Saturday, August 12, 2000
Interview with Finel Honigman and Amy Cutler
Ana Finel Honigman: Do you have a full narrative in mind when you first conceive of your paintings' iconography?
Amy Cutler: No not really and there are always elements in them that I don’t fully understand fully myself. I'll pick up on odd references and inject them into the narrative without necessarily interpreting them first.
AFH: From where do you cull your references?
AC: Often things I read about in the news inspire me.
AFH: Your paintings are not very journalistic. Do you think the term magic realism could apply?
AC:That sounds about right. While I absorb references through the media there are always underlying personal meanings in my paintings. Often it will be a year or more before I feel like I fully understand why I selected certain images and painted them the way I did.
AFH: Are you ever unnerved by how your work illustrates your personal life?
AC: Well, the painting in the Whitney of the women with the fans under their skirts actually had some surprising symbolism for me. I was thinking that putting electrical appliances in my images was a departure from what I usually do but I didn’t feel it was really that remarkably different since I was not entirely abandoning the element of nostalgia. So, the women are still in the forest doing their laundry but all of a sudden they have an electrical fan to help them.
AFH: But where do they plug in the cords?
AC: That’s the surprise! At the time I could not understand why I had chosen this imagery but now I see that it relates to this particular time in my life when I am undergoing some intense personal transitions. So, the fans refer to a need to liberate oneself with, and I know this sounds corny, internal resources. As a woman, the lower half is conceptually so weighty that the fans offer the women the possibility of elevating themselves above that gravitas. It is really cheesy but because they have electrical fans and no source of external energy, I am realize that the source of their power is within themselves.
AFH: It does sound a little Oprah-like when you say it. Painting it is definitely much better.
AC: And it is important for it to be open-ended.
AFH: Are you skeptical of critical interpretation of your imagery?
AC: I usually find it very interesting. Sometimes I learn from critics’ interpretation.
AFH: Do you consider yourself as just one reader of your imagery and not the final authority?
AC: If a particular reading of my imagery is repeated by a lot of people than I often start to wonder whether I wasn't being as articulate as I had hoped or whether, perhaps, there were things in the image I just could not see for myself.
AFH: Do you think there a possible “correct” reading?
AC: Because my work is so illustrative, if something is misinterpreted too often then I just worry about the clarity. A couple of men reviewing the show kept talking about the painting Progeny as "women giving birth through their months." That was absolutely not my intention. I was looking at the image from a women’s perspective and thinking about friends of mine who are starting to have children and are losing their own identity because they are subsuming themselves entirely into the maternal role and the needs of the child. They start to wear cute little garments and direct all their attention towards their amazing little miracle. All they talk about are baby-related topics and a lot of women my age are deciding to give up their careers and lives as individuals.
AFH: Have you noticed that men tend to have different interpretations of your imagery than women?
AC: Yes, men and women typically do see my work very differently though there is always that sensitive guy who can really get it.
AFH: Do critics’ interpretations interest you more than those of an average viewer?
AC: It all interests me. I get a lot of one-on-one criticism including from people who want to tell me their personal stories. And because I put a lot of my own life into my images, though the particulars are coded, I think there is enough of a sense of intimacy in my work that people are inspired to share their stories with me but oddly, critics’ tend to be a little shy in their interpretation. I think people are timid about revealing their personal interpretation of my work on record because it can be as ultimately revealing of the critic as of my work or me.
AFH: Are there particular themes you return to often, such as exploitation, as in Sugar Foot, your painting of women eating the sugar drained from other women’s flattened bodies....
AC: Oh, I don’t see that painting like that at all. That is great! Actually, that painting is related to another painting I’d done titled Ironing. In that image, two women are ironing other women until they are completely flat and then they roll each other up and push each other to the side. That image was partially inspired by reality nip-and-tuck shows like The Swan but on a deeper level, it also relates to women’s criticism of each other and their obsession with a super thin one-dimensional self-image.
AFH: And what about the iconography in Sugar Foot?
AC: Sugar Foot was related to our contemporary fascination with our diet and micro-managing what we eat. I recently read a book titled Our Own Devices: The Past and Future of Body Technology by Edward Tenner in which there was a passage where he describes how sugar was considered a health food throughout much of this century. Sugar was thought of as a great source of nutrients and sustence. Apparently, this belief was so firmly held by doctors that in Mozart’s day, they would substitute mother’s milk with sugar water.
AFH: That sounds repulsive.
AC: Well, when I was a kid, I ate sugary cereal every morning and thought it was healthy. But in Sugar Foot the women are all pale, malnourished and miserable despite, or because, of the fact that they are gorging on cakes and mountains of sugar.
AFH: It is odd to think that Woody Allen prophesized the Atkins diet in Bananas, his satire of weird LA- food fads, with massive, genetically processed vegetables and other food-monstrosities.
AC: Contemporary culture is entirely rife with magic and folklore. When I read the New York Times, I tend to latch on to random stories and the imagery. Recent scientific experiments, like the one where they grew a human ear off of a pig’s back or genetically crafted hybrid mice really inspire me. I am full of those stories. I could be the town freak with all her creepy tales but instead I paint.
ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is assistant editor at Artnet Magazine.
Here is an excerpt from Jean Eagers Printmaking home page that I enjoyed reading.
Since studying printmaking at San Francisco State University, I began expressing social concerns, as well as making pretty pictures to sell and give as gifts.
Postgraduate study of Japanese rice-paste-and watercolor wood block printing methods, taught by Katherine McKay, and April Vollmer, increased my desire to teach multicultural printmaking. African printing on cloth and Latin American silkscreen printmaking are also topics which interest me.
