RIP My HuffPost Blog (2010-2017)


My first blog for the HuffingtonPost Arts page, Picasso's 'Recession-Proof' Harem, was published on May 13th, 2010. Seven years later, on July 17th, 2017 my final blog appeared: Bradford J. Salamon: Rembrandt, Typewriters and Cheeseburgers. The day after Bradford's blog appeared I celebrated my sixtieth birthday and also made the decision that it was time to leave the HuffingtonPost.

There are several reasons for my decision including the fact that I have been able to say much of what I wanted to say. On top of that, the urgency of American politics has distracted me and most of my readers. Finally, and most importantly, the HuffingtonPost has new management that has moved "contributors" (volunteer bloggers) into the background. Posts by contributors like myself are now rarely promoted, listed on the HuffPost verticals, included in the publication's search bar or promoted by the Huffpost on social media.

It is time to move on.

My first few years of blogging were golden. The ability to say what I wanted the way I wanted to was priceless. Also, the support and guidance of Kimberly Brooks, the Founding Editor of the Arts Page, made the experience especially vital and fun. It needs to be said that Kimberly, who is herself a painter, created phenomenal opportunities everyone who wrote for the HuffingtonPost Arts page and for the artists whose works were included in its blogs. She did it all as a volunteer and gave some unforgettable parties along the way.


L to R: HuffingtonPost Arts Founding Editor Kimberly Brooks with bloggers John Seed and Daniel Maidman, May 2012


Blogging is truly a social practice and during my seven life-changing years with the HuffPost I met truly exceptional people I couldn't have met any other way. And you know who you are...Yes, I most often blogged about representational art because it was the "low-hanging fruit" of the art world and there were so many exceptional artists that deserved to be written about. I have tried to do what I can to shine the spotlight on artists and exhibitions that I found worthy and inspiring. 

Here are a few things I am particularly proud of and some statistics. Over a seven year span I wrote an posted over 360 blogs, which means I blogged roughly once a week. The blogs included 112 interviews,  8 memorials, roughly 20 blogs about Bay Area art and artists, and numerous profiles, reviews, commentaries and satires. One blog—on iPhone photography—received 1 million page views in a 24-hour period. Another led directly to the sale of over $100k of paintings for an artist who does not wish to be named. 

My blog led to my being a finalist for a Creative Capital Award in Art Writing, landed me on the board of an artist's Foundation—The Sam Francis Foundation—and also resulted in opportunities to curate exhibitions. It opened up opportunities to write for other publications including Art Ltd Magazine, Poets and Artists and Hyperallergic.  It also led to getting my portrait painted,  and naturally I blogged that experience.  And did I mention the videos for Google Art and Culture? 

Blogging brought me friends, frenemies and enemies across the United States and the world: I have had wonderful correspondences with blog readers in Turkey, Iran, Russia and Israel. One artist, who did not like the type of art I was blogging about, told me "You are damaging the art world." Many other comments were much kinder. 


My most popular blog was a satire "Artist's Statements of the Old Masters."

Yes, I am continuing to write and will hopefully post blogs from time to time on a few other platforms. Catalog essays are now a specialty and I hope to do more magazine work. It's always good to set goals higher, and I would like to write stronger, deeper more polished work in the future. You will see whatever I write shared on Facebook and archived at www.johnseed.com.

Thank you for reading this and for your interest. Your readership is precious to me.

Below: a video containing highlights from my first year of blogging for the HuffingtonPost.






What Does a Jasper Johns Flag Stand For?

Let’s start by being factual. Since creating his first American flag painting in 1954—two years after being honorably discharged from the Army—Jasper Johns has made over 40 works based on the flag including monochrome and triple flag variations. Johns has said that these works are both “painted flags and paintings of a flag.” As a boy, Johns was told by his father that he had been named in honor of Sergeant William Jasper, a hero who had recovered and re-flown a Moultrie flag at Fort Sullivan on June 28, 1776, after a British shell destroyed its flagstaff.



