Artist of the Week

Roni Packer

March 19, 2019

Roni Packer is a painter who prioritizes the paint over the image. Her spacious paintings and installations are a material and formal explorations that invariably put color at their core. Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Packer moved to the United States in 2014. She received her MFA from The University of Illinois-Chicago in 2017, and was a BOLT resident at the Chicago Artists Coalition in 2017-2018. Packer’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I was born and raised in Tel Aviv. My early 20’s started with a year trip to India, and when I got back I decided to go to art school. My main focus back then was photography and sculptor, although painting was always my real passion. I struggled in painting classes when the instructors wanted us to illustrate a concept since all I wanted was to take a bath inside the paint. I guess that I was also terrified by the thought of being a bad painter.

When I graduated I spent another year in India and only when I got back I was brave enough to dive into painting. In 2014 I moved to the U.S. and got my MFA from UIC. Since then I live here in Chicago.

In terms of my art – I make paintings and objects that find their way into large-scale installations. These always involve paint and are (at least in a certain way) about color. Touching and working with paint without taking its materiality for granted, forcing it to act as I want and then realize that it won’t, these are the things that drive my practice.

In the past two years, I have been using mainly the color yellow. Yellow is not my favorite color, although I don’t despise it as much as its complementary color – purple (word of advice: asking a painter what’s their favorite color is like asking a mom who is her favorite child).

A year ago I promised my brother that I’ll cease and desist from yellow and go back to my old colorful palette. I’m really trying, and my new paintings have some pink and brown in them, but I guess that I still need to pass this yellow threshold, I guess I have more to investigate there.

What is inspiring your practice and material choices right now?

Recently I started working with enamel paint and now I’m excited to go to the studio every day just to figure it out; what it can do and what it can’t and how do I work with that.

I think that the actual materials I work with are what inspire me. More accurately, my struggle with the material is what drives me. When I was younger I kept looking for inspiration outside of the studio, but I was more of a romantic back then.  

What does your process typically look like?

My work process usually starts and ends with a major misstep. A successful process will be one in which I was able to stay present between these two moments. But I’m not comfortable with uncertainty, so in order to balance my doubts I have a strict studio daily routine.  I’ll save you the details because it is not very sexy.

What upcoming or current projects are you working on?

Currently, I’m finishing up a body of new works for my show P.S. My Favorite Color is Green that opens on Saturday, March 9th at Slow gallery. I have been working on these new paintings for more than half a year and I’m excited to share it with others and to enjoy a week or two of white walls in my studio. I’m also working for a new exciting project with Scott J Hunter that is scheduled for May. As well as a two-person show with Whit Forrester at Aspect Ratio in July. And I’m starting to think about my upcoming solo show in Tel Aviv, which will open on December 2019. I haven’t shown any painting in Tel Aviv for such a long time and I’m slightly freaked out by the thought of showing in my home town again.

Do you collect anything?

No. I used to collect toy-cars but when I moved to the U.S. I gave most of my stuff away and came with only two suitcases (I took two toy-cars with me – one pink one and one green).  Since I moved… I don’t know… I want to say that I don’t care as much about material stuff but that would be a lie. I still love stuff .

What are a few of your favorite yellow things?

I love this question! When I think about my favorite things I immediately go to food. So: I don’t like eggs and pineapples. I do like bananas and lemons. I like corn as long as it is in the form of popcorn, but then it’s not really yellow but white…

The whole thing with the yellow is more of an obsession, and I’m not sure it’s about likeness so much; it is all I see and notice. I walk and drive and all I notice around me are the yellow things. It’s almost like I don’t even see things in other colors anymore.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I always admire people that actually answer this question, people that have a ready list at hand,  but I guess that I’m weak on this issue. There are some great painters that I have always been jealous of, knowing that I will never be as good as them. One of them is Matisse and recently I decided to deal with it, so I “broke down” my favorite painting of him – Lemons on a Pewter Plate.

In regards to site-specific work, what is the greatest challenge when intervening a space?

I think that the main challenge is to find a balance between where I’m at a certain moment with my own practice and then acknowledging the significance of the specific space, history, and people.  It’s important to remember that it’s not about the fact that you’re doing a site-specific installation but about the specific site. I experienced such a challenge recently with my work Entitled 2018, which was part of the show Living Architectures at 6018 North. The show’ premise was to highlight the influence of immigrant artists on Chicago, considering the 6018North building (that was built by immigrants) as a starting point. I wanted so much from the installation, and I had so many things on my mind – the beautiful house and all its décor elements, the elderly lady that once lived there and the fact that I don’t really see myself as an immigrant. While trying to figure out what I want and what’s important to me to say I was at the pick of my yellow obsession and I couldn’t stop thinking about colors. Luckily, I had three months to work in the space and revisit all these things on a daily base.

What is it like living and working in Chicago?

Well, at this moment it is somewhere below zero and I truly hate it. But I think that being far from home, surrounded by the wonderful art community of Chicago, has had an immense impact on my work, and I’m very grateful for that. I was lucky to start my journey here in the wonderful art department of UIC, where I met many great friends and collogues. In 2017-2018 I had the privilege of being a BOLT resident at Chicago Artists Coalition, where I met more wonderful people who inspired me. I once wrote in a post that Chicago is the place where one can move the fastest from love to hate and back again. People liked that so I’m sharing it here again, and also because this is genuinely how I feel.

What do you want a viewer to walk away with after seeing your work?

I want them to feel something although I know that it’s not a small thing to ask.

Where do you see your practice going next? Any major changes happening in the studio

It feels like there are changes happening in the studio but it’s all still fresh, and I can’t think about it too deeply because it’s too cold. As for now, I’m waiting for spring, that’s all. I don’t see very far, maybe that’s why I decided to be an artist.