BILL KOMOSKI / LAUREN SILVA / DONA NELSON
Moderated and Text by Nicole Kaack
October 21, 2017
Nicole Kaack: Something that related to both of you was this idea of what gestures or technical apparatuses are influencing your work. A digital influence, for example, in the idea of the gradient. In your work, Bill, I see something more in the vein of printing, press, CMYK influence. I am curious what that means to the two of you and how that relates to the idea of painterliness in gesture.
Dona Nelson: [to Lauren] I would like to know, are these done on photoshop or…? How are they painted? Where do you get the image?
Lauren Silva: These works here were not done on photoshop. They are all hand-painted on silk. In my experience working on silk and one of the things that sort of drew me to it was, you can’t go back and change it. So with photoshop, with acrylic, on canvas, with oil, there is so much reworking and layering. But with the silk, what you see is what you get. I just wanted this delicate material — if you get a stain on it, you ruin it. And so the imagery really just grew out of gestures I was making and then responding to. Because I couldn’t go back…
Dona Nelson: Do you have any source or are you just working out of your head?
Lauren Silva: These were all worked out of my head, but are also all sort of natural forms. I love going to Central Park and I went to a lot of gardens over the summer; this became a meditation on these organic forms.
Nicole Kaack: Your earlier work, also had a lot of moments that potentially reflected landscape? But they also felt somewhat surreal, like they play on this uncertainly representational thing.
Lauren Silva: It is definitely touching on that same impulse. More of a surreal landscape.
Dona Nelson: And what kind of paint is this?
Lauren Silva: This is gouache and watercolor. Because they are already soaked into the [fabric], they won’t wash off. There are imperfections in it, built into the natural material, the natural process. Those types of imperfections become part of the image. In working on them, I did re-wet and found that the paint did not lift off.
Nicole Kaack: You kind of use that, though, the feeling of a stain at certain moments. Did you intentionally wash out areas?
Lauren Silva: I did. It’s silk charmeuse which is an intimate, very soft textured thing. I was drawn to this fabric because growing up I always fell asleep with my mom’s silk-charmeuse nightgown. And it was such an intimate material and I loved the feel of it. But then it’s your body, it gets stains on it. It was just this personal dimension that I wanted to try to use just as a starting off point to begin making marks and begin building a world.
Nicole Kaack: They are stretched before you start?
Lauren Silva: No, the cropping happens after the fact. Some of these were much larger and that area got cropped.
Bill Komoski: So, I guess all three of us kind of work with an improvisational approach? Do either of you work with preliminary sketches or have an idea before you start? I’m thinking not in Dona’s case. Do you? [to Lauren] You just go, right?
Dona Nelson: [to Lauren] But you must have a palette, before you start. Do you have the colors mixed?
Lauren Silva: I have a lot of colors on a paper palette. Working in other ways I would definitely mix all the colors, have a large quantity of it. With oil or with airbrushing or with acrylic, that was sort of standard process. Because so much of it is water-based, I don’t have to spend so much time— I can have more of a fast improvisation with working on things like gauche and watercolor, which don’t take up much room. I can have a lot on the same table.
Dona Nelson: But what about the big one [on the wall]?
Lauren Silva: This one, I did after I had already gotten into the flow of working on the small works. And that is the last one I did.
Bill Komoski: Have you done other wall installations? Directly on the wall drawings, paintings?
Lauren Silva: In undergrad and in grad school, I did more. I guess just because I was a student, and I was just burning through stuff, I often just went directly on the wall or would make giant wall-size works. This is the first public one here.
Nicole Kaack: It is only paint, right? There are no paper inclusions like you have used in other works?
Lauren Silva: This is just paint and I did tape off areas. The silk ones do have this really thin paper that is actually meant for t-shirt production. I was drawn to it because I could cut it out and have a straight edge similar to the way that taping allowed me to. It is a heat-activated, archival, ironed [adhesive]. So, I guess, going back to our original questions: I think it’s all of the experience working in these different realms, I kind of built this system. It sort of became it’s own thing — this combination of a straight edge with a more blurred image.
Nicole Kaack: Exactly, there is something digital in the way the paper operates. Or even in your work, as well, Bill. I wonder if —in the front room— that mural that you have done with the cloth draping over is a similar kind of straight edge, a different type of digital overlay or cut? Then again, it is also much more about the materiality.
