Abelow: Hi Bromirski. Abelow here.
Bromirski: Hi. Let’s start with an announcement of your upcoming show.
Abelow: The drawing I made?
Bromirski: Well, I mean the show you are having in Chicago. It’s called, “Barnett Abelow”?
Abelow: Yeah! I made a little drawing as a poster image to announce the show (which hasn’t yet been announced) – hang on one sec and I’ll share it here so we can talk about it.
Bromirski: That’s so Ad Reinhardt.
Abelow: I was watching an animated video to the Carole King song, “Pierre,” which is about a little boy who didn’t care about anything and the father in the animation bears a striking resemblance to Barnett Newman.
Bromirski: Are we able to announce the Chicago show, or at least to talk about that work in this Q&A?
Abelow: Yeah, I’m sure it’s totally cool.
Abelow: The show will open September 23, or so they tell me, at a small operation called HG. The proprietor of the gallery is a young man named Peter Anastos who recently curated a show called “Microwave” at King’s Leap in NYC and it’s a happy coincidence that I currently have work up at King’s Leap; some of which is directly related to the upcoming Chicago show.
Bromirski: So did the animated Carole King video character prompt the Barnett Abelow paintings? Or was that something you had already been thinking about?
Abelow: Nope, I had already been making those paintings for a year or so and I just happened to see that video well after the fact. The paintings started in 2021 while I was reading, “Barnett Newman Selected Writings and Interviews.”
Bromirski: Did your first Newmans just happen or was there a certain point at which you consciously said I’m going to borrow that Zip?
Abelow: I’d say it was pretty conscious. For many years I made very pared down, “Self Portrait”, paintings with a line going down the middle of the canvas between a circle on either side for eyes so it wasn’t that much of a stretch to lose the circles and just have the line.
Bromirski: Oh yes, I know those paintings.
Abelow: And then it just became fun to use Barnett Newman paintings as a kind of ready-made to explore on my own.
Bromirski: I get that.
Abelow: Maybe that’s similar to what you’re doing with some of the work in your current show?
Bromirski: Yes. And you’ve also very specifically and clearly borrowed from other artists right? I’m thinking of your Stewart Hitch inspired, “Disconnected Paintings”.
Abelow: Absolutely. I love using motifs from other artists as a starting point – I used to do that in my drawings all the time.
Bromirski: Newman called his stripes Zips. Did Hitch have a word for that exploding star shape?
Abelow: You know, that’s a really good question. I’m not sure. Newman was a very serious intellectual who even ran for mayor of New York in 1933 when he was 27. Did you know that?
Bromirski: No I did not! I knew that he was a good writer.
Abelow: Yes, and he really made a name for himself as a curator before he was known for exhibiting his own work. And when he did exhibit, the work wasn’t generally well received.
Bromirski: Are you calling the stripes Zips also? I’m using Claude Viallat’s shape and I have no idea if he has a word for it but I’m calling them Viallats.
Abelow: Hang on a sec. Brb.
Bromirski: I love the worm you’ve scratched(?) into your King’s Leap zips.
Abelow: I’m calling all those paintings, “Barnett Abelow.” I like the idea of inserting myself or my agenda into another painters agenda like a virus gets inserted into a computer program. Regarding the worms – thank you. Those paintings are all called, “Worm Painting”, and are obviously coming out of the zips but also they are inspired by these great can of worms drawings that Katya Kirilloff is making and will show at Freddy late October.
Bromirski: Ah yes!
Abelow: How did you come to the Ron Gorchov and Viallats?
Bromirski: Yes, first I want you clarify that when I say Zips I’m talking about the stripe itself, not the entire painting. I think Newman called the stripe a Zip.
Abelow: Right – yes yes.
Bromirski: I think I started with the Viallat shape kind of in awe that he has used that same shape (and in the same pattern) for decades. My paintings used shapes but they were more random cut shapes, and there was no pattern… I think I just wanted to try it as an experiment in being deliberate. I also really like that Viallat OWNS that shape… it’s been almost 60 years?… it seems like trespassing, like something that some people might get upset about.
Abelow: Yeah, I like that a lot: trespassing! I definitely can relate to that. Also the idea of vandalism.
Like here’s this artist who’s been using this shape for decades and you come in and take it for your own purposes. That’s quite nice.
