Kristy Luck in conversation with curator Victor Gorgulho

Mendes Wood DM

VG: When I first saw your paintings – at first through images and then in person, at your Mendes Wood DM São Paulo show which is currently on view – I was completely amazed, I would even say mesmerized. Primarily, I think I was taken aback by how you use color in such an intriguing way.


KL: I haven’t talked to anyone about the show since I was there for the opening. You asked me about the color: I do want my paintings to be slow. I make all my paintings at the same time, it’s like five to ten paintings at once, and then as the group evolves I determine what each of them will be, how will I finish them. The palette is also informed by the group. In terms of colors, I am very interested in creating subtle color vibrations, a relationship that moves the eye around in the painting.


I have an MFA in painting, I feel I taught myself to paint because the majority of my material investigation happened outside of a classroom, doing my own research and trial and error. During college, I worked in hardwood stores, mixing paintings for homes, and it’s a very different system. In terms of observational color or academic color, I don’t rely on that. 


I do operate on an informed level but it’s a different kind of information that is taught in an art class. In college when I worked jobs mixing paint I would mix colors based on set recipe formulations and after years of doing that I could see a color swatch and guess the ingredients from memory. So, I learned what things are made of… It’s as if I learned a particular formula of my own.


VG: Sometimes you can’t even define the colors, there are many subtle transitions between them, resulting in dreamy-like abstract compositions and intricate forms that mysteriously inhabit the paintings. What is the starting point of your process while painting in the studio?


KL: I make it up as I go. I start with a few elements to react to, and create a value system of darks and lights to establish a spatial relationship. I spend a lot of time just looking at the paintings trying to understand what sort of associations are overt and then how to subtly undermine or undo that. I think that is why they are slow. The association could be with the form, the color, or something else, all at once.


My paintings are very simple in an early stage but there is a process of decision-making, like, for example, this looks like a waterfall, this looks like a flower or this is a landscape space. I’ll hold that read and then change it in a way that undermines it... And I keep going with that logic. And that decision-making system often is meant to work against your initial reflex of identification. And you kind of stay suspended in that trying to know, it’s like a private knowledge that can’t be drawn out – that you don’t really know in a pragmatic way. Maybe it's something of experience or intimacy. I want to prioritize a sense of touch and for unknowability or misunderstanding to feel active.


VG: It’s a secular discussion in painting the separation of concepts like figurative or abstract. I think this is such a saturated dichotomy, do you agree? I would say the most interesting paintings are intersections between both. How do these two spheres co-exist in your work and when do you decide a painting is done?


KL: I would say it takes several months but my decision-making process can be quite quick in the beginning. In all my paintings there is a period of pausing and stopping what I am doing because I need the image to stay with me for a while, to see what has nuance potential, what is overt and where to put more emphasis so that they can be accessed at different paces. A lot of them have different levels of ambiguity. I also have moments that I want them to be explicitly nameable.

KL: In previous shows, I had a kind of figure that is undeniably nameable, that you could say: “this is a figure”. But the way I approached that figure the ambiguity was located elsewhere. It’s rendered to evoke something suggesting possibly a symbol, but not, because it is painted in a way that has life, it was painted in a way that suggests it is animate. It’s recurring, but it may or may not be the same figure, the same person.


The questions around the figure were: is that a person, is it a symbol, is it giving birth, is it defecating, is it dancing...? So, the questions are intentional, because they deal with a sense of transformation and origin, your own too, how you answer it.


A friend of mine visited my studio and brought up a point that resonated with me: in negative theology, they say that a creator is not determined by what it is. God is determined by what it is not, by negative statements. But also we live in a practical world too, and you must name things.


VG: You have a very mature visual vocabulary. When did you start painting? Was it in college? And how did your work evolve? Was the nature of your production quite different in the beginning of your practice?


KL: When I was a student, I was always working a full-time job so I was balancing a lot. Back then I made reduced color installations, and I had a period where I worked mostly in black and white because I didn’t know how to use color. But I wasn’t very deep in anything. Right before I moved to Los Angeles, I had an injury that stopped me from doing installations, and I started doing small paintings and drawings at home. I taught myself how to use oil paint again and I didn’t ask for much feedback from anyone. I had been so immersed in tons of conversations between teacher and student when I was in Chicago… I realized that being by myself really helped me. VG: What are some of your references?


KL: I’ve always loved Forrest Bess because I love small painting. In more contemporary art I love Charlene Von Heyl and Thomas Nozkowski. I also read a lot of non-fiction and prose poetry. I think a lot about how someone might apply language to my work. Poetry is important to the way I’ve been contemplating painting lately. Like I read an essay about the use of meter and how its origin was to aid in memorization. So then form is not ornamental, it is functional. And what makes something poetry then is not its form, it’s a relationship to time. It’s an attempt to be instantaneous.This relates to how I think about painting and abstraction. I consider pace and spaciousness a lot. The gaps and everything that is not there and how the viewer will enter the work at different paces - physical or emotional. At first glance, up close, across the room, online, or day after day living with it will be different. We ourselves are different each time too, but I am curious what happens when those subtleties are foregrounded. When the small thing is the big thing.


VG: The artistic process is a very solitary thing and I wonder how this translate to your works. There is a spiritual feeling in your paintings. Do you paint in order of transfer or release your emotional state?


KL: To some degree I would say yes. Some of that is built into it because I am choosing to spend my time and life this way. People bring up the word spiritual in my studio all the time, but it is not a word that I use. The reason I started painting and drawing initially is because it is something I could always do by myself regardless of equipment or technology or needing too much money. So I could do it regardless of changing circumstances. When I was a kid, I had a period of wanting to be a photographer. But it wasn’t realistic because I could never afford the devices and technology.


VG: In your own life, do you try to avoid as much as you can this frenzy flow that we live nowadays? 


KL: I prioritize contemplating time, completely alone. Before I go to the studio, I take a long walk. Although painting is also some “alone time”, I try to have this outside of painting too. You can’t escape subjectivity.

August 4, 2022
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