English Kills Art Gallery in Brooklyn has some fantastic paintings by Andrew Piedilato on exhibit until February 15. Two Coats of Paint gave a brief glimpse of the works earlier in January. In the midst of the art world’s economic downturn, it’s exciting to see a fresh painter exhibited. Unique, new paintings make the world seem exuberant. Memo to Seattle art galleries, please get this guy an exhibit in town.
The most obvious aspect to his paintings is their exceptionally large size, often seven or eight feet square. Piedilato’s paintings contain quirky, amusing imagery along with a painterly abstraction. In the midst of our time when painting is frequently considered dead, or if not dead then at least a failure at communicating anything of importance to society, works like Andy’s remind everyone about the vitality painting can have in the service of an individualistic vision. The works seem like an accumulation of various marks made in prior art movements, although they’re certainly his own. They’re not quite post-modern; they’re whatever has come after post-modernism. Allusions to Philip Guston, Julian Schnabel, Tony Scherman, and perhaps others as well seems to form a subtext to the paintings. The various marks and painted motifs make for some fun and at times nonsensical paintings with a bit of a kick to them. I asked Andy a few things about his work, and here’s what he said:
I saw on your bio that you are originally from Georgia. How did you decide to move to New York?
I am originally from Athens, its about and hour drive east of Atlanta. I came to NY to paint with a friend of mine, Carter Davis. He was at Pratt, and I moved there to continue hanging out with him, paint, and try to help each other get a show, gallery, whatever. Additionally I was ready to get the hell out of Athens.
It’s probably a rudimentary question, but why are your paintings so big?
The paintings are big because to me, they look better big. I really love working on a painting bigger than me, it literally gives me room to move and I am more creative in motion. I talk better when I’m walking, I like to draw standing up, I like running around the canvas trying to keep it all together like controlling a mob, or entertaining a crowd. The big canvas is big, I like its presence, the scale gives me ideas for paintings. Conversly….I have a ton of 7 x 7 inch watercolors, actually thousands. I spent the entire summer before coming to Pratt working on these tiny watercolors, running through hundreds of ideas, some were okay. A gallery in Atlanta sold some of them and stole the rest….but who cares, I kept busy and had a lot of ideas for painting when I got to Brooklyn. So, I like painting around 8 feet sq or bigger. Really small is good, medium size paintings are impossible (for me). Scale is important, but thinking about “why” has never helped my work.
Your paintings appear to incorporate painted marks from other artists, like say Phillip Guston, or Julian Schnabel or Tony Scherman drips. I’m sure there are others as well. I don’t mean to suggest there’s copying being done on your part, you’re paintings don’t read that way. I say that because it seems that your paintings seem to suggest a commentary on the act of painting today in relation to a history of painting in the 20th century. Is this your intent, or am I dreaming all this up?
I’m naturally a painter, I like painting, and I like the paintings of many other artists. My first favorite artist as a child was my dad, we drew together and I drew like him…and all through my life since then there has always been the influence of other artists on me, but the similarities are not a statement. I think Philip Guston is a genius, I also think my studio mate James Herbert is a genius, and sometimes my friend Carter is a genius, I have stolen from all of them and more. But, I hope I have put enough of my own stuff in the paintings to not worry to much about that.
Why do you often employ iconography of bricks and walls, along with animals? I should say that you evoke the idea of animals in the titles of your paintings (i.e. Snake and Wolf Eating Grass), but for the most part animals are not readily apparent in your painted imagery. There seems to be this dual confrontation between some semblance of nature up against industrialized settings. Did you grow up in a city, or in a rural setting?
I grew up in a very rural town outside of Athens….Madison County, GA. You know its rural when you give the county name instead of the town. The animals and the walls came about pretty naturally. I used to ignore the white ground of the canvas and paint my painting right in the middle of the canvas, the corners left blank. I just saw the blank canvas as oblivion and my subject sitting on top of it. So, now I have been doing this tape thing (I know its lame) masking and painting in bricks so that I can then do my painting in front of the wall, its really just a way to have the monster, animal, brushmark, whatever in front of some kind of naturalistic-like space. Obviously there a million different ways I could this, but the tape is fast, and it’s nice to have this sort of movie set you painted, and now where do you want to put the horrific thing? or the weird thing? Or what the hell, more walls….
Snake and Wolf eating grass came from a chimney I saw in Baltimore….I remembered it, painted it, and then added some hills, and then I purposely came up with something ridiculous: a snake and a wolf eating grass at the foot of a random chimney in a field.
Your paintings suggest a sense of fun in the creation of the paintings. But at the same time there appears to be a violence to them as well. Your “Horse Going Under A Fence” appears to be a depiction of a horse getting absolutely slaughtered. Can you offer any comment on this perceived duality in the painting?
Horse going under a fence was from a little drawing I did trying to come up with an idea for a painting. I have some other fence paintings, and thought doing one with a horse crawling underneath instead of jumping over would be a good start. I didn’t intend for it to be painted with that violent look but I liked it. The little trees in the background were from an old early Americana painting I saw on a plate in a museum. It was a painting where space was not defined by overlapping shapes, everything had some space around it….I just liked that I had the idea to paint the little trees for the landscape.
How do you know when a painting is done?
I don’t know what to say when you ask: how do you know when a painting is done? I can only tell you when I stopped painting on a painting and maybe why, sometimes you don’t know when to stop. I have finished a painting only to paint on it again, that doesn’t mean all the paintings can be painted on, it just means welcome to the contradictory world of art. Sometimes you run of steam and stop, come back the next day with every intention to finish your idea but somehow can’t touch it. When you are in the making mode, it’s not a good time to be passing judgement. Even though (while painting) I am in a hyper state of decision making, the judgement as to whether I should keep going or not is beyond me. Lately I have been making little thumbnail drawings and sticking to them for the most part, that makes deciding it’s done a little easier. There will undoubtedly come a time when the little thumbnails don’t work for me, but for now I love being their slave.
I’m fascinated by the fact that you have exhibited at OK Harris Gallery, one of my favorite galleries that I visit whenever I’m in New York, which also exhibits a fair amount of works by photo realist painters as well. How did you come to get into a relationship with OK Harris Gallery?
Ivan Karp owner of O.K. Harris was the only one who would give me a show right away, so i took it. He shows a number of photo realistic painters, i don’t know why he gave me shows. Other than that he genuinely loved the work, imagine that, he owns two paintings of mine.
Andy, thank you for providing some thoughts on your work.