This week: Living legend, innovator, visionary, Carolee Schneemann.
Working across a range of disciplines, including performance, video, installation, photography, text, and painting, the artist Carolee Schneemann has transformed contemporary discourse on the body, sexuality, and gender. During her recent visit to San Francisco, Schneemann participated in the November 30, 2011 panel discussion, “Looking at Men, Then and Now” [LINK: http://www.somarts.org/manasobject-closes/] at the Somarts SOMArts Culture Cultural Center, in San Francisco, in conjunction with the exhibition, Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze, in which she was also a featured artist. On December 2, 2011 Eli Ridgway Gallery hosted an evening in celebration of the recently published Millennium Film Journal #54: “Focus on Carolee Schneemann.” Art Practical’s Liz Glass and Kara Q. Smith had the opportunity to sit down with Schneemann in between the two events to speak with her about her work.
Carolee Schneemann [LINK: http://www.caroleeschneemann.com/index.html] has shown at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the New Museum of Contemporary Art; among many other institutions. Her writing is published widely, including in Correspondence Course: An Epistolary History of Carolee Schneemann and Her Circle (ed. Kristine Stiles, Duke University Press, 2010) and Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (MIT Press, 2002). She has taught at New York University, California Institute of the Arts, Bard College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Schneemann is the recipient of a 1999 Art Pace International Artist Residency, San Antonio, Texas; two Pollock-Krasner Foundation grants (1997, 1998); a 1993 Guggenheim Fellowship and a NationalEndowment for the Arts Fellowship. The retrospective of her work, Carolee Schneemann: Within and Beyond the Premises, is on view at the Henry Art Gallery, in Seattle, through December 30, 2011. [LINK: http://www.henryart.org/exhibitions]
An abridged transcript of this interview appears in Art Practical’s ”Year in Conversation” issue, which you can see here: http://www.artpractical.com
I’ve been following Dmitry Samarov’s work for a few years now, about as long as I’ve been living in Chicago. Oddly enough, I first became acquainted with Mr. Samarov through Twitter, which at the time he was just starting to play around with and I was still trying to ignore. How things change. From there, I found his website, Hack, where he chronicles his experiences as a Chi Town cab driver through sketches, drawings, and short written pieces. On Hack, Samarov’s drawings and writings go hand-in-hand–it’s hard to imagine one without the other, actually. I’ve followed Dmitry’s work through his website, found some of his writings archived on the Chicago Reader’s site, and even engaged in a few 140 character-length conversations with him on Twitter. But I’ve always wanted to interview Dmitry, and with the October 1, 2011 publication of Hack in book form (by the University of Chicago Press, no less!) and a slew of shows opening this and next month (including one at Lloyd Dobler Gallery), I realized that now was the ideal time. In this interview, Dmitry gave what is probably my all-time favorite answer to a question, delivered in his typical bone-dry style: “The dream, though, is and always will be to be unemployed.”
I’m very grateful to Dmitry for taking the time to answer my questions (via e-mail, natch)–maybe someday he and I will have an actual face to face conversation. Certainly there will be lots of opportunities to have a live encounter with Mr. Samarov over the next few months–including the book release party for Hack on October 1st at the Rainbo Club, 4-8 pm–a link to his full schedule can be found at the bottom of this post.
Claudine Isé: Can you take me through a typical day for you, a day that involves both work as a cabdriver and work as an artist?
Dmitry Samarov: I usually get up somewhere between 11am and 1pm. I make tea or coffee, then check email and Twitter and nose around the internet a bit while waking up. Next I work on whatever painting or drawing I’ve got going, or, write a new Hack story if one needs writing. In other words, I try to get at least one creative thing done before leaving the house. Typically though, I don’t have more than two or three hours to devote to these things before I have to go out and drive the cab.
I drive from sometime in the afternoon until anywhere from 2 to 5am, depending on the day. I rent the cab 24-7 so I can take it home, saving the commute to and from the garage, and allowing me to work the hours that I want. In order to make a living at it however, I need to put in 11-15 hours a day. If there’s a movie, a show, or something else that I want to do during work hours, I can always take a break and do it. All I’m out is the money that might’ve been made. It’s one of the few real perks of the job: the freedom to be without a boss or manager asking you why you’re not at work.
