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Interested Painting

Wednesday, February 09, 2005–Saturday, March 19, 2005

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Artists: Gillian Carnegie, Maureen Cavanaugh, Nigel Cooke, Holly Coulis, Verne Dawson, Duncan Hannah, Merlin James, James Sheehan, and Rezi van Lankveld

Interested Painting is an exhibition curated by Chicago painters Andreas Fischer and William Staples, who organized the show around a renewed interest in subjectivity and the painter ’s individual approach. The exhibition proposes that many painters today either deny shared systems or invent a means for classifying their work. There was a mix of internationally known and emerging artists in the show, among them Gillian Carnegie (UK), Maureen Cavanaugh (NY), Nigel Cooke (UK), Holly Coulis (NY), Verne Dawson (NY/PA), Duncan Hannah (NY), Merlin James (UK), James Sheehan (NY) and Rezi van Lankveld (Netherlands). Most of the work was representational, including works in the figurative, landscape and still life genres.

Fischer and Staples saw “interest” (which, in traditional aesthetics, the philosopher Immanuel Kant believed would undermine beauty, ideals and truth) as a productive force because of its subjectivity. They believed that what seemed most irrelevant to the proposed exhibition painters was the idea that there had to be a shared structure, either an existing or new one. These artists seemed to be accepting the notion, as evidenced by previous generations, that shared structures fail at universality. So, why not just go with individual motives?

As Fischer and Staples put it:

The real question is one of meaning: what it is and where to find it. This question develops into a highly subjective stand in painting. The goals are not to establish an order, but to insist that no universal painting models apply. To explain through theoretically charged language or historical precedent becomes nothing more than a fancy apology for making paintings. This show demonstrates a strong belief that there is no reason to apologize for painting. The reasons for painting do not have to be clear.

Of course these ideas are not so new, but they seem to persist. What makes putting on a show of this type worthwhile is the specific work in its idiosyncrasy, in its unapologetic nature, and in the way it carries subjectivity forward. The clarity is in the paint.

Events during the run of the show included a curators ’ gallery talk, an artists ’ lecture and a roundtable discussion among the curators and other Chicago painters.

INTERVIEW: ANDREAS FISCHER, WILLIAM STAPLES, WENDY COFFELT, AND MELISSA HOLBERT

In your initial proposal for Interested Painting, you say that your use of the term ‘interest ’ is informed by Kantian disinterestedness. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Andreas Fischer: I was reading Kant ’s Critique of Judgment and I got interested in the way he responded to the history of aesthetics before him. It seemed like he accepted and built on the idea that beauty was not something that was at all individual but totally universal. I like the way that plays off of or opposes postmodern ideas about how there is no such thing as quality necessarily—it seems like beauty is defined nowadays in art school, if it’s even talked about, by whoever makes the strongest argument for it. I was interested initially in the word play—Kantian disinterestedness as a removal of personal taste in order to access this universal quality of beauty—flipping it over to ‘interested ’ as a way of talking about what ’s going on in a current environment.

In your understanding of Kant, do these theoretical concepts relate to the painter or the viewer?

Fischer: I don ’t know whether we thought too directly about who was more important, the painter or the audience, but we fell into a place where we were really thinking about the motivations of each painter.

In the process of doing this show have your ideas about painting changed?

Fischer: In the last two years, getting away from grad school has been a growth period for us as artists. I don ’t know what Will would say, but for me, my work and the things that I care about and prioritize have changed and in some ways flip-flopped. I was really interested in relationships of material objects to their contexts, which is part of looking at art history. Now I ’m a lot more interested in the object itself and a lot more preoccupied with idiosyncrasy and weirdness and I think the title, Interested Painting, is now an idiosyncratic one. We shed a lot of the more structural or theoretical basis for the show.

William Staples: We got passionate about the work itself and realized that it was very important to us that we not define a structure for the paintings in the show. Whatever motives or ideas the painters have—even something as personal as Duncan Hannah painting purely out of an Anglophile interest, which has nothing to do with anything but his own obsession, or Holly Coulis painting various subject matter, like ghosts or mermen—it seems like they are coming from a more personal standpoint. It didn ’t seem like they had a theoretical base.

What was the curatorial process like, being painters yourselves?

Staples: We had a loose list that we would throw at each other, but then Andreas came up with the good idea to not meet or talk for a while, come up with our own list and then meet with images of these artists ’ works.

Fischer: Then we asked, ‘What do we have here? ’ Well, it seems like we have a kind of painting that isn ’t getting much support locally. We ’ve got a kind of painting that seems to be based on a bunch of different people doing what they want. That seemed to be interesting and refreshing.

Do you see it as a move away from an academic approach to painting then?

