ICE, Julie Nester Gallery

ICE, Julie Nester Gallery
February 26th - March 27th
Park City, Utah

Interview by, Micah Schwaberow
January 6, 2016

Q:  What underlies this body of work that comes out of your personal history, is in your bones? How do you begin?

P:  I have a deep sensory memory from my childhood, that slightly vulnerable feeling of sliding over a slippery surface of ice, the cold making me feel alive. This memory is but the starting point, then the studio painting takes on a life of its own.  The work that unfolds has a power and an evolution and doesn’t necessarily stay with the original thought.

I invite figures from my references into the experience so that the paintings become not just about my personal story. It’s what authors say about writing their fiction; they end up following their characters. In painting a crowd certain figures are more intriguing and, over time, the others seem to fall away. Because these are paintings, which are visual before they are narrative, this inquiry often has to do with the shapes they make, the spaces between them, the light and shadow.

It is like I have a cast of characters that show up every night. They come from different stories and times and meet in my studio and together we build other stories than the ones they came in with. They fall out of time and space and re-order into something new.

Q:  What is the role of repetition in your work?

P: The repetition is a byproduct of my technical process. I paint through a screen and by the end of a long day I can use this screen to build compositions very quickly. I assemble all the characters and then I can manipulate (orchestrate) them intuitively. 

Humans have evolved to recognize pattern, repetition. Repetition also unifies the surface of the painting. The eye bounces from like to like. It could be a positive shape or a negative shape between. This is very much like music, when the chorus or a phrase of the music is repeated. 

With the paint on the screen I can transfer the image or parts of the image several times on different canvases until the image is only a ghost. I can also flip the image so recognition of the repetition happens subliminally.

Music is the perfect metaphor. repetition is not the melody; it is the rhythm. 

Q:  How do you achieve what could be called informed or articulate ambiguity in your paintings?

P:  Not everything needs to be depicted in the same level of detail. If there is a perfectly rendered face the mind can translate that information into other less distinct faces. The root of the viewer’s role is in the ambiguity. That’s where the mystery and the unknown reside, and where the viewer’s engagement begins. 

I spend all day rendering something as exactly as I can. But without ambiguity the painting doesn’t live. If my painting is too accurate, if it only has skill and facility, imagination and feeling are blocked. And so my paintings fluctuate between accuracy and chaos. 

Sometimes, looking at other paintings, I am struck by the skill and patience involved in creating it. But my involvement can stop there, with the mastery of the medium. If there is something unfinished my mind works to complete it. This is how the viewer enters the painting. Ambiguity invites and requires participation.

The accuracy of the original image I paint is of the utmost importance. The accuracy is composed of many small movements and lots of observation and critical decision-making. It requires practice, skill, discipline and conscious, directed intention. I devote many long hours of every painting day and evening to this. I don’t want the viewer to have the slightest hesitation in believing the image. Any inaccuracy would be a fatal flaw. Confidence in the image is absolutely crucial. Yet in the end I will completely alter it.

But I do not want the final image to be distorted by lack of skill; it is distorted by a clearly observable physical act. I begin with precision and then, like an indiscriminate wind, I pull a squeegee across the carefully rendered surface. 

The squeegee is a crude tool. It only requires physical force and deciding where to stop and start. I agonize about it. The more I am attached to what I have painted, the more difficult it is to use the squeegee, to likely wreck everything I have just done. It only takes a moment. The squeegee asks, not for courage exactly, but for a willingness to let go.

The squeegee doesn’t always work. It is a blunt instrument, making a large gesture that breaks open the precise rendering and leads directly to the ambiguity. When it does work it opens a door. There is no door without the accuracy. But without the movement of the squeegee, the ambiguity, the door remains closed; the viewer cannot enter.

Q:  What are you seeking as you work?

P:  I think about three elements: the eye, the mind, and the heart. I relate the eye to aesthetics, the mind to thought, and the heart to feeling. Skill affects the realm of aesthetics. This is the only one of these three elements that is contained in the painting itself. Thought and feeling are not in the painting. They are only in us, the viewer. I want the painting to stimulate a resonance with and within the viewer (me).

Actually, a painting is a resonance machine. If a painting works, the events on the surface begin to create a resonance within us. Meaning is perceived because of this resonance between the visual object and our thoughts and feelings. Ambiguity, in the painting, makes this response possible by leaving a doorway open for the viewer’s imagination, and therefore, participation.

In the best paintings this resonance keeps going, from the painting into me/the viewer; back into the painting; back out to us. Harmonic resonance is the ideal; there is a wave, an oscillation, wherein the visual information in the painting is in perfect energetic rhythm with the subject of the painting, and with the mind and heart of the viewer.

An important part on my process then is to seek and find imagery that will facilitate this resonance. My figures are not less or more important than the abstract shapes or colors or values, but they are a critical factor. I can mix any color, make any shape, but I need to find those images of figures outside of myself. 

The pace of the activity I am depicting is part of the harmonic resonance. In the past I have painted people standing with almost no movement and I have painted figures dancing, moving slowly. Now, the rhythm of sliding across the ice, which is often standing still yet moving, resonates within me.

ICE, Julie Nester Gallery
February 26th - March 27th, 2016
Park City, Utah