12 Questions for Caio Fonseca
March 25, 2015
Lauren Pellerano Gomez
American painter Caio Fonseca was raised in New York City, before moving to Barcelona to study with Augusto Torres in his late teens and early twenties. After years spent in Spain and in Paris, Fonseca returned to New York where his now he divides his time between his studio on East Fifth Street, and Pietrasanta, Italy. Fonseca’s new exhibition at Paul Kasmin, New Paintings, marks his sixth solo show with the gallery. Here, we talk with the artist about process, inspiration, sacred land and leading a private life.
Describe the movement in your pieces. How do you conceive of ‘animation’ in the one-dimensional plane? Even though painting is a “still” art, for me, the relationships and interconnectedness between many forms, especially when read almost from left to right, creates a sensation of movement. It is perhaps the one aspect that I wouldn’t want to give up even as my work continues to evolve in many ways.
What is more important to you when creating a painting, form or color? Sorry to disappoint but it is true that these two essential considerations are truly indivisible. For example, I could not have conceived of the large single forms in the current exhibition without knowing in advance that they would be saturated with a retina tickling red.
This new show at Paul Kasmin Gallery is a departure from the work you’ve been doing for the past 25 years. How does it feel to hit “refresh”, so to speak, on your work? In the past my work has been an almost Darwinian evolution where one painting lead to and suggested the next. In my last Kasmin exhibition I presented a new stand alone a body of work and then I moved on. This current exhibition represents an in-depth, thorough study and exploration of one or two concise ideas. In this sense, each new show attempts to be a clear statement. I foresee my work and exhibiting to continue more in this way.
Do you try to control the process—or the end result—of your work? Why or why not? In my view, it isn’t actually possible to control an outcome of a work without being utterly absorbed in the act of addition and subtraction throughout every moment of its execution—also known, perhaps, as process.
What effect did studying under Augusto Torres have on your practice? What is your relationship like? I studied with Torres in Barcelona from when I was 18-24 years old (he was in his seventies). It was an intensive, almost Socratic immersion in a master pupil relationship. We only studied only figurative painting and I did hundreds of still lifes, portraits, landscapes and endless rolls of drawing. The inner library that I accumulated during those formative years is one that—to this day—I continue to draw from. Especially important during that time, was the unexpected discovery of Abstraction hidden within figuration.
Tell us about your practice studying musical composition for the past three years. Who is the composer you have been working with and what has this experience been like? What has it changed in you? I have played classical piano my whole life, but it is only in the last several years that I’ve delved into the actual study of composition. I didn’t know it was indeed learnable! It has affected and inspired my understanding of art making immeasurably. Although painting and composition share a wide vocabulary, they approach creation of forms quite differently. In connection with the current painting, composition has taught me to think in a focused way on a principle form as an opening statement. In the new paintings (as opposed to my earlier paintings) one form instead of many, serves to animate and set in motion the dynamics of the canvas. I think this came about in part because in classical composition one memorable idea must be clear from the outset. Details follow from that.
What is your relationship with the collectors of your work? To this day, I don’t take for granted when others respond to my work. And while the act of painting is indeed a solitary pursuit—the affinity shared with others is so often a gift.
How does ‘isolation’ effect your work? Specifically in the context of your time working in Pietrasanta. I have often joked when asked what my inspiration is, “not being interrupted is my greatest inspiration.” Not just because it’s a small Tuscan town but rather that it is there I can conjure and invent a day—without fear of interruption. This has always allowed me the necessary luxury space where I can take risks in my work and has so often led to my best discoveries.
“Pietrasanta” translates to holy stone, or perhaps even holy ground. Is there something special about the Tuscan coastal town that inspires you or your work? Pietrasanta is a stone-carving town. My father was a stone sculptor who divided his time between New York and Pietrasanta and so I’ve known this town and the stone carvers in the region’s quarries since I was a boy. Mostly though, for me, being away from the United States—everyone I know and even my language–—has somehow always afforded me a sense of protected time. Maybe that’s the “Sacred Rock” in “Pietrasanta.”
While this is your first show in New York in three years, it is also your sixth solo show with Paul Kasmin. How did you first meet Paul? Paul somehow found me – who knows how. From the very start I appreciated in Paul someone who cared not only about my work and career but who was also someone with whom it was simply a natural pleasure to talk with about the most varied of topics.
What was your experience working with Michael Gregory on the documentary, “Painter: Caio Fonseca?” Michael Gregory is a young documentarian who wrote me out of the blue after having seen my retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. When we finally met, his serious earnestness struck me and soon we plunged into the unlikely project of a documentary. Our affinity was such that before long his presence was an unobtrusive presence in my studio. Over the course of three years he documented the private life of my studio. By allowing him to make his own film I benefited from his vision not my own. I am very glad I was able open the quiet hours of my practice to his lens.
If paintings could talk, what do you think yours would say to you? For me, a canvas is a space to communicate all that cannot be said with words. If I could express what I want to say in an essay, I would have no need for my canvas. My painting speaks only in the language of painting. Not in a literary one. I’d like to believe that if a viewer merely allowed himself three minutes to look at the painting—so many of the questions of “what does it mean?” might be satisfied.
Caio Fonseca is on view at Paul Kasmin gallery, March 25 – April 25, 2015 at 297 10th Avenue