Louise Bourgeois Takes Centre Stage This Summer

Explore the fearless creativity of the artist Louise Bourgeois in a groundbreaking exhibition this summer.

Article by Victoria Pearson

1990_LOUISE BOURGEOIS BY YANN CHARBONNIERLouise Bourgeois, 1990 © Yann Charbonnier. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of NSW.

Visitors are invited to embark on a journey into the strange beauty and emotional power of the famed French–American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales this summer. The major exhibition, titled “Louise Bourgeois: Has the Day Invaded the Night or Has the Night Invaded the Day?”, is an exclusive offering as part of the Sydney International Art Series 2023–24.

Curated by the Art Gallery’s head curator of international art, Justin Paton, and in collaboration with The Easton Foundation, New York, this exhibition is a tribute to Bourgeois’s influential career. Born in Paris in 1911 and later residing in New York until her passing in 2010, Bourgeois delves into themes such as family, motherhood, sexuality, and mortality with daring creativity.

Louise Bourgeois_5
Installation of Louise Bourgeois 'Maman' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, November 2023, photo © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Felicity Jenkins.
destruction of the father-0019-RA-1_LG
Louise Bourgeois 'The Destruction of the Father' 1974, archival polyurethane, resin, wood, fabric, red light, 237.8 x 362.3 x 248.6 cm, Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland © The Easton Foundation, photo: Ron Amstutz.

Spanning more than 120 works, this exhibition marks the largest and most comprehensive display of Bourgeois’s work in the Asia-Pacific region. Rarely seen pieces, including the iconic spider sculpture “Maman” and works such as “The Destruction of the Father” and “Clouds and Caverns”, make their Australian debut.

The curating traverses two distinct spaces in the gallery’s new North Building, with ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ offering a chronological exploration of Bourgeois’s seven-decade career. The presentation includes projections of Bourgeois’s psychoanalytic writings by the text-based artist Jenny Holzer and a musical contribution by the composer Kali Malone.

Louise Bourgeois_3
Louise Bourgeois 'Arch of Hysteria' 1993, bronze, polished patina, 83.8 x 101.6 x 58.4 cm, Collection The Easton Foundation, New York © The Easton Foundation, photo: Christopher Burke.
Louise Bourgeois_4
Louise Bourgeois 'Untitled (Broom Woman)' 1997, steel, steel welds, wood broom head, fabric, 162.6 x 61 x 33 cm, private collection, courtesy Hauser & Wirth Collection Services © The Easton Foundation, photo: Christopher Burke.
Louise Bourgeois: THE COUPLE
Louise Bourgeois 'The Couple' 2003, aluminium, 365.1 x 200 x 109.9 cm, private collection, New York © The Easton Foundation, photo: Jonathan Leijonhufvud.

Supported by the NSW Government and part of the Sydney International Art Series, this retrospective showcases Bourgeois’s ceaseless exploration of life’s extremes. Alongside the exhibition, a free film series, “Louise Bourgeois goes to the movies”, curated by the Art Gallery’s film curator Ruby Arrowsmith-Todd, unveils Bourgeois’s lesser-known passion for cinema.

This ambitious exhibition, open now until April 28, 2024, not only pays tribute to a groundbreaking artist but also pushes the boundaries of art exploration at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Purchase tickets here.

Australia’s Largest Kandinsky Retrospective Is Now Open

The 50-piece exhibition, hosted by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, is curated in collaboration with New York’s Guggenheim museum.

Article by T Australia

Kandinsky_1Kandinsky with his painting 'Dominant curve (Courbe dominante)', Paris 1936, photo: Boris Lipnitzki © Boris Lipnitzki / Roger-Viollet. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of NSW.

The Sydney International Art Series 2023-24 has officially unveiled “Kandinsky,” a landmark exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, curated in collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. A visual feast, the exhibit brings forth over 50 works – the largest of its kind in Australia – that trace the remarkable artistic journey of Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944).

Vasily Kandinsky 'Composition 8' July 1923, oil on canvas, 140.3 x 200.7 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, by gift, photo courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
Vasily Kandinsky 'Landscape with rain' January 1913, oil on canvas, 70.5 x 78.4 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, photo courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

This extensive exhibition offers a profound exploration of Kandinsky’s extraordinary life. From his creative origins in Munich to his return to Moscow during World War I, followed by the interwar years at the Bauhaus in Germany and a concluding experimental phase in Paris, “Kandinsky” unveils the evolution of this influential European modernist.

