Ross Bleckner’s Interview With Sebastian Blanck
April 2002 at Ross’s Studio
Ross Bleckner: The reason you’ve chosen to use a kind of a pattern is you want it to be a guide rather than a barrier.
Sebastian Blanck: Right
R: You set up two ways to guide some one into the painting. One is a grid of dots over the figure that can be seen as an abstract pattern. That grid of dots also happens to represent a shower curtain. So it becomes a transparent veil that provides a way of looking into the painting.
S: Right, so rather than working as a barrier it’s something that flattens everything and makes the image regular but allows you to go through what normally would be hiding the figure, it brings you in. It’s more like an invitation into the space as opposed to something that keeps you out.
R: Well how did you come to this image?
S: I found it through actually seeing it. Being in the bathroom with Isca while she got into the shower.
R: You liked the way it looked?
S: It was something that was appealing, very complicated and very Beautiful.
R: That’s enough to say.
S: Could that be a statement about my work?
S: To make a statement that’s concrete, that says what is essential every time your making a painting is very hard for me. The project is always changing slightly, or the way of doing it is changing any way, to try and come up with a really concrete one liner or argument defeats the purpose of making paintings.
R: Well that’s your statement.
S: I guess so.
R: How long have you been doing them?
S: I have been working on them for two and a half years, maybe three. The colors have really brightened up and the figure has slowly become more photographic. The dots that make up the curtain have become larger and more graphic compared to the space that is behind it which is really soft focus. I think that the flatness of that top layer makes the space even more atmospheric. When I look back on it now the earlier stuff just looks like a big mess. It was all hand painted and very very slow. I think in some ways now that I use a stencil to paint the dots it even has more drawing in the dots themselves. You can see brush work in there as opposed to when the were smaller and more opaque and flat, Their was no texture. It’s more like they are glazes now then they are a thick swatches of paint over top of a first layer.
R: It’s more integrated. You want the painting to be integrated. What I like about it is that it gives it a way to be about an image and also deflect both visually and metaphorically from an image. On the one hand it’s very abstract, on the other hand it is actually a shower curtain. You’re creating the illusion of the image being deflected through the shower curtain and you’re also creating the whole idea of a figurative painting being abstracted through a grid and through the use of the stencil.
S: By flattening out everything it makes it work in both areas without having to like hedge my bets. It’s just happening because that’s the way painting works and that’s the way the painting is sort of set up. Does that make sense?
R: So you are trying to give yourself freedom?
R: So you are trying to find a way to work that can open up as many ways to paint as possible and not really have to think about whether it is figurative or abstract because it is always both.
S: I had a studio visit once with someone who actually, I don’t even remember their name and they said it’s sort of like Jasper Johns and like the flag paintings or the numbers. It’s just a project. A very personal one. I can go every day and paint the same thing and know that I’m going to paint some thing different and know that there is a variation that is going to happen.
R: Well It’s a hook to hang your coat on.
R: So how old are you?
S: Twenty five.
R: What were you doing before these?
R: So you evolved these from portraits?
S: Yeah. Even in school I always wanted to make work that was like I didn’t have to go looking for it. It was just there and so I did scenes of people in there space then I moved on to portraits and I think in large part I moved on to portraits so I could actually learn how to paint. Because in school I didn’t learn anything about actually painting.
R: Why was learning about painting important to you?
S: Because I was really terrible.
R: Did you know you wanted to be an artist?
S: I’ve always known that I wanted to be an artist. But I had no facility, I could draw really well but I couldn’t use paint. So I wanted to pick something that was familiar to me. I didn’t want to struggle with technique and content. That was too much for me to take on all at once.
R: Why do you think that you wanted to be a painter at your age?
S: I don’t know, I mean, I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I think that I decided that I wanted to be a painter because I like the practice of being a painter. Going to the studio and having it be a regular activity. I think that in some ways that’s why I always have chosen subject matter that is day to day. The painting itself is part of my life so that’s where I find subject matter.
R: What would you say to someone who might say to you that the only young important artist wouldn’t be doing painting?
S: I think it’s like, if this is the language that I speak best in I don’t feel the need to try and use someone else’s idea of a contemporary language just for the sake of it being newer.
R: So in other words you just want to do it.
S: Yeah I want to do it, that’s the one I know best.
R: I always think that one day I will show up at a graduate school or an art school and no one will be painting and they’ll all just say you were right.
S: I think it’s just the opposite. I could be wrong but to me painting will always be a way to make an object. I don’t think it can ever really die because it’s so available and it is something that can be seen on a more permanent basis than a performance.
R: You are interested in all of that then, all of those characteristics, basically the conventions.
S: Yeah, I think that the conventions aren’t bad. These paintings are about playing with those conventions and giving them a bit of a twist. There is still room there. There are conventions because that’s actually how they work and they are going to continue to work, I just want to renegotiate them and find something unique for myself.
R: So describe to me a little bit why you think young artists still want to come to New York.
