Jon Chapline visited by Nick Naber

I met Jon a few years back, when I was a graduate student at Pratt. He came to do a studio visit with me for his blog ffffffwalls. I have admired his paintings ever since. Jon and I met at his Bushwick studio on a cold snowy Sunday night. As I was led up the stairs of this warehouse building I couldn’t help but notice the fluorescent glow of the lights that in some ways harken to Jon’s paintings. We had a long and varied conversation about his process and how he divides his time between two-day jobs and his studio practice.

What kind of images are you searching for? What kinds of things are attracting you? The paintings you were doing before were paintings of interior scenes with shades/blinds and lighting.

Those paintings were from cell phone photos. They were not found, other than me taking the image as I was walking past or put in a place and taking a picture, then using that to paint from. In these new works, I am inventing the space and the characters. For the space, I usually Google search when looking for specific objects, like a chair or specific types of things that I want to talk about.  The spaces are coming from domestic magazines likeHouse and Garden, old Sears catalogs, that type of thing. I do look online if I can’t find a physical magazine of it.

The figures for the most part are not found online. They are mainly found from screen captures of television shows or portraits that I take. I use the screen capture as the base composition, then taking multiple pictures and collaging them together. It becomes this disjointed anamorphic image of someone. Different elements are stripped away, retaining  composition, lighting, and the mood of the sources.

The thing I immediately think about, specifically with the portraits is a cinematic feeling, and they also have this feeling of something from 1980’s. Not to say they look like a Nagel painting but they have this kind of flatness. Could you talk about that a little bit more, is it coming out of the collage or is there a real effort to create these flattened forms with paint?

Yeah, it is coming from that digital subject matter that I am painting from. I consciously push it as far as it can go. I’m always trying to find new ways of pointing that out. Obviously, the gradients are a computer-derived thing for the most part and it’s a computer’s way of making space in the most dumbed down way possible.

For instance in Simulation and Mirror the gradients create this space and you can tell that the gradient is describing a back, but it’s not quite right. Where the backbone should be it is shifted off. The gradient on her pants and t-shirt and the overall shape of the swatch, it all snaps together. It’s these three different elements in the simplest of terms creating something but also referencing something completely flat, and not what it’s actually supposed to be describing.

Looking at the landscapes, are these also coming from the digital realm or are they images you are creating yourself?

Emulated Landscape  came from this old 1980’s test landscape of one of the first CGI based simulations. It didn’t look real at all, but at the time everyone thought ‘how is this even possible?’ It’s a beautiful and weird image, and that’s where I took the composition.  There are these two hills coming out of the water. It didn’t even look like hills or water. It referenced it more than anything.  I had already been working with these sort of water droplets as a screen and I thought it was a funny idea to bring together.

From there I’ve started others. In one, the mountains are coming from an old Sega Genesis game called Echo. The video game designers found the easiest subject matter and described it in this digital shorthand. I’m interested in exploiting this idea and and appropriating the subjects that come with it.

The portraits are not so easy to represent and inherently pose different problems. They are the opposite of the landscapes in the lack of simplicity therefore becomes funny or awkward in trying to describe it in this flat language. That hand should never look that way or be described that way if you are trying to describe a hand; they are like these sausage things. The same with the lips, they become these tube shapes. To me that’s what makes it funny.

It creates more of an interest if it is off, because it makes me question more about what is going on.

It’s also one of those things where intentionality is key. Describing the lips in red, and the flesh a certain way. Those choices become more and more apparent. I painted this painting 5 times to get the surface and the colors right. With each time I get closer to arriving at my idea.

By using the colors you are choosing you are creating additional shorthand. If you were using red to describe lips, most people would use that color to describe lips. The skin tone is this peached out white kind of tone which most people don’t have.

Right, but in this character it becomes the most obvious thing.

It becomes identifiable for a viewer, how have people found these paintings?

I don’t know actually. I think people have different reactions to them. Some are opposed to the figures but the landscapes or the interior scenes are ok. Some are more drawn to the figures. My hope is that there is this kind of familiarity that is received. I think for the most part people get that.

I definitely have multiple associations. Is cinema playing a big part in what you are doing?

That’s what I see and that’s what is reverberated. I watch TV constantly. It’s terrible. It’s something innately part of who we are and these kinds of tropes or archetypes are a way to describe the world.

With all of these paintings they are all in the same space or they close to one another. Especially with all the landscapes and interiors they are all part of the same house, you are navigating through this house. If you are playing Mist you see an image and you click and move 20 feet. I am repeating the same plants in various paintings. There is a vocabulary in mark making but also in terms of objects that are repeated.

