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Inside the Painter's Studio

Inside the Painter's Studio

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Inside the Painter's Studio

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Jun 19, 2012


Inside an art gallery, it is easy to forget that the paintings there are the end products of a process involving not only creative inspiration, but also plenty of physical and logistical details. It is these "cruder," more mundane aspects of a painter's daily routine that motivated Brooklyn artist Joe Fig to embark almost ten years ago on a highly unorthodox, multilayered exploration of the working life of the professional artist. Determined to ground his research in the physical world, Fig began constructing a series of diorama-like miniature reproductions of the studios of modern art's most legendary painters, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. A desire for firsthand references led Fig to approach contemporary artists for access to their studios. Armed with a camera and a self-made "Artist's Questionnaire," Fig began a journey through the workspaces of some of today's most exciting contemporary artists.
Jun 19, 2012

Sobre el autor

Joe Fig is an artist born and raised in Seaford, Long Island, New York. After college, he lived for three years in Woodstock, New York. At age 23, he was the youngest member elected to the Woodstock Artists Association Board of Directors in its seventy-year history. He lived in Central Pennsylvania, Amish country, for a time, and spent a summer in Europe studying sculpture and art. He lived in New York City for twelve years before moving to Connecticut, where he currently lives with his wife and two boys.. Part craftsman, humorist, and historian, Fig creates intricate and realistic sculptures of artists and their studios, which reveal insights into their personality through their working style and practice. Fig's work has been exhibited extensively throughout the United States. He is the recipient of The Space Program, Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation Grant; a Paula Rhodes Memorial Award, School of Visual Arts; a Lucille Blanch Award, Woodstock Artists Association; and a Francis Criss Award, School of Visual Arts.

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Dentro del libro

Cotizaciones principales

  • Form collectives. Rent spaces. Have shows. Don’t wait around for the dealers and the curators to come to you. Create opportunity that brings them to you.

  • Inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up and get to work.

  • I sit at a desk, I have a book that I work with, where I put things that interest me—an image or an old painting or a sketch or a little piece of paint on a paper. It is just like a way for me to begin.

  • Just stick with your friends, make artwork that you like, and do what’s easy for you. Find your bliss not by doing what looks like “art,” but actually find your bliss by doing what’s easy—what comes naturally. Paint for your friends and for yourself.

  • Just stick with your friends, make artwork that you like, and do what’s easy for you. Find your bliss not by doing what looks like “art,” but actually find your bliss by doing what’s easy—what comes naturally. Paint for your friends and for   .yourself.

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Inside the Painter's Studio - Joe Fig


Princeton Architectural Press

37 East 7th Street

New York, New York 10003

For a free catalog of books, call 1-800-722-6657

Visit our website at www.papress.com

© 2009 Princeton Architectural Press

All rights reserved

12 11 10 09 4 3 2 1 First edition

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the publisher, except in the context of reviews.

Every reasonable attempt has been made to identify owners of copyright. Errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions.

All photographs © Joe Fig

Pages 2–3: Inka Essenhigh (Floor Painting #1) (detail), 2007–8. Mixed media, 48 × 96 × 8 in.

Pages 225–226: Inka Essenhigh: August 31, 2006 (detail), 2006. Mixed media, 11 × 11 × 9 ½ in.

EDITOR: Linda Lee



Nettie Aljian, Bree Anne Apperley, Sara Bader, Nicola Bednarek, Janet Behning, Becca Casbon, Carina Cha, Penny (Yuen Pik) Chu, Carolyn Deuschle, Russell Fernandez, Pete Fitzpatrick, Wendy Fuller, Jan Haux, Clare Jacobson, Aileen Kwun, Nancy Eklund Later, Laurie Manfra, John Myers, Katharine Myers, Lauren Nelson Packard, Dan Simon, Andrew Stepanian, Jennifer Thompson, Joseph Weston, and Deb Wood of Princeton Architectural Press—Kevin C. Lippert, publisher

Library of Congress Cataloging-In-Publication Data

Fig, Joe, 1968–

Inside the painter’s studio / Joe Fig.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-1-56898-852-8 (alk. paper)

ISBN 978-1-61689-117-6 (digital)

1. Painting, American—21st century. 2. Painters—United States—

Interviews. 3. Fig, Joe, 1968– 4. Artists’ studios in art. I. Title.

nd212.7.f54 2009





In 2000, as a study on artistic process and the myth of the sacred studio space, I began creating miniature sculptures of historically significant artists in their studios. Two years later my interest turned from historical to contemporary, mostly because I wanted firsthand source material rather than relying on books. I began a letter-writing campaign to artists, requesting whether I could visit them in their studios. My intention was to get a clearer understanding of the real, day-to-day practicalities of being an artist—how they live, work, and support themselves.