After I get home, I’ll unwind with a movie or TV show or with looking around the internet (I don’t have a TV). Sometimes, if I can’t sleep or it can’t wait til the next day, I’ll write or work on an illustration for Hack. I hardly ever do any non-Hack-related work late at night.
CI: You studied painting and printmaking at SAIC in the early 1990s. Looking back now, what were the most important things you learned while studying there?
DS: It’s an open question whether my time was worthwhile or not. That being said, I certainly had a few teachers that made an impression. I took Dan Gustin’s figure painting and figure drawing classes nearly every semester I was there. Those classes strengthened my already-strong interest in perceptual painting. To this day, what gets me jazzed most is looking at something or someone out in the world and attempting to make marks that convey some small sense of having been there. The second most influential teacher I had there was Mark Pascale. He taught lithography but, even more importantly for me, was just starting to work as a curator at the Art Institute’s Print & Drawing Room. He’d pull boxes and boxes of Rembrandt etchings, Lovis Corinth gouaches, Lucien Freuds, Max Beckmanns, and many many more for me to peruse. Even though I doubt he was ever personally much interested in my work, his generosity in getting me access to work that might help me get where I was going left a lasting impression. I still speak to him occasionally and have met few more articulate or funny people in this city.
The larger question of SAIC influence is an open one as I said before. Because of the kind of work I did (and continue to do), the school was never going to be a place that I’d truly thrive in. On the other hand, they had all the facilities in the world to put in the time and get better at what I probably would’ve done anyways. The trouble with art schools is that they tend to be inordinately concerned with current art world trends rather than giving students the rudiments of what they’ll need to keep making work past graduation. As an example, during my time there Jeff Koons gave a visiting artist lecture and you would’ve thought that Jesus had returned to anoint the next generation for all the excitement it caused; in my world, Koons isn’t fit to clean a grad school painter’s brushes. My time there certainly made it plain to me that I didn’t want to teach or participate in any similar art school program after graduation. So, perhaps by negative example, it was an important experience for me after all.
CI: To what extent are you able to make drawings and sketches while you’re in the cab? I imagine that sometimes you need to work quickly to get a certain face on the page, or to write down certain things that a fare or a fellow driver has said to you. Are you constantly taking notes or do you just have a really good memory?
DS: None of the illustrations for Hack were done on site apart from the pen sketches of taxis like this one [illustrated below]. Most were done from memory days or weeks or sometimes years afterward. As to writing, over the past couple years I’ve used text messages and Twitter for a sort of note-taking. I’ll look back through a couple days’ worth of messages and if something keeps nagging at me I’ll expand it into a story.
I have done a ton of artwork in the cab though. A couple years ago I did a series of gouache paintings of taxis out at the O’Hare and Midway Airport Taxi Staging Areas. There are also many pen sketches of similar subject-matter scattered throughout the Sketchbooks section of my website. I’ve done a fair amount of cityscapes like this one [second illustration below], from the front seat as well.
DS: I don’t think I’ll ever stop making paintings and drawings about living in the city. The workplace-related pictures were certainly made out of necessity and lack of alternate options. If I could stop having a day-(or more accurately)night-job, I’d walk away and never come back. I’ve tried to make do with the financial and time restrictions of not being a full-time painter. What else would I be doing work about but the places where I spend most of my time? I’ve done a lot of work that’s not cab- or bar-related as well of course, but there’s no way that something that you do 8 to 14 hours a day can truly be ignored.
The dream, though, is and always will be to be unemployed.
CI: The writing compiled in your book Hack was first published on your blog, also titled Hack. When did you hit upon blogging, or perhaps better described in your case, web publishing, as a way of putting your work out into the world? It’s been a very successful medium for you and I’m sure an inspiration to other artists and writers. Also, you use Twitter in a way that I really enjoy – as a way of having friendly conversations and exchanges, not as a tool for rank self-promotion. I’m curious though, why did you take up Tweeting?
