In this interview, artist Michele Foyer discusses her work and the role of abstraction in contemporary art. Michelle’s paintings will be on display in SOMArts’ exhibition, Overturn The Artifice March 8-29, 2013.
In your writing, I’ve seen you refer to the notion of a new definition of the verb “to abstract.” What is the old definition and how are you trying to change it?
Albert Oehlen said we need a new word for “abstraction” and I agree. The definition of “ to abstract” as a verb commonly summons up removing a part from an already existing world or the reduction of an existing thing to an essence— a subtraction. Here we find the idealized forms and the reproduction of something already existing in Kant and Plato still hold sway.
The perception of what abstraction can do hasn’t yet fully embraced the flux that current physics insists is intrinsic to all things and that proliferates in the work of contemporary philosophers such as Deleuze and Badiou. Or of earlier thinkers of both East and West.
Abstraction has always functioned on many different levels, with different trajectories as the excellent Inventing Abstraction show currently up at MOMA insists. If consciousness remains in a representational mode of perception, it is hard to dislodge its habitual frame of Greenberg’s or Rosenberg’s ideas so grounded in Kant. As these ideas proliferate it will make the perception of them easier.
How do the titles of your work interact with the work itself?
The poetic titles aim to bring my deeply philosophical explorations to the everyday. The titles often function simultaneously on the plane of everyday occurrence as well as a deeply philosophical one— without distinction between a high and a low.
The painting “Goodbye” summons the common notion of departure on one level, something we experience every day in differing circumstances. Within the painting there are many departures of forms moving in and out of possible organizing structures. Spaces twist in and out of each other and colors modulate if only slightly. Another layer of meaning resonates in the use of red and green conjuring traffic lights and degrees of movement.
“Goodbye” might also be understood as a farewell to Platonic thought. There are no perfect squares or pure geometry. While the canvas is a square the white spaces break the painting out of its confinement within the square and relate to the color of the wall.
Can you comment on the different scales of your work?
For me small painting can be large. I mean that both spatially and without respect to a division of high and low art. In Overturn the Artifice I am showing approximately 3 foot square paintings as well as 6 inch squares.
Another way I see this shifting between scales has to do with the weight ascribed to the historic ravages of colonialism or Hitler. I believe the roots of hatred exist first in the “smaller scale of individual foibles and insecurities and this “small” scale is really then very large. Working between these scales blurs this division of high and low.
You write about color quite a bit. What are your thoughts on color?
Color is primary in my perception. It is a light wave. Color is omnipresent in all things even when not perceived. It is always modulating even when appearing to be still and held by form. Color eludes complete capture by form. Alive. Delirious. Free.
What is the role of the viewer, how should we approach your paintings?
That is up to the viewer, ultimately.
Which artists have influenced you the most?
I would say I have more infinities rather than influences. Philosophy helps refine what I experience by its investigations of possible worlds: I read between Deleuze and Badiou. Charles Olson’s poetry is another resonance. The artists that I am looking at now take divergent paths from each other and explore different lineages within abstraction: Charline von Heyl, Mary Heilman, Jered Sprecher, Amy Sillman and Keltie Ferris.
About the Interviewer: Lex Kosieradzki grew up in Minneapolis and now he’s working on his MFA in Social Practice at the California College of the Arts. He lives in Oakland.
Above image: “Ramble Rumble” by Michele Foyer