STUDIO VISIT MARY ANNE ARNTZEN
Baltimore, MD. September 2018
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I grew up in Riverside, CA, which is about an hour outside of LA.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN YOUR CURRENT STUDIO?
I came to Baltimore for grad school and I’ve been in my studio for almost eight years. I moved in right after grad school, and I chose this one because of the windows. I’ve been in it a long time.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ABOUT, ON A SIMPLE LEVEL?
The things that I think about the most in my work, or what I’m most interested in, are color and just the idea of things on top and things underneath. Looking out a window, or looking through something, or looking at a solid, and how one form can act in all of those ways–trying to make the space confusing. And then it’s also about relationships between the shapes, like how one is wrapping around the other, or on top of the other, or moving through the other.
WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF YOUR WORK VS WHAT MIGHT A VIEWER GET OUT OF IT?
For me, it’s kind of like a puzzle or problem solving. I start out with a couple forms in mind, or a pattern, and then it morphs into another shape that’s usually like how the dominant form meets the side of the canvas. I think about how shapes meet the edges a lot when I start a piece. And then it’s kind of a puzzle to find out what the particular problem of the painting is. Once I’ve figured out what the problem is, then I can solve the problem and that’s the fun and the challenge. For the viewer, hopefully something of that problem is present when they’re looking at it. I think that probably bright colors is the initial thing they might see, but then if they spend more time with it some of the issues that I’m thinking of, or some of the spatial ambiguity starts to become more clear. When you notice the first thing that’s ambiguous then that kind of becomes an unraveling sweater of all the things that are ambiguous in it.
HOW DO YOU WORK THROUGH TOUGH TIMES IN YOUR STUDIO? WHETHER YOU’RE STUCK ON A PAINTING, LACK OF TIME, OR JUST DOUBTING EVERYTHING?
There’s a couple different ways that I could answer that. For example, four years ago I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and for a while before we knew what the problem was, it was hard to move my body, which is how I started working with some of the smaller pieces. So that was a problem for me, and I had to figure out how to keep working and still have scale and presence in my work. I thought maybe they could all go together to form a big piece, but I got bored with the idea of composite parts together so that never happened. But that did kind of lead into working small, or with different types of scales.
When there is a problem in a painting , I work on panel with canvas stretched over it so that I can just scrape it down or sand it down. So sometimes I just live with them for a while and hate them until I sand them. So maybe destroying the problem is the solution to the problem.
I try to work on multiple pieces at once, but I don’t work on them at the same level. For example, I’ll have one that I’m super actively engaged with and then a couple that are more at the beginning stages, but I tend to not be able to have the same amount of focus on many pieces at the same time–especially when I’m working more outside of my studio. It’s really hard to work super focused on more than one at once when I have fewer hours or more days in between studio days. It kind of feels like you’re a stranger when you come back to the painting. I also sometimes work with the same form in multiple paintings. It’s like natural selection and I choose the ones that work.
I found one thing that’s really helped me is knowing I have cycles, so having periods where I can focus a lot of days in a row on a piece can be propulsion for when I don’t have a lot of time to devote to the studio. Also just being okay with knowing it flows that way, otherwise I’ll just get really stressed out about it and feel guilty, and that’s not helpful. What’s also helpful is that I live across the street from my studio. Sometimes if I know I’m not going to be able to be super productive, I can just pop in while I’m walking my dog just to look at something. And that kind of keeps the work in my mind.
I’m trying to build a schedule where I have a couple days off in a row. It usually takes a couple days, big chunks of time, when working on something to feel like I’m making progress and I’m engaged with it. When I have less time, I’ll finish a pattern just to get one thing done rather than dealing with the whole thing. It’s good to have those tedious things because then I can’t help but unconsciously solve problems while I do those things.
When I’m really engaged in the studio, I’ll take a picture at the end of the day and then look at it before I go to sleep. I feel that helps me figure out what I’m going to do the next day when I look at it again fresh. Drawings feed into my bigger paintings, but it usually doesn’t work out to just do a drawing and then that’s the painting. More often I’ll do a drawing in the middle of the painting to try out a solution to the painting–so that’s another problem-solving aspect.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT SCALE A PAINTING SHOULD BE?
