Name: Stephanie Washburn
Habit/ritual before working: Surfing
Hidden talent: That’s what we’re trying to find out.
I’m wondering how you got started with your latest series, Reception?
So I’m staging these photographs using a combination of televised imagery and domestic everyday materials. Television was central to putting the passivity of a screen experience into our private lives. At this point it’s basically so obsolete as a technology that it began to feel to me like a found object I could think about repurposing. I decided to treat the screen as a support and the content as a backdrop to something else that might happen there. I started affixing materials from around my home that were intimate and ordinary like butter, pillow stuffing, and clingwrap. I liked their modesty as things in contrast to how thoroughly they are able to shift perceptions of the screen content. I first became interested in that kind of formal malleability through painting and keep coming back to some idea of touch and its relationship to the flatness of pictorial space.
How do you go about choosing channels?
The programming is out of my control so there’s always an element of chance. I look at how the materials and background images start to interact both formally and through content. These interactions vary. Some marks deface. Some feel almost celebratory. Some end up rewriting the narrative onscreen. I’m interested in generating a real range of possibilities, filling up a cousin world to ours.
There are a few levels of visualization happening here. What does it mean to have these images end up as photographs?
To some extent, I’m relying on the authority of the photograph as a document. I often think of this series as a kind of evidence of the body in digital space. In other ways though, the work really undermines that documentary authority. The images are very theatrical. I don’t work serially, but play with different exposure times, scaling up and down, rotating, cropping. These decisions emphasize the constructed nature of a photograph and distance us from the original referents. I think this tension, between document and construct, really drives the work.
Are there political overtones in your work?
You hear a lot about the world going digital, virtual, etc. We are simultaneously producing ever more physical crap at a really criminal environmental and human cost. I think we need to be much more conscious about where the digital and material interface. This seems important politically in that the body remains the primary object in the power grab this digital information increasingly supports. So I’m definitely working with the idea of distanciation. I’m less interested in critique though. The photographs have a lot of fun with spectacle, and there’s an element of collaboration, a blending of the real and fictive states, that is creative and often joyful. I’m really hoping to get at an idea of agency and the persistence of human touch.
Do you intend the images to be humorous?
The process is. I’m interested in how humor gets at power and so often finds its way there through a kind of base materialism. But the mood of the images really varies. I tend to like work where humor invites you in to the challenge of a new way of thinking but also allows you the experience of a broader range of feelings.
Can we expect to see any shifts in your upcoming exhibition’s body of work?
I suppose the most significant shift is starting to work with video. I’ve also been getting back to straight up painting. We’ll see.
Name: Josh Azzarella
Top three films of all time:
I don’t really have a top or top three of all time. My favorite films seem to change with some regularity, and I attribute that change to the shifting and changing interests in my work. One aspect of films that I find frustrating is that I’ve never had the “that film changed my life” experience. I can’t figure out why, or if I’ve been watching the wrong thing(s), but this is a club I’d like to be a part of.
Habit/Ritual before working:
The only habit I really have, which is very helpful on the days when the outlook is tedium in Photoshop, is finding a piece of information that is the polar opposite of what I’m doing in my work as something to occupy my mind during my day in the studio. For example, I’ll think about some bizarre news story I read during my commute.
I find those that influence me the most are Atget, Baltz, Evans, Frank, Friedlander, Ruscha, and Richter.
I have no idea. It would be much easier to list the cities I know aren’t my favorite.
What draws you to a particular photograph or piece of footage?
Frequently, it is the circumstance in which the image was created or the story behind the image. I rarely set out to find a depiction of a specific event. More often than not, I’ll begin with an event and then investigate connected or associated events. Those images which have intriguing satellite stories around them are the ones I end up choosing to make work from.
Your work often manipulates historical footage through processes of extraction, resulting in an overwhelming loss of substance and a sensation of negative space- Is there some sort of nostalgia or solemn reexamination that is central to your intended effect?
