In the words of Ari Lankin, “make art, look at art, look at everything as if it were art”. Lankin, a painter, works full-time from his studio in East Harlem. He began painting on the advice of a former teacher. He quickly fell in love with the physicality of the medium and the freedom it allowed to incorporate and investigate anything that interested him without rules.
Known for his painterly abstraction, Lankin’s works embody joy, curiosity, experimentation, and deliberate choice. His paintings entice the viewer to construct a subjective world and bask in optical sensation. “I want them to stimulate curiosity and imagination - much like viewing clouds or watching the ocean.”
What is the most ACTIONABLE recommendation you would give to new artists just starting out?
Your senses are your tools. Be a sponge of existence and translate that into your work. Keep moving forward, there is nothing wrong with baby steps. Step out of your comfort zone and surprise yourself. And finally, work your ass off while you enjoy what you do.
Who (or what) influences your art?
The visual diversity of nature is a major inspiration in my art. I am constantly amazed by the way living things have evolved with such diversity. There are so many colors, patterns, structures, systems, and forms that are not only aesthetically inspiring but also necessary for survival. Form and function are intimately related. As a painter, my process must also evolve to help continue into the unknown, visually and conceptually.
I am also influenced by the physical universe. More specifically, my experience of landscape and space. I find beauty in the way things build, grow, erode, and deteriorate. Just like the universe, every mark on a canvas is simultaneously constructive and destructive.
Two of my favorite painters are Rembrandt and Guston. I love how they handle paint and activate the picture plane. Aspects that are crucial to my own practice.
What is your studio practice/creative process?
Mental and physical preparation is essential. A fully functioning workspace is important to my process as it enables me to find a natural rhythm. Regardless of what I do to prepare, putting on my painting clothes is a switch. Painting is a task that I've done so many times, but it always feels new before I start. The change of clothes is a ceremonial push over the ledge of uneasiness.
I like to work on more than one painting at a time. If I hit a wall with one, I turn to another. Or something I’m doing in one painting gives me insight to a previous roadblock. My abstract paintings are not designed ahead of time, so working this way allows me to stay creative and experimental.
Once I start painting I don’t like to stop and I prefer to paint well into the night losing myself in an uninterrupted flow of creation. I find it motivating that NYC never sleeps. I like knowing that there are tons of other people out there still awake doing their thing.
Do you have a favorite museum or gallery?
The Guggenheim, The Rose Art Museum, The Barnes Foundation, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Can you tell us about your proudest achievement as an artist?
Balancing life as a painter, making paintings that continue to inspire, staying with it, living it, loving it, and believing in the search is not always easy to juggle. I feel like I do it quite well. It may sound silly, but I'm proud of that. One of my mantras is - “Creative momentum, especially painting, is like rolling a boulder up a hill. It’s hard as hell to get started sometimes, but once it gets rolling intensely enough, it powers itself up the hill.”
Outside of your work, are there any other creative pursuits that interest you?
My “other” creative pursuits that influence my work are; ice hockey, cooking, freestyling, and dance. A sport (ice hockey) enforces practice, discipline, repetition, focus, coordination, and perseverance. These characteristics are integral to my life in the studio.
Cooking is based on selection and manipulation of ingredients, much like preparing and using materials. Dance is essential to developing both controlled and ecstatic movement. My work is very physical and usually involves movement of my entire body, translating into different ways of applying paint.
What are some of your future goals?
In the near future, I want to design a very large studio that will allow me to simultaneously work on many more paintings than I can now.
Career wise, I want to have a few retrospectives at major museums while I’m living. I want to see my work from a wide date range altogether at once in the spaces I have fallen in love with as a visitor. I love discussing art and the chance to discuss my work with a variety of museum visitors would be a nice culmination from making the work alone in my studio.
My intimate relationship with The Guggenheim building and collection continues to inspire me and I definitely want a retrospective there. I have imagined my work unfolding chronologically up the spiral hundreds of times. I also think my investigation into abstraction will have a beautiful dialogue with the two artists synonymous with the Guggenheim: Frank Lloyd Wright and Vasily Kandinsky.
What artistic rule do you love to break?
I love to find myself breaking habits in the studio that have almost developed into self created rules. When it comes to painting, there are no rules. It’s one of the reasons I love painting. Another one of my mantras when it comes to painting is - “No rules, just right.”
What are some of your favorite tools to work with, and why? Don’t limit your definition of tools!
I really enjoy the physicality of paint, so I would have to say a brush. I use the term ‘brush” loosely as anything I can use to apply paint. They can be utensils, rags, knives, trash, sponges, or fingers. Each “brush” has a personality and so does each paint mixture. Finding the right combination of tool and material is an exciting puzzle as a painting develops. Anything in my studio is fair game.
Lankin is also a museum educator, curator, and creative consultant for brands.