Last week we talked painters on and off the podcast! Featuring interviews and studio visits with Everest Hall, Mara Baker and Steven Husby — in addition to our usual treasure trove of cultural insights….Here’s a play by play —
Amanda Browder, interviews painter Everest Hall, who describes (among other things) the value of being raw in the studio:
“There is a responsibility that comes with being an artist to be naked and open and free. Let’s bring the audience to another place. Come with me. On this journey, I don’t know where we are going, but I see a clearing in the woods. Let’s go for a walk together and maybe make love in a pine forest. I think that sounds delicious.“
The week began with our latest guest contributor, Jaime Kazay. Kazay co-curates the Revolving Door Reading Series has a poetry collection out from Dancing Girl Press. This week she reflects on all things Barbie, asking a question I have continued to trip over all week — “I wonder if Barbie likes peanut butter?.”
Duncan and Richard made appearances on a WBEZ panel featuring a “panel of local critics [discussing] their role in the new media landscape.” #fahntsie
New York correspondent Juliana Driever published an interview with Social Practice Queens (SPQ), “a collaboration of the Art Department of CUNY Queens College and the Queens Museum of Art with the goal of developing an MFA pilot program in Social Practice.” Here is one excerpted Q&A:
“Juliana Driever: Unlike other social practice MFA programs, SPQ is in direct partnership with a major museum, which is a unique set-up for an MFA program to start, but even more so given that much socially-engaged art typically takes place beyond museum and gallery contexts. Does the QMA’s investment in this program also signal a shift in the role that museums play in support of such work?
“Prerana Reddy/Jose Serrano: At the Queens Museum of Art, we are constantly striving to examine whether the avant-garde in the realms of art and politics can actually meet. Can an art project simultaneously address aesthetics and concrete social goals in public space? This is a constantly evolving process, one that must be responsive to shifting demographics, economic conditions, political will, unplanned crises, and a constantly unfolding definition of art. Unlike the confines of the gallery or contracted set of artistic services rendered in non-museum spaces, engaging in complicated social relations in the “real world” involves a surrender of control over outcome as well as some amount of risk. This is not something that all museums want to enter into or are well-positioned to do.”
Monica Westin, wrote about Mara Baker, Mara Baker, “a self-described student of deterioration and residue” about her upcoming show at Sidecar:
“In the ‘residue’ series, spray paint and glass create transparent layers that give recycled materials ‘a new history,’ Baker says, ‘creating a sense of space without building up.’ She’s deeply interested in the interplay between the real and the representational in mixed-media work, and the paintings often employ representational images like blurred photographs that formally reference abstract elements. Where previous two dimensional work has been sculptural in its formal approach, she finds such materials can create space and depth without losing the surface of the picture plane. ‘Still, I’m most successful when piling, wrapping, and removing something.’ She points out a few paintings that have abstract white space, either scraped off or added to the top of her layered images—what Baker calls ‘the conceal, something underneath you can’t see’ that creates somewhat ‘quieter objects.’”
Stephanie Burke’s TOP 5 Baby!
Some great coverage from another new contributor Robert Burnier this week. Burnier took the time to review Steven Husby’s show, BRUTE FORCe at 65 Grand, “a studied exercise in emergence and the way that severe restrictions can somewhat paradoxically throw subtle expression and gesture into great relief.” In a subsequent interview with Burnier, Husby says:
“I would say that I’ve flirted with pictorial recursivity, deductive structure, and something like absolute opacity for years. The house–painterly way I work really started in undergrad as something to aspire to and something to work against. A kind of pop–inflected formalism was in the air – and I was young and impressionable. Over time I’ve generally found it to be worthwhile to give myself over to the more excessively restrained aspects of my practice, probably because I’m not a particularly neat, linear, or orderly person, but I like what happens when I try to behave as though I were. I think I was first attracted to limits both as things to provide traction and as things to be subverted in some way. I found as soon as I practiced these things, the force generated through restraint was greater than I could ever achieve without it. The channeling, focusing, and projecting of force – whether from inside or out – is absolutely key to the whole project.”
