My Time In Wassaic
Please write a paragraph (or a few!) about your time here in Wassaic. You should say a bit about yourself, where you came from, how you got here, what media you like to work in typically, and what you chose to work on while you were here in Wassaic. Then talk about what Wassaic means to you, how it influenced your work, and what you might want others to know about Wassaic. Write from the heart and write in natural language. We want people to get to know you through this work. Be sure to embed hyperlinked words within these body paragraphs, so that we can link out to your portfolio site, exhibitions, movements, etc. Have fun with this!
By Lucy Commoner, May 2018
You were recently a family resident at the Wassaic Project. How did this experience influence your work?
First and foremost, the residency was amazing. The staff and the support they provide for artists with and without families is seldom seen. So my wife Anna and I are really thankful for the opportunity.
The biggest influence on my work was the lack of pressure, being free from the pressures to produce. As a New York-based artist it can feel like you must always be in a constant state of hustle. And if you are not, your insecurities can make you feel like you are falling behind. It’s all nonsense, but for me it can feel that way at times. In a way, at the residency you are off the grid. And after you get over that there is a clarity and you can focus better. That was my experience and that clarity impacted my way of thinking and how I approached my work.
Your large body of dynamic work incorporates mixed media, typography, painting, and images and photographs from historical archives, which you use to explore racial identity and the African American experience, both from a personal and political viewpoint. How did you arrive at your use of collage as a technique for articulating these ideas?
I had mostly been working in acrylics. The work was personal but I felt I wanted to push in a new direction but I didn’t have the language yet to pursue it. A dear friend, Michael Chandler, was showing new works at Valentine gallery when it was still in Ridgewood, Queens. He was making — and still does make — abstract collages. They are small scale, but they have a presence that really rolls like thunder in a space. I left that show thinking, "That’s it. I should try collage.” So I did. As I explored the medium it opened me up to take on historical topics. It filled a gap I felt my work was missing. So I kept pushing the medium. First it was just pictures. Then it was materials that brought their own historical narrative with the work. When I feel bored with the expected use of materials I then try and push them in a direction they have no business heading. I consider my work to be collage as opposed to mixed media. It’s a more truthful reading of the work. So that’s how it went and still goes for me.
What role does historical research and archival materials (such as the pre-1960’s wallpaper in these three works) play in the development of your imagery and practice?
I love history. I love research. As I mentioned before, using materials that have their own historical narrative adds a level of depth to the work that can’t be achieved by simply reproducing it with paint or graphite, etc. So the research comes through readings and what not. During that process something clicks and starts to lay out a path forward. As the research progresses I start to think about materials and what will best convey an atmosphere in the work. To be clear, there is no expectation that all the history and research in materials will be fully communicated with audiences. But it’s there, selfishly for me and as a nice surprise for those who engage with the work a little deeper. So the work lends itself to multiple views, on a visual level as well as on a conceptual.
In this exhibition, your three works, The People vs. are part of a larger body of work, In Our Time, which you created to examine the parallels between the contemporaneous 1960’s Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race. As you have noted, there were certainly no black astronauts in the 1960’s. Can you elaborate on the meaning of the titles, materials, and typeface in these works?
In Our Time is a very expansive project. The long and the short is an acknowledgement of my own dismissiveness of the importance of the civil rights movement versus the space race and my attempt to reconcile in myself this failure. As I started to find the parallels between the two movements and their intersection I found myself looking at Supreme Court cases challenging discriminatory laws and what else was going on in the country during that time. I found examples of African Americans fighting for an American dream that did not include them, such as events like The World's Fair, which showed the world of tomorrow where blacks are excluded and women remain second-class citizens.
In the case of one piece, Hamilton vs. Alabama, I examined a case in which Mary Hamilton, along with hundreds of other civil rights protesters, were arrested in Gadsden, Alabama. She was held in contempt of court for refusing to answer questions until she was addressed with the same courtesy accorded to white witnesses. She was addressed by her first name while whites were addressed by their last name such as Mr. or Mrs. Jones. It was challenged in the Supreme Court, which she won. The text in the work Miss represents the court cases. The type was pulled from The Jetsons, an animated series that premiered in 1964, depicting a utopian future, removed of people of color and women in a state of servitude.
Photos by Anna Ogier-Bloom and Walker Esner