Adriana Rabinovitch interviews Eileen Weitzman
56B: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your practice.
EW: I’m educated, but not art-wise. I didn’t go to school for art and I’m self-taught. In my 20’s I started trying things I thought I might be interested in like music, playing piano, which I enjoyed. I wanted to broaden my horizons more, so I took a course at a park district that was offering oil-painting, drawing, and acrylics. It was a short thing, and I was very surprised that I made a few creative drawings. When I was young, I had hoped to be an artist but I felt I was very rigid so I had stopped. I was about the only person who finished the course, and after that I payed the teacher for some private lessons in oil painting, since we’d hardly gotten into that. Since then I have just developed myself.
56B: I read online that you started as a painter and things started to grow out of the canvas. The oil paint got ‘thicker and thicker’ I think is what you said, and you started to add things to the canvas. Tell me about this transition?
EW: Well, I love texture.
[she shows me one canvas in a pile of about 30 huge paintings in the corner of her studio]
This canvas, for example, I painted over some rope to add the texture under the oil paint. And this one I used some paper-mache. It just finally dawned on me. I like making things. Making three-dimensional things felt more like making things than painting things did.
56B: Because you could create something that you could interact with, walk around?
EW: Yes, and there were fewer rules, actually. It gives a sense a freedom but also makes it more frightening. At least with painting you have this canvas or rectangle or surface or something that you have to fill. With sculpture, it’s completely blank until you figure out what to do with it.
56B: Who are what would you say your primary influences are?
EW: Yes, I’ve certainly been asked that question. I would say that when I did my first real oil painting after that class, which was on one of those oil board type things, didn’t want to start too big, it was certainly Matisse at that time. I loved Matisse and I loved the German Expressionists, particularly Kirchner. There’s certainly many painters I love but I’m not sure there was even any one person in my mind when I was making things. I eventually started really liking people like Eva Hesse and Yayoi Kusama. I also more recently have come to appreciate the work of Annete Messager, especially earlier things. She’s got a show on now, which…some things I like, but I mostly like her older work. She’s very experimental and tries all sorts of things. I like that. I also like the concepts of Sophie Calle. I guess as far as my favorites go, they’re mostly women now. Not that there aren’t many male artists whose work I appreciate.
56B: When I was looking through your photography on your website, I noticed many of the places you visit, like Turkey, India and Egypt, and colors and the textiles that are associated with these cultures. I see a similarity between many aspects of these cultures and you work. Do you feel that this is an influence on you?
EW: I’m sure that it is. I love Islamic design. Old tiles, like in Morocco. That’s why I started going to Middle Eastern Countries. I think I am influenced by them. The tiles, the colors…
56B: Yeah, I see the influence and dominance that pattern has in your work…
EW: One of the first less-frequented, as in not in Europe, places I visited was Senegal. The color and patterns in Senegal are out of this world. It’s unbelievable. India has bright colors and great color combinations but the clothes that they wear are not patterned. In certain African countries though, particularly Senegal and Mali and parts of West Africa, the people put these colors and patterns together that are out of this world. It’s overpowering - a feast for my eyes.
56B: Like your work.
EW: Right. I think when I got to this piece [The Scream (In Living Color) featured below] I felt like I could use any colors and patterns that I want to. I just thought, OK, anything can go together. I can make anything work.
56B: Let’s talk about the titles of your work. I think they’re almost always funny, and they seem to come from cliches and ironic statements. What would you say the relationship is between your work and it’s title? And how important is the title to understanding or appreciating the work?
EW: I generally don’t have a title for a piece when I start. I don’t usually have a lot of the idea either. At some point, I’m figuring out what I’m doing. If I think of a title then, that helps me focus on the work. I love colors and patterns and designs. I’m really interested in space and negative space and it all coming together, not feeling crowded even if there is a lot going on. I have also become interested in, especially within the last 15 years, making some kind of statement. I want my work to be visually appealing and emotional, but it also has a political context. Now, that’s not the most important thing. I really want people to get joy and pleasure out of it, but I also do want to say something. That’s usually where the title comes in. To focus in on what the piece is about. The title gives one a little guidance on how to view the piece.
56B: Your work is reminiscent of children’s toys, which seems to invite people to touch your work. Do you encourage tactile interaction with your work?
EW: I always tell people they can touch my work. …kids love my work. But adults want to touch it too, and I let them. I think one of the reasons I started making sculpture was because I wanted to be able to touch it too.
56B: How long have you been at 56 Bogart?
EW: I’ve been here over 6 and a half years.
56B: How have you seen things change since you moved in?
EW: When I first moved in it was all companies, factories. There was a hat factory next door. I was the third artist in the building.
check out Eileen’s website here: http://eileenweitzman.com/