Current Obsession: Vermillion

April 4, 2014 |

I came into painting through drawing. There was a time when my practice consisted entirely of Sumi ink drawings on paper. Vermillion (which, includes many variations between orangey red and blue-ish red) was one of the first colors that presented itself to me as a possibility. Whenever I’d go to the art store to buy ink, that little palm-sized orange-red bottle sitting there next to the fat green and black Sumi ink bottle would taunt me and tickle my eye until, finally, I bought it. Although at first I used it sparingly, my initial attraction to the color has come full circle and I now often replicate it in Acrylic in my current paintings.

This color has a quality so strong that its visceral response is unquestionable and timeless. I think I am drawn to it, not only because it is just so seductive, but also because of its wide references. It is an ancient color, originally made from a powdered mineral called cinnabar and it is represented in Ancient Roman art, as well as manuscripts from the Middle Ages, Renaissance painting, royal Mughal manuscript painting and the arts of East Asia, particularly Chinese lacquerware (hence the synonymous name of Chinese Red). In all of these instances, it truly pops and has an identity of its own, functioning the way orange traffic cones might function in the midst of a busy intersection, or the way yellow caution tape both draws you towards the incident while also demarcating your position, telling you where to be.


Some examples: in many royal Mughal miniature paintings, vermillion is used to highlight certain moments in the image. It guides the eye and frames or marks each figure and his or her action. Here, also, vermillion denotes a sense of regal authority, adding to the sense of opulence and decoration of the Mughal era. For example, in an unusually intimate painting from 1597 attributed to Manchar that depicts Sultan Murad and a Consort, the Consort’s skirt is made of vermillion and emphasizes her femininity and sexuality. The skirt takes the shape of a flower petal or a gently licking, vibrant orange tongue as it embraces the Sultan. Furthermore, the pillow that the two figures are lying on have two slightly duller vermillion ovals on either end, framing and mirroring the lustful faces of the two figures.  Another example is in Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin (1518). This painting is compositionally driven by the vermilion as it marks the key figures in each of its three levels, the central virgin’s vermillion fabrics serving as a pathway up towards the heavens.

Recently, I’ve found it echoed in Guerra Pigment’s Napthol Red. I was told that this manufactured pigment is actually based off of the original Ferrari-red color. I couldn’t imagine a better color for such a luxurious car built for those whose passion for cars is unparalleled.  Here it acts as a symbol of wealth and authority, mimicking its quality in Persian painting. Another cultural reference resides in South Asia, where vermillion is used as a symbol of fertility. It appears on the foreheads of South Asian women as a bindi, particularly in the marriage ritual of the groom applying it to his bride as a symbol of their marital bond. All of these examples reveal vermillion’s close relationship to the body, it draws attention to the physicality of the object or image being looked at and it even sometimes has the power to arouse.

In other words, this orange-y red color can be traced throughout time as well as throughout the world. It brings with it an air of authority, power, fertility and passion and it has proven itself to be an exceptional pictorial guide for any viewer who has the pleasure of encountering it. This color has opened up my practice and has served as both a grounding tool to fall back on, while also offering endless opportunities to surprise myself. It is a color with many names, or no names, and it has the flexibility to absorb varying degrees of value and hue, while retaining its physicality and powerfully verbal message. I love it.

Winter Survival Tips: Dream Solo

March 9, 2014 |

This winter was really hard. Not only did the weather make me feel like an ostrich, but the bad vibes started trickling into my studio too. My work got slower, I could only make the gestures I wanted at certain moments during the day and there was a fortress of snow to climb over to get there. Horrible. In March, I had my first studio visit in ages. Maybe it was the fact that the weather was starting to hint at Spring, or because of my excellent studio companion, but after that visit, I decided to start imagining my first solo-show. I do not mean that I started to be concerned with other people’s opinion of the work that I was making. I know that’s a no-no. I mean that I decided to just imagine a place outside of my studio for a while, where my pieces could go on a little vacation. There, they could get all clean and dressed up and they could really flaunt all of their best qualities to their fullest potential. And it helped so much, it took me out of myself and into my ideal world, or rather, the ideal world that my pieces would want to live in. Because of this new mindset, the different pieces that I’ve been working on started to come together, loving and needing each other while also standing up for themselves. So maybe a trick to keep the spirits high in the studio is to close your eyes and imagine all your works in

all their glory, somewhere that your skin is warm and your pieces are acting like one big happy family in an environment that is meant for only them.