S: I think that they definitely do. I know that every year my school RISD, has a huge exodus to New York. That kind of makes it more manageable. When I got here there was already a bunch of people that I knew and felt comfortable with and more have come since.
R: Isn’t it hard.
S: To be in New York?
R: Describe it to me a little. I’m asking is it hard?
S: I think it is hard for a lot of reasons. Obviously money is always difficult. It’s hard to get involved with the places you want to get involved in but when you go to other cities there really isn’t as much going on in the way of arts. It’s a town that’s so big it’s really easy to be anonymous and I think that in a weird way that’s something that people find attractive even though they hate it. Because it helps to drive you, to break through that and stake your claim.
R: what claim do you want to stake?
S: I want to be able to continue painting, living off of my paintings, and getting known for making them. It’s a very simple sort of ambition. That’s another thing that is strange about being here when you get into an arts community and you see famous faces or people whose work you’ve seen and you know who they are. You know of them and you know of their work. You may not know that person but at least there is a major part of their personality that you can recognize. When your young and unknown there isn’t that way of being seen. When you are an artist and you spend so much time making your work most people who you see or have social interaction with know nothing of that side of you. I think it’s frustrating.
R: So in other words what you are saying is you want the respect of people you respect. Is that a fair way to put it?
S: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. It’s much more simple that way. I even want the respect of people that I don’t know or respect but may at some point, because I think that’s important too.
R: That’s finding a wider audience. Do some of these issues rumble around in your head while you are painting? Are there painters for instance that you may have been inspired by?
S: Yeah, definitely. I think it is impossible to make paintings without having that happen. You know what I mean. I think with these there are a number of dead people.
S: Like Bonnard and Degas, just in terms of painting that bather scene. It’s very connected to that.
R: What is about Bonnard and degas? What correspondence do you see between your work and theirs? What is it that attracts you to them.
S: I don’t know. I think some times I know better than other times.
R: The fracturing. What you are trying to do is create a very layered space were the light comes from inside the painting and is veiled as it comes out so it’s diffused. Who else?
S: Alex Katz, who I worked for. In terms of surface and having that thin layer of paint and having the white of the canvas work as light from underneath. And applying it thinly enough and transparently enough that that light is coming through only to be changed by each of the dots. It ends up with a very different kind of surface and light quality.
R: Was he an artist that you liked and because you liked his work you sought him out to work for him?
S: Yes. Partially because he is a figurative painter, coming out of school he was one of the few that I knew about in New York. I didn’t really know about John Currin or Lisa Yuskavage or even Elizabeth Peyton.
R: Did you know about Eric Fischl?
S: I knew about Eric Fischl but that wasn’t really in an area I wanted to go. I think because Alex is more sparse with his paint and brighter. Eric Fischl sort of is like struggling to make the painting at times and it sort of goes with his imagery. Alex at his best is all about grace and simple forms.
R: You are awfully young to think about being a painter with grace. But I mean it’s interesting. To me that’s something that comes with a certain kind of experience.
S: I think that that wasn’t necessarily something that I decided on, I was just attracted to it. So I tried to figure out how to make images in that way.
R: Even just the fact that your are looking for things that are a kind of an extension of your life. I think that it is very. How do you say it? What’s the word? It takes a lot of self awareness.
S: I thought you were going to say self absorption.
R: Well that might be, I don’t know. It takes a lot of self awareness and maybe even a kind of a maturity to think of painting things out of your life. When I was your age I barely new what my life was. I couldn’t have taken anything I don’t think there was any thing.
S: I think that probably has something to do with how I grew up.
R: What do you mean? How did you grow up?
S: I was always in a small circle of friends and family and had very loving relationships with those close to me. Not saying that I was naïve of everything going on outside of that because I think that is a negative thing. It makes me look inside in my immediate life rather than search out something of interest.
R: Do you think that runs the risk of being lazy?
S: I don’t think so. If I was doing that with out any knowledge of anything else it would be lazy.
R: Do you read?
S: I don’t read. I listen to NPR constantly. I try to read the newspaper, especially lately.
R: Why lately.
S: Because of everything that’s happened in the last year. Even before the last year since the last election.
R: Do you read Magazines.
R: Which ones.
S: I love People Magazine and those kind of gossipy entertainment magazines but that’s just for fun. I do try and pay attention to things that are more informative about what’s going on in the real world. I’m very curios about how things work but it tends to come in spurts. There are so many magazines at Isca’s parents I get to look through tons and read what ever looks interesting.
R: Do you Vote?
R: So do you have any shows coming up?
S: I do. I have a group show at a space called Spike Gallery on Twentieth and Eleventh, one group show at Lombard-Fried which is the gallery that Isca is having her show at. Also this summer at the Issey Miyake space in Tribecca where I am going to have three large paintings that were also exhibited at a solo show I had in Miami in February.
R: You are a busy guy.
S: Yeah. It’s all just popped up recently. Another show that I will be in is a juried show at the Cambridge Art Association. And the juror for that show was Lisa Dennison.
R: I don’t think things just popped up for no reason I think they popped up because you are painting really good paintings.
S: Thank you.