After a conversation with Elizabeth Hazan about how Allison Gildersleeve and Tracy Miller’s paintings in “Kitchen Sink,” their current exhibition at Hazan’s Platform Project Space in DUMBO, related to her own work in the studio, Two Coats of Paint prevailed on Hazan to engage them in a conversation for publication.
Elizabeth Hazan: This show is one of the closest to my own work aside from “Walk the Line” (from 2021) and the landscape show Jennifer Coates curated, “Further in Summer Than the Birds,” though I try to keep the programming at Platform varied and often out of my orbit. I’ve been a fan of Tracy Miller’s work for a long time. She creates fields for her objects and moves freely around with open passages of paint in ways that I admire. There are dense areas but there’s a lot of breathing room, too. I met Allison Gildersleeve when she was a resident of Sharpe/Walentas a few years ago and really responded to her work. She plays with interior and exterior in ambiguous ways and there’s a marvelous sense of time in her work. You can feel her making decisions and she brings you into her mind; it’s not all planned out in advance. On a studio visit a couple of years ago (time is so strange now, pre- pandemic I believe it was) I asked her if she wanted to do something at Platform. She came to me with the pairing with Tracy. I think it’s really inspired. They work in different registers, and very much complement each other. Both of them paint diaristic accumulations of their lives, though you are always aware of the painting foremost and I hope they’ll talk more about that.
Tracy Miller: Thanks, Two Coats of Paint, for inquiring about our paintings. I know what drew me to Allison’s paintings was the way she applies paint with abandon. The first show I saw of hers had these finger full marks of luscious pink and red, and the movement of the surface was especially satisfying. The additive way we both put our paintings together make physical sense, and there is an erasure of parts of the paintings as more paint is applied. I feel like I’m still trying to figure out how to cover the surface of a painting, and excess is something that has been a main theme since starting to paint as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa. I was working at a bakery frosting cakes, learning to paint by troweling on thick, juicy oil paint that looked like frosting and was fully expressing my unrequited collegiate desire. The giddy mess of delirious over-the-topness of all of it co-mingling made the paintings take off and go in a way that surprised me. I was looking at David Park, Joan Brown, Diebenkorn and the Bay Area folks and ended up at UC Berkeley with a huge studio with room to paint outside, and the bigger the canvases got, the more lost and strange and messy they became. Scale and surface and being sucked into the paintings cranked up the canvases, and it’s really hard to go small again. The act of looking is slowing down and taking longer to finish the paintings, and an impatient additive scrawl takes months and years to see what’s happening. The excess of all-you-can-eat Americana has waned a bit 30 some years later, but the guttural greasiness of the paint leads the way in the studio.
Allison Gildersleeve: I like “diaristic accumulations of their lives.” Feels very accurate. Something Tracy and I share is how much our work unfolds over time. There’s an impromptu feeling that belies the amount of pickling or marinating that actually happens in the process. My paintings are in many ways a layering of impulses, and my impulse one day can either enhance or cancel the impulse of yesterday. So, it’s of the moment but of many moments. I don’t start at one corner and fill in the canvas, I move around them as if I was moving around my house, sort of puttering, picking up a thing here, moving something, adjusting, rearranging. Tracy and I did a studio visit in the fall. As we sat among her paintings of cakes, beer cans, fish and flowers and talked about the emotional fallout of the pandemic, I could feel the thread of connection between our work. It’s the constant adjusting to circumstances that change in a minute’s time, just like the accidents and surprises in painting.
Elizabeth Hazan: We put a little painting of Allison’s called Rocking Chair on the column between two of Tracy’s paintings. It’s a lovely, Vuillard-like deep blue moment and really punctuates the space and draws you in so you can enjoy how Tracy’s large painting Twister appears to float forward. Allison, can you talk about the permeable relationship between interior and exterior (lives) as subject matter in your work? And perhaps Tracy can talk about gravity and how she works with it and against it in the streams of her work.
Tracy Miller: The paintings used to have more shadows when I was painting from life, and that automatically created a heaviness of objects. The color patches next to and on top of one another create their own light and gravity (à la Hoffman). I’m thinking about Bonnard, who does so much with shadows, perspective and cropping. In my paintings, weight has more to do with the compositions than with the color scheme, as paint elements move in from the edges to create structure. The parts that are attached to the frame move outwardly into the world. Shifts in the scale and direction of the paintings deliberately offset the recognizable food elements. The farther I get from painting from life, the lighter the colors and floatier the space. The more time I spend with Elizabeth and Allison’s work, the more color choices I see and the more I wonder how personal and specific our pallets are. Elizabeth and I talked about trading colors and making our own paintings with each other’s colors, and it just felt impossible but also worthwhile to investigate why it didn’t work.
