Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cammofleur #3, Kristin Calabrese

Self-Portrait of the Artist, 2013

MAP               Tell me about the big black paintings.
KC                  Are you talking about the one unfinished black painting I have in my studio, the crumpled piece of waxed, dyed black canvas, or the two large drawings on paper?
                        I’d like to talk first about the show I’m trying to plan for The Eastern Star Gallery at The Archer School for girls. They have a small gallery space and we were trying to figure out which pieces of my work to show. I was thinking I didn’t like the space very much because it has a large staircase that is almost the centerpiece of the room and an acoustic tile ceiling overhead. I’m leaning towards wanting to exhibit a combination of pieces that would transform the space and make it into a kind of experience. I’m envisioning hanging a big black trompe l’oeil painting, the dyed canvas that had been the still life for the painting, and the drawings that were basically prints of the ironed out wax I had used to make the curtain still life pieces able to hold wrinkles. This would transform the space into a room completely covered all the way around in some kind of large black surface that varied between the real, the fake, and the byproduct. One piece that is influencing my idea to do this installation is the dark mazelike room that was part of the LACMA. James Turrell exhibition – where the viewer goes down hallways that are pitch black and has to navigate the space hugging the wall.
                        As far as the black paintings, I’m working on a series of 4 or 5 black paintings. They also have something to do with wanting to make a feeling, but instead of being like sensory deprivation, I wanted them to have the feeling of a poem that I wrote that’s not really a poem, but more like a cry to the universe – ha! – So the paintings are platforms to hold up the words and something in their own right as well.  Truthfully I want the paintings to be devastating. I really hope they will be. I only have so much control and I’m only who I am, so you know, I need luck or something.
t have a lot of stil-life material. Most of my work is made by painting from observation some still life object or installation that I made to be painted. I still haven’t really shown the still life pieces or installations yet, although I think I’m about to do that soon.
Portrait of the Artist in the Studio by Joshua Aster
MAP:              Yeah, it’s nice. I think that a lot of times people maybe think that representational painting is a one-liner, or a thing, but it’s a whole process of thought. I think that depicting and showing that thought in different forms is actually an extremely vigorous way of thinking and interpreting. That’s always one of the things I’ve really liked about you work, is that your process is so rigorous; you can see it. You’re into that and you’re into going through all of the rigor of all of the steps of the entire process. You look like you’re enjoying it. I don’t know if you’re enjoying it, or if you’re arguing with yourself when you’re painting, but it looks like you’re enjoying it.

KC:                 Oh, yeah, I’m probably doing both at different times. I’m suffering – I’m suffering. My work makes me suffer, but I love it. The contemporary dialogue around the crazy art market is making me suffer, but I’m interested in it. I’m like, why am I thinking about these things … Whatever, the flip art stuff; I shouldn’t talk about that. I don’t know why anybody’s talking about that stuff. Do you know what I mean? It’s just like, damn it, it’s awful.

MAP:              The series of interviews I am conducting are on female power in the art world and what that means.

KC:                 Do you mean like Georgia O’Keefe, who just sold the most expensive artwork by a woman at auction or do you mean a curator like Connie Butler or Michelle Grabner, the artist who just was one of the Whitney Biennial’s co-curators, that kind of power?

MAP:              Well, that’s the interesting thing about the topic of power, because power manifests itself in so many different ways. There are many kinds of tremendous cultural influencers.

KC:                 I think Michelle was just on the ten most powerful women list, but it is interesting because there’s a lot of different kinds of power. There’s power here on the ground.

MAP:              There are powerful teachers. I think about Sabina Ott, who we both know.

KC:                 She wasn’t my teacher. I was an artist in residence at the San Francisco Art Institute at the same time she was the head of the grad program.

MAP:              Well, I guess the reason why I mentioned Sabina’s name is because I think that she creates a lot of opportunities for young artists, and I think that’s one of the things she introduced me to as a concept; that it’s great to be an art star, but it’s even greater to expand that opportunity to everyone around you. You create more energy everywhere you go that way. It was just her ethos, I think. It’s just something that’s always been there as long as I’ve known her.
"For Your Own Good", 2010, Oil on Canvas, 43 x 49 inches

KC:                 Yes, Sabina’s great. I am particularly obsessed with some of her drawings. Are you asking about curating because you want me to talk about my experience with it? I don’t know exactly what this interview is. Maybe that’s what we are talking about when you mention female power in the art world. I’m always looking for things that I’m excited about in other artists’ work. I don’t know if I’m really thinking about it in a way where I’m trying to help anybody, necessarily. I am--because I definitely am very nurturing to my students and I want all my friends to do well. But, in a way, I think I put art first. I think about art a little bit more than I think about people.

                        If there’s work that I think is amazing in some way, I try to support that work. If I come across work that gives me insight, I’m compelled to want to put something together around it, probably because I’d like to engage more with it. If I know somebody who makes things that I just don’t understand that I think are amazing, I might work to give that work a platform and try to find other things that go with it – or I might just talk about it with other artists who might also go look at it. There’s artwork that inspires me to want to work for that artwork, and then there’s people who make that artwork, who I want to work with a lot because I want more of that artwork.
MAP:              It’s a great answer.
KC:                 Thank you. One thing though, even if I really like the work, if the artist is a mean, I make a point to not include their work, even if I really like the work.