The late Michael Goldberg was the first artist who agreed to meet with me. We met at his studio on the Bowery, where he had been working for over forty years. Michael was a young seventy-seven years old, a bear of a guy. He was one of the leading painters of the second-generation abstract expressionists, and he had all the bravura of artists from that time. The studio visit was unique in that the artwork was not the main focus of discussion. I was interested in everything else: the making of the artwork, his creative process, the studio setup, his daily routine, and in particular his painting table. I photographed everything. At best I hoped I might be inspired to make a sculpture or painting based on my visit.

The studio was amazing. It used to be a gymnasium. It was huge. The ceilings must have been thirty feet high. From a loft you could look down at it as if you were in the balcony at the theater looking out onto a stage, and the performance was the artist at work. Michael had been in that studio for a long time, and before that it belonged to Mark Rothko—the history was palpable. Michael showed me crimson stains on the floor made by Rothko while painting his Four Seasons commission. I stayed for a long time; he showed me everything and told lots of great stories. It was an amazing experience for a young artist just starting out. I was inspired! When I left I wanted to get to my own studio and work...except I had one great, nagging regret: if only I had recorded our conversation!

I knew I couldn’t let a moment like that pass again. Right then I devised a list of questions and titled it The Painter’s Studio: An Artist’s Questionnaire. I’ve recorded every studio visit—over fifty by now—since.

And that is how this project began.

The interviews, photographs, and images of my artwork represent artists already in the history books and artists on the cusp of history. The range is broad—from a 2003 interview with the then-twenty-six-year-old Dana Schutz to one with the eighty-four-year-old veteran Philip Pearlstein, and everywhere in-between. When I started out making sculptures of contemporary artists, I had not considered the by-products of my process—the interviews and photographs. As that material piled up, I began to realize that I had something important. I am pleased to have the opportunity to present it here. I hope you find it as rewarding to read as I did in putting it all together.


Michael Goldberg in his studio, the Bowery, New York City, March 6, 2002

The Painter’s Studio: An Artist’s Questionnaire

- When did you consider yourself a professional artist, and when were you able to dedicate yourself full-time to that pursuit?

- How long have you been in this studio?

- Did you have a plan for the layout of your studio or did it develop organically?

- Has the studio location influenced your work?

- Please describe a typical day, being as specific as possible. For example: What time do you get up? When do you come to the studio? Do you have specific clothing you change into?

- Do you listen to music, the radio, or TV when you work? If so what, and does it affect your work?

- What kind of paints do you use?

- How long have you had your painting table, and how did you decide how to set it up?

- Do you have any special devices or tools that are unique to your creative process?

- Are there specific items here that have significant meaning to you?

- Do you work on one project at a time or several?

- When you are contemplating your work, where and how do you sit or stand?

- How often do you clean your studio, and does it affect your work?

- How do you come up with titles?

- Do you have assistants?

- Did you ever work for another artist, and if so, did that have any effect on the way you work?

- Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?

- What advice would you give a young artist that is just starting out?

Gregory Amenoff

Chelsea, New York City

March 28, 2006

When did you consider yourself a professional artist, and when were you able to dedicate yourself full-time to that pursuit?

In 1971. I graduated from college in 1970. In 1971 I finished teaching elementary school for a year in Wisconsin—which I did just to make a little money—and I literally declared myself a professional artist. With no qualifications whatsoever, I moved east to New York and began painting as though I knew what I was doing. And then I pursued that continuously into the present, initially with odd jobs—hauling Sheetrock, having a sign company, and doing other things to make a living—then with, you know, gaps where I was able to sell work and pursue painting full-time.

How did it come about that you were able to start doing it full-time?

