10011

Interview with Steph Krawchuk

Rebecca La Marre
September 18, 2019 9:45 PM
Saskatoon

R: These are your most recent works?

S: Not all of these are done. This one isn’t done.

R: Tell me why it isn’t done.

S: When I paint I’m after a particular kind of surface. The edges of my paintings are something that I think are the personality of the painting; the way the paint is thick as it comes over the edge because I apply so many layers. I haven’t applied too many layers to this, I’ve only painted it once. I’m striving for a process where I choose 4 colours and that’s the painting. This piece could work, but to me it doesn’t feel done.

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R: I’m thinking about Abstraction. In some cases it’s seen as a reaction against representation, and in others its driven by process and a series of decisions.

S: The second is where I lie. That is what I do, it’s very formal and procedural. I’m just thinking about the surface, the paint, the paint as a material, as well as a subject, which includes colour. Not everyone is going to think that is enough. Some people search for more. I’m asking people really to look at the paint and the surface, and what fascinates me is to try and evoke, not a meaning, but what I do find is that when a painting does work for people they can connect it to a memory of a place, which is to me is so fascinating, because it’s a circle, nothing more. It’s only a circle and I’ve chosen 3 colours, that’s it. When the paintings work somehow people find more. People also appreciate them without finding anything more, just appreciating the shapes and the colours, and that’s also fine.

R: What jumps out at me is that in some ways they remind of emojis, or symbols, because they’re so graphic, like flags.

S: Yes! I want to talk about that. Look at the earlier building paintings. There’s a graphic quality to my work, there always have been. I’m so happy you touched on flags because I’m fascinated by them, I always memorize them when the Olympics come, because they are so sharp and they’re loaded with meaning for people as well. They’re just bands of colour and they represent so much. This painting takes colours from an African flag. I’m interested in people’s relationship to colour. People have a specific relationship to colour, even from the time they are kids, that never leaves us.

R: It’s interesting to think about Abstraction in relation to representation in this context, because symbols are different. They exist in a different theoretical space. Symbols by definition provoke bodily reactions, and you project your hopes, desires and feelings onto them.

S: That’s kind of fascinating, also applied to flags, because they have clear symbols, a circle can be a sun, for example. Perhaps that’s a direction I can take my paintings further, making my

own symbols. I’m still using stripes, but when I moved from doing stripes to circles people really attached comments to those paintings. I thought ok, I’m taking things further, it’s not just colour and stripes, I’ve moved somewhere new. It was a reaction I was really intrigued by.

R: When I look at them, I almost see a kind of personality, or character. Where does that impression come from?

S: Yeah! But also, someone else might walk right by it, have a totally different experience, it’s also just a circle.

R: So these circles are really experimental for you. Do you only work on canvas?

S: I’m interested in the sculptural quality to the painting. These here are oil paintings on panel, adding a block element to them, especially when you see them all together. I want to emphasize that more, an installation element. I’ve been moving into Formalism which gives me a great kind of freedom, that I didn’t feel with still life or portraiture.

R: Talk me through your process of making these new paintings.

S: First I look at a lot of other paintings. I also look at a lot of textiles. When I first started to do abstract work with busier patterns, I was really interested in these Gee’s Bend quilts, which seemed to have a real spontaneity to them, but I found the quilts to be equally important to looking at paintings.

R: Something related to what we’ve been talking about is that quilts were also used for messages. They were used in the Underground Railroad as maps for people to find their way along the trail. There would be arrows and secret patterns in blankets hung out on fences and laundry lines that would indicate a house was a safe place to stay.

S: They’re so loaded actually. Interesting. That brings us back to symbols. So I’ll look at these textiles and paintings, and my painting will start as an idea for a pattern and colour. There is a spontaneous element even though these are the most planned. Aside from having a picture to look at for inspiration, I really didn’t know how these were going to end up. I may have a pretty close idea of what I want to grasp. People often ask me if there is a particular emotion I want to convey or something like that and the answer is no. But I do hope that they can evoke an emotion. That’s why I don’t title them. The actual combination of colour takes a long time for me to be happy with. Some of them have plenty of layers. I want there to be a little bit more when you get up close. You can see my thought process. You can see I’ve reconsidered things, and for me that’s an important part of the painting.

