It’s always fascinating to pore over a photograph of an artist’s studio. The feeling of a space—its architectural style; its decor; its general level of tidiness—can help fill in our understanding of an artist and by extension his or her work. Details, too, take on great significance. Every little trinket or souvenir reflects back on its owner, giving us some insight—accurate or not—into where that person has been and what they value enough to keep around.
Joe Fig, a New York-based painter and sculptor, has been documenting the studios of fellow artists for years, but he does one better than simple snapshots. Instead, Fig reproduces the spaces in the round.
Fig’s been making his dollhouse-sized models—tiny, expressive, meticulous things—for more than 10 years. He started in 2000, making sculptures of famous artists’ work spaces as part of "a study on artistic process." In time, he felt the need for more immediate access to that process and began writing letters to contemporary artists, asking for permission to visit them in their studios. The first taker was Michael Goldberg, the celebrated abstract expressionist painter. Here, Fig recounts his visit to Golberg’s Bowery studio:
The studio visit was unique in that the artwork was not the main focus of discussion. I was interested in everything else: the making of the artwork, his creative process, the studio setup, his daily routine, and in particular his painting table. I photographed everything. At best I hoped I might be inspired to make a sculpture or painting based on my visit.
The studio was amazing. It used to be a gymnasium. It was huge. The ceilings must have been thirty feet high. From a loft you could look down at it as if you were in the balcony at the theater looking out onto a stage, and the performance was the artist at work. Michael had been in that studio for a long time, and before that it belonged to Mark Rothko—the history was palpable. Michael showed me crimson stains on the floor made by Rothko while painting his Four Seasons commission. I stayed for a long time; he showed me everything and told lots of great stories. It was an amazing experience for a young artist just starting out. I was inspired! When I left I wanted to get to my own studio and work…except I had one great, nagging regret: if only I had recorded our conversation!
Fig resolved then and there to document future studio visits, and over the next several years, as he visited the studios of over 50 contemporary artists young and old, he did just that. Part of every visit would be dedicated to research for the models that would follow. Fig thoroughly photographed studios and took extensive measurements to ensure his re-creations were precise, and his sculptures of artists like Chuck Close, James Rosenquist, and Eric Fischl in their native habitats show an incredible attention to detail. But each time, Fig also sat down with those artists to ask them about their own rituals and routines.
Eventually, Fig had enough sculptures to exhibit, but he found that viewers also liked the close-up photographs he’d been taking of his models—2-D snapshots of his own 3-D simulacra—so he started including those, too. Ultimately, though, the sculptor felt compelled to share all the raw material he collected along the way, and thus his book Inside the Painter’s Studio was born.
The volume compiles photographs of Fig’s sculptures as well as the snapshots and interviews he collected in the process of making them (the anecdote above comes from the book’s preface). Of course, among all the artists featured, there’s a range of approaches to and outlooks on creating art, and there’s a fascinating variety in the spaces those artists have built up for themselves to do so. The only constant is Fig’s appreciation for that process and his sensitivity to its most revealing details.
Images courtesy: Tierney Gardarin Gallery