The School of Visual Arts 2007 (Part 2)


I wrote in my previous post that I was going to list the things I liked about my time at SVA in no particular order, then I told you about Karina Contreras, then I kind of wandered into the model drawing sessions and didn't wander back out again. So now I'm going to pick up from there and continue with the people I met at SVA, again in no particular order, because the other artists really were the best thing about the program.

Right after I met Karina I met Ling Chang and Cathleen Cueto. They'd been friendly with Jim Wolanin the previous year and so recognized my name. And it took me a few hours to realize it, but I'd written about Cathleen in 2006, also. For the next month nearly every time I had a free moment I'd end up over at their studios, sitting there bullshitting -- which Ling split up into Art Chat (which was productive) and just plain Chat (which was not). In fact Ling had made a chart -- it would have made an amusing art installation in itself: "How an Artist Spends Their Time" -- marking down how much time she spent on Art, Art Chat, Chat, Eating, Reading, Checking E-Mail and whatever else. Art and Art Chat were marked in bright colors to set them off from the other activities, which were not fruitful uses of her time.

I remember Ling sighing: "There's just not enough yellow on this chart."

I fell immediately in love with Ling and Cathleen. It's something inexplicable: I was just in love with their themness, the way they were who they were.

I say this because I want you to realize, as I'm writing, that I can't possibly be remotely critical of them and their work. I want you to understand this so I can separate my usual critical writing from this account of my time at SVA. In fact I really can't be critical of anyone there -- I mean, I talked to many of the artists about their work, and I was honest and open and critical when I thought it was called for. So it's not that I just shut off and didn't form an opinion. But it's a different thing to discuss art with someone than it is to write an essay critiquing their art. The critic's relationship to an artist is almost like father to child; artist to artist, though, is more like sibling to sibling.

Chris Rywalt, Why are you hiding?, 2007, oil on panel, 16x24 inches

Why are you hiding?, 2007, oil on panel, 16x24 inches (This is a really bad photo but it's all I've got since I gave the painting to Ling.)

Ling spent most of her time dithering and complaining about how she wasn't getting anything done; then she put on a burst of energy (and at least one all-nighter) putting together a nearly-finished installation for the Open Studios. But while she was dithering she was always around for Chat or Art Chat and I enjoyed talking to her. She is extremely articulate and intelligent -- which is rare for an artist, let me tell you -- and laughed at most of my jokes (which is all I really ask for). And, like everyone in the program, physically beautiful. Even in her dark clothes behind her screen of black hair. I was so struck by her that one of the first paintings I did in my new studio was a portrait of Ling -- maybe not a true portrait, exactly (for one thing, I seemed to catch her on the one day she'd curled her hair), but what I like to think of as a spiritual portrait.

Why everyone in the program was so good-looking I can't say. I know I felt a bit trollish around them. Maybe there's some connection between talent and self-confidence and attractiveness.

Ling was also one of those rare people who was willing to pick on me when I needed it. Not that I think everyone loves me -- it's just so few people seem to talk back to me. Either they agree or they ignore me. Hardly anyone calls me on my bullshit -- they probably think it's not worth the trouble. But Ling was willing. She'd say something like, "Why do you say that?" or "What specifically makes you think that?" Which is hard to answer sometimes, especially if, like me, you have a slippery memory.

But I remember one particular time. Ling had pinned up some watercolors she was doing. To me they looked like dark blue clouds. They were just a deep blue, with scalloped edges, about the same size as the paper. Ling asked me if I thought they needed anything or if they were fine as they were.

Well, I'd just been looking at her Websites and seeing what she'd done professionally. Ling wasn't interested in her professional work while she was at SVA -- she was looking to do something different. (In fact when I told her I'd seen her sites she accused me of "snooping.") But I'd formulated this whole speech on how she should find some way to incorporate her professional interests with her desire to create art and so on and so forth and rambling on for quite a while. Her question kicked off the speech and she listened patiently.

Then one of the other artists came up and asked what we were talking about. "I asked Chris if these needed anything," she replied, "but he can't just answer the question."

Oh. Golly. I hadn't, you know, I hadn't been thinking like that.

Ling Chang, studio view, 2007

Ling Chang's installation. This is from the right spot to see Orion.

In the end she began dotting in tiny stars and connecting them into fanciful constellations. In some cases she added pins with sparkly heads instead of painted stars. And then she hung silver scultped stars from the ceiling such that if you stood in just the right spot they formed the constellation of Orion. So in the end she had an idea where she was going and didn't need my homilies.

Ling Chang, studio view, 2007

Ling Chang's installation. It's not finished yet. And please ignore the fan in the middle of the studio, it's not part of the show.