Going to the Whitney Biennial and the Brucennial: A Tale of Two Lines

March 8, 2014 |

By Kati Gegenheimer

I was really excited to see the Whitney Biennial this past week. I got lucky enough to go on one of the opening nights via my beyond intelligent, handsome and talented boyfriend Mark Thomas Gibson (thanks honey)! We had been advised by sources in the know that the line the night before had been rather brutal, and therefore perhaps we might have more luck arriving fashionably late? It was not so. While I don’t intend to write an entire article about waiting in line, I think it is, conceptually, a thread that wove the Whitney Biennial and the Brucennial together in my mind.

The line was long and winding. It would’ve been better for us to claim our spot not by following the line around the museum from front to back, but to circle around the block away from the line…because the end was just that far around. The Whitney staffers were graciously offering coupons for complimentary hot coffee/tea/hot chocolate to be obtained on the final turn, which was necessary and a morale booster.

Typically, I have not been a fan of the Whitney Biennials. In practice, I love the idea of a cross-section of American artists being shown- the freshness and appeal of widening an audience in a museum setting, and building a conversation between artists to mark time and a cultural moment is a great opportunity. However, it always falls flat- and maybe it is because this venture is just too impossible!? But we are artists- impossibility is not…possible! So we try again. Curators believe, we believe, and on it goes.

The Whitney promised me so many of my favorite artists! Laura Owens! Dona Nelson! Rebecca Morris! Charline Von Heyl! Louise Fishman! Sterling Ruby! It felt so right! Yet, I probably set my expectations too high, because the ambition of the curators to include so many important artists overrode the art- the space was cramped-not just with people on an opening night- but the art felt so tight that it felt impossible to grasp the depth of the work. It felt difficult to get a sense for the artists because of the way the show was installed. Each piece, individually- was good- a painting did not disappoint. But as someone who spends nearly all of her time looking when she’s not writing- it was hard for me to even look.

This general sentiment of disappointment, slapping myself on the wrist of my unrealistic over-enthusiasm, was only coupled with the distain of openings. At least museum openings. Schmoozing…everyone being in the way! It might have been the cold, but I felt an overwhelming wave of sadness. Is anyone even looking? How many of us care? How many of us are REALLY looking, and in turn, REALLY LOVING? I love art- sometimes talking about or listening to people talk about art brings me to tears- tears of LOVE. I stay up at night thinking about art in bed. This questioning feeling, a general jaded feeling stuck with me in response to the Whitney.


Later in the week, the Brucennial opened in the meatpacking district. Talk about trendy. Full disclosure: I have a small painting in the Brucennial. Full disclosure: I am so happy to have a small painting in the Brucennial. Why? Because even though I arrived at the Brucennial and was immediately in another winter night’s line, I felt excited. I said to my companions- “This feels like Christmas Eve!” I felt like I was eagerly awaiting being surprised and delighted at what treasures might await me.

Artists exhibiting ran the gamut from internationally known to unknown. For an open call show, (I received the information forwarded from a friend), the space wasn’t a nightmare, but rather a celebration. It was all-inclusive; it felt like now- it didn’t pretend to be curated. The elephant in the room, a very silent elephant, was that the show was composed of all women.   This was not to be advertised which made me feel proud. Let’s backtrack. I’m proud to be a woman- I’m by no means hiding it- trust me. Yet, I appreciate the fact that the show wasn’t dumbed down by it. It wasn’t pigeonholed as an all women’s show- it was a huge collective effort of New York artists. And it worked.

Thanks Brucennial, for restoring my faith that people care, that people love looking at and making art. And in a silent moment at the Whitney- I’ll bring it back there on my own.