Fischer: Maybe academic is a sub-category of anything that is structurally shared. It’s refreshing to look at this group of artists, who represent a larger group, and see just a bunch of people who somehow found a way to give themselves permission to paint what they wanted to paint, whether it was based on some kind of subject matter or in the case of Gillian Carnegie, dealing with facture and touch and the material qualities of paint.

Did you create a new structure for this kind of painting in the process of curating?

Fischer: There was a big shift in how the show developed. Instead of acting like curators and forming a comprehensive argument, it became a much more amateur project. We are sort of doing this as fans now.

Staples: We didn ’t have any other agenda than the work. We didn ’t want to just go look for a magazine and find people—it was painters we saw and had a response to right away.

Fischer: We also wanted to try to use people that we didn ’t discover recently—but people we ’d had a relationship with for a while. Merlin James was a big influence on both of us.

Staples: He was the only shared name when we met.

What is it about Merlin James ’s work that made him essential for the show?

Fischer: To me, he seems kind of like the godfather of the show. He is certainly aware of himself as a critic in the art world, but his work seems to escape that self-consciousness. His studio process is based more on experimentation and play.

Staples: Merlin James fits into the show because, although he might approach painting from a traditional or historical sense, it seems like a personal struggle for him. He ’ll work on one painting for ten years, then put it away. He ’ll let dust settle on it, and he won ’t take the dust off. It ’s a very labored, sometimes worried process. He tries to recognize his position in painting with traditional motifs like landscapes and still lifes, but he puts his own stamp on it. He knows he ’s finished when it looks like him.

What effect might this way of working have on the viewer ’s experience?

Fischer: Just because there is some effort or shared universal structure doesn ’t mean that ’s going to engage or be accessible to an audience. Painters seem to be losing faith in these universal structures and turning to an individual subjective position. These seemingly closed off ways of working do actually engage people.

Staples: This approach to painting can be a way to reflect your culture in a sense because no one paints in a vacuum. Even if you are painting in your own world, you share it with other people. The problem I see with a lot of theoretical or conceptual painting is that it is such a narrow area that only a few people are going to appreciate it unless it’s painted in a way that you can relate to it viscerally, physically. What ’s interesting is that the artists in this show, some more than others, paint in a way that is about materials, and at the same time, they have these personal spaces where you can enter from your own point of view. Duncan Hannah ’s paintings harken back to the 1930s and postwar Britain, but you can enter those without the same obsession. You have your own relationship with the painting, bringing your own spaces or thoughts.

Fischer: Actually, that goes back to Merlin James. One of the things I was most interested in at his lecture he gave at Gallery 400 in 2001 was that almost all the other artists that he brought up had tried to participate in the avant-garde of their time period and then at some point they just said, ‘Fuck it. I ’m going to go back and paint portraits or still lifes or my friends.” Merlin James thought that this was the strongest work by these people and he feels the same way about his own work. He feels like when he was in grad school he was encouraged if not pressured to participate in this more issue-driven work.

Does the subject matter become more important in these paintings than the formal qualities?

Staples: Well, yeah. But it has to be painted well. That ’s the other area: you can have this subject matter, but then it almost seems like that ’s a departure point for the painting and then there ’s the touch, the material. You can see a lot of that played out in Gillian Carnegie ’s work.

Fischer: What ’s important about all this for me is that it probably is not that you painted another still life or another landscape with a figure in it, but what kind of seeps out from doing that. These painters also do more subtle things like James Sheehan deciding to make a micro small painting that ’s embedded in the wall, and this becomes a decision that replaces or stands in for touch in someone else ’s work. Instead of asking [the viewer] to think about the structure, their work sits there and lets us experience it in a much more generally experiential way.

Do the artists intend for the viewer to experience their paintings that way?

Staples: I don ’t think that ’s even relevant necessarily. We ’re kind of, in a very selfish way, fans of their work and so that ’s why they ’re together. We see some common threads in the work but, like we said, if Merlin James could be sitting here, he would probably take some issues.

Fischer: I ’m surprised he didn ’t, actually, argue with us a little bit. I expected some of that. Maybe he understands where we ’re coming from and the fact that there could be differences and slippage. I ’m pretty comfortable that Holly Coulis would be on board with this. But I do like what Will said about it not mattering. I think that one of the nice things about working in this way is that, if you put work out there without a strong curatorial statement that guides people into ways of looking, it does a good job of separating the work from even the artist ’s intentions in some cases. We wanted to curate a show where you just sort of walk in the room and have an experience.

Why have this show in Chicago right now?

Staples: None of the galleries have really put anything like this together for painting. The museums don ’t do it. We have some very serious universities—UIC, the Art Institute, Northwestern, Columbia—all trying to create art programs that encourage a vibrant and energetic art scene. Yet you don ’t get to see some of the energetic artists out there right now who are being talked about and that are creating some kind of critical dialogue. It ’s frustrating, but we really do live in a very provincial, kind of hermetic community here that does not get out or bring in. The thing I ’m proudest about this show is that, hopefully, this will start people talking. I mean, if people hate the show, great, but I at least hope they write about how they hate it. I ’d rather hear a good, negative review, than a bad, good review any day.