Kickstarter is bandied about once more, as Adrienne Harris discusses the ethics of Zach Braff’s recent success in raising money for his film, on his terms”
“I worry that the success of campaigns like Zach Braff’s… is going to change the way that studios and producers expect ALL film to be financed in the future. I worry that I will take my next screenplay into a meeting which I am lucky enough to score with Sony Picture Classics and they will say, ‘We love it Adrienne. Now come back with $2 million and we’ll see what we can do.’”
Which seems like the self-same conversation that came up a while back as far as art institutions go — will government funding similarly dry up in lieue of these public charity campaigns? Which I suppose furthers the question: who is responsible for footing the bill in creative enterprises? Where do we draw the line between entrepreneurial investment, friendship pennies, fans pitching in, and government support?
Last week, while at a dinner party, I was involved in what turned out to be a very passionately divided argument. The subject up for debate? Zach Braff’s Kickstarter campaign.
Now, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, just like one of the dinner party guests did not, I will explain it you, from the beginning. Kickstarter is a for-profit company founded in 2009, that aims to help people with creative projects find their funding through crowd sourcing, using the Kickstarter Website. One might make a video, or a commercial for their creative project, be it a film, a show, a novel, or an invention, post their plea for cash on the Kickstarter website, link it their twitter/facebook/read-it/tumbler account and hope for the best. The project creator sets a time limit and a minuium funding goal. If their goal is not met in the time allotted, no funds are collected (meaning the donated funds are returned to the donators.) If they do reach their goal (Hurray!) then Kickstarter takes 5% and calls it a day. Kickstarter retains no ownership of the project and the project creator is free to go off and make their dreams come true.
A little over a month ago, the team behind the cancelled but popular television show Veronica Mars launched a campaign to raise the capital ($2 million) to shoot a feature film of the series. The series lead actor, Kristen Bell, appears in a video along with other cast members and the show’s creator, Rob Thomas. They explain that they have been trying to get this movie greenlit by the studios for years, but no one believed that the show was popular enough to warrant a movie. The studios were not willing to risk their money. But one studio agreed to distribute if the team could come up with their own financing. So they took it to Kickstarter, where they not only raised the $2 million, but they did it in a weekend. By the end of the month, they’d raised over $6 million and promised to shoot the movie this Summer.
This past week, actor/director Zach Braff launched his own Kickstarter campaign in the hopes of raising the capital to shoot his second feature film. He made a similar, cute and funny video, where he explains that he’s got a script that he wrote and loves and thinks his fans and the fans of Garden State will love too, but he needs our help to fund the movie. His goal was met and surpassed quickly. Zach Braff will make his movie.
So, what was the discussion about? The heated, passionate debate, I mentioned earlier? Basically it is this. I think that Zach Braff is manipulating Kickstarter, his donators and the world, and now I’ll tell you why.
Zach Braff begins his Kickstarter video by explaining that he and his brother have written a film, and found some “money guys” who are willing to finance but are insisting on final cut of the film (final cut is an industry term meaning that the “money guys” would control how the film is edited. It also means that if they and the director disagree about something, they win the argument.) Zach also explains that these “money guys” want to control casting. He explains that if he might want to cast Jim Parsons (from Garden State and more recently, The Big Bang Theory) or Donald Faison (Scrubs) the “money guys” might insist on Justin Bieber or Denzel Washington. These are the actual examples that Zach Braff gives. The video is entertaining and both the Jim Parsons and Donald Faison appear. Zach sits in front of a large framed poster of his first feature film, Garden State, and explains that that movie was financed almost entirely by one money guy who was a fan of Zach’s and Scrubs and wanted Zach to have full creative freedom. Garden State was a very successful movie and I’m sure that Zach’s fan financier was very pleased with his return on investment both financially and creatively.
