Philip Geiger

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I first met Phil Geiger 5 years ago through my wife Anna Fox Ryan. She grew up in Charlottesville, Va. where Phil lives, works, and Chairs the Painting Department at the University of Virginia. If you see a teenage girl sitting in a chair or sleeping on a couch in one of his paintings around 2001-2005, chances are that was Anna.  I had just begun painting and she said that I must see his work. On a visit back to C’ville we met him for coffee and a studio visit. What can I say? Meeting Phil and seeing his work completely changed to way I related to painting.  Philip Geiger earned his BFA  from Washington University and went on to complete his MFA at Yale University.  Geiger’s lustrous light, loose brushwork and subtle color tellingly capture the nuances of mood and feeling that make up the more peaceful moments of contemporary family life.  Geiger eschews a specific narrative in his paintings, challenging viewers to meditate on our society’s daily rituals and settings, and the meanings which may underlie seemingly mundane moments.  His work has been reviewed in the New York Times, Art in America, Artnews, and the New Criterion. You can find his work at Tibor de Nagy, Hacket-Freedman, and Hidell Brooks galleries.

I was talking to Phil about doing an interview for this blog and he had the idea to use  a compilation of quotes from his class at UVA.  His student Alison Penning put together this kind of  “Geiger on Painting” that I have found very inspiring. Thank you to both Phil and Alison for allowing me to share this with you all. I hope you enjoy it!

SHAPELIFE  –  by Alison Penning , May 3, 2013

“Look for situations where there’s a clear light progress.”

“Choose the right subject matter.  What is this little—pitcher?  The pitcher begs the question: what is held?  You found a beautiful disappearingness in that edge.  Sometimes not seeing the thing is more compelling than the thing itself.  Why those jars?  Why that arrangement?  What is compelling about the situation you’ve chosen to depict?  What can you make compelling?  See how, from this angle, the light fills the hollow of the eye?  What naturally occurring element can you exploit and expand upon?  Where do the characters, the figures, the objects throw shadows?  Where do they absorb each other?  Those places of overlap—see how those jars mimic bodies?  What other objects/elements are drawn into the initial object’s orbit, altered or absorbed by the shadow?  Choose situations in which a strong light statement reveals new information about a familiar object/person/space.  See how, if you put the light above, if you paint looking down, the figure has the feeling of a supplicant?  See how the figure bursts into the frame?  See the hand on the breast?  Is it tender?  Or groping?  See the sink?  See what a difference the light makes?  The most mundane subject matter can become interesting, in the right light and in the hands of the right artist.  The encyclopedic nature of the contents of the closet…this becomes the subject matter.  What is that—thing?  I can’t entirely tell.  But the color is gorgeous.  The unorganized objects become organized by their inclusion, by the artists’ decision of their worthiness.  The objects become organized by the system of light and dark, become interesting, infinitely interesting.  Or finitely.”

“See how that shadow, underneath, ties the figure to the ground?  That shadow on the edge of the breast, the green one—that has a mood.”

“Where’s the light source?  Is it lit cool or lit hot?”

“The way light is thrown on a thing can be a powerful way of organizing the work, can be a powerful way to set a certain mood.”

“Euan Uglow would paint the empty tabletop.”

“Every piece does not have to be every thing, contain all things.  Avoid clutter.  A painting is like a scene, a single moment under intense observation.  What you don’t include is as important, or more important, than what you do include.  The pillow with the dent in it suggests a head.  The shoe with a panting tongue?  Suggests a foot.  Don’t try to make any piece do too much.  Or, if you want a piece to overflow—if you want it to be disorientingly distracting—do that and mostly that; but do it with intention.  Hide a harmony in the chaos.  This may take many revisions.”

“Be always drawing.  Maintain a drawing practice.”

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”  Picasso said that.  Picasso was right about that, but isn’t always right.  Listen to Picasso, but only when he’s good for you.  Picasso called Bonnard “a piddler.”  In a Bonnard (Picasso said) “you never once get the big clash of the cymbals.”  Cymbals are nice, but not necessary.  There are other noises a piece of paper can make.  Cymbals come from color and contrast.  Crispness.  The clang of surprise.  But you can’t deny the beauty of that woman in the bath.  Bonnard’s wife, Marthe.  No cymbals needed.  Just the cool drip from the tap.  The head about to slip under.  Bonnard maintained a regular drawing practice.  Draw women, warming up or cooling off in a bath.  Is it lit warm or cool?  Time spent studying the figure is always time well-spent.”

“Your figures diminish as the eye moves to the edges, to the feet, to the fingertips.  This doesn’t seem—is it?—intentional.  A woman needs legs large enough and long enough and strong enough to walk on.  An arm with the muscles to throw with.  A hand big enough to palm the face, palm a mango, palm—whatever she wants.”

“Limitations are opportunities.”

“If you’re given a double-square, use the length.  Restrictions are not always comfortable, but can be useful.  Subject yourself.”

“Different-size projects require different tools.”

“No one should be using a teeny-tiny painting knife.  We need more than a teeny-tiny taste of butter, here.  We require more than one teeny-tiny drop of blood.”

“Stop and make a five-minute drawing.”

“Once you go big, you’ll feel committed.  You’ll feel tied to your decision.  Or bound by it.  If you make it largely gold, you’ll resist the need, later, to make it to green.  It will need to be green, though.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves; this gold-to-green has to do with evolution, with revision.  But why not plan ahead to save yourself from frustration?  Make the five-minute drawing.  Make ten of them.  Make a careful study, if you’re worried about wasting time and materials.  If you have limited resources, if you have a commitment problem—or if your commitment problem is that you overcommit—make your decisions on the smaller scale.  Realize, sooner, that it needs to be green.  Or black.  Make a number of small, fast paintings.  Small studies and exercises are crucial.  Tests.  A five-minute problem is better than a five-hour problem.  A five-minute solution is worth more than the five minutes you spent.”

“Yes, it’s a person.  But in relationship to what?  In what space?”

“How much floor?  How much door?”


2 responses to “Philip Geiger

  1. muy buen material AAron, gracias !
    El video parece tener una segunda parte… se podrá ver ?

    very interesting and beautiful, can we see the second part of the video?
    thanks !

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