Through May 28, 2023
By CLARE GEMIMA, May 2023
Is a painting ever finished? I talked to an incredible artist the other day, and she told me she paints right up until the last minute. Her assistant has to physically remove her work in order for her to STOP. She told me this anxiously, as if finalising a work was almost entirely out of her own control. It made me wonder if any of her paintings would ever leave the studio if there was no external intervention… que Jaejoon Jang’s unique curation of Medium Rare’s undercooked, and maybe naked paintings.
To quote a previously published essay: “The overarching cohesiveness of the show makes each one seem resolved. In light of Jang’s command, though, they can also be seen as hovering just outside of the artists’ respective oeuvres, meeting only some of their criteria for finished work.”
- Zach Seeger, Two Coats of Paint.
I feel as though Seeger’s observations importantly spotlight the artist’s own personal, “in-the-studio” agency, most specifically when it comes to taking a break from a painting, or finishing one entirely. In interviewing each artist, my intentions lay in grasping what their completed works could or, in some cases do look like, based both on my own experience of Medium Rare, and in researching other, more final paintings these artists have created.
Clare Gemima: What inspires your daily paintings, on a daily basis?
Sam Cockrell: We have so many microinteractions with animals that we barely notice. When I first moved to New York, I found that I had to be intentional when looking for animals, but now I realize they’re everywhere – we live on an island, there’s natural life in so many places you look. There’s so much going on that I didn’t notice before – a group of doves in a feeding frenzy, butterflies flitting across my backyard in droves, a squirrel with a Kleenex running up a telephone pole. I try to photograph that moment with my phone, and come back to it in the studio. It’s easy to replicate a photo, but I try to replicate the “vibe”. Through painting I can memorialize and elevate those small interactions, while at the same time learn a little bit more about the way animals hold their wings, or how they stand on a leaf, and I think it helps me imagine how they feel a little bit. It’s not insignificant. It’s also a journal entry. My favorite artist is On Kawara; I think his index was a soft-spoken, yet powerful way to acknowledge that each day matters. I try to do the same.
Clare Gemima: How long have you been painting on the daily, and also - what is up with the Pigeon Don on the Dunkin U?
Sam Cockrell: I started painting animals regularly during grad school in 2014, although I didn’t start doing it religiously until the pandemic hit. Recently, my friends and I got up super early and waited in line for an event at our local Dunkin’ Donuts where we ended up getting free coffee for a year (!!!) While we were all posing for pictures together, extremely proud of ourselves, a pigeon landed directly in front of us on the U of the sign. It was like we were all celebrating together, our lives intersecting for a minute. The U looked like a neon nest. I knew immediately I wanted to paint her. It sometimes happens like that, an undeniable moment of significant interaction. I witness a lot of animals doing many different things, but most of the time it’s not that glamorous. Some days it’s much more banal, but I paint anyway and can learn from that simplicity, too. Some days it’s just a gray bird against a gray sky.
Clare Gemima: You told me that your paintings in the show are actually finished. You’ve been caught red handed - what do you have to say for yourself?! How does your overall style of painting influence when you stop, or start a painting?
Jacob Patrick Brooks: Ok so, yes, these paintings are technically “finished.” Despite me not working on those specific canvases anymore, it’s worth noting that there are 4 slightly shittier versions of each painting on the wall in my studio. Just like there could very easily be 4 more slightly less shitty versions of what’s on the wall in future shows. They’re like a snapshot or meme that’s being passed around by a group of shitposters and altering it to their specific taste. It’s helpful for me to think of them as living images. These paintings only work for me when I feel like I'm' getting away with something. Since I committed to sobriety, this is one of the last places in my life I can safely satiate my thirst for raising hell. I don’t think in terms of finished or not finished - it only feels successful when there’s a real danger that the whole thing might fall apart. Painting, like sobriety, is an extremely public struggle. Also like sobriety, the reasons I’m actually doing anything is mostly a mystery to me. Thankfully, I don’t think the specifics of anything matter as much as how the work affects me and other people, and whether it looks good or bad.
Clare Gemima: Kevin, your usual blending of paint brings a sense of urgency to the ‘overlooked, everyday objects’ that you choose to render. What is it like seeing your works in a more abstract, ‘in-process’ state?
