November 13, 2016
Into Hard-Edge Abstraction? Check out Galerie Mourlot's Exhibition on Judith Seligson
Galerie Mourlot presents 'Drawing the Line,' an exhibition of artist Judith Seligson's work on view from November 17 through January 9, 2017.
by New York Spaces
Judith Seligson: Thank you for your enthusiasm! First of all, a New York solo show in a wonderful Upper East Side gallery, on two floors, with 40-50 recent paintings, many never seen—and its opening soon!! It is this painter's dream. I have two new 5-6 foot shaped paintings in the show. I am excited to see them juxtaposed with the delicate small works.
NYS: You are about to have your largest exhibition to date, showcasing 50 artworks and more. What are you most nervous about?
JS: The paint on one of the large paintings I just mentioned is not yet dry. It has to travel next Tuesday.
NYS: What has your 44-year career been like? What is one of the most inspiring parts of being an artist?
JS: Like most artists, I have had two or more "day" jobs for most of my life. For example, I have been an administrative assistant at different times and in 1987 I started a graphic design business called Illuminated Manuscript. In the last few years, thanks to my husband, Allan Greenberg, I have had lots of great time in my studio. Though I have shown every year since I began and though many people with great eyes have appreciated my work, recognition has been slow in coming. That is harder than I sometimes admit. I love being a painter—more and more. Making a life out of juxtaposing colors. Who could ask for more? The colors of growth inspire me—the subtle color schemes that signal early spring or mid-winter.
NYS: We love that you managed to turn a love for economics and mathematics into an art-lovers paradise with your artwork! How did your appreciation for the former two turn into a way to express your artistic passion?
JS: I think of making art as experimenting, and my studio as a lab. Some things work, some don't. My parents were scientists—I still wear my mother's lab coat. I enjoy setting up a problem in a painting, and solving it. I learned this from Flora Natapoff, in the early seventies at Harvard, who showed how Bonnard set up a difficult problem for himself by dividing the painting right down the middle. Geometry is a special love. Under each painting is a graphite line drawing, reminding me of my youth proving geometry theorems. Thus the title of the show, "Drawing the Line."
NYS: We are fascinated by the fact that you are also a skilled pianist...does either the art or the music ever influence the other? If so, how?
JS: Whatever skill I had as a pianist is in the past tense—though I have a secret plan to start up again! I love the piano and its repertoire, and consider it my first art. I learned music theory as part of my study, and still use those terms to describe my painting practice. Interval is the key term, which is true for Mondrian as well. I see each shape as a note in a composition, or what I call a visual melody. A melody is a metaphor for something whole that builds and diminishes in the most subtle, beautiful ways, like a Beethoven sonata or a Rembrandt painting. Large shapes are analogous to whole notes, smaller shapes to sixteenths. Each painting is working in multiple simultaneous scales—of color temperature, tone, intensity, etc. Thus the term, contrapuntal painting, the title of an article I wrote in the Radcliffe Quarterly in 1992. Counterpoint refers to simultaneous melodies, which are also the harmony to each other. I also enjoy working with visual syncopation.
NYS: We understand that most of your new artwork is topological...what brought you to this point?
JS: I am excited about this new direction. It actually came out of some of my collage experiments. I bought a pile of 20x20 inch panels for collages. I then began gluing panels into the collages, which led to panels made only of multiple panels. I assembled the one in the show at least two years ago. One morning I woke up and knew how I wanted to paint it. I then began a series of constructions, that blurred the line between painting and sculpture. I am thinking about painting on furniture.
NYS: What is the connection to Galérie Mourlot? How does your artwork fit into the framework of the gallery's essence and vice versa?
JS: My daughter, Hannah Seligson, and gallery owner Eric Mourlot are friends. Hannah has taken it upon her lovely self to manage my career. Eric and she saw an opportunity that would benefit all involved. Picasso, Matisse, Miro, and many other Paris artists in the 1930's made lithographs with Eric's grandfather. Eric inherits a love of process and precision, which attracted him to my work.