It’s very satisfying for me to have an idea, an abstract picture, and just make it. It feels like freedom, “This is what I want to do, this is what I did.”

R: Can I ask you about the new sculptures you’ve been making?

S: They’re sculptures with a lot of paint on them. They have a lot to do with the paintings. They’re totally in process. I’m a painter, so when I see objects my first reaction is to paint. It’s natural for me to want to paint over them. I think aesthetically bottles are fascinating, but ultimately these are all about colour and simplicity. This reminds me of as a kid, you know those plastic toys, Fischer Price, stuff you react to when you’re really young.

R: It’s interesting to me that it’s still a similar procedure where you make pre-determined decisions. You collect the objects, choose the colour, and apply them to the form, which in some ways is the same logic as the paintings, it’s just a different base.

S: I see them as very similar. I’m not as excited about painting a bottle, which is why this not quite done, I’m just thinking about painting every-day objects, like in Pop Art.

R: This is an opportunity to segue into asking you about Jasper Johns, thinking about his painting on top of every-day objects. He also used symbols. I remember in art history my professor lecturing that Jasper Johns was gay, and that his images were all codes for speaking about his identity. Similarly for Robert Rauschenberg, although his bisexuality is referenced often despite his being married to women. In years following that lecture any time I’d come across writing about Jasper Johns I’d never see reference to his sexual identity. So all that to ask you does your being queer come into your painting? Is it inspiration or do you perceive it as separate?

S: I think it’s separate. Some days I wish I had more of an intense answer. It’s separate. Does being gay even have to come into my work now? It’s no secret. This is a sign of how much progress has been made, it’s a privilege to be able to take this position.

R: Coming back to the question of representation, if you’re not working in that theoretical space then can one even bring sexual identity into the work? Representation and identity are intrinsically linked. So if you’re working with symbols you’re actually in a space of play, putting materials and objects into play.

S: I think this is a bit of a lightbulb moment than can be pushed further.

S: I don’t know in terms of personality how it works. These paintings are me. Painting is such a profound extension of a person and their personality and the way they experience the world. Even though I’m not doing representational work somehow things all around me spark ideas. It’s difficult to describe.

R: It’s odd to be asked to take a stance and say something is or is not part of the work, separating it out.

S: Yeah, I mean, we’re absorbing, dissecting, re-creating the world around us all the time, of course it’s going to show up in the work somehow. Maybe that’s why choosing the colours is such an important part for me. I don’t know what it means, but I can’t imagine that ever ending, choosing colour as my subject matter.

R: Your practice has been talked about previously as being connected to other local histories of Abstraction like Bob Christie, William Perehudoff and Eli Bornstein, more recently Jessica Eaton’s photography, and they’re all prairie-born artists who are obsessed with light and how light creates colour. Bornstein works with paint and Eaton works with film. I’m wondering if you’re referencing the history of that aesthetic. It seems to me you’re thinking about the materiality of the paint, rather than light per se. Tell me about how you choose your colours and how it relates to the properties of the paint.

S: Oil paint is a rich medium. I’ve been painting for 17 years, I’ve been choosing colour for a long time. It’s not about what I love in a combination, it’s about, sometimes, trying out an intention. I don’t want to choose colours that are overly superficial or predictable. I want something that is more subtly confusing, like colours you might think don’t go together, or colours that look kind of just look pleasing in a surprising way. This painting here would be a good example. I don’t even know if I like these colours together, do they really go together? I don’t know, maybe not. I’m not after brightness, happiness, or a pleasing experience. I’m after something more vague, subtle. I have to tweak it all the time. I do this one day and I think it looks great, because the painting is wet, and then a couple of days later the colour is darker, it just doesn’t look as juicy, or vital, so I have to go back and find a balance that I think is not superficial.

