Studio Visit

British Art Duo Gilbert and George Are Drinking Champagne in the Studio and Signing Posters for Their Next Gallery Show


The English art collaborators Gilbert and George, known for their graphic photo works and for wearing dapper suits, have been on a more than 50-year “visionary and moral journey,” as they describe their creative practice. That journey has most recently led them back to their own doorstep, London, where they’ve been steadfastly working through the lockdowns.

For their latest body of work, going on view in the exhibition “New Normal Pictures” at Lehmann Maupin in New York on September 9, the pair combines seemingly prosaic scenes of London life with jolts of day-glo color.

We spoke with the duo about where they’ve been finding inspiration lately and how they’ve managed to stay busy during this period of upheaval (hint: it involves champagne).

 

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

Our brains, our souls, and our sex.

Is there a picture you can send of your work in progress? 

WORK IN PROGRESS, 2020. The artists, Manuel Irsara the architect, Yu Yigang, and the team at the future Gilbert and George Centre. Photo: Tom Oldham.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

Signing thousands of posters and catalogues in preparation for our Lehmann Maupin New York exhibition of “New Normal Pictures.”

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

The Cosmic Void is our ideal studio. Music is against our religion.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

We admire works of art that have something to say for themselves with great visual/human power. We despise willfully obscure art that looks down its nose at the lovely viewers.

What snack food could your studio not function without?

No snacks—only champagne.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

As always, Darwin, Alan Turing, and Charles Dickens.

Gilbert and George, BATTLE ROAD (2020). © Gilbert & George. Courtesy the artists and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

We are never stuck. Rather, we are always bursting with more pictures than we will ever be able to create.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?

A display of art at the studio of that great, yet-to-emerge artist Oliver Hemsley.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

Expectations, hope, desire, and determinations.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

Artist Alison Elizabeth Taylor on Making Intricate Wooden Tableaux While Her Kids Zoom for School in the Background


Marquetry—the age-old technique of applying small pieces of colored wood to create decorative patterns—is a word that conjures up visions of antique stores and auction house catalogues; it feels like a craft enthused over by connoisseurs, not the makings of contemporary art. Brooklyn-based artist Alison Elizabeth Taylor, however, knows otherwise. Over the years the artist has transformed marquetry into something wholly her own in a signature process that incorporates inlaid wood, painting, and collaged textures. 

A native Nevadan and a witness to the boom and bust of Las Vegas, Taylor uses marquetry to create poignant scenes filled with the landscapes and misfit characters of the Southwest. A tension exists on the works’ very surface: the intricacy of the marquetry, associated with the decor of upper-class homes, entices the eye to linger on oft-overlooked subjects. We recently caught up with Taylor in her studio (in a building, her neighbors have told her, that used to be a coffin factory) as she was putting the final touches on “Future Promise“, her forthcoming solo exhibition at New York’s James Cohan Gallery.  

Courtesy of Allison Elizabeth Taylor.

Alison Elizabeth Taylor in her Brooklyn studio. Photo: Vincent Dilio, courtesy of Alison Elizabeth Taylor.

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

I love the MONO Zero eraser. I erase as much as I draw, probably one out of every two marks gets the ax. I’d also be lost without the generic #11 blade in my knife, it allows me to draw with a blade on all kinds of material, like an extension of my hand. Finally, my Epilog laser cutter. It’s only 18 by 12 inches, so I still have to hand-cut larger pieces of wood veneer, but I’ve used it for almost every artwork I’ve made in the last 16 years. At this point it’s like an old car: it breaks, I open it up and tug on a belt, and it’s good to go. It’s actually quite simple technology. Any line I can draw, I can then cut with this tool.

Is there a picture you can send of your work in progress?  

Courtesy of Allison Elizabeth Taylor.