Reexamination and investigation of the event, the context of the event, and the inherent energy of the original image are paramount interests in the work.
I don’t feel that nostalgia applies to the work, mostly because I‘m not as interested in an alternate or more perfect reality, as I am in confusing our current perceived reality.
Are there intentional political overtones in your work, or mostly objective historical and sociological perspectives at work?
I don’t seek intentional political overtones in the work, as I’m not an overtly political person. The work is mostly about the sociological investigation of the images’ inherent energy, their personal and communal impact, and the result after the removal of those energies
Can you touch upon your tactics of intentionally utilizing grainy or even blurred footage? Is there a larger dialogue at play by doing so?
It’s not so much a tactic as it is a function of the source material. Most of the images I use were captured during times if unrest, when speed is crucial, so photographers were using higher speed film to ensure that the images would be captured in almost any situation. This accounts for most of the grain that can be found in the work. However, during the creation of this body of work, I’ve come to find that grain in an image can work as a unifying element. On occasion, I’ll add a bit more grain than was originally there to function as a unifier between what’s left of the original and my modifications.
The completely blurry / obfuscated works (Untitled #3, #4, #34, etc.) are a different tactic altogether; through layering, transparency, offsetting and recursive frames, the resulting image is a buildup of frames that yield a slow moving, blurry impression of an event.
In our last interview with you, you mentioned the sort of unhealthy cathexis associated with the constant replaying of 9/11 images, etc., and your work seems to embody a similar fixation. What sort of individual responses do you hope to procure from this momentary concentration?
This is a difficult question. Really, I’m hoping for a heightened consciousness from my viewer while appending or creating options within a piece of history.
Can we expect to see any artistic shifts in your upcoming exhibition’s body of work?
It’s difficult to say. I’m always letting the work determine the medium. However, I do have a few object-based works that’s I’ve been putting off for awhile, and the near future looks to be a good time to begin producing them.
And finally, if you were forced to begin working in a new medium, what would it be and why?
I don’t know that I have a “medium” now – I guess we could label appropriation as the medium. If I had to abandon appropriation and go towards a more traditional artmaking medium, I’d go back to making medium and large format photographs. There was, and still is, something compelling about wandering around a place and learning about its discarded past.
Name: Vernon Fisher
Hometown: Granbury, TX
Dream alter ego: Consuelo Tattoo
Motto: No motto, but I believe the glass really is half empty.
Hidden Talent: I wish.
You’ve lived in Fort Worth for over thirty years now. How has that specific landscape and demographic informed your work?
My material comes from farther west, roughly that swatch of desolation between Abilene and Presidio. Driving west from Fort Worth you know you’re there when you start asking yourself why the hell anyone would live here––endless highway, scrubby vegetation, crumbling Jesus signs and Dairy Queens, ghost towns with weeds growing up through cracks in the sidewalks.
Hugh Davies – in his introduction for the La Jolla Museum of Art’s mid-career retrospective exhibition of your work – made mention of the autobiographical emphasis that many of your images employ. How has that trend been utilized in your newest works (currently on view at Seomi Gallery – Seoul, Korea – through June 15, 2010)?
The show at Seomi features blackboards and map paintings. The blackboards are pretty familiar, but the map paintings haven’t been widely shown and as they are most recent, interest me the most.
The map paintings are based on a map of Africa I found in an old atlas, published in 1935 when most of the European colonial empire was intact. I first used this map for a blackboard piece called Private Africa, 1995. The word “private” suggests ”owned” (acknowledging the colonial past), but can also be thought of as private, as in personal. Regarding the latter I was thinking of the psychologically projected heart of darkness of the Joseph Conrad novel (a kind of Orientalism, exoticism, whatever). That basic notion is the still a primary idea for the recent map paintings, only now the maps (thanks to the computer and a vinyl cutter) are more complicated, more dense, more detailed, etc.