DS: Hack first started as a sort of ‘zine or illustrated book that documented my years driving a cab in Boston (1993-1997). I didn’t know how to turn on a computer until late-2003. I was briefly married to a computer programmer and got a crash course in the subject at that time. We launched my website at the beginning of 2004 and I revived Hack as a blog sometime late in 2006. It’s not a blog in the usual sense, that’s for sure. It’s not a diary or particularly personal in the way many blogs are. For the most part, I’ve tried to string phrases together in some way to relate some of what I’ve seen from behind the wheel.
I wouldn’t know what kind of impact or inspiration the thing has had on other artists, it’s not for me to judge, but I know a few people have enjoyed reading my stories over the years and there’s some satisfaction in that, without a doubt.
I started using Twitter sometime late in 2008, I think. I’d been sending text messages to friends about what was happening or what I saw in the cab for awhile and Twitter let me share these with a few more people. It’s quite a challenge to say what I want to in 140 characters but I’ve enjoyed trying nonetheless. I’ve done plenty of rank self-promotion on there as well though. I’m not sure how much longer it’ll remain compelling. MySpace has all but disappeared and Facebook will hopefully go away soon too, so who knows? If I finally figure out some way to get paid regularly for my artwork, I’ll probably drop off the social networking scene altogether. Or at least, I’d like to think I would. We’ll see.
CI: You are and/or have been a cab driver, a bartender, a writer, an artist, a “sketch-artist” — all of which seem to require similar skills, such as being able to listen, to observe (often from a distance), to keep calm and to be able to think and act quickly and “on your feet” (as it were). All of these positions also seem to require a large amount of empathy and acceptance of human foibles, it seems to me. In a lot of ways all of your roles have more than a bit in common with that of a shrink. Is it hard for you sometimes, to maintain a sense of openness or empathy to the strangers you encounter by the dozens each day? I would imagine that if you feel pissed off or even just psychologically closed-off, it might impact the work because it’s coming from “that place” of anger or pissed-offedness. Or maybe that’s the point? I guess what I’m asking is, is it sometimes hard for you to remain “open” to people, because people can be difficult to be around….
DS: I’ve been accused of being cynical and misanthropic most of my life. I don’t know whether that’s so or not. Many times people just don’t get my tone or my odd sense of humor. I’ve been working service-industry jobs since I was 13 or 14 and I’m about to turn 41. That’d be a lot of years to hate the human race. In my own way I love people or at least I love watching them. They never cease to amaze. I’ve felt removed or apart from most crowds I’ve ever found myself in. It’d take someone smarter than me to figure out why that is but coming from another country probably has something to do with it. The critical distance has allowed me to observe others with clear eyes in my good moments. Being “one of the help”, not a social equal, has allowed me to eavesdrop and overhear in a way a participant never could. For whatever reason all these years haven’t soured me on the human race. We’re full of faults, to be sure, but I don’t hold myself above those that I see; put in their place I’d likely be making an ass of myself as often as they do, and hopefully, be funny and sad just the way most of ‘em are.
I don’t know that I’m “open” but I don’t judge (in the sense that I don’t feel it’s my place to correct others’ behavior); my role is to see it, hear it, and show and tell the world about it. It’s what artists have always done: shown those around them the world they live in.
CI: A lot of your work makes me think of the caricatures of Honore Daumier – your work isn’t overtly political, like his was, but it does deal with human folly and excess – especially drunkenness, or the ways that a person comports themselves in front of others when they think no one (except you) is looking. Anyway, I’m curious, which artists have had an influence on the way you think about your own work? Which artists do you love, just because?
DS: Daumier’s great. I assume you’re thinking about the illustrations of passengers in the book here. There’s definitely a caricaturish or grotesque aspect to many of those pictures. I’ve loved Breughel most of my life, as well as Lautrec, Goya, Guston, and so many others that have parodied the human form in various ways. Doing pictures for Hack has always been a challenge because what I love to do best is just to look at something and react and that’s just not possible there. Also, I often don’t think of those pieces as stand-alone visual statements but solely as illustrations to the stories, so, when doing them there’s no way not to think about book illustrations from the past and how image and text interact. Because I’m a visual artist first, doing these pictures has always been a way into the prose for me. They help me write.
