“I Am A Child Of The Light, Student Of The Dark,” Phillip Hanson at Corbett Vs. Dempsey

April 8, 2014 · Print This Article

By Kevin Blake

I have always been intimidated by poetry. When I think of poetry, I recall an elementary classroom–a noiseless space scattered with uniformed children and indistinct faces neatly arranged in square sections of four desks. I recall a voice that I do not hear in my memory but I know it had existed. The voice reads the poetry–line by line–and reveals the invisible intentions and underlying meaning of each word. In my recollection, I stare hopelessly at an unknowable arrangement of words, desperately yearning to know how the voice could infer all of this meaning from this senseless pattern of chaos.

I still feel this twitch when I am faced with poetry, especially colloquially brilliant poetry–the type of verse that belittles my ability to comprehend my native tongue. There is always a good chance that I won’t get it–that I won’t understand the cadence or the meaning and I will leave yet another encounter with the genre unfulfilled and feeling inadequate. In Phillip Hanson’s latest show at Corbett vs. Dempsey, “I Am A Child Of The Light, Student Of The Dark,” I had respite from my deficiencies.

I’m Nobody! Who Are You? (Dickinson) 2014 oil on canvas 60″ x 48″

Phillip Hanson is a crafty veteran who has never rested on his laurels or let institutional attachments limit his range. Alluding to the Chicago Imagists as a way of situating his paintings within the context of the establishment seems a disservice to Hanson’s evolution as an artist and painter whose work has grown exponentially since that historical waypoint, but there are certain aesthetic tendencies that exist as a reminder of Hanson’s beginnings.

Such a reminder might be Hanson’s palette–a saturated and at times electric color that refers to the 1960’s underground comic culture that is known to have influenced the Imagist’s work. Though in this grouping of work–as the title of the show suggests–Hanson puts this electric palette to work. He utilizes light to draw his audience into his paintings–just as a bug would be drawn to the streetlight. However, the zap you get when you arrive within inches of these paintings doesn’t kill you–it is more of a pulsing energy that continuously reverberates in Hanson’s color schematics.

He who binds to himself a joy (Blake) 2014 oil on canvas 50″ x 42″

This forced proximity Hanson achieves is an essential element to the success of these paintings, which deploy the words of William Blake, Emily Dickinson, and William Shakespeare in a reticulation of architectural space that seems to exist without consequence. As the eye and brain attempt to follow a line of poetry unto the next line, Hanson breaks that continuity with form–he denies that structure to forge anew the way poetry is consumed and thus, understood. It is in the visual language that this text is articulated and this strategy undermines our rationale–or what we have built (in the English language) as our methodology for creating images within our imagination through text by reading left to right and top to bottom. In this way, the poems become more accessible to a deficient reader, such as myself, and the paint speaks in no definite servitude to text.

While the large paintings in the main portion of the space are luminaries that are difficult to pull away from, there are a few smaller gems toward the rear of the gallery that recall the work that Hanson has included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. As in the Whitney show, these works offer a moment of intimacy with the artist–a magnification of Hanson’s deft hand as well as a reprieve from the noise in the surrounding space. In both shows, these small works are precisely placed and welcomed juxtapositions to their environments.

After great pain (Dickinson) 2011-2014 oil on canvas 50″ x 46″

Hanson’s iterations of these poems seem to pronounce a very personal reading of the originals–an emotive response that has generated an impetus to paint. Through his paintings, Hanson releases these emotions in the imagined forms produced through the words and rearranges the words as formal considerations for the paintings.

In this very telling title, “I Am a Child of the Light, Student Of The Dark,” Phillip Hanson alludes to a surrender–an annunciation of his humanity and a loss of control. The words may be someone else’s, but the arrangements are Hanson’s and his understanding of the grand narratives that ground these poems are the swinging doors through which all of us can pass.

 

Chicago Artists Resource April Opportunities

April 7, 2014 · Print This Article

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Because you, our loyal listeners and readers, bring so much awesome to this site, we have here a whole lotta something to help you grow and maintain your awesomeness. Yes, for a monthly post of opportunities, we’ve partnered up with the experts: Chicago Artists Resource, the city and the Midwest’s central platform for listings of opportunities that include jobs, calls, residencies, awards, and other opportunities galore.  Each month, the CAR folks will put together a list of quality local and international opportunities that you should know about. Plus, you can continue on to their site to see more. And of course, if you have any questions or want to add an opportunity, you can get in touch with CAR directly by emailing visual@chicagoartistsresource.org.

