Gritty Glamour

By Wilkinson, Isabel | Newsweek, March 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

Gritty Glamour


Wilkinson, Isabel, Newsweek


Byline: Isabel Wilkinson

Marilyn Minter has something to say--and the art world is finally listening.

When i arrive at Marilyn Minter's Manhattan studio on an unseasonably warm March afternoon, the artist is presiding over her assistants the way an Old Master might. She lopes around a high-ceilinged room, where six young people are hunched before bright, large-scale canvases, each performing different tasks. Minter is the director-producer of the operation: she corrects details of one painting and then--midthought--wheels around to blurt out another. "Matt, can you hear me?" she says to an assistant who is wearing headphones while he paints. "See--he's wired in." In a way, it's a mix between a Renaissance studio and the programming department at Facebook.

Minter, who is 64, stands at almost 6 feet tall, with a shock of red hair echoed by an even brighter shade of lipstick. She strides around her studio in motorcycle boots, asking questions of her team and surveying the massive canvases hung around the room. She's preparing for an upcoming show at Regen Projects in Los Angeles (opening April 6), which will put five of her new, large-scale paintings next to early photographic work.

We sit down for our interview in a corner of the large studio, where a freshly poured Diet Coke is precariously placed on the edge of a low coffee table. Within minutes, someone has knocked it to the floor--sending shattered glass and ice cubes sliding in every direction. But Minter doesn't bat an eyelash. An assistant immediately descends on the scene with a dustpan. "Looks just like one of your paintings," he says about the mess.

And it's true: Minter is used to a little broken glass. Her paintings are composites of grimy body parts oozing with sweat and makeup. They're photographed under broken glass that has been sprayed with water, sprinkled with debris, and--in her new works--even covered with neon graffiti. In short, her work is giant spill.

But her process is anything but accidental; in fact, it's more than a little painstaking. To produce her large-scale paintings (which, she says, can take up to a full year to complete), Minter begins with straight photography, using both digital and analog film. She then manipulates an image using Photoshop to produce an eye or a pair of feet that is actually a composite of many different photos--and then takes a picture of that photo under glass that has been broken or covered in writing and water. That goes through many rounds, and then all of those pictures--using the drip of water from one image, and the dirt from another--are Photoshopped into one final picture. That final product is then projected onto canvas, where assistants called "blockers" record the shape and make notes of which colors are meant to appear where. After the first two coats have been applied, a "finisher" steps in to compete the process, adding accents and smudging the final lines with his or her fingers, which enhances the slightly gritty, out-of-focus effect of the subject.

Though Minter is often referred to as a photo-realist--an artist employing the technique of transferring photographs to paintings by grids, in the style of Chuck Close--she calls herself a "photo replacer. …

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