Now Featuring Carey Lin

San Francisco artist and curator Carey Lin interrogates the practice of painting, continually asking herself how and why such an old and laborious process of making images can continue to be relevant.  Such an inquiry seems in danger of becoming self-reflexive, but Lin balances it with a keen sense of ridiculousness, allowing viewers to understand the sense of play behind her work. We met at her Dogpatch studio and talked about grad school angst, making paintings of paintings and all the curatorial projects she has up her sleeve.

To view Carey’s collection of Exclusive LPP prints: Go here.

Exclusive Print, June

Exclusive Print, May-June

Exclusive Print, Screenshot

Exclusive Print, No way that's it

Exclusive Print, Somebody's idea of a good time

Exclusive Print, Somebody's idea of a good time

MH: Can you talk about your interest in trash?  You paint so many things that fall along the spectrum of refuse, from the clippings on your studio floor to pictures of hoarder houses to free craigslist items.  It seems like you’re dealing with the documentation mostly, the pictures people (usually people other than you) take of this stuff and then put out into the world, not the actual refuse itself; but that somehow the act of painting is allowing you to comb through it, almost wallow in it. It’s a removed process that isn’t removed at all, actually quite vivid.

CL: I like thinking about all the stuff we cast out as a matter of course in daily life; these things move through our lives without us spending much time thinking much about them. On the other hand, making art is [supposed to be the] opposite of something that “just happens,” so I’m a little obsessed with thinking about how we decide what to make work about — with finding interesting or unique aspects to pretty mundane subjects. In grad school I was often asked “Why painting?” (or rather “Why does what you’re doing have to be done using painting?”) and I had to stop painting for a while to really think hard about that.

Studio view, for sale/wanted > free stuff series

I was only able to start painting again when I realized I could just make work about wanting to paint, not knowing what to paint about, and essentially painting about that problem itself. Using documentation by other people (of the hoarding paintings and of the free stuff on Craigslist) is an attempt to expand the way that I think about refuse from other perspectives. Making paintings of these things helps me to focus on how we collectively valuate our possessions and rethink their role in our lives.

Studio floor

MH: How do jokes and silliness inform your work?

CL: Ha ha. I’m not sure… I guess I like to set up these games for myself in my practice, creating various rules or constraints to begin with just as a way to start the painting. I also feel like what my work is “about” (a.k.a. the self-reflexivity of painting about painting, or making art about making art, etc.) can seem overly-serious, so I need to find ways to make it clear that part of the reason why I try to get people to take a step back when considering subject matter and medium, etc. is that I’m aware that it can also become too self-conscious. It’s funny that artists will spend so much time trying to analyze some really specific thing or concept and then we expect that other people will just automatically be interested in it too. Sometimes it seems ridiculous to me that making paintings — the actual act of putting paint on surfaces and either trying to make these smudges of pigment look like something (or not look like something) — is an activity people ever thought to do and could be the point of such contention, art-historically speaking. I like that about painting — how serious and absurd it really is. Also, when I’m coming up with titles for pieces, I’m pretty literal and just describe what it is I’m trying to depict; this is a way to make fun of myself a little for wanting to make art about all the small stuff that doesn’t usually seem worth spending so much time on.

MH: Your work also involves a lot of doubling, painting images from found photos, painting your palette, painting old work, making a cake based on a painting, and so on.  What do doubling and reproduction mean to you as a strategy?

CL: Doubling and reproduction function as a sort of makeshift mirror within my practice. I like that you can never do the same thing twice in exactly the same way, even if you try really hard to replicate an experience or image. For whatever reason I find it really difficult to just make a painting that isn’t based on something concrete that I can directly perceive, like when people make paintings intuitively just “from their imagination” or whatever. With the palette paintings I was trying to do my own version of “working from nothing,” which for me was trying to mimic on canvas what was happening as I was squeezing paint onto my palette, mixing colors, etc. and letting that system of copying become a sort of convoluted call and response where it became really unclear which “image” was leading the other (the palette or the painting). I filter the world around me by coming up with new ways to ask questions about what art should be about and the way an art practice and everyday life always overlap and feed into each other. The cyclical nature of this strategy is what sustains my work conceptually even if the materials and subjects change.

Gallery view, No way that's it

MH: Until researching for this interview, I though of you strictly as a painter (and curator) and now I see you make videos, you made a very funny piece (No way that’s it) where viewers assemble a puzzle image of your painting, based on the painting as a guide. You even made an improvised mousetrap out of books.  Can you talk about the balance of your practice?

CL: I definitely make paintings for the most part when it comes to my personal studio practice but I think that the reason I make paintings (or am concerned with a lot of painting-oriented questions) is because I like to think about our relationships to objects and images and try to find ways to shift the context through which we encounter them. Paintings are a great way to think through these ideas because they are at once both objects themselves and can contain images of other objects at the same time, but I’m realizing more and more that thinking about painting can happen through non-paintings too. This has led to experiments with how long people generally look at paintings and how I might be able to influence that (like with the puzzle project No way that’s it), and in using food and video to turn these investigations into collaboratively produced works.

Regardless of what I’m using, I’m always trying to get people to reconsider the way they relate to their environment and the way they interact with the objects in them.