A work in progress. Photo: Vincent Dilio, courtesy of Alison Elizabeth Taylor.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

Making a cup of coffee when I get in. I try to only have a few sips when I wake up, just enough so that I don’t get a caffeine headache and I can save the buzz part for working. The pacing and maintenance of my coffee addiction are a good distraction. The studio task I’m most looking forward to getting done tomorrow is the glue-up of a marquetry skin. I’ve taped thousands of little pieces of wood veneer together and now I need to glue them to a plywood substrate, which I build into a panel in a second glue-up. It’s a little nerve-wracking as the piece is very brittle; the veneer is 1/32 of an inch thin, and when all taped together it’s like a giant potato chip that is 5 feet wide and 8 feet long. I have to spread just the right amount of glue on the panel, wrap it all in plastic, and put the piece in the vacuum press before the glue starts to set up. I do this part in total silence and try not to forget any of the steps. Painting and adding textures is my favorite part; after the heavy production is done, the possibilities of adding materials to the surface are endless.

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

It depends on what I’m doing that day and how loud the cacophony of self-doubt is in my head. If I need to drown out the voices I’ll listen to the news, but that often backfires, and then I go to music. Santigold is always good for oil painting. Other reliables are Joanna Newsom, Digable Planets, Neutral Milk Hotel, and the I May Destroy You playlist. I’m also looking forward to listening to the next season of the Cocaine and Rhinestones podcast.

Over the last year, I often couldn’t choose what I wanted to listen to in the studio because I had the soundtrack of my kids’ school Zooms, which was pretty surreal. I’m all freshened up on how to do long division with a remainder. One of the teachers was really strict about what went on in the kids’ backgrounds as not to be distracting, and we tried to be cognizant of this. One day movers came to take a painting for a show and when they removed it from the wall, I heard the teacher say, “Now I’m seeing too much movement in your background.”

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

When a work of art has a meaningful relationship between the subject and the way that it is realized. I love to see complex content rendered in a medium that conveys determined commitment but also a personal viewpoint. I like work that draws from life. I think references to other art and art history are interesting and I enjoy the spark of getting those allusions, but there needs to be more to it. Basically, I want art to create meaning on a few different levels. I love it with people transgress their known discipline and nail it in another medium. That’s a hard bar to reach.

I don’t bother with despising art, it’s just as easy to not look at it. I save all of my despising for the misinformation and corrupt political actors that are prolonging this pandemic.

Courtesy of Allison Elizabeth Taylor.

Photo: Vincent Dilio, courtesy of Alison Elizabeth Taylor.

What snack food could your studio not function without?

Coffee. I’m more of a first and second lunch type of person rather than a snacker, as my hands are always covered with epoxy or paint, so if I’m going to scrub them clean, I’m going to sit down to a whole meal. I love Ethiopian food from neighborhood restaurant Bunna. There was a restaurant on the block called Guadalupe Inn that sadly closed for good during the lockdown. They had hot churros covered in caramel sauce. I really miss that place.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

I’m not online much. It was actually my New Year’s resolution to spend more time on social media, as during lockdown I just wanted to connect with all of the people I’ve missed. For me, social media is more about giving the many talented artists I know likes, rather than any deep thinking.

I have been reading some amazing fiction, like Circe by Madeline Miller, where the witch from The Odyssey is banished by a family she doesn’t fit in with to an island where she learns what she is capable of. It had echoes of what it’s like to be in the studio trying to create something. She experiments with unknown herbs and flora and sees what materials and processes can work. Circe’s alone, experimenting with no known starting point, trying to make something magical happen.

There are so many nonfiction books full of necessary and critical thinking to read right now, although I recommend going back to 1963 and reading James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time instead of spending too much time on Twitter. Reading deeper to try to understand the currents in society that create the more abbreviated and louder conversation on social media is maybe a way forward?

Courtesy of Allison Elizabeth Taylor.

Photo: Vincent Dilio, courtesy of Alison Elizabeth Taylor.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

I engage in productive procrastination—cleaning the studio, flattening wood, sorting veneer scraps, priming paper for paint. I’ve been trying to think of ways to get to a zero-waste studio, which is probably impossible. But sometimes this leads to serious procrastination, like attempting to make paint out of ground waste, crumpling bits of wood into compostable crumbs. Other times I’ll just go on an epic walk around Brooklyn. I try not to use alcohol to deal with these periods anymore.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about Greer Lankton’s installation at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh. I’ve only seen images online, but look forward to seeing it in person.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

A cool pond in the forest—it’s super hot in NYC today—a utopian community that worked, globe thistles, and blueberry scones that are soft.

Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s “Future Promise” is on view at James Cohan Gallery, 48 Walker Street, New York, September 10–October 23, 2021. 

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

Artist Mandy El-Sayegh on Making Her Studio Into a Bedroom, and the Kind of Art She Doesn’t Care for


The Malaysian-born artist Mandy El-Sayegh’s large-scale, layered canvases, which are constructed from “found fragments” and call attention to a world in flux, have caught the attention of the art world in recent years.

Her first solo exhibition in Seoul at Lehmann Maupin, titled “Protective Inscriptions” (through July 17), features “an immersive installation, combining painting and soundscape to activate a formless language of flesh and vibration,” according to the gallery. It also includes the everyday items that have become common in her work: old copies of the Financial Times, iconography from familiar advertisements, doodles, and pages of Arabic calligraphy taken from her father’s home in London.

Altogether, the works prod the artist’s fractured experience of identity, and suggests “the intricacies of growth and decay as they happen in real time,” El-Sayegh said.

“I’m interested in this idea of lost time and the impossibility of finding a moment of origin,” she said. “My work builds fragmented histories into absurdist bodies and forms.”

We spoke with El-Sayegh about life in her studio, being a night owl, and why great art demands “a sense of honest vulnerability.”

Mandy El-Sayegh, "Net-Grid" (2020). Photo courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

Mandy El-Sayegh, “Net-Grid” (2020). Photo courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

Impossible to answer, as I hoard everything and need every little scrap around me and in my periphery.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

Steam cleaning the lino floor after days of using it to prime surfaces.

You have a show on in Seoul. What can people expect to see? 

Interesting biomorphic textures and forms.

An installation image from El-Sayegh's show, "Recombinance," with Lee Bull. Photo courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

An installation image from El-Sayegh’s show, “Recombinance,” with Lee Bull. Photo courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? 

I am a night owl, so I emulate a bedroom situation with all my creature comforts: bass-heavy music for at least 8 hours, lots of warm LED lamps. Though there are times that call for silence.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

A sense of honest vulnerability in testing an idea that teeters on the edge of failure, where there is something at stake. Conversely, I tend not to like anything too virtuoso and sure of itself.

What snack could your studio not function without? 

Something salty after the night shift: nocellara olives, lebne, zaatar, unpasteurized OJ, and milk thistle to detox the vodka.

Installation view of El-Sayegh's "What’s it called? Nothing, I just collect stuff, I’m a yard man" (2020) at the Busan Biennale in 2020. Photo courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

Installation view of El-Sayegh’s “What’s it called? Nothing, I just collect stuff, I’m a yard man” (2020) at the Busan Biennale in 2020. Photo courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

A lot of the curators and thinkers I follow don’t have a big social media presence. The few that do are: Novara media, Natalie Wynn, Daniel Tutt.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

Run, shower, leave, tidy, start another thing.

Installation view of "Mandy El-Sayegh & Lee Bul: Recombinance" (2021). Photo courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

Installation view of “Mandy El-Sayegh & Lee Bul: Recombinance” (2021). Photo courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?

I honestly cannot recall.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

DNA sequencing, xerox fanzines from the ’70s, blunt force trauma wounds.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

How Artist Ellen Altfest Built a Fully Functioning Studio Outdoors—and Manages to Resist Cell-Phone Distractions While Painting There


Ellen Altfest paints her subjects—gourds, armpits, male anatomy—in such painstakingly fine detail that it can take months, or even years, to realize a single composition.

In recent years, Altfest, who is based in New York, has increasingly turned her eye toward the natural world, painting scenes of moss, trees, and other features of her outdoor environment, always in natural light. A selection of these new watercolor works are on view now in an online solo show at White Cube titled “Nature.”

We spoke with the artist about how she learned to paint outdoors and where she’s finding creative inspiration now.

