Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Margaret Wall-Romana - Painter

"Memento Lucem (Remember the Light)" 46" x 131" oil on wood panel, 20l0
Margaret Wall-Romana

Margaret Wall-Romana
City/State: Minneapolis, MN
Website: profile:

Bio -
I grew up just south of San Francisco, and have a BA from UC Davis, and an MFA in Painting from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. I lived in NYC for 5 years after school, making bad abstract paintings and getting no place - but loving it! - before meeting my husband and moving back to California. I showed with a wonderful San Francisco gallery, Bucheon, from 1995 until 2009, when it closed. In 2005 we moved to Minneapolis. We always thought it would be fun to live someplace where it snows, and we haven't changed our minds.

Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on? How is this different from past projects?
I currently have an MAEP show up at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
, through April 3rd, on which I focused all last year. I like the challenge of making big paintings, and having such a beautiful gallery to myself was an opportunity to go to town, size-wise. Now I think it might be nice to scale down a bit. I've been thinking about and working on some pieces that reference (in non-traditional ways) the 17th century Dutch "game piece" genre, as well as thinking about some different, more modestly sized (and perhaps non-rectilinearly-shaped) pieces. I've surprised myself by thinking I might be ok with working on 2 different bodies of work at the same time, something I've never done before. That's all I can say right now - time will tell.

Detail - "Memento Lucem (Remember the Light)"

"What is Art?" is certainly too big of a question to ask here, but what do you hope your audience takes away from your art? What statement do you hope to make?
I'd like my viewers to be surprised to find that engaging with a painting can be an absorbing, immersive experience. In the centuries before the moving image, people knew that paintings could provide a visual experience capable of transporting and thrilling them. We know how to surrender to the screen-based arts, and we love to do so, but do we still know how to surrender to paintings? Do we realize what feelings they are capable of provoking?

Unlike a movie, which ask us to invest a set amount of time, a painting releases us (if it ever had us in the first place) when we turn and walk away. But if it's the painter's ambition, I think the act of looking at his or her painting can share some kinship with watching a moving image. I want my work to invite sustained viewing, and if people do spend the time required for the paintings to unfold and reveal themselves, I want them to feel like they've gone someplace, experienced something very particular that could only be gotten at through that exact experience, and through the spending of actual time. And if the viewer were to notice that having the experience required a register of looking that felt a bit like the one we give ourselves over to when viewing screen-based arts, I'd like that a lot.

"Towards and Away" 46" x 116" oil on wood panel, 2010

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
1. Most valuable, hardest to learn from grad school:
When a painting is at an impasse and you can't get it to work no matter what you try, 9 times out of 10 it's because you're holding onto a beloved spot/area/thing that you are really proud of having made. You love love love that special spot and refuse to give it up even though it's killing your painting, and you tell yourself lies about it and spend tons of time working around it and trying to make it fit and guess what it never will, so get over it! (What, like you're incapable of painting another beautiful spot like that? Bite the bullet, you weenie, your special spot must be destroyed! Cut the darn thing out and frame it if you love it so much, fer cryin out loud!)

2. Most valuable of the easy lessons: Varnishing will improve your painting by 10 to 20 percent. (So true!)

3. Most wounding, yet true, lesson from a fellow student: "What you know about color would fit on the head of a pin! Are you ever going to do something about that?" (Ouch. And yes, I think I will!)

detail 2 - "Towards and Away"
Tell me about your work space and your creative process?
I've painted in lofts/garages/basements and bedrooms, but I now have a dedicated studio at home in South Minneapolis.

Creative Process: I paint in oils on wood panels that eventually get bolted together by 2's or 3's. When I start a body of work, I can't foresee what it will grow into. Over the course of a year-and-a-half to two years I slowly find out what I'm really interested in. Year one is the polymorphous phase. If during that time I claim to know that any configuration of 2-3 panels will remain together, that will turn out to be a lie.

For instance, the left-side panel of a given piece may turn into the right-side panel of a different piece, only maybe upside-down and sideways. The panels pair up, get painted on as one, and break apart to pair with others and be painted on as one - many times over. Five weeks before my MAEP show opened, I had a crisis with one of the paintings, which I had convinced myself was 98% finished. I took the panels apart, turned them sideways, 86-ed one of them and then substituted another that I had previously rejected. After putting those panels together and painting some more, I ended up with a very different (and finally satisfying) work. I hardly ever make a painting where something crazy like that doesn't happen.