Here’s that monthly list to get you going:

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Call for Artists – Public Art League (PAL), Champaign-Urbana, IL

The Public Art League (PAL) in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois is seeking artists to display sculptures in our community. Selected sculptures will be installed in the community metro area and will serve as major visual anchor points, community identity and a statement that creativity and art are of vital importance to our existence in Central Illinois. The Public Art League (PAL) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that advances public art in the Champaign-Urbana urban areas.

Read more…

 

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Production Assistant – “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” at WBEZ Radio

Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! is seeking a whipsmart writer/producer to join our small production team. Our ideal candidate is someone who loves knowing what’s going on in the world and has something creative and funny to say about it. We want a strong editorial voice that compliments the tone and voice of the show. A comedy writing background is preferred. We prize flexibility and agility. As a small, collaborative group, we rely on each other to assist on all aspects of production as needed.

Along with writing jokes and researching material, you will also serve as a kind of ambassador for the show. One of the primary responsibilities is developing and overseeing Wait Wait’s social media presence. You will also be interacting every day with listeners, interviewing and selecting contestants.

Read more…

 

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Call for Artists – BLUE Bazaar Market Festival

Calling all Artists, Designers, Craftpersons and Innovators! The first annual BLUE Bazaar is an indoor one-day market festival held in Pilsen neighborhood. Artists of all kinds are invited to apply to present and sell their work to the public and community members of BLUE1647.

The festival is a fundraiser for an entrepreneurial incubator space, BLUE1647. The table fee goes directly to BLUE1647, but your sales on the day of the event are yours to keep. The fair will be held on Saturday May 17, 2014 from 10 am – 6 pm in the Pilsen neighborhood. The market will be held indoors at BLUE1647 located at 1647 South Blue Island Ave.

Read more…

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2014 Individual Photographer’s Fellowship – Aaron Siskind Foundation

The Aaron Siskind Foundation is offering a limited number of Individual Photographer’s Fellowship grants of up to $10,000 each, for artists working in photography and photo-based art. Recipients will be determined by a panel of distinguished guest judges on the basis of artistic excellence, accomplishment to date, and the promise of future achievement in the medium in its widest sense. The Foundation seeks to support artists/photographers who demonstrate a serious commitment to the field, who are professionally active or employed in the field. The entry fee for this grant is $10USD.

Read more…

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Ox-Bow School of Art & Artists’ Residency

Fall Artists in Residence at Ox-Bow are given the time, solitude, and focus often unavailable to so many working artists. The application is open to all persons who are not currently full-time students. At Ox-Bow, artists can enjoy 24-hour access to their studios, and an inspirational setting, free from the expectations of commercial and academic demands.

During the fall season, Artists in Residence have the opportunity to work in studios not available during the summer session. They also enjoy a more intimate community of like-minded, and diverse professionals. The fall season is also an ideal time to propose group or collaborative work.

Read more…

 

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Celeste Prize 2014; 6th Edition

Celeste Prize 2014 is an international contemporary arts prize which supports quality work by emerging artists in a worldwide, talent scouting environment. Every year thousands of artists use the prize to promote their works and their careers.

20,500 € cash prizes:
Project Prize 4,000 euro
Painting & Drawing Prize 4,000 euro
Photography & Digital Graphics Prize 4,000 euro
Video & Animation Prize 4,000 euro
Installation, Sculpture & Performance Prize 4,000 euro
Visitors Choice Prize 500 euro

Read more…

I Hope There’s Drugs In Heaven. (Rest In Peace, Dave Brockie.)

April 7, 2014 · Print This Article

Dave Brockie, better known as Oderus Urungus, frontman of the band GWAR, passed away on March 23rd. He was found dead in his Richmond home by a fellow band member.  As of this writing, murder and suicide have been ruled out as causes of Brockie’s death,while drugs are still being considered a possibility. Drugs seem likely.  Drugs featured prominently in the band’s lyrics (which may not be significant, considering that necrophilia, bestiality, and mass murder were common themes as well) and in Brockie’s autobiographical writing as well.  According to police, there was evidence of drug use at the scene.  While the official autopsy report is yet to be released, it seems probably that Brockie died of a drug overdose.

