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Episode 2
Author Jennifer Higgie and Artist Sandy Skoglund

  • 2 min read

Episode Description

1:10 - Frieze Editor-at-large Jennifer Higgie discusses her new book “The Mirror and the Palette: Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience: 500 Years of Women's Self-Portraits”

23:12 - Artist Sandy Skoglund talks about her body of work, her current exhibit at the McNay in San Antonio and a group show she will be part of next year at LACMA. Known as a pioneer in staged photography, we discuss how she is actually an interdisciplinary artist whose work questions fact and fiction

 

61:47 - Art headlines

Transcript

Craig: [00:00:10] This is Art Sense, a podcast focused on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. First up this week is my conversation with Frieze Editor at Large Jennifer Heggie regarding her new book "The Mirror and the Palette: Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience. Five hundred years of Women's Self-portraits" in Segment two, I speak to contemporary artists Sandy Scoglund about her body of work, her current exhibit at The McNay in San Antonio and group shows she will be part of next year at LACMA. Known as a pioneer in stage photography, we discuss how she is really an interdisciplinary artist whose work questions fact and fiction. At the end of the episode, I'll be wrapping things up with some of the week's top art headlines. But first up, a historical view of women artists from their own perspective.

Craig: [00:01:10] I really appreciate you being willing to sit down

Craig: [00:01:13] And talk about your book, The Mirror and the Pallet.

Jennifer: [00:01:16] And so how are you? Very welcome. Thank you so much for having me.

Craig: [00:01:20] Sure. And I think I think the title is actually longer than that, right?

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Jennifer: [00:01:24] It's the "The Mirror and the Palette: Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience. Five Hundred Years of Women's Self-portraits" So, yeah, it's a mini essay in the title.

Craig: [00:01:32] Yes, that's wonderful. So tell me, what was your motivation? What what did you discover?

Jennifer: [00:01:38] Yeah. Well, I mean, the book sort of evolved out of a very simple sort of task that I set myself a few years ago, which was just an Instagram account that I did purely for fun and for my own sort of interest to try and discover a woman artist from the past who had been born on every day of the year. And it turned out to be much more difficult than I thought. And you know, I've read with great interest and rage the great classic texts of feminist art history from Oakland to Germaine Greer to Griselda Pollock. You know, all of you know who have written brilliant books about the gender exclusion of art history, but I wanted to discover for myself if I could find, you know, what was available in terms of discovering, you know, the rich history of women artists from the past. And it was much harder than I discovered, than I had sort of assumed it to be because, you know, we think we're almost in a post-feminist stage now, which I think is, you know, not true. Obviously, things have got a lot better, but there's still a lot of exclusions. And of course, not just around gender, but about around race and class as well in our history. So I wanted to write a book that was in a sense, for the general interested reader as well, because many of the classic texts of feminist art history, you know, they are, they can be quite academic. And so I wanted to write a book that anyone who was interested in the history of women in art might be interested to pick this up. And in that sense, my book isn't encyclopedic. It's not academic. In a way, it's quite idiosyncratic. It's 22 women over 500 years from 13 different countries, and I focused on self-portraits because when women had been excluded from the life room and the academy and apprenticeships, often they could really only have access to to a subject that they knew best, which was themselves.

Craig: [00:03:40] Sure. So I mean, I guess that kind of takes us back to the beginning where, you know, we kind of think of this canon usually starting with someone like Artemisia Gentileschi. Right? And and you know, she is a really intriguing figure. And I think, you know, I think what is maybe a common thread across all these women artists is there's a certain amount of tragedy that they're dealing with a certain amount of tragedy in their own lives that they're having to overcome.

Jennifer: [00:04:18] Absolutely. I mean, you know, it was very tough for the women of the past to become artists. I mean, it was a, you know, it was women had no political agency they had. They were essentially sort of owned by their brothers or their fathers. You know, they had very little opportunity to travel by themselves. And so to be a woman at a time when it was so hard to be, I mean, sorry to be a woman artist at a time when it was so difficult just to be a woman, these women had to be extraordinary. And in that sense, you know, I really wanted to make clear to that. You know, a lot of these women did have tragic histories, but all of them had the most extraordinary sort of life force. You know, within all of this difficulty, they also expressed joy. They express their creativity. They expressed, you know, they expressed a great sort of delight in the world around them. And you know, it's not just a sort of one dimensional, miserable story. I think it's a much more exciting and interesting and engaging story about, you know, people who manage to overcome what life has given them.

Craig: [00:05:21] I used to teach art history? And, you know, whenever I would frame the conversation around self portraiture, I would usually, you know, especially when we talk about someone like Durer or Rembrandt, you know, I would usually frame it around in this conversation of, you know, this was an era when people didn't have photo reproductions. You know, people artists would make work. It would leave their studio. It would be behind someone else's walls and the self=portraiture sort of served as self-promotion. Right? There was a way that, you know, they could have something that they could keep in their studio, that they could show a prospective client. But I feel like there's a sort of a different purpose for a lot of the these women artists because they just didn't have access to the same type of models,

Jennifer: [00:06:12] I mean, it sort of operates it operates on different levels, and I think it's different for every artist to, I mean, as you say, you know, these women were often painting themselves because that was the only model they had, whereas someone like Durer or Rembrandt would have had access to other models. And so their motivation for making self-portraits perhaps are quite different. But there also was a sense, especially around the allegory, that a lot of the women who used their allegory like Artemisia Gentileschi or Elizabeth Sirani or Sofonisba Anguissola, they were using themselves as a model to sort of embody great historical tales and allegories, and these could be used as calling cards as well. Because, you know, it is surprising still to me, you know, when I was doing the research for this book, how many women actually did have, you know, a very strong professional practice, even when at a time when it was very difficult to be a woman artist? And so these were people like Artemis gentle. You know, she she earns a living from her painting. And so it was important to her with her self-portraits to show herself off as, you know, a brilliant artist as well as a creative woman.

