(January 10, 2012) Reminiscent of Arshile Gorky and Paul Klee, Jaqueline Cedar is reinvigorating figurative abstraction. Though still early in her career, she is ambitiously taking on large-scale paintings with undeniable and impressively informed abandon. Jacqueline has been featured in New American Paintings, and has participated in exhibitions on the East and West coasts. Jaqueline works out of Brooklyn, New York.
COMPANY: How would you define your work to someone who has never seen it?
Jaqueline: I make paintings of life-size people interacting amidst abstract fields of shape and color. The people in the paintings engage with each other both physically and psychologically, and their gestures and positions are echoed and amplified by their surrounding environments. Figures emerge from and recede into the spaces depicted. Some parts of the paintings cover preliminary layers of paint with solid areas of color, while other sections allow initial marks to remain visible. I use line, color, and shape to direct motion throughout the image.
COMPANY: What are you into right now? Any exhibitions or artists in particular?
Jaqueline: One exhibition that really stuck with me recently was Anke Weyer’s last show at Canada gallery. The way she constructs composition and layers paint feels totally effortless. I also have a soft spot for 60’s Hockney and Neal Jenney’s “The Bad Years.”
COMPANY: You are a teacher as well, does teaching painting make you look at your own work differently?
Jaqueline: Right now I’m teaching primarily at the Guggenheim and the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Teaching, like making art, necessitates an incredibly reflective practice. I find myself thinking daily about the physical and psychological ingenuity required to make art.
COMPANY: What do you hope collectors understand about your work?
Jaqueline: Scale is an important part of the work that is challenging to translate in reproduction. The majority of my paintings are set up to allow for the viewer to feel as if he might enter the work and engage physically in the space or environment depicted.
COMPANY: So scale is something you are very concerned with. What are your thoughts on life-size versus smaller paintings?
Jaqueline: There is a physical encounter that takes place when you approach a painting that is life-size or larger. As an engaged viewer you’re not able to see the parts and the whole simultaneously and you’re forced into a dance between various points of view. I personally love this part of looking at large-scale paintings – this attempt to piece together each point of reference and still walk away from the work having experienced one total image. Smaller paintings present a more intimate or unified physical experience. They don’t demand that you enter from multiple points of view – instead just that you spend time within that space, on top of that surface, around those edges, looking closely.
COMPANY: What is the first thing you do when starting a new painting?
Jaqueline: When I’m between projects I generally spend about a month not thinking directly about painting. I read. I watch films obsessively. I pay attention to conversations I hear on the street. Usually by the time I return to the studio I have a pretty clear sense of what I’d like to make. I never know what that looks like before I enter the space and spend some time staring at a blank canvas. But once I have an image in mind, I generally start with the figures and build an environment around them. Their physical relationship is what drives the structure of the painting. I don’t usually make sketches. I work out those compositional questions on the canvas as the work gets going.
COMPANY: Why are you drawn to paint over other mediums?
Jaqueline: It’s the most romantic and the process is totally satisfying. It’s also one of the mediums I find most challenging to work with, so it poses problems and questions that consistently force me to reevaluate the way I use it. To me the process of finding new ways to enter the medium and solve a problem is the most engaging part of making work.
COMPANY: You used to work pretty equally in photography as well, what are the similarities/differences between photography and painting?
Jaqueline: I think at this point they can both be used quite similarly actually. Neither painting nor photography is any longer held to its respective responsibility in art and culture. Each practice has shed itself of the need to work in a medium-specific way, so there’s a great deal of freedom surrounding what each can accomplish.
I think if I were to re-enter photography at this point, I would approach it with a totally different framework, possibly weighing more concentration on the act of constructing psychological content with light and material, as opposed to arranging figures in space.
COMPANY: Three essential studio items?
Jaqueline: Books first - I’ve got a great Balthus catalogue that I often return to in thinking about scale and posture. Reference material second – I use a mirror every once in a while to figure out a pose. And the third would probably be lighting - big windows are key for daylight; otherwise the fluorescents can really get to you!
COMPANY: What are you working on now?
Jaqueline: Right now I’m in the process of finishing three large paintings, each about six by six feet, that deal more with line than shape or color. I’ve been thinking a lot about allowing the process of repetitive layering of multiple lines to become a more integral portion of the structure of the work.
A.M. Richard Fine Art • 328 Berry Street, 3rd floor • Brooklyn, NY 11211
(917) 570-1476 • email@example.com • www.amrichardfineart.com
AM: Jaqueline Cedar is a painter and photographer. She is showing new paintings at the A.M. Richard Fine Art gallery (May 7th-June 13th, 2010).
