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Alumni Studio Visit: Kim Uchiyama

New York Studio School: Describe a typical day in the studio.

Kim Uchiyama: I often start by meditating for 20 minutes before starting in the studio. It helps me clear the decks of extraneous impulses and helps focus my priorities. Starting a new painting involves a lot of looking at the canvas. I try to assess the painting’s weight, scale and surface – all it’s physical qualities. I’m working large mostly – 72” x 66” or 72” – so this could take some time. After awhile I begin to see a way in and an initial color presents itself, suggesting its shape-ness. Then another color-shape follows in response, and so on. So depending what stage I’m at with a particular painting, I may start by looking for a while or I might know immediately what I need to do and start painting right away. A typical studio day goes back and forth in a rhythm of looking and painting. Sometimes I’ll try out something in a sketchbook first, using pencil and watercolor. But these sketches are never consciously preparatory and I never use them to ‘scale up’ to a larger painting – I like the immediacy of working directly on the painting and where that takes me.

NYSS: Walk me through your process. What are some of the parameters or problems you set up for yourself within your work?

KU: Until recently, I’ve been using a format of stacked horizontal bands to evoke a specific sense of a place and its light, using those components to create the composition of the painting. Visits to Greek temples in Italy and Greece were source material for this body of work. I approached these ancient sites to distill the particular feeling of light and shadow created by the architecture and the sense of its weight in the surrounding landscape. I would process this sensory information through the filter of my memory over time and the painting would become the metaphor for my experience.  Over the past few months I’ve started a new body of work, which uses a few simple compositional elements that have the potential to suggest a multiplicity of views. In these new paintings, a complex space is reduced to basic architectural components. I think this new work comes out of an imagined experience of the temples’ interior, hidden spaces as opposed to the architecture’s external relationship to its surroundings.

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?

KU: My studio is also where I live, so the pandemic hasn’t affected my being able to work. In fact, I’ve had more time for reading and painting, which I’m grateful for. Isolation isn’t unpleasant for me, though it’s been an adjustment to not be able to get out to museums and galleries during this time to see other art. I think that the new parameters in my practice that I just now mentioned in some way came out of the circumstances of the pandemic. Lately I’m thinking about how painting is a limited medium – that it is literally defined by its materials. I recently read Michael Schreyach’s article, “Recreated Flatness: Hans Hofmann’s Concept of the Picture Plan as a Medium of Expression”, which speaks to the richness of painting abstractly now or at any time by addressing the role that limitation plays in creating plasticity in art. It’s an inspiring thought, especially these days when restriction is a daily part of our lives: that by embracing limitation, painters are released to create their own autonomy and meaning, and that there is the possibility for this meaning to take unlimited form. Greater openness and greater expansiveness feel like the right concepts to build upon right now.

NYSS: What do you keep in the studio for inspiration? Reference materials, artist monographs, music, fiction, found objects, foods etc…

KU: I always have books around. If I hit a wall, I’ll pick up a book and read a bit to see if that shifts how I see things. One of the most fascinating books I’ve read recently was The Mind In the Cave by David Lewis-Williams. Right now I’m reading Seeing Naples – Reports from the Shadow of Vesuvius by Daniel Rothbart. It’s a cultural history of the city and its environs in the form of a wonderfully written, informative travelogue. I’m also reading Taylor Branch’s Parting The Waters: America in the King Years: 1954 – 1963, a comprehensive history of the civil rights movement. I keep a journal where I jot down passing thoughts, ideas, words that come to mind. There are a few postcards on my walls of paintings I love – Morandi, Duccio, Etruscan frescoes. Doing The Times’ crossword puzzle every day somehow gets my brain going, so I make sure to have that around. Working on a painting takes time, and may elude anything like completion for quite a while, so it’s satisfying to finish anything shorter term.

NYSS: Do you listen to anything while you work?

KU: I don’t listen to music or podcasts while in the studio. Music for me is too sensual to be able to ignore, and talk is too engaging – so both are distractions.

NYSS: How did studying at the New York Studio School influence your current studio practice?

KU: Growing up in Iowa, my initial art training was at the university level. The Studio School was a revelation to me. Students would spend entire mornings and afternoons painting or drawing with renowned members of the New York School instead of having to address a list of required courses. There were also lunch lectures and evening talks by many artists, including Lee Krasner, Sidney Geist, George McNeil, Leland Bell, Christo and Jean-Claude, Morton Feldman and Merce Cunningham – and art historians like Karen Wilkin, Leo Steinberg and Lawrence Gowing. It was thrilling to digest the history of modernism through living artists. I worked with Nicolas Carone in his life drawing class, and he became an important mentor and a direct link to the legacy of Hofmann’s concepts. The terrific dedication and passion of the artists I met at the School was invaluable, and is still an inspiration for my own practice.

NYSS: Are there any upcoming shows or projects on the horizon you would like to share? And where can people see your work digitally?

KU: Last spring I had a solo exhibition of paintings in Palermo, Sicily which came out of visits to two large Greek temple sites there, Selinunte and Agrigento, followed by an exhibition of paintings last fall at John Davis Gallery. My next solo exhibition will be September 2021 at Pamela Salisbury Gallery, Hudson, NY. My work can be seen at www.kimuchiyama.com.

Snapshots From NYSS

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