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Lisa Yuskavage with Phong Bui

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On the occasion of her solo show at David Zwirner, on view till March 28, 2009, the painter Lisa Yuskavage paid a visit to the Rail's Headquarters to talk to Publisher Phong Bui about her current work.

Phong Bui (Rail): I read that right after your first one-person show at Pamela Auchincloss Gallery in 1990, during which time you didn't paint for one whole year, you read Patricia Bosworth's unauthorized biography of Diane Arbus. Somewhere in the book, she said in reference to her work, "I really believe there are things that nobody would see unless I photograph them," which affected you deeply. Could you talk more about that?

Lisa Yuskavage: I didn't like any of those paintings in the show. But after getting depressed, I realized there was a personal need to see something that would be created only for myself, no one else. I really needed to make works that revealed that sense of urgency, and I didn't care what it was as long as it could come out of that urgency. It's what one would call inevitability. We don't even know that the inevitability exists until you make things that are purposeless but nevertheless inevitable. Diane Arbus's urgency is part of what comes across in those pictures.

Rail: And that inevitability compels different readings, interpretations, or criticisms. Especially when it is created by a woman and deals with the fairly provocative subject matter of sexuality in painting. Western erotic art had always been about nude women that were made by and for men; Linda Nochlin wrote brilliantly in the early 70s about the general social expectations against women seriously pursuing art. In the 80s the NEA attempted to censor Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, and many others who were famously inflammatory. As far as women painters who have been similarly controversial, I would only count a handful, besides you, including Jenny Seville, Cecily Brown, etc.

Yuskavage: Artists of my generation came up right after that NEA episode and I knew there was not a chance in hell I was going to be supported by the government, nor did I ever have that expection. I expected the opposite. When I decided to stop painting as a result of trying too hard to make a likable gourmet object. I had some dumb idea about what my relationship was supposed to be to painting; great painting was at the top, and I was at the bottom. Painting was big, and strong, among other things, and I needed to get on top of it. I needed to beat it down and say, "No, I'm the top." So how do I do that?

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