The exhibition comprises three large scale oil on canvas paintings with the evocative titles of; Under a Black Star, See the Setting Sun and Hand on Shoulder, Hand on Head. Can you explain the chosen titles of your work?
JC: The first two are Paul Klee titles. I like that he uses literal language to title abstract compositions. I’ve been thinking a lot about his work this year so when I finished a group of paintings I went through a book of his watercolors and picked the titles of works I felt were connected to each painting via composition or palette. So while the works aren’t based on the content of Klee’s paintings, I wanted the titles to link my work to his language.
The third title, Hand on Shoulder, Hand on Head, describes the action of the person in the middle of the painting. I was thinking about the Bruce Nauman sculpture, From Hand to Mouth.
AM: In reading your paintings, I see a lot of early twentieth-century art historical assimilation. You seem to refer to Futurist and Cubist precepts in your fragmented compositions. I detect Fauvism in your color palette and a nod to surrealism in the usage of floating figures with balloon or bird-like heads. Can you comment on your primary sources of inspiration?
JC: I tend to think more about Orphism than Futurism or Cubism, but certainly the aesthetic is similar in terms of the breakdown of figurative elements. I am less interested in using this approach to represent motion or time, and more concerned with using basic formal cues – color, composition, perspective – to create an image where there are few places for the eye to rest.
AM: How does your background in photography affect the choices in your paintings? Is photography the point of departure? Does photography influence your sense of light?
JC: I think about each medium fairly separately. In making paintings, though, I am conscious of setting a frame for the image. I avoid cropping people, limbs, and objects because I find this action too often suggests the presence of a photographic source that at this point in my practice does not exist. When I paint from photographs I use multiple images (both found and constructed) of a person or place. I leave the images around the studio and pull information as needed, to be collaged and altered within the painting. Rarely does my relationship between photography and painting involve transferring one image to another directly. Even within painting I prefer to work from text (something I’ve read or written) to image.
AM: Your early works, Magic Show, Petting Zoo, Mountain, Funeral, Trust Walk (all executed in 2008) are mostly set outdoors or with open views of the landscape surrounds. These paintings also share a sense of action and domestic familiarity. The activities portrayed involve a group of peers or a family. The figures are busy playing, building or watching an act, ritual or performance. Are those vignettes based on your experience, imaginary or an amalgamation of keen observations?
JC: With those works in particular, I was shifting lines of sight in order to agitate mundane domestic group activity. I was thinking about Bonnard and Balthus and the way each painter uses light and the structure of a room or landscape to heighten tension within a scene that might ordinarily seem dull or vast. I wanted to set up scenarios that at once held the possibility of boredom and magic.
AM: In your more recent works, the figures seem detached from reality. Their physiognomy and living space has changed. The home is gone. We are no longer peering into a slice of common reality but rather inhabiting a dream or perhaps a nightmare. What happened?
JC: I’ve started to get more involved in the way color and composition can create movement and sensation in the work. The arrangement of people remains mannered because they are posed and fixed within a less literal ground. In the absence of domestic cues the figures become increasingly static and the abstract fields drive the direction of the image.
AM: Can you tell us about your usage of color. Do you mix your own?
JC: I have a difficult time limiting my palette so that’s the first thing I do when I start a painting. I pick two or three colors that I know I want to work with and try to stay within that set for as long as possible. When I get stuck I start to expand the range, and by the end of a painting I’ve generally used every color in my studio at least once.
AM: Do you do preparatory drawings? If so, do you draw from nature?
JC: Every once in a while I’ll make a small drawing on a receipt or envelope. Usually though, I think about a few options over the course of a week or a month, stare at a large blank canvas for about two hours, and then begin sketching right onto the painting. Changes occur over the course of time it takes to finish the work.
AM: What are you working on now? And in what direction will you next take your work?
JC: Currently I’m making a group of small paintings, which is something I haven’t done in a long time. Working at this scale (around 9x12 inches) involves thinking through a completely different set of problems – especially when making paintings of people. It’s always been important to me that a viewer is able to relate to each painting at a nearly one to one scale (body to body) so in making these smaller paintings I had to set aside that rubric and start developing new rules. Thinking about how to construct these smaller, more casual works is changing the way I approach the larger paintings. I’m thinking about ways to use shape and color to create depth within what has become a more flattened structure.
Emily Waldorf interviewed Los Angeles-raised, Brooklyn-based artist Jaqueline Cedar, whose vibrant new paintings are currently being shown at the Tracy Park Gallery‘s new location at the Malibu Country Mart.
Tell us about your current show at Tracy Park Gallery. Is there a dialogue between your work and Daniel Stern’s work or does your work tell a different story?