The aforementioned mid-career retrospective also traveled to three additional museums, and ultimately ended at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. After twenty years, the museum is hosting another survey of your career to date, “Vernon Fisher: K-Mart Conceptualism” (September 25, 2010-January 2, 2011). How do you feel the work has developed since its last presentation at the Modern?
A good many of the installations and most of the blackboard pieces were produced since the 1989 survey, and more recently the Zombies, the punctuation pieces and the map paintings [image below]. It was a little surprising putting together the show for the Modern. I thought that the work over the last 20 years had been all over the place, but there was more continuity than I had imagined. The punctuation pieces, for example, look a lot like the multi-paneled narrative paintings and the map paintings remind me of paintings I did in the early 70s. It seems you can’t get away from yourself.
Your work often addresses archiving through specific pop-cultural and social signifiers; everything from Dairy Queen signs to eye-exam charts, atlases to Mickey Mouse. Why are such accessible icons of the everyday integral to your art?
They’re part of our cultural language––a way to talk to each other. Take Mickey–everyone knows him, so any deviation from form or character is immediately apparent. He’s a star, and as such, he’s extremely useful to appropriate, as a whole constellation of expectations walk out on stage with him.
In addition to painting, drawing, sculpting and installation, you also write creatively. “Navigating by the Stars” (1989) was produced concurrently with the bulk of the “blackboards,” both of which engage in a “short story” or “vignette” sensibility. Do you use these snapshots as part of a larger narrative?
Navigating by the Stars was a compilation of the first 100 stories, most of which had appeared in narrative paintings produced between 1974 and 1989. Though I write less frequently now, I still depend on the suggestion of a narrative as a way to encourage engagement with the interpretative field.
Your first solo show with Mark Moore Gallery was in 1994, making you our longest-represented artist. Since you’ve been a part of all the eras of MMG – it would be fair to ask how you’ve seen our program evolve since the beginning. Be nice…
Obviously Mark’s come a long way since then. I like the space and I like the roster of artists, but mostly I like Mark and the no nonsense way the gallery is run.
Name: Mr. Fish
Hometown: Saratoga Springs, NY
Dream alter ego: Jeff Lebowski or Jim Henson
Motto: “Well, a wiser fellow than myself once said, sometimes you eat the bear. And much obliged, sometimes the bear well, he eats you.”
Hidden talent: average bowler
Aesop Rock wrote that you “grapple with our modern condition by first exploring places, stories and legends that have been passed down through generations…” What kinds of stories most often lend themselves to exploring this theme?
There is no set story. I guess I like ironic or twisted stories the best, but they don’t always make for the best imagery. I like it when the story has a message, like fairy tales with a moral lesson at the end.
Considering your connections to Nike, Upper Playground and- now – Laguna Beach Art Museum, how do you feel about the popular notions of “high” and “low” art? How would you qualify your work next to that of your peers or the industry at large?
To be totally honest, I try to avoid and ignore all of these labels. I am part of a new generation of artists that are breaking down the established boundries of what is fine art, and what is considered to be commercial art, or – a worse label yet – hobbyist or craft. These labels were designed to give and take credit and credibility, and to establish value to art and artists. I very proudly make my artwork for everyone to understand and enjoy, not just people with an education in art, or a large bank account. I do not feel art is for the elite or those who can afford to be a part of it. A kid who spends his allowance to buy a tee shirt with my artwork on it may cherish it as much – if not more – than the collector with my painting wrapped up in storage.
The narratives you employ traditionally create themes that are both individual and communal. How does your choice of imagery and aesthetic compliment this, particularly the reoccurring use of animals?
Animals are an easy visual device. Their established cliché behaviors act as reflections on human beings, especially if they are wearing clothes. I really love animals in people clothes. I think it stems from reading too much Richard Scarry as a kid.
Your use of wood in your work has morphed over the years. How did it originally become a point of interest for you, and how does it operate in the work today?
