An Interview with Artist Laurie Fendrich

April, 2007

Laurie Fendrich has been an abstract painter for over 30 years. She received a BA in political science from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and an MFA in painting from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois. Fendrich’s work has been widely exhibited and been featured in ten solo exhibitions since 1982. She has taught art for over 25 years, and is currently Professor of Fine Arts at Hofstra University in New York. Fendrich also writes about art and is a frequent contributor to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Julie Karabenick: You’ve always favored geometric form in your painting.

Laurie Fendrich: I think that the great Woefflin paradigm for art—that art is basically divided between classical and baroque impulses—sums things up best. I have an artistic temperament that’s inclined toward the classical, an impulse to classicize things or to find and assert their essential form. I’m not an expressionist. I’ve got the modernist, optimistic kind of spirit that strives for the eternal and universal. Despite the battering life has caused up to this point, my impulse to find the universal, the true, simply won’t go away.

The Rustling of the Gown
The Rustling of the Gown, oil on canvas, 91 x 86 cm (36 x 34 in), 2006

And what’s more classicizing than geometry? It’s natural for most human beings to recognize and be attracted to geometric forms and harmonies. I almost use these words interchangeably. After all, geometric forms like the square and the circle have inherent harmony to them.

In my first painting in my first college painting course, I was already “geometricizing” things. I began as a sort of cubist before I knew what Cubism was. I’d seen cubist pictures in high school, but didn’t particularly like them. Even so, cubist planes came out in my first picture—my rounded pots had a slabbed solidity that surprised even me. I painted with Cézanne’s small “brick-strokes” without knowing I was doing it.

When I began to paint pictures with flat planes that had a shallow overlap, I hadn’t yet seen—in any absorptive way—pictures by Stuart Davis, Esphyr Slobodkina, George L. K. Morris, and all the rest whom I later discovered. And yet my pictures looked, to my eyes, like theirs. Once I’d seen them—at Gary Snyder’s gallery in Soho—I recognized them as my “father.” And of course I love what Russian Constructivism looks like. It’s utterly optimistic and beautiful, floating, as it does, on top of the universe.

The Frame Around the Dog
The Frame Around the Dog, oil on canvas, 91 x 76 cm (36 x 30 in), 2006

On the other hand, I like to muck things up a little. Straight, pure form is what I aim for, but I never get there and, even if I did get there, I know myself enough to know I’d drive right on past it without knowing I’d reached it. I’ve always had a tendency to go too far because I fret over details, both in my life and in my art. For example, I’ll see a small tuft of cat hair floating across my loft floor and I’ll get up to grab it. In my painting, I’ll notice that one of my little squares doesn’t rest quite parallel to the picture plane—the kind of thing only I would ever notice since there might be thirty more of them. I’ll work on that little square for an hour until I get it just right. On the one hand, I can see that my fussing over details is nothing but neurosis. On the other hand, that’s where whatever meaning my art has for me and for people who like it lies. There are two old sayings—one, that God resides in the detail and another, that the devil resides there. To me, both live there.

JK: Were there important early experiences that inclined you towards art?

LF: Several years ago, an artist I know remarked that artists were people who had figured out, somewhere around the age of seven, that something is wrong with the world. I think he had it just about right. Whether an artist makes art that’s abstract or naturalistic, whether it’s joyful, rueful, morbid or ironic, or even if it’s just plain pretty, making art adds up to trying to correct the world as it exists. Not everybody wants to do this—some people take the world for granted and go about living in it quite happily.

Untitled 2006
Untitled, oil on canvas, 76 x 71 cm (30 x 28 in), 2006

In my case, I suffered a serious illness when I was 12 years old—rheumatic fever—that made me bedridden for a good part of a year. Before the diagnosis, I was a very sick little girl for three or four years without anyone knowing it. I’d complain to my parents that I didn’t feel well, but since there was nothing to see and doctors didn’t recognize it, they thought I was a whiner. In retrospect, I think that experiencing an illness at an early age and having no one recognize it for some time made me feel as if I didn’t quite belong to the world. I’d look around me at my sisters and my friends and see everyone playing when I just wanted to sit down. Perhaps a better way to put this is to say that I thought something was wrong with me that I couldn’t be like everyone else. And then there was the long stretch of being alone in bed once I was diagnosed. This feeling of being an “outsider” is part of what links artists and madmen, but it’s important to emphasize that artists are not mad.

