I’d love to know more about you! What first interested you in painting?
At first I was a committed Sculpture major in college, I bought a welder, power tools, everything I needed. During my junior year I enrolled in a painting class to fulfill a required art elective. After a few weeks, my painting professor, who I remained close friends with until his recent passing, took me out of Painting I and moved me into Painting II. That move was a big confidence booster and somewhat swayed me further into painting. I juggled both disciplines during undergraduate and graduate school. I also dabbled in video, animation, performance, whatever medium worked to support the idea I was pursuing.
Because I spread myself out so much, I made a critical decision in my second year of graduate school to focus on one thing. I enjoyed painting most, and painting was a medium that could handle all of the ideas I was exploring. The practical side of me didn’t want to deal with storage issues, transportation rentals, expensive power tools, or software that other disciplines required. In retrospect, I think it was a good decision. My wife is a sculptor, so I can still get my sculpture fix through her.
Your paintings are bright, usually geometric, and draw a little bit on the Op Art tradition. Can you tell me a bit more about your work?
Geometric forms have a sense of power and clarity that can be somewhat seductive, possibly because geometry appears exact and indisputable. Also, another lure geometric forms possess is a sense of abstract purity as opposed to the various associations derived from representation. Recently, I’ve entered a never-ending rabbit hole of geometric lunacy; I’m hooked and can’t stop.
My color-saturated palette has been a common denominator throughout, and still continues. In earlier work, I used specific colors to feminize masculine objects and to also portray a sense of fiction intended to contrast the depressing issues of the “state fair” subject matter. In my more recent non-objective paintings I have been experimenting with how color can impact visual deception, nostalgia, spatial ambiguity, and over stimulation. This could explain why I’ve been exploring Op Art trademarks like shimmering light and optical illusions.
Additionally, I teach a color + design theory course each semester. This course provides a bounty of material and constant discourse that often times influence my color decisions. I think of my students as one big research group. Overall, my painting routine simulates a science experiment. Similar to the creation of Frankenstein, I combine a variety of components in an anticipation of creating something new. Recent work incorporates Structural Constellations made famous by Josef Albers. His designs are about simplicity and reduction, but I thought it would be an interesting contrast to interweave other factors that pop up in my work. My paintings tend to be a mash-up of art history, Sci-fi, Retro Futurism, Miami Vice, MTV and early computer graphics. I feel the neon-glowing gradients suggest a digital synthesizer riff and cheesy visuals of a David Hasselhoff music video, which I’m totally satisfied with.
You typically paint in oil; what draws you to that medium, or what is your favorite thing about it?
My favorite characteristic of oil paint is the window of time you can work, stretch, and blend the medium, which I do quite a bit. I have adapted to oil and it somewhat informs my painting. Not sure if I could make a switch to alternative mediums without altering my methods and process. Another feature I like about oil paint is the luminosity I can acquire if worked just right. I also like the fact that I can prevent colors from drying on my palette, which allows me the freedom to use the same color throughout the week or even a month. It’s nearly impossible to remix the same color. Yes, you can do this with other mediums, but I have not experienced anything that holds all the characteristics of oil.
A lot of your older work shares a vibrancy and similar palette with your recent work, but your work has taken a more “minimal” turn — although mostly just in comparison with earlier works that were very detailed and “busy.” How has this transition taken place, and do you find yourself bouncing back and forth between styles, or do you feel yourself moving on from the style of earlier work?
It does appear like quite a jump, but yes you’re spot-on, there’s a common thread among the old and new work. If you study the earlier paintings, I often infuse color “experiments” splattered throughout the composition. My recent work is a complete departure from representation, where now I hyper-focus on color and design relationships. It was a slow transition, but what propelled me to move further into a formal and minimal direction is that I lost interest in the figurative / narrative discourse often connected to representational work. The dialogue focused on the technical facility required to paint the figures and the time it took to paint them. Discussions’ revolving time and skill doesn’t interest me.
I do realize this was not the only criterion used for evaluating my earlier works. There’s an obvious dystopian communal narrative in the older work that I enjoyed, but I felt that was becoming a conceptual recipe that felt restrictive. My biggest fear is not having the freedom to execute future ideas. Concentrating on design elements offered an endless exploration and freedom that I found appealing. At the moment I don’t see myself venturing back to representation, but you never know. If I feel restricted or grow tired of making the same painting than I’ll move on. My goal is to maintain a personal newness that comes from anticipating new outcomes; once the process and decision becomes formulaic, I lose interest.
What is your process like? Do you do research of any kind, or incorporate specific methods into how you plan a piece?
Typically, when I start a new idea; I’ll make 5-10 sketches on printing paper, which I hang on my studio wall. From there I select one, and measure and draw out the design directly onto the surface of my painting panel. This provides me a blue print to start planning out sections of the painting. I prefer not to pre-plan every aspect of the painting so there’s some sort of mystery and anticipation left. Most of my new work incorporates gradients; I premix and apply gradients to the panel with a small brush. I rarely use tape unless it will expedite the process; I find it faster to paint each shape one by one. Painting on a hard panel allows me to lean onto the surface, which helps to stabilize my hand. It’s a repetitive and tedious process that can wear on your soul, but the end result is worth it.
