Joel Shapiro, Paula Cooper Gallery
MARCH 24 – APRIL 28, 2018
521 W 21ST STREET, NYC
By NOAH BECKER, April, 2018
I had a chance to talk with the celebrated and internationally known sculptor Joel Shapiro about his show that is currently on at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York City.
Noah Becker: I read something about you spending some time in India and you found a lot of inspiration in India. Is some of that inspiration still carrying through into the show at Paula Cooper Gallery, or is this a different thing?
Joel Shapiro: Interesting question. I never think about it, but everything you're exposed to can enter into the work. In a little room at Paula’s (the back room), I had those two works; one is an iron casting and one bronze casting and they were kind of creepy. One was clearly very figurative and very morbid and kind of sad but beautiful. Then I had this other pile of what I call “corpses” all glued together and I cast that. I thought the bronze looked like Shiva - it looked like an Indian sculpture. So, it was like this resurrection - it was a sort of destruction and this sort of celebration of life simultaneously.
Becker: Hmm, interesting…
Shapiro: Yes, so now I may have seen things like that after the fact, based on my own experience of being in India I'm thinking. So you had a kind of descending moment - it’s an abstract moment with that wood piece - so, yes, it absolutely influences how I see things.
Becker: So that was like an epiphany…
Shapiro: Perhaps but you never known with those castings, because they're direct castings, I don't know what's going to come through and what won't come through. I mean, they were studio mannequins that are rearranged with pins and hot glue. Particularly with the bronze one, there was more than one figure, maybe there were two or three or four combined? And then I sort of edited out what I wanted - a lot of it fell out, or fell off, there's an element of chance with it.
Becker: Is your relationship to the figure mostly morbid, or does it vary? Do you have a whole different dialogue?
Shapiro: No, I don't think it's morbid at all, it rarely is. And even if it has a certain kind of morbidity to it, I always think they're lively. If anything, I'm interested in the animate quality of work.
Becker: Hmm, ok. And the ink on paper pieces, is that something that you did recently? Are those new pieces?
Shapiro: Those are some drawings that I showed at the Nasher Museum, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Texas - that show is about three or four years old. And I sort of picked…well, there were two extremes, and some were kind of light and lively, and the other ones were much more, you know, deep and arresting.
Becker: And you want them to kind of resonate off the sculptures?
Shapiro: Yeah, why not. I think they're about the same thing - just projecting stuff out in space.
Shapiro: I mean, look, I don't sit around and draw sculpture, I couldn't think of anything more boring.
Becker: You put the sculptures together as maquettes in wood more than you actually draw them?
Shapiro: I never draw sculpture.
Becker: I see, that's interesting.
Shapiro: But I do think that the drawings anticipate sculpture, because there are things I'd like to do, but I don't have to deal with the technical- the logistics of building sculpture. At times there are things you can do that are illusionistic that you can't do in sculpture – but with a sculpture you have to build the goddamn thing.
Becker: Right, right - indeed!
Shapiro: That sculpture was based on three pieces that I joined up that engaged me and then I put in a fourth because it needed a fourth - it kind of looked like an ax. I didn't want it to look like that. Basically, I'm trying to make lively form. But if I'm in a blank mood, it can take a tough turn.
Becker: So, the fact that you don't draw the sculptures, does that mean that when you position them- like, some of the things are suspended, is it kind of an intuitive working with space, or do you plan out how they're going to be in space, where you place them?
Shapiro: You're talking about the installation or the actual making of the work?
Becker: Well, the installation of the work.
Shapiro: Oh, the installation of the work is not capricious at all. That's really kind of measured and, you know - it's instinctual. It's like, how I want to see the piece and what's lacking and how to bounce scale around and whatnot. The installation always has a kind of theatricality about it, right? How can you best perceive and bring the most out of the work? But I think when I'm making the work; it's not preplanned at all. In this case, with the blue piece, yeah, I've had a mechanical piece that I worked on and looked at it and I began to build it - you don't quite know what you're going to get. But you have some idea at some point.
Becker: What kind of blue is that?
Shapiro: It's a light ultramarine.
Becker: Is it acrylic?
Shapiro: Is it what?
Becker: Acrylic, or... what kind of paint?
Shapiro: No, it's casein.
Shapiro: I mixed pigment with casein solution.
Becker: And does it take a lot of layers to get to that point?
Shapiro: Well, this one particularly took a lot of layers. The first layer's really easy, because it gets sucked into the plywood. It's only made out of 3/8 ply. And I left one coat off quite a while, and then I decided it really needed a second coat. And then when you do the second coat everything gets sucked up.
Shapiro: I mean- are you an artist?
Becker: I'm a painter, yeah.
Shapiro: Okay, so you know then. Anyway, with casein in particular, the solution gets really absorbed by the first coat - or, it picks up the first coat.
Becker: Right you get that lovely resonant blue...
Shapiro: Yes you do. It doesn't go down as smooth and when it's being absorbed it's really easy and kind of even. And you know, you get a lot of wood grain coming through with the first coat and it's quite beautiful, the color. WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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