A self-interview … of sorts

September 18th, 2008 | No Comments

A couple of weeks back, I was contacted by year 12 student (equivalent to senior in high school in the U.S.) from Australia named Sarah. For an art class project, she was assigned to “do write-ups on artists,” as she puts it. Surfing around, she found my site, was interested in my hard-edge paintings, and wanted to ask a few questions via email. (Her paintings, by the way, are pretty impressive.)

Since I don’t really have occasion to give interviews, I thought I’d offer my responses here, in case you’re interested. I really like the interview format. It can afford a wonderful way to crystalize ideas and figure out one’s self. In the process, I feel like I learned something, or at least I learned a new way of articulating what’s in my mind right now. So here goes:

Q. Why did you begin painting? I just wanted to. It was back in 1992 – 93 and I was really inspired by corporate logos. (Still am.) I had a couple of ideas in my mind, so painting them out just seemed like the thing to do. My mom was an artist (at one point she designed greeting cards for American Greetings), so I had access to the right materials. (I used to “borrow” her art supplies when she wasn’t around. I just stayed up late painting in the basement. The next morning, I definitely heard about it!)

But I’m a self-taught artist. My technique was really quite poor for a long time. I just kept at it, though. Technically, I’m still not great. I’m more motivated to get ideas out, rather than obsess over surfaces. After all, perfection is just an idea. We never attain it, no matter how hard we try. Creation is a process.

A progression: At left, Scramp King, the first painting I painted, in 1994. At right, my most recent maximalist art work.

Q. Why hard edge? My interest in hard-edge painting stems from Jo Baer and Frederick Hammersley. I first came across Baer’s work in the catalog for the SITE Santa Fe Biennial of 2001, curated by Dave Hickey, a critic I really admire. Hammersley was in that show, too, but I didn’t really get the “point” of his work until I saw it in Santa Fe a couple of years ago, at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art. Seeing Hammersley’s work left a lasting impact on me. His work justified, for lack of a better term, my “switch” to painting with a more minimalist style. Plus, he was a pioneer of hard-edge painting, back in 1959. I call my minimal work hard-edge because the edges are clean, but I also believe in carrying on that tradition, even though the term “hard-edge painting” meant something totally different back then.

Mind you, hard edge is one half of my work. The other half is what I call “maximalist.” It’s a descendant of my early “acid pop” work (from 1993 onward). I think it’s really what I’m all about.

I started to explore minimalist painting in 2003, just before I saw that SITE Santa Fe catalogue. I was losing interest in painting in a neo-pop art style, which was my original direction. When the Iraq war started, I started to feel really uncomfortable with irony—spoofing corporate logos. That was a 90’s thing, anyway. I decided I wanted to make something beautiful instead.

So, for about five years, until earlier this year, I couldn’t make up my mind about whether I was to be a minimalist (giving up on my earlier work) or a maximalist (continuing the “acid pop” line of thought). It was a difficult five years. I realized it’s okay to go back and forth between the two styles; they form a complete whole. I thought I had to choose between the two, but that’s not the case.

Q. Who are your major influences? Beyond Baer and Hammersley, I’d say Warhol was my first big influence. He had a Dadaist sensibility, and I was really into Dadaist poetry when I was in school. I loved the way he deflated mass media. For a long time, it was Warhol, Warhol and more Warhol.

Otherwise, artists I really admire include Eduardo Paolozzi (his work is amazing!), Bridget Riley, Julian Stanczak, Stephane Dafflon and early Sarah Morris. And Oliver Hibert, a great artist friend of mine. We’ve been going against the grain, out here in middle-of-nowhere Arizona, for years.

Ultimately, I’m not really inspired by other painters. And I don’t really pay much attention to the “art world,” which seems to be more and more about all of things that art isn’t about. I get more inspiration from semi trucks, vintage wallpaper and fabrics, football (soccer) jerseys, corporate logos and fashion. I just kind of jam all of those influences together in my maximalist work.

How do you make your paintings? I do everything on the computer first. My work isn’t really conducive to improvisation. So I spend a lot of time “versioning things out” on screen first. Sometimes I’ll design something and it will sit there for months, even years, before I go back to it. Also, I mix my colors to printouts. I want to know exactly what I’m going to do before I jump into making a painting.

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