JK: Like many artists, you were able to draw well as a child.

LF: I always loved to draw when I was little, and I was good at it. I had childhood friends, but being sick and not being particularly athletic meant I continually made drawings more than doing anything else. Once my parents found out I was really sick, I was flooded with parental attention. I’m sure that went a long way toward helping my little artistic ego get going.

Tubs, oil on canvas, 76 x 69 cm (30 x 27 in), 2003

JK: You did your undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke.

LF: I went to a women’s liberal arts college, arriving just ahead of the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War, and drugs. Sometime during my sophomore year, these things hit me with a thud. Even so, I was a serious student—I majored in political philosophy and loved the subject. I took my first painting and drawing class in college. I didn’t consider them worthy subjects for a major, however. I had utterly no imagination when it came to thinking about my future, and I didn’t think at the time that I’d become an artist.

I don’t regret my college years at all because I studied a wide variety of subjects. But I was indeed behind when it came to art—especially the art world at the time. I graduated barely knowing who Andy Warhol was and oblivious to the fact that he already had had an enormous impact on art by the time I started painting. I tenderly painted paintings derived from seeing reproductions of fourth-generation abstract expressionists, but heavily imprinted with my unconscious, an underlying drive to assert the cubists’ grid and strongly assert essentially cubist shapes, all the while unaware that Andy’s world was already in full swing.

Spring, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 102 cm (30 x 40 in), 1971

When I look back, my ignorance of the art world clearly hurt my career. Not knowing what was going on in the studios of real live artists and not having a clue about galleries or how one went about showing work, I assumed in a vague sort of way that people who liked art would naturally discover me. But my ignorance also allowed me a kind of protection from the pressures of competition, and I got to have several years where I was influenced not by my times, but only by the great painters I stumbled across jumbled together and mixed with my own aesthetic sensibility.

JK: You completed your MFA at the Art Institute of Chicago.

LF: The Art Institute was a great place for me. Everything was based on the critique system. You came up with whatever, and then lots of teachers and students sat around ripping it apart. I loved it at the time. Only later did I see how radically inadequate it was in valuing personality and subjectivity over knowledge of any kind. Even so, it gave me a place to hang my hat, and I liked that it gave me the artistic identity I hadn’t had up to that point.

JK: You experimented with diverse styles during this time.

LF: When I see young art students who love painting, I draw on my memories of how I started out. I was confused, always going back and forth between trying for strong form and going for tactility and process. In the end, my personality loved form, and I ended up completely in the form camp. But I’m glad I had the time to try out both kinds of painting.

Untitled, oil on canvas, 137 x 168 cm (54 x 66 in), 1978

JK: You took a brief break from abstract painting.

LF: When I was around 35, I lost my confidence that abstraction could mean anything—could be more than decoration. It struck me that everything I was doing was simply a form of navel-gazing—that is, it was just about me thinking and feeling I was doing something meaningful. I spent a year painting portraits of my friends and family. I’m good at proportion and capturing likeness, which always generates a kind of purposefulness and pride.

After about a year of doing this, I realized—almost an epiphany—that the same uncertainty surrounded figurative art that surrounds abstraction. Painting’s meaning is so elusive, no matter what you do. That should be obvious, but for whatever reason, I wanted painting to be clearer in its meaning, and I was mad at it for not being so. I guess it was important to me to remember that I wasn’t choosing abstraction because I couldn’t do figuration. I was choosing abstraction because the exploration seemed so much more capable of discovering something new. I emerged from this crisis a stronger, more committed abstract painter because of it.

JK: During the 80s, you worked for years with triangular forms.

The Heavy Yoke of Necessity
The Heavy Yoke of Necessity, oil on canvas, 137 x 168 cm (54 x 66 in), 1986

LF: My interest in triangles, emerging out of graduate school work, made me completely at home with the idea that I would be called a “geometric abstract painter.” Only later did I realize that most of the time, those three words imply that there’s very little softness or touch. Most “geometric abstract painters” are also “hard-edged.” I was already not hard-edged. Instead, I liked including a soft touch in these paintings. Up close, you can see the interstices between the triangles carrying a lot of previous coats of paint.

Detail from Untitled, 1985
Detail view from Untitled, oil on linen, 137 x 168 cm (54 x 66 in), 1985

I was infatuated with that kind of underlying revelation that a painting can give a viewer. It’s certainly fun to paint that way—to leave traces of what happened before—and I remain infatuated with leaving traces of what’s underneath the top layer even today.

