02. Britt Julious On “Picturing the Studio”

In the living room of a one-story home, wood paneling on the walls and a faux fireplace made of mismatched grey bricks, a barefoot man dangles a cigarette from his mouth as he pours paint on a large canvas that stretches to the floor on sheets of a newspaper. This large light-box photograph, The Gifted Amateur, Nov 10th, 1962 (2007), by Rodney Graham, is one of the first works the viewer encounters in “Picturing the Studio”, a group exhibition at the Sullivan Galleries, curated by Michelle Grabner and Annika Marie. Graham’s is also the most evocative and comprehensive work in the exhibition, wholly encompassing the artistic struggle as well as the influence of the studio on every facet of the artist’s life. The artist in the photograph is effectively at rest (at home, in his pajamas, smoking a cigarette, barefoot), yet he is still producing work. He is in what should be a state of relaxation, and yet his work calls out to him and the surfaces of his living room — the dining room table, the coffee table, the carpeted floor — are transformed into blank space for the artist to create.

Graham’s photograph suggests that the intersection of the private and professional lives of artists is more prevalent than is always apparent. The studio, like one’s home, is a private and personal space. An artist creating art in his home, then, should not come as a surprise. Though the home is commonly understood as a respite from work, this is not necessarily so for the artist. Graham argues that for the artist, this distinction between spaces is not clear. The line is blurred and so the artist must create in whatever conditions and by whatever means necessary.

John Baldessari’s video, I Will Not Make Anymore Boring Art (1971), is also on view. In it, the repetition of “I will not make any more boring art” is both a mantra and an indoctrination, a phrase to be repeated for artistic inspiration and a tenet to be fully incorporated into the art-making process. The statement is uttered repetitiously, and the inanities of the art-making process, the tortuous inner monologue of the artist and the nagging environment of the studio, are evoked.

In another photographic project, Portrait of the Artist in Her Studio by Chicago-based artist Carrie Schneider, the self is seemingly conjoined with the studio. Various subjects — including Schneider — are photographed jumping or sleeping in their studios. The studio becomes a sort of sanctuary and means of existence for the artist, evident in the moments of joy (as when jumping), and the moments of rest (as when the subjects lie on the ground). This sanctuary is akin to a “third place,” an indistinct space that does not quite inhabit one’s “home life” or the traditional “work life.” It fulfills the need for both, yet never fully embodies either.

Although “Picturing the Studio” is an expansive exhibition, featuring work by more than 30 artists, the themes are established quickly and are reiterated throughout the exhibit that includes photographic prints, video, site-specific installation and mixed-media ephemera. As perfectly captured by Graham’s photograph, most of the works in “Picturing the Studio” suggest that a blurring of the line between work and home is not a sporadic occurrence for the artist, but a central function of the artistic process. The show also demonstrates that the studio continues to be a useful motif for the artist, since it addresses the potential anxieties of creative life. Time spent in and out of the studio, the ultimate function of the studio in the artistic process, and its omnipresence and/or absence in the artist’s life, are themes dealt with in highly individual ways only to conclude that for the artist, work is life and life is work.

“PICTURING THE STUDIO”
SULLIVAN GALLERIES (SAIC), CHICAGO
33 S State, 7th floor
December 11 – February 13