I met Tracy about three years ago while I was finishing my undergraduate degree at UCLA. At the time her gallery was located in Santa Monica and I wasn’t ready to do a show. When I finished graduate school at Columbia last May, Tracy and I began discussing a two-person exhibition. She wanted to pair Daniel and I firstly I think because we both depict people in our work. Further, though, we are both interested in representing truncated movement. Viewers of the work are rarely provided a resolution within the paintings/sculptures. For Daniel, figures are caught literally mid-air, balancing on one hand, leaning forward on tip-toes. In my paintings, individual action is suspended as figures participate in a shared experience that is never fully resolved.
How did you get started as an artist? When did you first start having creative impulses and how did you harness them?
I've always enjoyed looking at art but it was around high school when I began to focus a good portion of my time on making artwork (mostly paintings and photographs) and studying with other artists. During my first two years at UCLA I began to get serious about my interest in photography. I spent most of my spare time teaching myself to use a large format camera and strobe lighting. I was studying with some incredible artists - Catherine Opie, James Welling, Lari Pittman - to name a few. However, when I decided to apply to graduate school I felt strongly that I would benefit from further education in painting. The photographic process had always come more naturally and I wanted to push myself further in painting.
Color seems to be very central in your work. Do you find inspiration from the Expressionists and Fauves? How do you view your work in relation to the larger scheme of art history? Do you feel comfortable naming a few favorite artists whose work you admire right now?
I take great pleasure in using color to direct visual experience. My influences range from Balthus to Paul Klee. I look at a lot of work all the time. I consider it part of my job as a visual thinker and maker. I also find much inspiration in literature and film. I'm a big fan of absurdist theater (Beckett, Ionesco, Albee) and existentialist writing (Sartre, and although I've heard he doesn't place himself in that camp, Camus). I also look to film often for ideas about structure and pacing.
Images of people also seem important in your work. Is this intentional?
For as long as I've made paintings, I've made images of people. I'm fascinated by the way we interact with each other within a confined setting - how individual thoughts/feelings mix with a shared physical experience. Placing people together in these types of group scenarios has been one of the driving forces of the work. It continues to serve as a starting point and place for making meaning.
Please tell us the story behind Trust Walk, 2008.
Trust Walk is based on a type of group activity that is often used to create a sense of communal relations amongst those involved. Participants are asked to close their eyes and lead each other around via strictly physical contact. It requires trust and also implies the possibility of facilitating some sort of transcendent experience within a group. I was thinking about ways in which people will themselves toward belief in a type of group experience, ritual, or controlled behavior. So this image manifested a literal translation of that type of movement or activity.
Does your approach to painting differ from your approach to photography?
Yes and no. Both are organic in that I allow for much of the content to shift and develop as I work. I rarely say I'm going to make a painting of this scene and then meticulously spend the next month slaving over a direct transfer of that image. I enjoy the way work evolves over time as I make it. In both painting and photography I start with something more abstract - a feeling, a set of colors, a time of day, and the image comes out of these initial impulses. For example, I might decide that I want to make an image with three people in one type of room, or a dimly lit forest. The structure is there, however the way in which I approach applying paint, composing figures, lighting the room, changes as I make the work.
The same goes for photography, although in most cases I'm dealing with an even greater unknown as I'm working with living, breathing people. And I try to respond to that. I may have an idea going in to a shoot about how I'd like to place these people, the way in which I envision them relating to each other. However as I'm setting up I gain a lot of information about how to place them (all the photographs are posed). And I try to respond to the ways they are already moving and interacting, because this makes the photograph more believable. Some discomfort can be interesting, but regardless they are being asked to hold still so discomfort is a given.
What inspires you? Do you listen to music when you work in your studio or do you prefer quiet? Do you like to be alone or with other artists?
I tend to be very private when I work. I don't listen to music. I like background noise as long as it doesn't have a beat to it. I spend a lot of time making decisions before I put brush to canvas so I don't like for the beat of music to dictate the speed at which I approach the work.
What is it like living and working in Brooklyn in terms of the artist community?
I'm on a floor full of about 30 artists in a pretty industrial area. I do the opposite commute from Manhattan to Brooklyn and I love it. Most days it’s very quiet and I get a lot done. I tend to work in the mornings so there aren't a lot of other artists around but it’s nice to be able to stay in my own headspace for long periods of time. I have a lot of friends from school and now from living in New York for the past three years so we spend time going to museums and galleries. That's where I really get the most out of looking at and talking about work.
JAQUELINE CEDAR & DANIEL STERN: PAINTING & SCULPTURE is on view through April 10, 2010 at the Tracy Park Gallery, 3835 Cross Creek Road, Malibu, CA 90265-5909, (310) 456-7505, Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10-6pm, Friday-Saturday 10-10pm