Process and Play with Artist Polly Apfelbaum


Art today is so much about the process over the product. Walking into a gallery becomes a guessing game of how this textile installation or artist-book documentation was created in the first place. On the other hand, studio visits can solve these puzzles, opening doors on the mysterious ways of multifaceted contemporary art production.

Earlier this month, Brooklyn-based organization MasterDabblers invited aficionados on a “Field Trip” to the lower Manhattan studio of world-renowned installation artist Polly Apfelbaum, bridging the gap for an intimate exploration of both process and product.

The artist, clad in a Bushwick-chic faux-fur vest and glittering silver Toms, greeted the 15 guests with a devout introduction and a crafted gift inspired by worry beads she’d seen on a recent trip to Rome. The visitors then indulged in complimentary Prosecco and home-baked cookies (made by MasterDabbler’s own Stephanie Lindquist) asApfelbaum engaged her charismatic personality in explanation of the behind-the-scene ways of her personal artistic world.

Apfelbaum’s career is as monumental as her art. She came to fame with her “fallen paintings” — Pop-Minimalist-inspired installations utilizing the floor as a canvas, color-field piecemeal mazes of dyed, synthetic fabrics begging viewers to walk around in exploration and forcing a re-imagination of traditional norms. A self-proclaimed “Bad Crafstman,” this “Grand Futzer” of an artist uses space as her preliminary medium, with material and color following suit to juxtapose art space with lived space, creating a physical tension between the viewed object and the viewing body.

With its picturesque position underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, Apfelbaum’s studio is a creative whirlwind. Lined with artwork and all manner of books, the space compacts her decades-long career into a show-and-tell time capsule. During the MasterDabbler studio visit, participants were given an opportune demonstration of Apfelbaum’s more recent “Feely Feelies Feeley” series. Constructed from Clayton and Sculpey modeling clay, Apfelbaum’s clay “drawings” fuse high with low in a colorful experiment that blurs the lines between pencil work and sculpture. Layer upon layer, color upon color, the series is a variation on a playful theme.

Repeating process does not equal similarity in design, but difference through numbers. Apfelbaum’s work exemplifies the uniqueness of simplicity, utilizing abstraction in order to share the expansiveness of color and form. Her “Textiles,” which line the wooden walls of her studio, were executed by drawing magic marker dots on a large sheet — with similar shapes, but different patterns, Apfelbaum explains that “color is not a method” but an operation of chance, with her artistic route continually changing as she meanders through her process.


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