Inspired by Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection, a new Whitney Stories series invites artists to discuss portraits that are meaningful to them. Here, Byron Kim describes Avery Singer's technical mastery, and the handmade quality of her paintings.
I met Avery Singer a few summers ago at Skowhegan, which is a summer art residency. She often depicts subject matter that has to do with her life as an artist before she started painting. Avery's father was a projectionist of film at MoMA when she was growing up, and so Avery used to watch him load the film and screen the films.
They are such virtuoso works technically, but I love them because they're at the same time so awkward and so clearly handmade. When you look at the sprockets on the celluloid, they almost look like each one is hand-drawn. Each one has its own unique shape. It seems to be commenting on our digital world at the same time as referring to this really old medium, painting.
Recently she's been depicting artists—all sorts of artists—sculptors, painters, performance artists, all genders. But I think they're all aspects of herself. Even as such a young artist, she's gone through so many different phases of what kind of artist she wants to be. My paintings for the most part are also not what they appear to be at first.
She had to learn how to use an airbrush really well to make this kind of work. And so I'm sure she taught herself, probably on YouTube, and it's pretty remarkable. You would never look at this work and say, “Oh, this is a self-taught artist,” but we're all pretty much self-taught in a way. All the technique that she's developed, it supports the content. It all evolved because she needed to communicate something.