Zach Braff has had a successful career as an actor and film maker. As one dinner party guest said, “he won the lottery.” So why does he need my money to make his film? This is my first problem with his campaign. He admits that he has access to financing. He admits that he has doors open to him that are not open to every creative person hoping to make a meaningful film. He is a television and movie star who gets the meeting he wants and needs and he even has a financing offer on the table but he doesn’t want to give an inch of creative control. I understand this dilemma, but at the risk of sounding catty, “boo-hoo.” Life is full of compromises, especially in Hollywood. No one gets to make the movie they see in their head. There are teams of people whose job it is to figure out what an audience might want to see, and that is often imposed on the writer and director. Zach himself admits this on his very nicely put together campaign page. He discusses advanced screenings where the audience makes notes on what they did and didn’t like so that changes can be made before the film is released. Zach wants to avoid all this because he is sure that his vision in best and should be unchallenged. OK. I get that. But I will say that as a writer, having people challenge and help shape your work can be really helpful. You realize problems you never would have seen on your own. And I’ve seen the director’s cut of Garden State (you can too, it’s on the DVD) and it’s long and indulgent. His Garden State team, possibly his fan investor, had the sense to pull in the reigns a little, and thank goodness they did. Zach also only suggests that his “money guys” might not let him cast who he wants. MIGHT NOT. He is turning down their financing because they might not let him do exactly what he wants, and he can’t stomach that idea.
That leads me to my second point, if this project is so important to him, then why hasn’t he invested in it himself? I won’t pretend that I understand Zach Braff’s financial situation, but I would imagine that he has more money than most. He was on a very successful television show for a number of seasons at a time where tv stars were making huge sums per episode. Huge! Garden State did very well and I assume that he retained quite a good deal of ownership. I’m not saying that Zach Braff has $2 million under his mattress, but I do find it interesting that he never in his video claims to have invested in himself. Maybe he could come up with the first million or $500, 000 and ask his fans to help him match it (just a suggestion, Zach, not that you need my suggestions.) A friend at the dinner party had a problem with my problem. He argued that my idea that rich actors should pay for their own passion project was ridiculous. He claimed that no one pays for their own projects, it just isn’t done. To that I say, well why the hell not? It seems to me, that when Zach Braff makes his movie and if it does well, the only person that stands to benefit financially from this venture is…Zach Braff. In a traditional investor agreement, the film-maker would be expected to pay back the investment with interest, and the investor would make money as the film makes money for the rest of the film’s life. That includes distribution deals, netflix, dvd sales etc. As a Kickstarter campaign contributor, it is not an investment, it is a donation. There will be no payback (all though there are incentive gifts that the production promises to send you.) But if the film gets world wide distribution and breaks box office records, Zach Braff and his team will reap those benefits…not his “financiers.” My friend argued that he thought Zach Braff was being creative, and brave, asking for help with a risky model. I have to wonder…where’s the risk? It seems to me that Zach Braff has a lot of options for getting his film made (where a lot of filmmakers have few or none) and the least risky is asking strangers for money with little to no strings attached.
And lastly, I worry that the success of campaigns like Zach Braff’s and even Veronica Mars’ (to which I donated because I LOVED that show) is going to change the way that studios and producers expect ALL film to be financed in the future. I worry that I will take my next screenplay into a meeting which I am lucky enough to score with Sony Picture Classics and they will say, “We love it Adrienne. Now come back with $2 million and we’ll see what we can do.” I worry that it will soon become a part of the writer/director’s duties to also secure the financing, even on a bigger studio scale. I admit that the studio system is changing and will continue to change in ways I can’t foresee, but this concerns me. On a totally selfish level, I was hoping in the near future of my career as a writer to be able to hand the financing problem over to another department, and now I’m afraid that it will always land back in my lap with the suggestion of an easy Kickstarter campaign.