Craig: [00:07:22] Absolutely. Before lockdown last year, I had the opportunity to go to an exhibit that featured works from the Uffizi Gallery that was traveling through the U.S. and her "Judith and Holofernes", one of the two that she completed was there alongside Caravaggio's and Ribera, and she absolutely holds her own, if not exceeds her peers. So tell me, a lot of artists kind of get lost, have a certain recognition in their own time period and then kind of get lost to the ages and get rediscovered. And it's always really hard to know who's going to be included in the canon. You know, how is it that that happens and how did some of these women get rediscovered?

Jennifer: [00:08:14] Yeah. I mean, if only all of the women artists of the past that had signed their pictures more clearly or more more consistently because that has been, you know, a huge problem with misattribution. You get an artist like, you know, the great 17th century Dutch painter Judith Leyster, a brilliant artist who had a career that rivaled Frans Hals in her day. But almost as soon as she died at the age of 50, a lot of her work was misattributed to either Frans Hals or to her husband, who was also a painter. And it wasn't until the late 19th century that an art historian recognized the small star that she often painted in the corner of a picture, which was a play on her name. Leyster, apparently was an old Dutch word, meaning lodestar or a star, so she would often put a small star in her pictures. And so that was how a lot of her paintings have been properly attributed. But then, you know, it was art history until, you know, very recent times. It's been very it's been a story written by white men about other white men, essentially. And and so unless people personally knew this woman and what she had created, her story disappeared very quickly. And so her achievements were absorbed into this sort of patriarchal lineage. And I think it's really important to remind ourselves that art history isn't carved in stone. You know, it's a it's an ever-evolving, mutating, changing story. Like all histories, it's about how we perceive the world now, what we know of the past and how we interpret it. And so that, to me, is an exciting thing to, you know, because I think more and more women now are being rediscovered for the great artists that they were, you know, from 100 to 200 to 300, 400 years ago.

Craig: [00:10:08] Sure. Well, I know just within, I guess I'm getting older, but I just know within my lifespan, when I took art history in college, the the canon that was kind of presented to me was very much white Western art history. And I know now that the canon that we are capable of presenting is far more diverse and tries to equally recognize the work of of all cultures. And and sometimes that's kind of hard to try to figure out on the timeline where they all fit together. But it looks like you equally across the globe in this in this book, finding these comparable stories from different cultures.

Jennifer: [00:10:59] Yeah, absolutely. And and you know, as you say, I mean, you know, the two big art history textbooks of the 20th century were E. H. Gombrich's "Story of Art" and H.W. Janson's "History of Art", which were first published in 1961 and 62, respectively. And neither of them included one woman artist, you know, which is just, you know, I think it's bad scholarship apart from anything else. But yes, I'm Australian and I've lived in London for a long time. And so, you know, I'm very aware of what it is to sort of study art in the European tradition on the other side of the world. And you know, it's important to stress here that the women I'm talking about and the art historical traditions I'm talking about are those in the European tradition because obviously indigenous cultures in Australia and elsewhere have, you know, histories of thousands of years of honouring female creativity as a form of self-expression and identity and community expression as well. And so it was very important to me to, you know, look at how this European tradition had been manifested in various countries around the world because, you know, that was what I grew up with in Australia. And so in one of my chapters, which is called "Translation", I look at how the European traditions were translated in different countries. So we've got Rita Angus, a brilliant self-portrait as in New Zealand or Nora Heysen or Margaret Preston in Australia or in India. We've got Amrita Sher-Gil in the state that got Lois Maillou Jones. And so looking at how these artists sort of took what they needed from art history and then used it to express their place in the world.

Craig: [00:12:38] So when you did your research, was there a surprise that you came across that you weren't expecting?

