Margie Livingston | Statement

Artist's statement about exhibition POURED, SLICED, AND DRAPED

POURED, SLICED, AND DRAPED Over the past eighteen months, my normal routines were turned upside down while my father and then my mother declined and died. Although my recent work is not specifically "about" them, or my sense of loss, certain pieces do evoke memories of my parents and, as such, offer a kind of consolation.

As one example, one of my conscious aims for Rough-Cut Paneling, Dark was to have the piece reach back in art-historical time to Frank Stella's stripe paintings, but I see now that it reaches back in personal time as well, to the knotty-pine walls in the playroom of my childhood home. And there's the fact that it uses purple, my mom's favorite color and now a source of comfort to me. This piece has actually become one of my all-time favorites, not only because it evokes my parents but also because it turned out to be a real surprise—it has much more presence than I expected for a work made from trimmings left behind when planks were milled from a paint log. And that's another way my mom and dad come up in my work: to compare their lifelong frugality and practicality with the routine extravagance of my pouring out ten to twenty gallons of paint at a time is to wonder whether their sensed disapproval is what drives me to honor their waste-not, want-not ways by recycling leftover bits and pieces and reusing parts of earlier works to create new ones. That's what happened when some panels of acrylic "waferboard" came back to my studio from a site-specific installation. By the time I saw them again, they looked to me like raw material, and so they became the grounds for such new paintings as Waferboard with Blurred Pour and Waferboard with White Pour and Yellow Spray.

Another preoccupation reflected in my recent work has to do with what might be called a guilty pleasure—that is, the pleasure of letting multicolored paint skins, for some years my work's raw material, make their way onto the wall as works in their own right. The guilt of this pleasure arises from the fact that this is not the trajectory of just any paint skin but only of those skins that I now judge as too luscious and gorgeous to be rolled into paint logs. A case in point is the skin that has become Hidden/Exposed. The title points to my ambivalence about making beautiful work in the face of Modernist and subsequent related orthodoxy, which disavows the experience of beauty as subjective (that is, not "universal") and thus as a social construct, ultimately political in nature. And so, to the extent that influential viewers are imbued with a Modernist mind-set and see themselves as conservators of the Modernist agenda, we find ourselves in an era when contemporary artists whose work makes purposeful use of beauty must run the (ironically political) risk of having their work dismissed as minor or decorative. Be that as it may, one of my current projects—research into notions of beauty, and into the theory and history of those notions—has led me to conclude, for the moment, that beauty exists in the gap where the individual meets society, and that this gap, however small, still affords room for critique, play, and subversion. My investigation into beauty continues as a process, one aspect of a struggle to flourish.

That struggle is the source of the Draped Paintings series. I stumbled across the idea of making draped paintings when I tied some scraps of dried paint into a big loopy knot and hung them on the wall of my studio. The white paint of the skins used in the Draped Paintings is a reference to the canvas on which paintings traditionally have been made. It also recalls drapery—an element of painting for centuries, and a classic subject in drawing classes. For me, in addition, the suggestion of drapery brings to mind all the (white) female bodies in art history, bodies in the process of being covered or being revealed. Once on the wall, a paint skin will stretch and sag in response to gravity, just as the skin of our human bodies does. Thus the Draped Paintings also enact a narrative subtext about the body, about its putative beauty and its indisputable vulnerability to decline and death.

As for the Pulls, the first one came about by accident. I had just poured the skin for one of my acrylic wood blocks when a sheet of paper fluttered down onto the paint. I pulled the sheet off the wet acrylic, turned it over, and immediately understood that I had stumbled upon a new way of working.

May 2014
—Margie Livingston