Much is often made, in the wake of a celebrity’s death, and especially a premature death to drugs or suicide, of what lesson we might learn, of the pressures of fame, the ills of society, and so on.  We are asked what lesson we might learn, and also (often as we are being asked for a contribution to a foundation) what the celebrity would have wanted.  Of course, on one level it’s irrelevant:  the celebrity is dead, and so their wishes are irrelevant.  Funerals are for the living.  I never knew Dave personally, but if you ask me what lesson he’d want us to learn from his death, I’d say, “Not a damned thing.”  He’d want us to steal his corpse from the medical examiner’s office and have sex with it.

GWAR was started in the 1980s by a group of art students at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Hunter Jackson was a VCU student working on a film called Scumdogs of the Universe (later to be used as the title of GWAR’s second album). Brockie was the singer for a punk band called Death Piggy.  Jackson (better known to GWAR fans as Techno Destructo) was using an old warehouse to film his movie; Death Piggy rehearsed in the same warehouse.  The two got to know each other, and GWAR was born.  (Sort of.  As is generally the case, the truth is a lot more complicated, but that’s the short version.

I haven’t been able to confirm whether or not Dave Brockie was himself enrolled at VCU, but many of the founding memers of GWAR were, including Jackson, and Chuck Varga (who performs in GWAR as Sexecutioner).  In a 1994 interview with Live Wire Magazine, Varga talked about leaving the fine art path to join GWAR:  “I went to college, I went the fine art route, and it really turned me off.  I was really creative, but at the same time, I wasn’t into fine or commercial art. It seemed like art was really a dead end thing to get into.  I was hanging around with Hunter (Jackson, Techno Destructo when he’s around, “a lowly slave” when he’s not) Dave (Brockie, Oderus Urungus, the vocalist), who were totally crazy, much like myself. They totally reviled in comic books and movies, and II kind of looked at myself and said, ‘I’ve always been into that! I don’t need a bunch of goddamned museum bullshit!’ So I had a rebirth in a way, forget everything I learned in college, and I started to learn about a totally different science of special effects and props.” (http://spookykids.net/gwar/gwarpage/Unmasked.html)

He could have gone for general. He went for himself instead.

More than any cautionary tale about drugs and the stereotypes of the rock and roll lifestyle, the lesson to take away from Dave Brockie’s death is to look at his life, and the lives of his bandmates, past and present, living and dead.  A nineteen year old punk singer from Canada, Brockie met some art students who were tried of trying to make it in what by 1985 they were already seeing as an overly repressive and stagnated art world. Though they would probably have simultaneously shat and vomited at the language, what they did next was a finer piece of interdisciplinary, collaborative, relational aesthetics than most projects to be so called.  They presaged the rough aesthetics of Nathalie Djurburg (http://www.lissongallery.com/artists/nathalie-djurberg-hans-berg/gallery) and the wet, sticky grotesque of Gregory Jacobsen (http://gregoryjacobsen.com/). Under the rotted surface, their work contained a subtle and no-one-is-safe political satire, like an X-rated version of Vermont’s Bread and Puppet.  And it all started when a punk singer and some art students decided that instead of banging their heads against the ceilings in their respective fields, they’d strap on some big rubber dicks and go for broke.

How We Work: An Interview With Jacob S. Knabb

April 2, 2014 · Print This Article

Guest post by A.Martinez

Jacob S. Knabb is a true storyteller on the page, on the stage, and in real life. He is also an invaluable host and curator in Chicago’s literary scene and over the four years I’ve known Jacob, I’m grateful to have attended over a dozen of his events around the city. In 2013, he made NewCity’s Lit 50 for his work as Editor-In-Chief of Curbside Splendor. He currently lives in Lake Forest with his beautiful wife, young son, and their two small dogs.

A. Martinez: How did you become a storyteller? Was storytelling a big part of your childhood?

Jacob S. Knabb: My mother read to us when we were small and while my brother and sister both liked it I was enraptured. I would sit as long as she’d read, even as a toddler. I was an advanced reader and by 3rd Grade my dad would give me some of the books he was reading once he was done with them. So reading and narrative were addictions. But I also grew up in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia and most everyone there is a storyteller in one way or another. Ask for directions and you’ll learn about the people that live on the route and what happened the last time the person you asked went that way. People there still sort of thrive on the stories people tell about themselves and there is a lot of mythmaking going on. I learned that telling funny stories endeared me to people and over time I became the person people would turn to when they wanted to know what had happened with so-and-so or how crazy we had all gotten at a party. It just comes naturally to me. I link things instinctually and make puns and wordplay without trying. I’m always surprised at how my mind does that without me being in control of it. But my grandfather, Harold Ray “Tony” Ball is the one who got me wanting to tell stories to people as a form of entertainment. He always wanted me to learn guitar so I could play songs and tell jokes and share stories with people onstage. It was his vision for me and he’d tell me that every time I’d go back home to visit.

