Paige Turner-Uribe is a figurative painter based in Los Angeles, CA. Her paintings are richly narrative and poignant, with images sourced from personal ephemera, films, found images, and Uribe’s own photography. Her thin and gestural strokes of paint and her vibrant, self-contained color palettes aid in her depiction of these moments of being. Intimate, nostalgic, and personal, Uribe’s paintings are narrative without depicting scenes or actions. Rather, her attention to these moments of in-betweeness within a scene or larger narrative allow for viewers to immediately enter into and Uribe’s paintings and enter a dream-world of serene reality.
Based in Los Angeles, CA, Uribe received her BA in Painting and Printmaking from San Diego State University and earned her MFA from the School of Art Institute of Chicago. She has shown work throughout California and Chicago and most recently was included in the group show Strange Powers curated by Jeremy Shockley at ComplexCon 2016. After following one another on Instagram for over a year, Uribe and I met over Skype to discuss the evolution her work, her artistic influences and interests, and her painting process.
How did you first become interested in making art and what attracted you to painting specifically?
I think it was something that really started in early childhood. Probably at around three or four I remember seeing a girl doing a drawing of people and I was amazed that she was rendering something representational. Up until that point I had only been really scribbling, so seeing that was like magic to me. I really wanted to try it, and then I just kind of naturally took to it. As a little kid I spent a lot of time drawing in my room; I had a little desk and I just spent a lot of time doing it. It was kind of like my own world and it just progressed into my adulthood.
When I was in art school - I went to San Diego state for undergrad and then I went to the School of Art Institute of Chicago for graduate school - I wasn’t very crafty or good at building things. I build stuff and it just falls apart. I think two-dimensionally and I just love painting, I think it’s amazing. I remember when I was fourteen years old going to the National Gallery and seeing the big color field paintings and being totally amazed and just thinking about them for years. I remember seeing other more representational paintings as well, and it’s just always fascinated me since then.
What kind of art were you making in school? How has your work changed from then until now?
When I went to undergrad it was the 90s and figurative work was really popular - large figurative paintings that were sort of narrative and sort of metaphorical. I started out doing these large paintings and I had a lot of skills to learn in terms of drawing and representing figures. But when I went to graduate school, it was abstract work that was really popular and everyone was making abstract paintings. I was still painting figuratively in grad school, but I also had this influence of people around me making abstract work. I think that definitely had a big impact on me. I almost developed a revulsion for the figure by the time I finished grad school. I was making these giant portraits, just basically people that I knew, and they were kind of sparse and funny. I did that for about a year in Chicago, and then I moved out to California and I started doing these little still life paintings. I quit painting the figure for about four or five years. I was obsessed with Manet’s flower paintings, so I was doing all of these small flower paintings for a couple of years. Then I started painting landscapes, so there were still no figures.
Figure didn’t come back into my work until after Saddam Hussein was hung. Something about it was so disturbing to me. All the media kept showing those images, so I did this creepy little painting of the video footage. It was the first figurative painting that I’d painted in years, and it led into this series of work that was a lot more about spirituality in a way, or about the horror of existence. I was also just coming fully into my adulthood at that point. I was in my late twenties by then and I was working some corporate jobs and just kind of seeing the underbelly of reality in a way. My work gradually just got smaller and more influenced by film and a lot of other stuff, until it evolved into where it is now.
Where do your images come from?
A lot of the images come from old films from the 70s that are sort of obscure. I would take the films apart and take what I wanted from them by changing colors and doing drawings. Film definitely has a big influence on my work. I think it’s the sense of movement within a film still and also the randomness of it. There are moments in films that aren’t really about anything significant, but they’re the space that the figures move within.
Sometimes the images also come from ephemera, like junk mail or newspapers. I use a lot of my own snapshots, found photos I might find at a relative’s place of people I don’t know, and it’s just kind of stumbling across imagery. I wasn’t really working from photos in graduate school at all, it was pretty much purely from observation. I found it liberating to start working from photos again because it opens things up in your mind in a way. You’re just not always having to have this person with you or this thing of flowers that’s dying and changing right before your eyes.
I get a level of intimacy from the specific moments that are portrayed in your works. Are there particular images that you look for or moments that you try to capture?
Sometimes if I see a film there might be a certain scene where I want to make a painting that is like that film or a scene. Other times, it’s just what I can find on the Internet or just screenshots from YouTube. I’ve really been taking a lot of my own photos too, just of people on the streets, sometimes my children, but never anything set up or contrived, only always what is there. Even though film is set up, and so much of that is people setting up scenes and painting them in an almost baroque kind of way, I like the randomness and finding meaning in that.
What’s your process when creating a piece?
Usually I start by doing drawings. I’m very casual about drawings. I don’t usually get nice paper or think of it as being a finished product to be displayed or anything like that. I put effort into it, but I’m never thinking of it as something that I’m necessarily going to present to other people. When I was younger, I think I probably did more drawing like that. But I’ve always just drawn. It’s a part of thinking and I don’t think I could make a painting without drawing. I mean I can make a painting without doing a drawing first, but I feel like I am better off or more confident if I’ve done some drawing first.
I have notebooks that I do a bunch of drawings in and I collect a lot of images so I’ll look through those. I’ll always be referencing some stack of art books that is spread out wherever because I’m always thinking about a color or a certain feeling, so it’s basically drawing and then just painting. Sometimes it takes me awhile to get one done and sometimes it’s immediate, it just depends on how it goes. I try to keep more than one thing going at once so that when I get stuck or need time to think I can be working on something else and not get tunnel-visioned.
What’s informing your work right now?
