Judy Glantzman Goes to Battle: A Chat About Process
"The beginnings of paintings are always really nice," Judy Glantzman tells me, "because the quality of touch, the hand, are almost the realest moments...and then you have to go the whole friggin' time to get back to that moment where you basically don't care." This internal combat describes both what's in Judy's paintings and how they're made. Hers is a method of slashing, burying, and digging through layers of paper, often finding mangled figures which invoke Goya as much as formative years spent in the East Village in the 1980s. In other words, it makes sense that she's begun to paint about war.
In a recent visit to her studio, we discuss works-in-progress which will be on view at Betty Cunningham Gallery next year. - Whitney Kimball, NYC Contributor
Judith Glantzman | Shakespeare's Pirate, 2011 | gesso, acrylic, walnut ink, india ink, chalk, sharpie, and graphite on paper, 91.25 x 60 inches
Judy: For the last two years, I've been working with the idea of war. I don't really know about war. One thing I thought about my earlier, psychological works is that it's the elephant in the room: the idea that there's an undercurrent and a darkness. I think it's as much about terror and even the idea that there are things buried underneath, and you're trying to find them. In other words, [in the larger paintings] I don't want to tell a story.
These ones up here [points to a wall full of smaller paintings]...I had to spread out. They're all over the place, in different stages of completion. I tried to find ways, in here, where I could just make little stories that I was telling about war, too. My husband makes cartoons-- and I started making some where I could make a little story by putting panels together, so I didn't have that much pressure on each image.
On one hand, [the small paintings] are completely different from the big ones. But because I'm doing these all the time, I'm practicing, and so I'm ready when I go to the big ones. I made several small paintings where a figure is leaning over a coffin, and I thought that could be my motif. That idea of a narrative has never led its way back into the big paintings.
I used to think that the idea of art is the marriage of the subject and the way it's made. Now I've started to think it's actually that you, as an artist, try to describe these things...I can try to create a situation where you as the viewer will fill in the information. My friend gave me this little racoon skull [picks it up], so I put it on this head [points to a painting of a soldier with a racoon skull helmet]. It's just a mix-and-match.
Whitney: It kind of makes sense.
Judy: Right. I think that's what's really unique to painting, is that the logic of it is in the context of that little world.
Whitney: So do you ever have a point where you know something is finished, or do you think everything is constantly in flux?
Judy: I think everything is constantly in flux. There are some at the gallery that are finished, but the finish could take years. I am a traditionalist in some ways, but part of that tradition is chance. [Sometimes] I think, what if I were obligated to tear this thing in half? And then you're at square one, in a way. It's a very fine line between a piece of garbage on the floor and something. There is such a thing as finish, but it's almost that moment where you do very little...it's so minute, the difference between what is something and what is nothing. In my opinion, the big paintings are almost like bodies. With these [smaller works], the rectangle holds them in, and they have a narrative, [but with the others] it's almost like you have a body, and you can cut it and put it back together.
Whitney: So do these all belong together? Do you see them as one thing?
Judy: I thought this was cool all as one thing. I'm going to do a show next year with Betty [Cunningham Gallery], and I started to do these things together as panels. I started to think of them as a sentence, which you can punctuate; there's a verb, there's an adjective. Different things can play a part.
The beginning of paintings are always really nice, because the quality of touch, the hand, are almost the realest moments...and then you have to go the whole friggin' time to get back to that moment where you basically don't care. You're just genuinely getting in there.
On the other hand, I like developing these in a way that I have never understood before. I like that little person [points to a small painting of a solitary figure in the middle of the wall]...and that took coming all the way around, where all I had to do was put those two little dots on top of her head. To get the thing where you work on it for a long time to feel like an instant is not easy.
Judith Glantzman | (not yet titled), 2012 | acrylic, graphite, walnut ink on mounted paper, 3 by 5 inches
Whitney: That one would be completely different if you took it off the wall.
Judy: Right...If you took this one [takes the painting of the small figure off the wall] and put it in a big, gold frame...[laughs]
[It's funny. The solitary figure swamped by gore is suddenly awarded an air of prestige].
You know, it's funny because that little character, I guess, is me. It has a little girl quality to it, like what the fuck...
Whitney: What am I doing here? [laughs]
Judy: You know I was saying it's kind of a mix-and-match thing...I have this book of Goyas. I think I am going to page-by-page draw things from that book. Just have another facet, which is basically somebody else's vision, and I'm going to enter into it. That's my vision, entering into another planet.
[We move over to the larger paintings that are finished. They're clipped onto large pieces of foam board, and they're turned facing the wall. Judy pulls out one that's taller than she is, and turns it around to reveal a predominantly black painting on paper with what looks like a vaguely figurative shape torn out of it. Blocks have built up with layers of paper, and drawings of fake teeth and a dead bird are integrated into the painting.]
Judy: This was the last pictorial painting I did for a while. After this, I started making the flag ones. [She's referring to the torn and reassembled banner paintings].
I've started to build them more three-dimensionally from this. So this is the last one I did for a while that I thought looked like a picture-- and I didn't want to have a picture anymore.
Whitney: Why not?
Judy: It's such a great question, because now I do want a picture again. I guess I had never been there before. It's really good to make it as a decision, but it's bad to make it as a preconception, that I assumed that I never assumed that I could do that. I wanted to know about the physicality of that and wanted to make them almost physical objects unto themselves.
Whitney: They're almost sculptures....is this layers and layers of paper gessoed over and pulled off? [Pointing to a flat chunk of white, raised high above the surface of the paper].
Judy: Yes. I also felt like it's pretty extreme...it's almost an aggressive act to rip and pour things like that. I almost feel that I, as an artist, am in battle. I go in, and....
Whitney: It's like scarring.
Judy: In that way, it's Ab/Ex, because it's like the history [of the process]...all of these [points to a few raised pieces of collage in an area that's been painted black]. Those were all drawings of teeth. In a certain way, it's like you forsaked a part for the whole. It's an intense thing, to cover up something I loved and cared about.
Whitney: It's sort of self- destructive, doing that.
Judy: Right. It's a fine line, letting go. It's self-destructive, but it's wonderfully zen. I like the idea of things being buried underneath...that in the end, they were casualties.
Whitney Kimball is a New York-based painter and art writer.