NYS: We understand that you have worked on art collaborations with your husband Allan Greenberg...will those be showcased? What was the process of working with him like and is there a big departure from your usual work?
JS: The large six-by-six-foot panel painting in the show grew out of one of our collaborations in our New York apartment. It is executed by a talented house painter, à la Sol Lewitt. It is a conceptual piece in that it is painted following a set of directions. The painters mixed the colors according to a small maquette I made specifically for this project. They gave me sample boards of each color, which Allan and I proofed against the maquette—just as one proofs a print. We sent them back noting our revisions—too yellow, too light, etc. They mixed again. Most were right by then. The purple and the black needed tweaking. I showed Juan the technique I wanted, which he improved on. Voilà.
NYS: Your work is reminiscent of many of the greats, including Frank Stella...do you have any specific influences? If so, how did they influence you?
JS: Thank you. Frank Stella's constructions are certainly influencing me now, perhaps particularly after seeing his great recent retrospective at the Whitney. I am told that Stella actually saw and admired my small paintings—in the American ambassador's house in Indonesia in the mid 80's. The Ambassador's wife made sure to tell me that mine were the only ones he mentioned. The Dutch tradition is close to my heart—perhaps it is the light, perhaps the structure. Rembrandt, Vermeer, Mondrian, and de Kooning are my constant inspiration. Diebenkorn now more and more. I love Peter Halley's geometry, and Elizabeth Peyton's portraits, and Cecily Brown's way with paint.
NYS: We understand you began working with scale in painting since the mid-70s in TriBeCa when loft living and working was still illegal. What was that artistic heyday like?
JS: That sounds so romantic! Indeed, I moved to New York City in the late '70s to paint a giant work. I had just completed a 7x9 foot painting, and was rearing to go bigger. I specifically chose my loft according to the ceiling height. I lugged my 10x15 foot canvas from the venerable, now extinct, Pearl Paint up West Broadway to my Leonard Street top floor studio, adhered it to the wall, and started drawing and painting. I abandoned it to begin a series of very small oil paintings on rag board under the skylight in my studio. I was taken by trying to make a great painting from minimal materials—discarded rag board mat cutouts and a few drops of paint. I think, in part, I reacted to the vastness of New York and of my mural. The 180-turn-around did lead me to a kind of painting from which I have never departed. One could say that I found myself as a painter under that skylight.
NYS: Tell us about the book you are currently working on!
JS: I have written a book, still in manuscript, called The Gap: The Synaptic Sign of Modernity. In 2013, I gave a talk and slide presentation about my 20-year Gap project at the Louisville Conference on Art and Culture since 1900. I turned that into a short film, which is on my website. Earlier this year, I had a 35-painting solo show in the Washington DC area called "A Gap Frame of Mind." Between each block of color is an infinitesimal gap. The project began as saw the lines of text in my graphite drawings long filament brain cells, or neurons. They were close but not touching, always with a gap between them. Just as a neurotransmitter leaped across the synaptic gap between neurons, so our interpretations connected those filaments of quotes. As I learned that the discrete nature of these brain cells became known only near the turn of the twentieth century, I began to see gap stories in many of the contemporaneous scientific, literary, and artistic discoveries. In 1900, Max Planck defined the quantum, discrete packets of light/energy; in 1908, Picasso invented the collage—a composition composed of juxtaposed fragments. The infinitesimal gap between the fragments was another synaptic-like gap, across which the viewer's interpretation flowed.
NYS: What is on the horizon for you?
JS: I am fortunate and delighted to be working with my daughter, Hannah Seligson, who has taken it upon herself to get the recognition for my work that she thinks it deserves. I have many constructions waiting for drawings, and drawings on panels waiting for paint. Allan and I would like to create a new interior in our apartment with my new work. We have some site-specific ideas in mind—perhaps a painting on the patio floor. I plan to put the finishing touches on the Gap book and get it published.
GALÉRIE MOURLOT is located at 16 E 79th Street, NYC. "Drawing the Line" will be on view from November 17 through January 9, 2017.
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