Kevin Ford: It feels a bit uncomfortable in an unguarded way. It feels like I'm oversharing, giving people a glimpse into something that shouldn't be seen. Although my paintings give the appearance of being conceived of and executed quickly, they actually go through long formative periods. They all start out as abstract areas of paint and as they develop, those areas tell me what the painting wants to be. In Medium Rare my normal painting process is interrupted in mid-formation and put on display, placing the viewer in the space that I usually occupy, wondering what these areas of color want to be.
Clare Gemima: Amanda, I remember seeing your painting, Four Sisters, at the Wonder Women group show at Jeffrey Deitch last year, and thinking how developed and individualised each of your character’s were, from their hair, dress, shoes, and breast size. In the case of your finished paintings, do they usually start with a portrait similar to the one showing in Medium Rare?
Amanda Ba: Not all of my paintings begin with such a rich underpainting. Some of them begin rather methodically with a brown-ish underpainting that just defines the lines and values of the composition. I’m trying to utilize the underpainting as a way to experiment with color more often, and I felt that the small canvas was a good opportunity. For this underpainting, I used some colors I had mixed from a previous painting to search for new color combinations and compositions.
Clare Gemima: Kate, I am such a fan of your mixed medium paintings, especially the range of materials that go into them. In the case for Medium Rare, what aspect of this particular work deems it ‘unfinished’?
Kate Liebman: Thank you for your kind words about the paintings! I like to think about when a work is done or "finished" in terms of eating actually. You know when you're done when you no longer want to eat anymore – when you're full. It's a physical feeling that the body recognizes first and then the mind attunes itself to, and attunes itself to with practice. That being said, an artist can become unilateral when deciding when a work is finished -- for me, that occurs often when a work leaves the studio. When it leaves it's done. Or when there's nothing else I want to do. When there is no other mark to make or touch to add.
My process involves many steps: drawing, cyanotype, collage, sewing, and painting. The process has steps I complete to arrive at the work but is also open-ended which means that often in the studio I feel I can always do more. Sometimes I feel like something’s finished and then actually the piece calls out for an extra panel, as with After Bruegel 5, where I felt the painting needed a place to breathe, some openness, so I added the bottom panel. With the painting Irving/Itzek (the double portrait of my great-grandfather), the doubleness of the image makes it feel unfinished, though there is nothing I would add to the painting at this point. The doubleness resists the unity or stability of a single portrait. The image of the young man is actually taken from a highschool yearbook photograph of my great-grandfather who emigrated to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century from the Pale in Russia. I found this photograph online, not from a family archive, and I like to think that this exact photograph might 'belong' to others whom I don't know as much as I feel it belongs to me. When Irving passed through Ellis Island, his name was changed from Itzek Sklaruk to Irving Sclier. So in that way I think about his identity formation as having always been in flux, never quite finished.
Clare Gemima: Annette, in your mind, how do you know when a painting is utterly finished? I'm also curious if your piece in the show has an intended title?
Annette Hur: I usually let go of the painting when I feel there's no place I want to resolve or touch anymore. At that moment, I also reach the intensity and specificity of the emotional level of the narrative I had hoped to visualize. I title a painting when it's complete, so I don't have a title for the painting in the show yet.
Clare Gemima: I’m waiting for you, smiling in the rain. How does your final sentence on Subtitled’s door leave viewers with the impression your piece may also be unfinished?
Marcus Civin: Thanks for the question, Clare! I appreciate it. I think those last lines might be hopeful. To me, they suggest a narrative that is unfinished. I was picturing the speaker as someone who likes the rain and is about to meet someone wonderful, both of them perhaps still in a place of evolution, having just begun something new together. One of the things I admire about painting and painters is their work with a wet medium – a situation I think of as requiring patience and comfort with imperfections.
But, I'm not a painter.
I think of myself mostly as a writer. Maybe embracing the process and possibilities of making a painting is like enjoying being out in a good rainfall.
Medium Rare will run at Subtitled NYC until May 28. To learn more about the gallery at https://subtitlednyc.com/ WM
Clare Gemima contributes art criticism to The Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary HUM, and other international art journals with a particular focus on immigrant painters and sculptors who have moved their practice to New York. She is currently a visual artist mentee in the New York Foundation of Art’s 2023 Immigrant mentorship program.view all articles from this author