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Martinez: What is one of the best stories you’ve heard and who told it?

Knabb: A story I’ve begun to refer to as “That’s Happiness” that was told to me by a 60-something year old creeker I met one night in a bar in my hometown called Clyde’s (which has since closed and is now a dance studio). It was after the fireworks on the last night of the annual Coal Fest and Clyde was about to close the bar. He’s an old guy who looks like an unfiltered Camel that was smoked down to the nub and then squashed into an ashtray, a Vietnam vet who was in the Navy with my father. He sort of liked me, or at least tolerated me enough to give me a free beer when I would go to his bar to drink. That night I came in as he was mopping and he let me drink there alone as long as I left him alone while he cleaned. As I was sitting there drinking a can of High Life the old creeker stuck his head in and asked Clyde if he was still open and Clyde said “fuck it why not” and set the dude up with a bottle of beer, I want to say it was Budweiser. The two of us sat there in silence and Clyde cleaned the floors and tables while we sipped our beers.

At that time I was fond of asking people, strangers mostly, deceptively complex questions when we found ourselves drinking side-by-side at a bar. I’d ask things that centered mostly on emotion, things like ‘You think people can truly regret anything?’ and usually they’d start waxing all philosophical in response. People want to tell you their thoughts, you know. Well that night I asked the old creeker “What’s happiness?” He sat there for a moment, long enough that I figured he wasn’t going to answer and then he told me a story about his son. This is more or less what he said:

“I had me a son once and his momma left us. We lived up at the head of a holler. He was best friends with this little girl that lived next door. The two of them was inseparable. The both had straight blonde hair and in the summer you could look out in the yard and see them playing there and you couldn’t tell them apart. Once they was in High School they became sweethearts. Even went to prom. On the day of his graduation I fucked her. He left and I kept on fuckin’ her. Then she left too. I ain’t heard from my son since. That’s happiness.”

I’ve told that story dozens of times and I never tell it the same way. I’ve never heard one as good before and I still am amazed by it. What I like to do is to end with that last line and make up the lead-up to it. I use it as a goal, a challenge to myself, to make up a story that is as good and that will get me into that bar so I can tell the old man’s story.

Martinez: You currently teach at Lake Forest College. What are you teaching there? And how does teaching influence your creative writing and editing?

Knabb: I was hired to help Lake Forest build a minor in Print and Digital Publishing. And to help grow their press. Teaching has no influence at all on writing or editing, I have to admit. It’s almost entirely the other way around. My students are very intelligent and motivated and they want to be excited about things. I love working with them and creating a yearning in them for literature and publishing. It’s very rewarding to be able to draw on my own experiences and to share my knowledge with them.

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Martinez: I first met you at your show called “So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel”, which ran for some years at Hungry Brain and then Empty Bottle. Will you tell us about the origin and theme of this show?

Knabb: There’s this brilliant but somewhat insane writer and musician named CT Ballentine. He wrote and collaborated with the dude named Todd Dills who lives in Nashville and runs an online and print zine called THE2NDHAND. CT and Dills wanted to start up a storytelling show and CT believed strongly that the show should be about challenging writers to do something more than simply standing on stage and reading their work off of the page. CT is an obsessive and also a true believer. He has this baby face and wears bib overalls and looks like he’s right out of a Tom Waits song about beautiful and ruinous rubber tramps. Anyway, the phrase ‘nerves of steel’ kept echoing in his mind, over and over, and he kept saying it to Dills and that this was the name of the show and what they needed to focus on. CT saw me performing and wanted me to be the host. He was running sound at The Whistler and decided that would be where the show was held and that I would host it and that it would be called “So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel?” How could I say no? I think CT wanted me to get into fist fights with the writers and for people to freak out. But right before we launched the first show CT had a mental break, cut off all of his hair, and vanished. They found him a few weeks later and he got back onto his meds and was ok. And the rest is sort of history of a small kind. We kept the theme of challenging writers to do things they weren’t comfortable with. And I grew it into a platform for myself to improvise in the persona of Harold Ray. Over time I made it into a variety show and it got fairly tight, in a ‘loaded to the gills’ kind of way.

Martinez: The host of your series was a country-singer-wannabe named Harold Ray. Who is Harold Ray and where did this character come from?

