(The following is a conversation between Nicole Eisenman and Siobhan Liddell.  Nicole underwent the grilling process by Butt Johnson, who had been previously interviewed by David Kennedy Cutler, who had been interrogated by Ruby Sky Stiler, who was thrust into the spotlight by Talia Chetrit, who was the originally grill-ee I picked to kick this whole thing off with.  You see what's going on here, right?  Exactly, Liddell will now get to pick someone to interact with about whatever she chooses.  

Keep your eyes peeled for a super informative Q&A involving Kelly Taxter of Taxter and Spengemann Gallery and Jane Hait, of Wallspace Gallery in the coming weeks!)


Nicole Eisenman:  I first saw your work in '93 at Trial Balloon. At your show, Nicola Tyson had to take me around the gallery and show me your work piece by piece because I didn't see it! Starting in the 80's, my eyes became accustomed to looking at art that was big, loud and spectacular. One piece [of yours] was a thread hanging from the ceiling. That piece was priced at 10 cents. That seemed to be an especially selfless and generous way to price work that also carries with it a criticism of 'art as commodity.'

Siobhan Liddell: I'm glad that you remembered and bought up the 10 cent piece of string thing, the essence of which for me is staying loyal to an idea or a feeling. Or somehow together the feeling and the idea create the piece.

NE: Thinking about that show, it had the qualities of fragility and ephemera - words almost always used to describe your work. Some of your recent work uses heavier material like ceramic, wood and laquer paint; these pieces on the tabletops felt abject and awkward, like adolescents who don't quite know what to do with their bodies. They have a very appealing quality, a mix of klutziness and charm. I really fell in love with them. But lets talk about that change. What has changed over the years in your work?

SL: I think the new work in the show last April lay somewhere between romance and building blocks; early learning with gentle steps. Perhaps that is their gawkiness, abjectness??? I cannot say per se what changed.

I definitely feel that experience leads to confidence or at least understanding material habits and one's own -- habits that is -- means you get to let go of it all a bit. Let's say a virtuosic exchange, a trusting hand-eye-heart thing, enjoying the "where the fuck did that come from" experience. Not being scared to be driven by the unconscious.

A myriad of things happen in life but the essence of the work is still intact. Like when children are born and start to come to life you see how much of them is all there from the get go, much of life spent getting back to that original innocence.

And once a child has entered your life there is a deeper sense of your mortality and the knowing that we are all going to die makes living more precious and tender.

Figuring out how we live is the biggest creative act, making daily steps and rituals the meaning.


NE: I love the idea of "not being scared to be driven by the unconscious." I can relate to that, it's very liberating to relinquish control to the subconscious (if that is what's taking up the reigns, ha! Big question mark there), and see what arises. When I composed that last question I debated with myself about using the term “abject”. When I talk about abject, I'm thinking of an art-specific context. I think of artists like Louise Bourgeois or Mike Kelly... were talking about art that relates to the body decayed, scatalogical, debased... not necessarily sexual, though. There was something physical and corporeal about the clay forms you squeeze into a rainbow or a loop.  I think of artists like Philip Guston as having a quality of abjectness, there is something heartbreaking and delightfully pathetic. It's abject without being about sex. 

SL: I worked for some years for Robert Gober... in a way to understand his sculptures was to commune with various materials and to eventually figure out by trial and error or error that leads to learning the best way to work with them. Getting to know material habits and inherentness takes practice.

I used clay in my own work as a way to translate into form a direct hand heart experience.  Clay is time based, you feel it stiffen in your hands!  The piece you mentioned the curled over figure/form, "it folds before it stands"... it's funny that you mentioned LB as i visited her at her salon one hot summer day and bought that piece to share. I placed it at her table and she gave it an acknowledging nod. Having got her nod the abject object took on a whole new presence, I kept it at home on a nearby shelf for a year or two.

I believe that I work with a series of intentions. Perhaps it is like if you were to paint a portrait of a dear friend you would imbue it with many intentions, starting with the joy of loving another and all the humanity that is shared, to have a model sit for you must be so giving and taking - trusting. 

I think of materials in this way sometimes. Sometimes the intention can be to portray a feeling of space, or the space created between us, outward or inward, in, out, up or down.

The tables were a way to take the painted plane off the wall and on to a horizontal surface thus giving a type of space to hold the objects... I really got into painting the table tops. (Europe's finest paint, Dutch colors) Rembrandts smiling.

NE: I also saw in that work this deep interest in architecture.

SL: Sometimes I imagine what I am making could be translated into buildings… we will get to that later.


NE: From where does your work originate?  

SL: Gosh, origins of work come from origins of... self?  I grew up in London in the 70's and 80's, it was a great time of punk culture, DIY everything, it was a depressing and deeply angry time in London, but had a certain edge that now in retrospect seemed kinda fruitful.