The Fort Moultrie Flag

So, just to correct a widely-held Art World myth, Jasper Johns is not descended from a hero who rescued an American flag. Yes, Johns is named for a patriot who saved a flag, but it was the one you see above, not the revolutionary stars and stripes (see example below)



IMAGE: HISTORY.COM
An American flag circa 1777

With that correction in place it’s time to talk about what is known about why Johns painted the flag and what he wanted it to stand for. That will take us into a situation where facts are sparse, meanings are murky and questions will multiply. A good place to start would seem to be considering what the artist himself has said about the origins and meanings of his flag. Then again, when David Sylvester interviewed Johns in 1965 the artist mainly offered up trivialities: the idea came to him in a dream, it was painted with encaustic since enamel didn’t dry quickly enough, etc. etc.
But if you listen carefully to what Johns says 2:20 into the video clip of the Sylvester interview something interesting happens. Johns breaks into nervous laughter as he offers this anecdote: “My Aunt Gladys, when she read the thing in the magazine, wrote me a letter saying she was so proud of me because she had worked so hard to instill some respect for the American flag in her students... and she was so glad (breaking into laughter) that the mark had been left (more laughter) on me.”
The point that cracks Johns up—that his aunt Gladys had tried to instill respect for the American flag—is a telling one. For the record, after living with his paternal grandparents until the age of nine (his parents had divorced when he was a toddler) Johns had been raised by his aunt during adolescence and also taught by her—along with two other students—in a one-room Georgia schoolhouse. As his dismissive laughter indicates, Johns later moved far beyond his provincial education. By the time he made his first flag Johns was an artist and cosmopolitan living in New York; a gay man whose aesthetics and interests were increasingly shaped by his exposure to European avant-garde ideas, especially those of Marcel Duchamp.
It is commonly said that Jasper Johns made his greatest works by placing common signs and symbols—numbers, maps, flags etc.—into a Dada context. If you aren’t familiar with Dada, please consider the following:
Dada was the first conceptual art movement where the focus of the artists was not on crafting aesthetically pleasing objects but on making works that often upended bourgeois sensibilities and that generated difficult questions about society, the role of the artist, and the purpose of art. - theartstory.org
What had European Dada artists done with potent signs and symbols? German Dada artists notably offered up challenging imagery that protested the rise of Nazism. The photomontage seen below, published by John Heartfield in 1934, reconfigures a medieval image of a Christian martyr broken by a wheel with the Nazi swatstika to make a chilling analogy concerning Nazi persecutions. As the world now knows, Heartfield’s work was shockingly prophetic.


John Heartfield, The Middle Ages and the Third Reich, 1934 photomontage

Heartfield’s scathing collage was meant to be utterly clear and uncompromising. His goal was to subvert the triumphal implications of the swatstika as it was used in Nazi propaganda. Johns, on the other hand, has consistently been the author of Dada-infused images that are distinctly and intentionally vague in their meanings. Even though his flags and targets appeared after the first McCarthy hearings (which began on April 22, 1954) Johns makes no direct reference to them.
Are there oblique references in a Johns flag or target? To patriotism, paranoia and the subjectivity of truth? Likely yes. Does the artist want you tell you anything specific about himself or his personal views? Definitely not. As he once said “To me, self-description is a calamity.”

In regards to Johns’ flags, when seeing them in person It is interesting to look closely and see the fragments of yellowed newspaper text peeking through. In the case of the 1967 flag on view at The Broad in Los Angeles, there are bits and pieces of the New York Times. Yes, these words were once part of a coherent front page, carefully contextualized and ordered. In a Johns flag painting they are reduced to fragments and gibberish, organized with frustrating subjectivity by a creative mind. Like the nervous laughter Johns emits when talking about the letter from his Aunt Gladys, the imagery of his flags is meant to deflect further exploration. Bits and pieces are all you can expect to get.
At least he isn’t trying to indoctrinate you to some fixed set of beliefs, right? You have to think for yourself. Interestingly, the efforts that his aunt made to engender a respect for the flag actually worked, but not in the manner that she expected. For Johns, “respect” seems to involve an active and ongoing commitment to seeking and questioning ideas and values.



