Studio Studies

March 27, 2009

When alumnus Joe Fig (BFA 1991 Fine Arts, MFA 2002 Fine Arts) visits another artist’s studio, he has his eye on more than the artworks in progress. Fig creates detailed miniature models of artists in their studios, taking careful measurements, reference photos and an in-depth interview during each visit. Several of his sculptures are currently on view at the Byron C. Cohen Gallery in Kansas City, MO, through Saturday, April 25; and he has an upcoming exhibition at Boston’s Carroll & Sons Gallery, May 20 – July 4.

In addition, Inside the Painters Studio, a book containing Fig’s interviews, photographs and studio models—including his work based on fellow alumni Inka Essenhigh (MFA 1994 Fine Arts), Barnaby Furnas (BFA 1996 Fine Arts), Steve Mumford (MFA 1994 Fine Arts), Alexis Rockman (BFA 1985 Fine Arts) and Billy Sullivan (1968 Fine Arts)—will be published in fall 2009 by Princeton Architectural Press.

How would you describe your art to someone unfamiliar with your work?
My interest is in the creative process and the studio spaces where work is made, to get insight into the day-to-day realties and practicalities of what it means to be an artist. When I contact an artist and do a studio visit, I conduct a formal interview with questions that deal with things like the artist’s average day, how they sustain a career, etc. Then I photograph and measure everything in the studio. When I come back to my studio, I’m figuring out how to translate that into my own art form, to create a portrait of that artist, but not a literal portrait.

How do you select which artists’ studios to model?
Initially I started with more art-historical figures. I’d been a representational, figurative painter, and I thought if I saw how the abstract expressionists worked, I’d be able to become an abstract painter. That I’d learn something by duplicating their studio. The first model I did of a contemporary artist was Steve DeFrank. Then I made a sculpture of him, and that process felt so much more natural because I’m not going through history books, I’m getting first-hand information. From then on I did only contemporary artists.

Did you have an “A-ha!” moment when the character of your work became clear to you?
I painted for about 10 years, starting from when I graduated from undergrad at SVA. After 10 years of painting, I felt I’d said all I could say with the type of work I was doing. Then I had about a year of trying to figure out what to paint next. It led me to create sculptures of painters, to try to get a better understanding of painting and what painters do. I found myself in grad school surrounded by students in their studios, surrounded by the idea of the studio. So I started thinking of looking into the individual creative process and how artists set up their studios to make their work. After I made about four of these, I got positive feedback and it became its own thing.

Images: Joe Fig, (top) Inka Essenhigh & Steve Mumford 2003 (Detail of Inka), 2003; (bottom) Inka Essenhigh & Steve Mumford 2003 (Detail of Steve), 2003.

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