The Relativity of Black: Q&A with Laura Judkis

Laura Judkis (NAP #100) doesn’t make black paintings. Sometimes she doesn’t even use black in her compositions at all. Her work is pushed by the dark theatrical narratives that are associated with the color black, and even though she often works with other colors these associations tend to persist -- in her work white becomes the absence of black, pink becomes its twisted hyperactive relative, etc. It all points to the cultural imprint that black leaves on our psyche. Ultimately, black may not be the color that we see in front of us, but the color that we imagine when we look.

Installation view of Laura Judkis’ work in Group Show (2013) at sophiajacob in Baltimore.

Over the last two weeks I’ve spoken with artists that work with the color black. Two weeks ago I spoke with Vincent Como about the connection between his paintings and modernism. Last week I chatted with Sean Talley about his interest in using black as a means of investigating the material properties of his compositions. This week, in the final installment of this series,  I speak with Baltimore-based Laura Judkis, whose dark narratives evoke black even when she avoids the color all together. My conversation with Laura after the jump. -- Matt Smith Chavez, San Francisco contributor

Laura Judkis |
Phobia Box, 2013. Wood, latex paint.

Matt Smith Chavez: I sense a kind of dark anthropomorphism happening with some of your work, like with the piece “Old Craving,” which kind of looks like a painting wearing a bondage suit. Am I misinterpreting your work or is this something that you’re pursuing explicitly?

Laura Judkis: I think a lot about the implications of being and having a body, for sure, which does lend itself to anthropomorphism, and which will absolutely take you to dark places when you extend those implications out to their extremes. There is a tension between the possibility of a piece as an abstract form and a piece as something else- maybe a body, maybe a tool or cage or whatever. I want to make work that can slide fluidly between those two points. Like, abstractions are basically mysteries, right? Mysterious forms, things that cannot immediately be categorized. It's about creating an interesting mystery that doesn't just crumble into nothing. I guess "Her Demon Lover" is a pretty overt example of that, but it's been a year or so since I made it, and I think maybe it actually lands too far on the side of anthropomorphism, like it's maybe too much of a ribcage and not enough of a question. It's honest work and I still feel connected to it, but it's pretty angsty.

Laura Judkis | 
Glow Boy, 2011. Wood, canvas, thread, acrylic paint, found cloth, found wood. 66 x 48 inches

MSC: What about your older works from 2011? They are more like traditional paintings in that they’re planar compositions that rest on wooden supports and hang on a wall. But they’re still kind of Frankensteinian, so I can see that sort of theatrical mystery that you mention. Why do you think that your more recent work has moved away from traditional wooden supports?

LJ: Because I don't want to talk about painting any more, or rather, painting as such. So much of my feedback at that point was about whether the pieces were paintings or sculptures, and I think that's a boring question. I want my work to defy those categories. Not even to defy them, because that's too aggressive- ideally eventually I'll be working in a place where you don't even see those categories as options. I think it's a pretty clear trajectory from those pieces to the work I'm doing now- I'm just getting better at it. I don't fight as much as I work. I am better at letting things be.

Laura Judkis | 
Dose Fodder, 2011. Wood, canvas, thread, acrylic paint, latex paint. 69 x 47 inches

MSC: The color black dominates much of your work. Thinking about your compositions and your titles, would you say that  you’re interested in the emotional implications of black and in its associations with a kind of  emotive darkness?

LJ: Yes, I am absolutely interested in the emotional implications of black, mostly because when I'm working I can't seem to escape it. It's a very satisfying color. Recently I made a few pieces that were white or neutral, but even that was mostly just reaction by opposition to the blackness of my other work.  You can really take that wherever you want to go with it I guess- I think it comes from a curiosity about oblivion, nonexistence, whatever you want to call it. Not necessarily death, though that's part of the question, too.

Laura Judkis | 
Rivet, 2012. Vinyl, wood, latex paint, thread, cut tacks. 16 x 16 x 10 inches

MSC: There’s a difference between using black as a way to explore the absence of color and using it because of its emotional implications, right? One is more charged than the other. With the work you had at sophiajacob earlier this year you seem to be using black as the absence of color and as a way to explore the formal qualities of your materials. It almost seems like black here removes much of the emotional implications that are present in some of your other work.

LJ: Some of the more extreme or excessive emotional implications, yes. Obviously my work is very formal, but I don't think that formal exploration should mean a lack of emotion. I stopped using color because it became unnecessary. If the work feels less dramatic now, that's because I'm trying to be a less self-dramatizing person. I'm still trying to pin down emotional truths (or maybe just truths, period, if such a thing is possible, which I stubbornly continue to hope is the case.) It's just that I'm inclined to look outwards more. For a long time there was this awful echo chamber in my head, and that's quieted down a lot, which is probably just the difference between being 20 or 22 years old and being 24. It's sort of funny that my particular manifestation of calmness involves so much darkness, but there you go. I guess you could say I'm developing a lot of feelings about emotional neutrality.

Laura Judkis | Ring, 2013. MDF, spackle, black paint


Laura Judkis as born in New Jersey in 1989 and graduated from MICA in 2011 with a BFA in Painting and a minor in Creative Writing. She was featured in issue #100 of New American Paintings, and has recently exhibited sculpture at School 33 (Baltimore). She lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

Matt Smith Chavez is an artist and writer based in the San Francisco bay area. He’s an MFA candidate at the University of California Berkeley. 


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