PHOTO: JOHN SEED
An American flag carried by a pickup truck in Southern California

Perhaps the most important thing that Jasper Johns did with his flag paintings was to take the American flag out of its normal context. By bringing it into the gallery—and museums shortly followed—he was telling all of us that it could and should be seen in a fresh way. I was thinking about this the other day when I saw an American flag in the back of a pickup truck parked near my local market. Having a flag in the back of a truck—and I have been seeing a lot of this lately—also seems to be an exercise in taking the flag out of its normal context. When you take the flag off the flagpole or out of the classroom there is a kind of “claiming” going on that suggests it now means something extraordinary.
The American flag played a personal role for Johns when he painted it: to open up the symbolic richness of what had once been presented to him as a fixed symbol. If you really think about it, Johns is ultimately interested in liberty, just as his ancestor Sergeant William Jasper was: that was in fact the single word present on the flag that he rescued. Liberty includes free thought and free speech, and Jasper Johns’ flags were born from those values and also encourage them on the part of those who view and contemplate his art.
In regards, to the flag I saw on the black truck, I’m not sure entirely what kind of patriotic values its driver wants to celebrate with his display. I didn’t stop to ask him. I’m pretty sure he and others like him who display their flags on pickups, might be interested in a very different type of conversation than the open-ended dialog that Jasper Johns clearly respects.
Displaying a flag to flaunt your patriotism is very different from painting one to celebrate your freedom to do so.
A Note:
“Something Resembling Truth,” a survey exhibition of the works of Jasper Johns, will be coming to the Broad Museum in Los Angeles in February of 2018.

On Art in the Age of the ‘Attention Economy’


DIGITAL COLLAGE BY JOHN SEED
Art lives through attention, right? Without a pair of eyeballs looking at it—hopefully eyeballs that are working in concert with a focused, attentive brain—a painting is just a piece of canvas smeared with colored mud. Or, in the digital age, where paintings are increasingly viewed on museum websites and social media, a hi-resolution jpeg.
Speaking of attention, if you made it past my first two sentences that is something of an accomplishment. My first editor at the HuffingtonPost once told me that for every 100 clicks (pages views) only one reader would read my blog in its entirety. That’s a grim statistic, but likely an accurate one. We are living in an age when content is everywhere and attention is scarce. So, if you need to quit reading now and check your e-mail, I entirely understand.
“Like” it or not (pun intended) visual art is also content, especially when presented on the web. So although you may want to think of art as somehow exceptional—and when experienced in person it often is—artists working today have to recognize that when their work appears on the net it is part of a virtual tsunami. The research firm Deloitte estimates that 2.5 trillion digital images were shared or stored last year. Many of them ended up on Instagram—posted by one of more than 700 million users—where they face a 1.1% “engagement rate.” In other words, an image posted on Instagram has about the same chance of being “liked” as this blog has of being entirely read by you.
It’s time for visual artists to do some serious study of a digital age phenomenon that has been called the “Attention Economy” In essence, attention economics posits that human attention is scarce and that our receptiveness to information—both on the web and off the web—is is becoming increasingly limited. What are the implications for art and artists, especially those who are depending on their personal websites and social media to disseminate their work? It’s also worth asking a related question: is the glut of imagery also changing the way that attention is paid to actual works of art in museums and galleries?
Perhaps some of what the marketing people already know about the attention economy can be applied to the presentation of art. For example, one expert says that there are eight “intangibles” that can be helpful in getting the attention of consumers—for art, translate that to viewers or collectors—and engaging them more deeply in whatever is being presented (or sold).
They are:
Immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment, patronage and findability.
What follows are some brief thoughts on how these “intangibles” borrowed from attention economic theory might relate to or be applied to the situation of visual art, both on the web and in person.
Immediacy:
Yes, immediacy matters more and more in a distracted world: Andy Warhol sure saw this coming. Can you think of any other artist who stripped his art down so completely and effectively? When Warhol famously stated that Pop art was about “liking things,” it almost sounds like he could have invented Facebook, where the immediacy of images—and headlines—is key. One recent study indicated that 6 out of 10 Facebook links are shared by people who haven’t read what they are sharing. First impressions now matter more than ever, and that includes first impressions made by works of art.
Personalization:
It’s a Chipotle world out there, and people want their burritos, their lattes—and their interactions with art—to reflect “who they are.” Maybe that is why so many selfies get taken with certain large, shiny balloon dogs. If you want to get really depressed about this, read Sarah Boxer’s piece in the Atlantic about how Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room “offers the chance to capture the lonely existential experience of infinity and send it to others as a selfie.” Narcissists have always done well as artists—in fact they have excelled—but facing the challenges of increasingly “self-focused” audiences who want to be flattered by the experience of art adds a new wrinkle to the artist/viewer dynamic.
Interpretation:
If you are an artist, you probably fantasize that people are going to work hard to find meaning in your work. The truth is that finding meaning is a job that fewer and fewer seem to take the time to do: when interpretations are provided people will eat them up. Offering back-stories, historical context, interpretations and anecdotes to support works of art is becoming essential. The people who create museum labels, audio tours and apps know this well. To get an idea what state of the art “interpretation” now consists of, check out and download the SFMOMA app which includes picks for “must-see” artworks and “Immersive Walks.”
Authenticity:
There is a glimmer of hope in this “intangible.” The public is hungry for “real” works of art, and the popularity of museums that hold masterpieces reflects this. Visits to great museums are pilgrimages to see the authentic, iconic works whose digital Doppelgängers have proliferated like crazy on the web. That has to be a good thing, right?
Of course, when greatness is a few feet away everybody pulls out their phone, as this throng of visitors to the Louvre does to snap photos of the Mona Lisa. In the construct of the “Attention Economy” famous works of art hog the limelight.

