Nesting cozily in the studio with Vanessa Irzyk

Tuesday Night Painting #14

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Walk the Dog by Vanessa Irzyk,
2019, Acrylic on paper, 24 x 16.5 inches

Hello painters, 

Welcome to episode 14 of Tuesday Night Painting. Every week I reach out to different abstract artists to find out how they make what they make and what keeps them motivated. A lot of the time, I want to find out the same information from them: what got them started, why do (they think) they paint what they paint, and what do they have to do to feel satisfied with their work?

Maybe you ask yourself these same questions when you're in the studio. Especially when you're fighting a bout of creative block. Staring at a blank canvas thinking, "what am I going to do this time?"

Every artist has their own trick to keep themselves motivated. My hope for this newsletter is that, by learning about different artists and their approaches, you can take some of that knowledge into your studio and give it a test drive.

The next time you don't know what to paint, or how to get started, or how to finish off a current piece, I hope you can reflect back on some of these interview responses and give one of these methods a shot.

This week, I spoke with the Boston-based abstract artist Vanessa Irzyk to ask her about her methods. Read on if you want to find out how Vanessa generates the intricate explosions of patterns and colors you can see in her pieces.

Vanessa Irzyk, Untangled
2019, Acrylic on paper, 22 x 24 in

Vanessa Irzyk, Limelight
2019, Acrylic on paper, 23 x 17 in

Tim McCool: Your paintings contain a dazzling array of colors and patterns and there's so much to look at and explore in each one. How did you start off on these abstract explorations? Was there something specific that motivated you to paint in this way, in this style?

Vanessa Irzyk: I've been working with patterns since 2014. I would paint intricate patterns constructed with a flat brush on colored paper and then I would cut the pattern out. I did that for a while, but the work was so fragile I knew I had to transition into something more sustainable.

When I began creating these patterns I had a lot of fears that they weren't "art" but decoration or too feminine. I decided to embrace that and take things further. I then fell in love with a 300lb watercolor paper that I've been working on since 2015. I started creating washes of color and creating patterns on top.

From there, I began cutting the paper into different shapes or objects. I've always loved framing spaces with color and then interweaving it with patterns and washes of color. I created a series of Circle paintings and then became interested in making "3D" shapes on paper. 


Bluebell, 2016, Acrylic on watercolor paper, 20 x 26.5 in

Bouquet, 2015, Acrylic on watercolor paper, 20 x 26.5 in

Pictured above: two of Irzyk's paintings from an earlier series titled "Flat Zen" becomes a game of mistakes and resolutions"
TM: When you're in the studio about to start working on a new project, what are some of the things you're thinking about? Do you have a specific objective in mind or a goal that you're working toward?

VI: I normally go in with a specific idea of what kind of palette I want to use. I always start with a  color wash on paper. Once that is established I sketch out the "3D" shape I want to use and go from there. A lot of my paintings are stream of consciousness. I make one shape or patterned area and then build from there. Sometimes I have to create shapes to fix areas of the painting and it becomes a game of mistakes and resolutions. 
From top to bottom, from the series "Fixed Point"
Navigate, 2016, Acrylic on watercolor paper, 17.5 in diameter
Weave, 2016, Acrylic on watercolor paper, 17.5 in diameter
Bug Out, 2017, Acrylic on watercolor paper, 17.5 in diameter
TM: What does your studio set up look like and what kind of studio rituals do you have, if any?

VI: I've always nested in my studio. I have two tables in an "L" shape and I mostly paint while sitting except when I work large. It's always I giant mess of tape and bottles of paint that are falling over. I usually work on multiple paintings at a time, so when one is drying I'll pick up another one and go back and forth. I do always have some show playing while I work, I like to listen to garbage TV. 
From top to bottom, from the series "Side Angle"
Opener, 2018, Acrylic on watercolor paper
Fall Back, 2018, Acrylic on watercolor paper, 15 x 17 in 
Jam, 2018, Acrylic on watercolor paper
TM: What's your criteria for a successful painting and when do you declare a piece fully finished or fully resolved?