Curated by Megan Fontanella and Jackie Dunn, the exhibition draws on the Guggenheim’s extensive Kandinsky holdings, presenting celebrated masterpieces like “Blue Mountain” (1908-09) and “Composition 8” (1923). Most notably, these works, integral to the iconic Guggenheim Museum, are making their Australian debut, ensuring a one-of-a-kind experience for Sydney patrons.

Vasily Kandinsky 'Capricious forms' July 1937, oil on canvas, 88.9 x 114.8 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, photo courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
Vasily Kandinsky 'Painting with white border' May 1913, oil on canvas, 140.3 x 200.3 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, by gift, photo courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Beyond the canvases, “Kandinsky” offers a multi-sensory experience. The exhibition delves into Kandinsky’s profound relationship with music, paralleling his groundbreaking visual artistry with auditory exploration. Additionally, a specially commissioned artist project by Desmond Lazaro promises to immerse visitors in the ideas that influenced Kandinsky, creating a wondrous and interactive experience for all ages.

Alongside “Kandinsky,” the Art Gallery will present an adjunct exhibition, “Invisible Friends,” showcasing spirit drawings by British medium Georgiana Houghton. Running from November 4, 2023, to March 10, 2024, this exhibition provides a rare glimpse into Houghton’s works, underlining the significant role spiritualism played in early modernism.

The exhibition reflects the ongoing commitment of the Art Gallery to engage with European modern artists, marking a new chapter in their exploration of influential figures in modernism.

An Artist Whose Work is Tethered to the Natural World

Dan Kyle creates emotional, evocative landscape paintings surrounded by wildlife and pristine waters.

Article by Victoria Pearson

Dan Kyle_2The artist Dan Kyle, photographed inside his studio by Leif Prenzlau.

On Dharug country, at the foot of New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, the artist Dan Kyle’s studio is flanked by two ever-flowing, pristine creeks. Built by his partner during the Covid-19 pandemic, the structure is made from two shipping containers bolted together with large double doors. “It’s heaven,” says Kyle. “Lyre bird song all day long, and last week I saw a wombat – first time ever on the property.”

As Kyle describes, it’s an ideal environment for creation. “It’s calm and quiet. It sometimes feels very strange, like I’m in this little sardine can of high energy in this pristine place, and all the animals are like ‘What the bloody hell is he doing in there?’.”

The natural world dominates Kyle’s artistic output (“I literally cannot stop painting waterfalls”). “The natural world is so, so neglected, and it constantly breaks my heart,” he says. “I’m so obsessed with all things nature; she’s so beautiful, so fragile but so resilient and strong. I’m just trying to keep connected to it, and that’s the problem with the world – so many people are so disconnected and it’s making us sick. I’m deeply interested in flowers, all kinds, indigenous and introduced they’re the life givers and we need them to survive. Water and flowers should be our top priority.”

Below, the Kyle opened the doors to his studio and answered the T Australia Artist’s Questionnaire.

Dan Kyle_1
Inside the artist Dan Kyle's Blue Mountains studio. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

What is your day like? How much do you sleep, and what’s your work schedule?

It changes from day-to-day or week-to-week. I’m pretty inconsistent with everything I do. Fortunately, I’m a pretty good sleeper, up at 5am-ish every day and then always in bed about 9pm. I need it! Some days I’m in the studio working from 8am-4pm, and then maybe back in again a little later, with a wine. Some days I don’t even open the door, I go bushwalking or I’m gardening or I’m at ballet class which I started this year and I love it so much. It’s hilarious.

How many hours of creative work do you think you do in a day?

It varies dramatically. I feel like creative work isn’t defined by studio time, painting or making. My brain is always ticking.

What’s the first piece of art you ever made?

I used to draw Ariel from [the Disney film] “The Little Mermaid” obsessively. My mum still has one of the first ones I ever did folded up in her wallet, I was seven, apparently.

What’s the worst studio you ever had?

I’m currently having my studio renovated so right now I’m working in the worst studio I’ve ever had: My living room. It’s really dark and I feel like I’m going to go blind and the house smells like solvents.

What’s the first work you ever sold? For how much?

The first painting I ever sold was at a local restaurant, I think it was maybe $200. The chef let me put some paintings up after I told him the walls were dreary. It was a good gig, I sold maybe 10 all up while I was still at art school.

Dan Kyle_3
"First Splash II", 180 x 120cm oil and mixed media on canvas. Photograph supplied.
Dan Kyle_4
"All Day Rain", 120 x 120cm oil and mixed media on board. Photography supplied.