Growing up as a kid in the late 80’s and early 90’s is this in a way for you to understand your world now through the lens of childhood?

I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say I am painting my childhood, but I definitely think these things and the things we are dealing with now will continue to deal with the rest of our lives come from our childhood. We are still dealing with choices that our parents made in terms of the economy and everything. Those are choices and decision we have grown up with that we will pass on.  Whether it be a potted plant that I am holding onto through multiple paintings or a certain vantage point I think we are all coming from there. Hopefully that is what is coming to the forefront.

With the portraits, do you think of the people doing specific actions, or do you see them as frozen in a specific time?

It depends on the portrait. With the painting of this woman it was very much that she was looking at something. You know she is looking at something and getting some sort of reaction. She is described in this nonhuman idea. In terms of that there is a base narrative.  For the guy smoking, it’s more about describing him.  Specific ideas of masculinity, it’s more of a portrait. I can navigate through those in different ways.  I can let go of a narrative or pull into a narrative, yet they still connect to one another. I like that freedom.

She is much more active than he is. The guy in green is more active in the way he is painted and the light that’s coming into his forehead. There is something that is happening that I am not privy to but I want to know.

I like that, I want to starve the viewer of that action. It’s these in between moments, if you were to play an action film but then pause it at a standstill right before something is to happen.

Something else I am conscious of is the objecthood of these paintings. I am referencing backlit screens; with this green one I wanted to describe the idea of looking through this technology like a screen. That’s where this glow is coming from, that one is more like he is looking at a screen and that’s why there is that reflection. It’s describing a screen but it is also a screen at the same time.

There is always this kind of play, because they are collages that are coming from a computer. There are multiple layers of this digital realm.

Yea, also when the wood comes back up. It becomes obvious that I am just painting on a piece of wood.

It seems deliberate that you are painting on these floating panels. They become something in our space more than a typical stretched canvas.

That’s important, to have them be these floating images but also tangible things. That is the overall message these opposite, polar opposite ideas being in the same object.

I find it compelling that you start digitally, then you go to something that is so completely analogue which is painting. Can you talk about that switch from digital to painting?

These are sketches for the landscapes, I will start there to get a composition and then I will use different photographs of sunsets to get colors. I already have the concept and overarching image. This sketch I will scan it in then I’ll start working with colors in Photoshop. I know how to make these gradients with paint and the textures change. It gives me a basis or a starting point for it. There are decisions I can make in the computer that I could never make just drawing or painting. A mouse click or a vector tool or pen tool in Photoshop gives me certain lines or line quality. Those things give me this vocabulary that I can start using in the painting. It gives me this separation or other vocabulary.  That’s the integral thing for using Photoshop; it gives me a vocabulary that is innate to that program that I can then use in the painting.  

It goes from analogue to digital, from digital to analogue.

Yes exactly, It goes full circle.

Is that important to the object that you are making? That it goes through all of these stages?

Definitely, I know I couldn’t get to the same place otherwise. At a certain point, once I get everything that I can get out of the Photoshop file I’ll put that away. That’s the worst part in the painting is when I am using Photoshop then working back into the painting because sometimes I can’t make the decisions because they have already been made in Photoshop. I am repurposing those decisions. The most exciting part is letting go of those digital decisions and responding to the painting.

I’m going to be making more of these portraits. I’ve been getting a little sick of making these interior scenes. I want to start doing  portraits that have spaces behind them, but making it more about the portrait. I want to intertwine those two things. The portraits came out of the idea of how would these people look in this world. That was something I had to get through in order to start creating this overarching world.  I had to figure out what these things would look like.  

Do you think these characters will come back, when you start creating these new paintings?  

Maybe not the specific characters, I like the idea of switching it up a little bit and creating new identities and troupes that I can deal with. Maybe it’s the same sort of archetype but it gets handled differently. The characters I create are not going to stick throughout, I’m not going to create 5 characters like a Sims environment and try to play out their lives. I’m not interested in doing that. I am interested in placing certain ideas together creating the different characters that way.

When you see them from far away they look like this pristine flat surface, but when you get closer it’s visible that it’s painting and that it’s made of wood.  Are those multiple readings important to you?

Yeah, that’s always a struggle. How much do I need it to be intentional or how much do I want to let paint be paint?  It’s something I’ve always dealt with. At a certain point you need to let things exist. That’s an exciting decisions you can only make with paint. You can’t do that with an inkjet print, or with airbrush. With paint there are these imperfections and these variables that are things you need to push against or embrace. That’s something I am always working through or trying to figure out.  