Knabb: The name Harold Ray is an homage to my grandfather and what he wanted me to to with my life. But the character is nothing like him. The real Harold Ray has never been drunk, is a family man and worker who was always proud of the muscles he had from hard labor. He builds things. He built his home. He built a house boat. And he plays guitar and sings old country songs.

I went in a different direction with my Harold Ray. I decided he would be the baser aspects of me, a version of myself that had never left WV, had become a grizzled drinker, and wanted to cheat and trick on the way to success. I felt Harold Ray would long to be a famous singer but would be too lazy and unfocused to actually practice guitar and songwriting. Instead he would pretend that he had written songs that were already famous or successful. This gave me a great gag and an excuse to sing Johnny Cash and Neil Young and Waylon Jennings and Garth Brooks songs. It also gave me an outlet to tell a lot of the crazy stories I’ve gathered over the year and to sort of spin tall tales about people I’ve known. As I did the show the character grew more focused and it was very simple to be ‘in character’ and to put the persona on like an old denim jacket. The only catch was being in that character was costly to me physically. It meant I had an excuse to drink and I’m an alcoholic. There were many nights where I’d black out before the show was over. Which makes perfect sense in the world of the show and for the character but is hell on me personally. I just couldn’t keep it up.

Martinez: How did you get into hosting all these literary events?

Knabb: I was born to stand on stage and say things to a room full of people. It’s why I’m a good teacher. It’s what would also make me a good actor or salesman or game show host if I had the focus and dedication and passion required to actually pursue those things.

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Martinez: What is your main role Editor-In-Chief at Curbside Splendor?

Knabb: I’m responsible for tons of things, really. I am primarily responsible for book acquisitions so our catalog is very much a manifestation of my artistic vision and sense of what makes a good book. I work with designers on the book covers and art direction. I oversee the editorial staff and publicity folks. I set up events and tours and sell on trade show floors. I do a little bit of everything. My partner in the enterprise, the publisher of Curbside Victor David Giron, is very similar. He’s also involved in everything we do. And we have some other talented people working to make Curbside live and grow, people like Naomi Huffman and Ben Tanzer, Catherine Eves and Emma Mae Brown, Alban Fisher and Leonard Vance. I work with all of them and a lot of other folks to keep Curbside going. It’s the greatest job I’ve ever had and I’m obsessed with it. All of the energy I used to expend drinking and wasting time now are spent on Curbside.

Martinez: Curbside Splendor really comes up with some interesting events including your pop-up book fairs and variety shows- how do you curate these events? And do you take inspiration from other events?

Knabb: I steal from everyone. I’m a magpie. If someone has a good idea, or a concept I like, I take it and adapt it to my own events. So I’m influenced by tons of people. My approach to curation is to keep things simple. Be organized as much as possible. Save everything so it’s accessible. And network like a motherfucker so you can work with cool people. I’m also a bit of a control freak and it’s been tough for me to let go of the reigns though I’ve learned to do that. I make the flyers, put together the talent, create the concept, talk with the venue, work the room night of, host the damned thing, and sit around with the bar staff for a drink afterward. Top to bottom. I want to be embroiled in all of it.

Martinez: What other publishers/literary collectives/lit events do you think are doing some interesting things in the city?

Knabb: There are a ton of great lit events now. Claire Zulkey’s Funny Ha-Ha is awesome. Brian Costello’s Shame That Tune is too. Guts and Glory which Sam Irby and Keith Ecker run is superb. Megan Stielstra’s 2nd Story. Too many to name, really. I love what I’m seeing from Fifth Star Press, Switchback Books is cool. Rose Metal Press is too. CCLaP does good stuff.  Haymarket Books is stellar. There are too many to list and I haven’t even gotten into collectives…

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Martinez: What are you working on now?

Knabb: Curbside and Lake Forest, though I have a great idea for a short novel and want to write the bulk of it over the summer.

Martinez: Is there a piece of advice, lit-related or not that you think of often?

Knabb: Recently my pawpaw Harold Ray has begun saying the same thing over and over and it is this: “You’re never going to be as young as you are right now.” And in times of stress when something must be gotten through or endured my father will say “Well, a man could stand on his head for that long if he had to.” I think of those two things all the time.

 

All photos courtesy of the artist.

A.Martinez is a freelance art and music organizer living in Chicago, IL.

