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Taaffe in studio
Taaffe in studio

Philip Taaffe in his studio. Photograph by Raymond Foye

One of the most significant American painters of his generation, Philip Taaffe has been exhibiting on the international art world stage since the early-1980s. A master of mechanical processes of reproduction, Taaffe mixes cross-cultural references to make layered artworks that bring the past into the present. With his upcoming show of new, large-scale canvases at Luhring Augustine in Bushwick, opening Sat 17, Taaffe shared his thoughts about the role of ritual in art and his debt to the French master of the cutout.

What does painting mean to you?
It’s a personal artistic interaction with the history of images and and a way of creating an intimate pictorial reality that can be shared with the world.

Would you describe your approach as ritualistic?
Absolutely. I often think of painting as a liturgical practice—as a form of sacred theater.

You recently wrote an essay on Matisse’s cutouts, in which you state how they’re “as brilliant for their economy of means as they are for their vibrancy and energy of expression.” You also singled out their razor-sharpness and crystalline quality of light. How do these qualities apply to your own work?
I use a limited vocabulary of signs or elements to come up with something that creates a unified, thematic core. And for me, razor sharpness creates a sense of scale or the perception of infinitude. It corresponds to how we use our eyes in the shifting of focus and emphasis. As for light, painting is primarily about capturing it which is critical to the power of a work. Light is the crux of the matter.

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