R: It’s a play of the relationships of the colours to themselves.

S: Yes, exactly. This looks like black far away, but then you get up closer and it’s not actually black. The colour is more than what it initially appears.

R: So you’re playing with perception.

S: Absolutely. As you get up closer you also notice these details, like what I was saying about the edges, or the roughness, so it’s a new realization that makes the painting more interesting. People see paintings in different light, for example. I don’t want people to see my paintings as just blocks of colour, I think that’s fine, but I want there to be more to it.

R: It makes me think about how there’s this new technology being used to shoot x-rays into historic paintings to figure out the layers and the process of making them. It can now be done with even more detail. So conservators and art historians will digitally peel back the layers of a painting and draw inferences about the painter’s life, saying things like “Oh look this hand was over on the left, but now it’s over here, so therefore the painter must have been feeling....”

[laughter]

S: I watch a lot of art history shows and I really like the ones where they have to do an x-ray to figure out if a person is actually the real artist, and that’s something they discover by looking through the layers of a painting. The backs of paintings are also fascinating, saying where the painting has travelled, provenance, things like that.

R: With the benefit of hindsight now, do you have insight about what made you make your transition into Abstraction?

S: I’ve always loved shapes. A building is made up of a group of shapes. I just wanted to be free, not tied to representation, I just wanted to use line. I was working representationally after university, with all these great examples around me in Saskatoon. You see Pereheudoff’s work everywhere, I’m lucky to know Bob Christie. Art Placement shows such strong work, so it’s not like these paintings came out of nowhere. I’ve been influenced by things indirectly without even being able to articulate it. I’ll paint something that I think is finished, and then by chance I’ll see a Pereheudoff panting that is new to me, and they’ll look very similar. I think that’s so interesting. We’ve arrived at a very similar image without my having seen the original. Our work is in conversation with each other.

R: So to close, I’ve been reading a book called The Art of Prudence by Balthasar Gracian, a Spanish clergyman and moralist who wrote using a pseudonym, and he says that, “Fame was and is the sister of giants. She works through extremes. Monsters and prodigies are either abhorred or applauded.” If you were to be pursuing fame would you want to be famous for being a monster or a prodigy?

S: Oh. Well, monster doesn’t really describe me well, so prodigy, I guess. Yeah, I’d like to be applauded.

R: For prodigious technique.

S: Absolutely, yes.

[laughter]

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Do you feel that the artist needs to find a certain space for themselves, and there work? Or are they kind of nomadic?

Yes certainly, but that does not mean the artist needs to leave where they are uncomfortable or misunderstood. There is a saying that no man can be a prophet in his own country. I think it is true, but what can be learned where the artist does become accepted, should be brought back. It is good not be stagnant, especially if my work would be misunderstood, problematized or critiqued (unfairly, that is). It is good to wander. Wander and come home with the gatherings.

Do you feel that changes, or breaks, in your work are good or bad?

It depends on the reasoning for such changes. For me it has been very good, and healthy, so far. My work has moved into a less expressive and more conceptual realm. Some artists change – or remain the same and cannot change even if they wanted to – for galleries, collectors or audiences you know. You can become stuck or leave behind a good thing completely to become something you are not. Fortunately I am still in an emerging space just after art school where I can constantly experiment and form my own language – which I thought I had, but I didn’t! My passion remains painting however. Like a musician running into the burning bar he was performing in to save his favourite guitar – that is I and the medium of painting.

What aspects do you draw from, from the work of other artists that you look at or study?

I tend to try and appreciate at first the message the artist is conveying. The narrative of the work… if I find that interesting and think “oh, this has become an artwork made about that moment or situation” then it makes me believe I can talk about other things… make artworks about things that I otherwise might have not considered. I think the way they convey that intention or message is the second thing, and this is where I decide if I like a work or not. Because it may be successful in it’s intention but that doesn’t mean I think the work is good! I also love the moment I view a work – the first striking colours or forms. I try to think about the viewer then seeing my work for the first time, what ecstasy it can give off!

