This interview with Theodore Bouloukos on Vernissage.tv was filmed at the November 2008-January 2009 exhibit “The Magic Hour” at Paul Rodgers/9W Gallery in New York.
Theodore Bouloukos: Hello I’m Theodore Bouloukos here in New York at Paul Rodgers, 9W gallery with my friend and a painter whom I’ve admired for quite some time, Randall Stoltzfus.
Randall’s part of a group show here at Paul Rodgers. And I was thrilled to see him back in New York, though he lives here, showing again. He shows all over the country and I was enchanted when I when I saw that he was here in Chelsea.
And we’re meeting with him today and getting to talk about these paintings that have enthralled me since I first saw them 7 years ago.
What were you thinking when you did this?
Randall Stoltzfus: Well, probably thinking about light is the main thing with this piece. That’s one of the tensions, between light and dark. And the business of how sometimes in order to have something be really luminous you need a lot of dark. Because otherwise there’s no contrast, right?
So yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time working with materials to try to expand the optical range of the piece. So you know, in this there’s not only the whitest white that I can throw at it, but also that’s the reason for some of the additions, like a little bit of gold leaf.
TB: Which is interesting, because this palette has a lot more reds in it than I’ve seen in some of your other paintings.
RS: You want me to talk about red?
RS: Red’s tricky! I don’t– this is actually really scary stuff to me, that red. Because, have you ever noticed that one thing that’s really interesting about us is that physically we see differently? How do you know that… There’s no way for me to know that you see a color the same way I do. And I for sure have had the experience of people going: “Yeah, but why do you put that piece of red right there?” and it’s…
TB: It’s red?
RS: It’s something different to me than it is to you. That’s for sure. And that’s the way these paintings work, I think, when they are successful. There’s that business of how we see differently which means that you get to see something different than I do. And that can be good.
TB: Your paintings are multilayered. Do you have a strategy for sitting before a canvas and deciding what to put on?
RS: Strategy… Probably my clearest strategy is to be really patient.
There’s a lot of layers like you said, and I try, whether or not this is a wise or efficient thing to do, I try to leave room for the painting to be something that I didn’t expect. So I work on a lot of things at once and I put them aside and then come back to them.
I know I’m not the only person that works that way. But I think it’s rarer and rarer these days because it does take a lot of patience. But hopefully the result is something that is, you know, it’s possible for it to unfold unexpectedly for you, if you give it some time.
Certainly I’ve given it some time and tried to wait for it to surprise me.
It’s oil paint and that’s important a couple different ways.
One of the things is… You know about oil paint, right? It oxidizes as it dries, which is literally, it’s smoldering. And I love that you’re making this thing that is light reflective, and it’s actually, in a very subtle way, burning.
So, as they dry, that process of going back and forth gives me a chance to see what happens as the paint settles as it dries as it smolders. And it is going to be a little bit different when I look at it next.
I’m going to be different, too, and that’s maybe the most important thing.
Because, you know, the idea is that the paintings are not going anywhere. They’re not going to fade quickly like a photograph might, or an inkjet print. But you’re going to change. And so [the experience is] going to be different.
TB: Where do you draw a lot of your ideas from? I mean your work is very moody and a little melancholic, too. Is there an inner sadness to Randall that we see manifest in these works?
RS: Well, I don’t know about sadness, but I think that the melancholy is something that is just inherent in landscape, in my experience of the landscape.
I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, which is a pretty nice landscape. And it’s funny, since moving into this very urban environment I think that it has more and more informed what I make.
TB: Do you find yourself, given the distance, able to sort of render it differently than if you were living in and working among the landscape itself?
RS: Yeah, sure it’s different. There’s a filter there that is about distance and I suppose that might be part of where the melancholic sense comes from. You know there’s a thing about the way the paintings work that has to do with a filter of a sort, right? That there’s a lot of texture and there’s a deep space. So you have to get past the texture to see into the space. And I think for me that it is a metaphor that works for my remembering this place that I come from.
TB: Has your palette changed over the years?
RS: I think you’re probably right, that that’s one of the evolutions in the work…
TB: Are you working with smaller canvases, too? I mean some of the other ones are quite large. The bigger paintings that I’ve seen were really, really large. What made you down-size?
RS: New York City!
TB: Oh, okay.
RS: Also, I have a love hate relationship with small paintings.
RS: Yeah, they’re sort of wonderful, right?
There’s this thing about scale. You talked before about the work having a relationship with figuration. And I think at this point, the relationship with figuration is actually kind of abstract. Very physical. And, if a painting is very small the only way to really see into it is to get your [face close]. It gets into your head space and it fills your visual field because you get close to it.
Which is lovely and that can be really powerful. Big paintings though are totally fun because you can walk into them…
TB: I felt that way with those two canvases that you showed about, I guess four years ago, perhaps? At, was that Philip Morris or one of those big companies?
RS: The Dursts.
TB: It was the Durst organization, right. And they were so enveloping because you literally could walk into these landscapes. But they were really haunting at the same time. Your work has a very ominous, very haunting quality. It’s fun to be sort of scared in front of you.
RS: And I think that’s an American idea about the landscape, too. I love– what’s the guy in Sleepy Hollow?
TB: Oh, Rip Van Winkle.
RS: Well, no– and the Headless Horseman…
TB: Oh yes, of course, yes…
Both: Ichabod Crane, Yeah.
RS: I think that’s a very American idea about the landscape, isn’t it?
TB: It’s about pioneering the unknown, and forging ahead, and westward ho!
Or is that simply some prostitute in LA?
RS: I had a fun conversation visiting California this past summer.
TB: Now that’s a great title for a either a book or a painting: “Visiting California”.
RS: Visiting California is a big subject. Especially for a country boy from the East like me!
TB: With Amish roots, we might add! Amish roots. I’m sorry, I have to mention that.
RS: There are very few of those in California.
Well, we can talk about that or we can talk about ghosts in California, which way do you want to go?
TB: I’m pretty flexible.
RS: Well, let’s start with this trip to California, right? The thing that was fascinating to me is, my companion and I both agreed that there’s a different sort of ghost in the California landscape than there is in the eastern one.
TB: Right, because there were what, Forty-niner’s or gold diggers?
RS: Have you been a little bit in the Redwood Forest? Oh you should go! It’s fantastic and there isn’t any room for human ghosts there. The ghosts are from prehistory or something. They’re geographic ghosts. So it’s a haunted landscape, but it’s haunted on a God scale. As opposed to the landscape that I grew up in, which was very literally haunted with Confederate and Union soldiers. It’s a different scale. And a different mythological sense.
But so, what [were we]…
TB: So we were in California and you were saying that it was this very apparitional space.
RS: Yeah, that’s so good! Apparitional space.
TB: I try.
RS: That’s beautiful. Can I use that as a title for a painting? Can we use it for that one?
TB: That will be my contribution.
RS: We definitely got something out of the interview, then.
TB: I hope so.
RS: Oh, yeah. As long as I don’t have to pay you!
TB: No, not at all. Are you kidding? Your company is more than compensation.
RS: Very kind of you.
TB: Oh, please.
So, then there was the other conversation. You were saying we could talk about ghosts in California or the Amish roots, right?
RS: Ghostly ancestors?
TB: Right, right. You didn’t actually, to let the audience know, you have Amish ancestry, but you’re not, and you were not, raised Amish.
RS: Right, it gets a little confusing.
TB: But it certainly influenced your [work].
RS: Sure. My grandfather was an Amish deacon. And my parents… I was raised in the Mennonite Church. Which sure, there’s a sensibility there. There’s no question.