Interview with Ira Hoffecker, 2011

[the following interview was conducted by email on November 27th, 2011]

IH: How is your early work different to your recent work?

JL: I am going to interpret ‘early’ as the work I exhibited between 2001 and 2006, that is, before I began integrating paper sculpture into the pieces, and generally exploring installation more aggressively in exhibiting formats. Of course, this qualifier begins to address your question as well. My earlier work was still fundamentally involved with the 2-dimensional rectangle as the working proposition for beginning painting. Many of the things that began to happen in the work exhibited in Paintings and Objects (2006) represented the limits of this approach, including canvasses that had been excessively scraped down and often re-stretched multiple times in the course of their development, paintings developed over much older work, paintings left pointedly incomplete, and canvasses unframed and suspended from the ceiling (see examples like Torso of JDR/JL, and Leaves on my website.) In many of these works, I felt like I was exhausting the ability of the painting as surface to convey meaning, and identifying more with the expressive potential of the painting as object. Not an object that dramatically staged its own physical integrity (what Michael Fried called “objecthood”) but an object that arrives as the outcome of a bundle of physical processes one enacts on the painting as a whole (scraping down, stretching, hanging, etc.), carried out to an extreme that threatens to dismay this integrity rather than preserve or enforce it. 2006 Was also the point at which I played with temporary or fugitive sculptural pieces that addressed the studio environment in a sort of meta-narrative (Everything I Can Remember/ Anyone I’ve Forgotten, Undrawing…)

IH: You don’t confine yourself to a canvas. What compels you to go beyond the flat surface?

JL: See above. As for the choice of paper as a primary sculpture material, see below.

IH: How do you think of the relation of text (the books) and the materials used in your artwork?

JL: I’ve been working with paper since about 2007. Some of that history is outlined in the answers I sent to you in a previous exchange. Books are a little different, but it is important to me that the share a certain frangibility with the papier-mâché, in part because the dichotomy of the integrity of objects vs. the making/unmaking of process is also visible in old books, which are both physically degrading and losing their meaning (at least their meaning as stable
composites.) So there is an aspect of entropy at work in both painting and books, or another word I’m attracted to decreation. I’m stealing this term from the poet Anne Carson who stole it from Simone Weil*, but essentially the idea of breaking down structures to allow for a greater, overriding force to take control. This can seem to be elegiac (a loss of painting, a loss of as book’s social coherence), and I accept responsibility for that reading, but in the end I’m more interested in a de-centred work than in a work about something being annihilated. I find it useful to think of the works with books as still-life painting (from Dutch examples like Kalf to the American like John Frederick Peto, who painted distressed papers and books). In that very explicit tradition of still-life painting, the painting itself competes with the object (one threatens to replace the need for the other) and they achieve a kind of parity that allows the painting to escape the usual conventions (of telling, of rendering), that are so much a part of trompe l’oeil painting. I would argue that this same character is present albeit differently, in the still-life work of Morandi or Cezanne. This notion is supported by Siri Hustvedt’s excellent essay on still life, “Ghosts at the Table.” Paint on some level acquires the intractability of the objects its being asked to resemble, and the objects in turn assume the morphological mobility of paint. As Tuymans says “everything becomes painting.”

IH: How would you describe your relationship to narrative?

JL: See above.

IH: When you begin a painting/piece do you always know from the start what you want to paint? Are you a conceptual artist?

JL: I’m not sure if I should assume that these questions naturally follow on one another. The answer to the first question is an unequivocal no. There are flashes, intimations, an attraction to other things that all resemble and inform the work, and I make many drawings as I go that only much later become relevant. The work is ever ahead of me. As for ‘conceptual’, no. Only because I have so much trouble qualifying the term. Clearly, work as thought interests me,
but like old-school abstract painters who rejected the term ‘abstract’ on the grounds that it smacked of an intellectualization of art making, I’ve never been comfortable with that label. And I really don’t like to begin with a fixed plan that could be conceptualized. I like to start with a shopping list (of ideas or materials… there is no point in separating those words.)

IH: What emotions do you have when you are creating?