Drawing Lines of Communication: A Conversation With Tony Lewis

April 2, 2014 · Print This Article

By: Kevin Blake

It is perhaps impossible to communicate the meaning of anything within the boundaries of language. Without a guide to offer intention, language simultaneously has too many variations and too many limitations, most of which are well defined. Images have the same issues, and within the context of fine art, images carry even more baggage than words. When the words are the images, and the images are the words, the scope of what is readable becomes blurred.  Tony Lewis explores these impossibilities of communication by deliberately leading and misleading his audience through the authority of language and the power of images. He draws from the well of established language-oriented conceptual artists while quickly developing an aesthetic grammar that feels genuinely intuitive but earned.

Kevin Blake: Text is scantily deployed in your drawings in what seems like quadrants of equally infinite space and is often connected by a thin line that lassos the letters together. The text reads as a play on words that implicates the viewer, as if the viewer could only know certain letters together as one phrase, or only having one possibility. I think the drawing, “dope repoa” 2012 is a perfect example of this strategy. The viewer sees the words “rope-a-dope” when reading the text from left to right, top to bottom, and this phrase immediately recalls Muhammad Ali and his strategy against George Foreman. There are many implications in this particular drawing, as with most of your work. Can you talk about how you think about the way people see, or the way people read, and how that influences your images?

 

Tony Lewis, dope repoa, 2012 84″ x 60″                                                Pencil and graphite powder on paper

 

Tony Lewis: It’s important to say the work you’re describing is a specific project in the studio, delineated conceptually (but not spatially) from others drawings. That is to say, although I make different types of drawings, I hope they all have a strong, collective sensibility that is considerate towards how people read, look, and think- I guess this means I assume a lot about people. More importantly, I assume to know the difficulty of language (and words and letters) and understanding in conversation. This functions the same way in the work- the speed at which you absorb ideas or material, the longevity of the dialogue, and development your own ideas are all variable.  As you say in regards to implications, I would hope there is more than one possibility when faced with the work, as I am concerned with making images that are working through several things at once. But I won’t be surpised, or disappointed with such a read, as some other the drawings within this project are arguably, and justifiably one-dimensional.

KB: In terms of the implications for the viewer, I should say that I agree there are most definitely more possibilities than one, per drawing, or phrase, or collective grouping of words within any particular work. I suppose that I was trying to get at the idea that in each piece, there is one in particular that rises first and foremost as the one that feels most intentioned. It feels, for instance, that “rope-a-dope” is the phrase that is colloquially known, and that it has implications of its own. The text seems to be rooted in groupings of words that have some sort of social affect or commonplace amongst us and it is that phrase in which the work is situated and then abstracted from. Multiple possibilities arise in this way. I’m curious as to how much of knowing the implications of deploying a very definite grouping of words or letters inform your beginnings and how much of where you begin is maintained in the finished product.

Tony Lewis, ,.deroloc color dna peopled elpoeP, 2011 84″ x 60″         Pencil and graphite powder on paper

 

TL: The ability to begin with colloquial phrases, or familiar terms is one way to approach the selection of letters from the larger pool of letters made from the original sentence (60 characters). I also select non-words, punctuation, or single letters as viable characters to use in order to make a drawing. All of the selections of characters have historically been based upon my own sensibility and inclination- whether finding humor, sadness, nonsense, direct references to people’s names, or in the case of rope-a-dope, a historically famous fighting style, which also describes the process of seeing and reading of the drawing(s). Sometimes, linguistically they begin with something that makes sense, like “the fool eloped” then progresses to “op ed” in the process of drawing. The past few years the attitude, and motivation toward this template sentence has shifted quite a bit- from breaking it down, finding new language (and all the different ways to do that), and eventually finding new ways to simply make a line.

KB: I saw a couple of your drawings last night at the Hyde Park Art Center, and in one of the pieces there is a piece of appropriated text from a calender pasted to the drawing. It acts very differently than your more formal arrangements spatially, but seems to create the same sort of conceptual trajectory. Can you talk about the chronology of mark-making in your work or how you set up these drawings? Does the text come first? Do you begin with a phrase? Does the phrase arise from the drawing? As your motivations towards a template sentence shifts, how do those changes affect the way a drawing is executed?  

TL: The drawings at HPAC were commissions through the NJAPF program, so they’re more about conflating patron desires with studio sensibilities. I’m not very good at talking about those, as they are more a result of compromise and conversations with specific people, and more like collaborations. I hope that makes sense.

