Thursday Spotlight: Danielle Orchard, Embodying the Feminine

Danielle Orchard in her Greenpoint studio, photo by Ian Hartsoe

Danielle Orchard greets me with a big smile in her Greenpoint studio. We just met two months prior at her solo exhibition, “A Little Louder, Love,” at Jack Hanley Gallery. Danielle and I immediately connect over our shared Midwestern roots, having both spent four idyllic years in Bloomington, Indiana for college. While in her studio, I am drawn to a painting of a woman bathing with her head laid back on the edge of a tub. In some areas, a color change designates a volumetric form, and in another moment, it will depict a flattened shape. The clarity she has in her vision is insurmountable, and echoes in the candor of her paintings.

Orchard’s figures exist in their own reality; they are neither staged nor stumbled upon, yet seek both attention and solitude. She invokes figuration of the past and present. Inspired by how the nude woman has been portrayed throughout Western art history, she uniquely explores the familiar yet overlooked shapes of the female figure. Orchard reveals how a woman’s body flattens in a bathtub while breasts buoy to the surface, how her arms tangle overhead while taking off a shirt, and how her curves contour the ground while laying nude in grass. Repeating tulip and cigarette motifs are reflected in her figures’ pubic and elegant fingers, signaling impermanence, or a momentary recess. Danielle explains to me that those activities we visualize ourselves doing we can biologically benefit from as if we were physically doing them. While viewing her paintings, we are all in some way benefiting from their requiescence.

Painting in Danielle Orchard’s studio, courtesy of Ian Hartsoe

Greenpointers: When were you first exposed to art growing up?

Danielle Orchard: I was born in Michigan City, IN and grew up in Fort Wayne, IN. Both of my brothers and a lot of my family are into skateboarding. I was never a skateboarder, but creativity was always around me. There was always this sense of making art which shaped the community, like building the skate park which was fairly engrossing while I was growing up. I drew as a kid, and remember always asking for art supplies for holidays. Both of my parents are design minded, my dad a really good draftsman and my mom a flower hobbyist. I think once you’re recognized as being talented as a kid, you sort of decide that is the thing you’re going to pursue. I had an art teacher in high school who was really supportive. There was always that sense that art was serious, but not to say that that was never mutable. It has always been subject to various pressures and even taste throughout college and graduate school.

Orchard’s wall of drawings and reference material, courtesy of Ian Hartsoe

GP: In your interview with MaakeMagazine in October 2017, you mentioned you would like your drawings to be standalone pieces. How is that process going?

DO: Not well! I’m always so impatient to get painting. I do keep a pretty steady sketching practice and I also take a lot of written notes. I think it’s interesting when painters take color notes to plan for future paintings. Drawing is so much a part of the way I paint that I feel that the urge is satisfied there. The early stages of my paintings are typically linear. I don’t see much of a division between drawing and painting in my process, so I guess that’s why I’m okay with drawing not being a distinct thing where I show the work independently. I do think a lot about Nicole Eisenman’s decision to stop painting for a year and what that means to fully shift focus to a different medium. In the future it’s something that I’m interested in to turn off oil paint for a while and see what happens.

Girl Drawing Pears, 2017, oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches, courtesy of the artist and Jack Hanley Gallery, New York, NY

GP: Your paintings have a wonderful way of using value, color, and light to create forms and compose the space. What is your thought process in creating such complex arrangements? What comes first, the subject or the composition? 

DO: The subject comes first, or at least some loose idea for a scene. Compositionally, the paintings are shifting a lot as they’re being made. I think a lot about my formal training when it comes to faceting forms using color. I think it has become rooted in Cezanne-esque shifts in unexpected colors, where everything is opaque and form is really designated using color. When I’m painting I am pulling from memory, rarely painting anything from life directly. It’s also a lot of adjustment. If the color feels wrong, it might just take a slight warming or cooling. It is all very much unplanned, and takes a ton of revisions that are largely design based to create visual balance. When things move back and forth in space, this relates to a formal decision, not anything based in narrative or an imagined outcome.

Surface is also something I think about a lot. I love when areas that are more opaque and juicy compete with the surfaces that are thinned out and turpy. It really is a kind of a physical impulse. Sometimes I just want to feel something silky and then sometimes scratchy with the brush; it’s very tactile. I was listening to talk that Amy Silman gave on color. She talks about the weight of a paint tube and how that relates to color decision. She’ll grab for Chromium Oxide Green which is a really dense green that weighs a lot. She thinks about color decisions as they pertain to the actual material rather than the colors they represent. For me, it’s this back and forth between these different commands. Sometimes it’s not super manageable and gets out of hand. It tends to make things sort of hard to plan, but in a good way that suits my personality. Anytime I try to directly replicate a painting I’ve made with a clear intention it never really works out. There is a fleeting nature to it that I think is important to the work.