CI: Tell me about your upcoming exhibitions.
DS: Here’s a listing of all my upcoming events, but as far as art shows go:
1. Rainbo Club: “Pictures of Books” September 24-October 21
I’ll be showing oil paintings of books on my bookshelf. I’ve returned to this motif every so often for about 14 years now. The way the books lean against each other and the colors of the spines resonate against one another has always fascinated me. Also, as someone who primarily deals with a deeper space (in cityscapes or rooms) the shallow space of a bookshelf scratches a different kind of itch. It’s probably as close to abstraction as I’ll ever get. Finally, it’s funny to me to have a show of paintings of books when I have an actual book coming out.
2. Saki: “Music & Baseball” October 1- October 31
This show will contain album and CD cover illustrations, concert sketches, as well as other music-related artwork that I’ve done over the years. As well as a series of portraits of the 2011 Chicago White Sox that I did for a short-lived baseball column from earlier this year.
3. Lloyd Dobler Gallery: “Hack: Pictures from a Chicago Cab” October 14- November 19th
This will bring together most of the taxi-related artwork I’ve done. There will also be a few of the Hack stories displayed on the walls along with the original artwork that went with them.
CI: Thanks so much for talking with me, Dmitry!
I know that we have more than a few listeners/readers based in Europe, and if you happen to be hanging out in Copenhagen this weekend, make sure to check out Bad at Sports’ Tom Sanford’s latest paintings at the opening for his new solo show at Gallery Poulson. (Sidebar to Mr. Sanford: when the eff are you gonna show in Chicago, so I can check your work out up close and personal-like??). Based on the images Tom sent me, this show looks hot. Below you’ll find a few words from the artist that describe the show, an accompanying press blurbie, and some images to give you a taste of what to expect. The reception is Friday night from 5-8 pm, and the show runs through October 1st, 2011.
“2011 is fast, painting is slow. I am interested in history, but I work in a post-historical period. I make paintings about the time I live in. By the time I finish the paintings, their subjects are history. I am an American, living at the end of the American Century. Things are happening all the time. I learn about these things on the radio, on television, on the internet, on Twitter. The media is my muse, I paint by the light of my computer. I make paintings about the things that interest me. I wish I had time to paint more things, but art is slow and the world is fast.” – Tom Sanford, 2011
For his first solo exhibition at Gallery Poulsen, Tom Sanford’s work continues to reflect the artist’s ambivalent fascination with a culture that is driven by the 24-hour news cycle, hungry for scandal and obsessed with celebrity. Sanford’s paintings use a variety of genres to present the villains and victims, the tragedies and triumphs of the moment. The story of the hijacked Mersk Alabama and the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips by the USS Bainbridge are presented as a history painting akin to Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. The recently deceased British rock bad girl, Amy Winehouse, is painted as an icon to be venerated by her fans. The seamy exploits of anti-heros Charlie Sheen and Silvio Berlusconi are painted in a garish, yet beautiful tableaux; these paintings are part renaissance painting, part low brow political cartoon. Sanford’s work is hybridized and bastardized like the culture it emerges from.
In the four Custom Mao paintings, Sanford shifts genres to the conceptual. Sanford takes advantage of globalization in his production by outsourcing a large part of the labor to China, and then adding the intellectual property himself in America. The artist has commissioned Chinese painters to paint copies of the famous state portrait of Mao Zedong, on which Warhol based his 1973 silk screen paintings of Mao. The paintings are then shipped to Sanford’s New York studio, where he “customizes” them by altering the paintings to become cultural archetypes from his western cultural milieu. Through this conceptually driven means of art production, as well as the juxtaposition of eastern and western cultural iconography, the artist comments on the shifting dynamics of global cultural and economic power at the end of the American century.
