American artist Avery Singer paints with the digital tools that have been developed for architecture and video games. While her portraits of robot figures might recall the science fic- tion of Tron, it would be reductive to judge her work only by technique, since it is constantly evolving in re- sponse to both the contemporary context and the history of art, which she’s well versed in thanks to her parents, who are both painters. Numéro spoke to the 33-year-old, who has just completed a giant fresco for Cologne’s Ludwig Museum, as well as signing with Swiss gallery Hauser & Wirth.
Numéro: What’s your back- ground? How much did your upbringing influence you?
Avery Singer: My background is that I’m a third generation native New Yorker. I grew up downtown, two blocks north of the World Trade Center. Educationally speaking, I’m a product of the New York City public-school system. Culturally, I grew up in a very bohemian environment: my parents are both painters who worked as film projectionists. My mom later worked as a secretary for a company in the World Trade Center and then as a graphic designer for a children’s book-publishing company. My exposure to art downtown as the daughter of artists and projectionists (my father projected at MoMA) was incredibly influential on developing a feeling of closeness to Modern and contemporary art. As I was able to see Modern masterpieces in the museum environment regularly, I feel strongly that art shouldn’t be stored away privately. Art should be publicly available to all viewers, because Modern and contemporary art exists for the museum context. My public-school education taught me my work ethic. My high school, Stuyvesant, is the most high-performing and impoverished public school in the U.S. I was one of very few non-immigrant students there. I learned my work ethic from my parents and my fellow Stuyvesant students. I then went to Cooper Union on a full-tuition scholarship, and my already solid work ethic was strengthened even more.
Do you remember your first encounter with art? What made you want to be an artist?
I don’t remember what that would have been, since I grew up in my parents’ art studios. I didn’t have my own room, instead I had a loft bed that overlooked my mom’s painting studio. We didn’t have air conditioning for a long time, so I remember hot summer nights with all the ceiling fans turned on both to cool us off and to dry the paint. I realized I wanted to be an artist when I made my first super-8 film with a camera mydadgavemeasagiftformy15th birthday. I fell in love with art at that age. I like to say that art and I have been happily married ever since. Prior to realizing I wanted to be an artist, I dreamed of being a mathe- matician or a computer scientist.
What were you looking at then, and what do you look at today?
I look at everything: I absolutely love art and artists, who devote their entire spirit, being and life to the prac- tice of artmaking. Outside of the art realm, I’m interested in image-making technologies, along with innovations in tech that change the way we see and have experiences, popular media culture, and so forth.
Do you consider yourself a painter? Is this category still relevant in 2020?
I don’t know what else I would be, other than a painter – a human being perhaps? The category of painter clearly still exists, but the looser and broader the category is, so much the better in my opinion.
What are the sources you use to make your images?
They come from a myriad of places: lived experience and noticing how I look at things and how they appear to the world. My sketches come out of 3D-modelling programmes that I use to visually construct the different figures and spaces in my work.
When did you start incorporating new technology in your work?
Probably as an art student. Though I was focused on traditional carpentry skills, with and without the use of power tools, I was interested in video art and computer modelling as well. The tech element you see in my work changes as my goals in my painting practice change.