My grandfather was a woodworker, and a furniture designer. I spent considerable parts of my summers as a kid helping him, and making my own projects in his woodshop. I love the smell of sawdust in the air. I also skateboarded seriously for about twenty years. The skateboarder will always have an attachment to wood, both from the plank they ride on, to the ramps they build to ride them on. Today I am attracted to it mainly because it is a rigid surface to paint on. I don’t really like traditional canvas.
You’ve addressed tales related to the seasons (literal and metaphorical), historical San Francisco and the global recession, among other things. What stories do you find intriguing right now?
Simple things. Isolated stories. No major themes for 2010. I want to travel a lot. Refill the idea bank of experiences and stories. Drawing a lot of one-off ideas as of late. Trying desperately to avoid confining my ideas or imagery to a major theme right now…
We couldn’t help but notice a few Jeremy Fish-designed tattoos floating around in the world – got a favorite?
Too many good ones to pick. I really appreciate that kind of support. A truly fine art that the “fine arts” would surely frown at. Collectors rarely buy a piece they have to commit to wearing on their body for life. That, is loyalty right there…
Name: Kenichi Yokono
Hometown: Tokyo, Japan
Hero: Ushio Shinohara
Motto: Think art every day
Second choice career path: Babysitter
Prize possession: A sharpened chisel
Simple pleasure: Ichiko’s (my daughter) smile
Settle it: 50 Cent vs. Kanye West? The Ramones
Your work uses disturbing images within a traditional Japanese tradition (the woodblock), what does this mean for you?
Traditions always transcend eras. Today simply continues from the past.
What is the “horror of every day life?”
There are “horrors” not just within the context of something modern, like a film, but also within everyday life. My work addresses this timeless and universal notion.
How does the concept of cultural normalcy affect your work?
We are only “normal” as babies. Then something becomes lost. This is why many of my works feature “lost” items – they are the scenes left after children abandon toys. It seems “innocent” as well as unearthly, like an unsettling silence or eerie laughter.
What is the significance of using skateboards in your work?
I can’t skateboard, so I love skateboards. Skateboarding and graffiti are the opposite of my work – something as traditional and structured as the woodcut. I use skateboards as symbol of energy in the otherwise conservative picture.
You use many provocative images of women in your work – as in the “Dreamy Gaze” series. How do these women help illustrate your perception of Japanese culture?
It is my expression against the Japanese cultural tradition of Kawaii – which can be so cheap sometimes. I wanted to depict women’s feelings by utilizing the same rhythmic lines and dots that Kawaii imagery uses to portray a sense of “cuteness” in a different context. Hence my series featuring the “dreamy gaze.”
Do you find that urban living alters our state of reality?
It certainly feeds the notion of “the horrors of everyday life.” My particular neighborhood is far from Kill Bill. But the best part about living in a city is all the different kinds of food.
The new work that you have made for your show at Mark Moore Gallery features a twist on traditional art history: such as still life images and triptychs. What does this mean for you?
My theme for this show is a “fusion” of modern imagery and old methodology. In the case of the “still life” works, they reference the traditionally European concept of Memento Mori within a modern framework. Traditional Japanese pictures employ a similar notion of death, these are my main themes. In the future, I want to make pictures through a complicated technique and method of using India-ink painting and drawing. India-ink brush strokes gives the impression of traditional Japanese pictures.
Name: Allison Schulnik
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Dream alter ego: Barbra Streisand
Motto: wrap it in bacon.
Album that would be the soundtrack to your biopic: surfer rosa, pixies
Habit or ritual before working: drinking beer on the toilet.
Hidden talent: drinking beer on the toilet.
Favorite city: LA taco, NY pizza
You have an early artistic foundation based in movement and gesture, given your years as a dancer and your education in Experimental Animation. How do you see that influence operating in your ceramics and works on canvas?