As the conversation wound down and we all agreed to stay friends even though half of us will donate to Zach’s campaign and half will not, I did have to admit it was an exciting argument to take part in. Art and money are always tricky. However, it is encouraging to know that there are lots of people out there donating on Kickstarter, to big public campaigns like Veronica Mars and Zach Braff, but also to smaller, lesser publicized campaigns for burgeoning novelists, fine artists, video game designers, and an engineering toy tool set geared especially for little girls that I invested in last year. I’m sure at some point I’ll make a Kickstarter campaign for a project, and though I’m sure Zach Braff won’t donate (can you blame him? I haven’t exactly been nice) I’m hoping you’ll consider it.
Guest Post by Robert Burnier
After seeing Steven Husby’s exhibition, BRUTE FORCe, at 65GRAND, I had the opportunity to catch up with him and ask if we could dig a little deeper into his process. There were several aspects of my earlier writing on his show that I wanted to hear more about from him, but it seemed to me that certain activities of his outside the studio and gallery were also of interest. In response, he very generously took great care in his answers, giving us substantial insight into his motivations, ideas and ways of approaching a studio practice.
Robert Burnier: When would you say you first began to explore the notions that led to the kind of work you’re doing today?
Steven Husby: I would say that I’ve flirted with pictorial recursivity, deductive structure, and something like absolute opacity for years. The house–painterly way I work really started in undergrad as something to aspire to and something to work against. A kind of pop–inflected formalism was in the air – and I was young and impressionable. Over time I’ve generally found it to be worthwhile to give myself over to the more excessively restrained aspects of my practice, probably because I’m not a particularly neat, linear, or orderly person, but I like what happens when I try to behave as though I were. I think I was first attracted to limits both as things to provide traction and as things to be subverted in some way. I found as soon as I practiced these things, the force generated through restraint was greater than I could ever achieve without it. The channeling, focusing, and projecting of force – whether from inside or out – is absolutely key to the whole project.
RB: How do you feel about the use of concepts from science or mathematics in a work of art? Are they intrinsically important to you in some way or do they act more as metaphors on which to hang other concerns?
SH: Well on the one hand I sympathize somewhat with Joseph Kosuth’s early position on these things – on the face of it these concerns are external to whatever the ‘art’ concerns may be. But from that standpoint so is form, beauty, and meaning – critical or otherwise. And though I sort of love the perverse absolutism of that, I wouldn’t want to go so far as to say that these seemingly external concerns are not relevant – they are; however, I think you’re correct to key in to them as metaphors. I’m not a scientist or a mathematician, and I have no formal training in anything like those fields. If anything – I would say that although I’ve had a ‘crush’ on math and science from an aesthetic standpoint for so long that I can hardly remember not being intrigued by the imaginative possibilities they suggest to the laity, I have almost no innate aptitude for the practice of either. I’d say I’m passably adequate with numbers, and although my studio practice entails some small degree of discipline and rigor, it pales in comparison to that required by even the most rudimentary scientific method. I think what has allowed me to move forward in my practice has been remaining open to the possibility that potentially nothing is external to it.
I think at first I thought that I was only ever interested in these strict pictorial procedures as perverse, radically artificial things in stark juxtaposition to everything else, and in the expressive potential of choosing that sort of perverse limitation as a resonant gesture. But I’ve also always really loved designing things and making and looking at objects. I believe in the work as this weirdly sincere gesture that somehow enfolds a healthy amount of skepticism. I’ve often been too proud to spell out my intentions, so as a consequence the work can be read as purely formalist or procedural, or in some way simply ‘about’ structure or something like that. And I believe that it is not really my place to say that it’s not. Sentence meaning takes precedence over speaker meaning. But then why painting? It’s a very specific choice. I’m getting bolder about putting forward my own rather more emotionally loaded interpretations of my work as I’ve gotten more comfortable seeing more kinds of things as internal to it.
RB: What things were most important to you as you prepared to arrange and install the work for BRUTE FORCe? And what got you onto the idea of making those posters instead of the usual show card?
