Maake & Co. / Artists in Dialogue
Mark Joshua Epstein & Marissa Bluestone
Mark Joshua Epstein (b. 1979) is a visual artist, curator and educator. Epstein received his MFA from The Slade School of Fine Art in London and his BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Epstein's work has been shown in recent solo exhibitions at Caustic Coastal (Manchester, UK), Vane Gallery (Newcastle, UK), Biquini Wax (Mexico City, Mexico) and Brian Morris Gallery (New York). Epstein has participated in group shows at TSA NY (Brooklyn, NY), Leroy Neiman Gallery (New York, NY) and Beverly's (New York, NY) Hoffman Lachance (St Louis, MO), Vox Populi (Philadelphia, PA) and Geoffrey Young Gallery (Great Barrington, MA). Epstein has been a resident at the Millay Colony, the Macdowell Colony, the Saltonstall Foundation and the NARS Foundation. He has upcoming solo or two person shows at NARS Foundation (Brooklyn, NY) and Ithaca College (Ithaca, NY).
Marissa Bluestone (b. Englewood, New Jersey) lives and works in Queens. Larrie Gallery in New York City presented a solo show of her work in 2017, and she has had recent work in group shows at Rachel Uffner, the Academy of Arts and Letters, the New School, Etay Gallery, and Left Field Gallery. She has held residencies at The Shandanken Project at Storm King (2017) and Vermont Studio Center (2014). In 2017, she was awarded the John Koch Award by the Academy of Arts and Letters and the Basil Alkazzi Detroit Residency through NYFA. Bluestone is a teaching artist at The Whitney, and holds a BA from Bard College and an MFA from Hunter College.
Maake & Co. / Artists in Dialogue
Mark Joshua Epstein and Marissa Bluestone
MJE In thinking about our practices I think one of the differences is that you have this concrete memory that you decide to adhere to or not. Like in this painting of Xylor Jane playing ping pong. There are these rather distinctive lines in the back that make it look like a wall panel and they have these black dots which feels a little Guston-y like to me. You get to have a conversation with the memory.
MB It is a conversation with reality. I think that you’re doing it too, it just that the reality that you are touching on is fragmented. I was discussing this around color the other day. I take the local color then pivot off into a painterly ephemeral moment. We are very much in a time where truth is not important. For me there is a truth or a reality and here is this commitment that I make to that—but then I work in this other realm that perhaps runs parallel to that.
MJE With color and composition I am often thinking about something that I have either seen or heard about like a pattern or color combination. I make notes in my phone all the time describing color combinations I’ve seen. It will just say things like buttery yellow with a lot of white, salmon pink with too much orange. Color translated into words.
MB Where did you see that?
MJE Someone’s sweater or a store window or an ad. It’s formula for me to refer back to, like oh yeahhhh right— light butter yellow and salmon with too much orange in it. It’s notational. I also think in zones, and I wonder if that enters your work. With some abstract painters, if green shows up in the lower right hand corner of a piece it has to pop its head back up somewhere else. I really don’t care about that. I am wondering how you think about areas relating.
MB Sometimes I forget to think about it. I struggle between atmosphere, space, and here, for example, I was having a whole conversation about how to address that color in the background. I’m trying to think more about how a certain colored line makes its way or finds its pulsation in another part, rather then it just being about balance. As if it discovers where it belongs, which I suppose is this idea about reality. How do parts arrive? What is the journey that gets buried then comes back out again?
MJE I think the way you’re considering color is also that you think about the light that is shining on this person’s body and how their shadows are going to be purple or red. For me that always divorces your work from lived experience. The paintings feel augmented or filtered. The shadows are weird.
MB I want everything to be as weird as possible, but that’s not necessarily an easy task. Why do we search for things that are weird externally? What makes something weird is its relationship to what is known.
MJE But what’s interesting is when you’re in your studio there has to be some sort of verisimilitude. You are representing something that happened or might happen or you thought about happening. Whereas I sometimes wish that I was moored in that way.
MB But you are. You are moored to being an abstract painter, you’re chained to that fucked up history. It’s almost like you live in a soup of that library of what abstraction has become and you have to find your way out of it. It’s almost as if it has become its own reality.
MJE Every once in a while I will make a mark and I will be like “Oh no, is that right from the 1940s? Who am I?! Put that away right now.”
MB It’s true, it’s impressive to not make an abstract painting from the 1940s, you just know it when you see it, it’s just dated. I was looking at this older abstract painter that I really like and showing it to someone they said “This the palette of a particular generation”.
MJE Is your work allegorical?