Jennifer: [00:12:44] Hmm. I mean, there were there were constant surprises, especially around the Renaissance, actually, and how many women were actually, you know, had great careers in the Renaissance. Because I know when I studied art history in the 80s and 90s, we weren't taught about any women painting in the Renaissance. And also actually what I was surprised by is that you see the museum that you just mentioned has one of the highest percentages of female self-portraiture in the world because the Medicis were actually very supportive of a lot of women artists who were making art in the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. So, yeah, I did find that really fascinating, and I just wish a lot of these artists had been writers as well so that they could have told us more about their stories. And then another amazing story was that of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, I loved learning more about her, and I came across her in a huge exhibition at the Grand Palais a few years ago in Paris, and she was Marie Antoinette's favorite artist, and she was remarkable. She was the daughter of a rather unsuccessful artist, and she was painting professionally by the age of about 15. You know, we're talking in the sort of in the late 18th century here, and she was not only extremely talented, but she was very beautiful. She had great salons. She was a brilliant businesswoman, so she became best friends with Marie Antoinette and painted more than 30 portraits of the French royal family. And of course, when the revolution came and she was, you know, being Marie Antoinette favourite, she was in great danger of her life. So she fled to Italy. And then she had a really remarkable career, traveling all around Europe, from Russia to England, painting aristocrats and nobility and and she made a fortune. And then in her 80s, she did write a memoir which was really wonderful, and it's a very entertaining read and a tragic read. And yeah, but she didn't have a major exhibition in France, a retrospective honouring her extraordinary career until, you know, it was about 10 years ago, which just seems remarkable to me.

Craig: [00:14:59] Yeah, it does. It does. She is. She's my my wife is a French instructor and Lebrunn is Vigée Le Brun, is one of her favorites, and I have a daughter who's my daughter's name is actually Elizabeth Louise. And so it's

Jennifer: [00:15:16] Oh, wow. After her. That's amazing.

Craig: [00:15:19] And it actually it was a combination of family names, and it all just sort of fit together, right? Tell me a little bit about Paula Modersohn-Becker. She I believe her work makes the cover of of of your book,

Jennifer: [00:15:36] I think, in the UK and Australian edition.

Craig: [00:15:39] Yeah. And so to be honest with you, I really wasn't familiar with her. But preparing for our discussion, I tried to learn a little bit more about her, and she seems like a really interesting story.

Jennifer: [00:15:52] Oh, I mean, she's she's really amazing and actually writing the book, she became one of my sort of favorites. And I mean, what a remarkable artist she was. She was born in 1876. She was German. And at a tender age, she moved to an artist colony in Germany called Worpswede, and it was a really amazingly beautiful part of the countryside, and there are all these artists who gravitated there. It was sort of like in a funny way, like a, you know, an early hippie commune sort of thing, but, you know, with slightly more straight laced. And she worked incredibly hard at her painting, and she married a local artist called Otto Modersohn. She ended up going to Paris when she was still in her 20s, and she had a really remarkable time there and and she went with her best friend, Clara Westhoff, who was a sculptor who was studying with Rodin and Clara Westhoff actually ended up marrying the poet Rilke and Rilke was also a very close friend of Paula's, and she had she and Clara had one exhibition which was absolutely torn apart. Then she was working incredibly hard in Paris. She went back to Worpswede, but she wasn't happy by now living in the countryside, and she wanted to stay in Paris, so she actually left her husband and moved to Paris.

Jennifer: [00:17:18] But life was very tough. Although her letters are full of joy and happiness and excitement at this world she's exploring. And, you know, in the early 20th century, she was making paintings that, to my mind, were as good as Matisse and Picasso's at the time, and she painted what is now considered to be the first naked self-portrait and it's self-portrait on her sixth wedding anniversary of 1936. And she paints herself with just a sort of loincloth wrapped around her lower body. She's naked from the waist up. Apart from a string of beads, and she looks pregnant. Actually, what is really one of the very fascinating things about this painting is that it's very misleading because she's not actually pregnant when she paints this picture. She was pregnant with the idea of possibility she had just left her husband. She signed her the painting with her the initials of her maiden name, not her married name. And so this, in a sense, was like a bid for freedom, this self-portrait. But very tragically, she she was worn down. She all a lot of pressure from her family and her husband to turn to the marriage. She ran out of money, and she decided that it would be easy to return to her husband and to be able to paint back in Worpswede.

Jennifer: [00:18:36] She went back there. She became pregnant and very sadly. She died eight days after giving birth to her daughter, Mathilde, and her last words were, "What a pity." So it's a tragic story as a woman dying in her early 30s. But you know, it's a bit like what I was saying before. I think that there is her. Her work exhibited such a life force and an inventiveness. You know, she only had two exhibitions in her life. As I said, the first one was vilified and the second one wasn't reviewed. She hardly sold anything. And now she's known as one of the great early modernist painters to come out of Germany and to make some of her greatest work in Paris. And again, because she didn't have much money she used, she painted herself again and again and again. And I really recommend that your listeners look her up online because her paintings are really remarkable. And actually, the painting that's on the UK and Australian edition, a self-portrait painted in 1936 is actually a collection of the Museum of Modern Art in York, and I think it's on view actually now so you can go and see it. 

Craig: [00:19:41] Great. Jennifer, I appreciate your time now. You you also have a podcast where you, you talk about issues sort of related to this in a broader scope, correct?

Jennifer: [00:19:53] Yes, that's right. I ask my guests to nominate female artists from the past to whom they would like to bow down and to discuss their lives. So with yeah, so always had some wonderful conversations about. Yes. And I've learnt so much about a lot of artists who I didn't know about before, too.

Craig: [00:20:13] And so if they want to find that podcast, it's the Bow Down podcast. They can find that in the usual places.

Jennifer: [00:20:23] Yeah.

Craig: [00:20:25] Well, I appreciate you being willing to sit down and have a conversation with me about about your book and you know these these amazing stories and how they all sort of weave together. And you know, I really appreciate your time today.

