(Jay) Could you tell us a little about the energy in your studio while you’re painting? Do you play music, listen to a podcast, work in silence?
(Grace) I always need to have the right studio snacks. I find that a burrito is a really good one. I'll eat half when I get to the studio and half when I get hungry again. The walk to my studio is pretty important for me and my dog. Walking fast helps me think clearly and helps me feel powerful in my body. When I get to the studio I usually change my shoes, fill my Brita, and take my bra off. I can't stand hair in my face so to ensure that this doesn't happen I usually add 5 or more bobby pins. I prefer painting with dim lamp light and always have a podcast or tv show on. The tv shows have to be episodes that Ive already seen before. I am a sucker for a laugh track so Friends, Seinfeld, Mad About You are favorites. When Im painting I like to be reminded of other worlds and I like to listen to music that the people in my paintings would listen to. Country music is good for this. Lyrics about drinking a beer on your daddy's front porch and songs about driving down a dirt road and living for warm summer nights with your friends.
(J) I love that you take your bra off, but add bobby pins! What a nice mix of freedom and self-control. And I can relate to your love of snacks. My must-haves are Polish pastries or Haribo dinosaur gummies.
Let’s jump right into talking about your paintings. Each of your paintings are singular in the story they depict. However, there is a strong continuity between the figures that exist throughout your body of work. Who are the figures in your paintings?
(G) I have seen first hand how excited you get around a bag of Haribos and it is beautiful. Although, I think the last time we shared a bag of gummies they were Sour Snakes not dinosaurs. There is a bag of Haribo gummies for everyone out there, which is a perfect segue to discussing the figures in my paintings.
Sometimes the same old characters show up like old friends or family members "stopping by" to remind me that they are still there. Other times I feel like I'm meeting a new friend. Sometimes the figure is an extension of myself even if they are male. I like when people have their own interpretations of who these people are. There are times that my paintings can feel like a Quija board, the brush being guided by the world inside. That is so cheesy. But I really like learning from the people in my paintings. They often help me out by telling me who they are and what their needs are. It excites me when the painting feels like a story being told to me by the process of painting and by the figures inside these worlds who are generously wanting us to know them.
Home Grown. Quarantine
Oil and acrylic on canvas. 12 x 16 in
(G) When I look at your paintings I feel the same kind of generosity and I sense a willingness from the figures to be known and understood. When you start a painting do you usually know who will show up?
(J) I have an idea of who I would like to have show up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will. Typically I start a painting off with a loose sketch, it can be a basic line drawing or a shape to mark a composition I had in mind, and from there I make the initial underpainting. At this point I’m basically inviting the characters I would like to have in the overall story of the work. But somewhere between the underpainting and the final finished work there are so many layers and each time the figures change. By the end I think they become their own people, and even though I invited them to the party, their cousin showed up.
Oil on linen, 22 x 56 in
(J) I love that your paintings feel playful, like group activities frozen in time, where everyone is comfortable with one another. And yet, I can also feel there is an undercurrent of sexual tension. Is that just me?
(G) I love when a figure changes even in the slightest way since that changes the attitude of the entire painting. When the sides of their smile turn down, or their eyes become slightly less open or their head tilts a few degrees in one direction.
To answer the question about sexual tension... yes, I am interested in the blurry lines of intimacy in relationships. I want to celebrate these subtle nuances of intimacy and elevate the mundane in sex and in life. Oftentimes, however, the paintings don't start with sexual undertones. I have a lot of 'Huggers' in my paintings and some paintings might appear sexually charged simply because there are nudes or because one is straddling another. But even then I don't always see them as sexual. What I want the figures in my paintings to show are aspects of our inner lives that we may overlook. Like when you're turned on but you're also maybe a little 'checked out'... When you're making out with your boo but thinking about what you want to get from the deli. I want to help my figures feel so comfortable with themselves that they stop apologizing.
