Sangram MajumdarBrooklyn NY
I’m always looking at something. One of the things that I’m interested in, is very, very close hue and temperature relationships. I like to see how much range I can get within a narrow bandwidth, whether it’s color or space. I like that color can lead to a type of climate that can be a trigger, temporally or emotionally.
For the last few years I’ve been working on paintings with a palette primarily focused on red, yellow, black and white. This sets up the whole color space. I’m interested in how these colors can be found in nature, almost everywhere. They remind me of Pompeiian rooms, Green urns and Hindu shivalingas.
I like how these same hues pushed to an extreme evoke commercial and advertising signage, whether as stop and walk signs, or yellow lines on a road. I approach the notion of a hue in a few different ways – as a local color, as a mixture of multiple versions of the same hue, or as an ‘inferred’ hue through using its adjacent hues.
These are mainly custom-built strainers built by a friend of mine, Caleb Kortokrax, who’s also a brilliant painter. I look for a low relief. When I go to buy them they’re either super thin or super deep so this is kind of a halfway point in width. The only downside to these is that they cannot be keyed in or out. I primarily work on canvas or linen. There is a preference and then there’s laziness or there are budget issues. Ideally, I work on linen that is rabbit skin glued and oil primed.
I rarely work on acrylic gessoed grounds. It’s mainly just oil grounds. Even if I were to buy a surface I would put an oil ground on it and work on top of that because you never know how it’s prepared. I like a surface that I have some knowledge of, or familiarity with. I sand a couple times. I don’t like the smoothest surface; I like a little bit of tooth. When I do everything from the ground up I prefer working on medium weight linen.
The oil ground is less absorbent especially after a couple of coats. I do it with the intention of taking advantage of the white ground but what invariably happens is that the surface gets covered. So what I’ll often do is bring the white back with paint and then paint back into it.
I like working on a slightly off-white grey. When I’m doing things from the ground up I’ll mix in a bit of titanium white pigment in the rabbit skin glue to give it a slightly grey color. If I’m painting after the ground is put down I’ll lay a semi-opaque hue. I like something that’s 10% darker than white. Generally, my standard working white is a 50/50 combination of titanium and lead white. I have a painting where I used a zinc white because I needed a cool white. It cracked in 2 months, hairline all over. I will never do that again.
They’re loosely organized by color groups. I use Williamsburg and RGH mainly. Holbein’s Quinacridone Opera is a recent favorite. I prefer paint density that is not too liquid and not too chunky. More and more I put less stuff in my paint so the original consistency of the paint is important.
When I get paints in jars, I’ll just tube it. In cans things dry out so quickly. I also like premixed colors that I know I use a lot.
I used to use more of a traditional medium, a copal resin medium, but now I’m just working with stand oil (thinned out) and a little bit of Galkyd. I’ll just use it to extend the paint a little bit and give it a little more body. Sometimes if I want a very specific finish I’ll then make decisions accordingly. Like if I want a more uniform quality I might use a resin medium. Or a cold wax. I also like to switch between opaque and transparent hues. If things are too perfect it makes it look a bit too much like furniture. I like a somewhat abrasive quality.
I don’t want my paintings to feel like it’s all been choreographed and executed.
I like bristle brushes. I use synthetics or soft hair selectively. My go-to brushes tend to be rounds and eggberts. I’ve never been able to use flats. Brights within reason. And I use these long handle brushes.
That’s my easel for the bigger paintings. I like working at eye level. I like that you can raise an 8 foot painting with it. It’s one investment that has paid off multiple times over.
I think a lot about the application of paint. I like improvisation because I want the paintings to feel like there’s a slight off the cuff quality to it. I’ll mix zones of color on the palette. I often have a basic color space in mind but then I’ll mix color based on what I need and related versions of those colors.
I draw on the painting too with oil stick or charcoal. I’m a shoulder painter as opposed to a wrist painter, even when I’m sitting down and often when I’m drawing. There are many sessions in a painting but a session is probably no more than 3 hours. Each of the paintings is probably between 3 and 10 sessions. Usually I like to have 3 or 4 going at once. Sometimes a couple of them will come together rather quickly and I won’t know what to do with the others for a while.
Before becoming a parent I felt like I made more work but a lot of it I would throw out. Right now I feel like I’m making less work but each one is beginning to hold up a bit more. It’s not always possible but I’m trying to stay focused. I’m generally a morning painter. I get here by 7:30am and my longest day would be to 2:00pm. That is especially during the school year. And then I switch gears. Before, when I would have the whole day, I would meander between things which sometimes is good but mostly not. When people would ask me before how having a kid has hanged my practice it used to be only about having less time. But within the last couple of months the content has changed as well.
Last summer our daughter started walking and I found myself thinking of the meaning of that gesture both as a sign of movement and movement as a sign of progress – especially as something tied to rationalism, and the Enlightenment period in Western culture.
Recently, the act of taking a step has become the focal point of the work. It’s an isolated temporal gesture between two stationary positions. I’ve been working from home video stills of my daughter learning to walk. Initially I was thinking about aesthetic and schematic ideas about bodies in motion, whether in photography, art, or signage. So there’s that part and the other part is my life. I feel like the work is now developing between these 2 markers.
Sometimes I print out my paintings in progress and draw or paint or collage on top of them. There are days I literally spend the entire studio time doing nothing but this.
Coming into the studio and looking at what I did the previous day is anxiety provoking. The fear, being that if I think it went well the previous day that I am sorely mistaken and it’s much worse than I thought it was. So, I usually tiptoe in there and take a quick peak. If it feels good, then I let out a big sigh, realizing I had dodged a bullet, at least for a while and get back to work!
In hindsight, paintings that I feel have been successful have in them a certain ratio of everything that feels right to me in my making process and a key element that I couldn’t have imagined in its making. There are times when I have visited older works and I can’t even imagine the person who did them. I don’t know if that’s progress, but more that it is me watching an earlier version of myself in action.
Artist Website: www.sangrammajumdar.com