VI: It needs to feel balanced color wise and in terms of open area to shape or patterned area ratio. I often take pictures and look at them after a while and that helps me figure out whether a piece is lacking a certain something. 
Stagger, 2019, Acrylic on watercolor paper, 44 x 46 in
TM: When I look at your work I get a strong sci-fi, retro-futuristic feeling from it. How do you think about your work in terms of where it fits in, in terms of genre or sub-genre?

VI: For me, the paintings are mostly an exploration of shape, color, and balance. I've always loved making the viewer come in close to inspect my paintings. So by creating these small thin lines I make them investigate. I like that people are confused if the piece is a sculpture or painting and aren't quite sure what it is. 
Stump, 2019, Acrylic on watercolor paper, 49 x 47 in
I usually work on multiple paintings at a time, so when one is drying I'll pick up another one and go back and forth"

TM: Have you come across any other art works or media, whether it's books, movies, music, etc, that you feel has a super strong connection to your own work? Do you feel like you have a close kindred spirit in terms of art making out there? This could be someone else who has a close visual relationship with your work or someone/something that maybe has a shared philosophy of art-making.

VI: I've been working on my art "family tree". A list of artist that inspire me and it's made me really try to figure out who I relate to. I used to paint a lot of portraits (eek probably about a decade ago), so I love a lot of figurative painters: Lucien Freud, Jenny Saville, Chuck Close, & Francis Bacon. I recently fell in love with an artist called Al Loving who does a lot of colorful geometric paintings and collage. Instagram has really been lovely in terms of having instant access to other artists that I love; Lavaughan Jenkins, Michael Zachary, Josh Jefferson, and Molly A. Greene. I connect to artists with a color palette akin to mine. 

Pictured above: the work of Al Loving (1935 - 2005) whose work you can see more of at this link. You can also read a little bit more about Al Loving and see some more of his images in this Twitter thread I put together.

Vanessa Irzyk is a painter and art educator who lives in Winthrop, MA. Originally from New Bedford, MA, she graduated from Massachusetts College of Art & Design in 2007 with Bachelors of Fine Arts in Painting and Art Education.

She paints from her studio in the Distillery in South Boston, where she has been for over 10 years. Irzyk has had five solo exhibitions in the greater Boston area and has shown her work throughout the country. 

Irzyk has received a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council in Drawing and is currently the art teacher at Wellan Montessori School. She lives with her beautiful daughter Hazy Mae, partner Wes, and two Bernese Mountain Dogs: Dabi & Darnell.

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The work of Joan Snyder via CANADA Gallery
Students in my previous classes really raved about Joan Snyder's drippy paintings of roses and landscapes when we last looked at them. Snyder pastes and glues physical objects from the landscape to her canvases to give them an extra dimensionality and physicality. Her work is being shown online via CANADA Gallery (another one of my NYC faves). You can access the online viewing room by clicking here.

Davis Editions is an online gallery and print shop that I have worked with in the past. They are a part of an online exhibition sponsored by Artspace focusing on smaller or upcoming galleries. You can see the show here and feast your eyes on a range of contemporary abstract works. 

From curator and art historian Katy Hessel comes a podcast focusing on the life and work of great women artists. 

Sometimes I get asked questions about the business of art representation, so this article will shed some light on that process. This article from Artsy looks into how galleries have begun newly supporting artists during the pandemic.
This is your weekly reminder that this newsletter is free but not cheap and typically I would ask for donations to help keep this thing running. However, for the rest of this month I want to encourage you to donate to support black lives and communities of color
And so we reach the end of another Tuesday Night letter. We've gone heavy on the jazz as of late so we're going in a different direction with the music this week:

Cass McCombs - Bum Bum Bum
Yumi Zouma - Bruise
TOPS - Colder & Closer - Patrick Holland Remix
Real Estate - Darling
Faye Webster - Kingston

Enjoy, and see you next time!
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