Jennifer: [00:20:42] Oh, Craig, thank you so much for inviting me.

[00:20:43] I so appreciate you.

Craig: [00:20:51] The other day, I was having a conversation with my son, Josh. "Son, how old are you?"

Josh: [00:20:56] 15.

Craig: [00:20:57] And so what kind of things are you interested in?

Josh: [00:20:59] Filmmaking, art, stuff like that?

Craig: [00:21:02] A lot of times at bedtime, you come into the office at night and we talk about things, right?

Josh: [00:21:07] Yeah.

Craig: [00:21:08] And so sometimes we talk about art. Yeah. How do those conversations usually start?

Josh: [00:21:13] I point to a painting and you know, what's that or who did that?

Craig: [00:21:17] And so what sort of conversations have we had like that?

Josh: [00:21:19] The ones where it's the portraits of Goliath's head by Caravaggio but Caravaggio has had is Goliath's head

Craig: [00:21:28] That takes us down the path of trying to find out more information. And didn't you have a question about the Caravaggio painting?

Josh: [00:21:36] Was there a welt on his head? Because the first one where David's just holding his head, it's very dark, like it's in shadow and he has really long hair. But I think there's like a spot of blood like trickling down his face, but it's hard to see it. And I also asked, did David really, you know, cut his head off? Because that seems very violent for someone like David, right?

Craig: [00:21:59] So we had to go back to the original source because neither one of us remembered the whole beheading thing. And sure enough, we found in the Bible where it said that David cut his head off and held it up for everybody to see, didn't he?

Josh: [00:22:11] Yeah.

Craig: [00:22:12] So the great thing about this story is that Josh and I have these moments where we bond over art, and these conversations always seem to start with images being displayed on my Canvia. So the Canvia is a 17 by 28 inch digital art frame and canvas full HD display provides unmatched detail. There's a technology called Art Sense, just like the name of this podcast that samples the ambient light in the room and automatically adjusts the display to heighten the sensation that you're looking at a real painting or print. Unlike a frame of the goal of the Canvia, is an authentic viewing experience. Your Canvia provides you access to thousands of historic artworks in premium members have access to a host of contemporary artworks as well. If you want to learn more about Canvia, head over to canvia.art and check it out. And now my discussion about art, process, and happiness with Sandy Skoglund.

Craig: [00:23:11] So, Sandy, thank you so much for being willing to come on the program and talk about your work. Let me start here. So if you were to meet someone at a dinner party and they've never seen your work, how would you describe it to them?

Sandy: [00:23:31] Colorful.

Craig: [00:23:33] Ok.

Sandy: [00:23:38] And then then there would be a quizzical look on their face. And then I would say, well, multimedia. I make things. I sculpt and I also take photographs that would kind of be, be it. 

Craig: [00:23:58] Sure.

Sandy: [00:23:58] You know what I would say? Yeah. Mm hmm. 

Craig: [00:24:00] And so you seem to be the prototypical interdisciplinary artist that maybe it's hard to put a label on. Would you would you agree with that?

Sandy: [00:24:19] Well, I would. Go ahead.

Craig: [00:24:20] No, I was going to say, Let me ask you in a different way. How do you feel about labels?

Sandy: [00:24:27] Well, you know, I think they're handy. They're helpful and, you know, sometimes they feel appropriate and other times they don't. But they're part of how we all make our way through the world. I mean, everything can't be particularly, you know, defined and it's, you know, infinitesimal specificness. So yeah, I'm not like against it in art. I mean, I have to say my overall journey really has been a kind of from the outset, even when I went to graduate school, I had no particular interest in any medium. And in fact, in sculpture, I was kind of disinterested in sculpture, partly because in art history, the art history that I had had looked at, you know, as an undergraduate at Smith College in 1964 to 68 and then later, even in Paris, I studied there while I was still at Smith. And then even after that, while I'm in grad school, which is at the University of Iowa, the sculpture never seemed to be about color. You know, it just seemed to be. It just that the fact that it wasn't about color and very little of it was about story. So that made me like, not very interested in it as a medium.

Sandy: [00:26:01] And I felt the same way about photography. I felt that it attracted people who were less original, frankly and creative. And so I again, having studied it as a medium, you know, just at at arm's length. I mean, I never took a course in it, which is probably why I ended up doing it, because there's really, I think, something to be said for a lack of preparation and just jumping in to something without a lot of preconceived ideas. So. So I think that's, you know, my answer about about labels. I mean, most good artists, I think, have, you know, they have the ability to do a number of deal with a number of mediums. So I don't look at it as particularly special. And I really think that I've been defined under photography, thank God. I mean, you know, thank God, I've been defined under something. So, you know, I've learned to appreciate photography really in hindsight and to to, I don't know, except you know, that I do belong there to to a large extent. So. 

Craig: [00:27:31] Sure. It seems like the photography is kind of the just the final closing chapter on the piece that there's sometimes months and years of work and process well, before you, you bring the camera, you know, and set it up on a tripod.

Sandy: [00:27:51] Mm hmm. Absolutely. Mm hmm.