Bromirski: Richard Prince talks about trespassing in his appropriation art. Are we doing a form of appropriation art with our Newmans and Viallats? Are we crossing over into Pop? I think we are both working with more sincerity than irony… these are more homage than not. The destruction implied in your use of the term vandalism brings to mind Steven Parrino, whom I am a big fan of, and who called some of what he was doing, “necrophilia”. But he was doing that at a time when they were talking about The Death of Painting.
Abelow: For me I am definitely thinking about appropriation, not so much in the Pop sense but more in a Pictures Generation sort of way which has basically become the norm for our society. Everything is a reference to something else it’s just that some people are more conscious of it than others. I know someone else said something along these lines but basically an artwork made by another artist is no different than a still life and is very much ripe for the taking. Makes me think a bit of Ray Johnson and the way he drew the same bunny cartoon over and over but wrote the names of different famous artists on them.
Bromirski: I love Raymond Pettibon’s little 60’s paintings that were copied from the images – at the same size – that he was seeing in art magazines. Stella, Warhol, etc.
Abelow: Yes yes – all that and this is why Newman is of particular relevance to me because he is the most important Painter of his generation in the sense that it was his work that the next generation of artists was looking at – Stella, Judd, and Warhol, etc all were directly influenced by Newman. Daniel Buren could never be here without Newman first and on and on.
Bromirski: All your Barneys that I’ve seen so far are centered. The zip is down the middle.
Abelow: Yeah for the most part that is definitely true. I think that’s because I like ready made compositions. And putting it in the middle is just really simple. And draws that connection to my self portraits. It was very exciting to insert the worm into the zips. It was perfect because the King’s Leap show is in a basement and, of course, worms live underground.
Bromirski: Yes makes sense! I was thinking of it as Newman worming his way into your brain.
Abelow: What about Gorchov? Did those come after the other ones?
Bromirski: Yes, mostly. I had already made some Viallats when I started to think about making a Gorchov… but it took a long time to execute because I had to have somebody make the stretchers for me.
Abelow: I really like that you did that.
Bromirski: As much as Newman was so important to younger painters at the time, Ron Gorchov is also very much loved by artists… and like Viallat he OWNS that saddle-shape stretcher.
Abelow: Yes for sure.
Bromirski: In fact I think the first painting he did on a shaped stretcher like that – before it was perfected – is titled “Mine”.
Abelow: Interesting. So by taking what is well known to be his are you hoping to make a kind of joke?
Bromirski: No not a joke at all. I really like those paintings and it’s definitely an homage, but yes I also do like the fact that it is trespassing, and the imaginary “How dare you!”.
Abelow: How many of them have u made?
Bromirski: I have four because that’s how many stretchers I could afford to have made at the time, but I’m really happy with them and will ask Mike to make more.
Abelow: I know you say it’s not a joke, but I find it to be pretty hilarious.
Bromirski: Well it’s not a “joke” but yes it makes me laugh, but it’s not like prank art. I want all those reactions, I guess. The thing with the Gorchov painting is it’s just the stretcher, my painting is totally different.
Abelow: In 2013, Andrew Russeth reviewed a show of mine and said it had Andy Kaufman vibes or something along those lines. I was really happy with that review and I think the Andy Kaufman vibe is in line with this current work we are making.
Bromirski: I’m using a broken Viallat shape/pattern in the painting itself. It’s a Viallat but it’s a wrong Viallat.
Abelow: Yes, to me, that is hilarious.
Bromirski: Oh yeah, Andy Kaufman being funny and then wait, he’s being serious?
Abelow: That you’re using a Ron Gorchov stretcher bar to make something that is completely different.
Bromirski: And then wait he’s threatening.
Abelow: Yeah, there’s never any punchline. It’s just always a joke or always not a joke. I love that.
Maybe this is a good place to end?
Bromirski: Sure, yes.
Abelow: Sounds good. I really enjoyed this convo.
Bromirski: Me too. Thanks Josh.
Abelow: Thank YOU!
“Joshua Abelow: Barnett Abelow”, HG, 2000 W Carroll Ave, Chicago, IL. Opens Sep 23, 2022.
“EDM,” with Joshua Abelow and Joshua Boulos, King’s Leap, 105 Henry St, Store 5, New York, NY. August 5 to September 2, 2022.
“Martin Bromirski,” Tourist NH Gallery, 53 S. Main St, Suite 313, Hanover, NH. July 16 to August 21, 2022.