What is a typical day in the studio for you? How are you arranging your time here?

I work two different jobs. They take most of my time, unfortunately.  I have had to get strategic, “Ok, I have 3 hours, what can I do in 3 hours?” It used to be that I would sit here half of that time just trying to figure out what to do.  That’s where working it all out in Photoshop or sketches and collages help when I get into the studio. It allowed me to do exactly what I needed to do when I got here.  I have 5 or 6 paintings going and I know 3 of them I can touch today, and 3 I can touch tomorrow. It becomes this way of pushing through ideas and letting them go and revisiting them in a quick succession. The decisions have to be made relatively quick. I kind of have to roll with it in a certain way, which allows for that immediacy without going through too much hesitation.  It’s something I’ve had to learn the hard way. If I am going to make these precise things how can I do it without being too controlled? It’s all about setting up time in the way that I can prop myself up to create these images in an efficient way.

Additional Images:

Daniel Herr

Daniel Herr is a painter’s painter. He was born and raised in California. He received his MFA in Painting from Boston University and is represented by M23. I met him at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant in Crown Heights where a confused hostess sat our two parties together at a single table. I bumped into Dan at openings later that week and often since. That was about two years ago, and now we’re talking painting in his East Williamsburg studio over iced tea and doughnuts.

Daniel Herr in the studio with   PB in NY   (2014) in process behind him

Daniel Herr in the studio with PB in NY (2014) in process behind him

When there’s text, I can’t help to read first and then look. So the text in this painting: What is “PB in NY”?

It stands for “Palm Beach in New York.” I think of this painting like a cheesy advertisement that’s selling all the comforts of suburbia right in the city, and selling a kind of art that’s somehow an extension of suburban comfort. You can have the beach, your mall and movie theatre, your textured plaster walls, and your Starbucks. It’s that sense of comfort and security that is sold to you because you can afford to buy into it. It’s comfortable because you’re accustomed to it. It could also be “Peanut Butter in NY”—that would be good too—“Skippy in NYC.”

I mean I still love New York, but it’s becoming more like the sales pitch than an actual place where people live.

But your work also takes a lot from your relationship with the city?

I still feel very attached to this place, and I think the painting always takes on what’s around you. Yeah, the energy or the attitude—the aura. Especially in a city like this there’s layers of energy and activity, and also the obnoxious people and sounds—so the paintings themselves can’t be too nice. The art has to be a little obnoxious.

What do you mean the art has to be obnoxious?

I think New York is pretty obnoxious. Even when you’ve lived here awhile and you’re used to it, still you wake up to some cab blaring its horn at 7 am in front of your apartment. I have a painter friend who always says painting should be “irreverent.” Maybe that’s close to what I mean. I prefer “obnoxious” because it implies absurdity and goofiness—two things I’ll take with me to the grave.

Do you feel that way about California? 

When I visit California I always think how peaceful it is there. The weather is perfect, the street is clean, the people are nice, the food is wonderful, but I don’t feel like painting there. That’s how I grew up, but I can’t work that way.

What do you find motivating about being here?

Being in New York, you wake up and you always feel like you’re running late—I have to be somewhere, I have to meet this person, I have to work on this painting.  My first studio in California was like this one, with no windows. I would sit in my studio and paint these little black and white abstract paintings while it was 100 degrees and sunny outside. I was trying to get away from the California thing.

Were you reacting against California painting?

Well, no. There’s a lot of good painting being made in Northern California. Wayne Thiebaud is a great painter. Dave Hollowell is pretty insane. I love Diebenkorn, Bischoff, Park, Joan Brown. But I was interested in the East Coast, the authoritativeness of it. 

It’s strange; I was always drawn to this kind of painting even when I was in California—though there’s not really a legacy for it there, aside from the Beats. In New York, there is such a strong legacy of painting and abstraction, and you don’t have to do anything to be a New York painter. That’s what you are, because you are here painting.

You mentioned that your father is a California painter.

Yeah, my dad (Doug Herr) paints landscapes where he lives. He was a big influence on me. He taught me that painting was a regular activity. His work was all over the house. He would paint right there at the dining room table. He makes amazing, extremely detailed landscapes that I would never have the patience for. Although I probably spend the same amount of time as he does on some paintings, it’s just a different way of working.