JL: I don’t think I can answer that readily. The line separating sensation and emotion becomes quite fine, as it should be, and I reflect much too quickly to retain what I’ve reflected upon. The ‘afterglow’ phase of a good studio session offers all kinds of emotional residue, but again I’d hate to describe them as emotions when really they are complexes of sensation, feeling and reflection.

IH: When you go in to start a new painting, how do you begin?

JL: with a material response. The support is still the beginning and the end of all working. This may eventually change, but for now I cling to that idea (learned from something Braque wrote. It may be in his “Studio Notes” in Herschel Chipp’s Theories of Modern Art.)

IH: What is your relation to colour?

JL: I don’t have a lucid sense of colour harmonies like others (my mother, my wife) do. It’s mostly had to be learned. Colour is a way of recording decisions (the red decision preceded the green one, etc.), so that in effect a bruise coloured patina becomes a register of time spent. In this sense, I’ve sometimes made work without colour, relying instead on texture, sheen and other markers.

IH: Which of your exhibitions was your favourite one so far and why?

JL: Hard to say, because there are always things one would have had turn out better. Probably either 0110 or Paper Palace (with Wendy Welch), because in both of those cases, the work stretched out towards something new; I was able to work through the outcomes for years after. Both also provoked the most satisfying responses in terms of viewers’ comments and reviews.

IH: Which books influenced your work most?

JL: Such a difficult question to answer! Certainly Rosalind E. Krauss & Yve-Alain Bois’ Formless: A User’s Guide (Zone: 2000); also James Elkins’ What Painting Is (Routledge, 2000.) But other things (poetry by Celan, Vallejo, John Ashberry or Hart Crane, for instance) were essential as well in other ways.

IH: Who are some of the artists working now who you like or are influenced by?

JL: Influence is physical and viral and impossible to avoid, outside of not looking at work. Without meaning to I’ve been influenced by friends (Wendy, for instance) as well as dead artists like Francis Bacon or Giacometti. I think you have to be actively looking, or your influences acquire a default character. Just now I don’t feel any strong influences that I’m aware of, though I admire plenty of artists (Arturo Herrera recently, or Elizabeth Murray.) I’ve spent many months consciously looking at Johns without feeling I’ve learned enough, and
Twombly’s sculpture continues to interest me too. I was presented with a catalogue of Richard Serra’s drawings last summer that I am living with now, and recently found myself addressing something he’d said about weight (an important idea for me) in a piece of writing, so that’s an influence. But then that writing was about Emily Dickinson…

IH: Does the artist have a political responsibility?

JL: Yes, but its best manifestation is not always explicit.

IH: I love your variety of titling strategies. At what point do the titles arrive for you, and what function do they perform?

JL: It’s a struggle. I’m still trying to understand how the dialogic character of a painting (or whatever) might come across in a title. So far I’ve encountered a certain amount of brittleness and instability in the ways I’ve gone about it. My means of exhibition need to mature, and then I hope so will the titles along with them.

IH: Do you have favorite pieces of art?

JL: I’m not sure. The relationship is generally remote (as in Bacon having several postcard copies of Velazquez’s Pope Innocent X around his studio.) I like a lot of things by Matisse, Kiefer, Murray, Johns, Rauschenberg, Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Leon Kossoff, etc. I’m not sure if I currently have an ‘impossible’ painting (the kind of work you just return to and marvel, and contest and measure by without getting to the end of it) but certainly it’s a good idea,
especially when still a student.

IH: Which artists are most influential on you?

Maybe some of those listed above. But sometimes it’s just the idea of the artist also, I admit. But none of those mentioned above are by accident. I once had a job in a factory operating vacuum presses, and labeled all of them with different artist’s names: Auerbach, Friedrich, etc.

IH: What are you working on right now?

JL: Just a couple of pieces of work which in fact feel quite conservative to me. I have some drawings for more ambitious things that are closer to sculpture (seemingly like late Stella or Judy Pfaff), but I really can’t say when those will start. Sometimes it is years between drawing and real development, and I’m still just camping in my new studio.

* See, for instance, “Anne Carson and the Sublime”, by James Pollock:

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