Anna Gregor: Double Space at D. D. D. D.

In Dialogue
Double Space at D.D.D.D., Installation shot. Photo taken by Rachel Kuzma

Anna Gregor often remarks, half in jest, that she wishes she were a poet. Poems, to her, come closest to immateriality; they exist in the mind and can be accessed anytime. In contrast, a painting is a unique object that must be seen in person, confined by paint, the artist’s technique, and the viewer’s presence. Gregor, a painter in New York City currently pursuing her MFA at Hunter, examines the divide between body and mind, material and immaterial, in her art. She sees a painting as having a dual nature: a physical object of paint sharing space with the viewer and an immaterial idea formed in the viewer’s mind. This mirrors the human condition, where body and mind coexist. Gregor says she often feels trapped by her physical form and its social labels—gender, age, race, and ability. Yet, she recognizes that her body is essential for her consciousness. For Gregor, making a painting is a confrontation with matter, a commitment to the material world while striving to go beyond its limits. Viewing a painting involves a similar struggle to find meaning in the artist’s creation. “ Without the physical painting, there is no idea. But without the idea, the painting is just inert matter,” she says. This intricate relationship is central to her solo show, Double Space, at D. D. D. D.

Tell us about the body of work for this show.

Double Space includes seven oil paintings—three on canvas and four on rabbit skin glue gessoed wood panels. Most are small, ranging from 5 x 7 inches to 11 x 14 inches, with one larger at 36 x 24 inches. They are representational, but what exactly they depict takes time to see due to the fragmentation of the image and the assertion of paint as a material. They toe this line between representation and paint that asks the viewer to acknowledge how they see and how they come to recognize something as something. In a way, they attempt to make sense of a fragmented world.

Before making this body of work, I had been playing with the idea of a painting as a construction site where the artist and viewer mutually build a new space from the scraps left over from the tradition of Western painting. This body of work began when I started painting gold mirrors from life that reflect my studio space. The mirrors themselves are fragmented due to how I apply the gold leaf to the glass, then further fragmented by an image––usually from an art-historical source––that I etch into the mirror. On top of this, the mirror reflects my studio space and sometimes even reflects me looking at the mirror as I paint.

The paintings suggest traditional painting genres––portrait, landscape, still life––but don’t fit neatly into any one of them. There’s a way of thinking of them as “painters’ paintings,” so deeply invested in the history of Western painting that they’re cloistered from the world in a windowless studio. But I also hope they speak to a larger sense of what it means to be a person in a confusing, often horrifying world right now: we find ourselves here, the products of history, trying to make sense of how things are in order to construct a better picture of the world through commitment, imagination, and hard work.

After Fra Angelico (To What Can I Pray?) (2024), Oil paint on canvas, 14 x 11 inches. Photo taken by Damien Ding.

The title Double Space is named after the spaces depicted in the paintings and the spaces that the paintings exist within. Can you elaborate on that?

Paintings inhabit a “double space.” On the one hand, there’s the physical space that the painted object is in; on the other hand, there’s the representational space depicted in the painting. This doubling permeates these paintings. In the gallery space, the painting is a rectangular shape framed by the white wall; within the painting, a depicted rectangular shape is framed by an expanse of thickly applied paint. On the gallery wall, the physical painting casts shadows; in the painting, shadows are depicted. In the gallery, lights illuminate the paintings and reflect off their glossy surfaces; in the painting, light fixtures and reflections are depicted. The paintings don’t end at their edges. They include the space they and the viewer inhabit.

But there’s another, less literal kind of “double space” that I want my paintings to travel between. A painting straddles two realms: the physical realm of painting-as-object and the ideal realm of the painting-as-idea. For a while, I’ve been transfixed by the idea of something looking back at the viewer through the painting, as if the two-dimensional surface were a membrane between a realm beyond and a realm here. This goes back to the distinction between body and mind, material and ideal I mentioned earlier. The only way we, here, can get there, beyond, is through sustained looking.

The paintings in the show depict gilded glass panes that you make by using the ancient technique of verre églomisé. What would you like to share about this process, and what draws you there?

All of the works in the show are paintings of gold-gilded mirrors I make using an ancient technique called verre églomisé into which I etch depictions of structures: a house under construction, a throne of a Byzantine Madonna, the building from Fra Angelico’s Annunciation of Cortona. I then install these mirrors on my studio wall and paint them from life. They are complex subjects to paint: etched image, reflective gold leaf, reflected studio space, transparent glass, cast shadows, and opaque white wall. Their complexity underscores how unstable vision is because when you focus on one aspect, say, the reflected studio space, the other aspects, like the image etched into the gold leaf, fall out of focus. While painting, I draw from all these different focal points to create a new space. Sometimes the material dominates, sometimes the art historical reference, sometimes the reflected space of my studio—even the gallery space where the viewer encounters the object is reflected in the surface gloss. I want these paintings to reflect their making, historical inheritance, and the viewer’s situation and somehow transcend them all.

It appears that you allude in these paintings to Christian icon paintings, Cubism, and others. How do you regard your conversation with art history? Let’s look closer at one painting from that perspective.