In the end, however, the way people see themselves impacts what they chose to see in the paintings. And I have also felt this way when I look at your paintings. Could these intertwined figures that first appear to be like best friends or sisters be also sexually charged?
Caught Trying Something New
Oil and acrylic and sand on canvas, 11 x 14 in
(J) Yes, exactly, that is how I feel about my own works as well. I often gravitate towards moments where we are turned on but ‘checked out’. One of my favorite morning/daily routines is brushing teeth. In my 30+ years of life I only lived alone for 2 of those years. Every other year I was sharing a bathroom with siblings, roommates, others, etc. and now my husband. Bathrooms are small, tight, intimate spaces. And although brushing your teeth is such a monotonous routine, depending on who is next to you, the tension and energy can be completely unrealizable.
The same goes for conversations in the bathroom. When you live in New York City, and space is limited, you can easily have amazing parties and conversations in your bathroom. Especially when champagne and strawberries are involved.
A lot of my paintings take place in the bathroom.
The Bath House
Oil on linen, 66 x 40 in
(J) How would you describe your color palette? Do you have a favorite color?
(G) I lean towards greens and reds all the time. If I were to be stuck on an island and was only able to bring 3 tubes of paint they would be Fanchon Red, Cadmium yellow light and Mars Black. The combination of mars black, cad yellow light, with a touch of red, make a very gnarly green. And that is my favorite color - Gnarly Green.
(J) Can you tell us a secret?
(G) I rarely cry, but when I do, it’s usually while watching QVC. There is just something about 4 easy payments of $9.99 that really gets me.
(J) Oh, wauw. That just made me laugh.
(G) Which 3 tubes of paint would you want to be stranded with?
(J) Zinc white, alizarin crimson and phthalo blue. If I were stranded I would love to explore my surrounding environment and learn how to make my own pigments from locally sourced materials.
My starting point would be using fire. I love building fires. I would make a station of found and made tools too. From the fire I would first make black. Then ochres and siennas. But even with all the free time in the world I would never be able to figure out the science behind white, alizarin crimson and phthalo blue. I would need to figure out how to make a binding agent too, so who knows, it might be decades before I even get past black and move onto colors.
(G) First of all. That's badass. You would be the soul survivor of the island. Which I guess is the point of the question.
Phthalo always scares me. Phthalo blue and... green are the most terrifying colors to have on my pallet in addition to Dioxazine Purple. They are so rebellious. Those colors always end up tainting my favorite mixtures with their strong personalities. However, I think that phthalo green and alizarin crimson make the best black.
Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in
(J) Before the coronavirus quarantine affected New York, we were working on a collaborative series together, meeting every Sunday in my Greenpoint studio. What was your favorite part of us working together?
(G) When we worked together I loved how quickly we decided how to make the paintings. We took turns working on each one. I think we both have instincts in our own individual studios but I felt when we decided to work together that we were both able to be flexible and combine the best of both worlds!
It was the first time I have ever done anything like that. I think that we have similar instincts but there were surprising ways that we changed the paintings (without consulting each other) that I really appreciated.
(J) I agree, when we worked together there was an organic fluidity. The process overall was harmonious. Even though we took turns, it definitely felt, at times, like you were reading my mind.
I remember on one of our paintings, I was working on the foot of a figure, and something about it felt off — and awkward. Then we swapped paintings. After an hour or so we stepped back to see what each of us added and changed.
I noticed you buried the awkward foot under a pile of grass! I laughed, I was so happy.
(G) I buried that foot like Marilyn Monroe used to do to hide her 6th toe.
Grace Metzler & Jay Miriam
Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in
(J) Ha ha ha…
(G) I started drawing more in my studio because of you! When we weren't painting we had your big pack of crayons and sheets of paper to draw on. And I think the color palette in our paintings properly reflected our heavy use of Crayola Crayons, Haribo gummies, and our shared love for white string bikinis.
(J) I finally bought my first white string bikini this summer —! I wore it once and threw it into the wash along with my hot pink chapstick.
Oil on linen, 58 x 44 in