In Dialogue with Jeanette Fintz
As an abstract artist, Jeanette Fintz has long been interested in the contrast of hard-edged planar geometry (circles, squares, hexagons) existing within an atmospheric field where shapes can float or hold the plane, in a space that appears expansive, transient and increasingly released from the canvas’s edge.Of her newest body of work currently on view through August 1st at Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, NY, she explains “these paintings are about giving structure to something intangible, ephemeral, in-flux or conversely, revealing the dissolving of structure that has been.” The following is the artist in conversation with writer and art critic, Carter Ratcliff, to discuss her influences and process.
CR: I want to start with two very general questions. How long have you been making geometric paintings and when did you start?
JF: I had done loosely geometric paintings in the 90’s called the Rhyme & Reason series but began being fascinated with symmetrical planar systems when I was teaching a course called Pattern, Symmetry and Color at Parsons. I was looking at Islamic patterns probably starting in 2005 or maybe 2006. Then it began full blast about 2009, when I went to Spain. I went to Spain twice, on sabbaticals, to research. I visited the Alhambra and the Real Alcazar, in Seville. I always liked geometry, I mean, I got 100 on my geometry Regents. And I liked fracturing space or re- aligning things to other planes outside of an object. So, I have been finding it interesting to start within a system and then break it down to personalize it, which is where I am now. When you first saw my work, I was working completely from within one system. And then I started, in the Worldline Schreiber paintings (2016-18), to overlap two grids. Previously, I worked with a “split screen.” One side would be an iteration of a pattern and the other would be a different iteration from the same pattern. Then I started working with two overlapping grids and then creating a space that was very unstable and was more spacious actually. It created more depth with interesting, unexpected gestures. I liked the unexpectedness because I felt I was discovering something. Even though I enjoy looking at things that are symmetrical, I find that I can’t work that way. That’s not my nature. I’m working with objective systems and yet my decision-making is always subjective.
CR: Just to be clear about this, the geometry in your paintings is not coming out of De Stijl or the Bauhaus or…?
JF: Not at all. It comes from looking at beautiful patterns. The Alhambra or Moroccan tiles—those are the sources. I enjoy looking at Constructivist art but that’s definitely not where my art comes from. Though it might end up having some elements of Constructivist or other modernist geometry, especially lately, where I take away a lot of the connections between things and things begin to float. A floating element, maybe it’s a trapezoid or a rectangle, might look like it comes from El Lissitzky, but it doesn’t really derive from sources of that kind.
CR: Can you say something about the fascination that patterns have for you?
JF: I just think that they are hypnotic, and being a product of the 60s, I enjoy a certain kind of rhythmic, soothing pattern. Maybe they are a little trance-y. And when I started meditating, there seemed to be a sort of convergence. I started meditating about the same time I started using patterns. To me they were linked together in about 2006. That repetition, the hypnotic, soothing quality of a pattern was very similar to that of a mantra and meditative breathing and all of that. I curated a show in 2017 about that in Woodstock, at the Kleinert James Center called The Ritual of Construction. It was all about constructing things from parts and the sense that artists had of being caught up in a kind of rhythmic, a meditative state while they’re working—assembling things, adding, accretion. That was what interested me. I wasn’t in the show, but I gathered a bunch of people that worked that way. There was a conference that accompanied the exhibition. That was at the height of my focus on organizing my thinking about my interest in pattern. And I realized it’s at least partially an ethnic thing because my family comes from Turkey, on my father’s side of the family. Anyway, I just I love textiles, patterns. But I also like things that move and I don’t want them to move in a repetitive way. That’s not who I am. So, I take a pattern and give it some sort of personal, spatial gesture.
CR: When you say gesture, that might be a gesture of structuring, but it also is the gesture of painting too, right?
JF: There’s less of that in this work. I used to be a very painterly landscape painter. But now the only things I do are pours and washes in the large works, and I’m controlling it because I don’t want it to be about that kind of gesture. I want it to be about the gesture of the geometry. And the other thing that happens to create the—I call it air—because now I’m less interested in opacity and tightly linked planer connection. I want the painting to have breath. The gesture is mostly in the geometry, though some of it comes from pouring and from using very large brushes and letting things ease across the surface with nice big strokes. Generally, I’m using big strokes and if they drip a little that’s fine, but I don’t use very much natural brushstroke hand anymore. Very little—occasionally on the small ones. A flick of the wrist to make a circle or something like that.
CR: And in each painting is there a structure that you know you’re going to be working with overall?
JF: There are two answers to that. Initially I started off drawing the two grids on top of each other. And the scale and the orientation of the axis of the first square would create a gesture, a tilt that would generate specific spatial relationships on the canvas. At first, it’s all there—the grid lines, all the circles. And then I remove certain elements. Then in the more recent paintings, the ones in the 2019 show and in this show, I started using vellum collages. So instead of using the whole drawing, I had selected parts from the grid: like circles, hexagons or some kind of geometric fragment, whatever. I would cut them out, layer them, then trace them onto vellum so I’d get this transparency, which I would photograph and reproduce digitally, so I had variations. The space I was getting had air in it because the layers of vellum give you a beautiful, diaphanous kind of space. And I said, well, I’m going to try to make it look like this because this is my air now. And I work to get the lines to disappear over here and then to come up sharply over here.
CR: What are the dates of the paintings in the current show?
