Studio Visit Strategies

May 6, 2014 |

The art of the studio visit is an endlessly fickle and complex form, clouded in mystery because of its intimate, private nature. There are two or more people, sometimes strangers, immersed in the artist’s cultivated environment. They act as witnesses to that artist’s deepest beliefs, secrets and desires. These witnesses either aim to become the artist’s compatriot, to steal from the artist, or to shop as if they were in a thrift store. It is a dance, a chess game, an OkCupid date, a conquest and, at least in part, up to fate.


The gestures of ‘sizing things up’, ‘checking things out’ or ‘looking up and down’ run rampant. First people look the building up and down, then the stairway and then, of course, the studio space. This, for the more frugal of us, provides some small talk, “Wow, how many square feet is this place? How did you find it? Do you mind me asking how much it is?” etc. Then we start checking each other out, which soon becomes intermingled with checking the artwork out. And so it goes, back and forth, trying to find the link between the objects and the person and a point at which to immerse oneself or penetrate even.

One might expect certain questions and receive them all with relieved and open arms. On the other hand, one might be slapped across the face by something unexpected and either crumble under the pressure or find courage despite your smarting cheek. Best of all, you could be asked exactly the questions you have been searching for your whole life, those that have been burning deep inside your subconscious for years. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in this last situation, the earth might shift beneath your feet as everything you thought you knew becomes informed by your visitor’s generous insight.

Here are twenty tips that I have witnessed or performed myself (although, obviously, everything will change a bit depending on the reality of your situation). You are welcome to take or discard them for your next studio visit, whether you are the visitor or the visitee. You are also welcome to just have a laugh. These are little secrets of our trade that might help you better direct (or redirect) the energy of your next visit.


1. Beware of jutting saws and planks.

2. Bring a 6 pack of beer per two-three persons, no more no less (just enough to make you smile).

3. And one or two non-alcoholic options, like a bottle of sparkling strawberry lemonade.

4. Locate the best seat in the studio as quickly as possible and resume the throne.

5. Have three to five spots on your walls prepped for hanging various things and trade your objects out as the visit progresses. Keep it fresh and spacious.

6. Hang sketches, doodles or source imagery off to the side. If they are noticed, that person is looking closely and displaying interest in the artist’s practice, not just their distinct pieces.


8. Keep your hands behind your back while nodding frequently, it’s respectful.

9. If your eyes wander, find and stare at a specific spot on the floor or wall where you can hallucinate the spoken ideas or descriptions.

10. During an awkward pause that lasts forever, just pretend you’re playing the Silent Game, and you’re winning.

11. Crouch as if you were a jaguar about to pounce on your prey (or in this case the artwork being discussed).

12. Try to caress the art object with your eyeball, literally brushing over the object’s surface with your eyelashes. It shows you really, really care.

13. Smell the art object, why not? If it smells good, go in for the finger lick.

14. Offer your visitor a reclining chair for a quick nap. And maybe some home-baked cookies.

15. Display your strength as a Herculean artist by lifting panels and MDF boards as if they were made of Nerf foam (this will encourage god-like treatment).

16. Wedding walk towards a painting (imagine that you will be spending the rest of your life with it) and then take three large fugitive leaps backwards. And again.

17. Respond to a forlorn and lost expression by pulling out a book from your studio library. This offers some context for your work as well as something outside of the moment to talk about.

18. If the person you are talking to speaks insanely fast, respond by speaking veeerrrry slowly and visa versa.

19. Share personal stories carefully: use them to break the ice or as a gesture of friendship or as a secret that that person is privileged to hear.

