An exuberant restless sprawl: Interview with Lynn Putney

Monday, June 4, 2012 - 10:01pm
chris anne raymond

When I first laid eyes on Lynn Putney’s work at Artomatic, the colors looked good enough to eat. Intensely saturated, warm yellows and orange reds danced around blues and blacks in what looked like some friendly alien garden.

While charcoal as a medium was her first love, Lynn now works in casein and her work achieves its luminosity from how the milk paint hardens. To the right is the piece Obla-Di.

Lynn, who works full time at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, was kind enough to answer some questions about her work.

1. Is this your first Artomatic?

I've exhibited in every AOM except one! I wish I could say I’ve been in all of them, but I was overwhelmed by other obligations in 2009. AOM has grown so much since that first foray in the Manhattan Laundry building, I’m genuinely impressed with how the organizers stay on top of it and actively improve the process each successive year. The current online volunteer shift management, for example, is positively dreamy.

2. Can you describe the inspiration and process behind the work you are showing at AOM 2012?

Inspiration is a tricky question, but I think the bottom line is I try to only make images I’m genuinely compelled to make, letting the experiences and thoughts of the day dissolve into the act of painting and rearrange themselves into pictorial form. One of my favorite painters, Squeak Carnwath, has said “Painting is an investigation of being,” which sums it up rather nicely.

In terms of process, I usually have at least three (and more likely five to seven) pieces going at a time, turning my attention to each when it seems to tug on my sleeve. It’s a bit like having individual, personal conversations with a room full of people, each in their turn. When a piece and I have nothing left to say to each other, that piece is done. In the course of the “conversation” I usually end up scraping away as much paint as I add, the layering you see in the work is a natural outgrowth of the process.

4. How did you start making art? Why did you choose the medium(s) you work in?

Making art has always been an important part of my life (and central to my happiness, frankly) even before attending art school. My degree is in intaglio printmaking. After graduating I moved from Iowa to DC and started looking for a co-op printmaking studio but quickly realized that I didn't miss the technical aspects of printmaking at all and gravitated toward painting and drawing instead.

Charcoal is my long-time favorite drawing medium. I love the sensitivity of soft vine charcoal and the flowing, lovely loose hand it can support. At the other end of the spectrum, those big, square-edged compressed sticks yield a velvety, bottomless black that’s really gorgeous. Using both in one drawing can make some very nice things happen.

After trying acrylics, oils, and a three-year flirtation with glazes fired on ceramic tile, for about eight years now I’ve chosen to paint exclusively with casein on grade-A plywood panels. Casein in simplest terms is milk paint; powdered pigments plus a milk protein binder. It’s soluble in water, but after drying thoroughly the painted surface cures to an extremely durable finish. It’s a real treat to paint without needing solvents and I’ve found casein to be a very flexible, robust medium. Acrylics dry too quickly for me, but casein be revived with a bit of water and reworked even a few days after application, which is really useful to me since I have to work my studio hours in and around the work week.

5. Any general advice/insights for others who are considering participating in the next Artomatic?

Do it! I don’t understand AOM naysayers—what are they afraid of? Where’s the harm? It’s an exuberant, restless sprawl of an event—there’s plenty to like and plenty to dislike—but anything that supports community, creativity and expression on this scale can only be a good thing in my opinion.

Lynn’s portfolio can be seen at her website. A longer version of this interview appears at my tumblog, Girl Meets Art.