Is Xylor Jane playing ping pong just Xylor Jane playing ping pong?
MB That is correct. I am in the tradition of Edouard Manet.
MJE Do you differentiate yourself as a maker by your gender identity or your sexuality or your race or your context in time? For me it is also working on paper, I feel like there is a heroic nature to abstraction which I have absolutely zero interest in.
MB Your works are not heroic they’re very wimpy. They are so faggy. They are faggy in the way I remember being young and not being able to deal with the rest of the world and going into this hermetic state, this myopic way of just making something gorgeous—I think the type of way you digest the world in fragments and then the kind of care that goes into each part is part of that hermetic investment.
MJE It’s about the need to have different kinds of conversations constantly. You have different kinds of conversations when you’re with students, different kinds of conversation when you’re with straight people. How do you find the person you are when every hour you're speaking a different vernacular, to different people? How do you bring all those languages into a piece?
MB I was having this conversation and I was joking—doing the Audre Lorde thing where she lists every part of her identity, when she says “I am a woman, warrior, poet, mother etc.” It highlights the ridiculousness of trying to claim any singular part of identity. So I was doing that for myself, I was like what am I? I am a Jew with marxist parents, I have a weird gender, then my dad got psychotically ill when I was really young—both physically and mentally, then my mother lost her mind, and you know I paint and I am gay. So being gay is the least weird part of the situation.
MJE For me it was like, everything was so suburban that I thought thank god—at least I’m gay! Because everything else was boring. Where I grew up it was such a big deal, no one was gay, it was the late 1980s, no one around me was talking about it.
MB Your markers are just as important—and it’s actually impossible to articulate them through definition. In the same way it’s actually impossible to articulate the experience of a lived reality. So while I was having this conversation with said friend they said to me “well that is why you have to meditate.”
MJE And you do meditate!
MB I do. And the reason why it’s really helpful is because meditation helps hold paradox.
MJE I’ve never thought about it that way. I’ve never really meditated but I have been thinking about it because you’re so frenetic but somehow you also have this calm you can conjure up. Do you meditate in the studio?
MB I do. I do not touch anything in the studio until I have meditated for thirty minutes. Honestly it just centers everything, so when I am done and I start working its what I imagine taking Adderall is like.
MJE Like a jolt?
MB Its a focus. Because meditation is so slow, and I had just been doing nothing then it becomes really easy to stay within all of the things I want to do and be aware of. It allows for making choices that might be wrong.
MJE I love thinking about it as this idea of containers for opposites—I think about my work that way. Are your
paintings an extension of meditation?
MB I think they’re just better able to happen because of meditation, and they are clearer in terms of what I want to catch. My hope is that there is a lot of humor in the paintings
MJE There is—it’s a wonky humor
MB I catch that wonkiness through slowing down. My humor comes from watching a situation, then reporting back on what’s actually happening. You think this one thing is occurring—you’re wrong, but here is some real talk. This whole other thing is going on, then people are like omg that is so funny cause its true! Let’s look at Dykes and their Modernist Objects, this is a funny painting.
MJE I remember this one from your studio. I love the title.
MB Because the humor is also in the title. Language is important, we live in post-modernism, we need context in order to understand what is happening. And you know dykes are really attached to the phallus, ha. I called it by this title because the subject in the painting really loves making modernist objects with a postmodern twist of course. So I was kind of making fun of the way in which the art world wants to digest identity through languages it is already familiar with.
She happened to be putting together this cat tower which was something that actually happened. I mean look at it—its an ugly modernist object, its chunky. So she’s putting it together and I’m thinking this is so funny, you love cats you love modernism. I made it thinking I was poking fun at all these other people. Then I was like uh oh jokes on me, cause what is the original modernist object (pause) the female. Manet’s Olympia, that is the OG modernist object. I was like oh right I am objectifying this lesbian.
MJE You have objectified this cat tower, and this lesbian.
MB And I thought that was a funny realization and also after I stretched it and saw that her foot is falling out of the painting and she is staring down and there is this look of fear, I thought of this narrative of this moment in which you see yourself, that meta trope and for a queer it can just be too much..
MJE Do you ever end up painting out the thing that you thought was the main part of a piece?
MB I sadly can’t because in the way I work everything is so thin and reveals every move. So when I start to lose a painting I lose it. However on occasion I don’t. Fading Light is one weird example of not losing a painting that I thought I was losing.
MJE For me I know when I’m losing a piece. It’s why I like working on paper, it’s not as precious. I can either just let it go or often I do some reverse collage where I excise large sections of a painting then glue new paper to the back and start again.
