Thursday, November 19, 2009

A talk with Carin Riley

(Philip Guston, Untitled (Cup), circa 1969-1973)

If anything on the Donkey Trail can be a sure thing, Carin Riley is a sure thing Donkey Trail artist. Wait till you see her paintings!

This week we went gallery hopping. Listen in:

Molly Stevens: Carin, we saw some pretty monumental work this week.

Carin Riley: Yes we did. Best of all was Philip Guston (McKee Gallery).

MS: I'd have to agree. When I came off the elevator and saw some of those small panels through the door, I think I threw up my arms and cheered.

CR: Yes, they were small paintings but the feeling was very large. That took me by surprise.

MS: Do you think it's because the images and the paint have such a sturdy presence that they feel large?

CR: They were small, but magnified. I noticed the animation and articulation of line more than the narrative. It seemed a whole world in a brush stroke; very confident painting with a hesitant line.

MS: It’s true. His lines are very alive, they have personality. It's funny that you say "very confident painting with a hesitant line," because that seems contradictory. How could confidence involve hesitancy? I get this somehow, but how would you explain it?

CR: I think that’s what makes him interesting. Following the lines in his work you can really see that he knows art history; although the paintings appear very linear, he packs a lot of Cézanne into a stroke. I’m going out on a limb, maybe, but that’s what occurred to me as I was looking at them. I’ve always been attracted to a continuous line in painting, but I was impressed how confidently he painted a broken line. Before, I had only noticed how he stitched a line, like in the white-hooded figures.

MS: I know he was very interested in De Chirico and also Pierro della Francesca. In terms of Cézanne, I think there’s a similar subjective-ness that doesn’t have a me, me, me quality; a kind of dispassionate observation of self.

Let's get concrete, though. We were really into this painting here:

(Philip Guston, Untitled, circa 1969-1973)

CR: This was my favorite painting in the show. It’s a very confident, worried painting with a lot of control and direction. The figure really does appear to be moving and resisting at the same time. At first I thought it was because of how he had used the large brush strokes in the background; and also because of the appearance of the underpainting pushing the figure forward. But then I realized that it was the short, animated red strokes. That’s where he threw himself into it.

MS: Here again, we have that contradiction. Confident and worried at the same time. Maybe he was confident about being worried. I like when you say "that's where he threw himself into it." I hear by that, that's where he took a risk.

CR: I mean exposed more of himself. It seemed more vulnerable to me than the other white hooded “selfs” in the show. The hoods are a bit of a mask. Not this one.

MS: I think we can compare:

(Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1900)

CR: Yes this figure is his Mont Sainte-Victoire. N'est-ce pas? That’s a very confident mountain that Cézanne knew so well and painted in a very human way. And Guston painted this little figure that he knew so well with great assurance.

MS: With great assurance but also with shakiness, with questions.

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