AF: Yes, exactly. I’m interested in reading more about traditions of Zen painting, and how they bridged control with accident, as a way to talk about mindfulness and acceptance. From what I understand, the preparation through training, repetition, and discipline ultimately makes way for the moment of improvisation. It becomes a way to understand what it means to be in a body in a moment in time.
LV: The last line of a Theodore Roethke poem comes to mind: “I measure time by how a body sways.” In “dematerialized” works, such as conceptual, site-specific and performance art, authorship is removed from the object itself and re-sited within the performativity of the author, thus circling back in the body of the artist. Miwon Kwon calls it the “return of the author,” in her book One Place After Another: Site- Specific Art and Locational Identity . Your paintings also deal with time.
AF: Painting is one way to make time material or physical, a way to slow down our everyday experience of time, both in the act of making it and in looking at it.
LV: You have spoken about color as being part of pre-planned optical systems, and materiality and gesture as part of a performative process. How do you think about color in perception in relation to this concept of the momentary?
AF: Good question. Color changes so dramatically in context, depending on what’s next to it, or how it’s lit. It’s constantly fluid in perception. I am a huge devotee of Josef Albers. Color is always striving. My work dissects perception, in order to get a fictional hold on it, to lock it down.
LV: But don’t you think color also reads as cultural code?
AF: I did have a painting that I realized was red, white, and blue. I nixed it and changed it to a greenish blue.
LV: It was too patriotic, or too obvious?
AF: I was hoping that the painting would transcend the reference point. But it didn’t.
LV: Certain color combinations are set in people’s minds.
AF: Color is so affecting emotionally, it has been a useful tool for culture to codify it for certain things—like red, white and blue, Christmas colors, or pink as the representation of femininity. Color is both purely phenomenological and iconic in culture. I’ve always thought that these two different ways to read color were at odds with one another. But now I think they function simultaneously. Culture assigns a color to stand for patriotism or femininity, it’s naturalized and internalized in an unconscious way, and that’s why it sticks.
LV: Naturalizing color to trigger emotive reaction is also tied to capitalism’s reliance on consumerism as the engine. So we have marketing to women: a whole pink ribbon campaign, with pink standing for a woman’s issue. Pink of course also codes for homosexuality; the pink triangle was used to persecute gays, and then it was reclaimed by queer activism. Its meaning shifted. Color is not natural, it is cultural!
AF: Yes, but it’s also phenomenological. I love pink, actually. Unlike red, white, and blue, or Christmas, that’s the one that I feel like I can own.
LV: You can own pink?
AF: I’m not afraid to own pink! And now, in thinking about it, there are good reasons I don’t feel I can own U.S.A. or Christmas. So, yes, I’m always trying to make the colors interact with one another in the moment so that they become something else, so that they don’t stay in one easy place. My paintings both affirm pink’s association with femininity and divorce it at the same time.
LV: How does our discussion of the cultural and phenomenological aspects of color relate to shades of skin tones and discussions about people of color and racism in this country? What do you think about the term “person of color,” for instance?
AF: I don’t address the issues of skin color directly, though I have written about how Byron Kim and Glenn Ligon have dealt with the intersection of identity, skin tone, and monochrome painting. For me as a painter, though, the more pertinent issue is seeing color as cultural. My parents emigrated from Bangladesh and we would go back to visit every other year. I remember flying back to the United States on one such trip, getting delayed, and spending the night in New York. I helped translate for a young Bangladeshi woman, a stranger, who had never left her country before. I remember looking at her in JFK, and she had the most intense mustard sweater on. It was the dead of winter: everything around her was black and grey, the airport decor, the other passengers’ clothing, the landscape through the window. She looked outside and asked me what types of tree these were, trees that had no leaves. The color saturation of her sweater was so striking, and it was a metaphor for her being out of place.