Thomas Nozkowski, Untitled 7-95, 1997, oil on linen on panel, 16×20”. (Image courtesy of Max Protetch Gallery)

My two major sage sources over the last few months have been Philip Guston and Thomas Nozkowski. Both artists are recognized for being extremely intelligent and cerebral; yet the power of their work is visceral and immediate. For me it is both retinal and it is somatic: My eye is in completely, as is my body.

For what I do and the way I work, Guston and Nozkowski are the best at articulating what easily falls into the inchoate and ill-defined. And even after repeated reading, their insights feel authentic and fresh. Given the self-conscious preenings that are so ubiquitous, I believe it is wise to hold on fast when you find something that sidesteps all the claptrap and digs right into the soil beneath your toes.

From an interview by John Yau with Nozkowski published in the Brooklyn Rail in 2010:

Rail: It interests me that these paintings go through a lot of changes, and that a lot of work goes into them, but you don’t want to show that.

Nozkowski: Well, I come from a working class background and I know too much about work to think that there is anything inherently good about it. I no longer have to prove to my parents that I’m doing real, honest work. I don’t think it’s essential to show the signs of work, to demonstrate the effort involved in making something. I mean, making something physically is not the most interesting part of making art. A letterpress book isn’t smarter than a Xeroxed one. Oil painting always shows its history anyway. You can’t ever erase something; you can’t get rid of it. It will affect everything that’s put on top of it, whether you’ve peeled most of the paint away or rubbed it down into a fine veil of color.

Rail: I feel like it’s part of what happened, but you don’t fetishize process.

Nozkowski: That’s definitely true. However, if you look at the surfaces of my paintings, you’ll see that the “signs of work” aren’t only shown by the facture. More often you can see that in the color. Oil paint is translucent, often transparent, and seldom completely opaque. You mix it, beat it, and layer it. It is never pure and—a commonplace—it is always seen in context, changed and charged by its size, position, and relationships with other colors. It is slippery stuff, the most elusive part of painting. I like it best in excess, when it feels like it is about to go out of control. I don’t want to create the idea that I have some singular idea of specific colors from the start of a painting. These come out of the process, trying to correct things and make it all add up. You know, you put something down and it’s not right, you do the next thing and you try again to fix it. I’ve talked about how I like painting best when it turns a little homely, turns away from the grandiose and opts for simple desire. To really want to possess something and to be willing to do anything to get it will take you pretty far. That’s the reason so much outsider painting looks so great.

Some great phrases in this conversation: not fetishizing the process, liking it best in excess and when it feels like it is about to go out of control, when it turns a little homely, when it turns away from grandiose and opts for simple desire. My kind of language and my kind of experience.

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