I met Pat de Groot in the large, enchanting house she has lived in since the 1960s, on Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts. You enter through a front garden overgrown with kale, statues of the Buddha, and a memorial to her first dog, one of the loves of her life. Her living room is filled with records and conga drums, her painting studio with kayaks hanging from the ceiling, the walls leading upstairs, with art by friends and her late husband, the painter Nanno de Groot.
I met Glenn Goldberg in 2005 when I was curating an exhibition about the history of the New York Studio School. Goldberg’s tools-in-trade are elemental: dots, patterns, and symbolic, iconic representations of birds, trees, flowers. They couldn’t be more different from the traditions of the Studio School and Queens College, where he studied in the late 1970s, and where the predominant way of working involved a heroic wrestling with form. Also, the athletic and Bronx-raised Goldberg doesn’t necessarily look or sound like someone we expect to be making the paintings he does.
I met Julie Heffernan this past fall at a party she hosted celebrating the wedding of another painter, and was taken by her, the community of (women) artists who were gathered, and her painting over the dining table. It was the fierceness of the vision that attracted me, and the individuality of her work, which extended into the way she spoke and lived.
I have long admired John Walker’s work for its unique combination of tough materialism and romantic lyricism. I recently met him in his studio at Boston University, where he is the head of the MFA program. My visit with Walker happened to take place on the Thursday after the Boston Marathon tragedy, and I spent Friday’s citywide lockdown with painters Gideon Bok and Meghan Brady.
Jane Dickson is best known for her nocturnal cityscapes of the old Times Square — peep shows and porn parlors — but she has also mined subjects such as Las Vegas, Coney Island, American highways, demolition derbies, and suburban homes. She often paints on alternative supports like carpets, vinyl, sandpaper, and Astroturf.
I’ve known Jesse McCloskey for years, but his work and words are always surprising me. They get to the heart of the matter quickly. In one of the early days after I had my first child, I wanted nothing more than to go out and see some shows in Chelsea. It still makes me laugh that this childless dude was the one who told me it was okay to bring the baby along, head into a café, and feed him when he got hungry. But that’s what McCloskey is about: keep working, no matter what it takes, or the devil’s gonna get you, and, whatever … birth, sex, and death are as natural as rock and roll.
A couple of years ago, when I was still resisting Facebook, I heard about the debates Kyle Staver was spearheading there on the topic of Renoir’s late paintings. I set up a profile because I had to know more about this independent-minded female painter who likes Renoir’s work as much as I do. Since then, I’ve gotten to know Staver and her painting “in real life.” She’s dynamic on the canvas and off, a true cheerleader for her aesthetic causes, other artists, and friends.
Susanna Coffey, who was born in New London, Connecticut, studied at Yale, teaches at the Art Institute of Chicago, and lives and works in New York, is best known for her self-portraits. These frontal heads set against backdrops of world locales and events are rigorous, unrelenting penetrations of the meeting-point of humanity and violence.
I visited Mary Heilmann recently in her Bridgehampton studio. At the end of our time together, she took a small painting of a wave, and turned it upside-down. It was the perfect gesture to sum up our conversation and the themes of her work — an offhand reminder of its yin-yang quality. Heilmann’s work plays with big ideas, but it does so playfully.
Judith Linhares’s painting has been on my mind since I saw a show of her work in the spring of 2011 at the Edward Thorp Gallery. At the time I was thinking about both contemporary figurative painting and gestural abstraction, and these solidify in Linhares’s work with a rare conviction.
Rackstraw Downes’s recent paintings are currently on view at Betty Cuningham Gallery. Born in 1939 in Kent, England, Downes now lives between New York City and Presidio, Texas. Well known for his panoramic landscapes, Downes works for months on site in both urban and rural surroundings. He is often described as a realist but this term is perhaps better applied to his subject matter than his technique.