It is my immense pleasure to post the interview of one of my favorite artists, Andrea Belag. I have been following Andrea’s work for a couple of years now; I love her exotic paintings full of vivid brush work, her amazing selection of colors and the light evident in her paintings. In this interview she answers my questions in great details sharing deep insight into the various aspects of her process. She also gives some important pointers which could be very helpful to young artists. With this post I’m also sharing three of her most recent paintings.
Andrea lives and works in New York. Besides painting and regularly exhibiting worldwide, she is also a lecturer at the School of Visual Arts, New York. You can see her paintings on her website.
Q. 1 DB: You have a very interesting color palette spanning across your paintings, and within each painting I see there is an engaging internal color play. Where do these colors arrive from?
A. AB. I prefer transparent colors and I try to vary the temperature and value of the colors within a painting. With transparent colors I can focus on the light in the painting, which is crucial for me. The pigments tend to be newer chemical pigments as opposed to classic colors. Perylene red, for instance, was developed for car manufacturers. I occasionally use an earth color but generally they are too opaque.
I can also get a range of temperatures with a single pigment by varying the density of the paint. I like the emotional punch of using a full value range in each painting. I first observed this in Van Gogh’s paintings and more recently in the paintings of the German Expressionists.
Early Film Noir films in color and Technicolor films have a high- pitched palette and I have taken many color ideas from these films.
Q. 2 DB: Do you define your work as gestural? How do you describe your painting process?
A. AB. No matter what I think, people describe my paintings as gestural so I may as well own it. What is important to me about using marks made from moving my arm is that it is a way of putting myself directly in the painting. My paintings have also been described as a performance, albeit, a very private performance. Most of the paintings are completed in one working session and they are painted in one layer wet into wet paint. Therefore, I need to concentrate fully. It is a rigorous way to work and I often fail and the painting gets destroyed. But I think as I destroy second and third best paintings it pushes me along to make more bold and revealing images.
I was just listening to a recorded interview with Agnes Martin and she claimed that she is not interested in ideas just inspiration. I think you need both. I often have to discard whatever initial image or idea I have and work through many tropes until I invent something new for that painting. If that happens I am satisfied and if not I reject the painting. It is a hard way to work and recently a colleague, Suzanne Joelson, described my paintings as dangerous. It is certainly a good metaphor for my painting process.
That said, I am also interested in using forms other than gestures in my paintings and I am investigating different modes of working. I will experiment with new ideas with works on paper this summer.
Q. 3 DB: Your drawings have a clear inclination towards paint that finally manifests in your paintings. Do you see drawing as a subset of a larger process of painting or does it stand separately?
A. AB. I teach drawing and I think it is an essential process. But in my work I try to develop drawing ideas that can be part of my oil paintings. These days I draw in a traditional drawing medium – watercolor- and it enables me to use a brush, which is a non-linear tool. I think of the decisions I make in each watercolor as drawing decisions: What is the size and scale the stroke? And how does it read as part of a spatial configuration?
Photography and the computers generate visual information which is used as “the new drawing” for many artists. Whenever I get stuck I look at something, usually a photograph or an older painting and I try to draw in new information. But I always use a liquid medium so I can involve a little chaos.
Q. 4 DB: I feel that your work has a very unique feel. What do you think makes them appear so unique?
A. AB. What I see that distinguishes my work from other painters is the light in my painting. My subject is light, more or less, and the way I paint with a liquid film of paint in one layer, wet into wet allows light to come through the hues.
I always felt it was important for a painter to find a singular way to use materials in order to make their work original. At least it is the beginning of originality.
Q. 5 DB: How do you classify your work? Do you call them abstracts or non-objectives? Also do you think ‘color field’ painting can be used to describe your work?
A. AB. I refer to myself as an abstract painter. It may not be an adequate term but the New York art world uses it and I follow suit. Non-objective sounds like an historical period. Non-representational may be better because it puts the emphasis back on the painting to be just what it is. It is very hard to look at a painting, however, and not see associations if not in a form then in a space. If I see something overt however I eliminate it while I am working and push towards something less familiar.
Color field painting didn’t evolve into a big moment in painting history. Probably because the audience for painting shies away from color and the drawing involved in the paintings did not sustain development.
I am teaching a class called the Abstract Image that includes a broad scope of approaches and I open the concept of abstraction to include whatever is necessary for a student to develop their work.
Q. 6 DB: Which artists inspired you in your journey?
A. AB. I grew up in New York and the major Museum collections here favor French painting. The first time I saw a Matisse at the Museum of Modern Art I was riveted and he will always be my most significant influence.
Travel is a big part of my life and it has brought me to many places to look at art close to where it was created. There is no substitute for this experience. As a student I traveled in Italy to see Cimabue, Giotto, and Piero Dela Francesca, which I needed to see. I realized after that trip that I needed to go see artwork several times a year in different locations.
In the 1990’s I began to show frequently in Germany and that engaged me in the work of the German Expressionists and the ambitious work of German contemporary painting.
German Expressionism and my love of cinema brought me right to Film Noir and that became the underlying subject of my work for several years.
At this point I am interested in the pluralism of contemporary art and I spend more time visiting contemporary galleries.
Q. 7 DB: When arguments like ‘painting is dead’ surface every now and then, usually ‘Abstraction’ receives the first blow of harsh criticism. Do you think that painting, and ‘abstract’ painting in particular is in danger?
A. AB. The audience for painting is smaller and the audience for abstraction is the smallest. Most people don’t know what they are looking at and it difficult to write about. However, the quality of abstract paintings right now is extraordinary: Amy Sillman, Donna Nelson, Mary Heilmann, Stephen Westfall, Albert Oehlen, Christopher Wool, Howard Hodgkin, Stanley Whitney, Katharina Grosse, Joanne Greenbaum, and Gerhard Richter, are some of the painters who are advancing painting and abstraction.
Will abstract painting continue? I think the physical conditions that are necessary for a painter to develop her/his work are becoming more and more difficult for young artists to attain. I think art forms that require less real estate and funding are more popular among young artists. It also takes many years to mature as a painter and artists have to find a way to take care of themselves through different economic conditions if they are to keep painting.
It is hard to devote your life to working on something that is about nothing but for me it is everything.
Q. 8 DB: Where do you think we are going? What would you like to advise young artists?
A. AB. I see the model of professionalism as the mode for artists and there is increasing emphasis on the use of technology. Artists are rebels so there may be a backlash against this and therefore it is hard to predict the future. These trends are affecting all fields so it is the contemporary paradigm.
My advice to young artists is to do what they are passionate about.
Q. 9 DB: Do you recommend any ‘must read’ books or any specific artists who should be studied as a part of the learning process in art?
A. AB. Read everything; a life of passion needs to be nurtured with information. I have always loved biographies because they include history and generally I spend more time reading non-fiction. I read art criticism but I don’t see great artwork coming out of theory.
This summer I will be reading Proust with a small reading group.
March 25, 2012