December 12, 2009

"I’m not an original thinker, but I think I’m an original painter."


Sylvia Plimack Mangold, "Summer Maple," 2008, drypoint and aquatint on paper, 16 3/4 x 21 in

Sylvia Plimack Mangold, "Maple Tree Detail 2008," 2008, oil on linen, 24.25 x 30.25." Photo by Jason Mandella.

On the day before her exhibition "Natural Sympathies: Sylvia Plimack Mangold and Lovis Corinth Works on Paper" opened at Alexander and Bonin, Brooklyn Rail Art Editor John Yau sat down with the artist at the gallery to discuss her recent work. Here's an excerpt.

Rail: But you somehow found this way and it wasn’t reactionary. Your work absorbed, but didn’t become like what else was going on. In your work you are clearly aware of conceptual art, minimalism. In the ruler paintings and works on paper I felt that you were commenting on conceptual art—that you were saying that conceptual art can be turned into painting.

Mangold: It was also conceptual in a sense that I would say about relationships. I was involved especially then in relationships, and truth, and how you experience something and how you can experience the same thing any number of ways. In the end, the kind of decisions that I made that I liked, that were most personal, were color decisions like the metallic quality of the exact ruler on this vinyl material, so that the palette is more of a decisive part of the work than what seems to be conceptual.

Rail: It gave you a way to think in painting terms. And that’s always been foremost in everything you’ve done—how can you think of this in painting terms.

Mangold: Yes, I think in terms of painting. I’m not an original thinker, but I think I’m an original painter. The painting language comes naturally to me, I understand and think through this form. And it is where I feel the most freedom.

Rail: I guess because I’m trying to get at something here—people seem to think that you have to be an original thinker, which is often predefined, but they are unable to acknowledge, much less pay attention, to the fact that you can be an original painter.

Mangold: But you can.

Rail: It seems to me that that way of thinking about painting is neglected or overlooked.

Mangold: That’s because we live in this media time where artists are expected to write articles and talk about their work, sell their work, and promote their work. The thing is painting is a language but it never really ever translates. I love the world of verbal language, but it’s not what I do....

Mangold: But I have to say this. I’m a painter, you know, I’m not a poet. I’m not a writer. So you’re coming at it how you see these paintings, but when I did the floors, I wanted to learn about perspective because I did not know how to draw things in diminishing space—three-dimensional space. So I would set up this grid that was like the floor of my bedroom or living room and I would learn about how to place things in space. When I had my first show of floors and mirrors, I remember Mel Bochner came in and he was saying all the things I was doing with these mirrors, about illusion, and I didn’t know I was doing all those things. So then I went back and thought about what he and other people said and wrote and it started to open up another way of thinking about my work.

Rail: I also feel like in your paintings that you feel your way through the paintings....

Mangold: Don’t you think all really interesting painting has a conceptual element to it?

Rail: Absolutely. I think it just gets left out of the discussion about painting. Like somehow you can’t be conceptual and observational at the same time.

Mangold: I think conceptual doesn’t just mean that it’s minimal. Conceptual could mean having layers to what is obvious. It is like the machinery that you don’t always see but gives the work endurance so the viewer’s attention is held. It could be a memory or a relationship or a system, whatever it may be it needs to be intrinsic, not applied.

Mangold: I do. I feel my way through my life [laughs].

Read the entire interview here.

"Natural Sympathies:  Sylvia Plimack Mangold and Lovis Corinth Works on Paper," Alexander and Bonin, New York, NY. Through  January 16, 2010

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