an interview with Laeh Glenn

By Mario Miron

Not quite ordinary
Mario Miron. Are you trying to address the community of San Francisco and the greater Bay Area with this group of paintings, because it seems to me that this is a targeted and fascinating response to the relationship between art and technology?

Laeh Glenn. No, I wasn’t thinking about San Francisco specifically, but the work definitely engages with technology. I think a lot about images moving through space and time. I think about how quickly and effortlessly that happens today and how painting can engage with imagery in a different way than a screen.

MM. I really enjoy the image of the espresso cup with the liquid being poured into it. When you titled your show, “Ordinary Objects,” were you thinking about domestic object or do you consider you paintings ordinary objects in themselves?

LG. The title of the show, like the paintings, has multiple meanings. I was interested in the alliteration of the words and how the two O's resemble eyes or zeros or circles, etc. O O, I’m interested in the possibility of a thing operating in multiple ways. The O’s are letters, but they’re also shapes, symbols and lines. Similarly, the paintings are paintings, but they're also objects and images, symbols and pictures. The title also refers to some of the content in the images, specifically the types of objects that seem ordinary in paintings, a still life, a bust, certain shapes, etc.

The type of cup in that painting has a face on its surface. It looks sleepy when it’s cold, but when you pour coffee into the mug, the face wakes up and the eyes open. That kind of animation of inanimate objects has always fascinated me.


MM. The paintings really control the gallery space. It feels as if they are either ordinary objects controlling our ordinary responses or do you feel that there is something extraordinary about an espresso cup or a drop shadow?

LG. I’m interested in how an ordinary thing, like a painting, can function in a new unexpected way, but I’m less concerned with pointing out the beauty of everyday things. These things are just vehicles for exploring the limits and possibilities within painting.

MM. You use the same scale to the paintings for the entire show. It feels purposeful and aggressive. I like that, but is this a conscious response to the way that we demand a kind of false variation, like it would be good to have a mixture of big and small and in-between?

LG. Basing a practice on imagery and its symbolic nature creates an endless supply of material to work with. I guess I reduce a couple variables like size and color as a way of controlling that chaos. I’m also always considering how the work is going to be seen by the majority of an audience, especially post-exhibition. Condensing the work down and unifying size and shape reflects the scale and false intimacy we have with images on screens.

A beautiful painting with drop shadows

MM. Another painting that I really enjoyed is the first one on the left that almost looks digitally rendered. I think it’s called “Untitled,” as they all are. In your lecture, excuse me if I’m wrong, but I think I remember you mentioning that painting was hopeless today. It kind of upset me—I’m a painting major. Are you saying that painting needs the power of the computer or technology to reinvigorate what some see as a dying medium?

LG. I don’t remember saying painting is hopeless, I hope I didn’t. Maybe because my own practice conflates a distinction between painting and other media, I sometimes question the authenticity of contemporary painting. I find myself wondering if we are still making paintings at all, or are we using this old language that looks and acts like the original thing but actually means something totally different now? Making a thing that performs the idea of painting, but not actually being the thing.

These are pretty half-baked ideas, sorry if that’s confusing, but I definitely don’t think painting is hopeless. I think maybe I talked a little about trying to engage with a contemporary art dialogue and how that feels a little impossible today. I recently saw Miwon Kwon give a talk about her experience as a founder and publisher of Documents and she touched briefly on the idea that things are so large and easily available to us that it can be hard to comment on the nature of art today. I think my work now is in someway trying to reflect that nuanced and aimless place. Engaging with multiple genres of painting stems from this interest in conflating histories and genres, mimicking the way we engage with imagery today through computers, magazines, etc.

Some can be puzzling
MM. Also in the lecture you mentioned that your pieces at Altman Siegel can be hung in different ways and are not specific to the architecture of that particular gallery. How do you imagine these paintings being received outside of the gallery setting?

LG. I think about these paintings as part of an ongoing puzzle. The individual pieces of a puzzle can be interesting and engaging on their own, but together they become something else. I make the work uniform in shape, size and style, so that one day, maybe after years of work, if everything was put in a room together the puzzle would make sense.

MM. You also showed us how you edit your paintings in various ways, by wiping parts out and adding other sections in. Yet, they all seem so perfectly composed that it’s hard to imagine how you edit them. How do you achieve such a uniform effect?

LG. Slowly and painfully.

MM. Why black and white? Why the same scale? And why do you fragment the frames of your pieces?

LG. In grad school I really struggled with framing my work in any historical or theoretical model. I think the partial framing evolved out of a desire to not trap the paintings in any one certain dialogue. I also just wanted the work to feel more active and participatory in a space.

Some can be funny

MM. I find your work funny, and I was wondering if you find your work funny as well?

LG. I’m interested in the forms and pictures that we as painters refer to over and over again, as a way exploring the symbolic, physical and emotional place that painting resides in today. I use humor in my work as an acknowledgment of the absurdity in this endeavor. It's absurd to try to define something as complex and ever changing as painting, but also comical in the way a painting is able to depict the impossible or the nonsensical: a head floating through space, a house turning into a hat, a shape turning into a face, etc.

MM. What was it like going to CCA? And how does it feel being back here? Are some of the professors that you worked with still here?

LG. CCA was great for me and it’s an honor to be asked back. I worked with some incredible people, like Linda Geary, Jordan Kantor, David Huffman and John Zurrier. I think they're all still there.

©Mario Miron and the CCA Arts Review

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