But all painting is good. I feel like most painters can go to a museum and appreciate a really good painting made by anyone. And it’s more than just the craft aspect. It’s also about the initiative and concept to make something with the material that’s interesting. There is really no bad style. Picasso or somebody said that, I think.

Then how would you want your paintings talked about?

I mean, how is contemporary art being talked about? Right now, I feel like it’s being talked about mostly in terms of the market—around investments and global capital, flipping, and 24/7 art fairs. And what is Contemporary American Art? Is being an American artist really different than being a German artist or a Japanese artist when everyone is looking at everyone’s work online and seeing it at fairs? And if an artist is showing here, chances are they also have representation in Europe and in LA. We all come out of our own value systems, but so much is shared. I’m interested in what it means to be an American artist, but I’m not sure what the answer is.

I guess what I mean to say in my work is that pictures still have intangible value—the medium still matters to me. It can still be genuine and not cynical.

White Nights,   2014, oil on canvas, 60 X 60 inches 

White Nights, 2014, oil on canvas, 60 X 60 inches 

You seem to start a painting with an idea that moves you, and enjoy being in a place that pushes you, aggravates you even. It’s not the serenity of landscape painting.

Well, some of them actually just start as a crude drawing of a figure, or a crude object, or a word, or I’ll have a picture I took some place to begin with as a compositional set ­piece. There’s kind of everything in every painting. It’s sort of absurd. I will start with an idea, and I’ll try forcing and forcing it, then I’ll just abandon it, and ride the wave to somewhere else. Ultimately, it becomes a different thing. The way I work has always been restless. And yeah, I tend to like the pictures that are the hardest to make, the ones that resist me. They say “NO WAY.”

What about all this intense patterning?

Sometimes I do something because there needs to be some sort of bridge or patch. It’s like Photoshopping in real life. 

 CB Faces Drug, Weapons Charges,   2014, oil on canvas, 60 X 50 inches 

 CB Faces Drug, Weapons Charges, 2014, oil on canvas, 60 X 50 inches 

So overtime there’s all these layers of different intentions. I guess that’s true of a lot of painting, but exaggeratedly so here. The images are constructed from these different ideas and areas patched together. 

There’s probably too much pattern in some of these. I just change my mind. It’s rare that I use a single idea from start to finish unless it’s a joke painting. Like this one was supposed to be about a strictly nighttime feeling. It’s a city kind of like Miami—a street scene. But there are passages with daylight and blue sky. So I get to have both. I get to do whatever I want ‘cause it’s my picture.

Tom Butter saw my work once, and he had a really interesting observation. He pointed out that nearly all the elements in the paintings get negated as if there were an equals sign with a line through it. Everything nulled. There’s no fully completed gesture or shape or recognizable or definite form, because everything has been interrupted. 

That sounds like the city too.

Yeah, you can only push so far before it all pushes back.

That sort of interruption relates to collage somehow—the sense of different and multiple sources pasted side by side. Do you think of your paintings in terms of collage?

Well, paint and the interaction between two wet colors has always been what I’ve been most interested in—the “chord changes.” That said, I’m really into the way of thinking associated with collage—the randomness, the everyday, Dada, stream-­of-consciousness, disorienting subject matter, and turning something on its head. And then there’s the political legacy of collage undermining war efforts and creating a kind of anti-propaganda—so there’s a lot to work with. And lately I’ve been reading these political essays by George Scialabba so I have that on my mind.

I used to do a lot of actual collage, but I don’t like the texture. I don’t like moving my brush across the surface and over this piece glued onto the top. I like working on canvas, and there isn’t a good way to work with the materials I use to make it really seamless, and to not mess with the integrity of the surface. It’s difficult to keep collaged elements from becoming the central subject of what’s happening in the picture, but I like to have a lot to look at.

Also, with collage, there’s always an edge separating one source from another as opposed to painting where everything is knitted down to a common surface. There are no seams anymore.

Yes, with collage, it’s defined. It has a complete edge. I do think of my paintings as a continual layering process—they’re always malleable, always moving. You don’t always know where the edges are.

It’s clearly knowing what’s on top and what’s on bottom really that gives collage a sort of grammar, but your paintings seem to be using a sort of confusion between contexts and have a sense of simultaneity.

That’s the big thing with De Kooning’s work. I remember when I was a teenager looking at those paintings for hours and not being able to figure out how he did them. You can’t read what was done first, then second, and third. Everything is immediate. And he consciously made it look like that over the course of months and months. Well, some of his work was actually very immediate. But the ones that weren’t—he had so many tricks that you notice if you look at them long enough.