SH: I knew that I wanted to show the big red painting, and the rest of the decisions proceeded from that one. I had begun work on the black and white paintings when the show was first proposed several months ago, but I hadn’t originally intended to show any of them until I had completed all sixty-four in the set. My original idea was to show the big red painting, and a group of small collages on the wall that is now occupied by the black and white paintings, but that idea fell by the wayside fairly quickly, as I realized that the collages just weren’t going to hold that wall, and the idea of presenting the first eight of the sixty four paintings I began working on towards the end of last year just made more sense as something that could actually hold their own across from the red painting. I had recently completed the second four, so when the opportunity presented itself I couldn’t resist the temptation to exhibit them earlier than I had originally planned. Progress continues on the remaining fifty-six, which I will show in partial groupings as I complete them.
This leaves the inkjet on canvas, which extends my investment in photographic imagery which began in 2009 when I began taking photos in the course of my daily life like a lot of people do, and experimenting with ways of bringing that kind of imagery into my exhibition practice. I’ve always liked how the really opaque geometric paintings looked in rooms – what they do to the space around them as these relatively unmodulated pictorial objects breaking up the contingency of real space. And I’ve always liked how the paintings looked paired with other people’s photographs – so at some point the idea of “sampling” the real in that way just made a lot of sense to me – so that’s where that decision comes from. The poster is just a natural extension of that process of sampling, formatting, and juxtaposition, in this case of graphic with more atmospheric sorts of visuality. The title also came pretty early on – though originally it was going to be something like Brute Force: Coming Attractions. The text on the back – “This Is Not a Blog” – is one I wrote over the course of a couple of years for my website not long after I began maintaining one – also in 2009. I think that process of maintaining a website – the initial excitement, and eventual ambivalence I began to feel about its implicit demands and limitations – led me to where I am now with respect to my attitudes towards contemporary image culture, and the pressure that that exerts on our perception of paintings as objects which occupy a peculiar site of intersection between ourselves as embodied physical beings and ourselves as beings looking, passively watching, seeing into and through everything, comparing images to images.
RB: When you move from paint to, say, inkjet, what kinds of issues are raised for you in the use of those differing methods? In both cases the surfaces are just immaculate and consistent, but is there something fundamentally questioned here or do these questions reside on a level other than craft?
SH: That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. With both I feel I’ve been engaged in a kind of pantomime of external limitation. Compared to many other painting practices I’m aware of, mine has consistently been much more seemingly de-subjectivized in many respects. And yet I’m not really interested in renouncing subjectivity at all – far from it. I’ve never thought of myself as a pure formalist. My work has been placed in those contexts, and I’ve never felt like it was appropriate for me to say no to that aspect of how it reads. But nonetheless, I often find myself articulating my concerns in weirdly formal ways when what’s called for is some kind of subjective or objective narrative, and in weirdly narrative and anecdotal ways when what’s expected is greater tact I suppose. As much as I seek out limits for their expressive potential, I’m never not chomping at the bit. I suppose that’s what it means to seek limits for their expressive potential.