I have a costly way of making paintings in that I often spend a good chunk of time painting something in great detail and then painting over it. (When I say "something" I mean area/field as well as thing.) In truth, that kind of sacrifice might be the most important thing in the development of each piece. Often it's not that the image/area is wrong, but that I am not smart enough at that point to recognize it.

detail 1 - "Towards and Away"

Things happen on the painting because other things don't feel right - everything's connected to everything. During the process, which could be described as one of accretion, the paintings are like compost piles of paint-incidents and images layered on top of each other, and images can be resurrected from below the picture plane to rejoin it again through scraping and sanding.

Something painted a year ago may suddenly appear next to something painted yesterday; it's quite wonderful and surprising. So sanding and scraping are subtractive and additive processes, and when I'm lucky this adds up to an interesting feeling for me, and the viewer, of the painting having captured some kind of time.

Who are some of the Minnesota artists you enjoy?
I was lucky to be included in ARTmn 2009, at the Hennepin County Central Library, and I fell in love with some of the other artist's work. Interestingly, they're sculptors.

Alison Hiltner: A mind for the potential of materials like no other!
Sam Spiczka
Karl Unnasch

Sam and Karl and I found intriguing resonances between our works and practices, and have put together a proposal for a 3-person show called "Landscaptures: Dissect, Salvage & Reassemble". We're currently looking for a venue for it.

I've become fond of Peter Happel Christian's work - his show "Ground Truth" is in the MAEP gallery next to mine right now.

Amy DiGennaro's work is amazing.

Michael Kareken's MAEP show last year was my favorite Twin Cities painting show.

If I were to follow you around to see art in Minnesota, which places would we go? What would we see?
For current shows (Spring 2011), you just go where the work is! I'm not venue-driven - I tend to go out specifically to see a single show, and that could be anywhere. As for museums, I gravitate towards the MIA because of my interest in the broad history of painting, but the Walker has a beautiful collection and interesting shows when I'm not longing to see "Old Dead Guy" paintings. I like to visit paintings over and over, and having a concentrated, solitary experience with the permanent collection at MIA, where if one work of art/artist makes me think of another, I can follow that thread right then… well, that's super energizing. Also, the reference library there is a fantastic place - I'm not sure everyone knows about that.

Lastly, if I want to celebrate an excellent art experience in town I might like to finish it off by going bowling. Bowling, of course, is the painting of sports.

"Painting Painting with van der Weyden" 58" x 75" oil on panel, 2009

Where do you go online for good art resources, whether to find a new artist, or to see what is going on in the art world locally and otherwise?
Besides your site, I like the following:

James Elkins'(author of my favorite book about painting: "What Painting Is") essays on The Huffington Post are fantastic, and reader comments are often of surprising quality and thoughtfulness.

MNArtists :
The Highlights:
Two Coats of Paint: a great site, with a long list of painting blogs
MPR's State of The Arts
detail -- "Painting Painting with van der Weyden" 58" x 75" oil on panel, 2009

Do you have any exhibits to promote in the near future?
As I said, I'm hoping to find a venue for the 3-person show with Karl Unnasch & Sam Spizcka, which I'm very excited about. And since my long-time San Francisco gallery, Bucheon, closed in 2009, I'm without representation, so I'll be trying to do something about that.

2011 "Best Interview"


Karen Stombaugh said...

I saw your work at the MIA...I was absolutely smitten!!! I've always thought that the most engaging works had a mix of abstraction and representation..but you've added a translucency, an ambiguity and memories showing through that tops anything I've seen! Plus I just naturally gravitate to the wonderful forms of nature. If my own work could begin to achieve something like this, I would be so glad.

Suzi McArdle said...

I often go back to the blog and the interview to get some inspiration from your work. I am a painter, and love to paint in a general way the way you do. I was intrigued with the interview questions and the constructions that you put together. Seeing your work at the MAEP show was a life changer for me. Your work is where I want to lead myself. The bit about the color was so impossible. The best element in your paintings are your use of color, the transparency and the use of light in the decaying visual content is just superb ! I hope to hear of more work and exhibits in the future, with my ear to the beat, I sadly haven't seen much. Where art thou Ms Romans ?