Danielle Orchard working in her Greenpoint studio, courtesy of Ian Hartsoe

GP: A lot of your figures are nude in many places you wouldn’t consider being naked. Is this a continuation of the Western nude?

DO: I think of it that way. I like to imagine the lines of the female body, like the lines of the stomach when you’re twisting in space or the way certain muscles group and hold tension, and to me that is more difficult when clothes are involved. They are a response to my body in space, even though they are not direct self-portraits. Sometimes they relate to pain that I’m experiencing in my body, or if I do a lot of pushups one week I notice the figures’ arms get bigger. The figures being naked outside is a kind of Modernist trope that I’m responding to. I love the paintings Matisse made and Picasso responded to, and I like the idea of inserting yourself into a conversation that ended before you were alive and continuing this dialogue across time.

Another big part of these paintings is the idea of placing your figures where you would like to see yourself and imposing your own desires and needs onto your image. I never really relax in life, so my figures doing so seems important. The scenes are also reminiscent of Apollo and Daphney, where there are secret places meant for women alone, and maybe suggests that the viewer is an intruder. I paint a lot of women sleeping, suggesting that they cannot see the viewer and aren’t aware of their own participation in the voyeur relationship.

Danielle Orchard in her Greenpoint studio, courtesy of Ian Hartsoe

GP: How has the politicization of women’s bodies influenced your work? Do you ever find this to dictate you as a woman artist?

DO: I am not against politicizing the female body, and I definitely want to participate in the conversation as I find it very important. However, I do think about these themes as being very perennial, and not existing as fads. Sometimes I worry that the focus on these ideas is because it’s currently in the news. I have all of these photographs of Neolithic sculptures on my wall as a reminder that the impulse to represent the female body is not new, but rather incredibly ancient and essential. It doesn’t have to be negative or corrective. To me, that is just another way to pigeonhole you as a woman artist, and a way of people telling you what your work is about. However, one of the reasons you make the work is to communicate something and get insight into what you’re making that’s beyond yourself. It’s a beautifully complex exchange.

Girl with Tulip, 2017, oil on canvas, 36 x 40 inches, courtesy of the artist and Jack Hanley Gallery, New York, NY

GP: You paint a lot of tulips and cigarettes in the work. As you continue to paint do you find that you are developing an attachment to some forms and objects?

DO: Definitely. To me, cigarettes operate on a few different levels. I think of a cigarette as a way to escape a crowd, or to join a crowd. That duel function is very interesting. Other times I think about cigarettes pertaining to just bad decision making. There are lot of booze bottles in the paintings too. It’s not about substance abuse, however, but about impulse. I think about impulse from a painterly standpoint too; it informs my life on a daily basis. I also think about the cigarettes as a duration. If you think about them burning down, that’s how long that figure will be in that pose. The tulips are a cartooning impulse, and as a motif it’s a flower I grew up loving. I also love that they contain certain distinct stages. The stage I’m generally painting is the later stage of a tulip, as it is starts to droop and ends its tenure. The objects are related to Philip Guston and the way he talks about objects as reoccurring, and how as a painter you’re populating this world where your figures may also be in the same place. I like that I can drop them into a scene and they start to designate one of my paintings.

Painting in Danielle Orchard’s studio, courtesy of Ian Hartsoe

GP: Who are some contemporary artists have you been looking at this Spring?

DO: Doron Langberg’s show at 1969 Gallery. Holly Coulis, Ridley Howard, Eleanor Ray, and Alex Bradley Cohen are all great. There are really cool things happening figuratively right now in the art world. I’m always looking back at old stuff for sure. Sometimes I’ll think I disliked a painter but realized I just wasn’t there yet to receive it. I’ve been feeling that way about Georgia O’Keeffe recently.

Girl Removing Her Shirt, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches, courtesy of the artist and Jack Hanley Gallery, New York, NY

GP: What is something new you hope to focus on in the work?

DO: I’ve been thinking about putting clothes on the figures lately, as a way to think about transparency as a formal thing. The German painter Christian Shaud paints his figures in clingy fabric that are transparent. You can still see pubic hair through the pants or dresses, but a line is there to let you know that they are clothed. In a sense clothes can be more revealing because they’re supposed to be concealing something. It would be a different formal challenge. I feel like I’ve figured out how to do the bodies in a way that I like, and it would be a new challenge to shake things up!

Upcoming Exhibitions:

  1. An Open Window, Next to Nothing, curated by Anton Bashkin, May 4-June 3, 2018, New York, NY
  2. Chromalicious, Geoffrey Young Gallery, May 5- May 27, 2018, Great Barrington, MA
  3. New Bad Painting, V1 Gallery, May 25- July 7, 2018, Copenhagen, Denmark
    To keep up with Danielle Orchard, follow her Instagram or check out her website.
Danielle Orchard’s studio and tulips, courtesy of Madeline Ehrlich and Ian Hartsoe

About Madeline Ehrlich

Living and writing in Greenpoint.

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