I think my work is full of all sorts of ‘tells’ that it’s not just a matter of beauty, taste, decoration, or craft. I’m very much of my generation – between the super restrained anti subjective artists who emerged in the nineties under the influence of the pictures generation, and the super–subjective, affect heavy painters emerging now. I started using opaque color and hard edges when that was what the painters I respected seemed to be doing. It made more sense to me than trying to be a gestural painter, and I wasn’t alone in that. But I have to emphasize that I always loved ab-ex, and even more the really unfashionable stuff that came later like color field – specifically Louis. But then around ’98 or so, when I was nearing the end of my undergraduate education, right around the time I started seriously diving into more ambitious literature around contemporary art, painters like Ingrid Calame and Monique Prieto were getting a lot of positive attention. And a painter friend of mine turned me on to the work of Gary Hume, and it just made sense to try something like that…to try on some kind of obviously artificial restraint, rather than just keep layering imagery and processes relating to everything I was thinking about and responding to all the time into a finite number of surfaces. What I was doing before I ‘discovered’ opacity was something like a clumsy, handmade version of Raygun Magazine. It had it’s moments…but what I found by limiting my methods and imitating what I was capable of imitating at the time was something that felt much more mine in a way I could actually stand behind without feeling totally feeble and awkward. I feel like what’s been happening in my work the past couple of years is that I’m finally finding ways to slowly find a place in the system for all the impulses I had to restrain in order to find the system in the first place. This process of opening and diversifying also happens to coincide with my introduction to teaching (not coincidentally.) So I’ve been giving myself permission to think like a student. To try things…to try on things which I don’t necessarily ‘own,’ the same way that I didn’t ‘own’ flat color when I began using it in the late nineties. I don’t own inkjet on canvas, or half tone images. That stuffs just in the air, and if I think I can do something interesting with it I’ll try. The same goes for writing, making posters, blogging.
But to get back to your question – what the inkjets and my earlier adopted approaches to painting share is a certain degree of apparent impersonality – which I don’t so much attempt to shatter or disrupt as find myself inevitably doing in a weirdly personal way, which is what I think makes it interesting and confusing to take in, and really hard to narrativize succinctly.
RB: How and to what degree would you say you incorporate chance into your working process?
SH: The answer to that question hinges on whether or not one believes in chance. On the one hand, randomness is real. On the other – it is only part of what feeds into the stream of what we call ‘chance,’ which is where genuine randomness and selection bias intersect. I believe in keeping my options open, following my impulses – allowing them to act as a lens or a filter. I don’t believe that the act of arbitration is necessarily an act of self–expression, and to the extent that it is I’ve found it more helpful not to try not to be overly censorious of it. But editing is still very important to me. I see recursivity everywhere these days, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always visible. I think for some of us, our task as artists entails keeping an eye out for it, and sharing it when it shows itself to us from our vantage point.
RB: For the red painting, do those shapes come from somewhere in particular, or is that pattern the result of interlocking circles?
SH: I arrived at this more or less ubiquitous pattern – which I later learned is called Seigaiha – through a process of simplification of previous, more idiosyncratic drawings. The drawings I paint from are always virtual, which permits me to work fast and loose with structure without loosing sight of the whole, and allows for global changes (inverting values, distorting the entire drawing in a consistent way, etc) without losing anything I might find a use for. The way I begin drawing is almost always the same. I build a very simple pattern – usually a stripe gradient – alter it’s structure in some way – then cut and past fragments of the altered pattern back onto itself, crop and repeat. Sometimes I’ll come back to an older drawing and change something simple about it, and a new body of work will spring from that. In the case of the wave pattern – I was working with perspectival gradients distorted to form parabolas converging on a single point – like Saturn rings. I was cutting and pasting these patterns onto themselves – mirroring them, etc. The patterns that emerged from that suggested much simpler patterns, so I thought I’d see what would happen if I just drew those, using interlocking circles, as you suggest. I was curious what would remain if I stripped away some of the more sophisticated topologies the computer enables me to access. I was also looking for ways to try out more fallible kinds of marks, and these simpler patterns suggested themselves as appropriate vehicles for that.
RB: You seem to have an alternate practice of developing multiple tumblr blogs that are linked to your website. They don’t appear to behave as continuous logs as much as they resemble carefully chosen artist’s notes. Do these relate to specific bodies of work or perhaps mark plateaus in your thinking? How would you see us experiencing them in relation to the objects in your studio or in a show?
