For the Love of Gene Davis: The Legacy of Color Field Painting

For the Love of Gene Davis: The Legacy of Color Field Painting


Good evening. It is such an intimate gathering this evening. I want all of you to just come closer. I’m Joanna Marsh. I’m the senior curator of contemporary interpretation here at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It is a pleasure to have you with us tonight for this special program that’s organized in conjunction with the exhibition, ‘Gene Davis: Hot Beat’, which is currently on view in our third floor galleries. Before I get to introducing the program and our speakers for this evening, I want to just remind everyone to silence cell phones and other devices. Tonight’s program is going to be divided into three different parts. Each of our speakers will talk about their work for roughly fifteen minutes, and then we will all share, the three of us will share the stage for a conversation, followed by a short question and answer period with the audience. If you’d like to ask a question, we have microphones set up in the aisles of the auditorium so that anyone who is watching via webcast can hear your questions as well as the answers from our speakers. Without further adieu, here in Washington D.C. it’s often our inclination and habit to look back retrospectively at the artists who comprised the Washington Color School commemorating their accomplishments and celebrating the era of artistic innovation in our city’s history. In fact, the American Art Museum, just this past January, had such a program bringing together a lively panel of curators and critics who talked about the cultural landscape of Washington in the 1960s. Tonight’s program takes a broader more forward facing look at Color Field painting examining instead the legacy of the movement and its influence on a younger generation of artists beyond the boundary stones of Washington D.C. We are joined by two artists this evening – Polly Apfelbaum and Odili Donald Odita – who are going to share a bit about their work and the influence of Color Field painting in general and Gene Davis specifically on their thinking and practice. I’m going to introduce both artists now, and then invite them one at a time to come to the podium. Polly Apfelbaum was born in 1955 and received a BFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University. She has exhibited widely since the 1980s. Most recently, her work was the subject of a one person exhibition at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles in 2016 and at the Worcester Art Museum in 2014. A selection of Polly’s prints are actually currently on view just around the corner at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in an exhibition titled, ‘Chromatic Scale’, which, as luck would have it, opened today. Apfelbaum is best known for her sprawling floor based installations that fused traditions of painting, sculpture, craft, and installation and deploy a wide variety of media including died fabric, shredded paper, wallpaper, and ceramics. Her process of staining and dying materials is vibrant and improvisational. Since the 1990s Polly’s work has progressively grown in scale and complexity to encompass site specific installations and immersive environments that continue her exploration of color and multi-sensory experience. In 2014, she created, ‘For the Love of Gene Davis’, an ambitious intervention into the architectural space. That inspired the title for this evening’s program. Polly’s artistic practice and sensibility are informed by a sweeping knowledge of the applied arts, art history, and popular culture which infuse her work and serve to locate it within a specific formal and cultural context. Now Odili. Odili Donald Odita was born in Nigeria and lives and works in Philadelphia and New York. He received an MFA from Bennington College in Vermont and a BFA from Ohio State University. Since 2006, he has been a professor of painting at Tyler School of Art at Temple University. That’s just one of the many intersections between Polly and Odili’s work and their careers. Odita has had numerous one person and group exhibitions both nationally and internationally, as well as completing major site specific installations at Yale University, Virginia Tech, the Savanna College of Art and Design and recently the U.S. mission to the U.N. in New York City. Over the last twenty years Odita has developed a signature abstract style that recalls hard edge painting of the 1960s. His wall installations and paintings on canvas pulsate with brilliantly colored geometric forms that intersect and collide creating dynamic patterns that explore the potential of color to trigger memory, emotion, and reference contemporary human conditions. It is my pleasure now to welcome Polly to the stage and she will be followed by Odili. – applause – Thank you, it’s really nice to be here. I’m not a Washingtonian, but I’m a Philadelphian. Gene Davis was somebody whose work I saw early on in my life as an artist. Hopefully I’m going to push the right button. In 2012, I got a Rome Prize Fellowship. It was interested. One of the shows I was asked to do when I came back was an installation at Tyler where I had been going to school. I had been working with the stripe and seeing the show upstairs was incredibly informative. It’s just really beautiful work. These are prints that I made. Prints, very intuitively, but also with systems of color and stripe. They are wood block and each stripe is hand colored. Before I went to Rome, I was asked to participate in a show in Paris that was organized by Dior. They asked 14-17 women to do whatever they wanted to honor Dior. I decided to take the system of color and take Dior’s logo, which was the houndstooth and put them together. One of the things, reading upstairs, every quote they have of Gene Davis and what I’ve kind of noticed about Gene Davis, he is a contrarian. I think as an artists that’s something that I’ve always been too. He says, “The only place to go in art is too far.” I’ve worked in all these different ways. I think of myself as a hybrid. This was a rug that was woven in Oaxaca, hand woven and hand colored. It was curious, because I had been working on the floor and installation. This was kind of a different way of working. This was in the process when I was in Rome. Then what happened, there you can see the prints being made. Each stick hand colored and then put into a jig. Here are some of the kind of variations. Seeing some of the paintings upstairs it was very interesting. I always thought that he didn’t follow patterns. Look at the paintings it was interesting to see some of his groupings. We were moving the sticks around and we noticed that we were getting these different colored blends. It was really really interesting. Usually I’m not so systematic. We started out with all the colors, and then these are much more systematic. They are Hudson River inspired by the landscape and the Hudson River painters, but also Gene Davis. This is one of the later ones. I was also blending color getting a rainbow roll also a split fountain in print making. I was thinking