Jordan Sabolick

Interview by Jordan Amirkhani 

May 23, 2022

So much of your work is shaped by the experiences and temporalities of caregiving and fatherhood, specifically. Could you discuss the ways in which you feel ‘time’ is altered and shifted by this experience? How does this manifest in your work?

Most of my work is a response to specific fleeting moments that new parents experience amid feeding, nap routines, and trying to entertain. Moments in which time is particularly difficult to perceive due to sleep deprivation, where time feels simultaneously expedited and painfully sluggish. As a result, the paintings might depict a specific time of day when I notice how light bounces off the curtain onto the floor, how stillness might be described through form and cropping, or how movement is elicited through brush strokes or fracturing the picture plane.

There is a long tradition of articulating the experiences of childrearing and domesticity in art and has historically been the purview of women artists (Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot come to mind). What weight does this tradition have on your work?

When my son was born, I took the role of primary caretaker while my partner worked. I specifically remember resonating with Cassatt’s Little Girl in a Blue Armchair in a profound way. Even though Cassatt never married or conceived a child herself, her sympathetic interpretations of these intimate moments were incomparable. I studied and wrote about Little Girl in a Blue Armchair intensely as I felt it mirrored my day-to-day experience as a father. That actually might have been the painting that initially got my ideation brewing for this body of work. After all, I wasn’t aware of many male painters painting their experience as new parents — let alone caretakers — so I felt this might be an avenue worth exploring.  

You have developed a very interesting methodology and process for making your recent work — could you talk about this new process? What has the incorporation of limits made possible for your work?

Yes, I find my painting practice is most efficient when I give myself limitations because I am cursed with a perfectionist mindset; I can spend days, if not weeks rendering something if I’m not careful. Not that prolonged rendering is inherently bad, but personally, I’m fond of paintings that articulate form, space, or narrative with seemingly very little information.

So, the two main limitations I’ve stuck to are my palette — I use the same 9-10 pigments for every painting — and an 8-hour time limit (standard American workday) to complete a painting. I had this self-realization not long ago that as soon as I step foot into my studio, my notion of time usually dissipates. I learned to set timers to remind me to eat lunch, then another timer to remind me to clean up and pick up my son from daycare. So, the idea of 8 hours was birthed from my regimented grad school schedule as I balanced studio time with fatherly duties. I remember reading a quote from Degas where he paralleled painting to real-life conversation, which is comprised of half-finished sentences. Similarly, I wanted these 8-hour paintings to be pictorially simple, half-finished statements, and ultimately an exercise of letting go of perfectionism.

You mention a kind of anxiety of stasis in your work and a desire to keep evolving — what is next for your practice?

I couldn’t tell you precisely what’s next for my practice, but it is important to me to keep an open mind about how I perceive and interpret the world around me. And since the bulk of my practice is informed by empirical documentation, the work is bound to evolve as I evolve. Though I believe there’s merit to the seriality of painting, I don’t really see myself making the same paintings — or variations of the same painting — for the next 30+ years. I could be wrong, but I get bored too easily.

Our mutual friend (and stellar painter), Sangram Majumdar once said in a lecture about his work, “no one is just one thing all the time; be open to reconsidering your reference points.”  I’d like to think there is a Jordan Sabolick in the future that’s making hard-edge abstraction paintings.