The mark-making begins with the condition of the studio where the drawings are made. For the past few years, i’ve had a healthy amount of graphite powder over most surfaces, mostly the floor and walls. Naturally, objects in the space immediately display evidence of their surroundings. Beginning on the floor, I take four sheets of loose stonehenge paper, tape, and rubber cement, and begin to bind them together, using a previous drawing (to maintain the correct scale and shape). From there I move to the wall where I usually have a 5′ by 7′ sheet of paper ready to work on- a sheet of paper with a heavy dose of loose “bruises”, scuffs, rips, and smudges. Afterwards, I usually begin outlining the framework (or guidelines) provided by the original drawing/template to find the position of the letters chosen from the larger sentence which has been put into a visual framework to visually fit the page (or sheet of paper). I proceed to draw the letters, words, or phrases that will be a part of the drawing, and will finish with drawing a line (or some variation) through each of the letters, words or phrases, I’ve just drawn. At that point I move the drawing to another location in the studio-mostly more than once, and will most likely use that same drawing to provide the correct dimensions and size to create another new drawing. There is variation at each stage of mark-making, but I’ve ultimately come to understand the project as one viable way to make a drawing.

Tony Lewis, loo, 2012 84″ x 60″ Pencil and graphite powder on paper

Considering the motivational shifts toward the template sentence, at one point it was about breaking down the perceived meaning of the template sentence people would have about the subject matter. Then I became interested in finding new words, which pointed to more interesting conversation. After a while, I was concerned with language that would give me the most interesting line. I’ve also been interested in creating subgroups of drawings within the larger project- drawings with similar language that come from the same source. Lately I’ve been understanding the project conceptually as the reality to speak with a dangerously limited vocabulary. Having focused on the same letters, phrases, and words for so long, I can’t help but look to my own creativity to say something, anything just to be heard, and to understand the limitations of what I can say. It’s like only having 10% of the dictionary to work from, and still having to find ways to express anger, confusion, happiness, The Simpsons, hatred, Che Guevara, the Irish Potato famine, race, Muhammed Ali, Richard Serra, color, Pope.L, Colorado, the letter o, and Kid Cudi (among others). All of these elements influence the way the drawings have been executed, and have shaped the future of the project.

KB: I recently read an essay by the artist Liselott Johnsson entitled, “Painting beyond Painting: From Pensiero Debole to an Expanded Practice,” in which she used Roland Barthe’s “Death of the Author” to situate her investigation into creating a relationship between her images and the viewer. Barthes writes, “…a text consists of multiple writings, issuing from several cultures and entering into dialogue with each other, into parody, into contestation; but there is one place where this multiplicity is collected, united, and this place is not the author, as we have hitherto said it was, but the reader…” Can you elaborate on how you decide to set up these parameters or boundaries that limit the scope of what is usable in terms of text in the drawings, and how those impediments reflect the viewer’s capacity to digest or grasp the conceptual framework within each work? How important is the reader’s comprehension to you? At what point does text and image become one unit–one conceptual and formal investigation?

TL: I decided to limit the boundaries of the text in the drawings when I wrote the template sentence, and whatever can come from that structure to help make a drawing- the language is undoubtedly subservient to the drawing. At the same time, the language is confounding, easily forgettable, yet explicitly, and vaguely refers to the past, present, and future of the color line in the US, and other places. It still feels like a great place to begin making drawings because of the reality its grounded in- the reality of poetic quotations, and the platitude as a way to continually describe a brief history of color, or race. From the beginning, I’ve had a distinct feeling that the statement is written as though it’s only been spoken to in platitudes, which in turn is how it learns to speak. I feel for the sake of the project, it’s important to note that I wrote the sentence, and it’s crucial that it feels like a quotation, because it essentially is. I usually need the help of a structure, diagram, or appropriated framework to combat the anxiety of making a drawing. For this project, it was my epigrammatic statement, Microsoft Word, and the very loose reference to Arial Bold.

I’m not sure I see the limitations as impediments against the viewers capacity to grasp the conceptual frame work. They are pragmatic in a sense that they allow for a more succinct way to arrive at what the viewer is faced with. I’m committed to the idea that the variety of the reader’s comprehension should rival the variety within the drawings. The project is bunk without a diversification of “responses” to the original sentence- by “responses”, I mean drawings. As I’ve pointed to earlier, each drawing that is made is a viable, physical reaction to the original platitude, and the authority it implies. With each drawing made, comes the expansion of possible positions to understand, support, disregard, disavow, worship, or forget the source. Each drawing is an individual object, as well as part of a larger conceptual collective who’s purpose at this point, may be to create a plethora of possibilities for people to be overwhelmed by. Maybe not. For viewers to fall into a single drawing, and go insofar as the paper, character, and the graphite smudge, I would hope it can find the same level of humor or seriousness (latent as it may be) as when sardonically bombarded with the drab, historical narrative of the platitude implicitly presented here. Admittedly, there’s a bit of dark humor at play, alongside the occasional slapstick, which keep this project light in a way that allows for a space for play, and a darker laughter.

