R. H. Quaytman

H. Quaytman is an American born painter and contemporary artist who and is considered to be working against painting and its old age mythos to encounter the ‘ego’ of painting. Her works as an entirety suggests a many-layered novel or film through the text in both space and time and her suggestion of working in ‘chapters’. Each of these ‘chapters’ are site-specific and include paintings on wood panels using abstract and photographic elements. ‘Each chapter is guided by architectural, historical and social characteristics of the original site (Tate).’ In her works there is the past and the present, depth and surface, and these meet, however the distinctions between them do not falter. ‘Afforded no ultimate resolution, the viewer is set in motion, going from one complex, intriguing visuality to the next.’

The critic Roland Barthes once wrote of the oppositional gesture as the arrogant affirmation of the no. He likened it to a dinner guest who never speaks but whose mute defiance is as ‘loud’ as those who shout. The silent do not say anything, but their silence nonetheless signifies. It signifies ‘I won’t speak.’ It is a form of negation, but one that is perfectly understood and therefore perfectly accountable within table talk. – Vitamin P2

Some believe that there is a hint of inspiration from Quaytmans’ step-father, David von Schlegell, in her works. This is primarily because of the hard angles that can be found in each of their artworks. The angles, however, have come from a variety of inspirations for the artist. The ‘straightness’ of the pieces, and also their size, are determined by the golden ratio, which makes her works aesthetically pleasing. Alongside this, Quaytman often uses ‘dazzling optics with images based on the architecture’ of the building and space that she is exhibiting in (Frieze).

On a very few occasions,’ Quaytman has written, ‘I have had the feeling of being another person in another place with a past and future entirely separate from my own. An inexplicable sensation – as if by accident I had slipped into someone else’s life, a life defined by place rather than culture.’ – Frieze

The way in which Quaytman paints is tickly, on beveld planes of plywood. This transforms the flat surface into a textured one, ensuring the surface of the painting stands and inch or so away from the walls. In her silkscreens, there is a skinny wedge of colour stritations at the bottom, which represent a painting laid flat and seen from the edge. The construction of any of her paintings always emphasises that it is a material object in real space, rather than a metaphorical window in, or on a world or a mirror of it (LA Times).

It’s pretty clear that R.H. Quaytman is in the pro-footnote camp. She has spoken of the drifting, distracted search that serves as preparation for her work. Her personal canon of artistic influences are, for the most part, figures she has come across in this way, people who have almost slipped through the cracks: Polish Modernist sculptor Katarzyna Kobro, architect Anne Tyng and Swedish mystic painter Hilma af Klint. More than that, though, there is the way her work exemplifies and reproduces the mechanics of the footnote: the eye drifting from single-minded attention to a singular object, towards another, more multivalent place. In Quaytman’s work, all glances are sidelong. – Frieze

One of the largest inspirations for R. H. Quaytman is the fact that she has always been creating art, and she has mentioned many a time that she has never wanted to be anything else (apart from a small period of time that she thought about teaching the blind). She would draw endlessly as a child, do weekend projects with her father in the studio and started a print collection and did bookbinding (Art in America).

I want to make paintings that can be read on their own terms, without footnotes. But if, as a viewer, you persist in asking questions, you’ll find answers. – Art in America

Another large experience that she gained while growing up was the ability to see things from two very different perspectives. Unfortunately, her parents became divorced due to multiple reasons and even when they were together, they were able to give these two very different perspectives. Therefore, while growing up, Quaytman was able to have these perspectives as well as her own, almost urging her to make different kinds of paintings and putting them back together. This has further influenced her to refer to the viewer’s movements past a painting. She wanted to change the way people interact with the painting and make them pass the pieces by, rather than viewing them from head on (in the more ‘traditional way). Breaking these up into the chapters, Quaytman works on one or two small caption paintings to help her think less analytically. These are included in exhibitions to act as punctuation: ‘including them in exhibitions punctuates the other paintings the way a comma or period might punctuate a sentence. The arrows set up a contradiction, moving viewers along and drawing them in at the same time. (Art in America)’

Silkscreening has given me access to content without my having to paint it with a brush. I’ve found it liberating. And since any medium or form in painting brings its own cast of ghosts, it has allowed me to tap into a genealogy of painters who have dealt with photography—Rauschenberg, Warhol, Polke and Richter among them. Silkscreening abstracts the photograph, materializes it and snaps attention back to the picture plane. – Art in America

Other artists and paintings also inspire the way in which she works as she often copies artworks as a way to understand them. She has recreated steel sculptures and from here, taken photographs, and some of these have further become paintings. Along with copies of artworks, she has also found it helpful to take other mediums and media in order to transpose their forms and ideas into painting. She has also found that she is inspired by the focus on a given painting’s grammar, syntax and vocabulary. ‘In reading a poem, you notice particular words, and how each is not just that one word, but contains other words as well. The same is true for a painting (Art in America).’ Optical illusions have also given her heavy amounts of inspiration. In previous paintings, she has used a scintillating grid, ‘which was invented to show the blind spot at the center of visiual perception. When you focus on it, your peripheral vision goes haywire (Art in America).’ These visual perceptions also have rules, which are another addition to the inspiration of the artists and paintings. From Quaytman, they are a way to confront what seemed to be problematic about painting – ‘the overbearing authority of its long history, its exhaustion, its capitulation to capital and power. Taking color, dimension, medium, subject matter, even the choice to be a painter—things that might otherwise seem arbitrary—and applying rules to them has given me at least the illusion that I’m free to make something of my own. My rules are inventions—and they continue to generate new possibilities (Art in America).’

I wasn’t there when Fraser re-presented the monologue at Orchard. I didn’t attend the final show where Quaytman’s painting was first displayed. I have never seen the painting in person and I don’t know where it is: perhaps on a collector’s wall or in a storage rack somewhere. Right now, I’m looking at a JPEG of that painting on my computer. You, presumably, are looking at the same image in a magazine, several months from now. We are thinking about painting, but neither of us is looking at a painting. We have become part of the social world of this image, made to occupy of the next level out in the mise-en-abyme it depicts. And both of us will move on, soon enough, and look at something else. Somehow, I think the painting knows all this. – Frieze

Quaytmans’ full biography can be found here along with her bibliography here. She does not have her own website but is represented by the Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York.

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