I began showing at a gallery in Boston, the Nielsen Gallery, in 1974 or ’75. Expenses were low, and even a couple sales of a drawing here and there or a painting would tide me over for several months. So I was able to pay my meager rent and survive fairly easily.

And then how long have you been in this studio?

This studio I’ve been in for eleven years.

When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?

Well, I had the space divided with my loft mate who has the lion’s share of the space, and he wanted to be in the back, and I wanted to be in the front. I needed a storage area and fourteen hundred feet in order to function. So it was fairly straightforward, nothing fancy.

Has the location of your studio influenced your work in any way?

Well, this studio I got at the very, very beginnings of Chelsea, and I had no idea—as none of us did—what Chelsea was going to become [over five hundred galleries located within ten city blocks]. So, it is kind of interesting to be convenient to Chelsea, but that’s a plus and minus too. I probably don’t go into the heart of Chelsea any more than I would if my studio was in dumbo [Brooklyn] or Harlem. It does make it convenient for groups, collectors, and so forth to bring people by because of the proximity to the center of the New York art world. For most of my time in New York, I was on Canal Street just above TriBeCa on the West Side, and I think that had more of an influence because I was on the [Hudson] River. Having a studio on the river, I think, made a big difference to me just in terms of feeling expansive. I’m not a particularly urban person—although I’ve lived here for twenty-six years, I still consider myself somewhat rural as I’m from a small town. So any glimpse of the space outside of New York, even if it’s New Jersey, feels like a real experience.

Can you describe a typical day? And be as specific as possible.

Well, my typical day has changed a good deal over the last twenty-five years. I have a lot more responsibilities, both professional and personal, than I used to have. A typical day involving the studio—once I shake off the responsibilities of getting my kids to school and running whatever errands I need to run: I come down to the studio around nine thirty or ten. I pick up an iced coffee, and I come in and sort of putter around a bit. I don’t really jump on the painting right away. I usually try to clean up a little, take a look at emails maybe for a few minutes, try to catch up on a few things in my life business-wise, and then put on my Tyvek suit, my gloves, and walk over and address whatever disaster I have on the wall from the last time I was here. And I usually feel fortunate if it is a disaster because I know what I need to do.

And I poke back and forth between one or two paintings over the course of the day, and usually I’m interrupted by the phone more times than I care to admit. I try to put out some fires at Columbia [University] where I teach. I speak to my wife four or five times about things I can’t quite determine [laughs] and go back to painting. Order some lunch. Have it delivered. Make a few more phone calls and then go back to work. I never believe artists who say they work for eight or ten hours at a stretch. I think I work for three or four hours. If I get four good hours in of solid standing in front of the painting and working I consider myself lucky. That’s the actual work time—when I’m not sitting around looking at it, reading the paper, reading a book—when I’m actually in front of the painting. So I don’t have any comfortable chairs in my studio. If I get tired, I lie on the floor and take a quick nap, but for the most part, I just like to be standing right in front of a painting working. I’ll occasionally turn off the phone. Then around five thirty, I drive home. I pick up food at Citarella and go home and cook a meal for my family. I drink too much wine and then go to bed. Is that specific enough? [laughs]

That’s very specific. That’s great. And do you listen to music, the radio, or TV when you’re working, and does that affect your work?

After 9/11 I have tended to occasionally turn on the television for the news. I listen to NPR most of the time. I do listen to music, mostly Bob Dylan, and of late I’ve been listening to books on tape. I find that to be a really great way to lose consciousness in the studio, to let decisions get made without necessarily fixating on them, and to remove myself from the secular world around me—the telephone, worries, all those issues. So the books on tape take me away into another world—be it nonfiction, Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt [2004] about how Shakespeare became Shakespeare, or a Paul Auster novel, The Book of Illusions [2002]—I’m just thinking about things I’ve listened to recently that take me to a world. And because they’re long—they will span over the course of four or five days or a week of working—they really create a continuity with a painting. Years ago I used to listen to talk radio, and it also did the same thing. But with the advent of the Republicans, it’s too upsetting to me. So I listen to books on tape, Bob Dylan, NPR, Lenny Lopate. That’s my day. I can’t work in silence. I have to have something on. I go insane if it’s quiet.

What kind of paints do you use?