Tom Sanford works in New York City and has exhibited all over the world, including solo exhibitions at Leo Koenig, Inc. in New York and Galleri Faurschou in Copenhagen. His work has been exhibited at the Cincinnati Center for Contemporary Art, the Chelsea Museum in New York City and the Palazzo delle Arti in Naples, Italy. He is currently preparing for an exhibition in November at Gallery Zidoun in Luxembourg.
This week: Mark Staff Brandl talks to Ieva Maurite. Ieva Maurite is a young Latvian artist living in Riga. For the show this week, Mark Staff Brandl, (the Bad at Sports Continental European Office and EuroShark) interviewed her during her visiting artist gig in the Principality of Liechtenstein. Maurite is a painter, book artist and art academy instructor who has also had residencies in Paris, Iceland and many other parts of Europe.
Maurite and Brandl discuss the itinerant European artist life, art study and the artworld in Latvia, Maurite’s difficult-to-photograph linear imagistic paintings and generally have fun meandering around art topics while Brandl fails to pronounce anything in Latvian correctly including her name (which begins with an “i”, by the way, in case Richard and Duncan screw up this paragraph.)
Jason Dunda’s work is impeccable. Each mark he lays down is precise, predetermined and, really, perfect. He paints wood grains, anthropomorphic hummocks, death chairs and wheelbarrows. Over the course of our friendship, I have remained intensely interested in his process, both as curator, as artist and publisher. In part my fascination stems from a sense that his work is a testament to the impossible. He paints towers that could not stand up, even if they appear to have structural integrity. Or, in another instance a fabricated tree made of smaller pieces of wood, appears to be trying to hang out with “real” trees; the fake tree obviously fails, yet it is also more interesting as a tree and diminishes the others which fade into the background. All of these pieces are made in gouache and a couple of years ago Jason told me he was going to start making giant, wall-length works. He was making them for a show in Dubai. He would ship them in giant, construction-site-sized tubes. It was all planned out. He was excited, I couldn’t wait to see how it worked and I realized as I went home there were so many impossible things in that equation: first off, you can hardly breathe on gouache without leaving a mark. Secondly, Dubai is a massive massive distance. Thirdly, the city itself sounds like a cartoon, a monument to human enterprise in impossible conditions: I’ve heard, for instance, it boasts a building with a ski hill. It’s all impossible and, for that reason, amazing. But all this strikes me as a perfect metaphor for what it means to create work in the first place. There is an idea that making work supplies a certain posterity. It is a vehicle to outlast one’s own lifespan. Despite the ageless popularity of this idea, the life of a painting is full of hazard. Historic works get lost on boats, burned in fires—you name it. It’s remarkable that anything stands the test of time. Dunda’s work faces off with that issue. His paintings are materialistically vulnerable, capable of reflecting our own existential fears. Thankfully, each one has a sense of humor about itself—what’s even more remarkable give the precision and time the work demands.
Caroline Picard: Can you talk a little bit about gouache? When and why did you start working with it as a primary medium? What is most difficult about it and how do those challenges complement your own artistic goals?
Jason Dunda: Gouache is a very opaque type of watercolour. It’s been used in the past in design and animation—any backgrounds in pre-digital age cartoons are probably painted with gouache. I began using it about five years ago to make some quick works on paper to help me compose my oil paintings. I ended up enjoying my experiments in gouache a little too much and my work on paper became the central focus of my studio practice. Gouache isn’t the most spontaneous medium—just like watercolour, once it’s down on the paper there’s no changing it so you have to be very confident and sure of what you’re doing when you’re working with it. The paint is also very matte and chalky—a quality I love—so if you lay it down too thick it cracks and/or dries very inconsistently and looks horrible. Basically, it’s a very delicate and precise material to work with. I often approach my work with a cautious delicacy and I really like to master a medium so I like the challenge.
CP: That leads me to another question about the way you make a piece. As I understand it, and partly because gouache so fussy, you plan out a painting before sitting down to paint it. Will you talk about what that process is like and how your foreseen vision matches its end result? How do you translate an idea into a visual structure? Does the idea occur visually in your mind’s eye? Or do you execute a kind of transcription, translating the idea into a visual language?