 

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

1. My skylights. I make all my oil paintings from direct observation in natural light.

2. My 6/0 sable brushes are indispensable when making fine detail in both oil and watercolor.

3. A man-shaped tailor’s dummy that I use to pin still life objects to so they don’t move when I paint them.

4. The platform my husband built for me that keeps me level when painting outside.

5. My extensive leaf collection.

6. A tall wooden painting stool that I inherited from [the late New York City-based painter] Sylvia Sleigh, which is the perfect height and shape for painting.

Ellen Altfest’s studio. © Vincent Dillio.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

I am enjoying spring and returning to my painting site, which is next to a stream. I have been making a painting of a tree with moss, which I began in spring 2019 and have worked on since, on days that are not too cold or wet. I’m at my favorite part of the painting, when many of the small pieces of bark are in the right place and mostly painted. After taking a break for the winter, I get to go back with a fresh eye and pull it all together, which should only take two or three more months, I hope. I will finish the trees in the distance at the end of October, which I can only see clearly when the leaves have fallen again.

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

When I’m indoors, I like to make a little nest around myself of natural objects and books. I need visual information and texture to feel creative. I like parsing an abundance of subject matter, like what I see when I’m outside. Painting in the elements is in turn stressful and stimulating, but I like the sense of urgency that natural conditions provide.

I love listening to music when I work, but I can’t trust myself with the phone. It interferes with my ability to focus. Podcasts are an especially slippery slope, because they seem to offer a way to buffer the stresses of making a painting. The Daily is my gateway drug—I innocently want to check in with it at the start of the day, but pretty soon I become curious about something else I subscribe to, and then hours have passed and I find myself in the grips of Casefile, or some other dark and dispiriting true crime program that seems to wriggle its way into my subconscious mind and reemerge when I’m sleeping. So it’s best for me to abstain.

Altfest’s outdoor setup. © Vincent Dillio.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

I think great art has a combination of qualities that all need to be present. In painting, there is a formal inventiveness, singular execution, an intensity and complexity of ideas and impulses, and evidence of a personal sensibility. I like when I can feel that something is at stake. When I see a work that is fully what it’s supposed to be, that I connect with, I feel energized and humbled.

I can’t really think of anything I despise. But I have a short memory, so when I see something that’s not to my liking, I will probably forget it.

What snack food could your studio not function without? 

Matcha tea! I order it from the Sazen Tea Company in Japan. Matcha is made of ground leaves, the best of which are a bright green, like springtime. I whisk the tea into water, mix it with almond milk and raw honey, and heat it.

Altfest in the studio. © Vincent Dillio.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

@artsmagazinedotcom: A successor to the legacy publication Arts Magazine, it makes insightful, nuanced, and funny art reviews in video. These three-to-five-minute productions appropriate an eclectic mix of source materials, high and low, old and new, creating a space somewhere between video art and art criticism. Full disclosure: the editor-in-chief is my husband.

@oumanijacobstudio: Ceramics that use glaze in such beautiful ways that they are as much paintings as useable objects. With just 432 followers, his work feels like a discovery.

@davidrisley: I first admired the gumption of David Risley for going back to art-making after owning a gallery, and then I was won over by his guileless watercolors. Now I’ve begun to follow his absurd insights into the art world and pretty hilarious visual essays made while recovering from a broken back.

@special_plants_world: Not about art, but plants that I find mysterious and surprising. I used to be a loyal succulent and cactus lover (even painting them), but the patterns on the variegated varieties are so good that I may have new favorites.

Ellen Altfest. © Vincent Dillio.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

Seeing other art and travel are what I turn to when I need inspiration. Some people get ideas in the shower, but I find that kind of mental hum in museums. Years ago, I went to a Mantegna show in Paris that was mind-blowing to me, and I stood in front of each work and made myself fully present to absorb what I was seeing. Then, in the hallway outside of the the exhibition, I had the idea to paint part of a leg on the ground. I still don’t exactly know where this came from.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?

