Monthly Archives: July 2013

Day by Day in the Studio 3: July 15

A summer detour, a project of posting works done on specific summer days from different years, begun July 13.

There was a particular happiness, or at least so it seems only in retrospect, to the summer of 2008. It was my second summer after my mother died so my grief and loneliness were not quite as intense as the year before. I had spent almost all my summers since the age of twenty in Provincetown with my mother in the house she bought in late 1969, with my sister Naomi staying for shorter periods, writing upstairs at the table I am writing on now and also using the house to work when we weren’t here.  My mother Resia worked at a little jeweler’s table downstairs, in the room with the boiler in it, I worked upstairs in a room partially under the eaves, with seashell wallpaper from the ’50s (installed by the previous owner–as modernist New Yorkers we wouldn’t have been caught dead putting up patterned wall paper but I’m crazy about this pattern and how it interacts with the paintings). We had lunch and dinner together, over the years the task of cooking passing from mother to daughter. A  strange arrangement perhaps, by common standards of what a woman’s life is supposed to be–sometimes with some trepidation an image would pass through my mind, of the town librarian during my childhood who had a grown daughter who was always with her, who was not quite right–but the arrangement suited me because it suited my work and I always felt a strong sense of pride at this image of two generations of women engaged in creative work in one dear old house. An adjustment had to be made to the aloneness in that space and painting helped.

The summer of 2008 I continued work where the “object matter” was the empty thought balloon, sometimes a head, sometimes a cloud, but a particularly liberating space to just “paint paint.” This was my studio wall photographed the morning of July 15, 2008.

July 15, 2012

In keeping perhaps with the theme of mother and daughter, and what traditional female roles are as they affect the identity of an artist, this drawing from last summer was spurred by a funny thought that brought the image to my head, of the signifiers of female youth–perky breasts and bleeding cunt– as attachments that could be detached or aimed as weapons: it was part of some scenario I thought would be funny, but once I visualized it the thought vanished. However it is part of a fascination I’ve had since my early twenties with the notion of femininity, which I understood as a role or costume that a woman could put on or take off.

Mira Schor, Tit Doxa, July 15, 2012. Ink on tracing paper, c. 18 x 30 in.


Day by Day in the Studio 2: July 14

Continuing with Day by Day in the Studio, a project of posting works done on the same summer day different years:

July 14, 1976

My principal material in the mid-70s was handmade Japanese rice paper, much of it purchased from a special trove at an art supply store in the Village named for its irascible and eccentric owner David Davis, who, the first time I went into the store, when I was going to college at NYU a block or two up from the store, then on LaGuardia Place, threw me out because I was just looking at sketchbooks and not buying anything. The paper was often extremely delicate and also surprisingly strong, and for both characteristics at the time it seemed like a perfect metaphor for self. I rarely left the paper in its natural state, using medium, mostly Japan Gold Size, to make the paper translucent so that my handwriting could be seen through the back of the paper. It also gave much of the work a parchment-like, ochre tinge that people interpreted often critically as looking deliberately aged, which wasn’t my intention although I may have been partial to the color or, rather, the discoloration. But occasionally I left the paper alone, without using any medium or pigment as in this fan from July 14, 1976, seen from “front” and “back”

Mira Schor, Fan, July 14, 1976. Ink on rice paper, c. 10 3/4 x 7 in.

July 14, 1983

I continued to work with and on rice paper into the early 80s, looking to landscape for forms that were related to the way I had depicted or referred to the figure, and also related to the graphic elements of my handwriting as form. After first doing these nature-based figures freehand I turned to making stencils. This work was part of a series of vertically oriented works which represented the life under the surface of the sea, in a format similar to the kind of posters of the fish in the sea you’d see hung behind the counter in fish markets on Cape Cod. The overall title of the group of six works was Creatures of the Northern Ocean.

Mira Schor, Creatures of the Northern Ocean I, July 14, 1983. Dry pigment, pastel, medium on rice paper, worked on back as well as front, 36 x 22 in.

July 14, 2012

I started using rolls of tinted tracing paper sometime in the late 90s. The many drawings I do on this very contingent material (much more perishable than rice paper though so far so good with careful handling) are also worked from back and front as I did in the earlier works on rice paper. The paper offers a useful space for thinking out loud for paintings, responding quickly to ideas from readings, and diagramming my emotional or polemic position at any given moment.

Mira Schor, Antithesis, July 14, 2012. Ink on tracing paper with gesso on reverse side, c. 18 x 30 in.



Day by day in the studio 1: July 13

I will return to posting on art, culture, and politics soon enough but I hope my subscribers and readers allow me a slight summer detour, as I trace my work from different years through specific days in July and August.

Learning how one works and how one works around work blocks is an essential skill for an artist. Every artist has her own habits and devises her own solutions.

Since I began to work as an artist, that is, thinking of it as my work in the most profound sense, as what made life bearable and meaningful, various patterns and approaches have asserted themselves, but their familiarity in no way makes them rote or comfortably reliable.

