With a Bite: An Interview with Sofia Leiby
With a Bite: An Interview with Sofia Leiby
For the next few weeks, The Green Lantern Press is publishing interviews and articles with artists who have donated work for the 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now. In the following conversation, Sofia Leiby reflects on the myth of genius and mark making within her own painting practice. Leiby is an artist based in New York. Solo exhibitions include The Making of a Beyonder at Kimmerich (Berlin); Thinking Creatively With Pictures at Clifton Benevento (NYC); and abcdefghijklmnop at Michael Jon & Alan (Miami). Her work has been featured in Artforum, Modern Painters, PAPER and Rhizome.org. Her writing has been published in BOMB Magazine.
Caroline Picard: Can you talk a little bit about how you play with what an “authentic” mark of a painter is?
Sofia Leiby: I came to painting with such suspicion of it, that it carried this idea that there was some singular genius making the paintings, driving its appeal. Maybe I felt like I could never have that, or in my field of experience that kind of work was being done by men. I envied it, I was jealous of their easy confidence with mark-making. I feel like because of my own internalized misogyny I didn’t look at female heroes the same way. So I moved away from looking at so much Abstract Expressionism for inspiration and methodology and I started looking at drawings my little brother made in middle school and doodles on envelopes from my grandfather, as well as people whose work I incidentally saw on Instagram. I gathered up the material and photographed, copy and pasted, traced, collaged, drew and re-drew, until it became some kind of a soupy mix, converging with my own hand. This pursuit of the mix is what drives the work. I try to not just direct the needle towards ‘self taught’ artists or whatever, but instead try to focus on how standards of value regarding the mark are elastic.
CP: Do you think of your approach as one of appropriation? Or quotation?
SL: Primarily it is a painterly approach that involves quotation.
CP: You mentioned that this painting, Myrtle Av #2 (2015) pulls marks made at the Blick store by (probably) Pratt students — what happens when you excavate those marks into a supposedly high art/finished art context? I almost want to pull in someone like Keith Haring as a point of reference…
SL: Keith Haring is interesting because his work pulled from street art contexts. I am thinking about the chance painterly mark, made by people who might be distracted or using a marking tool in a utilitarian way, like testing out a marker at the art supply store. To me the marker testing is a nuanced mark-making gesture, no matter who its author is. Often it is collaborative, with people unconsciously or consciously conversing using text and image with other people who have tested out pens. One time I found a friend’s full name and address in her handwriting on a Blick pad and she didn’t remember writing it.
CP: I’m also interested in this translation from the digital space of instagram into painting–
SL: I do post my work on Instagram, and I had to get used to people looking at paintings at a two by two inch square size. You couldn’t even zoom in until recently. My focus is on works that are best experienced in person, but I’m sure having the app influences how I make work as it does every other artist who doesn’t have enough self control to keep their work off Instagram. At the risk of sounding cynical, IMHO, this is part of the reason why you see so many colorful and iconographic artworks and airbrush paintings with brushless strokes and tiny errors that evaporate in a photograph in shows and major collections right now, because they translate seamlessly from a large scale to a tiny scale and back again.
CP: I’m also thinking about this because I listened to a recording you made for Lise Haller Baggesen’s recent Threewalls exhibition, Hatorade Retrograde, where you read a self-composed text describing what it was like to be an older, gender-conscious painter. That text describes some of the difficulties of being a female painter. Do you feel like there is a connection between the “mark” of a painter and her body?
SL: Yes. My bodied and lived experience is of course filtered through color and mark, choice of imagery, collage, ideas I choose to pursue, etc. I paint differently when I’m getting laid or not, freelancing, sleeping too much, sleeping too little, working a 9-5 job, living in NYC, living in Chicago, etc. Once, I made a blue and brown painting that accidentally ended up the exact two shades of a light blue bag with a brown coffee stain on it that had been hanging on the clothing rack across from my bed for months. I like the idea of things filtering through some odd unintentional form of osmosis.
An artist told me once that he could “always tell when a woman had made a painting.” That made me seethe with anger but I also realized my anger conflicted with my own ideas about my gender and my work. I am trying to shrug off my distrust of the idea of each person having a personalized mark, because it is quite hard to make paintings whilst having this feeling—this divorcing of subjectivity from art making. I like silkscreen because it distances my hand from the canvas. I don’t have an answer or resolution here, besides I do not usually address my gender in my work; although I would say I would like it to operate in a feminist way, with a bite, because that is where my personal politics lie, and my work is an extension of me.