What advice would you give to young, emerging painters?

This is interesting because I’ve been asked this about young artists in general but not painters. Well… A mentor told me that it is being a painter that saved me. I would urge young painters to ask themselves what the medium owes them, and what they owe the medium!

The scale of the paintings is similar to that of an inside joke, but do not let this analogy fool you, these are serious paintings. The most recent iterations of Simorte’s work have been primarily in the 8 x 6 inch format and are materially composed of acrylic on canvas. I defy a viewer to find any compositional element in one of these paintings that could be eliminated. These images are essential in composition without being minimal, much like the work of Richard Tuttle or Forrest Bess. It would be easy to knee-jerk label these paintings as pretty, but the devil is in the details here. The power of Simorte’s particular brand of abstraction is its ability to be read and digested in many different frameworks simultaneously. Perhaps there is a millennial perspective on intellectual ownership at play in the work’s roaming sense of painterly language. If so, I don’t read it as a tongue-in-cheek historical metahumor, there is more at stake. What we have is a studied and sophisticated painting space that has been customized and altered to evoke a sense of place. In mining the visual stimuli found in everyday life, Simorte adopts a well-established approach to moving the medium of painting forward. This is how the work maintains a relationship to the personal without delving too deeply into specific personal narrative. The paintings are accessible, adjacent to universality, poetic snippets of experienced time and space.

Simorte is an inventive and original shape maker. This does not mean that you won’t get your fill of the classics. For instance, in a panting like Shared Space, two circles dominate the composition with a backdrop of The Grid. The serious formal investigation that takes place here wins the day, but one could also enjoy the relationship of the classic geometry to the notion of shared space as suggested in the painting’s title. The bottom circle is truncated by the frame of the painting’s support and the top circle gently clings to the opposite end. This suggests to a viewer that the image could continue beyond the frame and perhaps that the world continues to spin throughout their viewership. Each circle is of the red variety. One is primary and slightly transparent, the other is a deep crimson whose opacity leaps forward in the painting’s space. While all of this is happening in the front of the image, a pencil drawn grid gives us a not-your-

grandfather’s modernist time signature. Strategic coloration applied to the squares within the background as well as irregularity in the vertical grid lines coupled with two gestural marks on each side of the canvas, imply a space that is active and dynamic. This allows the two circles to function as characters and inhabit a space, sharing times of harmony and conflict.

This is the last paragraph of this article, but it will not offer the usual sense of closure dictated by the traditional essay format. It is unseemly to close the dialogue on a body of work that is both growing and open-ended in spirit. Go to jessicasimorte.com or follow her on Instagram, there is much yet to be seen from Simorte. Like many young artists, she uses social media not as a tool for marketing but a viable exhibition platform. She is a budding force whose relative underrepresentation in the art world establishment is likely to change. With so much ugliness to be seen in the world today, choosing to see beauty is radical. To those of you reading this article, I suggest you follow along to see the life affirming beauty that Simorte draws attention to, through paint and not through paint.

Needless to say, the duration he worked in the Programming Industry after University was unsurprisingly limited. One day at work, it so happened that Bosis threw the Computer he worked on out of the window. “I felt like living in a box.”

It marked an obviously final point to his career in Video Animation and he threw himself instead into art, his true passion. Ten years later, Bosi's works have been exhibited in solo and group shows all over Europe. Bosis who is stimulated mostly by the Greek and Indian mythology is a ferocious reader and enjoys also “smart little essays on time” like “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery. He loves philosophy and is a big fan of the contemporary philosopher Armen Avanessian who opened his mind to reflections about our time in general and the perception of our presence in this speculative time in particular. We have met up with him in his Berlin studio to experience his latest works in which he is working on the topic of paradises, but also to catch the first glimpse on a very special book he is working on!

Stefano, first of all, which of these elements (space, air, fire, water, earth) would you choose in relation to your practice and yourself, and why?

Air, definitely air.

