Kim Uchiyama’s studio is located on a quiet, tree-lined side-street in Lower Manhattan. On a crisp fall day in mid-November over tea and brunch, I visited Kim in her Tribeca apartment. We spent the day looking at art and discussing her new painting series, her artistic development and influences, and the ups and downs of the creative life.
Her space is decorated in a minimalist, modern style, but is also intimate and warm–the perfect blend of Kim’s Iowa roots and vibrant life as a New York painter. The bedroom is the coziest room in the apartment with many personal photos, mementos, and artworks that have special meaning to Kim. The focal points of the living room are Kim’s marvelous art collection, her books, and the striking view of the Hudson River glimpsed through the windows.
The painting studio is in a separate room from the living space. It is tidy, but functional, and in many ways is the heart of the apartment. Bright canvases are stacked and spread throughout the studio; painter’s tape, paint, and brushes are close at hand. Postcards of favorite paintings and places are pinned to the walls.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kim Uchiyama’s work, a short introduction may be useful.
Patient, attentive viewers will find a lot to enjoy in Uchiyama’s paintings. Art works that could be mistaken for simple, colorful designs at first glance unfold into a deeper and richer experience upon close observation. Layers bubble beneath layers, colors recede or emerge from the canvas. Music is a useful parallel, since Uchiyama creates variations on a theme, much like a composer or jazz musician would–texture, rhythm, timbre, and harmony are integral to each piece. There is an exciting tension between order and variation.
As she explains in our interview, place and landscape are central to Kim’s work. Whether she is influenced by the light of southern Italy or the color of the sky or sea, her work is an expression of her own experience within a landscape. She is not trying to capture a place literally, as a realist painter might, or make some grand political or personal statement, but is instead, trying to convey something deeper and more mysterious.
When viewing an abstract painting like Uchiyama’s, it is useful to quiet the mind and let the senses take over. Only then can you begin to appreciate the complexities, nuances, and visceral pleasures of her work.
Uchiyama’s art owes something to Josef Albers’ chromatic interactions with concentric, colored squares and to Hans Hofmann and Nicolas Carone’s ideas about spatial illusion and color relationships. But the writings of painter Agnes Martin are also strikingly relevant:
It is quite commonly thought that the intellect is responsible for everything that is made and done. It is commonly thought that everything that is can be put into words. But there is a wide range of emotional response that we make that cannot be put into words. We are so used to making these emotional responses that we are not consciously aware of them until they are represented in artwork…
Beauty illustrates happiness: the wind in the grass, the glistening waves following each other, the flight of birds – all speak of happiness.
The clear blue sky illustrates a different kind of happiness, and the soft dark night a different kind. There are an infinite number of different kinds of happiness.
The response is the same for the observer as it is for the artist. The response to art is the real art field.
Composition is an absolute mystery. It is dictated by the mind. The artist searchers for certain sounds or lines that are acceptable to the mind and finally an arrangement of them that is acceptable. The acceptable compositions arouse certain feelings of appreciation in the observer. Some compositions appeal to some, and some to others.
Like Martin, Uchiyama’s earliest paintings were landscapes. (You can see two of Kim’s early works below). Both artists eventually found a deeper, more power expression through abstraction. After all, it is not the actual sky or ocean that interests these painters–it is more elusive qualities like light, space, and color, and the ways in which these visual sensations affect the attentive observer.
We’ve all seen a vivid, memorable sunset. The impulse to capture such a sunset through painting or photography is as much about capturing the sensation of being there as it is about capturing a beautiful scene. These perfect and elusive moments of awareness are an underlying force in both Agnes Martin and Kim Uchiyama’s work.
Kim has many fascinating things to say about her creative development and about painting itself. Enjoy the interview and this special tour of her studio…
(Click images to enlarge)
Michelle: How long have you lived and worked here in Tribeca?
Kim: I’ve been living and working continuously in Tribeca since the mid ’90s. Originally I started here in 1976, two blocks from the newly constructed World Trade Towers, before the area even had a name. Then came studios in Chinatown, the East Village, upper Chelsea and finally, back to Tribeca.
Do you have any particular work routine that is best for you? Is it difficult to live and work in the same space? Do you limit your computer and phone use while you’re painting or drawing?
Where possible, I prefer to wake up and start the day in the studio. Straight from sleep and not yet conversational with the rest of the world, I find it’s easier to become immersed in my thoughts and connect to the language of painting. I’ve had outside studios at various points, but I do prefer to live and work in the same space for this reason. Living where you work also facilitates some very off-the-cuff glimpses and sideways glances — sometimes in the middle of the night — at the work in progress, which can be really illuminating because you’re not expecting anything.
Did you grown up in an artistic household or did you have to make your own way as a young artist? You have a small image of Florence in your studio. Was Florence significant to your artistic development in some way?