If you have wondered about the things that painters see and do once they have crossed the threshold into the artist’s studio, then Joe Fig’s book is a great primer. He presents cross-section of the New York artist community—those who have made it in the way that most art students fantasize about—and opens them up to discuss what it takes and how they get down to work daily.
The first thing I love about this book is its oblique reference to Vasari’s 1550 text Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects in which the italian artist and architect documented the work of his contemporaries in a series of Vitae (biographies). Its title however is a nod to Inside The Actors Studio, the popular TV program where noteworthy actors are subject to a set of fixed questions. This 240-page book is filled with interviews with contemporary artists in New York and the images of artists’ studios and the objects that occupy them: books, paints, brushes, paper, canvas, walls and tables that have seen years of use. The text is nicely typeset, and comfortable to read almost anywhere: my copy passed the “Inside-the-moving-train-to-White-Plains” Test. The textured paper stock also makes it convenient for marginalia.
The questions Fig presents to all the artists include discussions about the artist’s everyday practice: when to show up, to have or not to have music while working, what materials are used, and so on. He deviates carefully from the stock questions and will easily pursue an interesting thread in the conversation or delve further into an area that is unique to an artist, that the reader might find interesting.
In the latter part of the interview he switches it up to soliciting mentor-style advice, asking each artist about their motto or creed, and what younger artists might want to consider as they commit to the path. This aspect makes the book more interesting for the mix of straightforward, tactical material and wisdom that artists will sometimes sheepishly introduce as personal insight from experience.
The artists in the book include Gregory Amenoff, Ross Bleckner, Chuck Close, Will Cotton, Inka Essenhigh, Eric Fischl, Barnaby Furnas, April Gornik, Jane Hammond, Mary Heilmann, Bill Jensen, Ryan McGinness, Julie Mehretu, Malcolm Morley, Steve Mumford, Philip Pearlstein, Matthew Ritchie, Alexis Rockman, Dana Schutz, James Siena, Amy Sillman, Joan Snyder, Billy Sullivan, and Fred Tomaselli. Joe Fig makes an appearance interviewing at the of the book, much like Vasari did in his series.
The photography is well lit and clear. Aside from the generous, reportage-style shots of the studio interiors, there are casually composed close-ups of unique equipment, and other small details that might prepare you for the inevitable double take: miniature dioramas that the author(and artist) has created of the artists’ studio. The book, it turns out, is a further exploration in Fig’s own work as an artist who “explores the creative process and the spaces where art is made.”
One of the possibly acceptable criticisms of the book is that it invests primarily in New York artists, a rare breed given the rising cost of living, and the quickly increasing lack of feasibility for artists to make a home here as many of those in the book (the author lives in Connecticut). Given, however, Vasari documented peers within close proximity, the parallel is easy to understand—and forgiven—as a curatorial constraint that works for both logistical and artistic reasons.
I found Inside The Painter’s Studio book comprehensive, and an interesting mass-material “art product”, of Fig’s areas of interest and exploration. The content resonated with me easily, and likely would with painters in New York or indeed anywhere. It works for any artists who strive to maintain a studio practice, whether professional or otherwise.