A painter whose abstract works gently push the medium into unexpected realms, Milwaukee-born artist Lesley Vance has developed a practice with a renewed rapture for the formal aspects of painting. Her inclusion in the 2010 Whitney Biennial speaks to a nascent interest in an exploration of classic mediums devoid of a theoretical or conceptual agenda. Her sensuous, optical oil-on-linen pieces give an alternative existential identity of the objects she is painting (and, remarkably, to paint itself).
Vance received her MFA in 2003 from Cal Arts, and has lived and worked in Los Angeles ever since. She describes a quiet, internally-directed process that addresses painting as a timeless personal act, untouched by trend (though without retro fetishism). Explains the artist, "The works start out with still lifes—I set up a still life in a dark box in my studio. I have a collection of organic materials, like rocks, shells and horns-sometimes I use a chunk of ceramic. I do each painting in a day, so [the paint] all sits as one layer. It's strange, because the paintings almost look like collage. But I want the image to all be in one layer, so you can't trace the steps backward to the original still life. They only work as their own reality. And yet, they contain moments of the original still life: shadows that don't make sense, but that were there in the beginning." (UNTITLED (13), 2009. COURTESY DAVID KORDANSKY GALLERY)
Asked about her commitment to painting and its almost instinctive aspects—rather than as the by-product of an art historical thought process—the artist answers, "The whole history of painting is in painting—I don't see that as being something outside of my practice. There's so much in the history of painting, I can't even think of taking on anything beyond that. I just respect painting too much." And of her particular evolution towards abstraction, Vance says, "There wasn't much abstraction that felt warm and intimate. Abstraction that works like representation, that invites you in. I wanted the energy of my works to be interior. I was looking at 17th century Spanish still lifes. In Francisco de Zurbarán's Still Life With Lemons, Oranges and a Rose (1633) the lemons almost become pure form, but they stop just short. The representation pulls them back. I felt like I wanted to keep painting the lemon past the point of representation, so that it could become something else."
Regarding her upcoming inclusion in the Biennial, the artist is pleased, but well aware that such an inclusion means a variety of things to different people. Those outside the art world (and many within) sometimes have a difficult time contextualizing the exhibition. Says Vance: "Someone interviewed me from my hometown, near Milwaukee, for the local newspaper. She said that someone told her that being in the Whitney Biennial was like winning the Super Bowl. I had to explain to them that it's nothing like the Super Bowl. I had to keep telling her it wasn't a competition."
Mixed Media, 212 x 66 inches, Courtesy the artist.
Artist Kirstine Roepstorff was born and trained in Denmark, but lives and works in Berli