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Alumni Studio Visit: Ron Milewicz

NYSS: Describe a typical day in studio.

Ron Milewicz: I am not sure that I have a typical day as I sometimes work upstate and sometimes in New York City. Sometimes I draw outside, and sometimes I paint in the studio. I am usually focused on one or the other activity for extended periods of time. Drawing always happens directly outside and upstate. If I am drawing then I try to get out early in the morning. When I begin a drawing, I will roam around the woods until I find something that seems drawable. That can take a while, and often I have false starts. I’ll work until the light has changed too much to continue, take a break and then go back out and work on an afternoon drawing. Again the light determines how long I will be working. Another break and then perhaps an evening drawing if daylight permits. 

Painting is almost always done in the studio. It can happen either upstate or in the city and is not tied to the current season or time of day – winter paintings can happen in summer and vice versa. I try to get any chores or errands I need to attend to out of the way before I start working so I can keep my head relatively clear. I typically get going around 10 a.m. unless I wake up with some pressing idea about a painting, in which case I’ll head to the easel first thing.  I prefer to work by natural light so during the shorter winter days I tend to start as soon as light permits. 

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

RM: I typically start by just wandering around the woods, looking for a site that strikes me and I want to make an image of. Once I find it, I often return again and again to make multiple images at different scales and from different points of view. I start with a graphite pencil drawing. I prepare the paper with a gray tone because erasure is an important part of my drawing process. I’ll also put down a simple neutral grid to help orient me on the rectangle. The grid influences my decisions in a largely unconscious but very important way. Typically, I make some initial decisions based on geometry but then chance takes over and determines how grid and nature meet. That trust is essential. As the drawing progresses, I look for a structure that allows overlapping rhythms to serve as counterpoints to one another. In the back of my mind, I am also thinking about the drawing as the first stage of a potential painting that I might eventually make in the studio, so light is always a crucial consideration. Though the drawings are rigorous in their attention to the particulars of the view, they are also highly edited. The painting relies heavily on the drawing but since there usually is a significant time lapse before I start painting, the limitations of memory can function as an editor, helping to filter out the inconsequential and to free me from the literal. I find it freeing to keep my palette quite restricted. The inability to match preconceived color exactly encourages invention, and a limited number of colors allows for a more precise calibration of relationships. Also, I use a restrained palette and a subdued paint application as I am interested in distilling a profound quiet. I keep the surface dry and thin, building slowly from many layers, relying on optical mixing to create an otherwise unattainable subtle light that emanates from within the painting. 

NYSS: How has your practice changed during this time of social distance? Have you had to adapt to a new way of working?

RM: I typically work upstate in rural isolation, without seeing anybody for days. So, I don’t think my practice was affected as much as it was for other artists. Probably the biggest change is that during the pandemic I did not go back to New York City nearly as often as I ordinarily would and so had long sustained periods in the country. That may have encouraged me to work on somewhat larger pieces. Nevertheless, I still found it difficult to focus during the first several months of the pandemic. 

NYSS: What do you keep in the studio for inspiration? Reference material, books about particular artists, music, certain objects …

RM: I always have a pile of books around. The books change constantly, though some definitely appear more often than others, and some that were constants years ago hardly or never make it in now. Sometimes I will open up five or six books to very different images from very different artists and lay them on the floor around me as reminders of what I am striving for. The images will share some quality that I am after in the painting – it can be as straightforward as a color palette or something much more ineffable. Perhaps the biggest inspiration has been the view out the window – sky, vegetation, weather, light, any wildlife that happens to pass by. I also like having plants in my New York City studio. The only reproduction consistently on my wall is Chardin’s The Smoker’s Case. From time to time I’ll pin up a pithy quote or even just a few critical words in the hopes that they will work their way into the painting.

NYSS: Do you listen to anything while you work?

RM: It depends on where I am in the process. Generally, I prefer not to listen to anything. Sometimes I will put on music for a while when I start working just to help me get out of my own head – usually it’s classical. There is quite a range depending on the kind of space or rhythm or just the feeling I am after in the work. I try to find a piece that seems like the painting’s aural equivalent. I have also found that James Cahill’s lectures on Chinese painting are good company and can be inspiring when I am feeling a bit too isolated in the country. But most often I prefer silence.

NYSS: How did studying at the New York Studio School influence your work? Do you have a favorite memory?

RM: The Studio School was such a natural fit for me that its biggest influence may have been the permission and confidence it gave me to realize that I could become the artist I wanted to be, working rigorously from observation, deeply involved with the tradition of painting while trying not to be merely derivative. Numerous powerful artists taught at the Studio School and influenced me in the years I attended – Rosemary Beck, Andrew Forge, Bruce Gagnier, Mercedes Matter, Ruth Miller, Graham Nickson, Joe Santore, Ophrah Shamesh. Their viewpoints usually overlapped but sometimes definitely conflicted, so it was a heady time of both increased clarity and increased confusion. Elements from each of these terrific teachers, who all shared a profound sense of integrity about work and working and seeing, have stayed with me. It has been essential to hold on to that idealism over the years.

I don’t know that I have anything like a particular favorite memory as I have so many good ones. I do remember a very fun Halloween costume party in the Whitney – Graham came dressed up as a very convincing Cezanne. And the first few months at the Studio School were especially wonderful – an exciting and magical time of discovery of the profundity of making images, of a community of like-minded painters. I was thrilled to know I had found what I was meant to do and to start life as a painter.

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

RM: I currently have a show up through July 25th at Pamela Salisbury Gallery in Hudson, New York, 362 1/2 Warren Street, 518-828-5907, info@pamelasalisburygallery.com.  

My work can be seen digitally at ronmilewicz.com.



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