It’s impossible for dance, animation and painting to not influence each other. I have a lot of energy I need to get out in some creative way. Sitting still is not an option. Doing something neat and tidy is difficult. Most animators are frustrated performers, that might go for some painters too. I guess there is something a bit show-offy in my brush stroke that confirms my status as a frustrated performer.
Your subjects range from Iron Maidenesque skeletons to eerie “visitors,” screaming monkeys to dueling cats – all of whom have been reputed to seek sanctuary within your canvases. How do you decide on your cast of characters?
It seems like most works of art are really just self-portraits. I like to think they’re created in my imagination, mixed with this reality. Kind of a bizarro world or alternate world version of real world characters and creatures. Humans are a core to build on – to blemish or make furry, toxic, imperfect and real.
“The Gaze” has its obvious art historical connotations, but you employ it in order to achieve a different kind of tension. How does this tie the viewer to the work?
I can’t speak for the viewer, but for me there’s something really appealing about honesty. I don’t think I’d be doing my characters justice if I painted them any other way. I guess I’m drawn to the sad and pathetic outsider, but also the foolish and powerful misfit. It’s all in the eyes.
There’s an evident use of very finely controlled chaos in your paintings –between the (seemingly) manically applied paint and subsequent motion of the subjects themselves. When do you know a work has the right balance?
Probably never. I think it’s easier to know when they are unbalanced.
Tell us a little about your new body of work – which will be debuted in a solo booth at PULSE Contemporary Art Fair, New York with Mark Moore Gallery (March 5‐8,2009).
Well… it’s a nice little selection of long hair hobo clowns, giant screaming monkeys, ecto-porn girls, flowers and early American pioneers. I think I’ll title it Go West.
We’ve seen you work with tigers, and now bears….but will we ever see lions?
Maybe… Lions are too strong and mighty. Not sad or strange enough.
Name: Kiel Johnson
Hometown: Kansas City, MO
Dream alter ego: Richard Feynman or Indiana Jones on sabbatical
Favorite word: Sold
Motto: Make a list and do one thing at a time
Artist of personal influence: A ceramic artist named Pal Wright. He worked all the time and emphasized that drawing was the root of it all. Drawing became an aerobic activity…I loved that.
Pet peeve: Prematurely dull x-acto blades, pencils with broken graphite, error messages, missing drill bits, back pain and the strange rattling sounds that started coming from under my truck the week I paid it off.
Greatest achievement: I stocked up at Costco one time and then literally didn’t leave my studio for 23 days. That was pretty cool…
Beatles vs. Stones: Stones in the studio. Beatles while making breakfast on Sunday.
Your work has often been touted as the crossroads between fact and fiction, the futuristic and the historical, stylistically serious and playful…how do these dualities operate in your work?
Fact vs. Fiction is something that comes up a lot. I tend to see most of my work as excerpts from a diary of sorts, or maybe folk songs. The drawings loosely come from my experiences. However, once I get in there and start scribbling around to lay out some kind of narrative, there is a need to make the story better or alter it in a way. Questions start to come to mind: What if this happened? What if that happened? In the end you come up with a completely different drawing. That’s where the good ones come from.
It makes it easier to capture the basic essence of a thing when you can’t remember all the details. I’m interested in the bolts, rivets, buckles, zippers, and snaps that hold everything together. . I like the idea of having images blend around in my head. Then when they come out on paper they are naturally messed up a bit. I start with a few tossed around bits of fact and end up with a great deal of fiction.
In terms of the Historical vs. the Futuristic references. It comes from an interest in “the way things used to be” as well as the “way they might end up.” I enjoy engineering and design features of the past. A time when objects were well crafted and meant to last for a generation or more, not just a season. I want my work to have this feeling of sturdiness and experience. I like thinking about the various histories objects accumulate. I try to give life to the inanimate, so thinking about past experiences a particular object might have encountered helps me add character, or clues; helps me tell a story.
