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There are a lot of very unnatural neon tones in these new paintings; where did the impulse to add those come from?
I think those come in as a compliment to the naturalness of the skin, and again the idea of putting two opposing forces together. For a long time I was really worried about being lumped into this portraiture/figurative category. So I always wanted to stay out of that realm and making things more Pop-y and contemporary felt like a good vehicle for that. But again, now I feel like I want to move back to being more organic, so it goes in waves.
One of these pieces is not a portrait, strictly speaking; what interests you in the idea or the image of the skull?
I started working with the skull during the summer, but it was through reference photos off the internet, which is completely disconnected but it was my only way of getting to a skull because it's vert illegal to purchase one. And then I remember that [my friend] Agata owns a human skull that's been passed down in her Polish family, so once I remembered that I realized I have to paint her and it. I think it just goes back to structure; that is the structure that's underneath the skin that I'm painting. And I've done a lot of anatomy, but even just seeing those bones made me realize, "Oh, that's why it always does this there." It made sense in a way that felt completely different. I was painting a portrait but not in the same way. That was actually my favorite thing to paint, it was like candy painting that.
Your work is very revealing; do you find yourself assuming the position of your subjects?
Completely. It's on this level that I'm not totally aware of, but just because I've been able to be here every day and working less, I feel so emotionally connected to these. And I was thinking that I'm going to need to visually create a scenario where I cut the chord with them to let them go. Because I can't have a connection to them while they're floating around the world because it's just too hard. This group of paintings I'm really connected to. I've had some really profound things happen to me during this time, and I know that energy is in there.
(Photos by Lou Gruber)