What kind of tricks?

I can’t tell you. They’re too good! You have to just find them. It’s all about tricking the viewer as if it were all instantaneous. 

Trade secrets. Well, how do you come up with these titles? They are very literary, i.e. A Fisherman’s Dream of Hot Plastic (2013) and Rip Monte’s Venetian Room Beside the Gowanus Canal (The Electrician’s Less Than Ideal Living Arrangement) (2014).

Well, sometimes I don’t know what to name them. I’ll work and work, searching for a name for what I’m doing, and then a phrase will just stick in my head that I just have to make a painting for—whether it’s something from the news, a quasi-gibberish phrase, or something somebody texts me. I did a series of paintings off lines from a Bill Corbett poem once. I just like finding something new and unusual.

You’ve been making these text paintings that I’ve never seen before. 

I made a few small paintings with ink on trash bags. They were kind of trashing the idea of Zombie Formalism and playing at using trash to scam someone. The bags crinkle up as the ink dries. But David Hammons did that a few years ago. So I guess they’re Zombie David Hammons.

And this one (small painting) has a crazy story to it. I was almost a victim to a cashier’s check scam where this guy was emailing me saying he wanted to buy one of my paintings. He claimed that he would send me a cashier’s check that included shipping, but I would wire him the shipping charge ahead of time. I knew this was a scam but I kept going along with it anyway. I actually went as far as having him send me the fake check, and then I kept writing gibberish to him—but progressively more delirious and rambling. It was funny, but then I was thinking that I would actually send him this painting (FUCK YOU ASSHOLE!, 2014). It would be totally different than what he ordered, but I would actually still be sending him an original painting.

It’s a cared for painting. There’s honest work put into that.

He could’ve had it for free! The problem is that the address he gave me wasn’t real. I google mapped it and it was just some alleyway in Glasgow. 


Additional image:

Daniel Herr in the studio with   PB in NY   (2014)

Daniel Herr in the studio with PB in NY (2014)

Kristin Walsh visited by Kelly McCafferty

I met Kristin Walsh in October of 2013 when we both attended a month long residency at Wassaic Artist Residency in upstate New York.  We were both assigned to live in a house affectionately called the Lodge.  We bonded over the disastrous state of the communal kitchen, and a mutual love for Canal Plastics, the Pittsburgh band, Black Moth Super Rainbow, dogs (particularly our own), Sirius Radio and vegetarian cuisine.  I dragged her to yoga class and forced her to drink Harney & Sons tea and she liked it.

When we met, she was making mirrored objects that were shown in installations with digital images projected onto their surfaces and the walls surrounding them.  She was also making sculptures that were then photographed and only shown as photographs.  I liked her and her work immediately.

Kristin Walsh moved to NYC in June from Charlotte, North Carolina.  She lives in Chinatown and her studio is in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  She was born in Emerald Isle, North Carolina.  She attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte at graduated with her BFA in 2013.  She has attended residencies at The Wassaic Artist Residency, the Vermont Studio Center and Grin City.  She has exhibited solo exhibitions of her work in the past at Visual Art Space in Raleigh, NC and has two upcoming shows in 2015 at 50/50 in Kansas City and Salisbury University in Maryland.   She is in the process of applying for grad school and we talked about how her work has changed since receiving her BFA, the process of moving to NYC, her recent residency at Vermont Studio Center, her upcoming shows and the struggle to make a perfect object.

Kelly McCafferty:  Your studio is really organized. It looks great.

Kristin Walsh:  It was a good cleaning deadline for me because it was not looking good in here.

Everything was really dusty and you feel dirty when you walk in here.

KM: How many pieces are you working on right now? Four?

KW: Mainly.  This black trophy sculpture is the only one that is finished.  All the rest aren’t finished.  These two taller ones— I think I am going to change the way they look.  I want to utilize the plastic’s ability to bend in a way that I am not right now. 

KM: Working on multiple pieces at once is different for you.

KW: I know.  Really different, normally I work intensely on one thing and finish it, then super intense on another.  I am trying to change the way I work.  Speed is a huge issue for me. 

When I first started making these new forms I was frustrated with how I would have this idea that seemed simple but it would take me so long to make it.  And it would be frustrating.  I have to get it out and move on.  Now I have been trying to get it to the point where it is almost finished and the rest is just maintenance or logistics.  I can utilize a new idea without wasting my time, even though I’m going to have to go back later and fix all the issues.  So I’m trying to rotate and that is why there are five or six trophies here that I am currently working on.