I’m always looking at Bonnard and Vuillard. I love the surfaces of their paintings and the way that things are treated; things all have an equal sort of feel to them, it’s not just some figure and a background. And I love their patterns and the way they paint landscape and that relationship. Everything feels like it’s together. And then I always look at a lot of Matisse. Matisse is just so infinite in terms of the types of work that he made. I love the ease of his brushstroke and the freshness of his paint. His paintings are exquisite, but they’re not overworked. There’s such a playfulness to them. And then I like religious painting too, and Delacroix and Manet are always good. Manet is always surprising. Also Spanish art, Goya, Velazquez, and then contemporary art, of course. Oh, and Edvard Munch. I love Munch.
How do you think about color when starting a work? Do you start with a set palette?
For the drawings, I usually use colored pencil. I always try to start by thinking about color to some extent, and I always start by mixing a palette. I usually do an under-painting first; just a drawing. It’s usually just a color field – I’ll just paint the canvas a color and then paint into that.
Talking about surface is interesting because when I was younger my paintings were really thick, more like impasto, and it was almost like I was carving it out and was finding the image. They’ve gotten thinner and thinner, and now they’re a balance between pretty thin and sometimes almost a stain depending on what I’m painting.
What materials do you work with?
I mainly just use oil. I tried acrylic a really long time ago, but I never enjoyed working with it that much. I just took to oil and have always preferred it. But I like watercolor too. I haven’t used any watercolor for a really long time, but I think it’s such a wonderful effect and it can be so loose. It’s like drawing with paint. But I love oil paint and it just feels like the best medium for me.
Your works are generally similar in scale. What attracts you to working in this scale and size of paintings?
It’s been a while since I’ve made a large painting. Sometimes I would like to, but I kind of feel like I’m in a small painting phase. I love big paintings. When I go to a museum or gallery and I see large paintings, they’re gorgeous and I love it. But I think the immediacy of smaller paintings is working for me right now. I know some painters do that with big things, they work really quickly and they have multiple things going at once, but for myself I have to do that on a smaller scale. And I like the intimacy of it. I think that there’s something about it, particularly with figures, where if they’re bigger they’re more to deal with and if they’re smaller, what you’re experiencing is different. There’s more room for abbreviation and less information.
How has your attitude towards your work changed over time?
Yes, definitely I will look back to a few years ago. I have stuff that’s rolled up and occasionally if I’m cleaning out a closet I’ll open one of those and look through it. Some of the work I don’t even remember making now, it’s weird. But it’s interesting to see where you come from and how you change. Sometimes certain paintings that I attempted to make eight years ago I might attempt to make and pull it off now. It’s weird.
What’s your studio practice and process like?
I have a space in my living room and I also have two children who I’m home with right now, so it’s a weird set up. I don’t have a precious studio space, I’m just kind of working all of the time. I usually like to paint during the day because the light is better and I like a little natural light in the mix. I feel like I have to be working with the pockets of time that I have, so I’m kind of thinking about it all of the time. Even when I’m not painting, I’m working out stuff in my head. It’s just trying to fit it in as much as possible. It is a balancing act for sure, and I think a lot of artists experience that to some extent.
What’s the most challenging aspect for you about making work?
I always make stinker paintings and those I tend to work on the longest, so it’s frustrating when I’ve spent all this time and the painting is just bad and doesn’t work. I always learn something from it, but I think it’s the loss of time that is the most frustrating. I think time is so precious. But making stinker paintings is part of the way it goes for sure.
What do you think makes a painting successful?
I think it’s sort of an intuitive thing. What we like in painting changes depending on where we’re at in our lives. You might really like one artist, they might really be interesting to you at one point, and then maybe aren’t so interesting later on. We’re fickle, but whatever we need visually, emotionally, psychologically, or intellectually intersects. With my own work, I never really know if it’s working for a little while until it’s set. I need a certain amount of time to not be obsessing over it. But I think it’s just a feeling. I think it has to do with the color and all the formal aspects tying together with the subject and the overall sensation of it.
What are you working on right now?
Today I was working on a painting of these people on a shore. It’s a blue painting. I started it earlier and I’ve been kind of ignoring it and not wanting to work on it for some reason, even though I had thought that this one wouldn’t be complicated. Now I worked on it today and I don’t know, it definitely needs some more love I think. Or maybe after it sits it’ll be okay. Yesterday I did a bunch of drawings mostly from my own photos. There’s one from a scene in a 70s movie. Yesterday I also made these crude drawings. I found some old oil pastels from high school and I was trying to make these drawings with this cruder tool than what I would normally use. The colors were a bit brighter and I couldn’t get fine line stuff with them. They weren’t fine materials or anything.
Do you ever work in series or do you think of your paintings as stand alone pieces?
I think I have certain kinds of themes that recur, like couples or lone figures, often women, and landscapes. So I think that they’re all kind of tied together. I’m not super formal about it like some artists are. I’d say they’re kind of more random. The same things come up again.
What do you do when you’re not making art?
I like film a lot for sure. For film I’d say 70s film is the best. Movies like The Conversation, Robert Altman films, there’s a weird movie called Welcome to L.A. that is so terrible but so good. I haven’t been watching so much film as I used to. Because of my schedule I’m not consuming a lot. I think with as much that I’m trying to cram into a day I don’t have time as much for the things I like to do.
Do you have any advice for artists who are beginning to develop their own practice?
Just keep trying to do it as much as you can. As much as you make the better you’ll feel about it and the better the work will be. I think it’s best if it’s something you’re really driven to do. You just have to do it. I feel really motivated. I have to make these paintings and drawings and I don’t know in my mind, rationally, why. Does the world need these paintings or drawings? And, you know, that depends.