New York, 533 West 26th Street
New York-based painter Amy Feldman has a distinct relationship with canvas and color. Her utterly gray-on-gray abstract paintings that are often-times in mammoth scales stem from singular efforts in which she meticulously plans her gestures and uninterruptedly applies onto canvas. The results vary from faintly figurative robust forms to oozing or splashed patterns. Artspeak editor Osman Can Yerebakan spoke with Amy Feldman about Nerve Reserve, her first solo exhibition at James Cohan Gallery.
Osman Can Yerebakan: Your paintings blend precision and spontaneity. You create little sketches and turn them to into large scale paintings that still differ from the original sketch. How does duality affect your practice in terms of the end result?
Amy Feldman: The union of precision and spontaneity make the paintings vital. This duality provides tension within the frame, setting up the possibility for both clarity and contradiction. When I make work, I strive for this, as I want the work to negate and reify itself at the same time. In Nerve Reserve, the paintings appear to be teetering on the edge of collapse, but are precise in their completion. The viewer can indulge in their quick reduction, as the paintings’ lack makes them feel whole.
OCY: How does gray-on-gray color palate translate in your work?
AF: I began using a gray palette to distill images and reduce painting so that form, and the way the painting was made would be emphasized. I enjoy the psychology of a subdued palette, its sublime capabilities, that can feel both toxic and transcendent and the given parody in that. Gray is essential to my work, as its dark seductive quality poses a contrast to the buoyant symbol of the gesture.
OCY: Abstraction seems to be a tool for humor aside from granting endless experimentalism. How do you find a dose of such humor?
AF: I find humor through the process and delivery of the mark, as the casual gesture and its easeful application counters my work’s large scale and austere gray palette. The risk factor that I’ve made inherent to my process can also be characterized as seemingly absurd, even though it is fundamental to the final result. Bulbous anthropomorphic forms and caricatured lines amplify the seriocomic nature of my work as well. Historically, caricature sought to discover a ‘likeness through abbreviation’. The abbreviated line becomes an exaggeration that can quickly reveal truths about the subject depicted. I hope the forms in my work deliver a similar authenticity. Regarding caricature, I love Mike Kelly’s essay Foul Perfection: Thoughts on Caricature, in which he examines modernism’s negatively coded position about the grotesque body and ‘low culture’. Kelly argues that the ‘referencing of reductivist paradigms is a legitimizing façade, concealing what is in effect secret caricature—an image of low intent masquerading in heroic garb’. I am interested in the transgressive and sustainable power of form and its ridiculous and inexhaustible potential.
OCY: As an abstract painter, you make strong references to the body. Do you ask your viewer to interpret your forms in this fashion?
AF: The forms in my work reside on the pictorial plane and are physically encompassing. They often are both familiar and foreign to the viewer, alluding to the body but are definitively abstractions. Distillations of anxiety, fear, desire, pain, and pleasure can be seen within the frame, as positive space digests negative space reciprocally. The body and symbols of its functions are delivered to the viewer in the final image. By the same token, my paintings strip down to essential form in an attempt to counter the preexisting order of things, and question dominant modes of thinking about the female body.
OCY: Your relationship with canvas is very performative and physical. What kind of a bond do you build with your surface?
AF: When I approach an empty canvas, there is a coupling of excitement and anxiety. I’ve learned to be okay with this sensation and see it’s timing as a driving force. I generally stand on ladders or milk crates, brush in hand, and rehearse lines in the air before I begin to paint. I need to trust my hand and body and brain and the paint material to conspire together when the brush marks the surface. If all is aligned, I know the exact moment the image materializes. When the stakes are high, I put my whole self and everything I know into the making; executing clear decisions that manifest truth within the image. Feeling comfortable with the enigmatic and unknown, (the gray areas, so to speak) has allowed me to act on risk and sustain a rigorous approach to painting.
The exhibition runs through June 4, 2017.