How does or how should someone approach Adam Stennett’s Water Paintings (also the title of his current solo show at Gallery Poulsen in Copenhagen, Denmark)? Where does one begin?
In the womb, figuratively and metaphorically, of course, or maybe. The title seems to ask for an open mind. But what does that even mean anymore? In 2018, “Open mind,” as a word combination slash metaphysical idea has been repackaged, recycled and resold a trillion times over at this point. It’s the intellectually lazy, weed-smoking cousin of “thoughts and prayers.”
We need more in this day and age. Like positive action. Still the idea of having an “open mind” takes on a bit more power (holds more water) when one thinks of an unborn child in the womb, let’s say. That is a great place to start. Something totally pure and in the ultimate safe space no less. But then we are thrust out into the world and later become self-aware, only to be inevitably kicked out of Eden. And sooner then ever it would appear. Thanks Internet.
And yes, Adam Stennett is very much engaging with his…one is hesitant to say apple-eating Eve or muse as it could place his partner and collaborator, the talented and enigmatic artist Aneta Bartos, in a dimension outside of her choosing. To say she is more than present, something beyond object or subject, is enough to get the ball rolling nicely.
Water Paintings, which runs through June 30th, taps into many delicious and truly timeless archetypes while high-diving masterfully and therefore rather fearlessly into some irresistible contemporary talking points. Luckily, the steady-handed Stennett, normally based in Brooklyn, was kind enough to speak with Quiet Lunch from Copenhagen. KM
Quiet Lunch: Are you familiar with the work of Reisha Perlmutter, Samantha French, Heather Horton or Gustavo Silva Nunez, who all seem drawn to similar subject matter? What is it for you, personally, that makes this subject matter so compelling and also, why do you think artists are fascinated by drawing humans in water?
Adam Stennett: My approach to painting is very abstract, so I am looking at shapes, lights and darks, and making marks. I disconnect myself from what it is I am painting during the process. In the same way I have said my series of mouse paintings weren’t really about mice, I think these painting of humans in water aren’t necessarily about humans in water. When I am looking at subject matter for a series of paintings I am mostly thinking about finding something that will provide layers of meaning and metaphor. There needs to be an underlying subtext. It needs to be fertile ground for interpretation. Water is a complex subject in this way so I think that is why I continue to be drawn to it.
How relevant is race or gender for you in relation to these works, whether in regard to you, the artist, or the featured subjects?
Picasso said, “All paintings are self-portraits” and I would agree to some degree. These paintings are not about a specific person and are more about the human condition in general. I chose to explore this using the female form, as many have throughout art history, but the paintings are intended to communicate on a deeper, universal level beyond race or gender.
Jerry Saltz recently posted one of his hand-written public inquiries positing that artist couples might face heightened emotional tension due to their shared career path (jealousy, envy, etc.). I know Jerry played a role in heightening Aneta’s artistic profile. Can you answer Jerry’s question here and also, do you think he specifically had you and Aneta in mind (among others presumably)?
Jerry is awesome! Aneta and I inspire each other daily. We don’t feel jealousy or envy. When one of us has success it is just as thrilling for the other. Our priorities and things that excite us align well so we are very much on the same page. That is a lovely feeling.
Are there classical artists (of any medium) whose work you’re bumping up against, referencing, subverting or celebrating?
I feel like I create what I would be excited to see walking into a gallery or museum. I wouldn’t say I am referencing, subverting or celebrating any other artists. My approach is more reductive-painting out what doesn’t excite me.
The term “muse” has come under fire recently in tandem with criticism of the male gaze. What is your perspective on the state and nature of the muse considering your unique vantage point?
The muse has always been a collaborator and a means for communicating what it is to be human. Aneta has been very generous in being willing to pose for me, but it is more about making an image than being a muse. She has a complex understanding of what it takes to make an image so she is great to work with. If the finished painting does not take the viewer beyond the “gaze” of the specific person who made it, or the specific person depicted, then the work is not successful.
When showing in Denmark as opposed to America, do you find that your work is reviewed and contextualized through a different filter, meaning, one that isn’t burdened by an oversaturated social justice filter or through a strict identity politics lens?
I don’t think Denmark is very different, as we seem to live in a world media market now. It will be interesting to see how the work is read when the reviews come out.
What is your most visceral underwater memory?
I have a strong memory of jumping off of a tall dividing wall into the deep end of a very large swimming pool when I was quite young and couldn’t swim well. The wall was too tall to reach the top and pull myself out so panic overtook me. It was a long swim to the edge of the pool. I saw the possibility of drowning. Becoming aware of the possibility of life versus death is a powerful moment.
The titles of much of your work speak to more technical phenomenon regarding light and physics. Are their lessons here that we’re ignoring in our day-to-day lives and if so, how can we apply them more directly?
I have always been fascinated by altered perception and the fact that we all see the world though a different lens (probably stemming from my color blindness). Water can distort, reflect, and refract. It can engulf us. It works well, both physically, and as a metaphor to explore these ideas.
Kurt McVey began his journalism career as a prolific contributor to Interview Magazine where he covered emerging and established names in the art, music, fashion and entertainment worlds. He has since contributed to The New York Times, T Magazine, Vanity Fair, Paper Magazine, ArtNet News, Forbes, Whitehot Magazine, and many more. A Long Island native, McVey is also a successful artist, model, performer, entrepreneur, and screenwriter working out of NYC.