First, tell me a bit about yourself! Where are you from originally, and where are you based now? What has your art education been like?
I grew up just outside of Baltimore, Maryland and went to school there at MICA for both my BFA & MFA. The summer after grad school I went to the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture residency in rural Maine. After that I hung around Baltimore for a little while until my girlfriend (photographer Ashley Walters) & I took an amazing cross country road trip to LA, where we now live and work.
Can you tell me a bit about your practice? Where do you derive your ideas from?
So I have this weird and personal iconography based off of old Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. While I was in school I got bored with normal art historical references and conversations, and ended up connecting with something that risked feeling dumb and wrong and strange. All the theory and all the grad-school kinda stuff I was reading wasn’t helping me make interesting paintings. I found that I could use something like Total Recall to touch on ideas I liked and have the work end up much more funny, strange, ridiculous and unexpected and personal. So I delved into it, pulling images from Predator, Total Recall, all those kind of movies to build an iconography about dreaming, looking, physicality, the physical being disconnected from or at odds with the sensed, etc. I use a reflected motif a lot – a narcissus looking into the water thing (only it’s often the shape of Arnold’s screaming head having his mind erased), or images of Mars, or the specialized vision that the Predator hunts with, and run with it. I don’t have any irony about it either.
My training was as a pretty hardcore observational painter, and I remember a lot of instruction about the primacy of looking, forgetting the names of things and what you think you know and trying to create an experience of looking and not knowing. Or Looking at something but having the possibilities of it still open. I feel like I’m still in that mode of thinking.
Your paintings are bright and abstract, and I noticed that you incorporate sand into the work! What is your process like? How do you start and progress through a piece?
I’ve always been a real nerd about materials. I was the old school kinda guy who always used rabbit skin glue and oil primer and had tons of mason jars full of homemade mediums and oil paint. Things really opened up for me at Skowhegan, I had hit a real block with my usual methods and materials, but up there you have the rare chance to make frescos. They have a fantastic shop set up for it. And I’ve always loved frescos, especially ones that are damaged – like those missing sections from Piero paintings, you just know they’re full of meaning and are so tightly designed but they’re damaged and part of that is lost and unknowable. I love that feeling, that idea of lost information or an ancient ruin. So the only thing worthwhile that I made that summer (besides some wonderful friends) was this big fresco that I spent weeks preparing for. Something felt fantastic about working on it, preparing this plaster surface and being able to carve and scratch into it and brushing a very thin watery paint over it and watching the color build and only having one day to execute it. It was exhilarating. From that point on I packed up my oil paint and tried to replicate that experience.
At first I was making cement-like grounds with pumice and sand mixed with acrylic mediums, and then it felt natural to use the sand more as an element in the paintings rather than just a ground for them. I found some companies selling whole color palettes of sand – the kind of stuff that you pour into those shaped bottles and make crafts out of, and started exploring it as its own part. It worked well with some thoughts I had been having about desert mirages and the mythology of the planet Mars (I’m also just a huge Aries stereotype).
I’ll start a painting with a simple idea for a motif and some ideas for materials in it; usually one of those two doesn’t work well with the other or it doesn’t go as planned and from then on I keep shifting things around until it feels better than the initial plan. And everything ends up feeding off each other, I’ve had some groups of little paintings that didn’t really work on their own, but I liked them as pairs, so I attached them onto the surface of larger paintings. I had this red foam disc that I covered in bondo and sanded down and painted and it was trying to be its own little red planet thing, but it ended up glued onto the surface of a big painting. I’m trying not to have any one way of doing things.
Do you plan your pieces ahead, or work more intuitively? Do you do any research of any kind in preparation?
I make a lot of plans (usually small colored pencil drawings) but few get really followed up on. Usually the plan will fail and look terrible or I’ll get bored with it or it’ll be the same as a lot of other things so at that point it becomes very intuitive and takes a long time. My paintings are split between ones that are quick realizations of a plan or ones that are like 8 failed plans on top of each other. And I don’t have a preference for one kind or the other. I’ve got two big paintings hung on one of my walls right now – one that was a very quick execution of a plan, and one that kicked around the studio for months and was a lot of different paintings before it settled. But the two of them together look like they’re from the same world and have the same gravity and satisfy my impulses. That’s been something I’ve been giving myself more permission with – to satisfy every impulse I have with the paintings, to be really indulgent.
I talked a little bit about my research above, but right now my “research” is watching the movie Junior (where Arnold is pregnant) a bunch of times, and seeing if that can generate some paintings. Junior is way weirder and stupider and doesn’t at all have the same level of “cool” as some of the other sources I’ve used, so it has a lot of potential and risk in it.
What is your studio or workspace like?
Since moving to LA my studio has been a room in my apartment. I’m real excited about this big studio cart I just built from some leftover Ikea stuff. Outside one of the windows is a lemon tree that I can reach out and pick lemons from.
Do you have a tool or an object in the studio that you couldn’t live without?
I have a couple of lucky charm kinda things. A friend of mine whose paintings I really admire used to paint this blue chair a lot, and I have a piece of that chair that I’ve kept around the studio. My girlfriend gave me a a pair of deer antlers as a studio warming present, so those are hung above my door.
As far as tools go, I have some very cheap plastic sculpture tools, I think they’re for working with clay, that I use to carve into the sand-mixtures that I lay down. Lately I’ve gotten a couple of dental tools, metal teeth-scraper things from a flea market and really like the marks that they make. It’s a different kind of drawing and it’s really fun. Also – Q-tips soaked in acetone. Very different, very slow kind of mark making, it just eats away at the built up surfaces.
What do you consider the most challenging part of pursuing your practice, whether creatively or professionally, especially as someone who left the university setting within just the last few years?
What has been really difficult is time. The time to really look at what you’re working on and feel it out. I like having a home studio for all the extra time I get to spend looking at the paintings, I’ll get a glance when I’m going to brush my teeth or get a jacket from the closet or whatever. Even if a work is very quick to make I end up having to sit around and look at it for days before knowing if it’s done or good or if its only on step one of a bunch of steps.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? Any that you’re glad you ignored?
Things I’ve ignored, god, that’s a lot. It’s been really important for me to figure out what to not care about.
As far as best advice, my mentor & friend Sangram Majumdar had two simple lines he used to tell his students all the time – “Make exactly the painting you want to make, and don’t make anyone else’s painting”
And Arnold Schwarzenegger – “Trust yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks.”
What does “success” mean to you?
I want to be making work all the time and not have a lot of obligations beyond that. Freedom and time to make what I want to make. A big house out in the county somewhere. A dog and some horses and maybe some kind of exotic deer.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a group of tall, kinda skinny surfaces (80 x 36 inches) that are all pulling from the same motif of an arm pouring sand into a reflecting pool. It’s one of the arms from this scene in Predator where Arnold and Carl Weathers shake hands, but it’s cut apart into these lone muscly arms messing up their own reflections. Unlike the last batch, these are starting out very smokey and grey and deep in their color.
The last thing I finished though was really different (I had a bunch of paintings finish at once and I felt like taking a break), we had bought a pretty beaten up midcentury chair from a flea market, so I spent some time refinishing it. That was a lot of fun and kept my hands moving.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you so much for this opportunity and for creating this platform, Kate, it’s really a wonderful space.
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