I spend most of the time in my studio that is on the top floor of a 5-floor building in Kreuzberg, Berlin. From the window of the studio, I see the roofs of Berlin and I love the feeling to be up there, it looks like problems and difficulties are left down in the streets.

So yes, the air element is the element I would choose. Air connect what you can see, the land, with what we can just perceive, space.

The same way I see myself and my practice as a painter, between spirituality and matter, creating reality from what is not real.

What motivated you to become an artist besides your love for colours and drawing?

The real world inspires me, which unfortunately is also made of suffering.

70% of the population is starving and the other 30% is on a diet, for example. All that I see, all that I read, led me to an empathic state that led me to an experience, a journey inside me, which made me decide to use my energy and my time to become an artist. Because art can scream against indifference, help change and elevate souls.

Do you consider yourself spiritual and how does this feed into your work?

Oh Yes, I consider myself spiritual.

Spirituality is the way to be connected, to receive, like a radio that gets signals from everything that surrounds us. If you have long antennas you get more inputs.

In my work, spirituality is the base everything starts of, where ideas come from and ultimately find their place in the painting.

I consider art a metaphysical act because you create something that wasn´t there before, and every act of creation creates a consequence of energy. Spirituality helps to understand and guide this energy.

The first humans in the stone age, in the past, used paintings and sculptures to attract, to create the events, they wanted to become reality.

I learned from a tribe in North Columbia when I was in the jungle, that for the first men drawing animals in caves, art had a metaphysical function and the artist was a shaman.

Bosis was invited for an art residency in Colombia, that he actually never attended, because when he arrived there he decided to explore the city and the surroundings, hiking and talking to the people. After that, he went on a Central America trip on his motorbike, where he followed the path of the Indios, “discovering an ancient world called “The Jungle”. It made me jump into the lost paradise, realizing that we don’t need many objects to live and thrive if we are surrounded by nature.”

Stefano, you are currently working on a book, please tell us about it.  

Yes. This new book is a book that actually nobody can read. It is written in a language that doesn’t exist, based on a code I developed, accompanied by illustrations, suggesting the existence of an irrational space that cannot be explored through science, computers or technology. Proving that art can drive the viewer to a new unknown experience.

The images are so strikingly instant, on point, they seem to trigger a hidden truth we instinctively connect to, like a memory of the future we all carry in us?

Yes, the images have an important role in the book. Some images reveal real things and other images that lead you to discover remote, unexplored territories. All are together at once, in the past present and future time. The most important thing is that you get what you want to see, or better, what you're unconscious decide to recognize.

Where are these images exactly coming from?

Basically, most of them come directly from dreams, the same dreams in which I got the first five characters of the language that it is in the book.

I just remember the images and the story of them after waking up. Other times, they come directly from my imagination when I am in front of the book.

What else are you currently working on and what you are looking forward to this year in terms of upcoming exhibitions?  

I am looking forward to several group exhibitions coming up by the end of the year, such as a group show in Palazzo Ducale near Modena Italy, by the Federico Rui Arte Contemporanea gallery. During the Berlin Art Week,

I am part of the Augmented Dream Exhibition, at Kunstraum Bethanien. In this show, which is curated by its artists, which are beside me Marion Fink, Michel Lamoller, Miguel Rothschild, and Gonzalo Reyes Araos we will reflect about our time as we find ourselves at the brink of an important change where digital creation coexists with a non-digital physical. What will happen and how will we think in the future?

Will we be living in an augmented dream?

Alexander Yulish was born in New York City in 1975. His father worked in PR and his mother was Barbara Pearlman, a famous artist and fashion illustrator. Yulish grew up near the Chelsea Hotel and spent his childhood surrounded by New York’s artistic elite. He learned to paint watching his mother in her studio as a young child, and went on to study fine art and English at Connecticut College. After graduating, Yulish moved to Los Angeles and worked a variety of jobs, including acting and setting up downtown music venues. Yulish continued painting on the side but only started, in his early thirties, to dedicate himself full time to his art. Since then, Yulish has had exhibitions in galleries around Los Angeles and New York City and has attracted the attention of art world heavy-hitters Eugenio López Alonso (founder of Museo Jumex) and JoAnne Colonna (Brillstein Entertainment partner), among others.