The works were a direct response to Clement Greenberg’s antipathy toward tonal contrast. I thought then—as I still do today—that dynamic qualities naturally emerge in a picture from either diagonals or sharp tonal contrast—and by using both in these paintings, I was, without articulating it at the time, trying to make the most eye-grabbing dynamic painting I could while not sacrificing harmony and balance.

An Aversion to Dying
An Aversion to Dying, oil on canvas, 168 x 203 cm (66 x 80 in), 1986

This [above] is among the largest I ever painted. I was trying to make a body of work that would get me a New York dealer, and I thought my work had to be big to do that—remember, it was the 80s!

I don’t think these paintings express my mature understanding of painting, but they were critical to my development of paintings that don’t care if they sidle up to representation—as long as they don’t cross over fully into it.

Nature's Privilege
Nature’s Privilege, oil on canvas, 137 x 168 cm (54 x 66 in), 1988

But paintings like these were a dead end because they were too concrete, too much a pictorial representation of diamond-like, 3-dimensional, faceted objects.

JK: Yet this body of work helped focus your aesthetic intentions.

LF: Yes. They told me that I wanted paintings that weren’t ethereal, but were sturdy and solid. This led ultimately to my finding I liked the forms generated by Constructivism, and, in the long run, to my starting to create bulbous, funny forms. I learned to chuck any residual longings for purity in an ethereal sense or for sophisticated-looking abstraction, and go for broke in my simple assertion of clear shapes. I didn’t care if my paintings “looked cool”—looked like “ambitious New York abstraction” any longer. The strong forms that came after the triangle paintings mark the beginning of the real “me.”

Bumpy Night
Bumpy Night, oil on canvas, 137 x 168 cm (54 x 66 in), 1989

I remember titling the first one Bumpy Night because I’d just seen All About Eve, and the line where these words were uttered was so perfect. I wanted that humor and that perfection. I think there’s a budding humor in these pictures, which has always been a bit of a trademark in my work. The challenge of making abstract painting have some wit—not knock-you-down laughing, but just a little wit—has always been interesting to me.

Gray's Anatomy
Gray’s Anatomy, oil on canvas, 71 x 76 cm (28 x 30 in), 1991

These paintings reveal that which I think keeps me a little at odds with my times. These paintings are all about a combination of personality—mine, which is aggressive—and clarity—I want clarity in my art, and I’m perfectly willing to go for it even if it means I end up certain and wrong. I have a track record of doing that. I see it this way: life is messy—physically, socially and morally—and clarity is impossible unless you’re a religious or political fanatic. In aggressively asserting the shapes in these pictures as well as the color and the drama of color—color intensity and contrast as well as tonal contrast—I was trying to find a way to do what I couldn’t do in real life—to be certain and clear about things in a way that no one with a moral sense can be in real life.

Uh-Oh, oil on canvas, 119 x 102 cm (47 x 40 in), 1993

JK: And the use of simple geometric forms served this purpose.

LF: I think one of the main reasons I include geometry in my work, and why my work pushes toward geometric forms—planes and strong contours—is that it gives me an opportunity to exercise this desire for clarity. Geometric painting gives me benchmarks of certitude. I like to soften those, however, with my handedness—which is a way of saying I like to keep away from being “visually dogmatic.”

Yet painting is messy enough on its own without having to force it to show the human hand. It insists on a certain indefiniteness no matter what you do because it’s mushy stuff. And flat surfaces, even in “clean” paintings like I did in this series, inevitably have ambiguity to them. Like a lot of painters, I push the ambiguity of what’s in front of what, and how shapes bump against one another, or what’s part of what. So here in these paintings I was saying, in effect—in paint—I accept paint’s inherent complexity, but I don’t submit to it. Paint won’t ever be at my beck and call because, as all painters know, it has a will of its own. But if I cajole it, if I work with it slowly—building it up, giving it boundaries, and always treating it with care—it will give its most noble side to me. Yes, to assert shapes seems more noble to me than to go the expressionist route of mushing pigment around, even if the latter is more soulful.