Making things like clothes, furniture, painting, sculpture was a good way to survive. I loved being in the clubs of London and getting dressed up and seeing all the amazing creativity that went into getting dressed up for a night out...... music and dancing was a great release.

Hard to say exactly where it all comes from, the continuity of expression lives in that deja twisted vu way. A life lived through others that paved the way for our being where we are now...   art, politics, spirits etc...or as Whitman states in the beginning of his poem, Song Of Myself:

'I celebrate myself

And what I assume you shall assume

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you."

NE: Beautiful quote. It gives me the sense we are always collaborating. Can you tell me more about the origins of your work?

SL: When I was young my father who is a light weight structural engineer asked me and my brother and sister to help him with his models. The models were usually suspended tent structures that would be used in hot countries or one I remember was a collapsable theatre. His work involved tension and compression. The models where made with panty hose stretched over toothpicks.

The beauty and mystery of his work influenced me, there was also a sense of the absurd or perhaps surreal that these could be made into actual buildings!!  He traveled and worked in the Middle East and other countries, he would return and give us slide shows of exotic places and architecture. I think also that my dad being an engineer I learned from him an understanding about materials and material behavior. A curiosity about how things are made and made of. One time I remember I had to wait for him at the University... he said "Just go in there and I will come and get you." I sat in on a Frei Otto lecture, he was talking about the structure of soap bubbles and orange peels and showing images of bones and their incredible internal forms. Really these natural forms are the basis of everything even now they inform me all the time.  

NE: The urge to make things is in your DNA! I’m fascinated by how we start out making art, what it meant to us when we were beginning to make things. Maybe its because I have young kids. 

SL: My work was a secret and special place for me, it was a place where i was most engaged but would never show anybody what I was up to. In the end I showed my artwork to an art teacher at school -- I had a crush on her, she was young and soft and shy. The exchange did not work out well, I withdrew again to my own hole. I went to art school when i was very young... I did not tell anyone what i was up to, i just applied and went up for the interview and got in got in. I had just turned 17.


NE: How did your interest in abstraction develop? 

SL: My work is not entirely abstract but mostly it is. Working always starts with the body, just getting to make things with my hands, eyes, head, heart is such a privilege. In abstraction there is everything, or let's say there is multiplicity of meaning or a blank slate on which to project the mind's meanderings. For sometime I have been looking at the anonymous Tantra paintings that were shown at the Drawing Center some years ago. They are basically ovoid shapes or geometric shapes that are used for meditation purposes. Paintings, unlike writing do not tell us things directly but tell us things through ourselves, we are their translators. So those ovoid shapes have become many things for me because they are helping me to be with myself.

NE: Are there other art influences you can site? Who are some artists who’s work interests you now?

SL: I became interested in Eva Hesse and Richard Tuttle at art school. That Lucy Lippard book on Hesse was of great value to me and the letter Sol LeWitt wrote to Hesse. I studied her and made a point of finding other great women artists: Ruth Volmer, Sophie de Saint Phille... she made that huge papier mache lady that you could walk in. Some influences in my life are my shrink, psychology, my yoga teachers, my loved ones, trees, tenderness, mystery, the ancient teachings of the Buddhas and the yogis; all the animals who help to keep us sane; my great teacher and friend R Gober; all the beloved queers. The way we all talk to each other; WATER.

Art is for the spirit and giving of your self in authentic ways is always  evident in great art.  I like to conjure different spirits at different times, often when I make a show - an artist or a piece of music will be with me either physically or metaphorically. The spirits hover to keep us warm.

I sort of have relationships with the living and the dead depending, ongoing and dependent.


NE: A psychic once told me I have a spirit guide who looks over my shoulder and helps me pick colors when I’m painting... he’s Dutch and lived in the 1600’s, also he’s greenish. What dead artist would you like to bring back to life for an hour, sit in a hot tub and drink a beer with? 

SL: Rembrandt

NE:  What would your job be if you weren't an artist and had to “work” for a paycheck?

SL: Tug boat driver

NE: What book are you reading right now? 

SL: Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

NE: What is your favorite classic novel? 

SL: Dostoyovski's The Idiot

NE: What do you do when you are not making art? 

SL: Mother, lover, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, student.... reader.

NE: List all the hobbies you've ever had? 

SL: Bird watcher

NE: Desert, ocean or mountains? 

SL: Ocean

NE: What most freaks you out about having a kid? 

SL: Dumping my shit on them

NE: Where do you most want to travel? 

SL: Italy

NE:  Where would you go if you had a time machine? 

SL:  Cave dweller Himalayas

NE: What do you listen to while you are working?

SL:  Everything

NE: Last music that you bought? 


NE: What is your present state of mind? 

SL: Fluctuating monkey mind

NE: What is your motto? 

SL:  Live life like you gonna die cos you're gonna.

Johnny Misheff