I would hope that the drawings are always one unit; text and image as components along with others, to make a drawing happen all at once. Whether or not drawing can successfully contain the conceptual and formal investigations is something I’m looking forward to learning.

KB: I think when an artist is eager to learn something, he/she often finds themselves in a vulnerable position.  When the solutions to the problems or questions we pose to ourselves are unknown, it seems the objects or images made in light of that inevitable  anxiousness can be free of any exactitude forced upon it by solutions to known quantities or qualities. I think some level of vulnerability is an essential element to making new discoveries and interesting work for that matter.  Can you address the idea of vulnerability in your practice and how it may or may not manifest in your work?

TL: I agree, vulnerability in making can yield work that is impenetrable or “free”, if that’s what you mean. I make drawings on paper which are physically vulnerable- very easily ripped, and not fixed. They’re handled roughly in the studio. As weak as they maybe, they do carry the scars of that treatment well, I think. I’ve felt vulnerable about many things for most of my life. I can say making drawing has become a way to transcend my own shortcoming, and make something that enters into an authoritative, invulnerable realm which has only been occupied up until this point, by a grand narrative that existed before me, and the audience, yet also has the power to tell my story to both me, and the audience at the same time. I’m interested in having a drawing occupy the same space- turning the narrative onto itself in a way, so as to simulate this unreachable space using the conversation around the perceived content of the drawings. The work on one level, is a way to fight against that seemingly untouchable, historical world, or at least point it out to the viewer, without claiming myself as a victim, to say, “does this happen to you?” It’s hard to expand on that without having the right words.

I’m the type of thinker to find one hundred ways a new idea won’t work, and after I’ve proven myself wrong one hundred times, I feel there’s a chance it’s valid enough to take a risk. I hope this makes me some kind of optimist. There a strong relationship between vulnerability and being an optimist, both require a level of trust in something unknown.

 

Tony Lewis, clon opP, 2011 84″ x 60″                                                   Pencil and graphite powder on paper

KB: On the subject of vulnerable materials, I’d like to know more about the Cartesian format of the pieced-together papers. The quadrants do not read as strictly a method for creating large scale works on paper. They feel more purposeful and the line that runs through the text further illustrates this format as having a graphed spatial dynamic. Is this happenstance, or does this methodology carry specific conceptual weight? 

TL: It’s great for me to use it purely as a method to build a sheet of paper by binding smaller sheets together with rubber cement and tape. Although the quadrant also works well as a physical, and visual parameter to work within. The need for making the paper this way came from previous work, and that studio rhythm continued into this project- I guess that is happenstance. The quadrant helps me to understand character positions spatially, which influences the way words and marks are read in relation to each other. It’s vital that people can read left to right, top to bottom as you said earlier, and I’m interested in how far apart things have to be before they can no longer be understood together. I like the quadrant. It provides a sense of focus when approaching the paper, as if there is something already present holding it together. I’m indebted to the grid because of the way it helps me see space (or emptiness). In the drawings there is a real place for play, and fields where I can run my arms across the paper without flinching- real space to carry all of the conceptual weight of whatever language, mark, or process; and whatever authority or lack the drawings might have, hinges on this space to breathe, and see nothing with, or next to everything. I hope that’s not as romantic as it sounds.

Tony Lewis, n f pope.l, 2012 84″ x 60″                                                  Pencil and graphite powder on paper

KB: As the Whitney Biennial comes to a close, where will you be concentrating your efforts? Do you have exhibition plans in the immediate future?

TL: Through the next month, I’ll be relaxing a bit, and in the studio focusing on new work hopefully. Right now, Nate Young and I have a two-person show at Room East in New York, which I’m very excited to be apart of- Nate is a close friend, and a great artist. I’m also reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography at the moment, which is nice. The main focus is preparing for solo exhibition in London near the end of May. It should be fun, and hopefully it’s a chance to recreate an exhibition installed in Chicago at Autumn Space in 2011.