Briefly describe the work you do.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I think growing up in Oakland, CA had a huge influence on me. My hippie/commie parents raised me with this idealistic optimism, but navigating adolescence in the city streets kind of chipped at some of my naiveté and gave me a wary, matter-of-fact skepticism about the world. It left me something of a critical humanist and I think that seeps nto my work.
I was also really influenced by the intense friendships I had with other young women growing up. The ways that boundaries get murky, and the way a relationship can be many things at once is rich soil for me. I’m fascinated by interpersonal relationships, especially the way something can be nurturing and toxic at once.
I was also totally that little urban kid obsessed with power line silhouettes in the sunset.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I am obnoxiously stereotypical in my studio practice. For me, all of the answers are in the studio and are usually found through making work. Being willing to make bad or failed paintings is sort of a pillar of my practice. Bad work begets bad work begets interesting work. Mistakes, unexpected turns, and a willingness to not be precious are very important to me.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Art making has allowed me (or forced me) to speak more truthfully and pointedly on a regular basis. A lot of my work centers around things that make me uncomfortable- that’s why I think they are interesting. By making this work and then having to talk about it, I find that telling the truth about my experience becomes less and less awkward. I’m really interested in exploring honesty and the limits of its usefulness. What happens when you explicitly talk about things that we’ve all decided are better left unspoken?
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
My most productive time of day is 2-10pm or so. But it helps for me to be in the studio futzing around for two to three hours before that to sort of warm up. I hate going into the studio knowing that I have an end time. Unfortunately that’s a decadent way to work that I often can’t sustain. But ideally, I love having long studio days.
I also try to treat my studio practice like exercise. It’s important to go in whether you feel it or not and stretch and run drills. Not all days are going to feel good. I had a teacher who really emphasized that some days we just see better than others. But putting in the work helps make those magical transcendent Did I just fucking paint that??? moments possible.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
My work has dramatically changed in the last 5 years. I think that leaving the place I was born and raised to go to grad school helped me make work that was a little more honest and left me feeling a little more exposed. The work I’m making now much more closely reflects the kinds of things I’ve always thought about.
Materially, I think I’ve accepted that my best work comes when I don’t over plan things. I come from an illustration background and can get obsessive about sketches, transfers, value studies, etc. Loosening up on my expectations of what a painting will look like has been rally good for me.
All of the planning and control of my earlier work still seeps into my paintings though. I’m very attached representation and figuration. I think there’s a push and pull in my work between this goody two shoes who really wants you to know how well they can render a hand and an artist who is interested in what the materiality of paint can do on it’s own when you stop trying to micro-manage it.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Sometimes fiction will contain passages that articulate something I have never explicitly thought about but immediately recognize and leaves me thinking I can’t believe they just said that. Jonathan Franzen, Toni Morrison, and Miranda July have all done that to me. I appreciate unflinching and unflattering confessionals like Junot Diaz and Louis CK. I love how specificity makes things become universal. I listen to a lot of podcasts while I work and Marc Maron’s aggressive, often combative insistence on making a human connection resonates with me.
I don’t know if this has anything to do with my work, but Judge Marilyn Milian from the People’s Court is a personal hero. I went to a taping and everything!
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I think I’d be a good cultural critic. I enjoy making meta connections between seemingly unrelated things. I also like being given a platform to articulate exactly why I don’t like something.
I edit a lot of friend’s work and enjoy that process so some job editing would be exciting. I love shooting around ideas and paring things down in a meaningful way.
Molly Segal is a painter from Oakland, CA. She received her BFA from the California College of the Arts in 2008. After getting her MFA from The School of The Museum Of Fine Arts in 2013, she was awarded post-graduate teaching fellowships at both the Museum School and Tufts University. She is currently co-curating I Want To Smell Your Hair at the New Art Center in Newton, MA. She lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.