By contrast, Cathleen was almost always working. I often felt like I was interrupting her. Every day she was sewing something, cutting something up, painting something, or otherwise occupied. Even so, she worked without sleeping as much as Ling did to get ready for the Open Studios.

Cathleen and I had entertaining discussions -- or, I should say, Cathleen allowed me to lecture at length -- about conceptual versus more traditional art. I generally don't like conceptual art. I also don't tend to like installations. I'm reactionary that way: If you can't hang it on a wall or stand it up in a corner, it's not art (even if it needs to be a really big wall or corner). Cathleen, of course, feels differently. So I'd have to be careful as I was ranting against Conceptualism to make sure I added, "...but not your work" or "...but not you." As in, "Conceptual artists are people who want to be artists even though they can't paint. But not you!"

Hypocrisy is one of my many faults. Have I ever said it wasn't?

Cathleen started off a little distant from me. Which was okay. Not everyone has to love me. But I liked her so damned much, I really really wanted her to like me. I think she finally turned around the day I brought my son in.

William is ten and only mildly insane. I brought a laptop and some video game systems with us, figuring they'd keep him occupied for about two hours, after which I'd be running around peeling him off the walls and apologizing for his insanity to my studiomates. Much to my surprise he had a great time and wasn't crazed at all. He spent some time painting with me and then started wandering around the other studios. He ended up spending an hour or so in Cathleen's studio playing with the toys she'd brought in for her installation. (In fact she used his Lego creation in the final work.) After he got bored with that he decided to make a map of the studios, so he went from room to room introducing himself and filling in names on a piece of paper.

Cathleen was so enamored of him; I think some of that it rubbed off on me because, after William's visit, Cathleen was much nicer to me. I think she figured, if I'd somehow managed to father a decent child, I must've been less of a jerk than I seemed. I brought my daughter Corinne in another day and that probably helped cement my reputation as a Good Dad and therefore a halfway decent human. (I should note that I take absolutely no credit for how good (or bad) my kids are -- they arrived on Earth that way. I'm just here to make sure they reach adulthood.)

Cathleen Cueto II, studio view, 2007

This is Cathleen Cueto's studio, July 2007.

You can see from the photos that Cathleen's installation involved a child's room. What's less clear from the photos is that Cathleen tried to imagine the room of a child who would grow up with apotemnophilia -- a desire for amputation. This is reflected in all the toys and things scattered around the room: The toy soldiers are all missing one leg; the toybox is filled with the limbs of stuffed animals (some my family supplied); the legs have been crossed out in the coloring books.

Cathleen Cueto II, studio view, 2007

This is Cathleen in her studio during Open Studios. Apparently that dress is traditional -- she wore it last year, too.

I'd come by in the afternoon and find Cathleen sitting crosslegged in the middle of the rug diligently performing surgery on doll after doll. Or maybe she'd be crouched over her laptop typing away. And one time she was curled up fast asleep.

Cathleen Cueto II painting, 2007

Here's Cathleen painting her installation. Note adorable splash of paint on leg.

My newly-found position in Cathleen's eyes afforded me a chance for a great thing: I asked her to pose for me and she did. I think I actually asked her before she met William but I think she wasn't enthusiastic until after. And it was excellent. The day of our second lecture (more on that later), I noticed her knees, and I did a quick sketch of them. After that I saw her knees more and knew I wanted to draw them. She kept wearing these little dresses which came down to mid-thigh and that was what I wanted to draw: Cathleen from mid-thigh down. And during the last week I got my wish. While drawing her I realized -- and I told her -- that she didn't just have great knees; she had great legs. Feet, too, although she referred to them as "gnarly."

Chris Rywalt, Cathleen #1, 2007, Conte on paper, 14x17 inches

Cathleen #1, 2007, Conté on paper, 14x17 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cathleen #2, 2007, Conte on paper, 14x17 inches

Cathleen #2, 2007, Conté on paper, 14x17 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cathleen #3, 2007, Conte on paper, 14x17 inches

Cathleen #3, 2007, Conté on paper, 14x17 inches

Chris Rywalt, Cathleen #4, 2007, Conte on paper, 14x17 inches

Cathleen #4, 2007, Conté on paper, 14x17 inches

And on that wonderful note, let me pause in my tale. I'll start part three as soon as I can.


I miss the SVA studios! I'll be there next Thursday.

I'll definitely be there for the Open Studios.Which, Dear Readers, will be August 2, 2007. 141 West 21st Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues), New York, New York. United States. Earth. And so on.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Chris Rywalt published on July 23, 2007 9:18 PM.

The School of Visual Arts 2007 (Part 1) was the previous entry in this blog.

Drawing at the Vallejos is the next entry in this blog.

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