MB Is one of you problems that you are having too many paintings in one painting?
MJE Sometimes, and I other times I feel as if I want to make everything more full. I want these to be more insane. I think for me what’s good about working bigger is that there is room to struggle and process in a way that I can’t in a smaller work. This washier part—it took a lot of thinking until I reached a point where I was able to leave that in because I felt there needed to be a kind of counter point. The idea of having evidence of the human hand in that way—where there is clearly something there and I have done an unsuccessful job of painting out, there is something in that kind of semi-veiling that’s important.
MB I also think it is interesting how there is such pleasure in the making of those patterns and in this one in particular like the circles, you reach your limits. It's as if you have created a space to show the limits of said pattern and rather than trying to find a home for it they are just snippets.
MJE They’re like chicken pox. The bottom of this painting has a penciled-in pattern but it's just a net. I did a wall project in Mexico City at Biquini Wax and it had that feeling—you could feel the history of the house through it. Usually though I use patterns to obliterate things, to fill them in and make them opaque—but it has been nice to use a pattern over top of another part as a scrim system
MB I have been thinking about layering more as reverberation. Creating a sense of atmospheric pressure—not creating actual atmosphere but setting up the terms for those sort of pressures, in order to get things to push. So for example in some of your smaller work where the repetitions are stronger they are starting to have that sort of reverb through colors and patterns pushing against each other. It’s interesting to see how you’re going to make that kind of thing happen in the larger paintings. It has to do with mimesis in a way, it is a different type of reality that you are encountering, yours is the actual interaction of the materials as they are coming to each other—how do they align?
MJE What sits on, what comes forward, what recedes? I always think that with my work you have to see more than one of them—or you kind of think...what’s this weirdness? But when you see another you think oh, okay—he is really invested in this weirdness.
MB Did you see the Lisa Alvarado show at Bridget Donahue? The patterns, the music.
MJE The duck feathers! I love how she engages in craftiness, how they hung from the ceiling from these things that you might use at summer camp.
MB And that move forced me to then look at the feathers on the floor.
MJE The works were also two-sided which I loved.
MB That work played with this idea—what does it mean? She lowers you to the feathers and its like “you connect, go for it.” I think that’s a fun thing that you can do in painting, that perhaps meditation will help me with. That moment where people are like this is going to create a great moment of meaning and catharsis, which is a really hetero concept.
MJE Is catharsis a hetero concept?
MB Yes. It creates a singular trajectory that ends in a culmination. And I think the “what does it mean?” thing is essentially patriarchal. Its as if a person needs to encapsulate a specific meaning around an art object—one needs to completely understand it in order to have intellectual capital. In reality there are a multiplicity of meanings that are in conversation with each other.
MJE But it’s funny because I think that’s something that comes out of Postmodernism but was still really evident in Modernism. When you think about De Kooning’s women you can be the high school art teacher that tells all their students that he hated all women—just look at these terrible brush strokes. Or...did he?
MB And are they ugly? I mean not really.
MJE Sometimes? Those teeth? I mean he obviously really struggled over them and thought about them. I feel like you don’t do that for something you hate that much.
MB But the narratives we create around certain works are very singular.
MJE Is that idea of a multiplicity of meanings a kind of queer strategy, or a queer dream? How we are different things to different people. Does that have to be in the work? Because when we speak of hetero and heteronormativity I get this vision of it as one path. Like a tunnel.
MB It does sometimes feel that way, like a tunnel.
MJE When I have to write a statement it is hard to declare the grand narrative of the work.
MB Well yeah it’s really challenging and it changes all the time. I feel like every time I sit down to write a totally new idea comes forth. I have not created a specific artist statement in so long but I have written other more bananas things.
MJE I have been writing about the idea that the decorative is still seen as deceitful. You’re covering something up. You’re adding extraneous elements. Why? What are you distracting us from?
MB It’s interesting to think of morality and how so much art is asked to be political in a certain way, or speak to a certain politic. I think to create a “political” work is to speak to a certain moral code. Like we are missing something in society so we inject this or we inject that and we are like “I am queer, I am this, I am that.” You’re looking at things this way and I am going to show you another way. It’s like this is the truth, this is my truth, your truth.
MJE I think of it this way: Ab Ex was the truth—well no, then Minimalism was the truth, well no, then something else was the truth. Except, what happens now is all these truths co-exist at the same time. Painters can’t drop kick these other painters out of the way, everyone is around at this point. It’s more confusing than ever. We are not down at the Cedar Tavern all toasting the same idea.