Bill Komoski: When I started working on these drop-cloths, they have a similar quality to the silk in that there is no turning back. They are stained and there is no painting over or playing around with them too much. So they have to just happen. With the one on the wall with the hole, I had no idea what that hole was going to bring. At some point, I just decided that I didn’t like it without the hole and something had to happen. I got the razor blade, I cut the thing, and I loved the way that suddenly the back was revealed, that the stain had come through. That this window opened up. There was already kind of a structure that had a framing element to it, and suddenly that frame opened up to a window. When this wall-drawing happened, the window allowed for the wall-drawing to re-emerge in the painting.
Dona Nelson: Is this silk-screen?
Bill Komoski: No, it is just painted directly on the drop-cloth. I buy these at the hardware store. They’re cut that way and edged and all. It’s block printing more or less, for the dot-screen. Old-fashioned block printing that goes back centuries.
Nicole Kaack: I think that is why I was curious to ask specially about your influence by technology. Not all technology is contemporary.
Bill Komoski: Well, I like the idea because there is this aspect of process involved with randomness and degraded systems, layers upon layers. A mess of patterns. A pattern like a grid which is also about uniformity and ordered space, seemed like a good element to bring into that mix. And to start with that and watch it unravel. These drop-cloth pieces are the least layered in a way. The smaller paintings tend to have more materiality to them, more layers on top of layers, evolving generally over a longer time, allowed to have things painted out and painted over. They are really different. The drop-cloths are closer to watercolors, where there is no erasure.
Dona Nelson: They are a nice size.
Bill Komoski: But the large one on the wall is also commercially-made. Those are the dimensions that they come in.
Dona Nelson: What kind of paint is on the wall?
Bill Komoski: Acrylic. Everything here is acrylic, except for the elements that aren’t paint. In the paintings there are a lot of found elements like fabric, synthetic rhinestones that I get at a party store in the flower district. But the paint is all brushed on. I’m pretty old-fashioned when it comes to actually applying the paint. All of the dots in the screen in the painting to the right are hand-painted. I don’t use any mechanical devices for that. It’s a little bit labor-intensive on the big ones, on the small ones not so much. There is something sort of meditative about that. And that is before things get fun, do you know what I mean? There is a certain pleasure in putting down something like that, but it is always a mode of investment that you then put at risk when you start to lay stuff on top of it. Maybe something drips. I like that kind of danger element that comes in after you’ve already put this investment in. And that is the way it usually goes in terms of the order of things.
Dona Nelson: It’s got this kind of hovering image.
Bill Komoski: Well there are elements of transparency and almost immateriality happening around the physicality. Play between delicacy and something very obviously material and dumb, just stuff, and then trying to liberate it from its sort of—
Dona Nelson: Obviousness.
Bill Komoski: Yes, obvious sort of materiality and allow it to float in some ambiguous space or create associative resonance around it. Around the stuff, beyond the stuff.
Dona Nelson: I am really interested in how there is no figure-ground in the work. In any of it. That is the idea of it; it implies a figure-ground but the figure is dissolving, like there is no edge.
Nicole Kaack: Or it comes back to the surface of it again.
Bill Komoski: Right, and you are constantly reminded that the surface is a real object, a thing. Even if the space opens up in terms of layering, there is always this emphatic quality to the surface re-asserting itself.
Nicole Kaack: I feel like that is true of all of your works really. This emphatic orientation towards the materiality.
Bill Komoski: The fact of the thing.
Nicole Kaack: And that there are suggestions of things that are deeper or more representational about the works, but it always rises up again to the experience — getting into that surface as a depth.
Bill Komoski: And I think that all of our work also has representational elements —even just in my work, the representation of printing or the representation of three-color separation and digital processes. Or now with this form that somehow emerged, that somehow seems head-like, this centralized element. It potentially refers outside of itself, but again we are back into the meat of the material. I think we all play with that back-and-forth.
Dona Nelson: Each has, though, very different origins in art history. [to Lauren] Like, you must like the Fauves.
Lauren Silva: Yes, right.
Dona Nelson: And when I look at Bill’s stuff here, it makes me think of —I mean, I don’t really know much about the Japanese movements. But it makes me think, actually, of some of the abstraction I’ve seen recently. You see a lot more exhibitions of that movement in New York now.
Bill Komoski: Finally! It’s amazing what was going on concurrently with the American avant-garde and how it was just completely ignored…
Dona Nelson: Isn’t that terrible? I thought that recently when I went to go see that Arte Povera show. You never heard about that in the sixties! And it was so minimal in a much different way. The provincialism of the American avant-garde! New York provincialism! But there is a little bit of a feeling of mechanical abstraction in that work and that is in this work. It’s a very interesting combination; it’s mechanical, but it needs someone to do it. It’s just full of decisions.
Nicole Kaack: Or even, to what you were saying before to the fact of printing being part of what is represented almost. It becomes the subject matter as well. That union of things makes the object.