When you start a new piece, where do you begin?

Definitely the funnest part. With any new canvas I just go absolutely wild; “no worries” kind of painting. No conscious decisions, I just grab whatever is closest to me in the studio, whatever colour, whatever brush or spray can and just go for it. It’s high energy, some sort of music blaring its loudest. Feels like a workout.

How do you know when you’re done?

It’s quite strange, it just happens. There’s no check list or anything like that, there’s no criteria for a painting to be finished its just a feeling that comes over and I’m like, “You’re done”.

How many assistants do you have?

Technically none but I get my partner Andy to help with the heavy stuff, he built me an enviable storage rack last year, it changed my life, He’s the best.

What do you listen to when you’re making art?

There’s always something on, I kind of hate the silence when I’m working I get in my head way too much. I love podcasts about artist or featuring artists. “TalkArt” is my favourite; the boys are so funny and really let the artists they interview have the floor.

When did you first feel comfortable saying you’re a professional artist?

It took me ages. I used to say “I’m a painter,” and then never correct people when they thought I painted houses. I almost gave a quote to a girl from school I ran into to paint her house. Cash was at an all-time low.

Dan Kyle_5
The artist Dan Kyle. Photograph supplied.

Is there a meal you eat on repeat when you’re working?

Not really, but I don’t buy bread anymore because I literally eat toast all day if I do…

What’s the weirdest object in your studio?

It’s probably not that weird … I have boxes and boxes of every flower I’ve ever painted with – I can’t let them go. They’re so beautiful, all dried and covered in paint, and some are really mouldy, but I look at them almost every day.

How often do you talk to other artists?

I talk to my best mate Annalisa Ferraris every day. We met at art school and were just navigating this whole art world thing together. I’d either quit or lose my mind if I couldn’t bounce everything off her.

What do you do when you’re procrastinating?

You’ll either find me opening the fridge every 10 minutes or I take myself for long bush walks. Bushwalking kind of feels like you’re doing work but, slowing down and looking deeply, thinking about work, life, everything. It’s all relative.

What do you usually wear when you work?

Most of the time it’s what I slept in, everything eventually crosses over from painting clothes to pyjamas, or vice-a-versa. It’s cold about 10 months of the year up here in the mountains, so getting out of bed and getting changed into something else doesn’t happen very often.

If you have windows, what do they look out on?

In my good studio I look straight out into the bush. Through the trees I can see the distant escarpments, it’s magical. The filtered light pours in.

What do you bulk buy with most frequency?

Wine and titanium white oil paint – I go through a lot of both.

Dan Kyle_6
"December Downpour", 180 x 110cm, oil and mixed media on canvas 2021. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

What’s your worst habit?

Automatic self-doubt, habitually saying no to everything is a real problem I’m slowly working on.

What embarrasses you?

Of course I think about some dumb stuff I’ve said before, but so does everyone. Honestly though, not much, which now that I’m thinking about, is pretty great. Life is too short, and I finally feel pretty comfortable in my skin.

Do you exercise?

I try to do something every day, I do run a lot but if my energy is low I just take a leisurely bush walk. I’ve recently starting Pilates which I think is really psychically helping my practice, I stand up all day so I think my lower back is getting stronger!

What are you reading?

I just finished “Call me by your name”… again, I’m obsessed with Timothée Chalamet, and I can now picture Elio as him in the book so it’s even better, even hotter.

What’s your favourite artwork by someone else?

“A Rainbow” by Howard Hodgkin.

What do you love about it?

So much. It’s so crisp and so brave. Its initial painting feels so slow, so meditative, and then there is this blast of hot energy over the top, three swipes of paint; like a few deep breaths which could have either made it or broke it. I admire the artist so much for that. I also ran into him in a hotel lobby in Delhi a few years ago which was like my biggest fan girl moment. The painting is also owned by an Australian, which is pretty cool to know.

Portrait of an Artist: Sally Gabori

In Milan, First Nations Australian artist Sally Gabori is celebrated in a major solo retrospective exhibition.

Article by Alexia Petsinis

Nyinyilki-2011-01Nyinyilki, 2011, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 196 × 301 cm, Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo, Australia, Purchase, 2016 © The Estate of Sally Gabori. Photo © Simon Strong.

T Australia wishes to advise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that this article contains images and names of deceased Aboriginal people.

