On ViewVielmetter Gallery
September 17–November 5, 2022
In January of this year, Nash Glynn fell in love with a loft in an old warehouse building near the Seaport. She had been living and working in Brooklyn for years, in an industrial corner of Greenpoint, but as the pandemic lifted, she was looking for a change. The space, filled with sunlight and the salty breezes that blow inland from New York Harbor, gave her exactly that.
I met with Glynn a few days after the paintings for Interiors, her solo exhibition at Vielmetter Gallery in Los Angeles, had been shipped to California. Her whitewashed studio was empty and swept clean with the exception of some plants on a table that she was in the middle of repotting. In a corner of the loft that was once an elevator shaft, Glynn has created a small but lush garden room from which the gurgling of a fountain could be heard. She offered me a seat in an old tufted wing-chair and we hunched together over her laptop, clicking through images of her recent paintings and chatting over lattes from the coffee shop downstairs.
Ann C. Collins (Rail): So much of your new work is about figures interacting with the architectural spaces they occupy, and now that I see your studio, which is so light and spacious, I wonder about how much this space impacts what you paint.
Nash Glynn: This space has a lot to do with the show. As much as I can put the paintings into more academic or theoretical terms, they really come from daydreams and nightmares and all of those things that happen here. It goes back to the idea of interiors. The interior of a person and also the interior of this space. But my work is full of contradictions, too, even formally speaking. I try to play with the sense that there is no negative space. That the spaces between things are as deeply definitive as the things themselves. Which also goes back to the title of the show, Interiors. It’s a play on this idea that there is no outside.
Rail: How did this show come into being?
Glynn: I did a small show last September at Vielmetter Gallery, just two paintings. They’re both of me, self-portraits, with one figure facing a wall and the other looking out at the viewer. They were hung on opposite sides of a pillar I had installed in the gallery. The paintings worked together and became a kind of installation. You would walk around the pillar and see both of them, the front of the figure and the back, and that was the start of me playing with this idea of the wall. And then I began incorporating the image of the wall into the paintings themselves. And now, in this next iteration, the canvas is the wall in a lot of ways. And it’s funny, people look at the paintings, and they ask, “What’s behind the wall?” I’m like, “It’s the back of the canvas.” Which in itself is always an inspiration for me.
Rail: Often, the narrative components in these paintings feature a kind of response, or maybe performance, of a figure in relationship to a wall. You seem to repeatedly ask what the wall is keeping you from or confining you to—or if the wall really exists.
Glynn: And if the wall does exist, does it even protect you?
Rail: Do the walls in this space protect you?
Glynn: I think they inspire me. I hate thinking about wall text and things like that, but when it came time to do a press release for Interiors, I thought, well, I might as well have fun with it. So I asked a friend of mine who knows me very well to work on it, and she wrote about how I fired my accountant because she wouldn’t deduct my bedroom from my taxes. I explained to her that that is where I dream, which is an essential part of the process, but she wouldn’t deduct it. All I want is an accountant who understands me. I’m actually never not working. Every magazine, every book, every daydream, every cup of coffee is work. Everything inspires me.
Rail: You grew up in Miami, in a family that made scenery for theater and films.
Glynn: Yes, I did. My father owned Propmasters Inc., a set construction shop in Miami, which is where I learned how to paint. He probably had us working when we were too young. I have two brothers, and while they were sent to the construction department to work with power tools, I was sent to scenic with the only other woman in the shop. And so they were doing the tool kit stuff and I was dabbling with paint and platinum and doing clouds and things. We used to do things like sets for amusement parks and Wendy’s commercials. And they would build entire fake Wendy’s sets and have to patina the walls to look worn or whatever. And that was my job.
It was a lot of hard work, not like how I work here, where I paint when I feel something. It was like, we have a show to do, a shoot to get to, we have a deadline. It was a difficult environment for sure. It was very macho, being around all those men. Lots of big power tools, which made me nervous, but ultimately, I loved it. For my dad it was all about earning a living, but to me it was a place where anything was possible. You could build anything at Propmasters, and the work was ultimately all about imagination and illusion, using the tricks of the trade. How to make new look old and old look new. Truth and lies. That was my first interaction with paint, making sets for commercials and music videos. And actually, now that I think about it, a lot of faux walls. I hadn’t thought about that before now.