PHOTO: BO BARTLETT
Photographing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, Paris

Accessibility:
Yes, before the internet there were posters, magazines, notecards, books and calendars, but nothing has multiplied the presence of art images like the net. To give credit where it is due, museums and other cultural institutions have done a phenomenal job in providing access to art images and experiences on the web. For example, the last time I saw the Sistine Chapel I remember being jammed into a hot, crowded space and being shushed by guards. In many ways, the Virtual Sistine Chapel is better than the experience of the real one, and all you need is an internet connection to visit.
This unprecedented access to art images is both a joy and a problem. With so much to look at, its hard to know what to look at. Curation—both in the real world and online—is critical.
Embodiment:
I take this to mean that actual, physical works of art will always have the greatest pull on our attention. What does this mean for artists? However great your website is, if you don’t exhibit actual works in public your career will be limited. If anything, works of art that are especially tactile, complicated and satisfying in their physical realizations will likely seem even more satisfying in the future: that is if people can be brought to look at them.
Patronage:
Patronage means that people like the feeling of spending money and letting others know that they have spent money. Is it any wonder that vanity museums are thriving in the Attention Economy and that winners of multi-million dollar art auctions share their prizes on Instagram? In Late Stage Capitalism wealth—in and of itself— has become a vestigial form of aristocracy, garnering attention and swaying taste through its social magnetism. Appealing to the vanity of patrons and/or associating art with elite patronage and wealth remains a powerful way to focus attention. How good is this kind of “attention” for art: that’s another discussion entirely...

VIA INSTAGRAM
Yusaku Maezawa with his $110 million dollar Basquiat

Findability:
If the internet has made a vast array of art images more accessible, consider this: it has also made every other kind of image more available. If you care about art, you should be thinking about ways to make art stand out in your community... to be “findable” in new and attention getting ways. Murals, Street Art and public projects do this, and I thought Eric Fischl’s “America Now and Here” project, which featured 18-wheeled big rig “museums” that traveled across the country was pretty great too. My point: for art to be found, a greater effort needs to be made to make it stand out.
Even in the image-glutted Attention Economy, there will always be ways to find art that don’t involve Google.