Exuberant colour, organic rhythms and a freedom of spirit that radiates from every brush stroke; regardless of where you see one in the world, a painting by Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori (1924-2015) envelops you in a universal experience of human emotion, drawn from the First Nations Australian artist’s lived experience.

Considered one of Australia‘s most celebrated contemporary artists of the past two decades, a selection of the Kaiadilt woman’s abstract paintings are on display in Italy for the first time in a major solo survey exhibition at Triennale Milano, conceived and curated by Fondation Cartier.

It is difficult to comprehend the emotions Gabori might have experienced in the revelatory moment she first picked up a paintbrush at 81 years of age. The exhibition showcases 30 of Gabori’s expansive paintings (some over six metres long) that enliven one of Triennale Milano’s main exhibition halls, alongside three paintings she produced in collaboration with other Kaiadilt artists, including her daughters. The works offer a spirited journey of discovery for Italian and international viewers; of Gabori’s life, art, and boundless imagination, yes, but also the narratives and truths inherent in world’s oldest living culture.

Frequently referred to as “love letters to Country”, Gabori’s paintings evoke both personal and ancestral stories at once. Her works educate international audiences about the Kaiadilt community’s forced evacuation from Bentinck Island in1948, when Gabori and her family were among the last surviving Kaiadilt residents to be exiled to the Presbyterian mission on Mornington Island. This intervention saw Kaiadilt children separated from their parents, and the community was forbidden to communicate in their native language. These narratives of personal and collective devastation and of a cultural fracturing manifest in the rawness of form and colour in Gabori’s work.

Fondation Cartier's Sally Gabori retrospective. Photography courtesy of Cartier.

“Sally Gabori’s story will be quite foreign to most of her audience, whether in Australia or in Europe,” says First Nations and Head Curator of First Nations Art at National Gallery of Australia, Bruce Johnson McLean. “An 80-year-old woman who lived the entire experience of the Australian colonial frontier, a woman who knew the creation stories of her tiny island home intimately. These things are unfathomable and unknowable to the overwhelming majority of her audience.

“Although Sally’s paintings speak to these histories and stories, they also speak to the places she calls home, and to the family she loved and shared memories with at these places,” continues McLean. “They project themes of love, of loss, of longing, of joy, of memory – things that I hope everyone can relate to. It’s this dichotomy or duality of things known and unknowable, familiar and foreign, universal and personal, which really seems to connect with people no matter where they’re from” he says.

Gabori’s prolific output (she painted over two thousand canvases, often several a day, in her nine years as a practicing artist) indicates a physical and emotional intensity that defined her practice. Painting was her most natural means of self-expression, and one that had seemingly been missing from her life to that point. Gabori didn’t paint for an audience, she painted for herself. This idea is illustrated in the exhibition’s 2009 video footage of Gabori painting Dibirdibi Country at the Mornington Island Art & Craft Centre, the site where she first discovered her beloved artform. The artist sits on the floor at the base of her linen canvas that stretches above her towards the ceiling, applying primary acrylic colours spontaneously and purely according to her own inner rhythm.

Although abstract in appearance with gestural large blocks of colour, Gabori’s paintings are akin to topographical maps of personally significant landmarks on her native Bentinck Island. Associated with people and stories from her personal life and ancestral narratives, these places are represented numerous times throughout her body of work, and include Nyinyilki, a site on the south-eastern coast of the island that is home to a freshwater lagoon, Thundi, an area in the island’s northern tip where Gabori’s father was born, and Dibirdibi, the site most often represented in her large-scale work, the Country of Kaiadilt People’s yuujbant (Dreaming) ancestor, the Rock Cod.

Sally Gabori, Amanda Gabori & Elsie Gabori Pat and Sally’s Country, 2011, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 198 × 305 cm Patricia Roberts, Melbourne, Australia © The Estate of Sally Gabori. Photo © Simon Strong.

“Italy has such a long and proud tradition and culture of art production and exhibition,” notes McLean. “Few Australian artists have held exhibitions in Italy outside of the Venice Biennale, so for Sally Gabori to be exhibited in an important Italian venue like the Triennale Milano marks an extraordinary moment for Sally’s work and legacy, and for First Nations art and artists from Australia more broadly.”