Bill Komoski: And there are elements of found objects in it. I was just reading something that Joanne Greenbaum was thinking about color early on about color as a found object. Because it comes out of the tube. It’s already there for you.
Nicole Kaack: Yes, like Ellsworth Kelly, or something.
Bill Komoski: That is in my color as well which is more or less three-color separation. All these found elements that get all mashed together.
Dona Nelson: Because of the unusual size, you don’t immediately think drop cloth. You almost think about household, dishtowel. Because usually paintings on drop cloth with grommets are huge. Polke or something. Very different from a stretched canvas. The stretcher seems separate from all of the activity in some sense. So it seems like something more self-consciously art, whereas here, the whole piece seems like something that could be found or bought in a store. I like the idea of this being mass-produced.
Bill Komoski: Well, it does have that potential, right? It could almost be printed again and again and again as opposed to these other paintings that are so uniquely, physically, their own thing. I’ve been looking recently at Alan Shields a lot. There’s something about his works on canvas that feel like they could just be rolled up and taken to the next venue, the next circus. I’m sure they were. That quality of being delicate, incredibly light and beautiful, while, at the same time, sort of utilitarian. Just roll them up. With the works, I just fold them up and bring them over. I kind of like that. I actually ironed them out to a point. Because when I brought them over, they were really crinkly and it was almost too much. Especially the one where the light is hitting it, with the topography going on. But yeah, the folds are cool.
Nicole Kaack: You cultivated that fold at the horizon line?
Bill Komoski: Not consciously, but it was there and I didn’t say no.
Nicole Kaack: Would you ever consider building up the surface of one of the drop cloth works?
Bill Komoski: I don't know. They’re new, and so the biggest thing is this cut where suddenly it becomes a physical thing with the flap or the fold. So I could almost imagine maybe layering them and cutting, something along those lines. But I like the lightness of them and that they just hang.
Nicole Kaack: The way that they hang also becomes a different way that they’re material. They enter the viewer’s space because they are off the wall in that way.
Dona Nelson: It’s so interesting the way the red isolates the dots, and there’s that little white around there.
Bill Komoski: The red is just painted in with hand. Yeah, it’s faux—
Dona Nelson: Faux mechanical!
Bill Komoski: Exactly. There’s a lot of faux mechanical in my world.
Lauren Silva: But it’s kind of nice how the simplest gesture really pushes the space back in. And you refer again to the layers, almost like different printed layers. Even though this is not digitally printed or manipulated, even to have that red be behind something else still speaks to this more digital reference.
Nicole Kaack: Like a digital lasso tool surrounding those things.
Dona Nelson: The pulsing life that’s in that…
Lauren Silva: It’s almost like a smart select on Photoshop.
Nicole Kaack: A kind of spectral outline of something. But it feels like that in the way that it kind of is grabbing the foreground. It’s isolating what the foreground is. That play with color is so interesting.
Dona Nelson: Yeah, it’s interesting the way the lavender isolates these little bumps right here. That they become like little images in a different way than the pattern. Such a simple way to change their pictorial role.
Lauren Silva: Bill, your smaller works seem to have more of the reference to that magenta/cyan/yellow printing process, those found colors of print. And this drop cloth seems like that’s not really associated in the same way.
Bill Komoski: Not in this one, or the two that I’ve showed, although on the large ones it is. It’s just part of the vocabulary. I don’t always use it on the small paintings either. It’s just this selection. I use it in both the drop cloths and the small paintings.
Dona Nelson: [to Lauren] How many brushes do you use? Do you use brights or flats?
Lauren Silva: I use all the brushes. I try to be counterintuitive sometimes when I take a brush, because I’ll often just get into a habit of, “This is how. This looks so nice,” and I’ll just keep going like this all day. And so I just throw a wrench into it by taking a brush that I would normally not associate with making this type of mark, and just trying it out and seeing. Because the silk also picks up things differently than painting on something that’s a harder surface.
Nicole Kaack: That comes back to something I was thinking earlier when you were discussing these paintings as gestural and also autobiographical, centering on touch and sensuality of the movement. I’m interested in hearing about your process of learning to use this surface, developing that sense of touch through the brush.
Lauren Silva: I’ve been working on silk about two years now. I have gone through a lot of different experiments. I was digitally printing on the silk. I found that acrylic doesn’t really work and oil paint is no good. Spray paint, kind of. Just because the surface is so delicate, digitally printing ended up being the solution for my previous body of work because I could do all of the experimentation and layering, and almost as if employing a very skilled assistant, i.e. the digital printer to re-lay my image with even ink on it. And that wouldn't cause it to wrinkle, it wouldn't create an issue with the material. It was like a problem I had to solve. Working with it shifted the way I painted. Over the past year, I just increasingly missed the physicality of painting. I missed moving my body with the material. Working on a computer, it’s mostly my fingers doing the work. I want the wrist, I want the whole elbow, I want the whole arm. I want to move with my feet and be more physically engaged. I just missed that. This kind of became a working solution to come back to that again.