Polar Opposites
Polar Opposites, oil on canvas, 97 x 122 cm (38 x 48 in), 1992

These pictures also reveal my belief in something beyond our complex reading of things, in some kind of ideal wholeness that I cannot understand intellectually, but that my paintings reveal. I’m no utopian—please don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t want to apply my idea about “wholeness” of the universe directly to the world in which I live. It’s just a hope—or rather an intuition—expressed aesthetically. I can’t shake my Platonic outlook even if I wanted to. And hanging onto Plato is about as anachronistic as you can get in the early 21st century. The moment you paint a shape, you say, in effect, “Here I am. I’m a fixed shape.” From then on, you are fighting back against the notion that everything is always changing.

I began to ascribe personality to these paintings—some shapes seem aggressive, some quiet. For example, Blowing Smoke is tightly compressed, like a curled up fetus.

Blowing Smoke
Blowing Smoke, oil on canvas, 119 x 102 cm (47 x 40 in), 1993

Lamb Pie—this will sound corny—seems like shapes that are having a conversation. Now I’m not saying I was thinking that these pictures were illustrations of these things. I’m just groping for language that I think expresses the impact of the shapes themselves. The titles were all slang words from the 1930s. I was looking at early American modernists such as Stuart Davis and the Park Avenue Cubists. I thought my pictures were more in-your-face than these paintings from the 30s; however, so using slang from the 30s as titles was my way of inserting a gentle irony that acknowledged I knew full well I wasn’t painting these beautiful paintings all over again.

Lamb Pie
Lamb Pie, oil on canvas, 102 x 122 cm (40 x 48 in), 1994

I made black by applying multiple layers of vermillion glazes over deep reds. In setting colored shapes against black, I thought I made dramatic images that connected to Pop art in their immediate graphic impact. At the same time, I held onto the painterly touch, so I was insistently repudiating pop irony about painting’s handedness. Touch is critical in how the picture looks at the end. More, it’s crucial to how I think as a painter. I need to build up and scrape down, start over, and alter things, all the while keeping traces of what happened before. Otherwise, I lose any genuine involvement with my paintings, and it’s no fun to paint without that. For me, the heart of painting is that it’s a slow build-up.

Shucks, oil on canvas, 97 x 76 cm (38 x 30 in), 1995

Overall, I was searching to make something original in paintings. I never bought the line that being original was over and done with, even though I agree that it’s very hard nowadays. One has to be patient, and I am a very patient painter. By internalizing the language of different artists, I think an artist who’s a genuine artist—that is, has an artistic personality that matches the artistic medium in which he or she is working—will eventually find an individual expression. “Eventually” is the key, though. These paintings were shown in a couple of one-person exhibitions, and I got nice press from them, but I only sold one or two. That didn’t stop me one bit, however. Fortunately, I was teaching by the early 1990s and headed for a full-time job under the protection of “the Medici of our times”—the university. Getting a teaching position gave me a certain social validation that helped me continue to stick out being a painter.

JK: During the early 90s you reduced the size of your paintings.

LF: I deliberately started working on small, easel-sized paintings as a reaction to the bombastic art around me, as an asseveration of the connection I saw between my work and American art from the 1930s that I was closely observing at the time, and because I suddenly realized that, yes, my work was about color, but anyone who knows color knows that its complex elements force certain compositional choices in order to achieve balance and harmony. It didn’t need to have a big scale to it and, to my mind, most of the large-scale paintings I was looking at in the 80s and 90s covered up for weak or even non-existent composition.

JK: And during this period ovals begin to appear in your work.

Screaming Mimi's
Screaming Mimi’s, oil on canvas, 97 x 76 cm (38 x 30 in), 1994

LF: I still remember painting my first oval. It really came like a bolt out of nowhere. I had been struggling with a painting on a hot day, when I suddenly just plain started painting an oval. It’s important to realize that I’ve always painted everything by hand, straightening out edges and making verticals by my unaided judgment and trusting my hand to make things clean and perfect. It’s in the attempt to be perfect that I find the beauty of painting. It sounds ridiculous, but to suddenly paint a curve in the context of my painting up until that point was, well—exciting.

That first oval opened the possibility for new kinds of painterly air and space because an oval seemed to float. I liked it that it also was an incident in the painting that functioned like an eye—not just because an oval iconically resembles an eye, but because it draws you to it just like eyes draw you to them.

Squirrel Fever
Squirrel Fever, oil on canvas, 79 x 71 cm (31 x 28 in), 1994

I think it was the oval in pieces like Squirrel Fever that made me realize I was playing around with anthropomorphic suggestions, and I began to push that. My daughter was young then, and I always used her as my test. If she said something looked like something—like a rabbit or whatever—I would change the painting. I never wanted any suggestion of anthropomorphism to move over to actual resemblance to any animals or people.