Gallery view, Now way that's it

MH: It’s been interesting to talk about the way you got back into painting after a period in grad school where you found it difficult to justify conceptually. You made rules — systems and sets of conditions — for creating paintings, making paintings from photos of bags of your weekly household trash, painted on panels the dimension of an unfolded empty trashbag. The systems and the rules you impose on your conditions for painting have gotten looser… what are some current rules you’re looking to break? What makes you a little nervous in studio?

CL: It’s true, I am a little less strict with myself now when it comes to coming up with a reason to make a painting. I think that the sort of “conceptual paralysis’” that happened my first year of grad school has worn off a bit and I’m not as self-conscious now. I used to be a little paranoid that in starting each new series, I was finding some small “loophole” that was making it “okay” for me paint, and that once those paintings were made I’d have to start over in terms of finding more “justifiable” reasons to paint. During the last few years I’ve realized that as long as I keep thinking about it, I can always come up with new approaches to consider these issues of subject matter and abstraction vs. representation, and how one might continue to make work about making work itself, etc.

Um, current rules I’m trying to break…..that’s tough!

Installation view

MH: You do curatorial projects as well as your studio work, with Stairwell’s and with Royal Nonesuch Gallery.  What are your roles in each of these projects?

CL: Yep. Both are collaborative projects that I work on with other artists, although Stairwell’s is a “roving curatorial project” throughout the Bay Area and Royal NoneSuch is an actual gallery space in the Temescal District in Oakland. I came up with the idea for Stairwell’s with Sarah Hotchkiss last fall because we wanted to have shows in different kinds of places that were connected by an overarching theme of getting people to pay more attention to the work they were seeing at art openings. We thought it would be a cool idea for an Alternative Exposure grant since we could also use the grant money to commission new work from Bay Area artists and create an opportunity for people who might not usually make site-specific work. Sarah and I pick all the artists and work closely with them to develop site-specific work for each exhibition location and it’s a similar process with the writers we work with for the publications. Stairwell’s also includes a regular publication and off-site excursions that we call Field Trips to explore various pre-existing stair structures.

For the Royal NoneSuch Gallery, which I co-direct with Elizabeth Bernstein, Carrie Hott, and Kathleen Quillian, it’s a little different in that Liz and Carrie have been running the space for a couple years and Kathleen and I joined as collaborators at the end of 2011. There’s a little more division of labor since there are four of us and it’s already established as a space, but we’re definitely always trying to do new things there too. Like Stairwell’s, the scope of the programming at Royal NoneSuch is also very much about creating a more dynamic level of engagement between the public and the artists we work with, though within a more traditional gallery setting. We always try to include public programs during the run of each show to allow for different kinds of interactions with the exhibitions and to let the artists help facilitate more participatory events. We’re doing our first artist residency series this summer (called 3 for 3 because there are three artists and they each get the space for three weeks), and it will be really exciting to see how each person uses the space and invites visitors into their creative process during their time at the gallery.

MH: Stairwell’s has a lot coming up this summer… can you talk about the show coming up in July?  And what other upcoming Bay Area shows are you excited about?

CL: The next Stairwells show is going to be a one-night-only exhibition on July 13th and will feature newly commissioned site-specific work by Matt Kennedy, Noah Krell, and Collin McKelvey. It’s going to take place in the stairwell at the Carville Annex in the Outer Sunset (on Judah at 46th Ave.) and there will be video projections, sound pieces, and other time-based work. We’re hoping to capitalize on the certain spookiness of the neighborhood, especially at night when it’s really quiet and foggy, and because it will be Friday the 13th. There will be a takeaway publication distributed during this event too, and we’re excited to be working with six different writers and a new format for this next issue. As part of something that S.H.E.D. Projects is organizing, Stairwell’s is also co-curating an exhibition with a handful of other local curators called House Show, which will take place in this amazing house in West Oakland during the first half of August.

MH: What’s your dream show as an artist? As a curator?

CL: Haha, this question makes me feel a little like a kid, like when people ask what you want to be when you grow up. I’m not going to name names or venues here but for myself I am just looking for more exhibition scenarios where I have the chance to make work that is specific to a certain place and to have it shown in a way where that relationship is clear. I’d love to be able to show work from different series together too.

For curatorial projects, I would love to be able to start including more work by artists not necessarily in the Bay Area. Its pretty challenging when you don’t have any kind of budget for shipping or insuring art (or the artists themselves!) to be brought in from other cities but I’m excited about trying to find creative ways around it. I want to do a show sometime this fall or winter about this.


MH: What painters (and other artists) are you excited about these days?

CL: Well I just saw the Gerhard Richter documentary a few weeks ago… I really love his work and all the different approaches he’s taken over the years to really think about “how to make pictures” or however he puts it. The film was somehow both boring (as actually watching someone make a painting kind of dumbs it down to the most basic level of moving paint around on a surface, etc.) and intriguing, in that you get confirmation that even someone as amazing as Richter is seems to still be constantly stumped by the painting process, and can have just as much trouble making a “good painting” or knowing when a painting is at a good point to stop. If I start to list artists in general, this might get too long so I’ll just stick to painters I guess! I’ve always loved Giorgio Morandi, Luc Tuymans, and Philip Guston and some painters I’m currently excited about are Josephine Halvorson and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung.

Studio floor, 6/11/12

1 comment

1 Cory ImigNo Gravatar { 06.26.12 at 4:43 pm }

I love Carey Lin’s work! What a pleasant surprise when visiting the LPP site!

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