Rail: Do you think your father wanted to be an artist?
Glynn: In his own way. I think about that when I see the way he lights up when he gets a job and has to figure it out and put it together. What he does is very creative because the client comes to him and says, “This is sort of what we want.” And then it’s really his vision, his knowledge of form and construction, that brings those ideas into something real.
His mother, my grandmother, was an artist. She did very graphic pastels and charcoals, and some sculptures of abstract figures, but I don’t think she was ever taken seriously. You know, she was a woman and a housewife and in those days for her to make art was very dangerous. So I think everyone sort of saw it as a hobby or something unimportant, but if you look at her work, there’s definitely something there. I never met her, but everyone says I take after her. My name comes from her too; Nash was her maiden name.
Rail: You left Miami to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. Was your family supportive about your decision to become an artist?
Glynn: I think they were happy that it was Tufts because Tufts was one of the first schools that accepted Jews and that’s where my grandfather went. So yes, happy about Tufts, but in terms of art, they said, “Well, what are you going to do with that?” My dad would say, “Come back to the shop and you can paint for me.”
But I was determined to be an artist because this is all I’ve ever wanted to do. To quit being an artist would only mean one thing for me, you know, death. My family tried to convince me to come back to the shop many times and I would tell them, “I just need a little more time. Have a little faith.” And eventually things started to pick up.
Rail: How did going to art school change the way you worked?
Glynn: I didn’t paint a single thing when I was at Tufts. I put down the brush for a while and just experimented with performance and video and photography, which was a lot of fun and definitely changed the way I think about painting. But I didn’t take a single painting class. I had been painting my entire life and I wanted to try new things. The Museum School was very exciting, especially at that time in my life. I saw people doing weird things in the hallways, doing performance art in the bathrooms. It completely changed the way I think about painting.
After Tufts, I went to the MFA program at Columbia University and I started painting again. I was accepted into the performance art track, and I remember there were a few times when someone would come into my studio and I would just be there painting and they’d be like, “Is this a performance? What are you doing? Why are you painting?”
There’s no getting outside of the aspect of performance. Even in painting, it’s all performance. You know, the line is very performative. I thought, if that’s what I’m working with, l want to go all the way. So I kept painting and I was kind of disowned by the performance art track, which is the department that accepted me into the MFA program, but then Gregory Amenoff, who runs the painting department and is a lovely individual, adopted me and said, “You are a really good painter, you should paint if that’s what you want to do.”
And during that time, I came to the conclusion that there is no outside. There is no outside in terms of performance, but there is also no outside in terms of language, which means that we get to write the script and edit and manipulate it and tell the stories we have to tell. So my work took on a more active role, and the paintings became sets for interaction and for conversation. It’s all connected.
Rail: I’m wondering how much the viewer is or isn’t aware of this performative aspect. Is the process of making a painting performative or is the painting itself performative? Or is it that work somehow holds the traces of a performance?
Glynn: It’s everything. I take a lot of reference photos of myself mostly before I paint, so all of these performative actions are still at play. Even when I’m taking reference photos now, I’m moving and posing in ways that come back to performance. It’s movement, it’s body language, it’s choreography. It’s all kind of there, which is funny. Also, because I paint in acrylics, there’s no erasing, there’s no removing, it’s only addition. I paint in lots and lots and lots of very thin layers, so everything shows, all mistakes, all the trials—they’re all there, even if they’re underneath something else, and they have a way of showing up at certain times, in a certain light. You see a sequence of movements through the strokes and paint and the layers and layers of plastic. I love when the painting gives me that feeling, when I can stand in front of a painting and feel the wholeness of it from start to finish.
Rail: It’s interesting to me that when you arrived at an MFA program, you were put in a box even though you wanted to get outside of that box. Does that still happen with your work now that you are away from academia and out in the world?