The Cold Wax Book is Hot

Open to its mid-point and spread out on the table, Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin’s newly released book—Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations—has an impressive, substantial presence. At 320 pages, it’s a bigger book than its authors originally envisioned, but that’s what happens when the right people tackle a previously unexplored topic: the urge to create something comprehensive takes over.
COLD WAX MEDIUM: TECHNIQUES, CONCEPTS & CONVERSATIONS
Two years ago Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin were complete strangers, but thanks to Jerry—who flew from California to Wisconsin to meet and recruit Rebecca with the layout for a “mock chapter” in hand—the two are now great friends, co-authors of a book and the founders of a publishing company, Squeegee Press.
It’s time for a glass of wine, don’t you think?
Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin in New Mexico
Crowell, who bought her first jar of cold wax medium in 2002, first thought of cold wax as “simply a substance that I mixed with my paint and with which I experimented and played,” but over time it has become a very familiar and flexible tool that supports her intentions and intuitions. Some of the qualities that cold wax offers—including translucency, body and enhanced drying time—have facilitated the evolution of Crowell’s richly textured abstractions.
REBECCA CROWELL
Swedish Red #1, 2015, Oil, cold wax and pigment on panel, 11” x 14”
Through her travels, teaching and exhibitions, Crowell has accumulated a host of followers and part of what has made the book project come alive is the support it has received from a constantly growing community of nearly 2,000 artists. Over 100 of them are represented by images in the book itself, and an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaignto support the $27k production cost of the first printing easily surpassed its goal, raising $45k instead.
Jerry McLaughlin teaching a workshop
What makes Cold Wax Medium such a friendly and valuable book is, in fact, the many varied and vital crowd-sourced images, recipes and techniques that it brings together. Part compendium and part cookbook, it’s a book that couldn’t have been made without the social reach of the internet. As full as it is—with information about tools, solvents, waxes and even presentation—is also supplemented by online “bonus material” that purchasers can access for free. It’s not surprising that a book with a full chapter entitled “Further Possibilities” sees itself as just the beginning.
SQUEEGEE PRESS
COLD WAX MEDIUM: TECHNIQUES, CONCEPTS & CONVERSATIONS
The book’s many images—which include paintings, collages, combines, prints and even sculpture—are there to provide artistic inspiration, answering what Rebecca and Jerry think of as the vital “why” question that the book needs to respond to. There are also quotes, recipes and tips from many of the artists, as well as a closing set of “insights” in a final chapter that focuses on the reflections of a selection of key artists. One example: artist Ginny Herzog discusses her use of cold wax to achieve fresco-like wall surfaces in her architectural collages.
GINNY HERZOG
Architectural Relic 35-813, Oil and wax with architectural collage on panel, 30 x 40 inches
It’s a good thing—a great thing actually—that Jerry McLaughlin was able to convince Rebecca Crowell that a comprehensive book on cold wax medium as needed. As a result, a medium that has been around for a long time is having a revival. The conversations and images contained in this book demonstrate that artists have a facility for taking ideas, methods and techniques from the past and renewing them in unexpected ways. Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts and Conversations will provide both inspiration and practical information for decades to come.
JERRY MCLAUGHLIN
MacArthur Station2015oil, cold wax and dirt on panel, 20 x 16 inches
Links:

Kathy Liao: ‘Lingering Presence’ at Prographica/KDR Gallery, Seattle


Kathy Liao

Kathy Liao, whose work is currently on view at Prographica/KDR Galllery in Seattle, is interested in the poetry that fills the gap between experience and memory. Her paintings and collages are suffused with affection, introspection and a sense of time passing.
John Seed Interviews Kathy Liao

KATHY LIAO
Self Portrait KCMO 2016, oil on canvas 60 x 40”

Kathy, tell me about your early life and how it shaped you.
My family traveled a lot during my childhood. I was born in Taiwan. I spent most of my elementary school years in Taiwan, and middle/high school in Southern California. As a kid, I felt like I lived two lives and I existed in two worlds. The holidays were different. The colors and decorations were different, the food was different. The way I looked and spoke and acted were different. From the sleepless nights in Taipei with its endless columns and rows of neon signs, to the quiet, dark suburbs of Southern California, I found myself adapting, absorbing, and molding into the various places I called home.
As a first generation immigrant, I am constantly reflecting on my relationship with my family. My paintings and drawings are anecdotes of moments and instances where I felt both so close and so far to my family, physically, emotionally, or mentally, in value and beliefs. Those moments sing out to me, feel high pitched, they are at once strange and familiar, light hearted and overbearing, happy and poignantly sad.
Throughout my childhood and adult life, my dad lived in Taiwan, while my mom and my siblings lived in the United States. I remember my dad used to visit my family in the US every three months. I remember him constantly packing and unpacking. I’ve alway though of that ritual as being heavy and burdensome and of the dream that he lugged back and forth between two countries. But his devotion to his family and his children never wavered.
One thing I think a lot about is the idea of the American Dream. In the news, you hear a lot about immigrants coming here in pursue of the “American Dream”, but I disagree. My parents did not immigrate here for the “American” dream. My parents brought me here in pursuit of the “Taiwan Dream,” in which, well-to-do Taiwanese family bring their kids to America for better education and better life. The Taiwan dream is parents sacrificing their own existing life for their kids, for the betterment of the family, the community. I’ve always felt I’ve abandoned my parents’ Taiwan Dream. I chose the American way, leaving my family community, pursuing my own dream, making decisions for myself and myself only.

