Photography Blaine Davis
By Osman Can Yerebakan
Expressions like “blur the distinction” or “in-betweenness” are heard a lot these days—especially in an era when nothing seems fixed yet everything is so self-assured. This vortex of vagueness is dyed with the color gray, an infinite well of chromatic possibilities that can stand in for human emotion, transient and malleable. A perfect color for our times.
Amy Feldman’s paintings have been gray for over a decade, a commitment which would be bold were it not so seemingly innate. In the Brooklyn-based artist’s alluringly abstract works, shapes float amidst gray-washed cosmoses layered with coats of gesso, paint, and more paint. Scale is often maximized to immerse us in these amorphous forms, most iconically a wormy, intestine-like shape which is both whimsical and serious, both weighed down and weightless—again the in-betweenness.
Feldman’s current exhibition “Mothercolor” at Eva Presenhuber—her first with the gallery—is a love song to the color gray and its lucid and liquid transformations. The paintings range from oversized to intimate; some feature biomorphic forms while others are structured around a grid. In the background of several, Feldman silkscreened digitally enlarged canvas patterns, a subtle printed effect which nearly fools the eye. All, however, are united in their monochromatic cast. “The meaning of gray is experiential—something that shows immediacy and distance at the same time, because it both projects and flattens,” the artist recently explained over FaceTime while out on a windy walk near her Red Hook studio. We returned to chatting about the serenity of the color once she found refuge inside. “I am interested in how the color can operate as both neutral and non-neutral,” she says. “Gray is the color of television, the digital, robotic and militaristic—but gray is also the sublime landscape.”
OSMAN CAN YEREBAKAN: Let’s talk about your grid—how does it relate to and differ from its geometric and art historical canon?
AMY FELDMAN: I relate to the history of the grid—Mondrian’s contribution—and to the grid’s connection to the spiritual, to pure form and to the artist’s ability to portray the underlying structures of reality through abstraction—to render the volumetric lattice around us. I connect with Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Mary Heilmann. They transformed the grid outside of pattern into something that makes you more conscious of your body and materiality.
A grid functions as a map, too. Maps are uneven and curvy. My grids fluctuate, moving back and forth, pulling inside and outside their parameters.
YEREBAKAN: Manhattan prides itself on being easily navigable thanks to its grid structure, so there is that promise of structure and utility.
FELDMAN: For sure. There is also a malleability built into its structure. My grids do not have a rigidity to them either. I purposely paint them to appear swollen and bulbous, as in the “Grate Romance” installation in Mothercolor. The wobbly marks make them feel unstable, like they could collapse at any moment.
YEREBAKAN: You’ve had a decade-long relationship with the color gray, which is a territory for neither and nor, an in-between phase suitable for personalization. It also allows for experimentation and play. In this show, it feels like it’s also the color of the metallic and technological.
FELDMAN: I am interested in the neither nor, the in-between, and how the color can operate as both neutral and non-neutral. Gray is the color of television, the digital, robotic and militaristic, but gray is also the sublime landscape.
YEREBAKAN: Were pixels a part of your thinking while introducing the paintings’ digital sides? Their bulbousness makes your grid more human but a pixel is inherently geometric.
FELDMAN: The surfaces I am making deal with the hyperreal. Within the work, there is mechanical and analog happening at the same time. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the surfaces without the digital, without thinking about the pixel. I am interested in the dissonance between the printed mark and the hand-painted mark, and how they can operate concurrently. The printed trompe l'oeil ground is a nod to cubist and surrealist intervention that translates the viewer’s willingness to accept fiction as reality—to accept the uncanny.
In the "Mothercolor" works upstairs I’ve silkscreened a slightly enlarged image of raw canvas onto meticulously prepared primed canvas. I did this to make the actual canvas material part of the final image and create a “symbol” of illusionistic space within the painting. My silkscreened canvases are super smooth but appear to have a rough textured weave. The printed weave also looks like a grid, and its warp adds depth to the flat picture plane. In works like Loose Truth (2019) and Good Grid (2020) I painted a large grid on top to echo the printed weave. On first inspection you might not notice the printed ground, and will assume the painting has a rough surface. The illusion becomes clear when the viewer examines the work up close. I am excited by this moment, the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, and how it relates to painting and to the current moment, a moment of instability where truth feels incredibly subjective.