JF: They’re all from the Covid year. We moved December 6th of 2019, but we couldn’t live in this new house. Because of Covid we needed to stay in an Airbnb for nine months while renovations were being done. We rented a teeny studio that my husband Jack and I shared, 150 square feet, from February of 2020 until July of 2020. The 12 x12” Green Mother works were all done in there from May-July 2020. I call them Green Mother because I was so happy to be sitting outside, looking at trees and shadows. The air was so clean during lockdown and nature was such a respite from the isolation. In July 2020 we moved into the current temporary studio, which we have been sharing since. It’s about 500 square feet and all of my archive is still in there! So, I only have one good painting wall. That is the wall that I did the big paintings on. All the panels and paperwork were done from July-Dec 2020. In January, I began working on the big paintings. I finished all the big paintings in April 2021 and I had the show in June and I never thought I would even be able to do a big painting in there. It’s very recent work, which is amazing to me. Of course, all we could do was work. There was nothing else to do. You couldn’t go anywhere. I was in the studio every single day and got masses of work done. And that’s why it’s all very hot off the press.
CR: Have you been working since?
JF: Yes. I have a commission through the gallery to do an elongation and color modification of a painting that I had in the other show in 2019. Right now, I’m working on the Blue Mother gouaches.
CR: It’s interesting what you say about the sources of your imagery. Because you could see your work in relationship to the geometric traditions of western modernism.
JF: Yes, you can. My revered ancestor is Cézanne and then there is Cubism. My way of seeing space comes out of a western tradition. But the grid doesn’t allow me to do some of the things that you would normally do if you were just using, you know, that geometry that comes from Cubism. The Cubist grid flattens the image and I want the flip- flop between something that’s flat and something that’s spatial or volumetric, even, so you can see the pattern. I want that contradiction.
CR: I wouldn’t say that there’s perspective or even a Cubist variation of perspective in your work, and yet it does have space in it.
JF: All of my work has space. Even the flatter pattern paintings have space, but a different kind. It’s more a color space and syncopated. This kind of space you’re talking about, it is a volumetric implication or the result of a gesture?
CR: More space as an implication of volume—and, in your work, not shallow Cubist space. But there is deep space in your paintings.
JF: Yes, definitely. I see a lot of depth in my work, as a result of the shifting angles that create space. Because the grids give me all these great edges to start playing off each other. But the paintings don’t come out of looking at anything like a landscape. They come out of the grid and what I can get from it and how I can create something that has tension. What gives it spatial fullness and complexity are the negative spaces. It’s all about the negative. When I’m trying to figure out which vellum drawing to work with, I choose on the basis of what is not there—what I see in between the shapes. That’s the thing that gets me. And however more subtle or complicated that space can be, I try to hold on to that. And hopefully the work has that mysterious quality I am after.
CR: Would it make sense to say the negative space is kind of the opening for the viewer to get involved?
JF: I would hope so, though I don’t know if it is. You never know what people see. It’s great talking with architects about the show because they see exactly what I’m doing. They see the isometric grid, depth and the implication of volume and they also see it getting flat. They see the negative and the meaning in the negative. My most recent painting, one that wasn’t displayed in the gallery, has the most empty space of any I’ve done in a very long time. I looked at it and I said, can I leave it like this? I did and it sold. But it was that the opening, it was so clear that there it was, it was filled with something. I think of the painting we just talked about as being about a house, because it seems to be about construction, reconstruction, deconstruction, moving, transitions, transformations. So, this painting really looks like a kind of a house or box that’s opening up and things are coming out of it. And then the “roofline”. If you look at all of them, you could see a lot of what’s going on in my life in the last four years. It’s like planning to move, packing up, dissolving my studio, being a vagabond, and literally I feel like that. And then having all these things that are agitated. Yet they don’t end up looking agitated. In fact, they end up looking harmonious.
All photos courtesy of Carrie Haddad Gallery
Jeanette Fintz received her MFA from Boston University SFA and her BA from Queens College CUNY. She attended The New York Studio School, and Skowhegan School. Fintz taught Art & Design in the School of Design Strategies at Parson’s New School for Design for 18 years. She is the recipient of the Ingram Merrill Foundation Award for painting, the NYFA Fellowship for Works on Paper, the ED Foundation Award for Painting, the Emil & Dines Carlsen Award from the National Academy of Design and is a fellow of the Millay Colony, the MacDowell Colony and Ucross Foundation. Fintz’s paintings can be viewed at Carrie Haddad Gallery located at 622 Warren St in Hudson, NY through August 1st. More images of her paintings can be seen at www.carriehaddadgallery.com.
Carter Ratcliff is a poet, art critic, and contributing editor of Art in America. His writings on art have been published by the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Guggenheim Museum; the Royal Academy, London; Maxxi Museum of 21st Century Arts, Rome, and many other institutions. He has contributed to the leading journals of the United States and Europe, including Art in America, Art Forum, ArtNews, Arts, Tate, and Art Presse, as well as Vogue, Elle, and New York magazine. His books include The Fate of a Gesture: Jackson Pollock and Postwar American Art, Out of the Box: The Reinvention of Art, and monographs on Andy Warhol, John Singer Sargent, Georgia O’Keeffe, Gilbert & George, and others. Among his books of poetry are Fever Coast, Give Me Tomorrow, and Arrivederci, Modernismo. His first novel, Tequila Mockingbird, was published in 2015.