At the same time, I am looking to the future. I wonder about that side of the timeline more often. Many pieces have developed while thinking about the idea of what will happen in the future. I tend to draw from the past, in terms of design and engineering references, but the future seems to be where these pieces live. I just think we should not forget the best parts of the past.
The allusion to an Orwellian existence has also been evident in many of your pieces. Combined with a non-threatening medium like cardboard, which is tangible and familiar to most everyone, why choose to illustrate such daunting concepts with a seemingly blithe aesthetic?
I received a couple citations from those sneaky traffic cameras here in LA. It was around that time I started thinking more about how often our image is recorded. It was extremely odd to get a ticket in the mail complete with digital images of me driving my truck through a red light at 3 in the morning. I had lost to a machine. I lost a game I didn’t even really know I was playing. It felt so unfair.
I see cameras everywhere. I suppose, I want to be the camera in a way. With the ability to secretly pan around, zoom in and out, and have total recall. That is what led to the submarine (shown at the A+D Museum, Los Angeles). I was touring a Russian sub they have down in Long Beach and it occurred to me what a cool stealthy observer this thing is. You can get so close and they never know you’re there.
My relationship with cardboard really isn’t a response to the “Big Brother “ imagery. I began working with it when I decided to start building my drawings. I chose it for its strength and cost. As we got to know each other, I realized how much like drawing working with cardboard is. If I envision a shape, I draw it out with a marker, cut it, and then fold. The knife started feeling like an eraser. Everything happens fast, results come right away – I love the immediacy. My drawings are very diagrammatic and have always seemed like plans for sculptures yet to be built. When I was building things with wood, and casting metal, it always felt to me like two different artists were making the work. It all started coming together when I began working with paper.
You oftentimes present a variety of “dwellings” in your drawings – from towering structures to peculiar huts. What is appealing about the concept of habitation for you?
As a kid, I worked with my dad on his rental properties doing tons of handy-man work. Then I had a string of different jobs in high school and college framing houses and doing rehab work on old buildings. It was very educational to take apart old buildings and put them back together again. I also got to see many great examples of architecture on family vacations when I was young. I remember hitting up Jefferson’s Monticello one day, then touring an amazing Mosque in D.C. the next afternoon. The idea of creating a space specifically suited to your needs is etched in deep.
One recent event that led to my recent infatuation with aerial views of cities started by drawing blimps and airships. A friend of mine convinced the good people at Sanyo to take us up in their dirigible for a few hours over LA – anywhere I wanted to go. I have seen this city from an airplane many times while landing or taking off, but to hover over it like a rain cloud was mind blowing. I began making connections with the streets and could see the city layout attempting to be organized in some chaotic manner; the way the city structure flowed with the contours of the landscape. It was this bird’s eye view that set me off on a major body of drawings.
I thought the submarine was the coolest way to spy, and then I rode in a blimp.
Any new projects in the wings that we should prepare ourselves for?
I have started a new series of drawings based on the web press – the type of press that a newspaper or a magazine is printed on. It has all those rollers and ink trays. The paper is woven back and forth like a web, until a multi page, folded document is ultimately spit out. The printing press changed the world forever. Gutenberg started the information age. Now the printed image is in decline due to the computer. I was raised around these large printing machines and recently toured the Kansas City Star facility. I thought I would do a series of drawings devoted to those memories. A sculptural piece will come from it, I’m sure. I just can’t decide which drawing to build.
I am building a series of metal detectors as well. I don’t think they will detect metal though. They are definitely detectors of some kind. Let’s call them everything detectors. You will wish you had one next time you are desperately trying to find something.
What would be your dream cardboard structure? Don’t lie.
It would be pretty insane to build a super high-tech, state of the art, mega-telescope, like the fancy new one they have up at Griffith Observatory. I would want real lenses in it if I were going to do it. I would want the viewer to at least see something through the eyepiece when looking in. Maybe I could do animation that would run inside. It could take you on a journey through our universe… or maybe it just looks at a brick wall?