20. Touch everything.

My Tool Box: The Floral Hammer

April 8, 2014 |

My good friend gave me a lovely, but curious gift for the holidays: a slightly smaller, far daintier-than-most hammer. The head of the hammer is a glossy white, green, red and black floral pattern that vaguely references no specific South Asian or East Asian art (my best guess would be that it draws from Indonesia’s lyrical floral patterns). The metal base of the hammer unscrews to reveal a Phillips head screwdriver that has other attachments screwed into its own base. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hammer so specifically designed for women before, the hammer itself has a certain feminine quality, not because of the pattern but most importantly because of it’s slender frame and delicate head. This object has self-awareness and a very direct way of addressing women, specifically.  I like looking at it, but I am also adamantly refusing to use it for some reason (probably because I don’t want to be who it says I am), instead it is an object that rests on my dresser to be admired. My strange relationship with this hammer is even further complicated by the fact that I often have a hard time finding tools that suite my body.  Last summer, my studio-mates and I built partitions, which involved drilling hundreds of aluminum screws. Every third screw would present itself as impossible, I just couldn’t find the right leverage, is what I’ve decided. I’ve also noticed that when holding many of my tools, my fingers are sticking out all over the place, on the verge of a pinky-out look. I just can’t seem to get a good grip on most tools like hammers, wrenches, chop-saws, jig-saws, tin snips etc. My relationship to building with tools, then, is an issue of bodily proportion, scale, gravity and grip. hammer (opt 1) I’d like to propose to start imagining what an ideal tool might look like, one that suits all body sizes and finger lengths. The first thought is how to make a tool more flexible; how to give a tool the characteristics that enable it to be sensitive and respond to the individual needs of its user. I’d like to meet a tool that can self-customize. I used to embrace my role as a pre-teen consumer and would obsess over and crave things like beanie babies, Lisa Frank stickers and, the most expensive of all: the Sensa Pen. This pen has a gel like substance around the area where your fingers would go: it squishes and molds to your grip. Would it not be wonderful to have a transformational soft material that can create an individualized, renewed grip each and every time it is held? Obviously this would mean a serious upgrade to the Sensa gel: it would need to be thicker and I’d want it to have a skin-like quality, transforming the tool into an extension of one’s own body. It would be the definition of flexibility, accommodation and acceptance. My other thought is that I wish tools were more like exercise machines. I might just be missing the daily access to a free gym that I had at school, but I always loved punching my personal information into that giant, robotic elliptical machine. That ritual action created a kind of ambivalent trust and it enabled a feeling that your accomplishment was somehow unique and perfectly designed for your specific body. Imagine if your tool knew exactly how strong you were, how big you were and could reorient your body’s center of gravity to give you optimum leverage. Tools, I suppose would become a main feature of contemporary art following in the steps of Mark Bradford and his sander, (I wonder if he feels one with his sander). So, in conclusion, anthropomorphic gel plus personalized technology equals a big bright new world of building for me and those like me. Until then, I’ll let my Indonesian flower hammer continue to mock me.

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.

The Subjective Nepotist: Shanna Waddel

April 1, 2014 |

The Subjective Nepotist is a bi-weekly column where I am going to write about the art/artists that move me. It is in no way attempting to be objective or democratic, but it will be thoughtful and hopefully direct. I don’t think I am alone in saying that I am deeply moved by my friends’ artwork. Nor do I think it is a stretch to think that this is a factor in why I am friends with these people.  I am writing this preface as a way of absolving myself of any journalistic responsibilities because I am not a journalist, I am an artist. I am going to do my best to convey what excites me and why it does so. And don’t worry- I have a lot of friends and am always making more. -Dustin Metz


Untitled (Kurt Cobain) 2013. collage

Imaginations are usually based or at least birthed via reality- like when you are daydreaming your mental wanderings jump off from solid ground to the fantastical. Maybe it’s what surrounds you at the moment, or a news story, or some kernel of pop culture you’ve been rolling around in your head- What would Kurt Cobain look like as a fairy/nymph? How do you think Susan Atkins sees herself right now? What does Satan see when he looks at Nude Descending A Staircase? Holy shit- WHAT IF HEAVEN’S GATE WAS RIGHT!?! Shanna Waddell wonders theses things aloud- and then onto a canvas.

Death Bed (Heaven's Gate).2012.Oil and Acrylic on Canvas

Yes, all of these daydreams and rabbit holes are pretty grim, but you wouldn’t know it when you look at Shanna’s paintings. She is taking these subjects, deemed ‘heavy’ in tone by the media, and has fun with them. Well, maybe fun is the wrong word- because art and death and religion are serious stuff. But then again, fun seems to be the perfect word. These paintings revel in material exploration, (paint, glitter, wrapping paper, etc.), while simultaneously unleashing a wild imagination to run amok with the subject’s logic. And that does sound sort of fun! Shanna does this by embracing the possibilities that paint allows her to invent and depict the impossible.

Susan Atkins As Angel (Susan Atkins)2013. oil, gift warp, spray paint, paper, canvas on cloth

When I look at Shanna’s paintings I am usually both smiling and hitting myself upside the head, thinking “Of course! You can do whatever you want to whatever you want in a painting!” It’s one thing to make up a painterly logic inside a decidedly abstract painting, it’s a whole other can of worms to depict an interaction between recognizable images and abstract ideas. And what’s most exciting about this is the sense that the artist herself doesn’t know what this interaction would look like until she is in the painting!

The paintings are built as you look at them, shapes appear and dissolve just as quickly as you find them. At her last show (“Misshapen Chaos of Well-seeming Forms” @Thomas Erben Gallery 2/17/11-3/19/11) I wrote the following in a sketch book planning to send it to Shanna in an email that was never actualized:

The form is not dictated or held back by the subject matter- hands are hinted at but not drilled into being, this give room to what a “hand” can be or rather the shape of the hand is now another space (yet it still retains the integrity of both ‘hand’ and ‘window’). This permission of use of form/content allows the paintings to take a life of their own – they forcefully dictate their presence and give you the rules in which to view them, rules that may not be verbal or even literal but maybe visually guttural.

Untitled (Prince of the Air) 2010. oil on canvas

Sometimes forms just need to come into being.

The paintings Shanna has made since that show are similar in their forceful dictation of presence but have smoothed out any hesitation of the viewer by well earned confidence. Confidence in Shanna’s case does not have the pacification effect that has plagued many artists before her, but rather acts as a turbo boost past dilly-dallying uncertainty into the stratosphere of the unknown.

See more of Shanna’s work here. Dustin Metz is an artist currently living and working in Los Angeles, see his work here.

