“Though I paint inside, I like to remind myself the world is still out there. Right now, I’m spend a lot of time thinking about global context, like sun and earth and time and space. So it’s important that I remember that I’m always on Earth.”
“Painting is messy. Sometimes we forget that it’s still just moving colored mud around with a hairy stick.This is one of those pictures I feel embarrassed sharing. I’m a fairly self-taught painter. I know just enough to know that I don’t do anything quite right. My colors aren’t laid out right. I have terrible palette organization. But I always say, painting is learning to love the painter you are, not the one you wish to be.”
Cynthia Daignault was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and currently lives in New York. She attended Stanford University, and was a MacDowell Colony Fellow in 2010. Her work was featured in a solo show at White Columns in 2011. Her first solo show at Lisa Cooley, New York opened in Fall 2013. She has published two limited edition artist books, titled CCTV (2012) and I love you more than one more day (2013). Daignault will present a new body of work at Frieze New York in May 2014, and she will be included in the group exhibition, Crossing Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Museum in the Fall.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
CYNTHIA DAIGNAULT: The life of a painter is cleaved in two halves: painting and administrative work. The painting is unglamorous; it is simply a rote procedure of putting paint onto fabric, often inside, sometimes outside. I think of it as a daily practice, like jogging, yoga, showering or cooking. A routine—a series of motions— that I repeat daily. Showing up is the most important part, and success in in the aggregate, not in any one session. As to the administrative side, I realized that those hours writing emails and making plans need not be passed inside, so I moved my desk into the forest. The canopy of trees keeps me shady and the hummingbirds keep me company.
But I always say, painting is learning to love the painter you are, not the one you wish to be.
FYD: What is your favorite sentimental object at your workspace and why?
CD: I don’t keep any sentimental objects in my workspace. The only things around the studio relate to the project at hand, and after each project I completely empty the studio and return it to a white cube state. That emptying is important to me; it creates a space of visual purity where I can focus. I suppose I don’t want to be held to my past ideas or decisions. Even if any attempt to escape them is futile, I do try to be reborn with each project, like reincarnation, like the ending of 2001 (future space baby).
FYD: What is your favorite or most required work tool?
CD: I don’t really use any tools. Brushes, paint and canvases are all used up fairly quickly, and as such are materials rather than tools. Perhaps, this story will explain what I mean: I remember a painting project in high school where our art teacher had us paint a vase of flowers first holding the brush with our dominant hand, and then again holding the brush with our feet. Once finished, we viewed the two finished paintings side-by-side: right hand and feet. Despite some difference in looseness, they were nearly identical. My two paintings were clearly mine. Every students’ painting retained their signature uses of color and brushwork. “See,” she said, “you don’t paint with your hands. You paint with your eyes, your heart and your mind.” That really stuck with me. I still think about that all the time. My hand and any tool in it are merely learned conveniences. In their absence, I would substitute them for alternates.
FYD: Are you a sentimentalist?
CD: Yes and no. I do like things and do form attachments to them, but I am always happy to let anything go, to collect new treasures and forge new bonds. For instance, I may decorate a whole house, coming to love each chair and lamp, but when its time to move I can happily donate, gift or sell every single thing inside to begin again. I think this is a good mentality for a painter. I treasure the object while I have it, but have no trouble letting it go and starting again from scratch. I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I couldn’t let the paintings leave the studio, or missed them terribly when they did.
“Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.”
FYD: Reflecting on your Which is The Sun, Which is The Shadow show…What do you love about the sky?
CD: That we live right below it always, that we see it everyday, yet it never stops surprising or inspiring. In that year painting the sky day after day, I thought that I would begin to see repeats—recognizable patterns and categories—but the iterations of clouds and light are infinite. It was an act of noticing I suppose. For instance, on one hand, I say sky and may think of a plain blue rectangle. Yet, to pay attention to the specific sky at any moment on any given day is to discover an infinitude of detail, a endless array of swirling and shifting color and shape inside what is a flat rectilinear linguistic signifier. This reminds me: I’m rereading Swann’s Way and there was a lot of Proust in that show: “Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.” It’s good advice.
My studio is the only action. I am a happy prisoner.
FYD: Have you always held respect and reverence for nature since you were a child?
CD: Many of my happiest or most profound moments where spent outside. I had deep attachments to certain plants and trees in my yard; they are central characters when I replay the memories of childhood. I stared at the Catalpa outside my window, considering its broad velveteen leaves. I liked to sit inside the Lilac tree and under the Forsythia, bathed in shade, color and inebriating scent. Plants I knew then, intimately, but names I learned much later.
FYD: You spent a few months in the woods working. Did this change your practice or method? Did it change the way you worked? What does isolation do to the soul?
CD: I think I work much the same, but I do find the biggest change is one of presentness and focus. When I’m in my studio in Brooklyn, I find my attention split. If I’m out of the studio at some social gathering (party, beach, movie, opening, work), I feel as if I should be at the studio; and in the studio, I’m aware of all the things I’m missing. When I’m in the country, I never feel that pull. My studio is the only action. I am a happy prisoner. Similarly, when I do take a day off, I feel more present with my company, neither distracted by guilt, nor lured by the temptation to try to do it all, get to every party, see every person, and still make it back to work on the paintings. There is a real presentness in a simpler life with less options. As to the isolation, I think the painters I know are isolationist at heart. It’s probably part of the job. If I were not happiest alone in the studio, I would not be able to sustain the vocation.
FYD: Your Das Tauschregal show allowed art collectors to barter valuable or sentimental objects in exchange for 30 of your paintings (a few pictured below). What were the most interesting trades?
CD: I received 300 submissions, and from those did a blind selection of the 30 objects for which I would trade. Some had aesthetic value, some sentimental value. Some were expected things: books, vessels, artworks, family treasures. Yet, by far, my favorite objects were the ones that I couldn’t categorize—the confounding things. For instance, one object was described as “a very old and yellowed plastic box containing, two staples and a tiny scrap of paper which reads ‘Woodscock Poster Staples.”
FYD: How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
CD: In the months leading up to a show, I take on a very single-focus mania and don’t do anything except paint and sleep. I am a hermit. It is lonely, frantic and unsustainable. It is also totally solipsistic. Too much me. So, on the back side of the show, I try to focus the lens back outside myself. I reconnect with family and friends. I travel. I work. I lend my time to other artists and projects. I look at the world. I look at art. I visit other painters. I curate. I collaborate. I have sing-a-longs in the park. I go to movies. I read. I look at plants. I pet dogs. I lie down in grass. Anything that focuses my attention away from myself and back into the world. Anything that refills my tanks of inspiration with the things that actually matter in this world. Love. Time. Light. Space. Life. Sex. Death.
Find Cynthia on Tumblr here.