YEREBAKAN: Has your understanding of time evolved?
FELDMAN: I have always been interested in the idea of time and timing in my work, though. The hourglass shape, a symbol of how time is recorded, is often repeated. Cold Stuff (2018) and Hot Jot (2019) are examples. The hourglass also represents the idealization of the female form in art and fashion, and the need to outwardly display perfection in its mirroring. The gods of time are masculine, but I like the idea of reclaiming time as a female deity.
YEREBAKAN: How is your relationship to images in general? How do you organize the image overflow through your personal filter?
FELDMAN: I like all kinds of images and am always on the lookout for striking forms that I can reinvent and then add to my personal iconography. I typically work in series, presenting distilled iterations of unique forms. Each work packs its own graphic punch, which relates to how images and signs are quickly interpreted, remembered, and misremembered. My use of repetition touches on the ironies of image duplication and information overload, yet my paintings offer a counter to that experience in their reference to the body and its charge. The forms satiate a desire for something physical and primal that contradicts the banal experience of viewing on a screen.
YEREBAKAN: What’s the difference between repetition and layering?
FELDMAN: The repetition of similar shapes in my work is about the inexhaustibility of form, and how subtle changes can shift meaning. The multiple layers are more about the build-up to make an image. There is so much process and surface preparation before I even begin making marks. All the layering and prepping creates anxiety that resonates within the paintings.
YEREBAKAN: The layering seems like a back-and-forth between revealing and concealing.
FELDMAN: I think there should always be contradiction on the surface of a painting; a revealing and concealing—I am interested in how a painting can negate and reify itself at the same time, break a small boundary to expand horizons. The revealing and concealing is a bit about acknowledging light in a dark moment.
YEREBAKAN: What is the significance of the acrylic along the way?
FELDMAN: I use acrylic so the marks are not erasable. You can’t wipe them out like oil.
YEREBAKAN: How do you engage with scale? The show’s grid paintings downstairs are smaller.
FELDMAN: Regardless of size, it’s always about full-force—the only change is the size of the brush. There may be a different negotiation depending on scale, but my headspace is the same.
YEREBAKAN: Do you start a few paintings all at once?
FELDMAN: I paint them separately, each is very focused. I typically don’t have multiple paintings in process at once. Each one is both fast and slow and it deserves its own attention.
YEREBAKAN: One of the most striking encounters about this new body of work is a series of meringue-like additions of the surface. You almost remind the viewer what they’re looking at is a painting and you could be doing more but you choose not to.
FELDMAN: The meringue form is like a gooey blob stuck in the back of your throat, something very physical and slightly embarrassing [laughs]. Visually, they’re visceral and decorative.
YEREBAKAN: There is a weightlessness to your paintings. They’re airy, evanescent, and floating. How has this aspect transformed in this show with everything that has happened around the world?
FELDMAN: Generally speaking, I purposely set up a tension with the edge of my paintings, which is why you’d rarely see a line that goes off the edge. I like that there is a weightlessness, a buoyancy in the paintings, that offers a counter to my muted palette. The pandemic has made the isolation of form and search for clarity feel amplified in this show. I am using the lens of gray, in all its nuances, as reflection and hope the paintings lift the viewer.
YEREBAKAN: Would it be fair to say this is your most digitally-supplemented body of work?
FELDMAN: Sure, but I don't necessarily consider them to be digitally-supplemented because the silkscreen is such a manual process.
YEREBAKAN: The hourglass form is whimsical and cartoonish; in my head it’s a giant cloudy intestine. Either way, it’s both humorous and disarming. Do you ever hesitate to be considered humorous as a painter?
FELDMAN: Humor is important. It’s embedded in the work.
Published: October 18, 2021