To an outside observer, creating a work of art may seem like a magical process, with the artist imagining a concept and then transmuting it of pure ether into a tangible, inspired object. But while the artwork may seem effortless when viewed in its finished form, it is actually the product of trial and error, honed skill, experience, and in many cases , a significant physical effort, all taking place in the private laboratory which is the artist’s studio. Today, artnet News has teamed up with Dobel Tequila to present the ‘In the Studio’ series, offering rare insight into this mysterious process using 360-degree video technology. We have chosen artists who combine technical virtuosity and a relentless appetite for invention. Each has mastered a seemingly traditional medium – from painting to weaving to drawing – in order to take them to an entirely new place.
Nir Hod does nothing by half. The Israeli-born, New York-based artist is known to have completely overhauled his studio’s lighting system to suit a new series he’s working on. Right now, Hod is in the midst of a new body of work that fuses chrome with oil paint. The result is canvases that combine the overripe glamor of a photograph by Marilyn Minter, the abstract forms of a painting by Gerhard Richter and the mystery of an antique mirror.
For Hod, these paintings are the next step in a long career of exploring how to merge luxury and beauty with violence and obscurity. As Richard Vine wrote before the artist’s investigation at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, “From the start of his career, Nir Hod opposed the ideology that calls sumptuousness an aesthetic sin. His work openly substitutes the pleasure principle and a fluid multiplicity of self for old notions of great seriousness and personal authenticity.
After studying at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem and the Cooper Union in New York, Hod began painting pop-inspired flowers, self-portraits that embrace androgyny, and hyperrealistic but surreal paintings inspired by historical photographs. (An image of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan sharing a cigarette, for example, planted the seed for a series of paintings of world-weary children lighting up.)
After a concentrated period of working on figuration, Hod recently adopted a different kind of process as well as abstraction. Here, watch a 360-degree video of the artist at work and read an interview about his innovative approach to artistic creation.
You said it was the work of Gerhard Richter that inspired you to devote yourself to the medium of painting, and your canvases often use a similar type of abstract, dreamlike photorealism to tap into important subjects – in your case, subjects. like gender identity and genius. Why do you think painting is a unique and effective way to tackle big problems and questions?
He found me more than I found him. There is something so powerful about looking at a picture in a painting – you just want to be part of it. Today you see so many images every second, in advertising, on your phone. It makes me understand more and more the value of painting. You can’t compare a good painting to anything else.
Your chrome painting process is extremely unique. How did you develop it and why did you need to take such a new approach to achieve the look you were looking for?
There is something really appealing about thinking. In a very simple and human way, it’s fascinating to see yourself. So I decided to chrome these canvases and to compose the painting below in this violent or romantic way. It was important for me to push the machine in a new direction at this time when everything is so extreme.
There aren’t many people in the world who can still do this process. From what I understand, this is a process that the Navy invented in 1939 to chrome a flexible material that does not involve any electrical plating. You start with oil on canvas, I paint from my imagination, but my studio is surrounded by images of landscapes, historical sites. When the paint is dry I take it to another studio where the chrome is applied, it is a process that takes a few hours. At first it looks like black paint, but slowly it turns into a mirror effect. It’s like magic, even for me. The whole process takes between seven and nine days. Then I have three or four different ways to display the paintings below. One is extreme atmospheric pressure. This gives the surface the appearance of an old patina on a building. I like it because it’s very accidental, I can control about 60 percent of it.
Another way to remove chrome is to throw in ammonia, which begins to heat the chrome but does nothing to the oil paint below. I can also scratch it by dragging the canvas up and down on the road next to my studio. It creates a violence that seems so human. I love the relationship between beauty and destruction.
Your paintings oscillate between representation and apparent abstraction. What are the advantages of each approach and how do they allow you to explore different themes?
It depends when you ask me, but sometimes even chrome paints look like realistic paintings – parts of a landscape are reflected off a sun-destroyed window or billboard. In addition, the surface always reflects the viewer and the architecture, so it becomes figurative at some point. They’re abstract paintings, but I have all of these references, from Warhol’s “Shadow” paintings to JMW Turner’s light. It’s almost like getting lost in something abstract that makes it a representative image, and vice versa.
What are the most essential items in your studio, and why?
It changes. Every day, every week, I find something different that obsesses me. The studio, for me, is something that changes. I recently moved my studio to Mana Contemporary in Jersey City from the Meatpacking District. I have no attachment to anything here except work.
What’s your studio routine?
I believe in routine. I come back to the studio every day around 9:30 a.m. and stay there until at least 7 p.m. I also work at night, but never in my studio. At night, I like to think. During the day, it’s very mechanical. The studio is a place of mistakes and interpretation, but in general I just work. At night, I work differently. It’s more artistic. For me a studio is a place to do magic to arrive, but you don’t create it here.
What atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music, talk to your assistants, prefer silence? Why?
I change everything – the lighting, the clothes I wear, the music I play – depending on what I’m working on. You can wear a jacket that makes you feel like a rock star or a sweater that makes you want to stay home and read a book. Sometimes I play music that I don’t like to create a different energy. And when I started working on the chrome series, I changed all the lighting in my studio to fluorescent. I hated it before, it reminded me of the hospital. But it’s part of the way I need to view my work.
How do you know when a work is finished?
Over the past nine years, whenever I think a painting is finished, I listen to the soundtrack of Schindler’s list. I don’t know why, but this kind of music makes me understand or feel whether I’m right or wrong, whether the job is done or not. I only look at this work; I don’t look around the studio or compare. The work can be on the Holocaust or on the chrome and the sublime, it’s always the same music. It provides the same filter.
When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get out of it?
When I’m stuck I feel the urge to go to the studio. So many people seek inspiration while traveling, but I travel in my head. There were so many times that I knew I was stuck and would try to carry on doing all these artist shots – leaving the studio, listening to different music. But it didn’t work. At one point I just started destroying paintings – a little study or something. You learn so much about fear – you have this fear of destroying something that you could sell or invest money in. But always get something out of it. This pushes me to the next step. I think being stuck is part of being human, not just being an artist.
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