The Brooklyn-based artist on embracing the balance between control and chaos.
You've spoken about how so much of painting is a mirror reflecting the world back to us. What do you think your work is reflecting back right now?
It’s actually really sweet! What I’ve been getting in touch with through my painting practice is that yes, we want to receive serious and real messages, but we need a gentle messenger. We can only take so much. The subject of these times is important, but so is the delivery. As the artist creating the work and being the messenger, this also applies to my creative process. There is an extra level of compassion I needed to give myself to be able to create in this climate.
My show "Crazy says the Daisy" that I had earlier this year at Massey Klein Gallery addressed this. The show was of floral still lifes. When I started painting flowers in the fall of 2021, this German saying started to repeat itself in my head like a mantra: Sag es durch die Blume, which means, “Say it through a flower.” The expression is used to convey the need to deliver difficult news softly, tenderly, with elegance and great care. The Flower became the vessel through which I could speak about these times in a tender way.
Lockdown really affected your practice with certain elements getting "stuck" in the paintings you were working on at the time. Have you come to think about your own work any differently since then?
Yes, big time! Once the pandemic hit, I tried to keep painting as I was, but it felt like I was painting in the past tense. It was agonizing! My method of painting just didn’t have the full range of expression to address what was going on out there.
The process of painting needs to feel in line with my perception of how the world works, and for me, so many things, including the concept of time, were brought into question during lockdown. That linear structure didn’t make sense to me anymore. In response to that, I started to break down that linear progression of time within my painting practice. Marks from different painting periods from my past would show up and engage freely with others, disrupting that time construct. Painting like this makes me feel like I’m painting in the present tense again. Anything goes! If the world gets to go totally yolo on us, so does paint! I’ve moved through the shock of the loss of structure and am now absorbing it with fascination.
The final quote of my artist statement from "Crazy says the Daisy" helps put this sentiment in words: “If there is any lesson to glean from the tumult, perhaps it’s a new understanding of the absence of formula, the recognition that the universe will do what it wants with unimaginable strength; and while we are powerless to bend it, we can if we choose to honor its iridescence.”
Your studio is beautifully (and densely!) paint-splattered like a living work that shifts organically, and you've also begun depicting interiors more recently. How much do you consider the spaces you inhabit, and how do they affect you?
I’m very space-conscious, be it in the studio or any other space. The studio to me is sacred ground and I treat it with reverence. The floor is covered in paint, but don’t get it twisted, it’s not a slob situation! I’m consciously cultivating an ecosystem in there. For me, the boundaries of the canvas represent the limits of conscious thought.
I deliberately let the paint travel freely in space, fluidly on an off the canvas. I regard the marks that spill beyond the boundaries of the canvas—the most wild and exaggerated extensions of my medium—as an expression of the unconscious mind. I call these marks ‘parallel work’ and to me, it not only shapes the environment around the artwork, but also ultimately seeps in and shapes consciousness.
It’s very important for me to surround and familiarize myself with these marks. If a mark like that happens to show up during my conscious painting practice, I will be more equipped to engage with it than to disregard it. That’s also the reason I like to paint sitting close to the ground—I love to be surrounded by my teachers.
You're getting ready for a visit back home to Switzerland soon. What are you looking forward to the most on your trip, and what are some of the things there that contrast most with life in Brooklyn?
EVERYTHING!!!! It starts at JFK! I love overhearing Swiss tourists' hot takes on the city and culture and rumblings on what they are heading back home to. I love the first whiff of Swiss air right off the plane. I love Zurich airport. I barely arrive and am loving every damn thing!
I haven’t been back since the pandemic started, which is nuts as I’m used to going once a year. If it goes beyond that, I’ll start to feel lopsided. Tapping into the roots is the most nurturing and replenishing thing I can do for myself. I’ve been living in the US so long that I see Switzerland through the eyes of a tourist, and I surely shop and eat like one too. My Swiss friends make fun of me, but they also like that I can point out things to them about their surroundings that they are desensitized to. Walking though a field and knowing all the weeds from the earliest childhood memories is home to me. A lot of my inspiration for paintings originates from those visits.
The painting Classic Fomo I’m showing on Platform is referencing a magical place in the alps where my friends and I stayed just before the pandemic. Now, I’ll be heading back to see these dear friends and places I’ve been yearning for. What could be better than that?! To me, the biggest contrast between Switzerland and here is the energy. New York is like a motor that’s constantly revving, and I get fueled by it and feel best when I’m working hard. Switzerland feels chiller in that aspect–from city to nature, from work to play, everything feels more balanced and relaxed. But there is some tightness in there . . . There’s definitely more control than chaos compared to NYC. I still prefer to air on the side of chaos, which is why I’m over here.
So much of your interaction with paint is about the balance between control and chaos. How did you first become comfortable with those opposing forces, and do you think that reflects your life outside of your practice at all?
The study of control and chaos arose in my mid-twenties when I finally had the realization that as people, we have intentions, but must anticipate the intervention of outside forces beyond our control. An accident while painting delivered this message to me. It dripped when I didn’t intend it to. My reaction to this drip was so disproportional, that I knew I needed to hold space for this mark and try to hear it out. That mark turned out to be the embodiment of chaos while I took on the role of control.
The act of painting is the playing field, the place where these two opposing forces get to engage. In that middle ground is where my work lives. Paint and I are in a 50/50 partnership and paint gets to have its own say, which I respond to respectfully. With this method of painting, I can never plan the exact outcome of a painting, but what I receive instead is a more accurate depiction of the subject as a whole, because I’m hashing it out with chaos.
My painting practice is an evolving study of how life seems to work, and it absolutely informs how I think and live my life outside of the studio. But life doesn’t happen in a cozy vacuum. The outside life is just as much of a practice as the one in the studio. Working regularly in a state of collaboration and surrender with my medium does affect how I move through life. It’s taught me so much about acceptance and I’m way more balanced than I used to be.
You've started to expand within your work. How does that feel as you go about your practice and where do you think your explorations might take you next?
Yes, this pertains to my subject matter. You are catching me in a transition where I’m starting to shift from a super tight lens on floral still lifes over the last year, to expanding into their surroundings. I noticed while I was painting the flowers, what really made them work is the temperature surrounding them. Those areas felt so good to me! I started to get really curious about that space beyond and now I’m letting myself expand into that inner space, which to me also symbolizes my own inner space.
The interiors are informed by all the discoveries I made while painting the flowers. I feel it shows my progression from the necessity to project my experience onto a subject for self-preservation to being ready to let more of the world back in. A self-portrait even popped up the other day! I’m ready for this wider lens . . . Stay tuned!