JD: Some days I feel there’s nothing but limitations. You can interchange ‘limitations’ with ‘structure,’ though, and in that sense it creates possibilities and propels my thinking and making. When I’m feeling particularly limited, though, I’ll declare to myself that my day in the studio is going to be different from the usual—I’ll spend the day with the expectation that I’ll have no usable material results and all I’ll do is experiment. I’ve recently gone back to oil painting partly for this reason. I can mess around and translate my ideas into a different set of materials. My new oil paintings are really terrible.
JD: I never go bigger than my apartment door. I learned that the hard way, seriously. Scale occurs to me most profoundly as the relationship between the viewer and the piece. There’s a sense of intimacy and humbleness in small works and a more aggressive, public presence in large scale works. I tend to go to the extremes of this spectrum. Gouache is a really difficult material to work with in large scale— the surface can be really inconsistent over larger areas—so there’s a particular challenge I like about large-scale gouache paintings. I love antagonizing the intended use of a material.
JD: I’ll certainly grant you that and I think you’ve got it absolutely right. The tangibility of an object is really different from the illusion of form and space in painting and that’s what led me to make the first and so far only object I’ve ever made for exhibition. It’s that trauma as you call it—that fight between the illusory and the tangible that I wanted to conjure up when I used a large-scale painting as a sort of backdrop for an object. I paired a painting of a dilapidated pulpit with a fancy wheelbarrow I custom built and had upholstered. I used the opposition of image and object to highlight certain elements of my ideas—the conflation of the utilitarian and the ceremonial and a parody of cultural structures.
JD: Surface and I get along very well. No matter the medium or imagery of the project, my work over the past several years relies upon a thorough consideration of surface. Because I’m a painting dork, I have to learn everything possible about the materials I’m working with. I have a tremendous amount of patience when experimenting with materials and it’s really important to me to show a certain amount of that mastery in the work I make. I also think that it’s really important to me use the materials in the wrong way but still make it look good. Most of my oil paintings look like they’re painted on some kind of plastic but it’s a concoction of walnut oil and wax. Similarly, my big gouache paintings involve a process of staining nine-foot tall pieces of paper in order to transform its colour and surface. I know when a surface is working when another painter can’t figure out how I’ve done it.
JD: Both, definitely. I think the busy work of planning, testing, and preparing when using gouache forces me to slow down and think a lot more while making. This can be a great thing or a very bad thing – I’ve felt stuck many times recently because the next move I need to make presents such a risk, but then again there’s something very satisfying about meticulously constructing an idea while I meticulously construct a piece. So yes, I want to get something different out of the process of painting but I’m not ready to quit gouache. Ideally, I’d like to get reacquainted with oil paint while continuing the trajectory of my gouache paintings. There’s something very interesting to me about working across media and showing the results together. Incidentally, I’ve done a couple of oil paintings recently and they’re really awful. It’s like I’ve never picked up a brush before and I really haven’t got a clue.
CP: Although this wasn’t my first thought in relating to your work, there was a certain point that I suddenly made a connection between your paintings and cartoons/comic books. Could you talk a little bit about that relationship?
JD: Wow, that’s a mouthful but you’ve hit the nail on the head. There’s a sense of detachment both in my work and in comics and cartoons. In comics it’s a result of these adolescent power fantasies (among other things) and in my work it’s an impulse to not be so heavy-handed in my politics. I’m not nearly informed enough to make specific social or political statements, so I’m not interested in resolving anything. Instead, I want to imply a narrative that embodies a particular and often fucked up set of social values. Hence the gallows that can double as a vaudeville stage set or a sentry tower with a quaint aluminum awning. I’ve always thought the images that I make in gouache are the evidence of some other civilization that exists parallel to our own—parallel universe narratives in sci-fi are also a current love of mine. In my world, though, instead of granting wild canines the ability to mail-order anvils I simply gussy up the instruments of control. Either way, it’s a happy place in which you don’t quite notice how desperate the situation is.
Jason Dunda has a show coming up with Laura Davis called “Lock the Doors.”
Opening reception, Saturday, April 2, 6-9pm
2153 W 21st Street