Celeste Dupuy-Spencer: But the Clouds Never Hung So Low Before
“I have no need whatsoever to tame the medium, to make it work for me. When I paint, I don’t want to be in control all the time. It has to be a give and take. There have to be those moments when I step back from the painting and think, “I have no idea how I did that now. Or why I made it.” — Celeste Dupuy-Spencer
Each painting by Celeste Dupuy-Spencer offers a world of its own. Painted with blistering colors, they find their materials in an iconographic mix drawn from the real and the imaginary, the profane and the sacred, from life and art: knights in full armor going off a cliff, riot police in street battle druggedly smiling through the tear gas, world rulers on a balcony attacked by death on a steed with fiery eyes, a doubting warrior pondering the meaning of his sacrifice by the kitchen sink at home. In between, like islands, images of nature, of love, of escaping the world. Yet it is not iconography that dominates the paintings—the compositions develop out of brushstrokes in an open painting process. Painting is an existential act for Dupuy-Spencer, as she notes in her conversation with artist Louise Bonnet: “There’s this moment with every single painting where I bring it up to a point and suddenly, you know, all of the energy is coming from me into the painting, and then all of a sudden the painting is looking back at me. At that moment, we’re not dealing with the original idea. Because now the painting is awake and paintings don’t care that much about ideas. Now we’re dealing with both my and the painting’s responses to every mark. It has become a dialog.”
DROPPING A BAG OF MARBLES
Louise Bonnet: I was wondering how you handle not knowing if what you are doing is good or bad and if you should care. Or maybe you don’t have this problem when you paint?
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer: I don’t know that I necessarily consider that a problem. Some paintings I jump into and somehow it just feels like time is flying, you know? And often with those paintings I become sort of hyper fixated on them and I have an understanding that I’m onto something good. Even in the earliest stages, I can see it, and I’m excited, and I love it. But then there’s those times where I start a painting and I can tell right out the gate that the drawing’s not great. I can tell that the idea’s not really great. But for some reason I can’t erase it. Not to say that I’ve never scrapped a painting … At this point, I’ve had enough experience with really bad paintings that stem from really bad drawings to understand that it’s actually an interesting way to make a painting. It’s sort of this mathematician who has all these numbers (this might only be Hollywood) but they have their equation on the board and they’re going, “This can’t be right, this is wrong, this is impossible.” But they keep on working at it and, all of a sudden, all of those numbers that can’t be right are actually the equation for this thing. So its incorrectness ends up being the thing that is the painting.
LB: That’s true, sometimes I realize what’s good about the painting is what escaped me.
CD-S: So there are certain paintings where literally the whole process is: How do I make this bad painting—without changing it, without erasing it—how do I make this painting stay true to itself? How do I make this bad painting into a good painting?
LB: Right. So, the whole thing is a bit of a battle … I’m usually happy when the paintings are done and they’re not in front of me anymore because I’m not sure what I am looking at. I can also change my mind afterwards about the works; when they are out into the world, I see them differently. But you have a different approach, right? You really get attached to them?
CD-S: Yeah, I really do. I sort of form a relationship with the paintings. You know, by the time a show ships out of my studio I’ve been living with these for about a year and they’re often the only things that I interact with. Just about 85 percent of my life is spent with these paintings. To a point where I allow myself to sort of go into it, where it feels like an actual real relationship, you know? And when they leave my studio it is a painful moment for me … Because it’s an ongoing relationship, where interaction is the relationship, there is not a moment when the painting is done. As long as I can work on it, I want to. I’m never working towards the goal of some finished state. There’s not a finished painting in my mind which I’m working towards, there’s just interaction …