Craig: [00:27:54] I would love to talk to you about process because it seems like you find a lot of your art practice. The the kind of the meditative practice of making your art is in the research and the process. You can explain it to us better, but there's an idea. There's research, there's execution. Can you tell us about about your process,

Sandy: [00:28:20] The motivation, right? I mean, why get out of bed? You know, I mean, it's very comfortable in bed and. So why do something, why act? So for me, the the the action part has become or is it generally you're right, pretty well confirmed in my, in my imagination, I can somehow I've reflected upon it enough. I do daily and weekly little sketches in my notebook, and they kind of accumulate to crystallize into something that seems complicated enough and important enough to actually act on. To actually say in the case of radioactive cats is a good example from 1980. So that process was pretty specific. So I was coming out of the 70s in 1980, you know, as we all were 78, 79, 1980, I was really very how can I say it exhausted by conceptualism, which was very strong here in in New York, in in the mid-70s and late 70s. And I was really interested in it. I mean, I studied philosophy. I read magazines, the art magazines and was working in that mode in in the 70s. And that's kind of how I slipped into photography, never having taken a course, I slipped into the medium of photography through kind of using photography to show my conceptual ideas. Mm hmm. And the the main idea really was resemblance and difference. So I'm always thinking really as a philosopher slash sociologist in a way, but an amateur, you know, an amateur. I mean, I'm not really capable emotionally of reading very much philosophy.

Sandy: [00:31:10] I mean, it's just very dense material. But I am interested in it. And I, you know, I do go back to it periodically. But with Radioactive Cats in 1979, I was I was really interested in who's the audience for your work? Because what happened with conceptual art is the audience became very small. I mean, think about it, you know, you walk into a gallery that's all painted white and there's maybe nothing on the wall at all. Or if there is, there's some kind of inaccessible thing on the wall that you have no clue of what it's about. And it hasn't tried to make itself attractive or beautiful, either. Right. It's just there as an idea. So, so the that those feelings of who's the audience? Where am I? Who am I? They kind of all came together with radioactive cats, with the idea that, "you know what? I think that I really like cats." I know I really like cats, and I'm going to do something that I really just feel like doing without a lot of complex rationale behind it. So the idea with radioactive cats in the beginning was to have one cat, and it was a photographic idea. So I had the camera set up. I had the room kind of in my mind that it would be this living room and the to bring this sort of still photograph to life, which is also something that I'm always struggling with is still photography can just be so dead. I mean, it can be so inert.

Sandy: [00:33:15] It can be, you know, boring. So I really wanted to as I was starting to devote myself to the medium or focus on it. I wanted to animate it, animate this one, frame this one rectangle. So I had worked with found objects, so I had done some previous pieces that were a lot of fun with spoons, plastic spoons that I bought at the five and 10 cent store here in New York. Plastic hangers, other kinds of detritus, you know, plastic detritus. But with the idea of this cat in in the photograph it, it sort of opened up a kind of dividing line for me between if if I may say someone like Marcel Duchamp, who finds the urinal and puts that in an art context and therefore makes a kind of resounding philosophical comment about the art object and in context. So my dividing line was I can go and look out and look out in the culture. Go to stores and see if I can find some sculptures of cats to put in in this photograph because I had been doing that. I mean, I had been finding these plastic spoons. I had been finding plastic hangers hanging them all over, you know, the picture frame. But it just seemed to me at the time that it was important to to slow down and to do what I think I could do was to just sculpt one. And so that's what I decided to do. So it was that kind of a thinking process.

Sandy: [00:35:15] But then the reality of the sculpture process was enormously humbling. I mean, it was crushing because I had no, I had not taken many sculpture courses. This is 1979, 1980, and I'm living in a Lower East Side small apartment with another apartment that I'm using as my studio in another building. So this is not a big loft situation at all. You know, it's all very domestic. And the one process I remember having having done a lot of in undergraduate was plaster. So saying to myself, OK, you'll just get chicken wire, you'll get some plaster, some plaster bandage and you'll you'll scrunch it up and it'll all come together. And so the process of starting that was just a disaster. I mean, it was like, Oh my God, these things don't look like a cat. I mean, they just look like lumps of plaster with four legs on them. So I think I must have spent at least a month, if not to just determinedly day after day sculpting these plaster things, trying to make them look more like a cat. And what I loved about the whole process of doing that is that it just took me away from the philosophy and into an ordinary person looking at with their eyes, something you've made an object that you've made. And do they actually understand what it is that you've sculpted? I mean, do they know that it's cat? So I'd have friends come in and ask them what they were. I mean, you know, what is this? Here's one where does it look like? And that was a kind of a learning process for me as well.

Sandy: [00:37:27] But the cats did get better over a long period of time of struggle. And so that whole process of struggling and having a kind of end goal that was that was limited to communicating with other people. That became a part of my work process as well. So this sort of meaningful struggle day after day, not that it's painful at all. It's just I have a goal at the beginning of the day. At the end of the day, that goal is half fulfilled, maybe one tenth. So that process, which is for me, inherent in the type of sculpture I do, it really became very important for me. So out of that, the cats became one cat, became 25, became 30 or maybe 35 altogether that I that I did. And then. You know, I'm at that time, I'm working completely in the dark. I mean, I'm not having exhibitions in New York much, you know, just a few like like anybody who had just come to New York. I mean, I arrived in '72, but nothing, you know, like earth shattering. So the process of this sort of meaningful struggle really was very enriching for me and and then looking at the cats as they accumulated on the floor. It was pretty clear to me that they they sort of animated the space much better than just one cat. So that's the sort of beginning process with radioactive cats

Craig: [00:39:19] In the end, how much time did it take to create those those thirty, thirty five cats? We're talking about a year or two years?

