(Work in progress, Nils' studio, 2010)
Molly Stevens: Would you agree with the following cliché: We approach our work in the studio like we do our lives.
NFA: In art and life my values are continuous—I find pleasure in things like spaciousness, grace, sensitivity, humor. However the threshold of the studio is essential. My studio is a place for action, and a particular kind of contemplation.
There are also things I do, like playing music and cooking, that influence how I work in the studio.
MS: Then there are artists who cook in galleries.
NFA: Discursive food gives me indigestion.
I like how Rauschenberg spoke of desiring a tension between art and life. The two blur into each other constantly of their own accord. By pulling them apart, making each more strange to the other, we make both richer. Then again, art is contained in life—it’s not like apples and oranges. Comparing art and life is like comparing apples and fruit.
MS: I think art should be different too. But there is a certain personality we bring to both. A certain pace. What I mean by pace is a rhythm, a personal beat. For example, there's the stereotype of the dark and depressed artist. I suppose that’s one pace.
NFA: There's a great Ray Charles song called “¾ Time.” That’s a pace I relate to. And polyrhythm is important to me—in the sense of working with multiple paces or modes at once.
MS: Does your work in the studio follow ¾ time?
NFA: It’s different, my brain engages differently with time when I’m in the studio.
But music is an influence. In musical time empty space is meaningful, because those gaps occur within a structure. Something similar happens in visual art, especially sculpture, and music has helped sensitize me to the possibilities that this presents.
MS: I think we can see a slower beat in your work. It's not the same beat that’s in my work, which is set to an alarm clock.
(Molly Stevens, Long Line Mountain II, 2010, 40" x 60")
NFA: I don’t see the alarm clock in your work. Where does that show up? Is that being regimented or just wired?
MS: It’s a bit of both. It’s both a discipline and a panic that I’m up against the clock. I tend to make, make, check email, meditate, do something else, make. I rarely sit in the chair and look for more than 5 minutes. I think you can feel that my drawings happen immediately. I often wish I were more of a planner. Are you a planner?
NFA: I sometimes feel like Robert Burns' mouse – my best laid plans "gang aft agley." So I make plans but also let go of them; or move myself just to the side of plans I’ve made.
MS: And what’s the advantage to your work when you slow down?
NFA: There’s a better continuum between me and the thing I’m making. Going slow allows for making adjustments along the way. The opportunity of all the failures along the way is more available. When I work at a slow pace I also notice that works can come together rather quickly, that slowness can lead to very satisfying moments of effortlessness.
MS: Sometimes I'll work endlessly on something, wrestle with it, and the next piece I make spreads like soft butter. I love that. For me, fast is just more natural. That said, there's fast that’s frenzied and scatterbrain, and fast that’s present and exact.
NFA: The alarm clock.
MS: Actually, the alarm clock is mostly a pain in the butt. It tells me I only have five minutes left. Or it already rang five minutes ago. It’s more psychological than anything else. But, sometimes there’s just an upbeat pace that feels right. Sometimes.
NFA: As far as the alarm clock goes, I had a different image. I pictured going to one's work as being akin to waking up.
MS: That’s an appealing thought. I do think making art raises awareness.
NFA: How does pace relate to the line for you?
MS: Every line has a pace. In drawing there's the fly away line that’s super-quick and uncontrolled, there's the heavy and slow line, there's the loose line. And each of those lines has a movement and a speed and a spirit and maybe we can call that pace. Also, electric light makes one kind of line, metal another.
NFA: In the case of electric light, radiant light, there are multiple directions occurring in the line, of unequal intensities. The path of the light in the directions it goes, and the path of the object producing the light.
MS: That's what I like about your piece in the show. It has contained and uncontainable line at the same time.