Crumbling Block of Blocks, 2013,
Acrylic paint on powder-coated stand10.5 x 13.5 x 24 inches (dimensions variable)
Can you describe your working routine?
On a typical day that I’m going to spend in my studio, I take the bus from home so I can catch up on email during the commute. I keep a laptop at the studio but try to take care of most computer-related business at home so I can focus in the studio on making work. If I’ve been gone from my studio over the weekend, I usually start by sweeping and tidying up. That helps me get fully present. Most of the time I will have left a “to do” list on the counter, and I check that list to set my priorities for the day. Then I start working. Instead of going out for lunch, I bring leftovers or ingredients for a salad. A normal day in the studio runs from 10 in the morning to 6:30 or so.
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
The studio is set up for all the processes I use to make my Paint Objects. Probably the most important thing in there is the rack I use for drying paint skins. It looks like a ginormous flat file. It saves space, and it also gives me level surfaces to compensate for the six-inch drop at each end of the studio floor. The rack has five drawers, enough room for five skins to be drying at any one time. Each paint skin measures five by ten feet, and I have a custom-built work table that’s big enough to hold a skin.
Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve, etc.
It takes a few steps to produce a Paint Object. First I choose the color palette and order the paint. I mix custom colors and Golden Custom Lab matches my colors and makes them by the gallon. I’ve also been working with Golden to develop a special recipe for paint that’s thick but still pourable. Golden also has a machine that takes out the bubbles, which is a good thing, because when I stir by hand, the paint is too bubbly to make a smooth skin. When the paint comes from Golden, I pour the skins. On my website there are a couple of videos that were made a few years apart, and they show two very different types of pours. And the skins have evolved over the years. In the beginning they were fairly simple, just four-color designs on a white ground. Now the designs are really complex—some use as many as seventeen colors as well as multilayered figure-ground relationships. After the paint skins have dried, I modify them by folding, rolling, or cutting. For example, lots of the Paint Objects are simulations of commercial wood products, whether that means something like a two-by-four or the log it came from. So I might roll several skins up together, sanding and gluing them as I go, and then use either a handsaw or a waterjet cutter to mill the rolled-up skins into a log, and then do the final cleaning, sanding, and varnishing. Let’s just say that when I first poured out a big paint skin, I saw right away what a great opportunity for painting this process was going to be!
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
I’m struggling now with what you might call a guilty pleasure. These multicolored paint skins have been the raw material of my work for a while now, but lately I can’t help noticing how luscious and just plain beautiful they are—so beautiful that it’s getting harder and harder for me to keep putting their beauty under wraps and making it incidental to the official project of creating objects from paint. So I’ve started investigating some of the different aesthetic and historical and ideological issues around the idea of beauty, so I can maybe understand why making beautiful work can feel like such a liability for a contemporary artist. I’m teaming up with another painter, Shaw Osha, and we’re co-curating a show about beauty. We hope to get a public dialog going around these issues.
Do you experiment with different materials a lot, or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
Without experimentation, there never would have been any Paint Objects. And every new piece of equipment has an impact, too. Like when I got my hands on a big paper cutter, the same kind that printers use to cut reams of paper, and discovered that I could layer and slice paint to make it look like chips of wood, and then collage the chips together into something that looked like a sheet of waferboard. And not long ago I brought in a heavy-duty vice that belonged to my dad, so I’m curious to see how that will change the way I work. Then there are those times when you’re separated from your equipment. A residency in Switzerland was that kind of time for me, and it was a real challenge not to have all my tools, but that actually turned out to be a good thing because it forced me to work in a different way, and it led to the start of a major new piece.
What does the future hold for this work?
I’m looking for ways to push its narrative potential, and I plan to do that with Roadside Attraction, a piece of work that’s coming up. This is going to be a massive slice of acrylic log, with intensely colored growth rings. It will be the biggest Paint Object I’ve ever made—huge, a real spectacle. And it’s going to be outrageously beautiful. I hope people will respond to its visual qualities, including its beauty, even with all my reservations about that. But this piece is also going to embody a story about what’s been happening to the environment, and I hope people will respond to it on that level, too.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Another word about Roadside Attraction, the piece I just mentioned. I think it’s going to have an outsize impact on my art practice. How could it not? Making it will be one of the biggest physical and logistical assignments I’ve ever given myself. But I think the project could turn out to be pivotal in another way, too, if I can bring it to the point where it’s not only a successful work of art but one that packs a political punch. Because, look—the old-growth forests are almost gone. They’ve been almost completely disappeared. Huge, ancient trees used to be everywhere, but that knowledge is almost gone from living memory. So I want this piece to seduce people with its size and beauty. I want it to get under people’s skin. Understanding is not enough. Everything we’ve lost, everything we’re still losing—that has to be felt. I want this dried-and-cut Paint Object to provoke something more than another cut-and-dried conversation about a few dead trees.