Sandy: [00:39:28] No, that was only three months.

Craig: [00:39:30] Oh, OK.

Sandy: [00:39:31] Three to four months, maybe. Yeah, yeah. Because I mean, just working every day and plaster is fast, you know, and chicken wire, I mean, the chicken wire was the most painful part. I mean that that stuff is really hard on your hands, but that particular process is really much faster than clay, although of course, everything depends on what you're doing with it. But that piece did not take very long. Then after that, I did "Revenge of the Goldfish".

Craig: [00:40:07] Mm hmm.

Sandy: [00:40:08] And with revenge, the goldfish. The idea was a medium as well, which was clay. In that case, I had done the cat's out of plaster, and it was very physically painful working with chicken wire and even the plaster is, you know, it's you have to be careful. I mean, that plaster gets in the air. It's, you know, it's really it can be harmful to your health. So. So I kind of started a journey of different ways of making things. And so with "Revenge of the Goldfish", that did become longer, more like six months of making the fish because with that particular piece, I knew I knew only that I wanted to make fish. I didn't know where this was going to be or who is going to be in it, what kind of a space it would be. But I just wanted to make fish. So I enrolled in a hand building course in Baldwin Pottery, which is no longer in, no longer exists. But they had a pottery studio below their store and lots of young artists had you could rent a space there and you could work alongside other artists and then fire your work in the kilns right there. So that was just a really wonderful, very special kind of arrangement for making the the fish for revenge of the Goldfish.

Craig: [00:41:42] Now those two pieces you just mentioned, they're so compelling on so many levels, one being these multiples, there's the space, which, you know, I think is something we see over and over again in your work. But you know, one of the things I find interesting. Maybe it's just because of my love of Edward Hopper. You know, the way you've positioned these figures in both of those works, there are two people and they're occupying the same space, but it's almost like they're they are paying no regard to the other. I guess for Hopper, he was, you know, tap into the loneliness and isolation. But did you have Hopper in mind or is that just something that I'm bringing to the table as a viewer?

Sandy: [00:42:25] Right? Well, I think the first thing that I have to ask is I do love Hopper's work, even from the get go. I mean, you know, I can close my eyes and see, you know, some of his pictures. And I wonder if that's what he was really trying to do. Will we know? Do we know? Did he say what he was that he was talking about loneliness? Do you see what I'm driving at?

Craig: [00:42:52] I do, I do. 

Sandy: [00:42:53] So? I don't know. I mean, art historians have said that and even looked into the relationship between the men and the women in his work as well. But what's so great about making visual art and assuming that it really is visual art, you know, it's meant to be understood with the eyes is in a certain way. Nobody actually knows because only the art knows, right? Because the because the art is the fact, right? The art is the thing, and I will just say, as an artist myself, I'm not I do not think of myself as really trying to depict society in a, in a sense, the way that you're talking about it. But I will I will say that for my work, I find what I the way that I placed the people had a number of dimensions, intent, intentions on my part. The first intention I had was, I want people to look at my sculptures. I don't really want them to look at the people and the people are really there as a device to allow the viewer to understand how big, how big this space is. Because if you took the people out and you took this vote, you looked at this photograph, there would be a little bit of a question about, you know, what am I looking at? Are these little tiny fish, you know, in a little tiny room? So if you put real people in there now, you've got what they call an objective correlative.

Sandy: [00:44:48] You know, the way they do with crime scenes when they photograph, you know, let's say, an object in a crime scene, they'll put next to it a ruler so that you can understand what it is. So for me, the people were were that in the beginning? And then because they were people, I feel as though we are kind of alone together in reality. I mean, we can fortunately find people that we can be with and, you know, go through life with some much closer than others. But we all know that we can never really know another person and we probably really can't really know ourselves. But the the way that I positioned the people had more to do with my own idea of that. We're alone together rather than its loneliness, because loneliness is sad, and I didn't think I've hardly ever been lonely. And I mean, I just I don't feel it. I don't want to communicate it. So. So I hope that answers your question of just these people are there and they're in this environment, and they're actually not paying any attention to it, either. In the same way that if I were standing in Grand Central Station trying to get something done, I would not be looking at the thousands of people or hundreds of people all around me and the mass confusion around me, which, you know, which is what you see in my photographs because there's a lot of activity going on around the people.

Craig: [00:46:41] That's another thing that really strikes me is how the people in the photos are really paying no regard to the chaos that's going on around them, right? And so it almost it's almost when you see, you know, the documentary footage about hoarders, how the hoarders are perfectly happy living inside a space that's just bursting at the seams with this stuff and to them. They, you know, pay absolutely no regard to the fact that that's outside of of the norms, right?

Sandy: [00:47:13] Right, right. Right. I mean, everything becomes normal, right? Right.

