Artist Lari Pittman wants us to remember: we’re going to die. But he'd prefer we do that with an eager embrace of the synthetic, with a mindfulness to the seeds that brought us and our surroundings here, and finally, to the rhythm of an historical folk song. Pittman, who works in Los Angeles and is a professor of art at UCLA, opened a new show at New York/Brussels' Gladstone Gallery last night. While exploring synthetic collisions with nature—a consistent theme in the painter's work—the new show employs centuries-old musical forms of the Mediterranean, resulting in a beautiful, sorrowful storm of loss and measured mortality.
Pittman's recent solo exhibitions include: Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Corcoran Museum, Washington DC.
Below, he shares on the accountability of exhibition, the rush of reaching "refresher generations," and finally, the importance of blurring the artificial with the commonplace for all-engrossed 21st century experience.
Assembly, (2011) Acrylic, Cel-Vinyl, and aerosol lacquer on gessoed canvas over panel. 102 x 88 inches. Copyright Lari Pittman Courtesy, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
FLAUNT: How are you feeling? It’s the day of the show.
Lari Pittman: I’m very excited actually. Now, it’s the moment as always about accountability. And I don’t say it in some sort of dreadful way. I think that’s a part of being an artist; you put something out and now it’s to be experienced, looked at, and judged. So I’m actually always excited by that process of exhibition and of showing the work and opening the show.
Do you feel like exhibition is largely about accountability then?
Well, I think there are certainly other components. There’s the issues of commerce, peer approval, peer pressure. I’m always interested in a fresher generation. I’m always very mindful and excited when groups of a much younger generation approach the work and see it as relevant, and that the work remains contemporary in its attitude, so yes, it is a lot of accountability in all sorts of areas.
Begat From a Flower, (2011). Acrylic, Cel-Vinyl, and aerosol lacquer on gessoed canvas over panel. 102 x 88 inches. Copyright Lari Pittman. Courtesy, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
And do you think painters are up against a particularly difficult wall with the younger generation that’s not so accustomed to, or appreciate of, the craft?
No. No, because I think it’s not about medium. I don’t think that any medium automatically keeps an artist’s practice alive or dead. I think its more the conceptual mechanism of the work that is really the hook, the thing that interests people, so if it takes the shape of a painting that’s exciting, but it doesn’t have to. I think young artists and intelligent viewers are looking for the idea of meaning and does it mean something—and that they’re willing to accept whatever formal structure it might have.
And how about the conceptual mechanism in this opening? As in, a portion of it favoring the tradition of Spanish and Portuguese musical genres?
I created a music room where there are five paintings that encompass different musical genres. It was the idea of picking musical genres, though, that are all about certain kinds of lamentation or melancholia, and then pairing that with the making of the painting as a Memento mori. The musical genres are“fado”,which is a kind of Portuguese blues;saeta, of Spanish tradition, a gypsy lamentation, vocal, and thenpavane,which is adirgethat originated in both France and Spain. So it’s a particular level of music, which,at the spirit,I wanted to deal with.
Grand Tour, (2011). Acrylic, Cel-Vinyl, and aerosol lacquer on gessoed canvas over panel. 102 x 88 inches. Copyright Lari Pittman. Courtesy, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
Well, I think in those traditions, that kind of song has a certain normalcy or a consistent presence culturally, in both performance and in lore, and in conversation and tradition. How about the manner by which those songs lyrically profess such agony or sorrow, but when they’re preformed with such regularity, there’s almost anaccustom to those deep emotional places. Do you feel like there’s anything customary, or also quite mundane, or normal, to the musical forms your exploring?
They are mundane, but they’re contextually and culturally informed in the sense that all of these musical genres are not coming out of Protestant cultures.They come out of Mediterranean, Latin culture, so I think their cultural ethos is formed differently. So at the same time, you might be lamenting, but with, let’s say, [Concha] Buika… even though you’re hearing this lamentation, there’s this desire for exquisite craft. So there is this gorgeosity of technicality and craft next to this kind of wrenching lamentation, and that’s the type of visual equivalency I’m after.
Music Room, (2011). Acrylic, Cel-Vinyl, and aerosol lacquer on gessoed canvas over panel. 88 x 102 inches. Copyright Lari Pittman. Courtesy, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.
Wow that’s beautifully put. One piece that struck me the show was, “Begat From A Flower,” which certainly champions some of your career-long themes. I’d venture to say these themes perhaps celebrate the natural world, or the beauty of seed to sprout, and I wonder if when you talk about the refresher generation, again, do you feel like there’s a kind of divide between a natural world appreciation?
I think that there are nature references all within the work, but the primary experience of the work is synthetic. It’s not this idea of primary experience, which is usually a much more culturally essentialized, inflective experience. That’s why when you look at the work you’re really aware that it’s a total synthetic fabrication that also employs nature. So, for example, when I first saw Ryan Trechartin’s work—the video artist—I loved that work. I absolutely love it and I completely feel at home in that world that he creases. And although I’m a much older generation, I think that there’s something there that we actually might share in common. I don’t know if he would feel that way, but the whole idea of synthetic experience being primary experience and therefore, being truthful experience now—this fictive synthetic experience—can also be a real and truthful experience.
One could venture to say that much of our daily experiences are in fact synthetic, and therefore made real.
We’re mediated. I’m mediated. Absolutely. But then I use the quotation of nature constantly as a backdrop—the position that’s visually important in the work.
Mutualism, (2011). Acrylic, Cel-Vinyl, and aerosol lacquer on gessoed canvas over panel. 102 x 88 inches. Copyright Lari Pittman. Courtesy, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels