When does a painting begin?Anna Conway:
Usually I am picturing two or three paintings ahead of the one I am working on; if a painting is going slowly, I am sometimes four or five paintings ahead mentally. I tend to conjure up an idea for a painting when I am doing something mundane—riding a train, riding in a car, cleaning my house, trying to fall asleep. Sometimes an idea for a painting just pops into my head out of nowhere. I picture two women doing sit-ups, grunting or straining together, or a janitor doing a push-up in an office, after work. Some paintings, like the ones I just mentioned, start with a very definite vision of what a figure may be doing. Other paintings begin with a sense about an atmosphere that will evolve—is it cold or warm place, is it an indoor or outdoor environment, night time or day time, etc.
I have noticed that my indoor paintings tend to convey a feeling or sense of claustrophobia; the figures (if there are any) tend to be large inside the composition and the rooms tend to be closed or small spaces. Many of my landscape paintings emerge from an agoraphobic feeling I have about the place I am painting.TMN:
When was the last time you looked at someone else’s work and were confused?AC:
If you had asked me two weeks ago, I might have been stumped. Less than two weeks ago, though, I took my Cooper Union painting class to the Met. We were on our way out of the museum when we passed some paintings I had never seen before by a woman named Florine Stettheimer. I can honestly say it has been a long time since I was that confused, bemused, and generally sort of in awe of her work’s oddness. The Wikipedia entry for her calls her “eccentric, private, and withdrawn.” The whole class congregated around her work, and we were all both laughing at it and studying it pretty seriously—the works were awesome and somewhat repulsive and crazy in a certain way. I definitely want to go back and look at them again. Someone else wrote about her work, “There was no existing precedent for Stettheimer’s work and no one has painted like her since.” I cannot argue with that assessment.TMN:
Do you nap?AC:
Just last night my neighbor bumped into me after waking from a nap at 7 p.m. She was smiling. I made the most sour face when she told me she loved late naps. I fessed up that I hate naps; they make me feel drugged the rest of the day.TMN:
Where do your titles come from?AC:
All over the different landscapes of my mind I suppose. I remember someone once referring to a woman, and when they said her name, they just referred to her as her husband’s name with a Mrs. in front. I recall thinking that the entire individual name her parents had given her was gone, and that seemed sad, like the girl she had once been had disappeared. I named a painting “Mrs. Lance Cpl. Shane O’Toole and Mrs. Staff Sgt. Brandon Stevens” after hearing that. When it came to titling that painting, I felt this empathy for the characters I had painted. I imagined them to be women who felt insignificant and weak, and identified themselves as someone attached to someone else, that someone else being more important and powerful. Other titles of paintings are more humorous to me, like “Somebody Call Someone.”TMN:
What possession of yours do you enjoy the most for aesthetic reasons?AC:
A Leon Golub painting I have. I was his assistant for years, and he cut this figure out of a painting, and after seeing the look on my face when he was considering trashing it, he handed it to me. I cherish it. I keep hoping I will meet another human that has Leon’s same brilliant wit, but alas, so far, no luck. He was a great painter and I miss him. The painting fragment is beautiful.TMN:
How will you know when you’ve done your best work?AC:
I don’t think that is even a remote possibility, to know that. I made this one painting I thought was ridiculous, and years later I kind of/sort of like it a lot.