A Conversation: Judy Glantzman
To know Judy, a wonderful and generous artist and teacher, one has to reconcile her kind spirit with her absolutely gruesome work. Body parts, heads (so many heads!) and objects of destruction are rife throughout her recent solo show at Betty Cunningham Gallery. Glantzman’s raw imagery, what Peter Plagens of the Wall Street Journal called “studenty” (a term Glantzman enjoys) is tough to deal with. Addressing her personal relationship to the idea of war while pulling from the works of Goya and Picasso, Glantzman “orchestrated” over 200 pieces for the viewer to work through, a feat for both sides. After mounting her show and while commuting between Providence and New York, Glantzman and I had a conversation. - Arthur Peña, Dallas Contributor
Arthur Peña: Was there anything that you discovered about Goya's Disasters of War series that you hadn't already encountered? Those works have piles of academic research behind them; as a painter, what did you pull out of them?
Judy Glantzman: I see so many elements and different relationships as I draw from the Goya washes. I see figures and faces I did not see at first. In one of a witch, it almost seems that he has used a printing process to draw the witch and a brush to draw the rest but it’s just a radical shift in the kinds of line and mark he uses. I chose this book of images because of the radical range from one page to the next but I did not realize how many shifts are in one drawing. The most valuable thing I found was how crazy, dark and funny many of the images are and that is “right up my alley.” There is one where witches are sweeping a group of chicken-like animals with male heads. Goya tapped into the 100% fucked up quality of the world around him. That they take on an historical authority is entirely diffused when you look at the work. Drawing from the work allowed me to really look and see the work.
AP: Was there ever a moment while you were making the work for your current show that you felt as if you were channeling Goya? Or is that too much of a stretch?
JG: No, I was never channeling him. In fact I have worried at the "who do I think I am" balls it takes to think I am anywhere close to him. If you see the drawing of mine next to his I feel humbled by the mastery of his imagery and how he stretches the ink.
AP: From Goya you go to Picasso and Guernica. Can you talk about what happened when you saw Picasso's painting? I’ve never seen it in person, is it that powerful?
JG: Guernica was at MOMA all of my growing up. When I saw it in Madrid, I was ready to see it, to use it as it related to my work and to its development. Guernica has a strange metaphorical quality; it is in one way childlike and "domestic" and the iconography is not what I would have imagined had the "weight" of the subject matter. The painting surprised me; it is direct and cartoon-like and simple. Even the horse, certainly the light bulb (and what a reference for Guston) which is illuminating the horror, has a flat footed and direct way of articulating horror. It seems to be saying that horror is common and commonplace.
Judy Glantzman, Untitled, 2013, Mixed Media on Paper Mounted on Canvas, 10 x 10 in. (25.4 x 25.4 cm)
At the same time, I was no longer excited by the language of the psychological self-portrait and of a "personal" horror that I had been working with for at least 20 years. I wanted to change. Thinking of the Guernica allowed me to change my "direction”, change my approach (which I had presumed was the only way to go!) and go from the outside in rather than the inside out. Also, we were engaged in 2 wars and were horribly disconnected in a daily way from this reality.
In retrospect, I realize that I was still reacting to the feeling of a dark reality just under the polite surface, the common thread of both bodies of work. The beauty of the visual metaphor inspired me to let go of my previous approach and use the Guernica as a "guide" to help me find my own way to make a visual language that I knew nothing about.
I never was in war, I am not a male, I am not Picasso or Goya, so I can lose all expectations that my work is going to reflect the "Judy Glantzman" that I knew about. It was and is a journey of discovery. You know how I always say that art is a combination of artifice and truth? I was really embracing the artifice, trying to occupy an experience that I have only experienced indirectly. Like someone who tells their own story in the third person; "I have a friend who has this problem..."
AP: That is a very interesting approach to the histories of these monumental figures. For this show you produced a lot of work. How many pieces in total? Was this output accompanied by sense urgency?
JG: I began The War Series over three years ago. It was a total shift from an interior psychological approach where the (mostly female) head was the container for my investigation. I approached the question, “What does war look like to me?” on many fronts using every part of my art making as well as my life and schedule. I worked from observation drawing a mold of my teeth on the train or guns.
Judy Glantzman, Untitled, 2013, Gesso, Walnut Ink and India Ink on Paper, 22 x 30 in. (55.88 x 76.2 cm)
I made “pictures of power”; ink drawings of big feet stepping on dogs that I made up, which have a very raw quality. I started to mount paper on small squares so that I could draw on paper but have the structure of a painting. They began as walnut ink drawings but some were worked over a long time using acrylic and some of them got very dense. It took me a very long time to understand and develop the wall collages. I began the Goya copies because my good friend, and fellow painter, Forrest Williams found this wonderful book including, I believe, all of the washes that Goya used for the Disasters of War and the Capriccios.
The collages had so many iterations; tearing and rebuilding them until finally I realized they were like stage sets that needed the occupants. The painted figures and the paper mache masks came at the very end of making the collages. I think of them all as cut from the same cloth and many times their parts were reconfigured and rejoined. The exhibition, the first in my career where I envisioned the show rather than making and hanging individual paintings, shows my thinking and development of “What Does War look like to me?” on display. The show is my brain splayed open. There is no polish, no hiding. There are over 100 small paintings, about 25 collages, 4 large drawings, 10 individual paper mache masks and about 100 Goya drawings. That is how much investigation it took for me to develop a new language for myself. I allowed any route or tangent contained in the separate approaches. I feel that I have come full circle to my earliest East Village Days where raw energy and the value of immediacy over product were valued.
AP: I see torn paper, drawings and paintings over lapping and some ceramic pieces coming together in the work. When you're making work with the knowledge that anything could end up in a single piece, how are you deciding what goes where? To clarify, I’m curious how your intuitive process may have changed when dealing with such varied media.
JG: I keep the Goya drawings, the paper mounted on canvas and the torn collage pieces separate. I do not interchange any elements between the separate groups. It is only in the collage pieces and the observational drawings of skulls, guns, and teeth molds that I can tear and reconfigure. The collages also have papier mache heads using my sculpty heads as the molds. Each separate body of work requires a very different quality of energy when I am making them and I use a totally different part of my brain. When I draw from observation, the intuitive quality comes through the attempt to figure out what I am looking at and how to invent a way to draw it. I can make a lot of the small paper mounted on canvas pieces. They are finished very quickly or they take years; there is not a lot of in between. The intuitive process in these is related to narrative and metaphor as a new element.
They are entirely made up. I try to imagine a soldier or an airplane or a gun; I am looking for “shorthand” symbols that speak of war. The large collages are very physical, so the intuitive process has a lot to do with tearing and layering. Chance plays a big part in the collages. I want the work to “show me” so I often glue things together that happened to fall together on the floor. I think of the collages like a haiku, where the “right” combination creates a perpetual dynamic. My definition of art is that the artist (me) creates a paradoxical dynamic that, like the yin and yang, perpetually goes back and forth. A space is made; like the white line that is made when you combine complementary colors or when opposite magnets resist each other. Like in the Leonard Cohen lyric that says:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
I want to build a back and forth that creates a feeling, and then I stop.
Judy Glantzman has had numerous solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally. In 2009, Glanztman had a 30 year retrospective with Dactyl Foundation in New York. Glantzman has received numerous grants including the Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant, Anonymous Was A Woman Foundation Grant and in 2001 Glantzman received the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. Glantzman currently teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design and lives and works in New York.
Arthur Peña is an artist and professor currently living and working in Dallas, TX.