There’s a different language with the smaller ones than the larger ones. The smaller ones are more concise–they’re one or two ideas. The little ones are nice because I do like to work on them in a focused way for a while, maybe one to three sittings and the bigger ones are a couple of weeks of focus.The larger ones become more complicated with the amount of space and the amount of layers. I sometimes try to turn a small one into large one and that doesn’t really work. If I’ve been missing making a large one, then that’s when I’ll make a large one. I sometimes try to have the same concise sensibility in the large ones as the small ones but I always just end up filling the large ones with everything.
HOW DO YOU APPROACH COLOR IN YOUR WORK?
Color is mostly intuitive. I have color aid papers that I use to make little shapes of something that’s going to go in the painting, so I can look at it in front of the painting to figure out if a color works. I don’t usually plan my colors at the starting point.
When I first started teaching color theory I was very aware and self conscious of if I was doing a painting in a particular color scheme. I don’t really have a plan when I approach color, it’s more half way through I will try to figure out how the color behaves. Color is my favorite thing when I’m painting, so I kind of wish I could talk about it better. Ideas for colors seep in unconsciously. Even the red I use a lot is the same red as the pipes in my studio, which I didn’t even notice until someone pointed it out to me.
YOUR PAINTINGS ARE ABSTRACT, BUT I FEEL A GREAT SENSITIVITY TO SPACE. HOW DO YOU THINK ABOUT SPACE AND DEPTH WHEN COMPOSING A PAINTING – HOW MUCH PLANNING IS THERE VS INTUITION?
I really like the idea that the shapes feel like objects even if they’re not things you can name. They behave according to how light and shadow behaves in the world. Or there’s kind of an interplay between the shapes that makes it feel physical. A little bit of spatial ambiguity is something I’m really interested in in the painting; this simple relationship of is this thing on top of that thing, or this thing is framing that or how it can be on top in one place and in the back somewhere else. I try to achieve these spatial goals through thinking about how the objects behave according to light and shadow, and I like how a little mark can becomes a dimensional edge instead of a flatness that then changes the way the thing behind it is behaving. I really like the way some color appears physical and flat, but then the right color becomes atmosphere instead of flatness, or the way that you can paint something really thin and delicate but it can also feel very physical because it has an edge or a shadow on it. There isn’t a lot of planning in the beginning, it’s more intuitive, and then as the painting goes on I start thinking about how space is behaving in different parts of the painting and how can i complicate it.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ROUTINES OR RITUALS IN YOUR STUDIO PRACTICE?
If I have a full day I like to come in the morning, and sometimes I bring my breakfast and coffee so that I can be looking at stuff while I eat. Usually I walk my dog and then we come to my studio at the end of the walk, then work for a chunk of time. The I go home and make lunch. When I come back I usually do something different, I don’t come back to the same painting I was working on. Some of it feels like preparation to make sure I don’t distract myself. I listen to NPR if shows that I like are on. I also listen to a bunch of stupid podcasts like about aliens and stuff. One I listen to has two and a half hour episodes and I’ll listen to a bunch of those at a time. I will also play the entire playlist of a single artist so I don’t have to change it and interrupt myself. Just as long as there’s noise that I can pay attention to, but not too much attention. Sometimes, especially if I’ve been away from the studio for a while, I’ll write at the beginning, stream of conscious, which I got from that book, The Creativity Habit. So that kind of helps me, to be in the studio without engaging with anything right away. It starts to percolate things. If I come after work, which I don’t prefer (coming to the studio in the morning and spend my day there is preferred,) Or if I try to do administrative stuff first, I’ll dawdle on that and then get here late and my focus is off. It’s way better if I work first thing and not think about anything else and get my other obligations done after, not before. But if I have to come here after work, I’m usually really tired for a while and I think I’m not going to be productive at all and I’ll do something that kind of feels like I’m cleaning up, again, to be here without engaging right away. But eventually I make myself sit down and start working, and that’s usually when my flow kicks in. I don’t have like a system where I work on a drawing and then that’ll warm me up to work on a painting–I have to choose one thing that I’m doing. Right now I’m working more hours at my job, so I can’t really be as productive in the studio as I want . I’m trying to figure out how I can make myself more productive after work.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO OUTSIDE OF YOUR STUDIO PRACTICE, HOBBIES, ETC?
I really like to walk, I have a couple of friends who I’ll meet for dog walks, or I like to walk in the woods. I love to go to grocery stores, and to cook, but I think I’d like grocery stores even if I didn’t like cooking. Also I watch most of the Bachelor shows. I guess I should say I read for fun too, to balance that out.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SHOWS OR PROJECTS COMING UP THAT YOU’D LIKE TO PROMOTE?