Glynn: At times, yes. I feel like that’s happening more and more in the art world with marketing because everybody has a brand, right? The brand sometimes feels like all we have, at least today in this capitalist art market time that we’re living in, but sometimes it feels like the brand is off. Sometimes the brand is “trans artist,” which I don’t really know what to do with. I go back and forth with that quite a bit because I think, do I ever just get to be a painter? In a way, we’re back where we started in the sense that the artists who are too queer to compete with the boys are lumped together under the term queer figurative painting, which I can’t stand. We’re only allowed to compete with each other. I want to compete with boys and by boys, I mean history. Every time I pick up the brush I’m like, “Show him what you can do.”
I have this theory that the absence of a modifier in and of itself is a kind of signifier of privilege. Only straight white men get to be artists. Everyone else is a gay artist or a woman artist or an artist of color or a gay woman artist of color, etc., not that it is anything to deny, but for straight white men, that signifier is absent. So it’s like that absence is in itself a kind of signifier. That’s something that plays into my work, absence as signifier.
I am often asked why I paint myself, because my paintings are self-portraits, but of course, you would never ask a white cis man why he paints himself, although you would ask him about how he paints. Can we not shift this conversation about my work to what’s happening with form and color and composition and line? I would hope that there’s more interesting things happening in my work than just the fact that I’m a woman. But then again, you can’t untie these things. I play with time and space in my work, but obviously I’m also saying something about what it means to be a woman painting interiors. But what does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be anything at all? To be in a body or in a biosphere for that matter?
Sometimes I’m asked how I know if a painting is finished. And my answer is always the same: It feels like I’m taking a sledgehammer to a wall. Maybe over the course of a career, I will tear down that wall, but they’ll build another one. It’s constantly there, whether I like it or not. So in some ways maybe you have to learn to love the cage. I’m trying to incorporate that into the work now. So now I’m asking, “ok, how little does it take to create space or to make something where there wasn’t anything before?”
Rail: And in measuring those increments, you create a sense of the temporal, of that layering and moving you describe. What are you hoping the finished paintings, out in the world, achieve?
Glynn: For me, the impulse to destroy and the impulse to create have always been very close to each other. Have you ever had the urge to just destroy everything in your room just to see what happens, or to destroy your life even? Well, I find creating satisfies that impulse in a similar way, but it lasts longer. You’re making something new that never existed before. And in that sense, each painting is almost a wish, you know? An attempt.
Rail: What are you wishing for?
Glynn: Everything! Change, maybe. I’m intrigued by the idea that you can put an object into the world and by doing that, touch someone and connect. I think all art is about communication and connection, but sometimes that urge to connect comes from a sense of alienation. A lot of people want to place my work into a trans context, but it’s not so much about the alienation of being trans as it is about the alienation that comes from having an identity at all. Identity is the thing that defines us, but it can also be the thing that separates us.
Rail: It sounds like you’re very present to the experience of being in a body when you’re painting, that painting becomes an act of performance, or the paintings retain the trace of a performance. You’re considering your body and you’re looking at reference images of your body, but you’re also standing in front of a canvas, moving or not moving, but always thinking about the body in relation to the work and to the moment. Is that accurate?
Glynn: Definitely that is something I think about. I often think about the way desire feels on skin. Or what truth feels like in the body. The idea of truth is just a feeling. That gets really messy in this world of fake news, but when you tell a lie, you feel it, you feel horrible. But when you create something true, it’s like the smell of roses on a warm day on the breeze. When I’m painting, I put down the line and then I look at it and I think, that’s not true. So the line becomes a way of searching for something true in the artifice. Like most women, I’m unafraid of the truth. Something wonderful will come of it. And if I ignore it, nothing will come.
Rail: Is there joy in your practice?
Glynn: Of course! I love what I do. I’ve always loved painting. There’s nothing more exciting to me than the process. In the beginning of my career, I thought that the thrill was going to be having an exhibition, and of course that is always wonderful and something I’m very grateful for. But the real thrill, the one that I’m searching for, is actually here. It’s looking at a canvas and thinking anything’s possible and putting a mark down and going from there and changing it and making mistakes and taking risks and all of it. Once it’s on the walls in a gallery, the work slips into the past, you know? And so now that the exhibition has shipped and the paintings are no longer in my studio, I’m trying to rest, but no matter how hard I try, inspiration always seems to strike.