Regarding research or how I generate ideas, most of my paintings are influenced by decisions or indecisions from previous paintings. I generate ideas from considering various possibilities I could apply to a section in a painting. The options I didn’t use will eventually end up in another painting I’m working on. On the other hand, I can’t help but to be influenced when I see artists I admire. Instagram is my new addiction, and has changed how I go about researching artists and galleries. I find myself “researching” while waiting in line at the grocery store. I often see something unique a painter or sculptor is tinkering with, which may subconsciously find it’s way into my work.
Another driving influential force is teaching. I teach full time at Delaware County Community College. Often times I demonstrate to students how to design a form, or I’ll suggest color options that might trigger an idea I am working with in the studio. Whatever engages me will work its way in there.
What is your studio space or workspace like?
My wife and I share a 1200 square foot studio space located in an old industrial warehouse not too far from our house in Philadelphia. Since she’s a sculptor she has every possible tool, which works out quite well for me when I need to build shipping crates. I could use more space for storage, documentation and varnishing, but the size is adequate for now. I like to paint on the wall, so I hung plywood sheets wall to wall throughout the entire studio. This allows me to easily screw into the wall to hang panels at the height or angle required to work on. There is no climate control, so it ridiculously COLD in the winter and sweltering HOT during the summer. I just came back from the studio and my hands and feet are still ice cold. These are not ideal conditions, so we’re looking into purchasing a garage space in Philly sometime in the near future.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you in the mindset to paint?
It depends on what I am doing in the studio that day. I’ll listen to podcasts if I’m working on an area that doesn’t require me to think or make decisions. For example, I binge listened to Serial’s podcast while completing a very tedious part of a painting. Because I was so engrossed in the story, the labor part of it transformed into a decent experience. That moment changed my process, which in turn impacted the direction of the paintings. I know look forward to repetitive labor, whereas before I avoided it. I’ve heard almost every podcast program out there including stand-up comedy, interviews, talk shows, news, local sports, anything interesting. Recently, I have been listening to political podcasts; it’s much too tempting with the recent political climate. Once in a while I’ll listen to music, but that can get old fast. If I am figuring out a painting and have to make important decisions, I’ll play music to kill the silence, which allows me to focus. Other than that I show up, do it, and leave.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? Have you received any advice that you’re grateful you decided to ignore?
One of my former professor’s, the late Terry Adkins, said to me not in these exact words, “Why are you making that Jim Dine shit? Tap into your own self. You’re a kooky bird. Humility is a virtue; from there you move forward”. He had a kind of academic, gritty, and poignant language that moved students out of their comfort zone away from making “safe” art. One of his principles of teaching was for student to make work that is genuine and unpretentious. If it weren’t for his energy and refreshing approach I would not have accessed my weirdo ideas. To this day I hear his voice and feel his presence when I’m fumbling in the studio. He keeps me honest.
I can’t think of anything that was so bad I ignored the advice.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally? How do you or have you handle(d) that?
This might sound depressing so place sharp objects out of reach. I think there are quite a few factors that are challenging for any creative, and isolation is one of them. Working in the studio is a very lonely practice, and no one really cares what you’re doing in there. Until you find peace with where you are, and what you are doing, the solitude can impact your self-confidence. Other factors that can challenge creative and professional endeavors are time and money. It’s a constant battle to find the time to work. Life issues such as, employment, family, bills, etc., can all chip away at your time in the studio. For me, if I am not consistently in the studio I get a bit anxious and rusty, ideas plateau, which in turn intensifies self-doubt. I make sure I schedule times to work on a daily basis. No one depends on you to be there, which makes it easy to skip out, but I try to make it a priority.
Money is another factor that can distress pursuit. Some people are able to work without much funding, but the older you get the more difficult that feeling is to bear. For most artists, work is not flying off the wall, so it is unlikely to rely on sales. Consistent income and security is helpful to alleviate stress levels. I consider myself lucky because my teaching position helps on the financial side of things, but overall it comes down to building daily habits so you can continue to work.
How would you define “success?”
My short answer is personal happiness. My long answer to define success is the maintenance of happiness through pushing personal boundaries, discovering new terrain, completing new ideas, continuous learning, and the ability to focus without distraction. Hopefully everything else will take care of itself.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects you’re currently working on?
After a studio break from my recent exhibit at the State University of New York at Cortland, and a group show at Jonathan Levine Projects, I finally returned back to the studio last week. Very excited to explore new ideas floating in my head. Mirus Gallery in San Francisco invited me to exhibit again, possibly in late 2018, or early 2019. Also, I am about to head across the country to Brigham Young University as a visiting artist to lecture and give studio critiques. This interview is actually helping me re-visit my ideas in preparation for the lecture, so thanks for having me.
+ + +