John McKinnon: While abstract, your paintings do not conform to one style. Can you describe your approach to a single canvas?
Molly Zuckerman-Hartung: Each painting has its own specific logic, created through a series of material-related questions with metaphysical implications. Is it too heavy? Does it need more paint? Once I tied a brick to a painting. The apparent dissimilarity between works reflects the underlying anxieties of overproduction. The paintings are the haunted unconscious of routine capitalism. I cultivate the conflict between my desire for meaning (which necessitates repetition) and the injunction to make it new.
JM: So, is no portion of a painting more important than another? Is it about the entire painting and the experience of it?
MZ-H: There is no focal point, but I strive for a disjunctive syntax: ugly but moving, or this yet that. I’m not aiming for a modernist gestalt, nor for the postmodernity of Fiona Rae — a painter who places differing visual languages in proximity, to underscore their irreconcilability. By contrast, my paintings assert an ambivalent subjectivity — a conflicted whole.
JM: Do you intend to give an attractive quality to the work?
MZ-H: I want the paintings to look good. But my notion of beautiful is shifting all the time, due to fashion, taste, what I am reading. I seem unable to cease defying the dictate that ‘less is more.’ But much of the work I admire is quite minimal.
JM: This shifting of taste seems to be reflected within our device-based culture. We are constantly channel-surfing or shuffling our iPods. Do you intend to elicit responses like this from your paintings?
MZ-H: I keep my studio walls as porous as I can. A few years ago, I made paintings with horizontal bands intended to be read as text. I was dealing with speed (reading), but a painting by Matisse at the Art Institute of Chicago called Woman Before an Aquarium began to seduce me. Increasingly, I’d like my paintings to captivate a viewer in a constricted rêverie in order to engage the anxieties behind channel-surfing. Think of Freud’s formulation of mania and melancholia.
JM: Your layers of paint seem to hang in a balance between thin and dense painterly information. How is this created within the studio? And when do you know that a painting is finished?
MZ-H: For me, painting means queering and compressing a subjective history of painting (a lineage of interiors including Vermeer, Matisse, Klee.) In the studio I move between the need for clarity and a desire to reveal the density of my process, which is self-critical and dialectical, not organic. I am influenced by the late novels of Henry James, where consciousness generates claustrophobic time-space. In this heavy atmosphere, characters attempt to act. Studio time is analogous, with intervals of slow accumulation punctuated by action.
John McKinnon is assistant curator of modern and contemporary art at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Molly Zuckerman-Hartung was born in 1975 in Los Gatos, California. She lives and works in Chicago. She co-runs Julius Caesar with Dana DeGiulio, Diego Leclery, Colby Shaft and Hans Peter Sundquist.
Selected solo shows: 2010: Rowley Kennerk, Chicago; 2008: John Connelly Presents, New York.