Interview by Anne-Valérie Kirmann, Spring and Summer 2019
In your recent show in New York City, Mother Tongue, you started to introduce paper pulp in your work. Why did you chose this material?
Using paper pulp was a decision motivated by necessity. Around 2017 I began making larger work. Once the weight of some pieces hit 60 pounds, I had trouble lifting it. I began looking for other ways of making. While looking at a solo exhibition of Tommy Hartung’s work at On Stellar Rays, I learned about Celluclay, a paper pulp product. I was attracted to how heavy it can be made to look while being lightweight. It can do so many of the same things that Hydrocal can do, too: It can make a record of something if pressed into it (like a fossil), it can be dyed, and painted. It can be shaped the way one hand builds clay- which I really liked. Celluclay is overpriced so I sought ways of making my own recipe which initially included toilet paper as the main ingredient. I was later introduced to Hollander beater (editor’s note: a machine to produce paper pulp) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and then delved deeper into the medium, as the Grant Wood Fellow in Painting at the University of Iowa working with paper pulp master and MacArthur Fellow, Tim Barrett.
I like the image of the fossil. Can you tell us more about the marks, the imprints that shape the surfaces of your works?
Yes, the imprints are traces, impressions or remains of something else that was once there. We have a record of it, an impression, even though the actual thing is no longer with us. The absence of something or someone, still holds the space. One thing I think about is how people and experiences leave their imprints or impressions on us. They shape us and change us and we, in turn, shape and change them.
The idea of things that are no longer was already present in your earlier work, like Negroponte, a type of Rosetta Stone with a ruin-like symbol which is evocative of ancient civilizations?
Yes just as the Rosetta Stone can serve as an essential clue to a new field of knowledge, my work takes us on a perceptual journey that expands our thinking and physiology about our existence and an understanding of our lived reality in a larger context. At least, this is my hope. I am interested in learning what we have in common with the person who made the Venus of Willendorf. Across cultures, race, time and space, what are the essential things we share? I believe we are connected to one another and to our ancestors through a collected unconscious and I want the work to speak to that. I want it to speak to our past, present and future all at once.
I view the triangle in Negroponte as an oasis, a bare boned mandala or a doorway to an alternative space. Triangles are found in ancient symbolism and date back to the earliest civilizations. It is the strongest, most stable geometry and represents historical and cultural trinities. Side 1 and side 2 equal or create side 3, the hypotenuse. Here are some examples: Father, Mother, Child; Thought, Feeling, Emotion; Mind, Body, Spirit. This symbol also has many meanings. My favorites are: Creativity, Harmony, Illumination and Manifestation.
Why do you works have free forms, which are evocative of the shaped canvas tradition?
My conceptual perspective is fueled by the idea that there are infinite possibilities for our shared reality. I have found that limitations in our thinking patterns do not serve us. These ideas translate to the work. I started to feel limited by the conventions of the rectangle. Using a frame work with straight lines that meet at 90 degree angles was no longer serving me. The work sits at the cusp- just breaking a constraint. The free forms were a way for me to break free from that convention and simultaneously reference the body. Our bodies are the vehicle by which we experience our inner and outer worlds and each other. They serve as the conduit between different kinds of space too.
On top of your artistic practice, you are also co-directing a non-profit space in Brooklyn, Ortega y Gasset Projects. How do you approach your curating activity? Do you further explore the areas that you address as an artist or do you gear your projects towards other interests?
Yes, co-directing and curating exhibitions at OyG is something I care about deeply. My curatorial approach is multifaceted. It includes my interests but it is not limited to the areas I address in my own work. The artists and work I choose also have to do with who I believe is putting out extraordinary work, a unique vision or voice, that may be overlooked. Curating an exhibition can give that person and their work deserving attention. I enjoy the challenge involved in having the works speak to one another in the space and what kind of experience and ideas it sparks for the viewer. I find the entire process really exciting.
Pictures: Installation view, Mother Tongue, High Noon Gallery, New York City, April 2019 Negroponte, 2017, hydro-cal, acrylic, pigment, and urethane, 13" x 11" x 1" Aphrodite's Chariot, 2017, Hydro-cal and acrylic, 17x16x6 inches. All images courtesy of High Noon Gallery, New York City