Friday, November 14, 2008

"Never Let Anyone Into Your Studio"

I've enjoyed the recent interactive postings on Color Chunks and Thinking About Art, and thought I'd offer a similar opportunity. But before we get to all that, I thought I’d offer the following post to share the genesis of this interactive project.

Some years back, artist Susan York wrote an essay published in the NY Times Magazine about the relationship she had formed with Agnes Martin. At the time, Ms. York was a young artist finding her way. They met for many years for tea or dinner, but the relationship started with a visit by Ms. York to Martin's studio. During that first visit, and just before ushering Susan York into her studio, Agnes Martin made the pronouncement: "Never let anyone into your studio."

To most of us, this idea would seem preposterous; having certain people--other artists, gallery owners, curators, collectors, etc.--come to our studios is something we hope and work for. We want our work to be seen in the cradle of its creation, in its original context, where we have borne it through our blood, sweat and tears, in our most private space, usually away from others and other parts of our lives. A separate space, a room of one's own.

Not too long ago, I had a wonderful opportunity for a studio visit by artist friends Joanne Mattera and Janet Filomeno. After spending time at the Hunterdon Art Museum opening reception for Material Color to see Joanne’s work, meet other artists and take in all the amazing color-based work, we made a spontaneous trip to my studio, which is about 10 minutes away. I did this knowing full well that my studio, which is a 16 x 20 outbuilding in my backyard, was an utter mess.

The studio was in full bloom, so to speak, an explosion of stuff everywhere: paintings, wax, paint, tools, materials. I had several series going and every surface was covered. This is not what it would have looked like for a planned visit. I would at least have made room for visitors to walk through without having to worry about knocking into something. I might have put away all but a small sampling of work so visitors would be able to view the paintings in groupings that made sense. Depending on the visitor or the purpose of the visit, I might even have scraped wax off the floor and whitewashed the walls.

However, I was grateful for the visit, and enjoyed the interaction very much. Joanne and Janet poked around, asking questions, offering comments, exploring various possibilities of arrangement and rearrangement of work. Joanne took some pics, both of the work and of the evidence of art making. While all this was going on, I said to them: "I feel like you're seeing inside my head!" Which, of course, they were. In addition to seeing my work, my friends were seeing my mess, my jumbled process, my id, the stuff that gets kicked around before being perfected (or at least completed). Presentation-ready or not, meant for public consumption or not, it’s all me. Exposed to two very accomplished artists whose work and careers I admire tremendously.

In What Painting Is, James Elkins includes a chapter entitled "The Studio as a Kind of Psychosis".

”Working in a studio means leaving the clean world of normal life and moving into a
shadowy domain where
everything bears the marks of the singular obsession.”

Elkins talks about the artists’ studio in terms of the alchemy of art making:

“Alchemy is the best model for this plague of paint, for the
self-imprisonment of the studio and for the allure of insanity.”

OK, I know. This is rather dramatic, perhaps a tad romantic. But when I think about the mess my friends saw—and enjoyed—I can’t help but think about how incredibly personal it all is. Not just the work, but where the work is made, and what that place says about its inhabitant.

So…now for the interactive part: I invite you to send me 2 photos: 1 of your studio or workspace (in jpeg format please) that represents your process or you as an artist, and 1 of your work, with the work labeled by title, medium, size, etc. The images can be accompanied by a 50 word statement if you wish, and the URL to your website or blog. It matters not to me if you work in a full-blown mega-industrial space or at your kitchen table. I’m just interested in seeing what you feel your workspace says about you. I’ll post these over the next month or so. Please email me at

Please feel free to forward to your artist friends.

All photos except Lacuna 23 courtesy of Joanne Mattera


Deborah Barlow said...

This posting came right at me, like a ball that is thrown at your face without warning. From Agnes Martin's warning to your warm account of a successful studio visit with artist peers, I was caught in the crossfire of my own very oppositional feelings.

On one hand I have an artist's curiosity about how these issues are felt and dealt with by other artists. A studio is after all a fascinating place and so revelatory. And there is a little bit of voyeurism in me that is operational as well. Who can resist looking behind that curtain into the kitchen?

But at the same time I feel an intense need to protect the rag and bone shop of my own creative life. I gave up doing the popular open studio thing years ago because I feel so strongly about choosing who comes in to my space, and when. It's almost like some energy in my space is running around butt naked, and asking it to cover up and put on clothes is really, really offensive.

And yet I can imagine my attitude changing. It doesn't feel like a truism for my creative life, just a proclivity that is in full swing right now. It could change next year. Who knows?

Your challenge is an interesting one. Given my current subterranean, sub rosa mind set, I'm probably not a good candidate to participate. But I am curious about the response it engenders.

Thank you for this thoughtful and provocative posting.

Jeffrey Collins: Painter said...

Do a search on Google for Rudolph De Crignis, and you will be able to see photos of his studio. You've never seen a more clean and organized studio. The guy was an amazing painter.

These posts are wonderful reading. Thanks for this peek into your life.