Tell me a little bit about you!
I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. I did my undergraduate studies at VCUarts, where I graduated with a BFA in Painting & Printmaking and a minor in Art History in 2012, and then moved to New York City for graduate school. I did my MFA at Hunter College, while also working as an art handler for some several galleries and art handling companies in New York. I often say I think I learned as much about art and being an artist from my experience working as an art handler as I did in academia. I finished at the end of 2015 and moved back to Richmond almost immediately.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I’ve always enjoyed art of all kinds, but I was never the type of kid to scribble in my notebook during class or anything. I always signed up for art electives when I was a teenager. When I got close to graduating high school I really had no idea what I was going to do with my life, but I definitely knew what I wasn’t going to do – which was a whole lot. I definitely partied a lot – my parents put a lot of trust in me, and I got away with doing crazier things as a teenager than most people do in their whole life – but I also listened to a lot of music and read a lot of books (but of course never what I was assigned to read).
I was fortunate that some of my teachers in high school recognized that I wasn’t just some lost cause stoner kid – they helped me realize that I was actually very interested in intellectual discourse, I just didn’t fit into the one size fits all approach of K-12 education. I tried to drop out and wasn’t even dedicated enough to that to show up for my GED testing (which was a requisite for dropping out). At some point I read Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ and watched that Ed Harris biopic on Pollock – that changed everything. I decided I wanted to go to college and get really educated – a kind of “I’ll show you” thing against the establishment I guess – but I had to choose between studying journalism and studying art, and of course I also had to get in. I figured writing was an easier thing to teach yourself than painting, so I took a bunch of community college courses – still life drawing and basic design stuff – until I had a strong enough portfolio to get into VCU.
What is your process like?
I was taught to paint in the old-fashioned painter’s painter way, where you rework a painting to death in search of some kind of pseudo-spiritual self-discovery. I’ve relaxed a lot over the years, and now I usually work on a million things at once or none at all. I used to basically force myself into the studio everyday – I would feel guilty for taking time off. If you look at some artist’s Instagram feeds you get the impression that all they do is go in there in work all day every day – how do they do that?
I’ve realized I make better work if I take time off – I have to get out of the studio and go experience a life that I can bring back into it. So I’ll make a couple dozen things on canvas and paper and then take some time off – sometimes weeks. I also shoot a lot of photos in the interim, go running a lot, and work on my house – it all feeds the same horse, so to speak. In terms of how I work on the paintings specifically, it’s a back and forth between chaos and composition. I’m terrible at keeping a sketchbook, so a lot of ideas are developed on the spot. Lately I’ve been setting up rules for myself – false parameters – like say I’ll only allow myself to apply three or four layers before I have to come up with the finishing touches on a piece, otherwise I don’t know when to stop. I took that idea from running actually – when I go run a 5 miler and it really sucks, maybe it’s really hot out and I’m moving slow that day, I can’t just cover that up. It’s there to stay in my logbook – all I can do is try again on another day and try to do better. But I’ve only got 5 miles to make some magic happen – same thing with painting.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I’ve been given a lot of advice by a lot of people – some better than others. I had some great mentors as an undergraduate student, and a few in graduate school. But I had some horrible experiences in graduate school as well – New York was a different animal. There was a lot of faculty ego, and a lot of different perspectives being spewed in my ear. It could be really confusing – almost dangerously so, because art students are so vulnerable. Here you are trying to solidify the groundwork for your career as an artist, and often times literally spending a small fortune trying to do that, and instead of helping you you’re actually getting the rug pulled out from under you (and people are getting paid to do it). You’re willing to do almost anything in hopes that you’re gonna get your big break at some point during that time or soon after – and everyone’s just making each other question what they’re doing. It could be brutal.
That being said, I’m really grateful to have worked with some incredible artists during my stints in academia – Javier Tapia and Sally Bowring at VCU, and Brian Wood and Carrie Moyer at Hunter – among others. Brian and Javier haven’t always told me what I wanted to hear and I’m grateful for that, because they always told me what I needed to hear. Painting is very personal to them, and the discourse I’ve shared with them has inspired me to hold on to that kind of relationship with painting in an art world that sometimes focuses more on fashionable style than personal experience. Sally and Carrie were also great to work with – in addition to being very intelligent when it comes to art, they were also open to having candid discussions about how the art world works on the back end – about how they’ve made it work for them and how the gallery thing works. Carrie also seems to know of every painter that ever existed, which is great because if you’re her student she can always point you in some direction for inspiration.
Describe your studio!
I work out of finished detached garage behind my house. It’s about 30 ft from the chicken coup and vegetable garden. I got tired of commuting between my apartment, job, and studio in New York, so when I moved back to Richmond having a home studio was pretty high on the priority list. It was actually one of the first things I did when I moved in – I did the insulation, drywall, and painting by myself. Literally, it was just me. It was not fun.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
You never really know where your at with it, and how long you’re gonna be in the situation you’re in. I’ve made some solid moves this year – a new body of work that I’m really proud, I’ve got some exhibitions coming up including my first solo show – but I still feel like I’m in the middle of some vast ocean with a life preserver on just hoping that the rescue team arrives ya know? Am I moving in the right direction? Am I making progress? Does anyone know I’m out here?
If you could sit down for dinner or a drink with anyone, who would it be and what would you chat about?
My wife. She’s my fiercest critic and biggest supporter. She’s also overwhelming intelligent and thoughtful – it’s not a matter of what we would talk about so much as how we would talk about it. We can have a pretty intense conversation about doing the laundry – it doesn’t matter – so long as we go deep.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Tactile, sophisticated, clumsy.
What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut?
Try something else. But that doesn’t happen so much anymore. Most of the time if I’m not creating paintings it’s not because I have creators block but because of external circumstances. Honestly, it’s usually financial. Creativity is limitless, time, money and space is not. I’m not at a point in my career where I’m selling regularly enough to be making big paintings every day. Painter’s substrates – canvas or wood panels – are expensive, even if you make them yourself. And they take up room! I’ve got some huge paintings taking up space in my studio storage right now – works I made for my graduate thesis – that are so stylistically different from what I’m doing now and where I see myself going that I will probably never show them. I have no idea what to do with them.
I’ve actually been pacing myself lately. I could be making a ton more work than I am, I just don’t have enough room to store it or enough cash to construct it. I spent the first half of 2017 making a ton of new work, now I’m slowing down and investing in some other parts of my life – traveling, new shoes, concerts, things like that.
What do you love most about your medium? What challenges or surprises you most about it?: I love that I can do it on my own. It’s not like making a film or a big sculpture that requires assistants or more than two hands. All I need are some materials and some space to myself.
What do you need or value most as an artist?
What keeps you creating?
Working with my hands is in my blood. My father works in a printing factory and my mothers always been creative – when I was a kid she made birdhouses out of reclaimed barn wood and sold them at craft fairs, now she makes ceramics and watercolors. Dad’s vegetable garden was a stones throw away from mom’s workshop. I was always off in the woods exploring. The only time I really sit still is when I’m sleeping or have a drink in my hand.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve been editing a batch of photographs from a recent trip to Emerald Isle down in North Carolina. I’m taking a break from the painting studio, but starting next week I’ll start prepping some things for Current Art Fair here in Richmond, which I’m participating in through one of the local galleries.
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