I am a real devotee of Bob and Martha Gamblin. I really like their paints. They’re not too stiff like Old Holland, and they have no filler. I like their colors, I like their pigments, I like the family, I like what they do. They support a lot of interesting things, and they’re friends of mine. Of all the high-quality oil paints, I find it’s the easiest to work with. It’s not sloppy like some cheaper brands. It’s not so overly dense that you have to break it down. I’m a fairly impulsive painter, and I don’t like to have to unpack an Old Holland or a Blockx paint where I have to break it down. The only difference is they have a little more oil in the paint. The colors are great, they’re constantly inventing new colors, and I’ve settled on it. I think it’s a very good product. It’s tested well, and I like the ancillary products that they make. The alkyd mediums are a great boon to artists now: they don’t yellow and are much more reliable than the old formulas, which are outdated and will damage your paintings. Damar varnish and so forth have too much linseed oil. Tradition out the window! The new tradition is much more interesting to me.

And then your painting tables, you have two of them. How long have you had them, and how did you decide to set them up and set up your painting configuration?

Yeah, I’ve always had the set up I have now. I like to work in a slot where I’m in a space between two tables. On one side [the left] I keep the brushes and the cups—and I work with cups, I don’t use a palette, I mix paint in cups, and I have for years—and the solvents to clean the brushes and any tools that I use, such as scrapers and palette knives. And on the other side [the right] I keep all the paint and mediums. So I move back and forth between the two, grabbing brushes, cleaning brushes, and moving from one side to the other. I stay in motion that way, and I have to pass by the painting every time I do that. So I’m really set up that way, I’ve always had two tables.

And then I use the wall. The wall is very important to test colors and to wipe off the colors I don’t like. The wall becomes sort of a sight of activity, so all the walls I’ve ever had become these incredibly corroded, bumpy, barnacled surfaces. So it’s a little frustrating. I wish I was a neater painter, but I’m not, and that’s the way it is. I try to keep the neatness on the painting and keep the mess on the tables and the brushes. I don’t use expensive brushes—I’m much too careless. Brushes are just things I buy, and I buy them again when they wear out. And I’ll buy a few hundred dollars worth of brushes, use ’em up, throw ’em out a year later or a couple of years later, and then buy ’em again. I’m very practical about materials. I don’t have any religion about, you know, maintaining things. I just want to get on with it.

And then the tables, how long have you had them individually?

Well, the main table is the one where my paints are, and I think I took that tabletop from my old studio in New York—so that would be going back twenty-five, twenty-six years. I’ve only really moved studios once in New York. The corrosion and the buildup of paint has really taken place probably over the last ten or twelve years.

Are there specific items here that have significant meaning to you?

Most of the objects that have meaning go back a long way. They probably go back thirty-five years. I have some tools that I started out with when I used to work in wax and when I worked extremely heavy with impasto. I’ve managed to keep those with me as sort of talismans of times gone: that was a palette knife and that was a paring knife—they are totally encrusted with paint. There are other things that I really care about as sentimental reminders of how I used to work and of the romance that I felt about painting when I was younger. I think I used to feel more romantic about my paint table. Everybody has their own little romance about their own practice, but after all these years, some of that romance has sort of fallen away, and I’m not as romantic about it, but it is part of what I do.

For some reason, I’ve always had a hatchet, I don’t know why. [laughs] I’ve had this hatchet since I was very young, and I can tell you when I was younger and more impetuous than I am now, if a painting was going particularly poorly, it found its way into the wall and occasionally found its way into a painting. But that is one of my relics and why I keep it here...It’s a little threatening, isn’t it, to have a hatchet?

And then do you have any tools, aside from those tools that are sort of objects, tools that are unique to your creative process?

The only tools that I really use...I’m very fond of filbert brushes because you can draw with them, paint with them, and they’re great for gestures. Those are my favorite brushes; they’re long and thin. And the only tools that I really use seriously and I buy all the time are various kinds of putty knives for scraping things out. I don’t sand, and for scraping and creating different kinds of surfaces—more faceted surfaces more like what one would use a palette knife for—I like something a little more muscular. I do buy commercial paint scrapers, which you’d scrape an old beam with, and I occasionally will strip—mostly paintings on wood panels—back a

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  • (4/5)
    interesting to see how different artists work and set up their work areas, but they all have in common that they work regular hours most of the time.