Following a successful opening season in Paris at Fondation Cartier’s museum, the exhibition now comes to Italy as part of the Fondation’s eight-year partnership with Triennale Milano. A world-leading cultural institution for contemporary art and design spanning a range of discourses, Triennale appears to be the ideal location for an ambitious show of this nature. The institution is driven by a mission to broaden global awareness about indigenous cultures and languages. In the case of this exhibition, it explores the significance of Gabori’s art in shaping global cultural legacies and contemporary visual culture. A collaborative project organised in close consultation with the artist’s family and the Kaiadilt community, the exhibition includes a selection of loaned works from Australian galleries such as Queensland Art Gallery, National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and HOTA (Home of the Arts).

“Milan is definitely the capital in Italy for design and architecture, but contemporary art also has a strong presence with many dedicated institutions,” says director of collections at Fondation Cartier, Grazia Quaroni. “Audiences are international, curious and demanding, and always seeking new discoveries. Thanks to the generosity of all lenders for this exhibition, including the most important museum institutions in Australia, we can continue to extend awareness about such an extraordinary artist like Sally Gabori.”

Fondation Cartier's Sally Gabori retrospective. Photography courtesy of Cartier.

In the context of an ongoing cultural exchange between Australia and Italy, the exhibition nurtures an increasing interest in Australian First People’s art in major Italian cities with a diverse and progressive artistic sensibility. This interest is based on both aesthetic, thematic and cultural intrigue about First People’s Australian art, a genre that continues to evolve in public consciousness through exhibitions of contemporary artists like Gabori, and the inherent truth-telling capacity of their work. While Gabori painted purely for personal expression, her art continues to uplift and educate viewers around the world, constituting a universal language of its own that transcends continents in its ability to capture the full spectrum of the human experience.

“Danda ngijinda dulk, danda ngijinda malaa, danda ngad” (This is my Land, this is my Sea, this is who I am),  Sally Gabori.

Nyinyilki, 2010, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 196 × 300 cm Private collection, Melbourne, Australia © The Estate of Sally Gabori. Photo © Simon Strong.

In Raw Pigment Powders Extracted from the Earth, an Artist Discovers the Essence of Being

A few kilometres outside of Verona, Italy, the painter Indivi Sutton tours a family-owned firm devoted to colour.

Article by T Australia

INDIVI SUTTON 1Photography by Indivi Sutton.

The New York-born, Sydney-based painter Indivi Sutton has long been enchanted by colour. Her fascination was first sparked during classes at New York’s Rudolf Steiner School, only deepening through her subsequent education with the contemporary American painter Paton Miller and in colour theory and painting studies undertaken at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Sutton first discovered raw pigment powders in Venice. “I found there was nothing else that enabled me to achieve the movement and layering on raw linen,” she says. “These saturated powders hold the presence of nature and a vital energy, and painting with them feels very connected to the way story telling evolves in my work.”

The translucent quality of the pigments allow Sutton to build gradual tone, perception and depth, resulting in works that depict aura-like revelations. “The pigments have allowed me to explore colour as entities themselves, and to connect with my sensory intuition and ultimately the voice of the work.”

Here, Sutton talks to T Australia about her visit to Dolci Colori, a family-owned pigment firm founded over 100 years ago by Aturo Dolci, and her journey to the essence of the powders that have served as the beating heart of the family for four generations.

On Andrea Dolci…

I have been waiting for three years to visit and meet Andrea, the great grandson of Alturo… I rode by bike to Dolci Colori to meet Andrea, about half-an-hour from the train station in Verona. His beautiful mother was busy in the storefront that sells the firms earth colours, oxides, products for restoration, building and bio-building, lime paints, washable paints, plasters, spatolato and ecologic product. Andrea appears and leads me into the factory, his gentle nature expresses immediately the connection he has to the process and meaning of his material. In his office are cabinets filled with files of powder, many from his grandfather that are almost encyclopaedic in the stories they hold.

On the treatment process…

The walls that lead to the factory are painted with pigment colour samples, [and] as we venture into the manufacturing area he shows me the barrels that are filled with the ground minerals that have released their essence in mounds of vibrant colour. Some of the most potent red pigment comes from the earth surrounding Verona. Each earth colouring is treated with a different working process; some are coarsely crushed, some first fired in the kiln or others are mulled by hammer or ball mills. It is a process of experimentation over many years that has given Andrea the knowledge to understand each mineral and how best to extract its colour.