SH: I started playing around on tumblr about a year ago. I haven’t been able to devote as much time to it recently as I did in the beginning – but this seems pretty consistent with many people’s experience of maintaining a blog, so I’m not overly concerned about my temporary neglect of it. My step dad recently asked me how I manage to follow through with time consuming studio projects – and an artist friend asked me a similar question with regards to the big red painting in the show at 65GRAND. My answer to both of them was that I find that it’s really helpful to maintain several projects at different speeds and different timbres simultaneously so that each can act as a relief from the others, enabling me to follow through on each one in due time. This is true to what I learned in graduate school, which for me was process of pulling things apart and allowing them to stand by themselves without having to be all up on top of each other in one piece. This is still how I like to work. Tumblr’s really great as far as that’s concerned, because it’s something I can literally do while I’m waiting for paint to dry. But on a more serious level, which I’ve attempted to address elsewhere – on my blog “a little less democracy,” – the tumblrs are a way for me to gather and collect, circulate and redirect things that are floating around our culture. I try to be savvy about how I use it, not simply passively participating – but it’s not always easy to tell the difference. In part I think I’m using it to teach myself how to be as savvy as I can about images. I’ve found it a lot harder to shoot photos – “from scratch” let’s say – since I started using it. You get a lot more picky. And it’s easy to get a lot more interested in playing with the relationships between what’s already ‘out there’ than with adding more images to the pile. It’s all so seductive and yet so ephemeral and insubstantial. The relationship between that insubstantial current – a kind of dreamtime – on the one hand – and the resistant density of paintings and objects and bodies in space on the other – is pretty interesting to me. I’m no expert – but when I give myself over to it (tumblr) it feels like I’m learning something – though what that is exactly is pretty hard to define. I think it has something to do with creating – or generating meaning passively through a kind of visual aikido – rechanneling the others’ force, which ties it back to my more strictly painterly pursuits.
RB: Given the sorts of wide-reaching ideas you like to think about, to what extent do you focus on histories – personal, artistic, cultural – as being ruled by extra-historical forces? Is there a link between these notions and, say, a blog title such as “a little less democracy”? In that case, I don’t see you as so much making a political point as just wondering aloud whether everything is in merely a matter of fluctuating opinion; that some things, if not universal and transcendent, at least move at much slower rate.
SH: For sure. I’m definitely in tune with the notion that politics as it’s discussed in the mainstream, and practiced in the voting booth is epiphenomenal. I’ve always liked Ecclesiastes, and identified (perhaps a bit too much) with the spectator position. The older I get, the more I see that there is no spectator position, yet I also feel like I see how in the big picture our individual agency amounts to very little – we’re all spectators of a great deal of the structures which determine how we will spend our time on this planet. Things get done collectively. Masses move and are moved. Demographic biases are real limits in the world – real forces moving through bodies that have to be accommodated. In that regard it seems nothing short of miraculous to me how much more progressive people have been persuaded to say they are on things like gay rights recently. This is a hard won and incredible step forward in many respects. At the same time, it’s deeply disappointing that masses of people must be persuaded to accept what ought to be self–evident. This is sort of where the title of my primary blog comes from – I’m a little suspicious of the “democratic impulse” if there is such a thing. It seems like a con. And of course the defenders of democracy are absolutely correct – it’s the worst form of government –except for all the other ones that have been tried. At least it’s less obviously sadistic than outright dictatorship. But still…I’m an artist, so I’m predisposed to be suspicious of community. It’s been very important for me personally, and as an artist, as a child of the Midwest, to learn to not anticipate and accommodate my natural opponents before I consider how things seem to me from my own vantage point. It’s an ongoing process.
This interview was conducted via e-mail in April, 2013.
Steven Husby’s exhibition, BRUTE FORCe at 65GRAND, continues through May 11.
ROBERT BURNIER is an artist and writer who lives and works in Chicago. He is an MFA candidate in Painting and Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. Recent exhibitions include The Horseless Carriage at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Salon Zurcher at Galerie Zurcher, New York, the Evanston and Vicinity Biennial, curated by Shannon Stratton, and Some Dialogue, curated by Sarah Krepp and Doug Stapleton, at the Illinois State Museum, Chicago.