I’ve probably thrown away like 15.  I’ll just start them and be like, “No.”  Just get rid of it.  In the past I would see it to the end and then say, “No.”  It is better that I am deciding how I feel about the form early, because I can’t change that.  I can change the surface but the form is there to stay.  I’ll do that and then and leave it for a while and then see if I feel like it is worth pursuing further.

KM: Yeah, since you moved in to this studio in July how many pieces have you completed?

KW: I brought nothing.

KM: Ok. You started from scratch?

KW: I started from scratch.   Before I left, I had a show and when I applied for the show I applied with my previous work.  I had 13 pieces, and I proposed to make it 30 pieces because it was a big space.  I applied for it and months went by.  I got the show and it was in Raleigh.  I went to Vermont Studio Center and I decided I would make everything for the show at Vermont.  That was all I was going to do.

You know, I’m making that stuff and I’m just dying.  I’m just so sick of it. 

KM:  Well that is a very different residency experience too than the one we had where you went in there not knowing.  You just wanted to make stuff but you didn’t have an agenda.  But when you go to a residency and you know you have to make something for a show I feel like it changes your experience of it because you can’t do what you want.

KW:I loved Vermont Studio center, definitely my favorite residency.  I had a great time and I met so many like awesome people but the work I was making there was not fulfilling to me.  I had a tight schedule.  There is no exploration left in those.  I’m good at that technique and I can do it fast. Now.

KM: That might be something that happens to you a lot though because your brain moves quicker than the work does.

KW: Yeah, it takes so long to make objects sometimes.  That happens all the time.  I’m just like, “God, kill me if I have to sand this thing for one more day.”  I’m so sick of it.  But in the end that work actually reached the potential that I wanted it to reach and it would have been a mistake to not bring it there.  It would have been a waste if I didn’t push it that far.  But it still was not fun for me to do.  I’m glad I did it and I think it was good.  I changed the way I thought that month.  It changed me that when I went there my life was one way and I came back and I was like I’m moving to New York.  I think it was with me doing this stuff that I wasn’t into actually made me want to change a lot of stuff about my work.  I think it was a fruitful month for me.

KM: What is your schedule like? Do you work in the studio 7 days a week?

KW: Yes.  Well, I have a couple of deadlines.  I have two solo shows that open in January and February.  Applications for grad school are due January 15th. 

KM: Let’s talk about this new work a little bit.  When did you make the first one in this series?

KW: Umm, September?  I had all these ideas about it at first that I ended up abandoning one by one and the first of those ideas was that I wasn’t going to use any color that wasn’t of the material I was using.

KM: What is the material?

KW: Bondo.  I was selecting materials based on their color.  Also there is epoxy paste mixed with sand in it and concrete. It has a little bit of plaster too.

KM: And how heavy is that?

KW: That part is light because it is mostly epoxy.  You can feel.  This stuff is cool.  I like it.  It is low toxin.  Low odor.  Basically I use this like I would use fiberglass before—I switched over from that.  Which is good, because that is terrible for you.  It doesn’t really smell—it has a light hair dye smell.  It is epoxy dough.  It is like clay kind of.  But it hardens with heat.  I use wood to make barricades around them, put a heater in the box and it will dry in 30 minutes.  But it is lightweight.  It can float on water. 

KM: Is it hard to get a flat smooth edge with it?

KW: it is pretty hard yeah.  It is like this one is all like just fingery texture.  I just left it how I applied it.

KM: I think that works, it is interesting.  It is referencing clay and the mark of your hand. It almost looks like licorice or taffy or something.  The original idea was the colors of the material would determine the colors of the final thing?

KW: Yeah, I abandoned that pretty quickly.  I abandoned that with this black one because originally the black one was white and one thing that happens when you sand is that it dulls out the color because the texture is rough.

KM: The color is now made with paint?

KW: Originally the black one was white and I exposed the edges as yellow.  It was low contrast and I was disappointed.  I wanted it to be bright.  And when you are mixing the dough it looks bright but when you sand it dulls out.  The color is mixed in with powdered pigment.  I thought it would be super bright.  I have no control after I apply the layers.  How it looks, that’s how it looks.  I didn’t work on it again for three weeks and then I thought, I’m going to throw it away but then I decided, no, I’m going to paint on it and see if it is better, and it was.  At that point I decided to abandon the rule that I set for myself that I wasn’t going to apply color.  Which was sort of stupid and who cares about that.  I stopped doing that. 

KM: How did you arrive at these structures?  Where did the idea come from and what do they mean to you?