On the origins of earth colour…

I am amazed by [his] generosity in sharing his knowledge, and how we find a common language in colour. Surrounded by these gifts of the earth I have a new appreciation of why I am so connected to the pigments. He tells stories of the origins of earth colour, from the reds, ochres, yellows, purple and green earths that are regionally specific but principally due to hydroxide silicates (iron, magnesium and alkali). For example, green earth of Prun lies in basaltic canals in southern Verona. I am mesmerised. He brings me to his workshop where he reveals how deep his emotion for creating colour feeds his constant experimentation, and we very naturally connect to the shared love we experience by bringing these earth colours into being.

On the purity of the pigments…

We talked for a long time, and he drove me to the train to return to Venice. To meet the maker of these essential ingredients was to connect with someone that truly understood their power, and our appreciation for each other’s expression was beyond words. What became so evident is that this age-old practice of the releasing of colour from the very material of nature and the earth gives rise to nothing truer in its purity of expression and depth, because it holds with it the very essence of being.

This interview has been condensed and edited. 

View Indivi Sutton’s works at “Evermore” at Saint Cloche Gallery, Paddington, from May 24, and “Eurythmy” at KI SMITH Gallery, New York, from October 16 to November 26. 

An Artist Whose Work Might (Possibly) Have Its Own Free Will

Tauba Auerbach’s brilliant, mathematical paintings and sculptures are as playful as they are conceptual.

Article by Julia Felsenthal

16-TMAG-AUERBACH-ARTIST-2The artist Tauba Auerbach in their studio on New York’s Lower East Side. Photography by Melody Melamed.

Every morning when the artist Tauba Auerbach arrives at their ground-floor studio, housed in an old metal-stamping factory on New York’s Lower East Side, they race down to the basement to check on the contents of their glass kiln. On a recent afternoon, Auerbach, wearing a mismatched paint-spattered sweatsuit and clogs and a black apron, guided me down the steep stairs to show me some of the work they will unveil on March 18 at their first show in five years at Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea. “I’m newly in love,” Auerbach declared of the kiln, inspecting its recent issue: wafer-thin lattices made from granulated coloured glass called frit; sprinkled and baked, the grains fuse together, leaving gaps as they contract to form distinctive, delicate architectures. “This might sound silly, but I just understand how profound it is, the oven as a technology to change the state of this material.”

Auerbach, 41, has been making what they call frit lace for only about six months, but experimenting across mediums is the artist’s hallmark; they’re at home in what they call “that unique, scary place of unknowns.” Raised in San Francisco by a mother and father who worked as consultants designing performing arts spaces, Auerbach credits their own punky, science fair approach to being an only child and “having to amuse myself at my parents’ office for long periods of time with their office supplies.” Later, as an undergraduate at Stanford University studying art, Auerbach spent a year designing rudimentary machines in the mechanical engineering department — “probably my best experience at that school,” they said. Where their peers sought out M.F.A.s, Auerbach, who was interested in typography, spent part of college and a couple of years just after graduation working as a sign painter at San Francisco’s New Bohemia Signs.

In 2008 they moved to New York, where they made waves at the 2010 Whitney Biennial with their “Fold” paintings, spray-painted canvases that were flat but seemed crumpled, a trompe l’oeil trick that reflected the artist’s enduring preoccupation with interdimensionality. Initially lumped in with a market-driven frenzy for young abstract painters, Auerbach resisted pigeonholing. (“I was always going to move on,” they recalled of that era. “I don’t really stay on one thing for that long.”) In parallel with making paintings, drawings and sculpture, they have designed a multiplayer pump organ with the musician Cameron Mesirow; modelled sculpturelike pop-up books of complex geometric shapes; marbleised the exterior of a fireboat in New York Harbour; hooked a microphone to a pen in a musical collaboration with the band Zs; and produced a mesmerising video capturing footage of silicone droplets dancing on the vibrations of a speaker cone. Through the side project Diagonal Press, Auerbach publishes open-edition artist books and specimen posters of the typefaces they design in their spare time.

Auerbach uses the studio’s front room for spray painting. For a series of new paintings, they’ve dialed down the compressor pressure “to make more of a droplet than a mist,” they explained. “I’m trying to make these kind of particulate backgrounds with different colors.” Photography by Melody Melamed.
In the office area, the artist Sam Chun’s sculpture “Space Jam” hangs alongside a poster by Auerbach’s partner Lele Saveri (top left), a long, skinny print by Brenna Murphy (below and to the right), a painting by Fredrik Varslev (top right) and a “Goals of Life” flier by V. Vale (bottom right). Photography by Melody Melamed.