Nicole Kaack: I was thinking about the murals. Creating something on that scale, for both of you, is about your body and about how you engage with the space specifically. When you see that gesture in a space, it becomes about reimagining tits enactment on that scale. It becomes an almost dance-like form.
Lauren Silva: Working on the wall piece, I wanted it to be in a similar vein as working on the silk where if you make a mistake you just leave it. There was some taping out, only to kind of have that same combination as the collage was having here. But for example, the rainbow form, that’s my arm. That’s not anyone else’s arm. Sometimes working in the digital vein, I liked the way that the work was looking, but I think I missed seeing my body in it. And it almost seemed like I needed to reclaim, this is my hand doing this.
Dona Nelson: They’re a little displaced from the history of painting. That’s what’s interesting about them to me.
Nicole Kaack: [to Lauren] Is that something you think about in making them?
Lauren Silva: I’ve seen so much painting and I’ve studied it, obviously. This is my life. And there have been times when I think, oh, I need to really join a specific conversation more, or side up against something. And then, no. I should just do what I want. When I set out to make a painting, at this point, I have a set of things I’m looking for, things I’m searching for. Seeing a Matisse might help me feel that I can make this mark and leave it. In that way, I think it’s more a means of building a confidence and an attitude of, “Oh, I’ve seen this, and it has resonated with me.” So if I do this, which looks completely different, I still feel like that’s powerful and that’s worthy of putting up.
Bill Komoski: Your paintings do kind of conjure up some kind of fabulous fabric design or something. But there’s something often really, if not unsettling, almost dissonant about certain elements that feel, if not awkward, just, “Well, that’s a weird blobby shape.” That’s where some of the humor comes in, and the liveliness. That they’re not easy decoration. They have this joyousness and they have this sort of exuberance and this buoyancy. And at the same time, there’s some weird elements that just seem just slightly disquieting or something. I think that maybe is part of something you’re playing with. That they’re not just easy. They’re accessible, and at the same time, there’s a kind of an undertow of something going on.
Dona Nelson: Yeah, there’s a sort of anxiety in them, for all of their springy, lovely. Those eyes.
Bill Komoski: Almost even monsters, at points. I mean, Dr. Seussian monsters, in a way maybe.
Dona Nelson: It’s not really nice nature. To me, it’s extremely synthetic, the quality of the materiality. There’s some kind of Fantasia quality. Some weird Disney. You have restraint. You don’t go toward caricature. You also don’t go toward anything flamboyantly gestural. They’re placed very deliberately in this unstable place. And that’s where they kind of have their life. So they don’t settle down and become some kind of familiar art.
It’s a very nice show. It’s very different, but there’s very interesting similar interests, too. And the whole thing of going around the edge of the stretcher, it’s a strange illusion from this angle, here.
Nicole Kaack: I’m curious, too, Dona, that you brought up this idea of existing within a kind of history of what painting is and has been. I remember, I was looking at your work and saw that you had an interview posted with Megan Voeller. She specifically brought up the question of this eternal struggle between abstraction and representational painting.
Dona Nelson: Yeah. That’s a default dichotomy that comes out of our generation. My generation set that up. That’s not really…
Bill Komoski: A real thing.
Dona Nelson: A bunch of authoritarians set that up. The whole thing about fights. Because there are all of these camps set up. They were set up, I think it’s a function of academia to set up camps. Then we can have fights and dialogues and talk off into the sunset.
Bill Komoski: I think that’s maybe less the case than it was when we were younger. I think everyone’s just sort of atomized off.
Nicole Kaack: Or also to what you were saying before we even started talking, about time becoming precious and being able to kind of sequester yourself and create a space for yourself that is more individual.
Bill Komoski: Well, yeah. As I’ve grown older, I find it less necessary to see every show. As a younger artist, I think you’re driven to get out there. And I think once we hit a certain point, our time becomes so precious and also I don't know if we have to feed ourselves quite as much in the way that you do as you’re younger.
Dona Nelson: You really don’t. But I’ve always thought of you as someone off doing their own thing. Kind of apart from these kind of false schools. Someone doing whatever they want to do, and having their own interests. Being an artist, I guess that’s called. [laughter]
Bill Komoski: I atomized early, or something. Stayed off on my own. Off the grid, in my own grid.