All In The Family

A conversation with artist David Mramor

by by John White

illustration by by Katy Windemuth

Curiously, David Mramor, a painter with an MFA from New York’s School of Visual Arts, is making his professional debut at a closet-sized gallery. The gallery is called Family Business and is a tiny rectangle of space sectioned off from Anna Kustera Gallery in Chelsea. The brainchild of the artist Maurizio Cattelan, who announced his retirement from making art last fall, and Massimiliano Gioni, Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, Family Business opened all of its 125 square feet on February 16 with The Virgins Show. The exhibition is curated by Marilyn Minter and devoted entirely to four “virgin artists” who haven’t shown professionally in New York before. With disproportionately high ceilings and a glass storefront serving as one of its two long walls, Family Business’s layout makes the task of exhibiting a difficult one, to say the least. To create the four paintings of his that appear in the show, David manipulates digital images and prints them on fabric.  He then attaches the fabric to canvas and stuffs it so it bulges out at viewers. David then paints and draws abstract lines over the images in a process he calls instinctual. The paintings energize the small space, as do such works as Eric Mistretta’s Balloons, party balloons that have endearing phrases and images scrawled on them taking advantage of the space’s height. It is not clear how long The Virgins Show will run or what Family Business will exhibit afterward, although Minter told ARTINFO that Cattelan “explained the project as an altruistic gesture” for artists in general, not just new ones like David. The Indy sat down with David in his Tribeca studio to discuss his art, Family Business, and what it all means to him.

The Independent: Marilyn Minter told ARTINFO that she was starting to notice an increase in the number of painters in graduate school, a trend that she feels the artists in the show represent. Can you add some insight to this trend?

David Mramor: There’s a real connection to the work—an intimacy with the work—that’s happening. I know a lot of artists who are really disconnected from their work and like it that way, but a lot of this new work is very personal. And it seems like there’s this resurgence of—I mean, there always is, but it seems there’s this new resurgence of painting. Because I think a lot of people were told or were influenced not to paint, even though that’s what they were supposed to be doing. I know a lot of people that that happened to, especially that went to grad school in New York. I think this educational system has a lot of ideas about painting. Like, “You can do this kind of painting, but you can’t do this kind of painting.” There are so many formal rules to it. So I think these artists are trying to push it. They want deeper content, but they want, too, some of that formal beauty.

Indy: In that vein of “pushing it,” in this show artists are even painting on panty hose. Even though you were trained as a painter, three of your four works in the show use fabric. Do you have any particular background or interest in textiles?

DM: Yeah, big time. After I had my thesis show at Ohio University, where I got my BFA, I was making new work and had applied to all these grad schools. In my mind I was like, “What am I gonna be when I go to New York?” It was a really good time to put on a whole new face with my art and everything. So when I came here I put painting down for a while and was just making these fabric installations, and a lot of really interesting stuff happened. It felt really good, but it got a little crazy. I didn’t really give myself any limits, which is fine. But everyone in grad school becomes a goddamn installation artist. [laughs] So one of my old professors from Ohio moved back to New York, and she came to my studio and was like, “Why aren’t you painting anymore?” Like I said, there are so many rules to painting. But what I did find, then, was I didn’t need to push it. I thought, “I’m gonna just try a little bit to maybe live in these parameters.” Saying it out loud sounds really boring. [laughs] But that felt really good.

Indy: So then you returned to painting?

DM: Yeah, so I returned to painting. But then that “formal” issue with all its rules was still coming up for me. So playing with photos—manipulating them, making them more abstract—really started to interest me. And then, in this big pivotal moment, my mom passed away in September. At her service we collected all of these photographs of her to display so everyone can see her, the many faces of her. When I came back to New York, in this grieving space, I had all these old photographs. I started scanning them because I was just gonna keep them. And as I was scanning them, they just looked amazing on the computer. It was kind of accidental. What came first was printing these regular photos of her. That’s what a lot of these are. Like this one. [points] It’s called New York City, but my mother had never been to New York until I moved here so there’s no way that it could be here. But when I was looking at the photograph it looked like she was in New York, and I liked that idea of bringing her here before she could come.

Indy: I had no idea they were all her!

DM: Yeah! From those I figured out that I could also print on fabric. Because the fabric has always, like I was saying, had something about it for me. So I started wanting to give the paintings more life and thinking about upholstering, like furniture. Being able to print onto silk has this sexiness to it. It’s like water flowing—you know, when fabric’s against the body. And stuffing the fabric on the canvas gives it this volume, this life.

Indy: What do you stuff them with?

DM: Just cotton bedding. So then they get that poof that gives it something… else. And for me it’s so much, too, about illusion and reality. Because putting the paint onto the surface is literally creating this reality—like the material reality of the paint—on top of this photograph, which is an illusion. A photograph is just light hitting things. But then in another way the photograph becomes the reality because it’s a literal thing. And the paint is this illusion of something else. I really enjoy that. There’s a balance that I’m trying to find. And I think that’s maybe what some of these artists who Marilyn was talking about are trying to find.

Indy: A balance between literal and abstract?

DM: Yeah. And nostalgia, that seems to be another thing that a lot of these artists are connecting to. Look at the show at Family Business, like Eric’s Balloons. They’re so childlike. But there’s more to these things.

Indy: Which, I think, is what Family Business is trying to point out with the fun and light but still substantial, meaningful art.

DM: Right, yeah. I think that is what Family Business is all about. It’s experimental space. And it’s really trying to show new, interesting things. Or just show interesting things. A lot of stuff isn’t new.

Indy: Well, it’s new in the sense that—at least for this show—none of you have shown professionally in New York before.

DM: Right. And everything happened very organically, too. When I met [the other three artists] I felt like I had known them a long time. The five of us—the four artists and Marilyn—would go around to each other’s studios and just look at each other’s work to get an idea of what we were going to do once we got over there. We had picked all this work, and we go over there the day to install and it was like, “Oh my God, what happens now?” Because it’s a different type of space.

Indy: It’s only 125 square feet!

DM: Right? And it’s really a project space. It’s not a gallery. I don’t think [Cattelan and Gioni] want it to be some salon gallery. So we had to approach it in an installation kind of way, like “how are we going to connect to each other?” And that’s what’s so interesting about being called Family Business, too: it’s grassroots, in a way. But it also questions how grassroots can you be in a place like Chelsea or New York? It still has a name in big letters on the outside of the gallery, and there’s still a monitor, somebody in there. There’s still a press release. I’m still making paintings.

Indy: How else has your involvement in the gallery and show affected you as an artist?

DM: It’s been great in the way that it was put together—that we all connect so much. Because I think that what is really important is a community. Connecting with other artists who are doing similar things. The history of art always has that. You compete with these people. You learn from these people.

Indy: The family.

DM: Yeah, the family. I’m glad that this is the way that showing in New York has been opened up to me.


Family Business is located at 520 West 21st Street, New York, NY. The Virgins Show features work by Andrew Brischler, Eric Mistretta, David Mramor, and Rebecca Ward.