Surveying the breadth of Auerbach’s practice and the diverse bodies of knowledge they dip into, I began to think of the artist as a sort of antenna, picking up invisible signals from across time and space (this impression was likely bolstered by the way they wear their eyeliner: antenna-like, drawn an inch or so past each outer canthus). Their work is rigorously conceptual and often engages with the kind of brain-twisting math many of us have spent our lives avoiding: space-filling curves, string theory, fluid dynamics, the fourth dimension. But it can also be elegantly simple, poetic and physical, a way of processing abstract ideas through the body.

Auerbach’s new work emerged from no less heady a quandary than the existence of free will. “My personal jury is out,” they said of the subject, but they found intriguing a theory postulated by the late English-born mathematician John Conway that not only do humans possess free will, but so does particulate matter. This would mean the beautiful frit lace patterns could be interpreted as an expression of the will of the glass molecules. Two more series underway in Auerbach’s sprawling studio — undulating beaded sculptures and pointillist paintings based on photos of soap bubbles assembling under a microscope — speak to the particular and efficient way that spheres self-organise in space.

Putting aside scientific and philosophical underpinnings, these new pieces feel nostalgic, flirting with the aesthetics of friendship bracelets, suncatchers and magic eye posters. I am struck by Auerbach’s playfulness. In late 2021, they mounted a survey show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and stayed for a while at their childhood home. During that time, their mother resurfaced a book the artist had made as a child using one of those vibrating pens that loops along as you write. “The book was about how you could join the squiggle wiggle writing club,” remembered Auerbach. The club’s name might plausibly apply to the artist’s recent series of “Ligature” drawings: rhythmic, calligraphic doodles of meandering wavelike shapes. “It made me ask the question: Have I grown up?” Auerbach said. “I mean, I think the answer to that is a solid no.”

A printer with storage above. Photography by Melody Melamed.
A steel chair by the Wisconsin artist Robert C. Anderson sits below a drawing by Auerbach’s cousin Maya Schindler. To the right, from bottom to top: a calendar designed by Saveri; one designed by Auerbach; a drawing by the artist Margaret Kilgallen; and a drawing by the theosophist and architect Claude Bragdon, whose books Auerbach has re-published through Diagonal Press. Photography by Melody Melamed.
Auerbach’s glass kiln, in the building’s basement. Inside are just-baked examples of the frit lace they’ve been making using granulated glass. Photography by Melody Melamed.
Auerbach fuses the frit lace to thicker pieces of solid glass to preserve the delicate structures. Photography by Melody Melamed.

Seated at the table in their studio kitchen before a postmodern teapot vaguely resembling a chicken, Auerbach answered T’s Artist’s Questionnaire.

What is your day like? How much do you sleep, and what’s your work schedule?

Well, I used to be a huge night owl, and that changed a couple years ago when my partner [Lele Saveri] started working as an EMT. He wakes up at 5:45 a.m. for his shift, so we shifted our day. And I’m surprised to love being up early in the morning. Maybe I’m just getting old. I love being up late at night too, but you have to choose, and they have some of the same appeal: a kind of quiet that I really relish. It takes me a while to thaw out in the morning. I work usually six days a week. It depends what’s going on. Right now, I get here early in the morning and I leave pretty late, and I’m not taking any days off.

How many hours of creative work do you think you do in a day?

I really don’t know how to answer that. First, I thought I don’t know how to answer that because I don’t know where work starts and stops. But then I realised, I don’t know what is being creative and what’s not. Like, is just the planning phase of something the creative work, and then the execution, is that still creative work? I guess the general answer is that it’s a very blurry line.

What’s the first piece of art you ever made?

I know I made it at an age when I was too young to remember. But there’s a piece of artwork hanging at my parents’ house, made when I was four or five, “Peanut and Toast.” It’s a little painting of a piece of toast and a big peanut.

What’s the worst studio you ever had?

The corner of one bedroom. The floor of another bedroom in San Francisco. But you know what? I’m fond of all my previous studios in different ways.

What’s the first work you ever sold? For how much?

I think it was a drawing that said the word “Like” or “Um.” It was at an event in San Francisco in 2003 or 2004 called the Monster Drawing Rally, where a bunch of people sit at a table and draw quickly. You have maybe 30 minutes and you make five drawings or something, and then everybody sells the drawings for 25 bucks each. And I think that was the first time I made a cash transaction for an artwork.

In the front room, printouts of digitally altered photographs of soap foam taken under a microscope. Auerbach processes the images to add colour, then copies them onto spray-painted Dibond panels using a projector and a system of pointillist dots. Photography by Melody Melamed.
Assorted paints in the spray-painting room. Photography by Melody Melamed.