I understand more and more how incredibly privileged I’ve been to even be able to make art at all, as economic conditions make the kind of time and intellectual independence necessary to make art more and more difficult to come by. I’m doubly fortunate that, since the age of twenty, I’ve had the incredible luck of being able to spend two months a year in a beautiful place away from the city with relatively unobstructed time to confront my work and to work. A strangely agrarian rhythm established the summer as a particularly intense laboratory in studio struggle, beginning as if from zero.

So almost before I had made the “official” decision to be an artist by pursuing graduate studies in visual art, the beginning of the summer marked a moment of renewal and reassessment that has always been paired with a momentary but seemingly eternal sense of impasse. Even a short gap of time between studios and periods of concentrated work will have created enough of a critical break to put the whole enterprise in crisis. It is likely by now that this is a necessary element of my work process that I should recognize as such but it always feels awful. The road back to my work, that is to say to the part of myself I value most and need so that the rest of me won’t crack under the pressure of the daily, at first appears blocked. As my friends can attest through forty years of listening to me wail over the phone about how I’m not working, the work isn’t going well, that I know I always say that but this time it’s really bad, no amount of experience and of tricks I’ve successfully played on myself in the past mitigates the sense of despair that overwhelms me, even as, as it turns out a few weeks later, I was and am in fact “working.” I’m despondent until a moment when I feel a sense of access to the work, where I both feel that I am working and that I can see the work I am doing without its already being historicized within my own process.

Each calendar day carries enormous weight, has a specific identity. Studio set up by June 24, canvases stretched and rabbit skin glued by July 1 or earlier if possible, drawings begun end June, day and late night spent sketching anything that comes to my mind, summer readings begun with sketchbook at hand, sketches immediately scanned for use in developing paintings, first efforts to put paint to linen by July 4, assessment of drawings mid-July, July 11 often “the day” when the sense of working clicks in, slow down beginning August as social life interrupts pure isolation, return for another round of taking the summer’s visual metaphor as far as I can, before I am forced to stop so the paintings can dry to be taken back to New York and teaching and city life and winter rhythms.

Especially in my earliest years as an artist I felt the importance of leaving a daily trace of my existence, and I have dated many of my works over the years to the day. In recent years I document the studio every day to keep a record of the stages of paintings and, always driven by a diaristic narrative of the work itself, to keep track of the order of things as they develop in the studio, and sometime to realize that I painted over something I should have let be. This summer I’ve decided to begin to research what work I did on each particular and precious day of summer, over the years. I will post as I can through the summer, limited only (and it’s a big only) by the fact that I can only go by what I have on my hard drive, with most of the documentation of my work in New York, so this is a project I may return to. This particular way of presenting the work, focusing on the production from July and August, gives a very incomplete idea of the progression of the work, which is sketched out very schematically but with a more comprehensive and traditional chronology on my website. And, in general, I am aware of that my work appears to have undergone many changes in appearance over the years, but I see the work as an ongoing narrative where the apparent differences in what is represented and addressed and how this address is materialized visually are in conversation, with large periods of time where figure, language, and landscape may dominate, but, I hope to establish, a hand and a politics remains constant.

I begin with this day, July 13.

July 13, 1976

Mira Schor, Fan: Dreams (front and back), ink, dry pigment, metallic powder, Japan Gold Size on rice paper, c. 8 1/2 x 11 in.

In the summer of 1976 I was working with a V shape which had emerged from a formal analysis of earlier work whose subject or, using Barnett Newman’s distinction, taken from Meyer Schapiro, between the object matter of the work–be it an apple or a figure–and the subject matter, the formal and material language of art itself, whose object matter was the female figure and then the figure of an empty dress. I also was beginning to use my handwriting as a visual element, used in order to represent the idea that women were filled with language and because my handwriting could “read” all too easily as abstract form. The writing was personal, often I recorded dreams and added commentary, or worked in a linguistic and diagrammatic manner, from an image I had read about that was resonant, as in this rice paper fan from July 13, 1976.

July 13, 1977

The summer of ’77 I made a series of masks, always two sided, using the same materials and visual elements as in ’76.

Here they are again, this time front and back in one image:

July 13, 2009

I had set aside the masks for many years, but began to look at them again as from 2007 onwards I began to work with the shape of an empty thought balloon that gradually turned into a head wearing glasses.

Mira Schor, Three States, July 13, 2009. Ink on paper, Muji Time notebook, c. 5 ¾ x8 ½ in. 2009

I began to think about doing this day by day in the studio exercise yesterday and went through the image archive I have with me to look for works that I had scanned or photographed and that were specifically dated. This morning I hesitated: the impulse to do this might be a concession to this year’s work block, but I decided to take it as a spur for today’s work.

July 13, 2013

It’s a bit of a crazy risk to post works that are not finished, but as part of this exploration of daily practice here are two of the work process images I take every day, here is what is on the floor and on the work table today, as I try to remind myself that what I’m trying to get to is what is true to the process of the work and where I am in my life and in the world, right this minute.