KW: Well, I was thinking a lot about any object’s ability to hold sentimental value—to change the memory of an event just by its’ association and I settled on this as a literal symbol of that—trophies referencing an event as a positive thing.  I wanted to formally represent the same generic event over and over.  All of the trophies are going to have these generic emblems.

I don’t want them to represent any specific event.  It is not like a sports trophy or something.  But just the notion of the trophy as a placeholder for an event and the form of the trophy becomes irregular and different with each one, like bent or kind of uneven or eroding.  Me grinding away exposing their layers act as an artifact to the event, the forms functioning as a point of resistance for perception.

KM: How your memory of it changes over time?

KW: It’s ability to, yes.  Even though I’m making literal trophies, I’m thinking of any object as a trophy.  Not everyday is your birthday, have you ever heard that expression?  Like to say that when you think about your life, you aren’t thinking about the 90% of the time.  The trophies are formally all different but they are all representing the same situation.  I am trying to make them irregular in different ways.  Like this one is uneven.  And this one is, you know, bent.  Another material that I really like is green edged plexiglass.  It doesn’t look like it there, because of the paper.  It looks like glass.  I am forefronting that tension between visibility and invisibility.  But it is definitely something that I have worked with before and it does closely tie with my other work in a weird way.  I’m still picking a symbol and applying content on that symbol.

KM: You are also neutralizing that symbol in a way.  With the mirrored objects you made in the past, it becomes about what they reflect, not what they really are.  With this new work, it is a symbol of an event, but you have taken away the event. 

KW:  Yeah, I guess I want them all to be vessels for some sort of content that is not implied in the form of the object itself.  This is one of the first things I’ve made where I don’t know how it is going to be at the end.  I just don’t know how it is going to look.

KM: Did you ever win any trophies or do you have any personal connections to the idea of a trophy?

KW: No, I am not a sports person.  My little brother was the sports person.  I think I do have some trophies.  I played rec basketball when I was younger.  I was actually going to try to get them when I go home for Thanksgiving.  In the beginning I wanted to make a mold of a really big trophy and cast it in rubber so that it was a puddle.  But I don’t even know if I want to do that anymore.  Beyond that, I don’t feel like I need the actual trophies to make the work.  They aren’t important. 

I went to visit my grandparents and I was walking around and I saw this trophy store and I was like, “Hey, do you guys have any trophy parts that you don’t want?”  And they gave me this little basketball trophy.  That is my only trophy here.

This is arbitrary but I watched this movie called Brooklyn Castle. Have you ever seen it?  It’s a documentary—it’s good, I definitely recommend it.  It is on Netflix.  But it is about these kids who go to a middle school in Williamsburg and they are poor and predominantly black and they have this awesome chess team and the teachers put forth the effort.  They all put in so much time after school and they do all this fundraising to travel and sustain the chess team and it is a big thing for them.  It is cool to be on the chess team and they are good and they win all these nationals.   Kids leave better schools to come play chess for that school.  Anyways, they just talk about the trophy like it is this Holy Grail.  When I watched that is when I first realized that the trophy is a great symbol for projected emotion. It is one of the only objects that doesn’t have a function.  Even when you have a sentimental object like your movie ticket stub—it still has a function.  It is for you to get into the movie.  You bought it because you had to.  A trophy has no function at all.  It is a thing that you look at and you feel emotion and the way the kids thought about it, I just started thinking about it. 

KM: What strikes me about that, for regular people that aren’t artists or art collectors it is one of the only pieces of art they might have in their home.

KW: Yeah, by it is kind of amazing that a normal person would even want that.

It has no value, art objects.  I thought that was an interesting symbol for generating memory.  I settled on it.  I didn’t know what I was trying to do, but I was trying to work around those themes.  Then I made this little trophy that I ended up throwing away.  I started the trophies and I just settled on it.  A lot of potential.  I still feel like I can make like 10 more.  A lot of times I’m struggling for ideas because I’ll have an idea and I’ll feel like I demonstrated that entire idea really well in one work.  And past that, I just need quantity.  I find an image, it is striking, and I need more.  It is not about saying something different.  It is about the power of multiples.  I’ll try to think of ideas that are reinforcing the one that is the main thing and that is where I have trouble.  But this is not like that at all.  I feel like each one that I have the idea to make is working towards what I want.  And I’m not really running out because the form is so endless. 

KM: It is weird how monument forms, like these, and grave markers as objects don’t change over time, but other everyday objects have designs that change.

