Week One at the Studio

Emily here –

I like to think that 90% of writing is living, and these past three days have been full of it.

After my return from Barcelona, I had a few hours of catchup before starting the next day with my commute to New York City, where my art teacher helped me find an exciting internship in the artist Donald Baechler’s studio, where the other assistants and I help him with his paintings, prints and sculptures, along with various bookkeeping and organizational tasks. Like all of the other assistants, I am an artist (though still, in many ways, aspiring) and I look to Donald as a sage of sorts: he is an extremely prolific painter and is highly respected both inside the art world and out.

Donald’s work can be seen in the Whitney Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Fine Art, the Philadelphia Museum, and in countless other museums across the world. He has had almost innumerable solo and group exhibitions worldwide, with his work selling for almost ungodly amounts to the worldly elite (I saw in looking through inventory that even James Brown owns a painting!). More even than the numbers, though, Donald’s character demands respect. His quiet wisdom endears him to anyone he meets, while his Quaker sensibility puts them at ease, drawing even the least learned to his adroitly perfected level.

Starting Wednesday morning, my internship gradually turned from general introductions and thumb twirling to interesting conversations and independent organizational help: most of which meant sorting and unpacking the hidden clutter after a group gallery tour with the Museum of Modern Art in NY. I discussed: recent works by Vik Muniz and Christian Marclay, the state of NGOs in Haiti and across the world, and a recent article in The New Yorker that explored Scientology from an insider’s perspective, all while I was bent over a long, wooden, Chipotle-covered table with Donald and the other assistants. They invited me to gallery shows that they were having or were going to, and offered to show me their own studios whenever I had the chance.

I finished up work at 7:00 and went to meet my friend Allegra, once a classmate of mine at Westtown, who’s now living in the city with her boyfriend. We went to the ever-chic Ace Hotel, for some of the best cappuccinos in Manhattan, where we reconnected over the bustle of the lobby. The ambiance was incredible: a seductive vocalist purred along with the half-hidden jazz band, undulating in perfect harmony with the crowds and the talk and the rolling laughter. I capped my first day with vegan dumplings and a sleepy train ride back to New Jersey, wishing more than ever I didn’t have to leave so magical a place.

Thursday was spent with Donald at Pace Prints, the print studio associated with the Pace Gallery (which, according to Donald, is among the five most important galleries in the city), where we worked on a series of ‘crowd’ monoprints. The crowd is a subject matter relentlessly reworked by Donald; because of its versatility it’s become one of my favorites of his subject matters. For this project, Donald made a series of nearly 70 woodcut faces and skulls (‘Just two eyes, a mouth and a nose,’ as he says), which were arranged like puzzle pieces, inked, and printed on handmade paper. Most of the faces were layered with Chine Colle, a process that glues rice paper under the ink and onto a page during the printing process. This gave the opportunity for the negative space of each face to be a different color, despite the monochromatic inking.

My job during the majority of this was to cut the different colored rice papers to fit the templates of specific heads before they were printed. I was able to choose the color that I thought would best suit each face, and that would correlate with the colors of the surrounding faces. While tedious, the job was fun and collaborative; I met lots of interesting, young printmakers and I learned much more about a medium that I’d though I knew almost everything about. More importantly, though, I felt like, while discreetly, the job I had was making an important mark on the final product, as if it were a signature of sorts.

Thursday’s workday ran late as well; after leaving the studio at 7:00 I ran to Utrecht to pick up supplies before walking to the East Village for dinner with Allegra and friends.

Today was the quietest day of them all; there was only one assistant in the studio other than me, excluding Donald’s personal assistant, who stopped in for a few hours this morning. With no significant work to do, I worked on personal projects until Donald arrived at 2:00 (I arrive around 11:00), and chatted with the other assistant.

When Donald arrived, he talked to us for the majority of the time, showing us pictures of paintings sculptures that he was interested in buying or that he held in high renown. Towards the end of the work day, I helped him sign an edition of prints he’d made while he was in Barcelona a few years ago, which he wants me and one of the other assistants to begin cataloguing in coming days.

After work, I went with Erin, a coworker, to the opening of a show that she and another coworker were in at the Canada Gallery. The opening was packed with exotically-dressed twenty-somethings and smelled like stale beer, but it had a feeling of general excitement and creativity. The show was a collaboration of 20 artists, who made a highly conceptual film, and displayed with it pieces of unrelated art.

A bit overwhelmed by the density of strangers, I left rather quickly, taking the subway back uptown to Penn Station, from where I headed home. Once home, I met with a few friends in their apartment down the street, and we listened to jazz music while talking about our plans for tomorrow, which you’ll hear about soon enough!

Until then,

Emily

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