April 26, 2013 · Print This Article
Mara Baker is a self-described student of deterioration and reside and their roles in different modes of aesthetic production. She’s trained in both painting (SAIC) and fiber arts (Cranbrook), and the interplay between the two fields formally drives much of her work, particularly the paintings comprising her contribution to the the upcoming SideCar exhibition Just Like All Those Times Tomorrow (May 4-June 1). The group show, which combines new paintings from Baker with collaborative ceramic work by Nathan Tonning and Amanda Wong, is focused explicitly on artistic use of discarded materials and Romantic and modern conceptions of ruins.
Real and Fake Things II, various foams, found residue, and acrylic, 2012
Baker has a deep and sustained interest in these thematics, but it’s her obsession with systems– self-contained, breaking down, sustainable— and her interest in the history of her materials that consistently draws me to her work, rather than just her interest in debris as medium. For example, in a show this fall for which she and I wrote a collaborative zine-essay, Baker made tiny, exquisite collages composed of album cover remnants from a pile of records she found in a warehouse where she was installing another show created from another group of found objects. Baker is now experimenting with creating sound files created from playing the broken records, combining them in auditory collages. The reiterations of her systems play with notions of ecological sustainability, creative destruction, and the role of the artist in keeping material animate past its intended lifespan.
But where her work has often been performative and installation-based, Baker has firmly moved this year into making paintings, and her current “residue” work, which will be the basis for the SideCar show, and which is composed entirely of past work–Baker is decidedly unromantic about breaking down and sacrificing previous projects for the sake of experimentation– is unquestionably taking up painting’s problematics.
Still Life With Apples, foam, carboard, acrylic and other found residues on canvas, 2013
In the “residue” series, spray paint and glass create transparent layers that give recycled materials “a new history,” Baker says, “creating a sense of space without building up.” She’s deeply interested in the interplay between the real and the representational in mixed-media work, and the paintings often employ representational images like blurred photographs that formally reference abstract elements. Where previous two dimensional work has been sculptural in its formal approach, she finds such materials can create space and depth without losing the surface of the picture plane. “Still, I’m most successful when piling, wrapping, and removing something.” She points out a few paintings that have abstract white space, either scraped off or added to the top of her layered images—what Baker calls “the conceal, something underneath you can’t see” that creates somewhat “quieter objects.”
All Of The Above, cardboard, plexi, acrylic and other found residues on canvas, 2012
The removal of materials, particularly through scraping, also takes up Baker’s long-term interest in information and entropy. Removing parts of the picture is a canceling out of information, masking out particular places and forcing focus on others. It’s also a terrifying part of the process. “Predictability isn’t good for me,” she explains, showing me photographs of earlier versions of paintings that felt to her overworked. Most of the failed paintings ended up as raw material, torn up in careful piles in her studio, to be utilized, along with spray-painted tarp from past projects, in new distillations. Being able to find something and being able to save everything border on obsessions, and Baker’s own memory forms yet another archive. At one point she shows me a multicolor map of the approximate locations of oil spills that struck her years ago; many such images form a latent visual vocabulary in her head while she works. Baker’s studio thus forms a kind of ecosystem in and of itself. “When I first started making work, my paintings were about expressing and working with family history as material,” Baker muses, “but now I feel that way about the iterations of my work.”
The paintings, too, often carry the memory of previous performative installations about risk and disintegration; the black straps holding three layers of glass and painted linen together keep one painting on the wall as precariously as Baker’s 2008 installation “Internal Weather,” which pumped tinctures of acrylic paint through plastic drinking straws until they exploded. Some of that four year old residue of painting and soap lives as colored stains in the new “little worlds” of her current work. But when I ask her about recreating the past, Baker draws a firm line: “You can’t just recreate anything. You have to set up particular conditions for it to happen.”
Fake and Real Things, III, plastic, foam, found residues and acrylic on canvas, 2013
Work by William Pope.L.
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