JK: The ovals began to multiply, expand, and join with other shapes.

LF: The oval led to bigger ovals which, when connected together and punctuated with a straight edge here or there, seemed to enliven everything.

Bug, oil on canvas, 76 x 66 cm (30 x 26 in) 2002

Shapes became more humorous because rounded forms suggest infants, and infants are cute. I never thought about cartoons, although I think there’s something cartoonish about Buster [below]. Maybe that’s why I called it that, though, again, I’m simply using slang words from the 1930s.

Buster, oil on canvas, 76 x 69 cm (30 x 27 in), 1999

I still use ovals a lot, but they don’t appear in every painting. Still, the oval has lasted more than fifteen years, so I’ve gotten mileage out of it. When an artist works within tightly constrained boundaries as I do, one small violation of the rules yields access to a tremendously rich new field of painting ideas that are ripe for exploration.

Very Sly
Very Sly, oil on canvas, 76 x 69 cm (30 x 27 in), 2000

JK: The rounded and bulbous forms contribute heavily to the mood of your work—you make serious art with a sense of humor.

LF: Anyone who uses bulbous forms the way I do can’t help but be mindful of the cartoony world of fattened, toddlerized creatures. I don’t mean for the reference to be too obvious, but to me, it’s undeniably there. We’re all subject to the “form and pressure” of our times, as Shakespeare says in Hamlet.

Fine, Tall Person
Fine, Tall Person, oil on canvas, 76 x 69 cm (30 x 27 in), 2001

I also believe philosophically that serious things have comedy in them. What’s more serious than the universe, for example. And yet, it’s one large comic joke. I admire people who laugh or crack a joke with perfect timing. It’s not the big long jokes that I like, but the gentle little asides that bring a smile—even in the face of imminent death.

Horace Walpole wrote: “This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” I think a lot. The comic reveals the finitude of the world—it reveals the finitude of our knowledge about things even as it accepts this and plays with it. Hence my rules—well, everyone who paints has rules. Mine are narrowly constricted in that I subdue my mark, play within the structure of Cubism, and find in all of this a pleasure of means and a pleasure of results.

JK: On the subject of rules, you’ve said that restraint is as precious to you as freedom.

Food of Love
Food of Love, oil on canvas, 76 x 69 cm (30 x 27 in), 2000

LF: My favorite author is Jane Austen. I love her dry wit, her sense of how the ordinary events of life contain both the profound and the absurd, and her tolerance for flaws in people. She died young—at age 41—yet by all accounts, she lived through terrible pain without any of the contemporary “why me?” attitude. In certain respects, Austen is thoroughly un-modern. She certainly has no modern romanticism to her. I feel I have an affinity with her outlook. I’m thoroughly unromantic, and I like to think I have something of Austen’s restraint. It would be a great achievement for me to even come close to the quality of mind and subtle balance she demonstrated in her art.

To me, restraint is much harder, but more dignified and human than letting everything all hang out. It’s my whole philosophy of life. I don’t mean that I’ve achieved this—I mean that I strive for it. I think that to live life intelligently one has to have a good dose of stoicism—after all, we die in the end and we die alone. And to be stoical means, in modern jargon, to exercise self-control.

JK: Perhaps Grace Glueck, writing in the New York Times, was reflecting on such restraint when she referred to the “decorous pizazz” of your painting. Like your ovals and bulbous forms, your diagonals contribute to the jaunty, lighthearted side of your work without compromising your seriousness of purpose.

LF: Diagonals versus verticals and horizontals are, of course, one of the oldest dichotomies out there. Mondrian saw them as simplified representations of motion versus stability, tension versus harmony. The association is clearly rooted in nature—things falling down are, well, at a diagonal to the earth! Diagonals make things float. They suggest depth even if there isn’t pictorial depth. And I like the way they immediately call up references to Russian Constructivism, which I love. Diagonals lend such an optimistic spirit to things—an acceptance of change and motion. But they can become too much—too much change and motion. I grow tired of them after a while. I always go back and forth between things that are ordered on the vertical and horizontal and things that are ordered on the diagonal.

A Hundred Shades of BrownWavy
A Hundred Shades of Brown, oil on canvas,
91 x 86 cm (36 x 34 in), 2006
Wavy, oil on canvas, 91 x 86 cm
(36 x 34 in), 2006

JK: And those small, but compositionally powerful clusters of small squares and rectangles?