Fischer: Yeah, on a local level I think that this is a bit political for us. We both agree that this type of work, however you want to classify that more specifically, isn ’t getting much support where we ’re located, and that was one of our motivations for bringing this stuff here.

Why not include some works by Chicago or Midwest artists?

Staples: There are painters in Chicago that we both like. But, in a personal way, we wanted to avoid the politics of that. Like, “Why did you pick me, and not me?” None of these artists have shown here, and I think that ’s really important. But even more important is we wanted to bring a conversation about things that we ’re interested in, that we ’ve been talking about, to Chicago that we ’ve never heard talked about. I think that one of the problems in Chicago is this real lack of any kind of dialogue or criticality within the community. If we ’re going to stay in Chicago, I feel a responsibility to try to at least create some kind of dialogue.

Fischer: For me, it didn ’t have anything to do with picking one person over another. I just don ’t see this kind of painting much around in my immediate environment. There are definitely people in Chicago I like really well but they don ’t do this kind of work. Maybe we wouldn ’t be doing this show if there were people around who did this and did it well. I think that there are probably people around here who are trying to do stuff like this and are just not succeeding. They fall into imitating themselves, or when they really come up with a personal formula, they just knock stuff out.

Do you think viewers will see the correlation between your work and these painters ’?

Staples: I don ’t think our work looks like any of the artists.

Fischer: Will ’s work, I feel like, is more like this than mine. I feel like this is someplace I ’d like to be going. I ’d like to be able to include myself in this work as I get my legs under me a little bit more. I ’d like to think that the work that I ’m developing now could fit into this show.

What do you think about the show now that it ’s up?

Fischer: I just keep wondering about how many of the people that I ’m interested in, and maybe that Will ’s interested in, would kind of reshape what ’s going on as it goes forward. So I guess mentally, for me, it kind of continues. There are some new artists that I ’m starting to get interested in. I find myself putting them in lectures more than once that I ’m giving to any classes I ’m teaching. There ’s this guy named Lamar Peterson who I ’m kind of interested in right now. I don ’t know if he would quite fit in with this, but I just keep moving forward and thinking, “Oh, if we were doing the show today…”

Staples: Yeah, I don ’t know if I ’ve been thinking about it. It ’s probably just technical things. I mean, putting on a show this big, was a whole other experience. If I ever do this again—and I ’m not sure, I might be retiring—but, if I do it again, I learned what it takes to be better organized. It did turn out really well visually.

Any closing comments?

Staples: We couldn ’t have done this anywhere else except for Gallery 400.

Fischer: I ’d like to thank my mom and my agent.

****

Fischer, Andreas; Staples, William. “A Conversation with Curators Andreas Fischer and William Staples.” Interview with Wendy Coffelt and Melissa Holbert. February, 2005.

This interview was distributed in the gallery as a booklet during the run of the exhibition.

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST

Gillian Carnegie

No Depression, 2002
Oil on paper, 20 x 14 in.

Trunk, 2000
Oil on canvas, 18 x 14 in.

Voi, 2004
Oil on canvas, 76 x 53 in.

Maureen Cavanaugh

Evie ’s Sunglasses, 2003
Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 in.

Nigel Cooke

Snake and Owl, 2004
Oil on paper, 11 x 15 in.

Holly Coulis

Heroes, 2005
Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in.

Mountain Fighter, 2005
Oil on linen, 36 x 36 in.

Silver, 2003
Oil on canvas, 45 x 60 in.

The Survivor, 2005
Oil on linen, 48 x 60 in.

Verne Dawson

Coronation, 2004
Oil on linen, 12 x 26 in.

Duncan Hannah

Nova in Distress, 2001
Oil on board, 9 1/2 x 8 in.

Nova in her Party Hat, 2001
Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

Weekend in the Country, 2003
Oil on canvas, 16 x 16 in.

Merlin James

Cinema, 2003
Oil on canvas, 17 x 27 1/2 in.

Farm on the Downs, 2004
Acrylic on canvas, 11 4/5 x 15 3/4 in.

Flowers in the Window, 2002
Oil and mixed media on canvas, 18 1/2 x 22 7/16 in.

Penarth Pier, 2003–04
Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 16 3/4 in.

James Sheehan

At the Lek, 1999
Oil on mirrored paper, 2 11/16 x 2 7/8 in.

Fuck You, 1999
Oil on wood, 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 in.

United States of America, 1998
Oil on wood, 2 11/16 x 2 7/8 in.

Rezi van Lankveld

Mirror, 2003
Oil on board, 19 11/16 x 19 11/16 in.