about Gene Davis. When I came back, Tyler, my Alma Mater, said “we’d love you to do a show.” A year in Rome really had me looking back at art and looking at different art in different histories. What I loved about this, I remembered, I was giving a talk at Tyler and this image came up. I’ve always shown it, it’s something this kind of hybrid. It’s taking painting outside the frame. In 1996 I was in a show at the Corcoran, the Corcoran Painting Biannual that was, ‘Painting Outside the Frame’. That’s something that I thought a lot about with the installation and the hybrid. Life Magazine, in 1972, I think, maybe somebody in the audience will correct me. It was the world’s largest painting. I thought, what a wonderful thing and in front of the art museum. This was called ‘Franklin’s Footpath’ also it was the beginning of outdoor art projects, and public art projects. It was a very important project. I probably saw it. I don’t know if I saw it. I definitely saw the, it made an imprint one way or the other. What I decided to do was to kind of honor, that’s ‘For the Love of Gene Davis.’ Artists, we love to, I love painting. It was just so beautiful to channel Gene Davis into the work. The world’s largest painting, I thought that was kind of funny too, but it was really interesting that so many people, even I would say to friends, Europeans, “Do you know Gene Davis?” They knew Bridget Riley or they knew certain European painters and certain American painters, of course they knew Pollock. A lot of people didn’t know Gene Davis. I really wanted to make an installation and honor and bring back the history of Gene Davis. What we did is, we did some research. We got the original paintings that, I think, were in the art museum. I contacted the Philadelphia Art Museum and they hooked us up. It was interesting too to even look at photographs, because the color from the original to even photos of the installation varied a lot. You enter the gallery and first you see ‘For the Love of Gene Davis’. Then we did a little historical piece about the show. What was so interesting to me, is that we had people who had originally painted with Gene Davis, the painting. Then we found the curator, he was still alive. He gave us sections of the road. It was just a really wonderful process to kind of look back. Also at this time, Sam Gillian had a big canvas on the outside of the art museum. All of the, I forget the public works foundation, it will come to me, but it was really amazing how forward thinking they were, bringing painting outside and into the world. My piece, this is me and that’s my assistant. We decided For the Love of Gene Davis and really wanted to keep Gene into the mix. These are the working drawings that we did. We looked at the paintings, matched them on the computer, sent the drawings to Oaxaca, Mexico and all the rugs were hand woven and woven in Mexico. Taking something and bringing it inside and reinterpreting it. Here you can see, it’s a very large space. Here is the wool that was hand dyed. It’s interesting, the women are the colorists, they dye the fabric and the men are the weavers. It’s very physical. Here you can see, they are Zapotec Indians, it’s a tradition that goes back 5,000 years, and it’s kind of amazing. I’ve never been to Oaxaca, this is all through the computer. I had started working years ago. I had the opportunity in ’97 to work with the same weaver, and then at 20 years did the Dior project and then now these projects. This is a picture of the rugs, and the wallpaper. We had wallpaper made, we had four rugs, each about 13 feet by 25 feet. You can tell the scale is huge. It was an amazing experience. I had only seen the work when it’s shipped. We unrolled the rolls, and the wallpaper was made in Philadelphia. I had never done anything at this scale or this complex. What I love about it, too, is that Philadelphia was so happy to see it. It was a part of it’s history. Going to Rome, for me, was interesting to think about place, and think about history, and think about painting. Here you can see it. There, what we did is, we wove Gene Davis into the rug. He is there, his footprints, his paint. If you look at the photograph, if you go back we wanted to include Gene Davis in the process. There you can see my feet, my assistant’s feet, and Gene. That’s my assistant’s. What was wonderful, I was given a young intern as part of this process. He also did a project too about Gene Davis in the process. I’m quickly going to show you, this was another installation I did, but it was For the Love of Morris Louis. I listened to part of a conversation that was held about Washington School and I think they said as soon as they called it a school, they obviously didn’t have that much to do with each other, but it was interesting. I was asked to do an installation which was under the title of ‘Three Graces’ at the Everson Museum. They own a really beautiful Morris Louis, an they wanted all of the three artists, for us to work with the collection. I said, “I’m going to weave a rug for their painting.” This was, ‘For the Love of Morris Louis.’ What was interesting is that in that area of golden paint, which all the painters they used, one of the kind of break through staining techniques was with golden paint. I’m not sure if it was called golden paint then, but it was in the area of the Everson. It’s a really wonderful paint factory which you can visit. It’s also a socialists paint factory, they gave the paint to the workers. This is a tip, if you ever have any questions about acrylic paint. This area had that kind of, I did a little research on Morris. They were very happy. The painting, like the paintings upstairs, were cleaned. The community was really excited because this museum, it’s brutalist architecture, was really proud of their Morris Louis. They collected these paintings, a lot of the ’60s painters. I.M. Pei had done the building, and the painting of the time was the color field painters. Here you can see. I painted the stripe. They also have a great collection of ceramics, and I reorganized their ceramics color coded. Here you can see the ceramics. One of the wonderful things about this work is yes, you can walk on it. For me the kind of irreverent, the kind of hierarchical place the painting has been, I love this idea of bringing people into my work. The footprints, I had no idea people would do this. The kids were, one of the classes who came, they were sort of wearing the same colors. I don’t know if they were told, or if it was just a coincidence. I don’t know if Morris Louis would like this, but I hope he would. It’s really, I think it’s a backhanded compliment. I do love Morris Louis also. Just to end, the colored stripes, this is a recent project, the billboard that’s called, ‘Any Dream Will Do.’ It is the stripes behind, but I have the animals because I need the animals right now. They might be coming, they might be going, but the background is the kind of wonderful stripes that I think for me represent a whole idea of joy. Thank you. – applause – Hello everybody and welcome to the talk this evening. I’m glad that everybody was able to avoid the rush of the baseball players? Basketball. Basketball players on the other side of the street. Thank you for being here and for your time here this evening. First I want to read my artists statement to you to give a preface and to focus my work in the specific way that I’ve been working through it. If we can get the, ok good. So you can see it, too. Third Color, Third Space. “Color itself has the possibility of mirroring the complexity of the world in as much as it has the potential for being distinct.” The organization and patterning in the paintings are of my own design. In the paintings, I continue to explore a metaphoric ability to address the human condition through pattern, structure and design, as well as explore it for its possibility to trigger memory. The colors I use are personal; they reflect the collection of vision from my travels locally and globally. This is also one of the hardest aspects of my work as I try to derive the colors intuitively hand mixing and coordinating them along the way. In my process, I cannot make a color twice, it can only appear to be the same. This is aspect is important to me as it highlights the specificity of differences that exist in the world of people and things. What is interesting to me is a fusion of cultures where things that seem far away and desperate have the ability to function within an almost seamless flow. This fusion I seek is one that can represent a type of living within a world of difference. No matter the discord, I believe, through art there is a way to weed the different parts into a existant whole where metaphorically the notion of a common humanity can be understood as real. I want to expand upon painting theory and investigate it’s inherent needs as well as contribute to its ongoing intellectual future. My commitment to painting has come with a growing understanding of quality and beauty that can be found through painting and how beauty, when actualized, can communicate a complete consciousness. Here is now. At this time, I’m still interested in how my paintings can look like the scrambled reception from a television set. A disconnect from recognizable imagery and yet give one a sense of familiarity located deep within ones own culture. In our overly mediated reality I’m all too aware of television and its doctored way of transmitting the information we consume on a minute-by-minute basis – a type of socio/cultural information that can successfully influence us in the ways that we think, act, see and feel within our environment. It is my intent to mimic this format through painting, but in my way this subversion I wish to conduct is a type communication that speaks of Africa. It is evident that African culture is interwoven within western culture, and yet the continent continues to exist as a region denigrated in the mind of the entire world. I wish to re-channel the negative thinking around Africa and speak from the center of it’s present-ness, and expand upon what I know and understand about the history of this amazing and unquantifiable place. The reason for me to read this text is to really preface the work that I make. It’s important for me, because this is just like what any artists does, is to create a type of ownership over what they make and their practice so that they can say that it is speaking from their vantage point. From the ground from which they are standing, from their own perspective. This is important for me to think about when I think about Gene Davis. In fact, his work was about avoiding and escaping interpretation. His work was seen, is experienced in a way that everybody is trying to figure out what it is, what it means, what codes may exist within the colors for example. What it does is that it seems to be living forever. The show, we were just talking about it earlier, how fresh the show looks. It’s cleaned, of course, but it looks as fresh as a brand new day. For me, to be able to read this text to you is to be able to define my work in ways in which I understood the work would be subsumed. Which would be this type of American type painting which could be called Color Field, or hard edge abstraction. There was a lot more to the work than just those issues. Here is a picture of this group of people called the Zaria Rebels. They were actually students at the Zaria College of Art and Science and Technology in northern Nigeria. They were called the Zaria Rebels, because they actually wanted to change the curriculum from one that was very eurocentric to one that would speak towards their indigenous stories and their indigenous life. They were actually challenging the art curriculum and that’s why they were given the title, ‘Rebels.’ This was not a phenomena in Nigeria alone, but all over the continent of Africa. In particular we have, right here, let’s see if that works. Ok, that’s my dad. Emmanuel Okechukwu Odita and these other artists are really stars of modernists Nigerian painting and sculpture. They are the foundation of what we can see and understand as modernist Nigerian art. I take my experience from them. This is the first painting I made when I was in, when I left graduate school. I went to Bennington College and I worked Sidney Tillim, and Philip Walford, and Pat Adams and the history of Color Field painting and Abstraction and the history of Modernist painting. It was a really tough time for me to actually engage all of that because on one hand I love all of that work, but on the other hand, like you heard in my text, I have this sensibility, and this sense of being that I knew wasn’t exactly fitting square peg into this space. When I was at school there, I was going through a lot of experiments thinking about post-modernism, modernity, we were discussing a lot about Greenberg. Sidney was going through his rants about abstraction and Greenberg and configuration and everything else. But he was a really great person to work with. I was painting with everything, and everything in my canvases. The canvases were a dumping ground for material and detritus because I wanted to speak about entropy and so forth like that. Essentially, I realized the argument I had was about painting and the history of painting. When I came to New York City, I got rid of everything in those paintings. I essentially wanted to get naked with painting. I made this painting thinking about the things we were thinking about then wallpaper, decor, the picturesque and I was confronted by the computer. This is again early 90s, you see 1991. I had this job in New York City working at this computer, CAD company, Computer Aided Design company called Stitch King where we digitized logos to be printed onto t-shirts. This is really the beginning of it all. I was working with a program called, Photoshop 1 and Adobe Illustrator 1.01. Nobody knew what we were doing at all. They just saw computers and flashing lights and just said, “Go to it.” They just let us go. I was learning a lot about space, and thinking about space in the computer relative to space in a canvas and space in a painting. I was just marveled at the screen savers. This idea of thinking, the computer we have