Rodney Graham introduces his Painting Problems
Rodney Graham invites you to his Vancouver studio where he discusses a new body of work for Lisson Gallery, the so-called Painting Problems, collaged and derived from previous series and painterly personas created by the artist. In these works, Graham continues to inhabit the figure of an unnamed abstract painter, drawing on the vocabulary of early Modernism, splicing together different styles from the Cubism of Braque and Picasso, to the Constructivism and Expressionism of Rodchenko, Pollock and Fontana.
Previous and recent painting series by Graham are obliquely referenced in these Painting Problems – the first of Lisson Gallery's Online Exhibitions (6 – 20 May, 2020) – yet by sampling aspects and fragments of his own compositions, Graham has created a new combinatory style. Here he reveals the thinking and complexities behind the perfect painterly surfaces.
Rodney Graham in the studio 20 April, 2020. Filmed by Sven Boecker and edited by Mark Waldhauser
"The system we developed to achieve this depth, through airbrushing and spray painting, was to take a fragment of a larger template that I created – if you look from one to the other you might see a simple shape recurring. This was then overlayed and spraypainted over with a kind of a shadow effect that evokes, I guess, in a graphic way, the techniques of Analytic Cubism."
"Some of these paintings were actually a real struggle. Sometimes you work out something on the computer and it looks great on the screen, but when you actually start doing it, scaling it up, you run into problems. There is a very precise edge between the colours – literally a two millimetre line – so to redo sections is really difficult and time consuming, factoring in painting, drying times and things like that. I guess these are things that normal painters deal with every day."
Artist in Artists' Bar, 1950's, 2016
Painted aluminum lightbox with transmounted chromogenic transparency
241.3 x 181.9 x 17.8 cm
95 x 71 5/8 x 7 in
"When I'm creating a lightbox, with a character it's not really a method approach, it's not part of a rich fantasy life of mine. I want to do just enough to make the character plausible, but I don't create an elaborate backstory. I was thinking about classic artist bars from the 20s on to the 50s and 60s like the Cedar Tavern in New York. And the idea of this different economy in the art world where people are trading directly for food and drink, kind of a barter system. It's perennial – there have been artists as long as there have been bars and restaurants."
"I had this idea of using wood grain and so we literally sampled an oak grain from a hardware supply catalogue, and then another that I got from an old painting handbook from the 20s. They're are a lot of fun."
“I missed out on painting, so I am always looking for an opportunity to do it. I want to find a balance between spontaneity and meticulous planning.”
"I was lucky to get this studio seven or eight years ago, It's the perfect size for me, before I was working in rented studios with low ceilings so I was shooting works with great difficulty. As always, I do a little music in here, so we always have amplifiers and guitars around. Everybody in the studio is really a musician as well."