about your work sculpturally? Also, do you see these trompe l’oeil devices used in your work relating to literary term “metafiction,” where the author self-consciously alludes to the artificiality of a work?
I could see that exhibition in those terms (White Columns, 2011). In a way, the show was a depiction of a new media show, in painting. A kind of rendered exhibition stretched over the White Columns gallery like as a scrim. Or a Holodeck. I don’t know if you ever watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I did (a lot). On the ship, they had a virtual reality room, the “holodeck,” where crew members could go to take a break from space-life. When a character walked into the room, it was just an empty black and white grid, like a futurist squash court. Then they’d give the computer a virtual reality to render, say, Hawaii. Bleep and bloop—the beach would appear; they’d get a Mai Tai, have a swim and commence wacky alien sex hi-jinx (Star Trek after all). However, right in between reality and virtual reality, there was this moment when the computer was rendering, when you could see both the grid and the beach. “Sous les pavés, la plage!” Actually, come to think of it, there are a lot of those moments in Star Trek. Like beaming up, when a person is half way between the digital and physical, being rendered back from 1’s and 0’s into flesh. That moment (the partial-trans-meta-Enterprise-singularity-glitch moment) is where I located the show at White Columns. The viewer existed in that instant in which they could slide equally into material reality (the empty architecture of the White Columns gallery) or into virtual space (the new media show suggested in the paintings about technology, minimalist abstraction and modernism). So basically, I’m saying my White Columns solo show was about Star Trek. What’s more metafiction than that?
Sometimes you implicate the viewer in your paintings. Do you see the “suspension of disbelief” important in experiencing your work?
I do implicate the viewer. Listen viewer—it’s all your fault. (Wait. Actually that reminds me of a category of YouTube videos that I really love. “Did you do that?” These videos are clips where a pet owner corners a naughty pet who has just had a tinkle, eaten a shoe, dug a hole, stolen a doughnut, and confronts them on camera. The owner keeps repeating, “Did you do that?” eventually engendering choice footage of “Pet Guilt”. It seems possible right now that the shadow painting from my 2013 solo show is just an high-brow version of that). You, the viewer, are never going to think you’re not in an art gallery looking at a painting. Nor do I want you to. But I do want to implicate your body (yowza), to create immersive, phenomenological, physical experiences. You are HERE. How many hours do you spend looking at screens? No, right now you ARE here. You’re looking at a room full of paintings and maybe they’re trying to tell you things or make you feel things because I was thinking about you when I made them. YOU are here. Is it with grand arrogance that Whitman speaks in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry? When he looks down on all the commuters, imagining the multitudes in the past and future who will stand and look—just as he stands, just as he looks? Or is it the plaintive desire to communicate, to connect, to matter. “I am with you, I know how it is. You are with me also, you that cross from shore to shore. You are more to me, and more in my meditations than you might suppose.” I guess, no matter how many hours I spend by myself in the studio, I just don’t want to be in this alone. We > I.
INTERVIEW WITH NYLON MAGAZINE
We first learned about Cynthia Daignault thanks to her recent works on Exhibition A, but turns out, that's only scratching the surface of the Brooklyn-based artist's talents. Seriously, this girl does everything. Along with that starkly captivating portrayal of Andy Warhol's "Screen Tests," our new art crush is also a banjo player, a writer, and is prepping a forthcoming exhibition at New York's Lisa Cooley Gallery. "Which Is The Sun and Which Is The Shadow" opens September 8, but for now, see our favorite pieces and get to know the musician/painter/all-around cool person below.
1. If I had to explain to a stranger about my work, I'd say... I make paintings of stuff. "About what?" you say. "Well, they're about the inevitability of death and the transcendence of love," I answer. (Really paints a concrete mental picture, huh?). Then I resort to listing: minimalism, modernism, LSD, doubt, humanism, kittens, Beckett, Impressionism, still-life, freeze-frame, slow-motion, psychedelic singularity, white, light, sky, imperfection, astral projection and death. I make sure to bracket with death, as that really helps keep conversations with strangers light and carefree.
2. Three things that have inspired me this week are... bourbon, kissing & trees. Wait-- that's every week. Does that still count?
3. My ultimate muse is... my heart, which alternately breaks, mends, empties and overflows. If the work can't move me, how can I expect anyone else to care? It has to be about everything or it's about nothing at all.
4. My studio soundtrack includes...I play a lot of songs to the paintings on my banjo. Paintings are like plants; you have to sing to them or they don't grow, and mostly I sing the paintings songs about animals. As to other stuff, my 2011 solo show at White Columns was painted exclusively to the TV show Friday Night Lights. (I'm a true counter-culture bohemian). This most recent show at Lisa Cooley was a lot of Faulkner (on tape), Paul Simon (Obvious Child on repeat) and the Talking Heads (aka "music to paint to").
5. The weirdest thing that's ever happened to me on the job was....I was doing a collaboration for one of my CCTV paintings and the collector left me alone at his apartment with an expensive bottle of scotch and his smoking hot girlfriend in a thong. Wait - that wasn't weird - that was awesome. This was weird - this week a hummingbird flew into my studio and got caught in a massive spider web. He flapped around for a while and then gave up, totally limp. He was really twisted and I thought he'd broken a wing. I'd never seen a hummingbird stay so still. He was beautiful. I mean - time stops when a hummingbird rests. I held him and he froze. I felt his heart stop. I wanted to cry. I untangled the spider web from his little feet. I thought they might break under the clumsy action of my wide and imprecise fingers. It took forever. The webbing was very sticky. I finished and I stepped outside to lay him in the grass, but when I opened my hand, he just flew away, instantly distant, straight into the sun, such that I couldn't see him anymore when he left the earth for the sky.