MAP:              Good for you. That can be hard as a curator because you do so much for the people in the show when you’re a curator. I don’t think people who are on the outside of it realize how much the curator does.

KC:                 Right, it’s an unbelievable amount of work.
"Corner of the Flag (Cat in the Hat)", 2013, Oil on Canvas, 7 x 7 1/2 inches
MAP:              I always tell young artists, just always say thank you. Just say thank you a lot when you’re working with the curator. And if they ask you for something, be on time with it. Or, if there’s a time you have to be somewhere, or if you’re going to install, bring your tools, little stuff, because you don’t want to be the person who’s constantly not saying thank you and asking for things, because that person will never ask you to do anything again. You wind up on the person’s mental list: a crossed-off list.

KC:                 Well, sort of, or if you’d rather be on the crossed-off list, you could be difficult.

MAP:              People think that that’s what they’re supposed to be like if they’re to be taken seriously as an artist.

KC:                 It never occurred to me being difficult was on the checklist for being taken seriously as an artist. I always try to be professional. Have you heard that quote: "Be regular and orderly in your life ..., so that you may be violent and original in your work." -Gustave Flaubert. When someone is difficult, (there are all kinds of difficult), it might be simply two people trying to communicate but having different ways of doing it and having misunderstandings. Sometimes artists are sensitive about their work and need a lot of reassurance that the curator is really invested. Art making is taking a stand and being vulnerable. Artists have to protect themselves. There are so many opportunities for people who are young to be treated badly, and being difficult often comes from having a wounded ego because of past mistreatment.

                        The more power you get, the less people treat you with disrespect (my best argument for power). This isn’t just art; this is in any field. Some bosses never miss a chance to make an underling feel bad. Many jobs won’t even allow an employee to have a personal phone once in a while! There’s a lot of disrespect all over the place, which makes people think, “Oh, you’re disrespecting me,” “Oh, you don’t think I’m…” A lot of artists have very fragile egos. I empathize. Art is a location that artists go to be in charge of their own world, so it’s a delicate balance navigating between art being the most special emotional place and other people who do or don’t understand it.

                        My approach when I’m curating is that I try to figure out what the other person needs--and I know we’re all really busy. I know how I want to be treated, so I try to treat other artists that way. I feel like the artist is doing me a favor in letting me use their work to define my concepts about painting and/or art in general.

                        A simple example is the “Unfinished Paintings” show that I curated for LACE a few years ago. There were forty unfinished paintings by forty different painters – all a similar size. I arranged the paintings in alphabetical order, rather than by some arbitrary criteria like what looks good next to each other. I think it could never look as good if it had been hung in a way where I would have been trying to form relationships between the unrelated paintings by color, form, style, etc., because how the paintings look and what each one was about had nothing to do with the concept of the show, which was something like, many paintings, all a similar size, all unfinished. I think the framework allowed each painting to speak it’s own message unencumbered by some sort of thematic organizing principle. The show reflected the structure of a painting: ie, anything can be on a canvas being similar to any painting can be in this show. Of course, I had to love all of the paintings. The artists who let me use their work in the show allowed me to make my idea visible, and I am grateful that I know so many artists who will help me put forward these ideas and others that, in some ways are ordinary, and then, in other ways, are revolutionary or are at least thrilling to me.

                        I really put myself out when I’m curating. Conversely, I also want to be treated well when I’m working with other people. If I’m putting my work in a show and then somebody’s like, “Bring it here. It’s only for one day or two days. First come first served. Hang this whatever,” I say “no”. I put too much effort into these paintings to put them in jeopardy like that.

                        Speaking about the ego thing, I don’t think I have that problem too much, because I’m pretty secure. I get treated okay, for the most part, and I know what I’m doing. I do have these moments where I have a little bit of a failure of confidence in the work, but it’s because of some other thing.

                        My husband and I have recently started our own small stretcher bar business. Often the customer, who is pretty much always a friend, already knows exactly what they want. Other times I’m helping to figure out how to make what they want. With this company, I do it like how I curate. I bend over backwards. I guess I have a little bit of a crisis when I can’t figure out how to help somebody. Where, if I’m helping them, it’s going to be hurting me too much.  That’s when I have a crisis. Again, not just the little business, not just the curating, also happens to me sometimes with teaching. I think it’s a boundary drawing issue, knowing how much is the right amount, how far to go without giving everything away, but not giving too little either – auctions are another example where I can get into trouble with regards to donating work.

                        When you talk about female power, I think what I have left over from female un-empowered behavior is trying really hard to make everybody happy and meet everybody’s needs.

MAP:              It’s like trying to be Wonder Woman. It’s trying to save the world in high-heel boots.

KC:                 Trying to make everybody feel okay. Isn’t that just what it means to be polite, or what it means to be a good hostess, or what it means to try to make everything run smoothly? I think that actually is what sends me into the arms of the painting, because you don’t have these conflicts if you’re not around people! 

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