Yulish’s paintings are composed of shapes -- lines, circles, squares -- that hint at familiar subjects. In his earlier work the subjects hinted at were often large, human-like subjects. The Things You Said, for example, features a hand with painted red nails holding a coffee mug. The hand is attached to an arm, which is attached to a multi-colored torso made of various shapes and lines, which belongs to a person reclining on a couch. But the closer you examine the reclining person, and the rest of the painting, the harder it becomes to discern the body parts in any detail. Many of Yulish’s early paintings have this effect -- it’s largely a result of the shapes used in the composition of Yulish’s paintings, a line will form the outline of a torso and the leg of a chair in the background, or a pattern on the floor of the room, depending on how you look at the painting. In this way Yulish’s earlier work presents us with a paradox: in order to see what the subjects of the paintings are, we have to pay close attention to the details, but the closer we look, the less distinct the figures become.

This quality of Yulish’s paintings is probably a result of his studio practice. Yulish makes his art in staggered layers of acrylic paint. He starts with some shapes and lines, as though he were making any old abstract portrait. Then he adds a second layer of shapes, lines and figures, blending the new images with the old. Out of the chaos, figures and subjects begin to appear. Two intersecting lines could become a lamp, or a mirror, or a wall, depending on how Yulish feels and what he sees in his mind’s eye while he is painting. Yulish continues drawing until, emotionally and artistically, he’s ready to move to another part of the painting. As the image comes together, Yulish adjusts minor details in color and shape. Whether a torso will be blue and red or blue and yellow depends on the other parts of the painting. The finished work has to convey what Yulish was feeling

and thinking while he was painting. If some color or figure does not do that, it has to go. This lends a powerful honesty to Yulish’s paintings, they are as truthful as they are visceral.

But all of this is old news for the 43 year-old Yulish, who has been working diligently and excitedly on new work. Yulish’s latest paintings, which were shown at a small private exhibition in Watermill, mark a thematic and stylistic departure from the subject-centric works he made earlier in his career. Yulish still hints at animal and human subjects with the figures in his new paintings, but he does so less often and more carefully. The shapes which form the subjects are more ambiguous in Yulish’s new work -- a squiggly line forms what appears to be a human face, but could just as easily be a clock or some other part of an animal -- but the distinctions between the subjects are clearer and more precise. Because the subjects are more abstract, though, it can be harder to interpret the meanings of Yulish’s new work. The shapes do not form so much as suggest, leaving room for subjectivity and disagreement. Yulish’s artistic development is bringing him closer to Jackson Pollock and further from Picasso, two artists to whom Yulish has been compared.

One last thing about the new paintings, they seem to have a lot of flowers. At least, for me. The flowers in Yulish’s new paintings are the kinds of flowers that could be birds, or people, or arms. Because, in many of Yulish’s new paintings, he has abandoned a subject-background style of painting and image construction, he cannot rely on cryptic settings to convey his emotional and artistic state. Instead, Yulish has to communicate through the subjects themselves, through their details and their arrangement. In many of Yulish’s new paintings, he has obliterated the subject-background distinction by refusing to give prominence to any part or parts of the whole work. There are no guiding principles to help find the subject as there would be in, say, a room where the walls, the floor and the ceiling converge at a point in space. None of the honesty of Yulish’s earlier work is lost in his abandonment of the subject-background distinction because, presumably, he is still following his artistic (and emotional) instinct. The only difference, now, is that the viewer might not receive the message. Or, the viewer might receive the message but decide to project their own meaning, their own emotions and thoughts, onto the work. Either way, Yulish’s honesty remains throughout his new work, challenging our interpretive and artistic sensibilities as viewers in ways that Yulish has never done before. And, most importantly, reminding us that it feels good to be slapped by a new aesthetic quality every once in a while.