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Internationally acclaimed artist Mike Glier uses painting and drawing to explore interpersonal relationships and the impact of humanity on the world at large.
The Alphabet of Lili, a series of twenty-six paintings born out of the nightly ritual of a father reading to his daughter (of the same name), thwarts the common “A for apple” primer by depicting unusual symbols for each letter that reflect a parent’s hopes and fears for his child. Twenty-five years after these works were made, this exhibition reveals the themes, artistic and personal, explored in the series and throughout Glier’s career. Landscape, love, portraiture, parenthood, and an anxiety about the future that is tempered with optimism combine to create works that are simultaneously personal and universal and have a continued resonance today.
Philbrook Curator Sienna Brown recently spoke with Mr. Glier about his art, this show, and more.
Sienna Brown: I know that The Alphabet of Lili was inspired by the nightly ritual of reading to your daughter. What did you read together? Did you make up your own stories? Did any of these materials work their way into the paintings?
Mike Glier: We started out reading Mother Goose and I had this beautiful illustrated version from the 1940s. We did make up stories, a lot of them featured our dog, her name was Sneaky, she was an Australian Shepherd, the runt of the litter, and she moved much more quickly then she could think. She often got into trouble in real life because she was so fast and not so thoughtful. She was a great protagonist and had lots of adventures. Did they make it into the paintings, only in that the bedtime stories were improvisations on daily life and the paintings were improvisations on daily life. Some of the violent imagery wasn’t our life, but it was in the news, the world swarming around us.
SB: Do you or Lili have a favorite letter painting? Has it changed as you two have grown older?
MG: My favorite painting is still the B painting and it hasn’t changed. That’s the painting with the little girl in the bathtub and the B stands for baby, boat, back, bath, bug, beetle, behind, it goes on. It’s sweetly colored and it reminds me of that nice hour right before bedtime with the bath and playing and then reading; it’s just a charmed moment of the day when you have a little one and it reminds me of those nice moments. Lili currently remembers the legs, she thought they were tender and moving. But when she was little, I think she was three-years-old or four, she had a funny response to it. She came into my studio and they were all lined up and she kind of put her hands behind her back and paced back and forth looking at things, like and art critic. She stopped and turned to me and says, “But dad, this girl’s got a head.” Now she remembers the legs, but when she was three, she was complaining about the lack of heads.
SB: Did you paint the works in alphabetical order? If so, how did your approach change between A and Z? If not, was there another overarching approach?
MG: I did work in alphabetical order. I kept some variables very limited, because I was concerned about keeping them continuous. I limited the palette; there are only three pigments in the paintings, plus charcoal: red oxide, yellow ocher, and an ultramarine blue. I did start with “A” and sort of work through, but I did always have at least five to six paintings going at once so I was always working on the neighbors. I never worked on one without working on the neighbors at the same time because I was trying to get a rhythm going of hot and cool. Content hot, content cool, as you go through.
SB: What kind of responses have you had to this series?
MG: My favorite essay that was ever written about it was actually in the Los Angeles Times by David Pagel, it was a long review. He really understood that this piece was about masculinity and changing roles of masculinity. There haven’t been many works about childrearing by men. This, I think, is a piece that as much as it is about Lili, it’s about the changing role of men at a particular moment in American culture.
Burnstein Gallery, Philbrook Downtown
On view through April 2, 2017
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