KW: I had this very distressing thought, maybe a week ago—and I’m trying hard to get away from arbitrary aesthetics.  I want to ask myself is this doing something other than making me happy.  I feel like I can say yes.  With the mirrored stuff, I was asking myself that and I said yes, it is not arbitrary and so I can keep it.  But I had this thought last week that maybe they should look exactly like trophies.  Maybe they should be foil and plastic or whatever.  I got some of that stuff and I made this one like that.  Just a column and I hated it so much.  Even a choice to not make an aesthetic choice is an aesthetic choice because the way the trophies normally look is aestheticized.  That is kind of a trend in art and in sculpture now too.  That kind of material—sparkly.  It felt wrong.  Yeah, I know I’m making an aesthetic choice by aesthetics adhering to the guidelines that trophies adhere to.  But it still felt like I was making someone’s student contemporary sculpture.

KM:   There is something weird and cool about you are making these trophies out of non-trophy materials. 

KW: I think that while I was applying it, I wanted it to be lumpy.  That was the generator of content for this trophy.  I wanted it to be lumpy and I wanted it to be not symmetrical.  I wouldn’t call that arbitrary.  

KM: I think that is a good impulse to go with something that feels opposing to the form itself.

KW: I think that is what these are kind of about.  They are opposing all the normal formalities of a trophy—that they are commemorating a specific event that happened on this day and you are remembering it.  You won.  But these are not anything.  They are just there.

KM: How do you feel about the pressure on young artists to work in multiple mediums?

KW: It pisses me off, honestly.  And it sucks that sculpture is lumped in with video and performance.  On what planet does me being able to fabricate an object make me a performer?  Why is it like that?   The object is not going anywhere.  No one is going to stop making objects.  It is frustrating for me because I like video work.  I think video work is great.  I like painting too, but I’m not going to go paint a painting.  I have ideas for videos but at the end of day, I’m sanding for nine hours a day.  That is what I do.  I can’t.  It’s not the way my brain works.

KM:  I think another big difference about this work and your other work is…I think before you wanted to make these perfect objects that almost looked like you hadn’t made them.  Someone had come upon them.  A machine had made them.  Or a factory had made them.  They were perfect.  The edges were perfect.  Everything was about seamlessness.  That is the way it had to be if they were combining with those other mediums.  Photography makes you scrutinize things more.  Projecting video makes you aware of the edges.  And now you are embracing this idea of putting yourself into it.  It’s not made by a machine.  It’s made by you. 

KW: It makes me happy that you say that because that is something that I wanted to get away from.  It is just stressful.  I don’t have the tools to make perfect objects.  I am just doing it with my hands.  That is one of the things that made me spend so much time on things.  I had to make it perfect.  It wasn’t a fruitful way to spend my time.  I read this short story while I was moving.  I was already thinking about these things, but it really summed it up.  Do you know the Whitechapel gallery series of books?  The one on objects is a great book if you ever decide to explore that.  The short story is by Terry Eagleton, it’s like a paragraph and it is talking about this guy who had the opportunity to make the perfect world and made it really smooth but kept slipping and falling.  It sounds corny but it was good. I’m making it sound bad.  Then he finds out that actual perfection is in the friction.

For a while it was hard for me to make the conscious choice to let flaws stay.  That bothered me.  It is not better for me to just leave stuff crappy.  That is not the answer, to just not fix the things.  But it is to change my notion of perfection to something different.  And that is what I am trying to do.  Not to expect less of myself, just to change a little bit. 

KM:  That is really good. 

KW: I think the past year has been big for me.  This is my second year out of school.  My first year out of school, I felt like it was beneficial for me to stay in the school mind set in order to produce the same amount of work I made at school.  I didn’t want to lose momentum.  I even adhered to the semester schedule.  Just to make artificial deadlines because I do operate well under time pressure.  To create deadlines, obviously I didn’t need to clean and put down linoleum floor for you to come but it was good.  I wanted to do it.  Why not?  I was adhering to that school schedule.  I was still spending time with people who were in school and talking to my professors all the time.  I still talk to them, but they are not here.  And I felt like it was not a bad thing for me to try to keep my momentum.  No one makes the same work as they did in undergrad forever.  That is not good.  That is one of the reasons I felt I didn’t want to go straight to grad school because I felt like I hadn’t gotten far enough away from that work.  I was working in acrylic in undergrad at the end.  I hadn’t even made any major change after school.  It wasn’t like I had changed my practice over to a life practice.  I feel when I moved here, it finally happened.