I saw this amazing Lee Krasner show at Kasmin gallery last month. I had read about her work in the book Ninth Street Women, but hadn’t seen her collage paintings before. The works from her 1955 show are so bold and raw, in color and composition. The fearlessness needed to rip up and reconfigure her own paintings (and some of her husband’s) was inspiring. I’m hoping for collage to work its way into my paintings, in its own way.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

Compositions made of combinations of leaves as they have been arranged by water and wind on the forest floor.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:



Artist Tarik Kiswanson on His Secret to Avoiding Creative Burnout, and the Inspiration for His Gallery Weekend Show in Berlin


There is an otherworldly quality to the art of Tarik Kiswanson.

The artist, who was born and raised in Halmstad, a port town in Sweden where his parents immigrated from Palestine, makes paintings and sculptures that oscillate between ghostlike figuration and ephemeral abstraction. As a first-generation immigrant, Kiswanson often reflects on belonging, loss of identity, and placelessness in his work. His material of choice is handwoven steel, which fragments the viewer’s own reflection when passing by.

For his solo show “Surging,” on view at carlier | gebauer for Berlin Gallery Weekend, Kiswanson has rebuilt the gallery space into a cell-like waiting room populated by floating alien ovals and paintings of wispy evanescent forms that evoke a fading memory.

With a major project currently on view at Carré d’Art – Museum of Contemporary Art in Nîmes and upcoming solo exhibitions at Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, and M HKA Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, the very busy artist spoke with us about how he keeps things calm at his Paris studio.

Tarik Kiswanson, <i>AS DEEP AS I COULD REMEMBER, AS FAR AS I COULD SEE</i> (2018). Exhibition view, Lafayette Anticipations, Fondation d'enterprise Galerie Lafayette, 2018. Photo: Martin Argyroglo.

Tarik Kiswanson, AS DEEP AS I COULD REMEMBER, AS FAR AS I COULD SEE (2018). Exhibition view, Lafayette Anticipations, Fondation d’enterprise Galerie Lafayette, 2018. Photo: Martin Argyroglo.

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

At the moment, it’s my charcoal powder and drawing paper. But the most indispensable items constantly change as I work in different media: sculpture, film, sound. Something I always need is my computer as I write a lot.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

To finish a drawing I have been working on for some time. I also have a new book of poems coming out soon so looking forward to working on the layout with my publisher and the graphic designer.

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

Music and silence—it depends on what I am doing. A lot of my works are time consuming, so music is often essential.

Tarik Kiswanson, Mirrorbody (2021) Carré d'Art de Nîmes. © Vinciane Lebrun / Voyez-Vous

Tarik Kiswanson, Mirrorbody (2021) Carré d’Art de Nîmes. © Vinciane Lebrun / Voyez-Vous

What trait do you most admire in a work of art?

A sense of radicality and intention. I like vulnerability and works that are true to the artist’s own experience.

What trait do you most despise?

The lack of thought and intention. When the form feels disconnected from the discourse.

What snack food could your studio not function without?

I don’t eat snack food. I rarely eat between meals. I often forget to eat until my assistant tells me its lunchtime. It’s not intentional—I’m just very concentrated.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

I have always admired the work of Felix Gonzalez Torres. The foundation dedicated to the preservation of his legacy created an Instagram account. The content is great as they post well-known works but also bring to light less familiar ones. There are shots from past and present exhibitions of his work.

Tarik Kiswanson, Surging, exhibition view at carlier | gebauer, Berlin, 2021. Photo: Trevor Good / carlier | gebauer, Berlin/Madrid.

Tarik Kiswanson, “Surging,” exhibition view at carlier | gebauer, Berlin, 2021.
Photo: Trevor Good / carlier | gebauer, Berlin/Madrid.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

I don’t feel stuck in my studio. If I get tired of working on a specific work, I move on to another medium or another work. There is no rupture. I think I am always working on some subconscious level, even during the moments away from my studio.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?

I managed to see the exhibition “Drawn 1975–1993“ on the work of Leonilson at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin. It’s an impressive retrospective of the Brazilian artist who worked in a multitude of different media. The works are delicate, sensitive, and carry multiple social and political layers. I recommend it greatly.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

A lot of images from the natural world that surrounds me at the moment. Birds, moths, and chrysalis—all symbols of migration and transformation.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook: