AMT: I feel that you're also an editor in almost every aspect; you even edit your speech. You make so many versions of these paintings, apart from studies, that there's room for mistakes and for failure. And that's basically how you learn, right?
GM: It's also often the most interesting part of the work. That's one of the reasons I really grasped onto painting--there were so many more opportunities for failure within it. When you're trying to understand pictures, almost on a philosophical level, like what they mean to you, every opportunity for failure is an opportunity for discovery.
This is also what makes painting so frustrating, because there are no road marks at any point in this process. With each mark you have no indicators of why something works or doesn't work, except your gut. Seeing what is good, or what is there, is the most difficult part. With painting, you're contending with that aspect of virtuosity--either trying to attain it, or to try to create friction against the idea of it. Virtuosity isn’t really something you think about in photography.
But yes, that’s how I learn, through practice, trying and seeing. The best advice I got when I first really started to get knocked around by painting was from a good friend, who said painting is pretty much about getting to work on it.
AMT: Do you place yourself in the work, or is it more like you're a vessel of some kind, or a translator for the image which is a separate thing from you? Your hand is in it, obviously, because you're making it, but are you personally involved in it, other than on a conceptual level?
GM: There are two sides to that for me. I often look more to literature, because when I hear writers talk about the process, it makes a lot of sense to me. My bodies of work begin with a premise of cataloging what’s around me, a kind of journaling. In that sense, it’s personal. It's things around me that I start recording, and making piles and making pictures, and then only after I’m maybe halfway into a body of work am I able to step back and it begins to outline its edges. It’s a very natural process. I like for it to be wide open, something that can take on a life of its own.
In the actual making of the painting, I don't want any sense of me in it. Even my hand, as you put it, is something I’m trying to distance myself from. I like it to be ambiguous. My presence isn’t useful in what I want the picture to achieve either in my making it or in my audience’s viewing it. This goal of being apart from the work is fundamentally contradictory to a hand-painted picture, but that dualism is maybe the meaningful part to me. With it, a sense of longing or searching can be manifested in the picture--it is art as a means to witnessing faith. There’s just no ego in it.
Cage and Richter were extremely influential in that regard. I didn't come from art, so I assumed for a long time that art had to have a level of expressionism in it, but they taught me that expression could be an operation of chance. That chance is often how my hand happens to move when I stop thinking about it.
AMT: It's also that sort of Cageian idea of putting a frame around something, like the ordinary or slightly askew situation. Because of its semi regal history, as soon as you make a painting of something, it becomes important. Doing that with these images you find on the Internet is a strange juxtaposition. It adds something to it, I think.
GM: Someone could also see that as a gimmick, but I say that maybe because I don't see paintings as regal. Or maybe I do, but not in the sense that it’s innate in their history. Any art can be regal, and I think the tremendous thing about art is it can be so many things at once. Some of these works have this bizarre sort of amateurism to them, but at the same time are not functioning at all as an amateur easel painting might. I think art that I enjoy most when I'm seeing it--you just can't place it fast. It creates this complication of being two things at once, or three things at once. And it won’t tell you what it is, but it’s quiet and allows you to discover for yourself.