Craig: [00:47:18] Whenever you set out on a project, do you have some timeline in mind? Or is it just going to take as long as it takes for you to be happy?

Sandy: [00:47:28] Yes. And happiness, too. Right? Wow, that's hard. It's almost impossible,

Craig: [00:47:37] Right.

Sandy: [00:47:38] With with winter, the the timeline became very protracted because I I wanted I really did not want it to be a driving, ambition laden, focused feeling within myself. I'm really there's no point in making art if you are not doing what you want to be doing is my my attitude. And so when it came to starting on winter, which was what 2009 2008 was my last large piece, which was called "Fresh Hybrid". And then after that piece, which I did so so again, we're back to process because Sandy: "Fresh Hybrid" and a whole slew of work prior to Sandy: "Fresh Hybrid" involved figure sculpting figures and sculpting them using mannequin parts. So I had a huge collection of mannequin parts of arms and legs and heads, and this and that, and I would just throw them all together to create these sort of figures. And in 2009, I decided that I wanted to basically, I wanted to sculpt a figure from scratch, so it really started with that idea. And then I noticed that 3D sculpting was all the rage was certainly not that everyone was doing it, partly because it's very it's very involved with engineering thinking. So the fact that it's not very intuitive makes most sculptors not too interested. But in my case, I just thought it would be interesting to shrink my work process down to myself and the and the screen, the computer screen. So. So that process of just sculpting one figure to be in this installation called Winter was took years. It just took years because I had to find people that I could talk to who would help me create the files.

Sandy: [00:50:15] I had to just make small files, send them out, get them back, you know, so the whole process, sort of. You would think that it would be the opposite. You would think that, OK, 3D sculpture up, snap your fingers. And there it is. But it's actually the opposite because of just because of how how it works. So that slowed me down enormously, that whole the interaction with the computer. And but I have to say I liked I liked the process of just using my brain. You know, it was interesting and it was satisfying. It was, you know, a lot of work to arrive at a dialogue with a sculpture making facility, you know, to where in my files would actually come out from them the way I wanted them to look. I mean, you can have a digital file of anything. Let's say you have a digital file of a photograph. So you send it to who knows where and they make a print, right? And then you look at that print, you go, Oh my god, I mean, the reds are wrong. The green is this it's too light to well, the same thing is true in 3D. So all of that, you know, takes time to develop relationships. But but in the end, in the end, it all became very satisfying, but very time consuming, which I blame myself for because I think when you work alone, which I really, really like working alone. But the trouble with working alone is that you're never happy

Jennifer: [00:52:11] Back to happiness.

Sandy: [00:52:13] And, you know, it's a kind of a, you know, a kind of a joke in the art world. That museum will buy an artwork from somebody or from their gallery. And and God forbid, that artist should come near that artwork because they'll want to fix it.

Craig: [00:52:30] You know, that's you know, I've heard people talk about, you know, one of the reasons the game of golf is so addictive is that people can go out and they can shoot an amazing score and still think in their head. You know what? I could have made that putt on No. Five or this one chip here, and I could have I could have done. But there are folks who were never happy at the end of a golf game, right?

Sandy: [00:52:55] Right, right, right.

Craig: [00:52:57] So, so tell me, tell me about the tell me about the process of the snowflakes because you started one place and wound up another in winter. Correct? Yes.

Sandy: [00:53:09] Yes. Yes. I don't know how you know that, but I did. I started. I started off well. I started with the 3-D sculpting, with the figures, and then at the same time, I started with the idea of a snowflake. I mean, I knew that it was going to be on the subject of winter or. Coolness or cold and, you know, that kind of thing. It's going to be kind of landscape driven. And so the snowflake became a huge problem because they're so they're so trivialized in in our commercial visual field as Christmas decorations. So it was a struggle. I started off with ceramic because I thought it would be an interesting kind of contradiction. The ceramic is very brittle and and, you know, to have something sort of thin and brittle and breakable and fragile a kind of resonated for me as a medium with with the snowflake idea. So I did. I spent actually about two years making snowflake blobs really out of out of clay. And then I spent quite a bit of time working on what goes on the snowflakes, which were in the beginning, my collection of eyes. I also at the same time, as, you know, starting the whole piece, I started to collect the eyes of people that I know and love, or people that they know animals that belong to them.

Sandy: [00:54:54] So the the snowflakes, for no particular reason that I can explain to you, have an eye on them, whether it's animal or per person, and that eye is sort of embedded in a kind of photoshopped matrix. And so the first set of snowflakes had decals that I fired on to them, but I sort of gave up the the clay idea. I just didn't think they looked like snowflakes and they were nice. They were pretty and they were they were satisfying, but they within the context of, you know, a large bunch of them. I just did not think they had that crispness as a shape. So I then went into water jet cutting out of metal shapes. And that's what you see in in the piece right now is water jet shapes that I had cut out by somebody else, and then I had them powder coated. And then on top of that, I used a photography method of printing here in New York. Hmm. And so I photoshopped those images, which have eyes and are heavily photoshopped sort of star like eyes coming out of the snowflakes.

Craig: [00:56:36] So they wind up being far more dainty, detailed, refined, more like what you would think of as a snowflake rather than the you know what you were experiencing with the slabs that you were right?

