About the Artist
with La Keisha Leek, January 2019
This is your second time at Wassaic. How has your time been this year verse your last residency? Do you feel the conditions are different?
The first time I attended Wassaic was in January 2017, the month that Donald Trump was inaugurated as the President of the United States. Initially, I had thought that I would work on a new series of paintings or sculptures, but the entire world seemed upside-down and ready to burst aflame. I needed to focus on something different that month. Maybe I was trying to reinvent myself as a distraction or form of escape. Instead of creating “precious” physical objects, I decided to make a video using my cellphone camera and some found footage from a military film about F-14 Tomcats. I made props and collected items from around town that I spun on a chroma-keyed turntable. The steadily turning objects were superimposed on top of fighter jet videos and scenes I shot in Wassaic. The video was called F-14 and was the start of a new direction in my work. Toward the end of that month, I ended up making some quick mixed media paintings on paper which led to the series I am currently working on entitled Cush.
This more recent time at Wassaic was different for multiple reasons. First of all, having attended once before, having been back for the Summer Exhibition in 2017, as well as getting to know people on the staff and in the community, Wassaic was/is starting to feel like a second home. I knew that I could settle in quickly and get to work this time and had thought about what I wanted to do well before I arrived. I had spent the last year working in a demanding position in Silicon Valley and had stopped working on Cush as well as any video projects. I knew that I wanted to give Cush most of my attention for the month and spend time on a video as a side project. I ended up painting a lot, further developing Cush as well as creating a new video entitled No Signal.
You've created a font that appears in the work you've been working on here. Can you talk about the history of the font and how it’s carried through to the video you're working on now?
I was living in Rotterdam in The Netherlands for 3 months in 2012. I noticed that old factories sometimes had their name in letters perched on the edge of their roof so that the sky was the background instead of a wall. I thought this was a beautiful way of placing text in space. I also noticed Lawrence Wiener’s As Long As It Lasts at the Rotterdam train station. This work was part of Melanchotopia, a city-wide Witte de With exhibition curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen and Amira Gad. All the text art around Rotterdam made me think about language as a form of physical art.
I decided I wanted to take a little ownership of language by creating my own signature font. We all have our own voices when speaking, and our own penmanship, but we share fonts when typing. By having my own font, it seems both “designed” and personal. I wanted to base the font on the material I would construct it out of. Hence, I created a font entitled 2x4 which is designed to be cut out of 2x4s using only a few basic woodworking tools. In 2012, I created PRMFTL (please remove me from this list) and in 2014 IHTCTSTS (I have to change to stay the same) which is a Willem de Kooning quote. Since then I have also used 2x4 for titles in my videos F-14 and No Signal as well as my Twitch.tv stream.
Ok, so your series Cush. You know, I immediately used word association and thought I was looking at something completely different. These are definitely not what I thought I was looking at. What is the form I'm looking at in these paintings? Is abstraction a tool you often use?
I get that a lot in response to the title Cush. First, I’ll explain what is happening in the paintings, then I’ll address the title. Over the past few years, in multiple series, I have been working on a brushstroke gradient technique. In the series Cush, these strokes begin on their own floating in space. In order to “ground” them I stick them in a sculptural blob. I think of them as pins sticking out of a pincushion. That is where the term “cush” comes from. I know it is confusing to shorten it to “cush”, but I have always liked it when people use that term to describe good things; cush job, cush apartment, cush car, etc.
What did you hope to gain during your time here? Do you feel like you got there? Were there any surprising manifestations?
I hoped to use my time focusing on Cush and No Signal as well as meet other artists- and writers-in-residence. After 3 weeks, I really felt like I was on a roll, and I did get a lot done, but the time flew by too fast! I could have easily stayed for another month and embraced the momentum I was feeling in the studio. Towards the end, production ramped up and some experimentation was revealing exciting new ways of pushing paint around. In fact, I started to develop a new type of mark-making that will be a dominant subject in my next series of paintings.
Photos by Jeff Barnett-Winsby