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Knee-Deep in Oeuvre

Remember "Tron," where the hacker goes into the computer? At Solvent Space, the same thing happens with painting.



If you haven't yet, be sure to check out Polly Apfelbaum's current installation at Solvent Space before it ends. Apfelbaum, an internationally respected artist based in New York, is the latest invited to work in this experimental exhibition space. The resulting "LoveKraft" is of particular interest because it marks a transition in Apfelbaum's oeuvre. Her long-standing hybridization of painting and sculpture continues, but in "LoveKraft" she takes this further, treating the entire architectural interior as a canvas upon which to play with color, form and natural light.

As with all of Apfelbaum's work, "LoveKraft" operates on several, often contradictory, levels. Her work has been compared to a Rorschach test, with viewers seeing whatever they are subconsciously inclined to see. Apfelbaum admits to trying to force incompatible elements to coexist: abstract and narrative, beautiful and ugly, sublime and synthetic. Style spoke with her about her latest work.

Style: What would you want a viewer to take away from "LoveKraft"?

Apfelbaum: I think the work is interactive, so I hope they experience the fluctuating color and light, and that their imaginations are turned on.

Your work has dealt with the space between 2-D painting and 3-D sculpture, but "LoveKraft" takes this further, actually pulling out into the architectural space itself. As a result, walking through "LoveKraft" feels like inhabiting a 2-D painting. Would you agree?

Well, "LoveKraft" is the first installation where I painted the walls. I had once designed wallpaper, but it was very subtle compared to this. I love how this pulls you into the painting. I think it's more integrated. I like what you said…that was what I was hoping would happen. The whole space would be charged.

Do you see the two rooms of Solvent Space as one integrated installation?

I see the two rooms as one. I love seeing the different pieces from different perspectives…slices of color, here and there.

There is a tension in your work between kitsch and elegance, order and chaos, emotion and logic. Do you think these sorts of oppositions are inherent in interesting art?

I hope so. Oppositions…that's what makes me tick. I have been called a contrarian. I like putting together things that aren't necessarily supposed to be together. Focus/out-of-focus, natural/artificial. I am interested in experimenting. That's part of what keeps it interesting for me.

How did the initial idea and final realization of "LoveKraft" progress?

Well, I was just doodling around in my studio, sort of in "show denial." And I ran into a friend who saw the space. I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I was excited but procrastinating. I was working on some drawings in the studio. She said, "I think you better see the space." So the next day I called Richard [Roth, director of Solvent Space, and chair of Virginia Commonwealth University's Painting and Printmaking department], hopped on a plane, saw it and decided what I wanted to do. I immediately knew I wanted to paint a wall and try something new. I don't always get to see a space before, but in this case I really needed to. The initial idea behind this work started a year before it ever went out into the world…ideas of opening up my drawing mark then reconfiguring it in a geometric way.

What core ideas recur in your work? How are they manifested in "LoveKraft"?

I think there is a play with and against structure and form, abstraction and narrative. These are some of the core thoughts. The drawing is free-form, expressionistic but held together by the grid of the squares. There is a narrative, the lines are something, but they go in and out of abstraction.

Do you think of your art as subversive?

I think it's a bit irreverent. I would love to be subversive. I think it's ass-backward and a bit masochistic too.

In what way is "LoveKraft" connected to your previous work?

"LoveKraft" is the second installation in a trilogy. The first -- all pink fabric with orange flowers -- was titled "Love Street" and was in Los Angeles. The third, "Love Sculpture," will be in London and will be pink and orange fabric and green flowers. I think this series is more concerned with light and line. The line drawing has become more important to me in this work. I think in the past the flow of the color was important, and I usually dyed all the fabric. In "LoveKraft" I am using pre-existing fabric and dying the lines. In the past there was more cutting involved.

Who/what were your biggest artistic influences when you started out? And now?

When I think back, I loved Paul Klee and Matisse. And Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch stuff. I think they still do influence me. More recently, I really like and have been influenced by Fred Sandback, Lynda Benglis, Mary Heilman, Ellsworth Kelly, John McCracken, Sheila Hicks. Just to name a few.

Many people respond to the playful, beautiful and optimistic aspects of your work, but there seems to be a darker, more complicated current running in tandem. Would you agree?

I do agree. I recently have been thinking about the Painted Desert. It's one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, but it's also a very hard, poor place to live. I think there is a real vulnerability to my work and this sense of light and darkness.

What is the significance of the title "LoveKraft"?

I started a while back with the "Love" titles. I think the first one was "Today I Love Everybody," a blues song. I was curious that in popular culture, specifically music, there was a lot of love, and I thought art needed some love too. The world certainly does. Love Kraft is a band, but I also love craft. I hope my titles are broadly suggestive.

What is your working rhythm like? Are you in your studio every day knocking more work out, or do you need time for aimless, meandering thoughts?

I love being in my studio and I am pretty good about giving myself a lot of freedom. I have different kinds of things going on at once usually, and definitely love to meander. But when push comes to shove, I think I am good at turning myself into a factory of one.

Do you find studio visits and other feedback helpful?

I probably am happiest struggling or talking to myself. But there are a few people in my life who are great for feedback. I do not have a lot of people to my studio, but it can be helpful. Yesterday I had a class of 20 from Chicago. It was good, as I had just finished the work for London and was relaxed. But the week before I had some people in and I was just so in the work. It only made me nervous having them there. Also, since a lot of the time I work large-scale, nothing is complete until it is out of the studio. So it's sort of hard to see work in my studio.

Is there anything else you would like address?

I really enjoyed working in the space. It's wonderful that VCU has a space for artists to experiment in. I thank Richard for the wonderful opportunity. Thanks also to Ron Johnson [assistant professor in VCU's painting and printmaking department] and Liz Clark [coordinator at Solvent Space]. And I hope people go and see the show.

Polly Apfelbaum's "LoveKraft" runs through June 30 at Plant Zero's Solvent Space. 827-0984.

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