However, multiculturalism in printmaking refers to much more than technique. It also refers to the issues that fine art may address, such as identity, ancient symbolism, representation, social and political conscience, language, narrative ethnic history, subject and style. Interviews with two San Francisco Bay Area printmakers highlight these issues.
An Interview With
Feminist Artist Kate Delos
Asian-American printmaker, Alice Fong
Interview between Cheryl Kaplan and Louise Bourgeois
Cheryl Kaplan: The Reticent Child features a suite of 18 drawings titled Almost A Nobody. The title recalls Emily Dickinson’s poem: "I’m nobody, who are you?" You’ve said: "Life is organized around what is hollow."
Louise Bourgeois: Almost A Nobody refers to stairs and the idea of climbing to success. I'm interested in people's ambition, their enormous desire to exist in the world, to be somebody, and to succeed — sometimes at any cost.
CK: I first saw your Cells in the Venice Biennale in 1993 and then in Oxford at the Museum of Modern Art. They made me think of Ezra Pound detained in an open cage for 25 days having been accused of treason at the end of WWII. In your work, a highly internal moment is exposed publicly and then kept private. How did your Cells transform from the earlier ones in the 80s to the later ones, especially in relation to issues of public and private observation?
LB: My use of the word 'cell' has to do with the fact that I am a prisoner of my memories. The original suite of the Cells had to do with the five senses and memory and had nothing to do with the issues of humiliation and internment. The sense of containment in the Cells has also to do with the idea of isolating problems in order to solve them. I also like to know my limits and that's why I prefer claustrophobic spaces. The Cells also express the notion that people are isolated from one another and unable to communicate. This is the human condition.
I needed to create architecture to house and protect and set the scale for these objects. The objects in the Cells are fragile. The fact that you cannot enter them in most cases had to do with the fragility of the interior. This is a problem when they are shown publicly. I would like people to enter the Cells.
LB: The guillotine, like all my images, is not realistic. It is a metaphor for how the present kills the past. In the Cell Choisy, I recreated the house where I had lived because it no longer existed. There is no real victim in this work because we have to accept the fact that the present destroys the past and there is nothing we can do.
CK: Femmes Maison, is both a series of drawings and sculptures that literally refer to a "wife-house". In Cells, the architecture is transparent, while Femmes Maison is about hiding.
LB: As a sculptor, I am interested in space – whether it is real or imagined. Sometimes I want to hide, and sometimes I want to go out and seduce.
CK: What are your feelings now about feminism? In 1988 you told art critic Donald Kuspit that "Feminism is important to me." Later, you had mixed feelings, associating feminism with victimization. In speaking with Robert Storr you said: "There is no feminist aesthetic (…) The women got together not because they had things in common, but because they lacked things." But you’ve also written: "My feminism expresses itself in an intense interest in what women do."
LB: I don't believe there is a feminist aesthetic. A lot of the emotions that I am expressing in my work are pre-gender. I am lucky to have been brought up by my mother who was a feminist, and fortunate enough to have married a husband who was a feminist, and I have raised sons who are feminists.
CK: Lucas Cranach, a favorite artist of yours, painted Lucretia as she’s about to commit suicide, having been raped. Like most of Cranach’s females, Lucretia is strangely demure, yet extremely violent. I’m reminded of the piece you did in Artforum in December 1982 called Child Abuse that focuses on your father’s relationship with Sadie.
LB: The piece entitled Child Abuse in Artforum was done to coincide with the opening of my first large exhibition in New York. This work was my attempt to explain the person behind these objects.
CK: The Destruction of the Father, done in 1974 is an incredibly visceral piece, cast from lamb and chicken bones. The sculpture is overrun with tumorous protrusions. It’s scary, yet strangely natural. Destruction is about getting rid of someone but also keeping them around. The sculpture’s support resembles a field hospital stretcher. In what way were your childhood visits to see your wounded father in army hospitals during WWI part of this piece?
LB: I accompanied my mother during the War when she went from camp to camp to stay close to my father. I felt my mother's hysteria. The images of the soldiers on the trains and in the hospital have stayed in my mind. The fear of abandonment is very strong within me and relates to that time.
CK: As a registered Democrat, what do you think of the recent re-election of George Bush especially concerning women’s rights? I’m thinking of his potential to appoint ultra-conservative judges on the Supreme Court.
LB: Bush's re-election is unfortunate not only for America but for the entire world. Life is being reduced to economics. Values and the quality of life are at risk. As the disparity between the rich and poor grows, religious fanaticism grows. I believe in the separation of church and state. I'm particularly concerned with the environment; mankind is destroying the planet and seems to be oblivious.
CK: Can you talk about your series of nine engravings He Disappeared into Complete Silence done in 1947?
LB: He Disappeared Into Complete Silence was completed in 1947, and uses architecture as a metaphor for human relationships. These structures are related to the Personages that I was carving at the same time.
CK: The suspended figures, from the Spiral Woman , 1984 through Janus Fleuri, 1968 and Filette (Sweeter Version) , 1968-99 as well as the Arched Figure, 2004 in your current exhibition at Cheim & Read dangle between a moment of danger and beauty. The Arched Figure hangs on by a thread, bobbing up and down. In referring to your suspended figures, you said: "[So] this little figure is supposed to hang (…) She turns around and she doesn’t know her left from her right. Who do you think it represents? It represents Louise. (…) It just means that she is herself, hanging, waiting for nobody knows what." How do you feel about the dangling now?
LB: To hang from a single point is to exist in a state of fragility. It is still how I feel today.