right now is super flat, it’s super beautiful right now, but this was this giant box. You had the screen saver and space was going two thousand million miles back into the screen. You’d step, it was just amazing to look at this screen saver. You’d step around and look at the back of the box and think, this little box, well big box is making all this space. This conversation I was having with painting and the computer and thinking about it was coming after this conversation of cinema. That was the conversation I was dealing with in school, cinema. The computer and this daunting light of the computer in that space. I was thinking about this idea of information just running up the screen like a cinema screen, like the text at the end of a film and thinking about the idea of multiple grounds in the way that I grew up. I grew up Nigerian, in America, in this Nigerian bubble hearing the conversation at home hearing the conversation at school and then trying to mix the two together. Trying to bring the two together in a way that made sense. It was really really difficult. With these paintings I was initially thinking about how I can make a space, multiple spaces exist as one? I figured out for myself, let me just play with the idea of grounds. Let’s say that this ground, foundation, the ground that we stand on is blue, dark blue. Then the reality from that ground is everything else, but what if we had a different reality, a different ground, a different position of thought, thinking perspective, so the ground becomes yellow? Then we have another painting. What if the ground was orange? Then we have another painting. Then what if the ground was the light blue? Then a fourth. This is the beginning of just kind of thinking through this space. These chevrons that in a way play off of African textile patterns and off of striping. Just thinking about this idea of inclusion and multiplicity in the way that I was growing up in America. Not the kind of America that I got from T.V. alone but all the different Americas from comic books, from my parents, from my friends, from school and so forth. When I got to New York City, I was working with a couple of people, Okwui Enwezor who started his magazine, Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art and Ike Ude who had his fashion magazine called, aRUDE Magazine. A rude is the joke, like a rude story, or a rude house, or a rude dress. It was kind of a joke title of a magazine. Through these group of people, I was able to really explore my African-ness my Nigerian-ness in a really specific way relative to contemporary art. It wasn’t just something that was put to the side like it was in school put to the side like it was in Graduate School coming into New York, but something that I could really address straight away and center. With the magazine we were really trying to bring this idea of contemporary art rather African art, contemporary African art, art made by Africans today in a contemporary context. To be able to understand that this work doesn’t have to be relegated to prejudices or perspectives that are limited only because one doesn’t have the experience of travel or one doesn’t have the experience of reading and research to know that this work is existing and being made along side all of the others. We did that. The kind of names you see up there was the approach and ambition we had when we did this project. We were going to do it in a way that was to say that if you didn’t know who these artists were well there is a list of books you are going to have to read very quickly because these artists are just as important as the ones we always read about in the art world. The names you see in the other fashion magazine that was the kind of world we wanted to engage in that level as well. To be able to talk about access, approach access, and being equal players in the center stage. I was working through painting up until those early paintings up until 1992. Then I stopped painting, because I just was thinking painting is not working, I’m just not feeling it, I’m not getting a sense of what I could do with painting. Let me engage what is happening in the art world in the 90s. It was identity politics and I was really going into that sort of space and thinking about the idea of what it means to be a self, or to be a person in this cosmopolitan city at this time. A citizen of the world at this time when a sense of the global is becoming more paramount and effective. This piece was coming from this small little photocopy piece that I made. It was turned into this billboard at the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale that Okwui Enwezor curated. He went on from the magazine. Starting this magazine I worked with it from issue 2 to become the curator of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale then eventually Documenta, and then Venice and so on and so forth. There were outlets that we pursued and ends that we achieved in all this work back then. I was going through this work, making this stuff, thinking about off center, center stage, position, positionality, the interpretations and perceptions. This for me is the American question of authenticity. Eventually I got back to painting. In 1998 I was in this artists residency called Art-O-Mine and I started to paint again, coming back to some of the earlier things that I was thinking about and working through that I thought maybe there is another life in all of this. It happened with this wall painting. I understood something when I made it to scale bigger than my head. I made it to scale bigger than a television set or computer where I could actually have my body become part of the space again. That’s when I understood something about these paintings, that I could start talking about spaces. These are the kind of spaces that were in my head. Spaces that were of memory spaces that were of my past and spaces that were coming from all my traveling. I did quite a lot of traveling as a kid. Not only physically, but in books. We understand with a computer that travel is virtual as well. These paintings started to become a little bit more complex, I was thinking about the notion of the edge of the canvas the idea of reality, the idea of modernity. Modernist painting, modernist painting the reality is the center and up to the edge and back to the center again. Modernist painting has no reality outside of itself. This is what modernist painting is. This is something that I wanted to go against, to think about and go against. What if these colors expand from one side of the canvas expand and hit the other side? Do they come back again as the same thing? Like they reach the end of the world? Or is the potential for it to continue to expand beyond what you see there? What you don’t see there rather. The periphery. What’s beyond the periphery or what is the third world? What’s beyond the periphery or what is the other? The space, the body you don’t see. This is kind of the thing I was trying to think about quite a lot through these paintings and with this motif. I started to continue to explore the potential of space, color, rhythm, and pattern. Going beyond the notion of wall paper because in those earlier paintings there was always the idea of a repeat. as if acknowledging on a certain level this idea of modernist painting that ends only to repeat itself again. I’m going to show just a few more pieces. Talk about a few more things and just zip right through the imagery. This was called ‘Mirror.’ This was a piece I did, my first wall painting I would call it. It’s pigment on the wall, this was in Poland, and this exhibition space we had a group exhibition. I saw a mirror, I knew I was going to do this on the wall. I knew I was going to put this black pigment on the wall. This black pigment is metaphoric of myself or metaphoric of black bodies. I found a mirror and I traced the outline of it, taped up that outline and just used foundation, binder, wall paint and put this pigment on the wall. This picture doesn’t do it justice. This material is very, it’s like iron oxide, it’s simply iron oxide on paint. It has a velvety kind of quality that looks like skin and it looks atmospheric like outer space like you are looking into, it sparkles. It’s a very beautiful material. It’s just this mirror, this body but what I loved about it was this idea of essentially fixing oneself into space, not being a temporary resident. Not being a nomad, not being a refugee in a certain sense, but having a space within this white wall that you can declare or be declared as one’s own, like a home. This is taken off of film, another wall painting I did again using media based imagery and so forth. Taking the title off of an Adrian Piper work. The idea of the mythic African, the mythic being, cinematic. Then I made this. This is a show called, I believe it was called, ‘Erotic Invisible Empires.’ It was my first show in Canada. I did this wall painting as an intermission piece in the space. For me, I was thinking about this painting in this particular way as sort of like a calm respite. A kind of contemplative space or thinking about it in the stationary. It’s important for me to look at this wall painting as one of my type of paintings in a sense to understand the idea of how I’ve changed from this view of what painting is, from then to now. With this painting it was meant to be seen from one point in the room. It was meant to be experienced from one point in the room versus how I liked to be able to experience painting, differently from how I like to be able to experience painting. We will go through these really quick. This is again my process of denying interpretation or working against interpretation. Being able to include the paintings with other objects – photographs. To be able to redefine the context of the work with photographs here as well. The authentic African with this wall of black paint and eight pigmented rectilinear forms, stripes that refer to skin as well as to my own body. This piece is called ‘Body, Space.’ Then the canvas work here. The thing is, what I knew going to Bennington was that this work would be talked about in the same space of Kenneth Noland and Frank Stella and people like this. This was not the only place I was thinking or not the only sources I’ve had for what I was thinking about for when I was making my work. There was many different sources from many different places from many different parts of the world. I wanted to be able to really create an argument for the work that would not subsume it or flatten it as only Color Field painting, but to be able to expand it. The work became more landscape oriented. It certainly drew off of the computer. The idea of designed space, the idea of projected space. But they started to become more landscape oriented and I realized that this is my way of dealing with the desire I had for my past or the past I never really fully realized, because my family left Nigeria during the Biafran War when I was six months old. I was raised in America and I always wished to be able to know what that experience would have been like to have lived somewhere else. To feel a certain sense of home, let’s say. That I don’t have, but I also know that if I were to go back again, if I were to live my life differently who knows what I would have become. The desire of wanting to reclaim something that was yours in a sense, because my parents always said, “This is your place.” It drove me through this experience here. These paintings are taking off and riffing off of so many different things. Television again test man patterns, the idea of using T.V. and understand T.V. as a means of transmitting messages, a communications box if you will and a brainwashing box if you will. But as they started to get more figurative, I started to realize that that wasn’t really the way I wanted to go, that that wasn’t the thing that I wanted to experience in the painting. I started to realize in my own way and this is more of the painting becoming figurative and so forth and having a certain sense of the naturalistic, but I realized for myself, I wanted to be able to get to a place where the understanding and the ambition of the abstraction project becomes a part of what I’m engaged in as well. Not in a sense of how we might understand it fully and solely in a Western sense, or Western European sense verses an Eastern European sense or an American sense versus a European sense, but in a global sense. Being able to understand it in a way that fits the world of things so that it escapes this notion of authenticity that seem to always tarnish how we understand things. Rather to be more inclusive in the way that we can merge and bridge and understand how truly ideas permeate through each other. I was in a project by Gregory Volk called, ‘Surface Charge’ and there were several artist working on the wall. I had this wall project, which made me realize something that I can actually become very conceptual in the way that I engage wall painting. This is the other side of the wall space. I had two walls in this room and I wanted to deal with how the room was used and activated and worked through this other space. This other side of the space was jail bars in a way that was made from black pigment on the wall. It really worked with that air conditioner. Then, this very tall woman by this door. This is called ‘Bars’ and it’s the opposite side of this space. I did this wall painting at one of my shows at the Jack Shainman Gallery. ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’, again maybe a way to escape meaning or escape specific meanings that lock down. A title from a band, my brain is mushed a lot of times so I can’t remember these names. But this band, they had this song called ‘In the Garden of Eden’ but they couldn’t they were out of sorts to be able to remember the words. It became this, Iron Butterfly? Iron Butterfly. Awesome, thank you. Rob Store saw this and then he selected me for Venice. From this show onward, I really began to explore potentiality in painting. For me, what this is all about, really the wall work is all about – what can a painting do? It’s really just simply that question first and foremost. What can a painting do? Here I even have the pigmented arches above that I wanted to make comment to Venice and to the canals and all the boats that we took through there and the light reflecting off the water. To talk about appearance and disappearance, the nature of color, the scale of color the speed of color as well as the certainty of color. It’s become a really big exploration from there, and I can become a bit more specific about this when we sit down. For me, when I looked at the Gene Davis show, it reminds me of how much I loved his work. He was somebody I looked at almost religiously while I was an undergrad at Ohio State University. What I loved about his work, what I understand now about the work that I loved back then but I couldn’t explain it was his ability to escape interpretation. For it to be able to not really be something that you could totally signify and pin on a wall. That sort of thing about the work is what made it difficult for him to be as established as say Jackson Pollock or Helen Frankenthaler. I think that’s what makes the work still seem as fresh as it is now. Jackson Pollock or Helen Frankenthaler are awesome artists. Joan Mitchell is awesome. There is something about the way that Gene Davis vibrates still. It’s alive. It’s alive because he was able to understand how to make things. He understood the artist’s voice. The artist’s voice wants to always be free and not be bound by interpretations. I guess people like Clement Greenberg as genius as he was, people like that needed to they had a great, maybe a great, vision of wanting to define an American type art for the masses. It was a project that I think was very important, but that can kill art. That can kill art. I’m just going to quickly flip through these. Gene Davis had a spirit. You can see it also in the show. If you look at the work, he has done so many different kinds of things. His work has been in so many different types of representations from light, neon light to painting on the streets, canvas work, ceramics, I think, maybe knitted work. Anything knitted? He worked with light in the tubes. But he did some little things too. There were some little things that he did. The micro paintings, those micro paintings. You can see the weave texture coming through. What I think is really great about him and what I really respond to is his sense of freedom and openness. He says, “He needs to go too far into the work.” The statement he said about it. The aggressivity of his color is something that really is profound. Yet he escapes the violence that can be interpreted in the color by just how the color escapes from where the stripes end, either way, up or down. That’s it. Thank you. – applause – Thank you both. I think maybe in the interest of time, I’m going to ask a question or two to kind of get the conversation going and then let our audience ask some questions. Since you left us, oh, ok a few more, we are going to just zip through those. There we go, ok. I’m going to jump ahead a little bit. Since you left us looking at some of your site specific installations, I thought we’d talk a little bit about this concept of site specificity and immersive installations which I think both of you are moving increasingly towards. We saw that in ‘For the Love of Gene Davis’ which is on the slide behind us and then in your work. I was struck by two quotes that I read. One by each of you. Odili, this statement, “Color creates space. Color is about space as much as it is about paint.” Then Polly saying, “It is important to me that people have to move through the works so the spectator activates it and participates in the experience. I’m always working with site, scale, and the architectural setting.” This is something that I think even Gene Davis was thinking about. There is this wonderful quote by Davis about wanting the paintings to engulf the spectator. Which I think is an experience we really feel when we are in the exhibition upstairs particularly when we are looking at those very large scale paintings like ‘Raspberry Icicle.’ You feel almost surrounded. You are kind of replicating this experience of sort of engulfing the viewer. I thought I’d just sort of let you talk a little bit more, each of you, about the importance of that in your practice currently. Either one of you. Well, one of the reasons that brought me to the floor with color is a certain sense of physicality. Painting was always up against the wall. I really wanted people in it, that’s what I said, for me. I love this idea that it’s situational and it’s also site specific. It’s always with a love of architecture but the idea of feeling a painting or feeling color and the kind of physicality and weight of it. I’m always really interested. I was working with very light weight and this idea of lightness, but it also had a presence in scale. It could compete on the horizontal against the vertical. I love that kind of back and forth and dialogue between all those different things. In fact, in your early work, you called fallen paintings as if they had literally fallen off the wall onto the floor. It had a fluidity. I’ve been using that word a lot, but I love the idea of malleable form. Also familiar form. One of my friends said my work was, “Form on a vacation.” It’s in a different world. I liked trying to bring all those different things into it conceptually and physically. I was struck also that in many of your early pieces both titles of your work and entire bodies of work the terms you use are really inextricably linked to Color Field painting. Stain, for instance, a whole body of work that you called ‘Stain.’ A terrific piece which we can see up here called ‘Spill.’ If I can get back to it. There we go, ‘Spill.’ It was one of my early pieces. Yes, it very early pieces in which you are staining directly on. Here you can see the way the work has kind of fallen to the floor, if you will. I think that one of the things that I didn’t know that much about Gene Davis is that he loved to experiment. I think for me as an artists, experimenting in the making and in the process is as important. These pieces, they started out one way, and then this idea that they can change, and they can go out into the world. This piece has been over a bed in an art fair, it’s been over a railing. It’s this idea of form changing in the world. It’s a kind of crazy idea, but it’s something that I really love. This idea that form, it’s ethereal but it’s also changing. It’s alive. I was really interested, I was not interested in set form and monumental form. You know, I’m working with scale, but I really wanted the familiar, the every day, the domestic into the work. It was curious because I was working on the floor where these paintings you weren’t supposed to put, there isn’t a reverent, that’s why I said a contrary nature to the work. That’s what started out. What’s interesting, you kind of go a little, the kind of formalism. A friend of mine said the other day, “Well, what do you think about the F word?” I was like, “What F word?” Feminism, Formalism, F*** you? I love that idea that we knew what happened to this work, how it was read. It was work that we loved, but we weren’t going to do that work. We were influenced by that work. But really, how did we make it our own in that world? But the formalism and the Clement Greenberg-ism is a little scary too, to come into that world. I still believe in the word. I want to understand it in a way that Polly should have been used or how it can be used. I think of formalism as a, it’s really conceptual. I think of formalism as a very conceptual thing because it’s about thinking through forms. It’s about thinking intelligently through forms and understanding the potentiality and what is involved in all of that. Form, see the thing about form is that we can talk about how form, how in art and western art, we try to work ourselves beyond form into the end material, the formless. In that sense, we can understand that form entails many different things. It’s not just art and materials that are standard that are put in common place, but what can we use as material? We have sculpture students at Tyler School of Art working with video, for example. Like what we saw with Nam June Paik. Is he a video artists? Is he a sculptor. Is he an installation artist? To be limiting, or to limit oneself when you think about terms and applications of terms and ideas and application of ideas it’s to really only live and be bound by constructs. That’s the thing that I think or I see, I definitely see when I look at Gene Davis. I respond to that within his work. The way in which he wants to escape those constrictive natures in which the work might want to be explained. I listened to that talk and it was like, ok. One of the speakers said, there was a talk that was here and he talked about the codes, of people wanting to get into the color codes. I remember that. I laughed when I heard that because that was exactly my feeling when I was a student looking at those paintings. I was like, I got to figure this out. Why is the color doing this? When I looked at the first painting, it’s called ‘Red Baron’ I just said to myself this guy could be, would be the most amazing DJ today. It’s two parts that come together, but the way he uses them the way he uses color to fuse the two together, it’s like a perfect weaver, or a perfect blender, or a perfect mixer. It’s just like music. I see his appreciation for, when I see that I think this guy probably liked a lot of things. He probably liked to eat good food. He probably liked to listen to a lot of great music, which I know he did. He loved to communicate with people. I’m just talking about positive things. I know that people that knew him better might have said, “Oh, I saw him when he was like this or that.” For me, it’s just somebody that I see being open to a lot of different things, a lot of different information to be able to do the things he does in those paintings. Which is the connection that I see between your work and Davis’. Bringing in all of these different cultural, historical, social influences. As you pointed out at the beginning of your talk, it could easily get glossed over, but is such an important contribution and infusion into the work. It’s what sets it apart in a lot of ways from Davis’ work as well because you are wanting the viewer to sort of read into the work, those interpretations. Well, he is dealing with certain aspects too. If you look at the work it’s extremely Pop. It’s really way more Pop than Noland. In fact, it’s closer to Stella in it’s Pop-ness but it doesn’t embrace the industrial in the way that Stella embraces industrialization, or capitalism, or commerce. The way that Stella does, that technological. You talked about the Golden family, was it Sam Bocour? Who was working with Morris Louis and Noland. Bocour, his, I think, his children married into this Golden family. It was through marriage. All that information continued into the Golden product, which is a great product. I use them, I love them. The thing is that Davis’ colors are extremely hard on one level and he does experiment because you see paintings where the color becomes atmospheric. He does all this strange work, which I was asking about earlier. I want to know more about that work. He accepts this certain solidity. This certain kind of materiality and the openness of it, the blankness of it, let’s say and then, just like as he said, free will and wind and letting it go with the air. If he would have smelled this or thought that, the color might have been different in the next moment. He understands structure. He understands how to draw because those paintings are held tight. You said it yourself, how they are ordered and organized, because that’s the drawing. But then the space comes in with the color. The quote was here in that lecture, he goes, “To enter a painting is to enter through a color. The color is the door to the painting.” It’s like, ding! That’s how I understand it myself. That’s how I’ve grown to understand it myself. I like the word you use, ‘potential,’ because he said, I think he was never bored with the stripes. He always found different, there’s thick, there’s thin, the width, and the structure is so beautiful. I love that kind of thinking. Sometimes when I’m working I love that idea, it’s intuitive. I’ll say, “Oh, i’ll do that color next.” He didn’t, he planned a little, but he didn’t plan that far ahead. Even seeing the ones that are more structured and oriented, but they are beautiful paintings. They are just beautiful paintings. He understands something, I wanted to say, through a chromophobia. I understand like this, I understand like this. Chromophobia is this really great book that everybody should read by David Batchelor. I used it with my students. It’s the fear of color, but because of culturally laced notions that create the fear of color. In his paintings – Davis’ – there is this aggressivity of the color that speaks towards the notion that there is fear of this intensity. A confrontational relationship of that intensity. But then the nature in which those stripes are just so blank like a Guido Molinari, a Canadian striped painter, so blank that in a way balances, counters the intensity of the color itself and creates this conundrum, you said juxtaposition. You said something about there’s a contrast. I think there’s a weight too, interesting weights of color. Also, just really rhythm. They are really rhythmic paintings. I felt a beautiful confrontation when I walked in. They are not sissy paintings. No, no. They are really strong paintings. I was blown away physically, I had forgotten about that weight and presence of the paintings. That physicality. Light vibrates, it’s a thing like water, air, color. The intensity, it’s a physical thing and we respond to it like any other sense that we have. Is that something that you strive for in your installations as well? That kind of vibration of space. It seems like it looking at the images. Right, well with the installations, they are doing a lot of different things with the body itself. I’m really trying to think about how painting exists in the space with the body near it, next to it, and with events happening. I see accidental things all the time, like light coming through the window