Allison Gildersleeve: Glad you brought Bonnard into the conversation. I’ve been looking at Bonnard lately, how he gives us a window or a door to a place we’d like to be and that outside space bleeds into the interior. I hadn’t thought of him as a link in our work but the mention of him makes me think of Tracy’s paintings as zoomed-in croppings of his food-laden tables, unmoored without the context of the room around them. If Tracy’s paintings are magnifications of Bonnard, mine are the moment when the person has just left the room. I think about presence and absence. Tracy talks about shadows as anchors. For me, shadows are a presence of an absence: ghost silhouettes. They are a trace, a limb, an extension, something left behind or trailing the object. I like the idea of Tracy’s elements moving out of the frames. There’s a motion in Tracy’s work, an unsettled quality that I think connects us. I think of my interiors as painting a time lapse over days, years, decades. A cup refilled and emptied and refilled, the same vase holding flowers picked summer after summer. The objects become animated by imagining the characters who were once in the room, like a stage set after the actors have exited.
Color – switching palettes – what a good idea. Elizabeth’s colors are more nature-based and earthy, Tracy’s make me think of Sunday cartoons or party decorations, maybe mine are somewhere in between? I like to use nature colors to paint the man-made and vice versa. One thing I’ve noticed about our work is that we both use strong out-of-the-tube colors in the primaries: straight up red, yellow, and blue. Maybe the saturated color grounds all the chaos we throw in there. It also contrasts with what we are painting; life doesn’t actually come in those colors. I know that when I’m painting about intense experiences compounding, my color gets more intense, more high-key.
Elizabeth Hazan: Tracy, when we had the idea to make a painting using each other’s paint, it was to get outside of our own minds and to try to see things in a different key. To visit another place. I still think it would be valuable but maybe the reason it’s so difficult is that it cuts off the impetus, the wellspring that the paintings come from. My work is very much about the weather and atmosphere and a sense of events looming. Those moments of recognition where something feels familiar yet strange. In your paintings I feel more a sense of calm, with currents of change. The objects, whether careworn old pitchers or candy bars, feel like signposts to latch onto against the flux.
Tracy Miller: Elizabeth, your paintings as weather is a nice way to approach them, with the thought-bubble clouds moving through them with the wind. For me, our color choices make us the painters we are and swapping them out felt like giving up our best friends. The objects as well as the colors have come to feel more like characters who need to be part of the work and the paintings help me remember who I am. It sounds so cheesy, but it’s the place I need to be however otherworldly.
Allison, I like how your spaces keep changing with each iteration and seeing the edits of your thoughts over these months. It’s nice seeing the table scraps and absence of people in your spaces and shadows. In mine, I imagine the people are just outside the frame or behind the cakes making out. Our colors are similar, but I don’t use purple or orange, I do use more and more white.
Allison Gildersleeve: When I was writing the press release, which, like my paintings, had many iterations, I had a line about laying on your back and watching cloud formations, because that’s a sense I have when looking at Tracy’s work and I liked how that dreamy sense of movement related to my own work; that may be the calm you sense. Elizabeth mentions currents of change and latching on to signposts, which makes me think of debris caught in an eddy or a flood. At one point, I had “Afloat” as the title of the show. I was trying to articulate how, when viewing the work, it’s not clear whether the viewer is moving, like on a train, or the landscape is moving. The more I thought about it, it made me think that looking out the window of a submersible instead of a train is more accurate because there’s no horizon, things float in all directions. There’s a watery sensation our work shares. I can imagine viewing Tracy’s paintings from above, like lily pads and algae on a pond, or from underwater looking up to the sky. When talking of color, even when painting an interior, for me green is the forest, yellow the sun, and blue the ocean or mountain lake. I’m a bit of a sea creature – I could make good use of gills and fins if I had them – and I swim year-round in the ocean. There’s a link between Tracy’s work and mine that reminds me of the sensation of holding my breath and swimming underwater until my lungs feel like they will burst and then surging into the sun for air and floating weightless on my back, or wading in during winter until my whole body is numb and then warming back up cell by cell, my focus switching between the molecular level of my nerves and the endless expanse of water that surrounds me.
“Kitchen Sink: Allison Gildersleeve and Tracy Miller,” Platform Project Space, 20 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY. Through February 25, 2023.