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Lee Stoetzel
Interviewed by Angela Brisnovali

Lee Stoetzel
NATURALISM'S STILL LIFE, 1996

Angela Brisnovali: Are the stylistic elements of printing, drawing, collages, scrapings and paint applications based on purely formal concerns and issues related to cubism and surrealism or do they function as an analysis and critique of painting styles and the medium (of painting) itself?

Lee Stoetzel: The paintings function as a kind of self-critique of my art historical interests. Yes, I am interested in some kind of "natural paradise" as well as cubist divisions of space--and I see a tension between these ideas. On a formal level, I believe there is also a lot of tension between printed marks and painted marks. When I am painting all I can do is make automatic marks in a variety of ways and think about little else.

Angela Brisnovali: The Cubist hard-sharp edged space in your canvasses seems to be inhabited by some kind of organic (life) forms. Are we as viewers asked to partake in the creation of a narrative, an intended metaphor on your part of a long lost paradise?

Lee Stoetzel: "Narrative" is a word that scares me. I like, instead, the word "urgent" to describe a good painting, and hope that the viewer would feel urgently engaged in the picture as well. If there is a fusion between the image and the paint, the painting works.

Angela Brisnovali: In this work a visual reality is exposed, not disguised or covered up behind paint. One gets a good dose of an enlarged, "in-your-face" reality, of grand spaces, of "symbolic significance" in the tradition of natural dramatic light and color effects, characteristics of observation painting of particular spaces in time. Turner, Friedrich, Courbet, Corot, even Morandi and Cornel come to mind.

Lee Stoetzel: Observation painting is direct, fresh, and necessarily honest. For these reasons these paintings immediately engage viewers and are significant. I never wanted my work to be "abstract" or "real," but read somewhere in between. I want the viewer to feel like the stage is set for an unlikely event.

Angela Brisnovali: What is the importance of a precise painting style and the role of craftsmanship in your work and how do you cope with the challenge of painting in a time of so many "resurrections," "deaths" and "metastases" of mediums and styles? Where do you draw from, in order to (re)produce painting today?

Lee Stoetzel: Craftsmanship and knowledge of traditional techniques are critical to my paintings. It is exciting to apply this knowledge, or sense, to a streamlined, mutated medium (painting). My view of art is that the larger the perceived hurdle, the better the work.

Angela Brisnovali: Where does your interest in nature, or the implication of "painting from observation" and "the natural" as subject matter in painting come from? Where do you see "nature" fit in the non-organic and virtual space and how does painting relate for you to the trends of technology-based art production?

Lee Stoetzel: I used to paint outside--small paintings very quickly. I always felt better about my plein-air pieces than about the larger labor intensive ones in the studio. I executed these recent paintings very quickly and tried to keep this sense of freshness, as well as the sense of a particular place and time. Nature for me becomes even more interesting when it is pitted against architectural elements or printed passages.

Angela Brisnovali: Does the extreme "slowness" of the medium of painting--both for producer and viewer--compared to a medium such as video, that can also involve nature in an even "truer" pictorial fashion, offer you as an artist the real "time" necessary for contemplative thinking of the kind that nature itself can offer?

Lee Stoetzel: I have tried to make my paintings as "fast-to-read" as possible. There is not an impastoed surface, for example, to contemplate. I find the distance from nature, or reality, in painting infinitely more interesting than the recording of reality on video.

Angela Brisnovali: And how about the decorative nature and history of painting--do you have any use for it? Is there room for the "spiritual" and the "natural" to be a part of the "painting program," or any other medium for that matter?

Lee Stoetzel: I am interested in the line between decorative and "useful" painting. Matisse's cut-outs operate on this line in a most useful way. These paintings approach nature or the spiritual and provide the nescessary human connection.

Angela Brisnovali: The gestural-expressionistic, abstracted naturalism in your paintings is probably not about innocence or romanticism, at least not of the varieties associated with "landscape" or "still life" painting. There is a harshness in the forms, and an anxiety in the spatial relationships and colors that prompts associations of life, "still life" in this city's "landscape."

Lee Stoetzel: The paintings are all from very close to home. I have set up still lifes on numerous occasions as studies. The work has a great deal to do with the landscape of my studio and of my street. The expressionist brush stroke--gestural mark--attaches very well to natural forms.

Angela Brisnovali: The liberal use of marking tools and the variety of surface effects are conspicuously not about "self-expression," but could signify a newly formulated criticism by a young artist, on the state of art production and life in this particular city.

Lee Stoetzel: Now that these grounds are made with various tools it is as if I didn't paint them. The grounds give me something outside of myself. I wanted the surface to also feel printed rather than painted--so, I intervene. I like the combination of the human touch and machine-made marks: It's like the area between abstraction and the real. And ironically, the machine-made marks mimic the real, and the real marks represent something more abstract.

Angela Brisnovali: The paintings in relation to their titles--and especially the title of the show "Burial Paintings"--activate in the viewer an interest to see and read the surfaces, scanning them for interpretation. Is this one of the most important functions of painting? And if so, do you see painting as a viable conduit through which ideological and philosophical questions can be posed by the artist?

Lee Stoetzel: I think of painting more like a poem than a novel or a news story. It may hint at historical ideas or even philosophies, but I believe it must also have a personal dimension, a kind of inner necessity.

Angela Brisnovali: How do you see your work progressing from here in this city (New York) of asphalt-lined, tyrannic geometry, with its cemented and glassed-in, tormented inhabitants?

Lee Stoetzel: My view from the basement has been very limiting and therefore very exciting to work against. I believe it has provided my paintings with a necessary tension.

Angela Brisnovali

New York, New York
1996

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