and hitting the painting and changing it, and making it like a backdrop to the activity of light. The function of the space itself, and then I’m thinking a lot about just the space of color. If color is this big, or if it’s that big. What does it do with the body and with the mind? I speak about this a lot in the sense of like you smell food, it does something to our body. Then, if we see color it will also do something to our body in so many different ways. Other questions in the audience at all? Yeah. Yeah, if I may. I’m from the Caribbean, so I come from a difference angle. Thank you. You said something that fascinated me. It’s a well known idea in the arts. This resistance against interpretation. Right? Because obviously interpretation I have many backgrounds, i’m a lawyer and criminologist so this imprisoning of meaning, this containment of meaning especially for people like us who come from the periphery with all of the problems that are inherent in that, the immediate problems that are inherent in that. At the same time, I think you are fully aware of that. Is that interpretation on interpretation on endless interpretation, right? In situations and in places let me just speak about the Caribbean now. You talked about Africa, right? Where people because of the tremendous changes that have taken place so quickly. Orleans developed in ten or fifteen years while the United States took a hundred years, two hundred years to do. The confusion that comes along with that, the total confusion what I’m saying, if you get open interpretation, none interpretation, then there is always a potential danger that it can also imprison you in a different way. There is this complexity to have the ability to interpret without being imprisoned by the interpretation moving forward. But still the need to interpret if you understand what I am saying. A kind of open, ongoing, critical, interrogative type of interpretation. I would like to know in your work using your color schemes, the schemes on the walls and stuff like that, do you work with these ideas? Do you bounce off these ideas? Do you think about these ideas? And if you do against this notion of trying to bring in other cultural, other artistic traditions within western art how do you see that? Do you see an opening to that? Do you see a closing to that at this point in the west against those ideas as they move back as a kind of stopping. So how do you see those things? I just want to start by saying there is always time. There is always time. I used to think, ok there is not enough time for things, but there is always time for many different things. I see, how can I say it to you? Really, we have to understand that people come to us, not us, I mean everyone, people come to you and they can interpret they can place an idea on you. That’s part of the reality that you have to contend with when you exist. The way that people see you as much as you want to understand yourself and how you see yourself and how you want to project yourself. It’s a part of this conversation of I look at it creatively as being a part of this conversation of being able to define who you are. To understand that you will have people come at you with an idea of who you might be, but you are not bound by that. That you have the time to be able to reconstruct construct, and reconstruct yourself as you go forward. The thing is that we it can be that we might see ourselves set in a particular way that is not of our own doing, but we have the will and agency, if you have the will, you can have the agency, and bring it together. You can have the ability to be able to change the way that you are seen or understood by others. What i’m simply saying is that being an artist as I see it is the ability to be able to take action in your own hand and be able to create the world that you might possibly see for yourself. Does that make any sense to you? – poor audio quality – Well what you are saying is actually very difficult. It’s not an easy thing, and art making is not playing. It’s working. You have to get to a place for yourself to be able to do a lot of different things. You have to work towards that. Work also entails play. Work also entails celebration. I think it’s a matter of a lot of different things with what you are saying. You are talking about things that speak of privilege, of access, being able to have the ability to read and see. You are going to talk about a lot of things before you even get to the process of how do we resolve the question of how we are interpreted by others or how we have the possibility of changing interpretation. But I also think what’s interesting, both of us what we do is demand people be there. To be present. The work is experiential. If we can get them there, then maybe we can try. I think both of us are very open to interpretation and open, hopefully, in seeing the world. For me, the picture that I showed that makes me really happy is seeing the children playing in my installation. When I was younger I thought, oh God, no, I’m not going to be taken seriously or engagement. I think that’s for me the importance of our museums, education, getting people into them. I’m not interested in a separation. For me, it’s a journey. I don’t know. I’m just trying to open up the doors and bring other people’s interpretations in but also I don’t know. I think the term ‘Washington School’ probably, you know, I don’t want to be in a club, you don’t want to be in a club. They didn’t want to be in a club. Artists don’t want to be members of clubs. But we do really want people to see our work. It’s out there. We need the opportunities, too. I thank the Lord for the opportunities that I am given. My Alma Mater, to be able to do this big installation. I think it’s about a different way of hopefully looking and thinking. A desperate optimism. Should we do one more question? It’s more a reflection. You can respond, though. What I’ve enjoyed about this exhibit and the works you’ve shown is how accessible they are. It’s wonderful to hear discussion from the artists about all the thought behind it. All your intentionality and your pathways to get there, but as a viewer, I’m not up there trying to figure all that out. What I was enjoying when I was up there for the hour before this was watching people pose in front of them because they are vibrant. Or, watch a group of teenagers stop. There was about 50 of them that came in and they actually stopped at one of them together. The carpet you showed with the children, interacting, the one you have at the exhibit hall where people are walking. It’s ok to just have pleasure of the viewing and the experience and not really having to go dive deep to think about it. I’m really grateful though that there are people like you who have the training and the intuition to do that deep thought but just be assured that there are a lot of us who are ok with just enjoying it. – laughter – I think that’s a lovely note to end on. Thank you. Thank you Polly, and thank you Odili for being here tonight and talking about Gene Davis with us. – applause –

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