RJ Messineo, Austerity Bop (Debts Unpaid),, 2017. Photo credit: Jason Mandella
RJ Messineo, Interstituals,, 2016. Photo credit: Jason Mandella
RJ Messineo, Moon Around the House, 2017. Photo credit: Jason Mandella
RJ Messineo, Screen Composition 1, 2014 and Untitled, 2016. Photo credit: Jason Mandella

Even when you aren't literally rupturing the surface, you often mark the artificiality of the surface of your paintings in some way; as though you don't want the canvas to naturalize itself and therefore to allow the viewer to abstract the painting from its material condition. If I got it right, what's important about this move for you?

Yes, its something like that! But I think of the surface as a reality instead of an “artificiality”. Its like the edges of a painting, you can’t really get away from them. In painting, the picture has a material dimension. And this offers us a lot. It’s a built-in reminder that picturing--constructing images out of visual and other kinds of experience--is a process that happens over time and involves bodies and stuff.

But also you are right that there is a sleight of hand with stretched canvas. It isn’t solid but it does pretend to be. For me the canvas has a relationship to theater for this reason, and I probably stayed away from canvas until recently because of this quality.

Lately, I am interested in letting more representational space happen while still troubling the picture plane materially. The paintings depict scenes of looking and being seen and the spaces in between these acts of perception. I am working on one that is the view from inside my living room through the window across the street and through the window into the living space of my neighbor. I am drawn to the idea of threshold spaces as contested and permeable spaces between two things and also in terms of levels and degrees and calibration.

I have this impression that you are suspending a system with which to organize perception above the canvas, floating it provisionally, just to see what will emerge through its lens. Can you write a bit about why this gesture seems provisional?

When it comes to systems, I am much more interested in the ways they break down, the moments when they cannot contain the chaos of perception and experience. I am always looking for systems/ structures that have more mutable and multiple characteristics; systems that attempt to account in some way for the slippages and the grey areas and the non-binary. I think that your word provisional is good because it gets at the time-specific, contingent quality of these systems.

The organizing systems or structures that I use to make the paintings are always kind of half-way applied or failing or being switched to something else midway through. I put active paintings away for months or even years and then bring them back out to work out something else. This process helps a lot in finding new structures to “float” as you say… because the painting comes back out into a studio where the context of what else is happening is totally different from when it went away.

I have always listened to a lot of jazz in my studio. There are endless formal compositional moves happening that sound like what I am trying to get to in my paintings..and I have to consider why these black American forms speak to--really are foundational--to my sense of what it is to be both beautiful and critical and also full of the potential for freedom. It’s a huge debt.

The older work especially seems like you use the canvas as a place to aggregate marks and other ambivalent signs that exist on the periphery of our vision. What interests about the marginal, or whatever might seem like visual detritus?

My interest is influenced by identification. It has to do with value…paying close attention to what the dominant value system marginalizes and disregards and discards is one way of trying to shift the power. Something is only defined as marginal or peripheral by where you train your eye and your attention; the hierarchy is imposed and it can be taken down, at least in a painting it can anyway. Or in a practice of looking.

But the question of ambivalent signs is also interesting…and maybe somewhat different...marks that might tell a story that can’t be deciphered in its entirety. Ambivalence is a feeling of not being sure or of being of two minds about something simultaneously or wavering between set positions; I think it comes from the problem of how to deal with all the stuff of our world that can’t be fully known. How to deal with visual and material detritus that is random and anonymous and historical all at the same time. Because these unmonumental details add up and insist on something about the conditions of our lives and how we got here. Maybe it’s like my alienated transexual painterly gesture towards the collective.

RJ Messineo with NM Llorens

RJ Messineo (born 1980 in Hartford, CT) lives and works in NYC. She received her MFA from UCLA in 2009. She was a resident at the Fire Island Artist Residency in 2014. Her work has been included in exhibitions at Artist Curated Projects and REDCAT in Los Angeles, The Armory Center for Art in Pasadena and Issue Project Room and James Cohan Gallery in New York among others.