When you start a new piece, where do you begin?

A lot of testing and making of swatches and then a lot of just sitting around and thinking about it. I do just let myself sit and think, which is hard.

How do you know when you’re done?

Ideally, not just when I’m out of time. Sometimes I let something rest for a while and if it feels like I don’t need to come back to it, then it’s done. But sometimes I have to test it out and see if it really is.

How many assistants do you have?

I have one person who works for me full time, Allison. And one person who works for me two days a week doing Diagonal Press stuff, Kathleen. They’re fantastic. And right now I have a bunch of short-term help to finish things for this show. I’m so grateful for the help right now.

Have you assisted other artists before? If so, who?

The only artist I’ve assisted was my old boss at the sign-painting shop, Damon Styer — one of the best painters I know. We’ve done two murals together since I stopped working there.

What did you learn from sign painting?

So much. Not just technique. It’s a certain kind of procedural way of thinking about painting, but also something much more visceral. You have to find a sweet spot between speed and effortful precision. If you go too fast, you’ll be inaccurate. But if you go really slowly, there’ll be a quiver in your line, and it won’t look graceful.

What do you listen to when you’re making art?

Music, books and podcasts. But music is important. I like listening to free jazz, experimental music, industrial music. I have a lot of friends who I think make beautiful music. I’ve been going down a wormhole listening to punk music that I used to listen to: Converge, Lightning Bolt. If you want to hear what was on rotation last week it was Miles Davis, Deli Girls, Hiro Kone, Maximum Joy.

When did you first feel comfortable saying you’re a professional artist?

I’m still not comfortable saying that.

Is there a meal you eat on repeat when you’re working?

I tend to order the same sandwich from the vegan grocery store three blocks away: tofu, fake egg, avocado, spicy mayo.

Toward the back of the studio, new beaded sculptures for the artist’s forthcoming show at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York. Auerbach described the works’ structure as “a three-dimensional mesh” recalling fascia, the human connective tissue. Photography by Melody Melamed.

What’s the weirdest object in your studio?

I have a lot of material samples, like foams made out of aluminium, and a piece of glass, called fulgurite, that’s made from lightning hitting sand. I have a lot of conveyor belt samples. They’re interlocking metal, often helixes. I’ve named several pieces after this category of things: flexible fabrics made of inflexible parts.

How often do you talk to other artists?

All the time. But I think I have more friends who are musicians than visual artists.

What do you do when you’re procrastinating?

I do this kind of twisted thing where I do chores on my to-do list other than the thing that I really need to do — discrete tasks that are easy to check off the list. And that way I’ve tricked myself into feeling productive. It’s a terrible habit.

What’s the last thing that made you cry and when?

My sweet, brilliant dad having cancer and suffering. I was crying five minutes before you came over.

What do you usually wear when you work?

You’re looking at it: sweats, sometimes an apron because of the kiln. It’s so dusty down there, and my pants were getting so gross with dust sticking to the paint. I wear shoes that I can slip on and off because I’m often changing into and out of rain boots for spraying.

If you have windows, what do they look out on?

A whole bunch of trees with no leaves and one tree that’s evergreen.

What do you bulk buy with most frequency?

Right now it’s cord for the beads, and beads. But that answer would change month to month.

What’s your worst habit?

Revealing too much about myself to someone I don’t know very well. It’s not in my nature to be secretive.

What embarrasses you?

The sound of my voice on a recording. Recently, I’ve been conducting interviews with people with all kinds of different expertise. I have a vague ambition of editing it together into some Diagonal Press project. But mostly it’s just for my curiosity and interest and I trade the person a drawing for a pretty serious amount of time.

Do you exercise?

I jump rope, usually on my roof or inside my apartment. And I ride a bike for transportation.

What are you reading?

A book about kilnforming. I haven’t devoured a book like this in a long time. I thought it was going to be kind of a chore, like a technical thing, a reference. But it’s around 200 pages of incredible glass insight by this guy Bob Leatherbarrow. It also has a sense of humor. It’s called “Firing Schedules for Kilnformed Glass: Just Another Day at the Office.”

What’s your favourite artwork by someone else?

“Dream House” by La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela. It’s a sound and light environment in a loft in TriBeCa.

What do you love about it?

I’ve been there an uncountable number of times, and it offers up something new every time. So I guess it’s really generous and really visceral.

This interview has been condensed and edited.