Pile, 2003
Oil on board, 13 11/16 x 23 in.

CURATORS BIOGRAPHIES

Andreas Fischer HeadshotAndreas Fischer lives and works in Chicago. His numerous projects include exhibitions at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Mattress Factory Museum, Pittsburgh; Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago; Gahlberg Gallery, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, Illinois; Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, Illinois; Hudson Franklin Gallery, New York; Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago, Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Chicago, among others. He is currently Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing at Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois. Fischer holds a BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago as well as an MFA and MA from University of Illinois at Chicago.

Place Holder Image Square 225x225William Staples is a painter, living and working in Chicago. His solo exhibitions include shows at 65GRAND, Chicago; 12×12 Series at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; TBA Exhibition Space, Chicago; and Galerie Alias, Paris. His work has also recently been included in group exhibitions at Fountain Studios, Brooklyn; Hoffman Lachance Contemporary, St. Louis; and Alogon Gallery, Chicago. In 2005, he co-founded BAT: A Quarterly Art Journal with Elijah Burger, Keri Butler and Julia Marsh. Staples received a BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from University of Illinois at Chicago.

EXHIBITION SUPPORT

Interested Painting is supported by the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago, and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

PRINT COLLATERAL

Postcard: Interested Painting – Reception

PRESS RELEASE

Curated by Andreas Fischer and William Staples
Interested Painting

Gallery 400
Chicago, IL
February 8–March 19, 2005

Opening Reception: Wednesday, February 9, 2005, 5–8 pm

Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago is pleased to present the exhibition Interested Painting from February 8 to March 19, 2005. The exhibition is curated by Chicago painters Andreas Fischer and William Staples who have organized the show around a renewed interest in subjectivity or the painter ’s individual approach. The exhibition proposes that many painters today deny shared systems or invent means for classifying their work. The mix of internationally known and emerging artists in the show includes Gillian Carnegie (UK), Maureen Cavanaugh (NY), Nigel Cooke (UK), Holly Coulis (NY), Verne Dawson (NY/PA), Duncan Hannah (NY), Merlin James (UK), James Sheehan (NY) and Rezi van Lankveld (the Netherlands). Most of the work is representational, including works in the figurative, landscape, and still life genres.

The exhibition will open with a reception on Wednesday, February 9 from 5–8 pm. Events during the run of the show will include a curators ’ gallery talk, an artists ’ lecture, and a roundtable discussion among the curators and other Chicago painters (details below). Regular gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday 10–5 and Saturday 12–5. Please call 312-996-6114 for more information. The gallery and its events are free and open to the public.

ABOUT THE SHOW

Artist-curators Fischer and Staples see ‘interest ’ (which in traditional aesthetics we know philosopher Immanuel Kant considered would and does undermine beauty, ideals, and truth) as a productive force because of its subjectivity. They believe that what seems most irrelevant to the proposed exhibition painters is the idea that there has to be a shared structure, either an existing or new one. These artists seem to be accepting the notion, as evidence from previous generations, that shared structures fail at universality. So, why not just go with individual motives?

As they put it:

The real question is one of meaning: what it is and where to find it. This question develops into a highly subjective stand in painting. The goals are not to establish an order, but to insist that no universal painting models apply. To explain through theoretically charged language or historical precedent becomes nothing more than a fancy apology for making paintings. This show demonstrates a strong belief that there is no reason to apologize for painting. The reasons for painting do not have to be clear.

Of course these ideas are not so new but they seem to persist. What makes putting on a show of this type worthwhile is the specific work here in its idiosyncrasy, in its unapologetic nature, and in the way it carries subjectivity forward. The clarity is in the paint.

ABOUT THE CURATORS

Andreas Fischer is a painter who has lived in Chicago since 1994. He holds a BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA and MA from University of Illinois at Chicago. He has shown internationally and has been featured in exhibitions in Chicago at Zolla-Lieberman Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art (a 12×12 exhibition in 2003), Gahlberg Gallery, College of DuPage, and Hyde Park Art Center. He currently teaches at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL.

William Staples is a painter who has lived in Chicago since 1985. He holds a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. His work has been shown locally at the Contemporary Art Workshop, Suitable Gallery, and Bodybuilder and Sportsman. Last year, he had a solo exhibition at TBA Exhibition Space. This year, he will be featured in the Museum of Contemporary Art ’s 12×12 series with an exhibition in May.

EVENTS

Opening Reception: Wednesday, February 9, 2005, 5–8 pm

Gallery talk with curators William Staples and Andreas Fischer: Monday, February 21, 2005, 6 pm

Artist ’s Lecture with Holly Coulis: Tuesday, March 1, 2005, 5 pm

Roundtable discussion with the curators and other Chicago painters: Wednesday, March 9, 2005, 6 pm