KATHY LIAO
Prepare for Landing 2016, gouache, collage, washi tape, and color pencil on paper, 9 x 12”

Were you always artistic?
I grew up in a family of doctors. I was not exposed to much art as a child. Both of my parents were dentists and the most artistic objects my parents presented to me were dentures, wax, and molds of strangers’ teeth. I was a studious kid and my parents had high hopes of me going into medicine. However, I’ve always love to draw since I was a little kid.
I remember one of my favorite holidays in Taiwan is the Moon Festival where, in our elementary school, the students get to construct paper lanterns out of bamboo and paper. I used to copy illustrations from children’s books and continued on to draw and publish comic books in middle and high school. My parents always thought with my artistic hands, I’d make amazing prosthetics and beautiful dentures for patients. I asked my mother once, “Why didn’t you take us to the museums more often when I was a kid?” She replied, “Why would I do that? I was trying to steer you away from art, but you keep stubbornly continued to pursue it!” I think that was meant to be a joke. Maybe...

KATHY LIAO
2AM Apparition 2016, oil and Washi tape on linen, 24 x 24”

Where did you get your art education and who were your mentors?
I went to University of Washington in Seattle for my undergraduate studies. My first few years there, I majored in the sciences, intending to go on to medicine. After taking my first oil painting class in my Junior year, I found myself at a crossroads. Finishing my first degree in Psychology, and realizing I had no desire to go on to be a doctor, I went back to pursue a B.F.A in Painting and Drawing at the University of Washington. At UW, I studied with Helen O’Toole and Ann Gale, and many other wonderful faculty, who shaped my foundation.
I went to Boston University for my M.F.A. degree in Painting, and that was the best decision of my life. My graduate professor, John Walker, was an incredible painter and mentor. His work was bold, painterly, and poetic, heavy with collaged materials and the hand of the artist. From him, I learned to be genuine and honest with the work I make. From him, I learned I have the freedom to do anything I want to.

KATHY LIAO
Memories of Watermelons 2017, oil & fabric on canvas, 54 x 43”

What are some of the themes of your art?
The absence and presence of “memory” is something I think a lot about in my recent work. I think a lot about how memories fade with time, and how memories get altered and distilled through iterative attempts to record it. My work has really slowed down, now that I paint less from life and more from memory. In the last few years, my grandmother’s memories have been fading away. I call her Waipuo (which means grandma in Chinese). The absence and loss of her memory only prompted me to hold on to it more, wanting to preserve it somehow.

In Memories with Watermelons, I think back to how Waipuo always cut up these large triangular slices of watermelon for me when I came home to visit. Waipuo no longer remembers I like watermelons.

KATHY LIAO
Absent Presence 2017, oil on linen, 24 x 24”

My painting “Sunbathing” was done from life, on a day when my dad sat in the backyard by the pool. That day, it was just a record of a specific moment in time, but I often revisit the same moment. Years later, in Sunbathing (Yellow), the memory of the bright blinding California light that afternoon stuck out to me. This memory is revisited most recently in Absent Presence. What’s not there intrigues me more rather than forcing things to be there.
I’m also interested in the physical distance, psychological distance, and this new cyber distance we experience around us. During my travels, I see everyone glued to the phone, they all feel closely connected to something in cyberspace, but a million miles away from the person next to them. This compression and expansion of distance is most apparent to me when Waipuo’s faced pops up on Facetime. It is always a mixed bag of emotions for me. She recognizes me sometime, and other times, she’s confused with the technology and who I am. She is so far and so close at the same time (sometimes a little too close to the screen).

KATHY LIAO
So Close and So Far 2016, collage, gouache and color pencil on paper, 9 x 12”

What kind of moods do you try and evoke?
My work has often been described nostalgic. I read an article by Michael Chabon recently in the New Yorker. He talked about nostalgia in a way that I really stuck a cord with me:
Nostalgia, to me, is not the emotion that follows a longing for something you lost, or for something you never had to begin with, or that never really existed at all. It’s not even, not really, the feeling that arises when you realize that you missed out on a chance to see something, to know someone, to be a part of some adventure or enterprise or milieu that will never come again. Nostalgia, most truly and most meaningfully, is the emotional experience—always momentary, always fragile—of having what you lost or never had, of seeing what you missed seeing, of meeting the people you missed knowing, of sipping coffee in the storied cafĂ©s that are now hot-yoga studios. It’s the feeling that overcomes you when some minor vanished beauty of the world is momentarily restored, whether summoned by art or by the accidental enchantment of a painted advertisement for Sen-Sen, say, or Bromo-Seltzer, hidden for decades, then suddenly revealed on a brick wall when a neighboring building is torn down. In that moment, you are connected; you have placed a phone call directly into the past and heard an answering voice.
For 15 years, my dad called me everyday long distance from Taiwan. This was before iPhone, before Facetime; it was all about those long distance collect calls, and the expensive phone bill. Living apart, my dad was always the voice from the other end of the line. I no longer get his phone calls anymore. I think the question of “How do you know when the painting is done” often come up. Making a painting is like listening into a broken telephone…. you keep dialing and dialing… nothing, dial tone, nothing, noises, static…. until one day, you hear a faint, “Hello?” Then I know the painting is done.