In a time when a painting can be anything, I think a lot about the different ways that paintings have been conceived throughout the history of Western art: as portals to the divine (like in Early Christian icons), as empirical representations of retinal images (like in Renaissance paintings), or as steps in the teleological progression toward abstraction and optical purity (as in Modernism). A part of me wishes I could be an icon painter, making portals to some divinity out of devotion. But, in a sense, that possibility is closed to me. Likewise, the narratives of painting as an imitation of the world and as a teleological progression toward purity seem unviable. So, instead, I draw from these narratives, how we perceive the world, and the materiality of paint in hopes of creating a new type of painterly space from the old.

And even though I’m not an icon painter, “miraculous” is the only word I can use to describe a painting’s coming-to-be. It seems to reveal itself, as if I’m not making decisions as an ego but am merely a channel, like the Mary in the Bible. She receives the immaterial word of God and brings God-made-Man into the physical realm: an idea embodied. The Christian annunciation myth, even with the baggage of its expectations of female bodies and bodily sacrifice, resonates with how I think about painting.

The starting point of After Fra Angelico (To What Can I Pray?) was Fra Angelico’s Annunciation of Cortona, which I etched into a dissolving modernist grid of mirrored gold leaf. The mirror reflected the track lights in my studio and cast shadows on the wall behind it. The painting assimilates all of these elements to produce a new, multiple space: the space of my studio where it was painted, different spaces in art history, and the gallery space where a viewer encounters it. The space of the painting is a kind of space that can only exist in a mind that brings them all together. Just as these paintings miraculously revealed themselves to me in the making, they want a viewer who will contemplate them and receive their revelation. My paintings are not divine messages from a god or anything like that. All paintings are miraculous in this way: they are so much more than they appear to be at first.

Windowless Monad (2024), Oil paint, rabbit skin glue, marble dust, and muslin on wood panel, 6 x 12 inches. Photo taken by Damien Ding.

Let’s look at Windowless Monad. What is the genesis- idea and process?

This is probably the most explicit painting in the exhibition if any of them can be called explicit. It depicts a glass-gilded mirror (the yellow forms) with a house frame etched into it. The mirror is propped against a wall and reflects me in my studio while working on a painting from life. Within the yellow, you can see my orange hand in the lower right, my orange face in the center, and a table receding in one-point perspective to the left. The yellow-gold leaf casts shadows on the wall, visible through the transparent pane on which it’s applied.

It takes time to see all of this, of course, and it never fully snaps into an image. The view is fractured because different types of space––depicted, reflected, abstract, material––compete with one another. In a sense, it’s an attempt to collapse time and space by assimilating the maker and viewer. Representationally, my reflection puts me in the place of the viewer and, vice versa, the viewer in the place of the maker. Materially, just as the painting revealed itself to me as I was making it, so too can it reveal itself to the viewer who tries to follow its material and representational logic. This assimilation is never complete: it’s an idea. But it has almost happened to me a few times while looking at paintings I love, and it’s miraculous!

My process includes a lot of addition and subtraction, which mirrors the shifting focus as my eyes move around the mirror while I paint. The traditional rabbit skin glue gesso is very absorbent and highly polishable, so I use a single-edge razor blade to scratch paint residue away and burnish the stained surface. Much of the image is built up in thin transparent glazes occasionally scraped away. In other areas, like the wall the mirror leans on, thick impastos are built up that hang off the edge of the support. The materiality of the paint is exaggerated and contrasts with the polished image. Material and ideal, body and mind continue to fruitfully struggle with one another.

Hodegetria (Our Lady of the Way) (2024), Oil paint on canvas, 14 x 11 inches. Photo taken by Damien Ding.

How do you see this body of work in the context of your overall work?

I’ve been concerned with the depiction of space throughout the history of painting for years, but using the gold mirrors as a specific subject to paint has felt like a breakthrough in how I think about the possibilities of depicting space in paintings. They serve as a means of fragmenting space in a visually unified way, have provided me with a way to include art history without directly ‘quoting’ painterly styles, and, perhaps most importantly, have freed me from obedience to gravity. The resulting paintings are simultaneously the most material and immaterial paintings I’ve made so far: material in their paint application and immaterial in their fragmented light. I’m excited to return to my studio cloister and work on the next ones.

Anna Gregor: Double Space at D. D. D. D. Through June 9th, 2024 179 Canal St, Ste 3B/4D New York, NY 10013

About the artist: Anna Gregor (b. 1993, California) is a painter based in New York City. She earned her BFA in 2019 at Parsons The New School for Design (New York, NY) and is currently pursuing her MFA in Painting at CUNY Hunter College (New York, NY). Gregor’s work has been exhibited in three solo shows (Double Space at D.D.D.D. (2024), Visions and Revisions (2023) at Moira Fitzsimmons Arons Art Gallery, and Embodiments (2022) at Tomato Mouse). She has also exhibited work in various group shows, including shows at Unit London, St. Joseph’s University, Equity Gallery, and SPRING/BREAK Art Show. Her work can be found at and on Instagram under @anna_t_gregor.