Beyond The Art Supply Store: Beauty Supply Store Edition

March 25, 2014 |

Beauty Supply Stores!  I love going into them and “browsing…just browsing.”  Hopefully I had one specific item in mind while walking into the $3 instant gratification labyrinth that is a Ricky’s in NYC.  It is so easy to buy nail polish, a lipstick, something to make you feel brand new: the spring 2014 version of yourself!

So why not let your work feel like the Spring 2014 version of itself?! Breathe some new life into the surfaces untouched by fresh air since Fall 2013.  Beauty supply stores have amazing products that can be and have been used on paintings!

By my estimations, the number one product at a beauty supply store with indispensible uses is a Hair Color Bottle!

hairdye bottles

I hope that reading that was not the most lackluster moment of your day.  The hair color bottles are great for studios.  If you are a painter- you can put paint in them!  You can fill them with mixtures of mediums and paints for pouring.  They have thin nozzles for precision. If you buy in built, they can alternatively be used as vessels for cleaning supplies.  And if your friend wants to dye their hair in your studio- you’ll be ready for that too!

I am always on the prowl for different brands of squeeze hair dye bottles- large, small, and say you can’t get to a beauty supply store but you happen to be moseying by a restaurant supply store…ketchup and mustard bottles also do the trick.  But restaurant supply stores have many other opportune supplies for another column, but that’s for another day!

Current Obsession: Charvin Fine Oil Colour

March 21, 2014 |

Okay, it’s actually a permanent obsession. And spring is here, so we have to talk about amazing, beautiful, ripe color.

charvin (opt 1)

When I’m not using every other viscous material available to me, I’m fantasizing about tubes of Charvin paint. Charvin is a French brand, and is not very well known as I have discovered in my travels through studios, blogs and art stores. I found out about Charvin while browsing Jerry’s Artarama in Connecticut and came across the beautiful radiant colors that they have to offer. Jerry’s website has some alluring tidbits about Charvin, including that they are based in Cannes in the French Riviera.  They began producing paint in 1830, and it was “once used by great masters like Cezanne, Bonnard, and Ambrogiani.” Fancy, huh?

Beyond having a wide array of fashionable (I said it) ready to use colors, the paint is actually made with linseed and poppy oil. The poppy oil doesn’t yellow and makes the paint creamy and luscious like the ultimate in fantasy frosting if it wasn’t so poisonous. The packaging is simple, with a band of color at the top, shiny silver tube, and of course, a fine and extra fine grade for the most discerning of paint lovers.

Opinion: Toward a Better Understanding of High Auction Prices for Young Artists

March 17, 2014 |

By Calvin Siegel

A strange man walks into a bar. He knows no one. No one knows him. He approaches the bar and the bartender acknowledges him. The man orders a drink, and the bartender initiates conversation, “I don’t recognize you from anywhere, do I?” asks the bartender. “No, no,” says the man, “I’m in town on business.” “What kind of business is it that you are here for?” asks the bartender. “Well,” the man says, “it’s kind of hard to believe, but I earn a living traveling around and making crazy bets.” This piques the bartender’s interest; “what kind of bets are we talking about here?” The strange man looks around the bar aimlessly before answering, “Ok. For instance, I bet you ten dollars that I can drink ten shots of whiskey in ten seconds.”

Knowing full well that no one could accomplish this task, the bartender agrees and lines the shot glasses up on the bar, looking at the man as he pours them out. The bartender then lays ten dollars on the table to which the strange man reciprocates. They both look at the clock and the bartender says, “GO!” The man, looking all of a sudden uninterested, drinks three of the shots, wipes his mouth off and gives up. The bartender is a little perplexed by the situation, but collects his money and shakes the man’s hand.

The night goes on. The strange man stays for a long time and talks to all of the various people at the bar until it is time to close. After the bartender makes his last call, the man approaches the bar. “I have one more bet for you, if you are at all interested” says the strange man to the bartender. Charmed in a strange way by the strange man, the bartender agrees to hear him out. “I bet you,” says the man, “one hundred dollars that if you line up another ten shot glasses in the same formation as before, that I can stand at the other end of the bar and piss into every one of those glasses until each is filled perfectly to the brim without spilling one single drop, anywhere.” The bartender weighs this for a moment; one hundred dollars is the most money he has ever made at one time, but what has this man got up his sleeve? Deciding that the man, although strangely cool, must be a little bit off, the bartender nods his head and begins to set up the glasses, again.

high auction prices (opt 1)

The strange man walks across the bar, and as the bartender finishes setting up the glasses and steps aside, he turns around, drops his pants down to his ankles and begins to piss all over the bartender’s entire establishment. This goes on for about thirty seconds as all of the people in the bar stare in amazement. Ecstatic at his grand new acquisition, the bartender leaps into action with rag in hand and starts wiping the mess up. The strange man slowly pulls his pants up, zips his fly and buckles his belt. “So,” the bartender asks the man with a smile, “What was that about?” “Well”, the man says calmly, “I just bet everyone else in this place one hundred dollars each that I could piss all over your bar and you would just smile and wipe it up.”