KATHY LIAO
Studio Shot

Can you describe your working methods?
In the last three years, I’ve bounced from studio to studio. I usually work large and messily, so I had to adjust my working habits depending on the studio space. My recent series of painting started in 2015 when I was working out of a small laundry room (with windows) in my then apartment. I barely had any space and I had to downsize my footprint to working with gouache on paper. At that time, I would start my day with a stack of 8.5”x11” sheets of paper and start experimenting with layered mark-making, color transparency and opacity, line quality, pattern making. This resulted in piles and piles of collage materials, which then became my palette.

KATHY LIAO
Collage study in process

In early 2016, I did a residency at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, where I made almost 40 small collaged gouache drawings of snapshots, revisited memories. The result was an outpouring of ideas into being. With the use of collage and washi-tape, I could slow down and deconstruct these images layer by layer, piece by piece, color by color, mark by mark. I can be very specific about the color palette and I can play with scale and direction of the mark-making.

KATHY LIAO
Scrolling Up and Down 2016, gouache, collage and Washi tape on paper, 10 x 9”

These collage drawings then became the jumping off points for some of my recent paintings.
Printmaking has allowed me to think about layers, color, but also significance of drawing (lines as space, lines as value, positive lines, incised sgraffito, or the history of erased lines) I stare at Goya’s etchings an awful lot.
I love experimenting and learning new techniques. I went to Tamarind last summer to learn lithography, and at my university, I was able to try my hand at working with ceramic and glazes. I love the freshness of working with a new technique. I would often bring sketches and images to work with and the technique itself would force me to reinvent a way of translating the image, turning a familiar sketch into something labor intensive and foreign, and allow me to look at the image in a completely different way. I don’t get that often in painting, that giddy anticipation when you’re about to pull a print, or open the kiln. I even love it when things crash and burns, when the litho gets under or over etched, when the glazes blisters and burns - the failures are window of opportunities to work back into the piece, to respond to, and to play with piece with no reservation.
In my current studio practice, I’ve been looking at Katherine Bradford, Francis Bacon, Manet, Goya’s black paintings and prints, and I can see their influences in my work.
I’ve always been a fast, gestural, expressive painter. The way I build up a painting really slowed down in my recent practice, working with with glazes and transparent layers, allowing light to come from within the painting rather than built up to the surface. In my older work, I admired Rembrandt’s portraits and the way the layered light glowed on his face. In response, my older work were thickly layered and the light sits on he surface of the painting. Because of my printmaking practice and gouache studies, I want to allow to light come from WITHIN the painting. Rembrandt does that with his paintings too, but I wasn’t able to recognize it until I started looking at his etching.

KATHY LIAO
Sunbathing Yellow 2016, gouache, collage and Washi tape on paper, 10 x 10”

How has teaching affected your development as an artist?
I absolutely love teaching and I love sharing my excitement about painting and art-making. The more I teach, the more I am convinced the importance of drawing. As an artist, I believe teaching allowed me to practice to be more articulate about my own work, about looking and critiquing other’s work, and understanding my relationship with works I admire.
Teaching at a university, I also have access to other resources and departments (see above) and I am grateful to be able to take advantage of that. I am a life-long learner and academia is my niche. Time management: teaching is truly a tough lesson on time management, discipline, and learning to say no. I had to fight hard to carve out time for my studio practice. I’ve become very protective, uncompromising, and selfish about my studio time.
What are your interests outside of painting?
Road-tripping, traveling, hiking, cooking and baking pies.
Exhibition:
Kathy Liao: Lingering Presence
May 4-July 1, 2017
313 Occidental Ave. South Seattle, WA 98104