LF: They have to do with loving detail. By working on a tiny scale and trying to paint perfect little squares—which is hard since I’m not using one-haired brushes and my hand always shakes a tad—I am participating in the tradition of painting that pays attention to the smallest things in paintings. I feel that whenever I look at Mondrian’s Boogie-Woogie paintings—Victory and Broadway. All those little squares are so exuberant and joyful to my eye. You’d be amazed at how I fuss over my own little squares. Change one damn color and they are all upset. I push and pull the color and am deeply concerned with trying to make them flicker and yet be calm when taken in all together.

The Picture in the Hall
The Picture in the Hall, oil on canvas, 91 x 86 cm (36 x 34 in), 2006

JK: Are you working from sketches when you begin to paint?

LF: In the early 1990s, I saw a Seurat drawing show at the Met. I immediately went home and bought myself some Arches paper with some tooth to it and a box of conté crayons. I stopped painting and just did drawings. It was a sort of trancelike time for me, and I drew a lot. Each drawing grew out of the drawing that preceded it without my in any way copying it, and I never felt that I ran out of ideas.

When I began painting again, I began without hesitation, developing forms that came out of the drawings. The way I now work is to make a thumbnail sketch on a crappy piece of paper that I then copy, in thinned-down paint, directly onto the canvas. From there, I never look back. The sketch is tossed into a box, and I let the composition change as much as need be. Color, after all, profoundly affects composition. Usually only a little bit of the original sketch remains. I think my forms are still living off those drawings I did almost fifteen years ago.

JK: In your attention to detail, edges have always been important to you.

LF: To me, the lovely leftovers of underlying painting layers are beautiful to look at if you get up close to a painting. And I like the halo or echo that these edges create from a distance.

NoodlinNoodlin detail
Noodlin, oil on canvas, 76 x 69 cm (30 x 27 in), 2002Noodlin detail

I also like my shapes to bump up close to the edges of the picture plane because, of course, that activates the four sides of the picture and turns them into players. The picture plane becomes a little like a billiards table where balls ricochet off the sides. I think that’s been one of my more important contributions to painting. People have told me my paintings aren’t really abstract to them because they think they see figures. I say I’m about as abstract as you can get because I call close attention to the picture plane itself.

Zoot, oil on canvas, 76 x 69 cm (30 x 27 in), 2002

JK: How do you approach color?

LF: I see color and composition as one. Any shift in color affects the balance of a picture. The tiny squares I paint are nudged along in their color because even one shift up in, say, intensity will affect the visual weight that little square carries.

It’s important that I work intuitively, groping my way to the final color composition. I often mix up an odd color, ready to lay it onto a certain area and then, as I turn to the canvas, I suddenly change my mind about where to put it down. There are the intuitive, sudden, unknowable decisions I don’t want to understand any more than I do. If I were to understand them rationally, I’m afraid my color would loose its individuality. My color really feels mine—it’s always a little brassy, but not out and out mall-like vulgar. I like the edge of vulgarity to it—of it not quite making a good-looking blouse, but still being pleasing. What I hate most is for the color to end up obviously harmonious. Next to that, I hate having ugly color. So it’s somewhere between ugly and hackneyed harmony that I want my color to land.

Untitled, 2006
Untitled, oil on canvas, 76 x 69 cm (30 x 27 in), 2006

JK: Do you feel beauty to be an important aspect of your art?

LF: The beauty in abstraction comes when abstract painters create marks, shapes, forms, and colors that tap into unseen, but universal, psychologically beautiful forms and shapes. The marks and colors, since they range so widely in painting, bring to abstract paintings the poignancy of the individuality of each human being. I said I’m almost a complete Platonist, but I’m not a complete Platonist. I think deviation, or falling away from perfect form, is what makes something profoundly beautiful. Perfect beauty is different from profound beauty; the latter is always partly tragic and has something wrong with it, always and without exception. The “something wrong” part is the handedness or the individual way a painter paints, which points to the fleetingness of our lives.

Round & Round
Round & Round, oil on canvas, 91 x 86 cm (36 x 34 in), 2006

But it’s really simpler—beauty either is or isn’t once a painting is done. If it knocks the socks off someone who sees it, and that someone is a deep and sensitive person, that’s the test. Period.

Laurie Fendrich in her studio
Laurie Fendrich in her studio


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