1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? What are you reading or watching right now? Currently, I am working through two books. I have quite a backlog of things to read, as many people do, and juggle a few different styles of writings at a time. Bending Concepts: The Held Essays of Visual Art, 2011–2017, a collection of editorials that have been published in the art journal the Brooklyn Rail, andHow to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency” by Akiko Busch. I’ve been reading a lot of essays about art criticism and social commentary lately to both grow my artistic practice as well as to find direction for an art journal that a frequent collaborator and I just started. Mm. I should add in that I have been reading a lot of Donald Judd writings from that enormous/little red-orange book, Writings. How to Disappear hits on topics on how we position ourselves in society, with all the complexities and pressures of technology. It directly speaks to my own personal questions as well as the work I do through performance. I grew up on a few authors: Günter Grass and Henry Miller possibly being the most impactful. The Tin Drum, Tropic of Cancer, and Quiet Days in Clichywere read through a few times, with different levels of understanding as I aged. I’m pretty sure I only understand, at best, twenty percent of what Grass was getting at with his novels. 2. What are you currently working on? Are you able to create during the pandemic? Things are totally upside down! I continue to work, although now it is an unheated garage in Wisconsin early Spring. Over the last few years I have been creating visual soundscapes of (largely) contemporary classical music. Right now I’m working on paintings that find inspiration on the newly released Music for Detuned Pianos by Max de Wardener and Kit Downes. Out of tune pianos mixed with electronics? Sign me up! It is difficult to work in my temporary studio, and I really miss my normal space. My gloves are spotted with paint and I look forward to days when it is above forty degrees. That being said, it is keeping my anxiety at bay for periods of time.
I am also spearheading a collaborative piece that will be created through the COVID-19 distance. It is in early talks, and is overly-complex (as most of my projects start), but I feel really good about the potential. We will be planning some video conferencing meetings to hash it all out, and I am so excited to hear about their ideas and find ways to synthesize it all together. We are artists. We create. Especially in this fucking time.
3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure? Failure. I’m sure that I will remember a better one, but this particular failure taught me a lot. I was doing a small performance piece back in college, in which I was “playing” a laser beam in the dark with flour to the tune “Lovely Joan” by the band Miranda Sex Garden. As the song progresses, the chorus of singing becomes very dense and layered, and the volume of the piece rises exponentially. The laser beam, which was coming out of a pointer, bounced off of a constructed speaker and then reflected sound patterns onto the wall. At some point during the performance, the poorly built mechanism that I made to hold the pointer began to fall apart and the laser slowly drifted upward. All the lights were off, and so all I could see was this laser beam moving from a relatively horizontal line to an almost vertical angle to the ceiling and the clouds of flour being illuminated in its strangely slow-moving and unexpected path. While I had practiced the piece many times “playing” the laser like a musician would gracefully play a piano, I was instead having to throw flour rather frantically at this moving target, like a free jazz drummer. I realized that art, for me, is not about control. It is not about the expectant. It is about collaboration and constant reaction to changing times. That little laser piece taught me so much about how to just roll with the art, because it is not about me, the artist. It is about the piece that is created beyond what I expect.
4. What is your most unusual habit? When I walk, I count patterns with my steps. How many strides fall into a sidewalk block, left foot twice to one right foot and then right foot twice to the left. I do this in my head. At least I hope I do. 5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why? My father, because I miss him dearly. It certainly isn’t because he was particularly good at faces. The angles that he used to structure the face always looked like they were desperately heading to some vanishing point that made the checks swell out. I think that is a result of his hand-drawn isometric illustrations of kitchens that he did for work. I just want to sit across from him again.
6. What is the most indispensible item in your studio/workspace/office? My commitment to understand that I’m not all that. There is that John Cage quote (I am googling it right now and will copy/paste the first one I find)
“When you start working, everybody is in your studio- the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas- all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”
I totally believe that! I often staple a fresh piece of canvas to the wall and stare at its newly primed surface for an inordinate amount of time, periodically running my fingers across the surface like you see people do in the movies when they find a photo of a passed loved one. Unusual habit #2. During this time I visualize the main structure of the piece. Where are the finished lines and shapes going to go. What colors will it be. How does the movement flow. I do all that preliminary sketching work in my head and then go at it with abandon. With the canvas on the wall, it does not give like it would if it was stretched and on an easel. It stubbornly refuses to be moved. I understand the reactions it gives back to me as I make my marks, and then, I work with it.
I guess that is an idea, and not an item.
7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself? First I sulk around for a long time. I don’t know how people put up with it. I don’t like looking through magazines to see what is going on with other artists (although I sure seem to subscribe to a lot of them). Then I pick up my favorite pen, my travelers journal, and write. The thoughts are chaotic, contradictory, incendiary… total ground clutter. But out of this mess comes an idea. I think it is the process of writing, getting all that shit out, that allows me to come upon something relatively new. I also mine my past for ideas. When I was a kid, seeing the coming of the personal computer and how it changed our lives, I made a lot of notations in my mind. They come back up and I compare them to what is happening socially today through technology. I stew on that for a bit, take a long shower, and go back to writing. From there, I can create again. The long shower is key. I think it is the sound of the water in its semi-regulated patterns as much of the isolated space. The sound patterns of water really remind me of the other times I would sit and think… standing between cars on the commuter trains of Chicago and listening to the wheels on the tracks. And then again, eyes closed, typing on an old typewriter. The hypnotic patterns really help. Unusual habit #3? 8. What do you see as the artist’s role through this difficult time? To reach in to your person and really ask what it is that you can offer, and do it. If your thing is making beautiful paintings of flowers, you do that. And you find ways to put it out there. Because people need beauty right now. If your thing is to make work that is based on criticism and questions, then you do that. And you find ways to put it o