Dan’s cover artist Joe Fig resurrects Pollock in miniature

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This week’s cover, “Namuth’s Pollock #10” by artist Joe Fig is somewhat unique in the history of Dan’s papers covers, featuring a photograph of a miniature sculpture of a photograph of a painter doing a painting (try saying that 10 times fast). The sculpture, which is now on display at the Parrish Art Museum’s XS exhibition of small works (through April 3), features East End legend Jackson Pollock working in his Springs studio, filmed by East Hampton fine art photographer Hans Namuth who took hundreds of photos of the iconic painter in the fall of 1950. This is one of many in Fig’s series of miniature artists’ studios, both historic and contemporary, recreated in exquisite detail. Other East End subjects in the series include Willem de Kooning, April Gornik and Eric Fischl (also on view at the Parrish), Chuck Close, Ross Bleckner and Andy Warhol, to name a few. .

While not the most detailed or expansive of his artist and studio miniatures, “Namuth’s Pollock #10” stands out for its Russian doll quality, as described above. He showed the Abstract Expressionist from the perspective of Namuth who chronicled his efforts and, for the image in question, had Pollock paint on glass so he could film his process from below. The resulting images revealed an upward view of what would otherwise have been a canvas lying flat on the studio floor.

Here, Fig talks about this sculpture and the works that brought him worldwide fame.

Joe Fig in his studioCourtesy of Cristin Tierney Gallery

What inspired this week’s cover?

With Pollock’s piece, I had already made a miniature sculpture of his whole workshop (interior shown below), then I was fascinated by making a smaller, independent piece based on the photographs of Hans Namuth, and in particular on this film. …Right after that, Pollock stopped working, then went back and started drinking again, and got into big trouble.

Have you gotdid you go to the Pollock-Krasner house in person?

Yeah. In fact, it was a really pivotal moment in my way of working. When I started making miniature sculptures, I started with historical artists in their studios and the references I had, or were working on, were only in books. So I did some Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, even Kooning that I had done before that, and by then I had been to Pollock House on a beautiful day in late October with my wife . … Knowing the historic photographs is one thing, but being there physically is a completely different experience. And walking around the studio, I was really surprised at how much smaller it was than it looked in the movies and photos.

Even though Pollock wasn’t there anymore, being in the studio really had an impact on me, and so after making this sculpture of Pollock – which I recreated from Namuth’s photographs and then physically being there – all the work after that was focused on contemporary artists and going to their studios and having that personal interaction, because I felt like I missed that.

"Pollock 1950 #1," (2002) by Joe Fig
“Pollock 1950 #1,” (2002) by Joe FigCourtesy of Cristin Tierney Gallery

How was it created?

The challenge for me is always to reproduce in miniature the texture, the scale, the mark and all that, that it is authentic. So for Pollock’s piece it was a bit difficult because I tried different techniques…sometimes paint drips on the floor — you can’t just drop water or paint on it because it’s is too big, the scale is not quite correct.

With Pollock’s piece, I was trying different techniques to try to splatter it with a toothbrush and all that other stuff. I ended up doing his process, just on a smaller scale, using enamel paint and, instead of a big stick, a toothpick, and basically working like him, drawing with it on the plexi. …(The characters) are made of polymer clay, Sculpey, then the flesh tones are hand painted in oil paint. Clothes and stuff that I usually mix, like denim jeans… they don’t do like a denim-looking Sculpey, so I’m going to mix either a deep blue with a black and mix it, like I’m mixing some paint .

Joe Fig at work in Chuck Close's studio
Joe Fig at work in Chuck Close’s studioSage Sohier, courtesy Parrish Art Museum

What particularly excites you about Pollock?

I would put de Kooning in there too, especially as another East End artist. … I see them both as a kind of yin-yang. Pollock is an iconic figure in the art world and art history… everyone does a Pollock painting at some point. … He is probably the most famous American painter. Everyone knows who Pollock is. And his work is amazing. Stand in front of one of these paintings and you get lost. He completely revolutionized the world of contemporary art at the time.

“Sometimes I’m Afraid of the Yellow (Willem de Kooning 1984)” 2001 Joe Fig miniature recreation of Willem de Kooning in his studioCourtesy of Cristin Tierney Gallery

What’s your response when people say, “My kid can do that” about Pollock?

One of the fun parts for me as a painter when reproducing these works, especially in a case like a Pollock, you can’t just throw paint away, you really have to study how they were constructed, and the process and how they were made. And these paintings are very complex when you get into them. … It’s quite a choreographed experience.

How would you describe your style and how did you develop it?

My style, I guess it blends between sculpture and painting. I’ve always been interested in portraiture and did portraits, somewhat in the vein of figurative paintings, for about 10 years before I started doing miniature sculptures. And then with the sculptures of artists in their studios, sort of the shorthand answer to that, things ended with the paintings that I was doing, the figurative paintings that were large scale. I started working opposite, and through different types of materials, the first image I made was (a sculpture) of Alice Neel in her studio in a snow globe. … It was too constraining, so for the next piece, I took it out of the snow globe and started working on a dollhouse scale with the artists.

It happened when I was in graduate school thinking about portraiture. There were about 60 people in my class, each had their own studio space, and walked around the studios and looked at the studio as a form of portraiture, and how each studio is unique to the way each artist works, and how they set it up and how they work in that space, all the trash they leave around, is a portrait when you take them out. So I started looking at studios as a form of portraiture and started focusing on artists.

"Ross Bleckner 2007" by Joe Fig, Cristin Tierney Gallery
“Ross Bleckner 2007” by Joe FigCourtesy of Cristin Tierney Gallery

Do you have experience with miniatures, such as model trains, dollhouses, dioramas or miniature war games?

I had GI Joes as a kid, but no.

How detailed do you go into building these studios?

I would build them pretty much like a house, especially Pollock’s because all the beams inside were exposed. For this, it was literally like framing a house. … It’s a bit like building. Especially April Gornik and Eric Fischl – that was the biggest one, which took me probably seven or eight months to complete. … I loved them both. They were very generous and supportive, and Eric had the plans right there, so he gave me the plans to work from, which was really helpful.

Miniature studio Eric Fischl by Joe Fig
Miniature studio Eric Fischl by Joe FigCourtesy of Cristin Tierney Gallery
Sculpture of Joe Fig by artists Eric Fischl and April Gornik's North Haven studios on display at the Parrish
Joe Fig sculpture by artists Eric Fischl and April Gornik’s North Haven studios on display at the ParrishOlivier Peterson

What are you working on now?

I’ve mostly focused the last five or six years on small scale paintings where the figures are about six or seven inches tall. … In the new paintings I’m working on, it’s people contemplating art in museums or galleries. So the pleasure, the challenge for me, is to reproduce the works they are looking at.

"Max Beckmann: 3 self-portraits/Met, 2019" painting by joe fig
“Max Beckmann: 3 self-portraits/Met, 2019” painting by Joe FigCourtesy of Cristin Tierney Gallery

Do you have any final thoughts?

Around 2007 I had my first gig at The Parrish in Southampton. I love this museum. And then when they moved to Water Mill, having my work, especially the pieces they have, the Pollock piece (and the Gornik/Fischl studio), in their collection, it’s a real honor to have that. It really is a very large museum.

Discover Joe Fig’s work, including his new series of small paintings featuring artists at work, at the Cristin Tierney Gallery in New York, cristintierney.com or on his website joefig.com.

“Namuth’s Pollock #10” March 4, 2022 Cover of Dan’s Papers by Joe Fig
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