Artist vs. Studio: Margie Livingston

Margie Livingston, Study for Spiral Block #2, 2010 | Acrylic, 5.75 x 6 x 6 inches. Photo: Richard Nichol.

Overlooking Seattle’s industrial, corporate SoDo neighborhood, Margie Livingston’s long, spacious studio rests in a building of independent, office-like workspaces. A canopy of overhanging grid sculptures and an adjacent geometric bookshelf at the studio’s entrance reference Livingston’s grid-based paintings of several years prior. Her most recent three-dimensional Paint Objects appear with greatest frequency at the opposite end of the room. Moving through her space, from entrance to window, Livingston's studio offers an unconsciously structured progression of her approach to painting, beginning with the most theoretical objects and ending with the most physical. —Erin Langner, Seattle contributor

Margie Livingston. TOP: Studio shot, Photo: Erin Langner. BOTTOM: Structure (night and day). 2005 | Oil on canvas. 66 x 90 inches. Courtesy the artist.

A strong sense of stability pervades both Livingston’s work and studio. Earning her MFA from the University of Washington in 1999, she began working in her current building in 2001. The sculptures and bookshelves at the studio entrance evoke the intertwining grids characteristic of the earlier abstract, earth-toned paintings for which the artist is best known. In 2009, Livingston’s work broke away from the traditional painting structure, congealing off the wall into vivid, sculptural reconfigurations: acrylic paint coiled, layered, piled and knotted into vivid, highly constructed forms.

Although the Paint Objects that now dominate Livingston’s practice physically diverge from her earlier work, their dramatic shifts in color and form disguise a softer conceptual transition: the imagery abstracted into grids in the earlier work returns to an object state. The grid paintings reference natural light cycles and environments, while the new works employ forms of utilitarian objects that only exist in a processed, industrialized world: planks, particle boards, wooden blocks, plastics.

Margie Livingston, Eight Knotted Strips in a Pile. 2010 | Acrylic. 17 x 20 x 20 inches as shown (dimensions variable). Photo: Richard Nichol.

Livingston’s studio mirrors the direction of her practice through the presence of drills, saws and other power tools throughout the otherwise traditional painter’s studio. The process of creating and storing the Paint Objects is physical and gritty. Offering a stark contrast to the classic atelier image of the painter-at-work, Livingston’s most recent project focused on the pedestal for displaying her Paint strip in group show The Three-Dimensional Line at the Kirkland Arts Center.

A massive drying rack originally made for her large paintings occupies a large portion of the studio, now the ideal location for the large Plank works that require multiple people to move due to their weight and scale. Watching Livingston wrestle with, and maneuver, a 5 x 10-foot drawer of the rack for a moment reveals the physical depth of her intimacy with paint and her willingness to solidify the new places the medium takes her.

Artist vs. Studio investigates the relationship between artists’ studios and the works created within them. Erin Langner is a writer based in Seattle and is Adult Public Programs Coordinator at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).

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