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Alumni Studio Visit: Gina Werfel
June 15, 2020 · Alumni
NYSS: Describe a typical day in studio.
Gina Werfel: These days very little is typical – I wake up to news about the disturbing political and racial conflicts we live with, in hopes that the protests nationwide will compel national and local leadership to jump start the process of reform.
I usually bike 2 miles to my studio on the University of California Davis campus where I teach. The exercise and being outdoors clears my head. In pre-COVID times, I would stop downtown for coffee to go and then check email when I arrive at my studio. I turn on music to get me energized to begin working.
I first take a look at the paintings I have on the walls and floor and think about what to work on. I keep several paintings in varying states on the walls and floors. The wall of small paintings are daily exercises in language that I sometimes work on for months. I also work on the floor on large paintings on paper. I find the energy involved with floor work utilizes a different set of muscles. It connects my body and movement directly with the painting process.
NYSS: Walk me through your process. What are some of the parameters or problems you set up for yourself within your work?
GW: A major parameter is asking myself if there is movement and energy in the work. How do I keep things open as I work? Have things solidified too much? What kind of surprises in color and mark making can I achieve? Sometimes I’ll start with looking at something in the studio or a collection of photographs or clippings I’ve gathered. Spray painting stencils will also open up a painting to unexpected juxtapositions. I sometimes use dolls and toys from my childhood home and my son’s childhood drawings as compositional sources and as vehicles of memory in my paintings. Using these sources as jumping off points, I then transform the paintings by turning them in all directions as I work. I don’t want the representation to be obvious, but rather “masked” like the “fleeting glimpse” that deKooning described.
NYSS: How has your practice changed during this time of social distance? Have you had to adapt to a new way of working or tried new materials?
GW: Isolation in the studio hasn’t changed my working process, but right after the shutdown began, a rodent problem and termite infestation kept me out of the studio for a couple of weeks until the damage was repaired. So I worked on small works on paper and panel at home and used my backyard as a source with its lush variety of plant life and a small pool. I am normally a daily lap swimmer at the gym, so having the small pool gave me sustenance. Now, I am starting new paintings in the studio but still keeping a series of small works going at home. Meanwhile, my solo show at Prince Street Gallery that was scheduled to open on March 24 has been postponed, with the work stored in crates in NYC until the gallery reopens. I’m sure all the events of these troubled times will emerge in some form in my paintings.
NYSS: What do you keep in the studio for inspiration? Reference material, artist monographs, music, fiction, found objects, foods etc…
GW: As I mentioned earlier, I listen to lots of music while I work – everything from opera to contemporary music of all kinds. I pick music that has a lot of rhythm and emotion. I read various articles or listen to artist interviews online if I need a break from working. I had been looking forward to the David Park retrospective at SFMOMA which hopefully will open once the museum re-opens, and the Richter show at the Met Breuer. I miss my bi-monthly cross-country trips to see new shows in NYC galleries and museums.
NYSS: How did studying at the New York Studio School influence your current studio practice?
GW: My time at the Studio School formed me as an artist. My discipline and drive to go to the studio daily come from those years of working non-stop in the studios surrounded by peers with whom I am still in touch. My practice grows out of that training: honing my skills to see things more critically around me, but transforming them into paintings that transcend their sources.
NYSS: Are there any upcoming shows or projects on the horizon you would like to share?! And where can people see your work digitally.
GW: I am in a group show now at LichtundFire on the Lower East Side called “The Pendulum of Time” with a review by Jonathan Goodman in “Tussle.” My work can be viewed online at Prince Street Gallery, Ideel Art, Artsy and my website ginawerfel.com.