Sandy: [00:56:52] Right, right. I mean, I have to tell you, Craig, I mean, I did. I I know Clay fairly well, but only from these limited points of view. So with Revenge of the Goldfish, I made those out of Low Fire Clay, which I only because somebody recommended it to me low fire, clay and high fire completely, you know, very, very different. But in any event, so I had all of that experience from doing that. Then the piece called The Wedding, which is strawberry jam and orange marmalade, combined with handmade their stoneware, ceramic roses, hundreds of them all over in that piece. So here, you know, so there I am, working on winter with these, you know, snowflake ideas and clay is really alive. I mean, most clay people will tell you that. I mean, it's you make a slab of it, you know, and it's laying down flat. But as it dries, it's not going to dry everywhere the same. And since it doesn't, it's going to ripple. It's going to wrinkle. It's going to have an organic quality that's just part of what it is. And I resisted it. I resisted it. I came up with so many ways to to make them dry flat, but in the end, I just thought it was going against the medium.

Craig: [00:58:28] So. Sandy, are you exhibiting right now, is there a show up or coming up?

Speaker4: [00:58:33] Yeah, there's a show up of winter actually in San Antonio at the. So San Antonio, Texas at the McNay Art Museum there. And it is. It's a group show, but it's only about four or five artists. And the installation actually of winter is up there at that museum. Great. Yeah. So that was nice. And then I had a show that just came down in Moscow, which was really nice. It was a kind of a limited retrospective which showed a lot of sculptures coming out of the installation. So they had they had a fox from Fox Games. This was all done through my gallery in Italy. Patchy, contemporary and and it was really interesting to see because I'm on Instagram, as you know, you and I communicated on Instagram. And I do have to say that for me as a, you know, an older artist, I mean, 74 years going on seventy five, I just started doing Instagram a year and a half ago. And during the COVID epidemic, I found it to be a wonderful community of of just to see so many other artists all around the world, you know, doing doing their work. So Instagram is another way that I would encourage people to to, you know, follow me or see what's going on because I I do like to post there periodically trying to think what else. I think that's kind of it for the moment. I'm looking forward to being in an important group show at LA County Museum. That's a show that is based on the idea of commercialism, commercial techniques and advertising and how that intersected with contemporary photography historically. So it's something you and I didn't talk about right now, but it was an attitude that was a very important part of how I progressed in my thinking in the 70s. So my early photography still lifes are going to be in that show from from 1978.

Craig: [01:01:08] Great. Is that coming up in the fall

Speaker4: [01:01:11] That has been slowed down because of COVID? It's going to be a large show with a catalog. And I think it's 2022, OK? I'm almost certain. Yeah, 2022.

Craig: [01:01:23] Well, Sandy, it's really been a pleasure talking to you. I feel like I feel like we could do a whole second hour. I mean, there's a.

[01:01:42] And now the news.

Craig: [01:01:47] On future episodes of the program, we'll be having lengthy discussions around the contested ownership of certain pieces of art. Sometimes ownership can be a little messy, especially in a generation where the world is becoming more conscious of righting wrongs, in particular artworks looted under force or coercion. Just this week, the French government returned a painting by Max Peck Stein to the heirs of Hugo Simon. Simon had been a Jewish banker and an art collector who fled Berlin for France under the Nazi regime. France has a commission called the SIVs, which is actively working to return looted art to the families of the rightful owners. In the case of this particular painting of four nudes and a wooded landscape, the SIVs was able to confirm from a label on the back of the painting that Simon had loaned the painting for exhibition in London in 1938. The commission states that the paper trail gets a little hazy after that, but are sure the painting was looted by the Nazis. So the painting will now move from the Zayed National d'Art Moderne in Paris, back to the Simon family. A recent survey by the Association of Art Museum Directors shows that a widening salary gap is just as prevalent in America's museums as it is in corporate America. On average, museum directors are bringing home three hundred and twenty thousand a year. While that visitor services associate you interact with on the front lines is only making thirty one thousand if they weren't furloughed because of the pandemic and the next time that part time security guard asks you to step back. Please don't give them a hard time. They're making less than fifteen thousand a year. The Dallas Museum of Art has acquired a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting titled Sam F that has a personal connection to the museum.

Craig: [01:03:27] In nineteen eighty five, Dallas collectors Marcia and Ellen may invited Basquiat to stay with him while attending the opening for a show at the DMA titled "Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern", which had traveled to Dallas from MoMA. While staying with the Mays, Basquiat befriended another couple the feltman's living in the same apartment building as the Maze, who were also art collectors. Samuel Feldman is the subject of the painting, which Basquiat painted on the back of a door in the apartment building. The painting features a depiction of Feldman, a Dallas financial services executive who is confined to a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy. There's also the image of a blackbird, the usual scribblings of text we have come to expect in the repeated use of the name Sam, followed by a copyright symbol. This, of course, is not just a reference to Feldman's first name, but also harkens back to Basquiat's moniker as a street artist - Samo.

Craig: [01:04:31] That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to art since you can find the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, Spotify or your favourite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rates show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. If you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read a transcript and find other bonus features. You can go to Canvia Art and click on the Podcast tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at craig@canvia.art. Thanks for listening.

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