My Time in Wassaic
I drove up to Wassaic from Texas. Apparently, I would rather drive for days rather than ship my art, which makes sense if I had been making sculpture, but I ended up making drawings and paintings.
It is always a learning process when you are in a new place, and the humidity stretched drying time from hours to days, allowing me to spend time socializing (drinking) with the artists in the community. The community became necessary for me as a way to talk through my current work. I was focussed on the utilitarian problem of humans value as measured by usefulness and how to discuss the violence of simplistic, reductive philosophies on people’s lives.
I ended up making several great pieces, which took the form of tools wrapped in trash bags. From realistic drawings to stylized paintings, the work explored new techniques for me, and I felt prepared to discuss the work over the next months at my art openings and lectures. Not only did the work benefit form my time in Wassaic, but a couple months later I returned to New York and had a mini-reunion with my new friends from the residency.
with Joe Brommel, September 2018
Let's talk about the color orange. It's something that comes up a lot in your work, whether in the form of a traffic cone, in Nerf footballs, or when skewering libertarian ideologies in your American drawings series. Can you tell me a little bit more about the role that the color orange placing the work?
I first became attracted to the color orange because I was noticing it while driving a lot. It was used in road cones, caution vest, and those kind of things as a governmental way to introduce caution. When you saw that color, you knew that you needed to be careful.
At some point, though, that ended up becoming co-opted by Home Depot. So that now when you see the color orange, you think of a company; consumers can now buy orange — buy power, essentially — through a local chain. And this is a change: from the ideology of the government having power into individual identities and individual desires having the ability to purchase power. So I think of orange as a way to discuss a transition that the nation has been going through.
What's the next step? Is this is escapable? Should it be escaped?
Well, there are a series of texts that are out there that discuss how the whole notion of individual freedom was an experiment we took on when we founded the country. But what we're witnessing now is that every time there's a flaw we feel the need to open more free market resources, to apply more capitalism to the solution. Or else we need to grow the government to fix these problems for us and ensure our rights.
I think either one of those lends itself toward a self-defeating loop. At some point, instead of continuing to make corrections, we need to rethink the entire system, to pay more attention to the models some other countries are using. However, what gets tied up in this is the American dream. So the question becomes how we can take that dream and either move it forward or transmute it into something more sustainable.
Are you optimistic about the role that art can play in reshaping or rethinking those systems?
Honestly, I'm not.
That’s a fine answer.
Who we talk to is such a small group. It's one of the reasons I make the work that I do. I think that art has a tendency to preach to the choir. If you're liberal progressive left, then there's a really good chance you'll go see an art show or be involved in this conversation where everyone is telling you things that you already know.
The idea that art can cross boundaries is really important to me. I just think it's very rare that we get to see that, because we've become increasingly insular. We're blocking ourselves off from political notions that we don't want to deal with.
What are some ways that you've tried in your practice to move past those boundaries?
Part one is just using populist and consumerist pieces — things from Home Depot — to speak to a slightly different audience. There’s also this idea of doing work that is recognizably work from a blue-collar background — rather than from the intellectual, cognitive background that lot of us in academia or the fine arts bend towards — to get a conversation started with somebody who's from a different group in society.
I've also started a nomadic truck gallery. We would drive across multiple cities and — sort of in a guerilla style — open up this truck and do a small performance. The walls were in the form of crates, so you would unfold the crates, and they would become the walls, and then you would take the pallets that the crates were sitting on and those would be transformed into the stairs. While you're doing this, you're basically a blue-collar laborer. And then as you start installing the work on the wall, you become this kind of hybrid worker who's a little more tidy and who has specially trained skills. And then you move up until you're playing the role of the gallery owner trying to sell the work — which is a different group altogether.
With that one little action we could show up somewhere and open a dialogue with people around us. When there doesn't seem to be an economic concern involved and it's more about just doing these funny things, people show up and engage with you. It was a way to open the art world to people so that they didn't have to worry about the pretensions of walking into a white cube gallery.
That also speaks to another aspect of your practice: you're a writer, artist, and a curator. How do those interact?
I think of them all as ways to give back to other people. By curating, for instance, I feel I'm finding people and helping them to show their work. Putting them into conversations with other artists that could put a different spin on their work. They're getting more mileage from their art.
The other side of that is the writing. I've often thought that if nothing is written about a show, it's almost as if the show never existed. If you have the capability to write, why would you not spend it documenting somebody’s show?
These are all things that most of us have been taught how to do, but we're so focused on being a specialist in one realm. We can diversify our practice and get a more well-rounded approach by handling multiple things.
And so the writing and the curating and the education all roll together and become part of the art practice. Whenever I’m producing art, at some point I feel more like I'm trying to synthesize a whole set of ideas. To work with the public — or whoever I'm with — to discuss possibilities. People can take it or leave it, but we have to be putting things out there in order for those ideas to ever take hold. It might be a small percentage chance of actually changing anything, but it's something that I'm passionate about, and I try to stay active in.
You have to put something out there to be taken or left in the first place.
Yeah. Otherwise you could just stay at home, make your work, and keep it in a closet if you're not interested in the conversation that could show up.
Speaking of not staying at home and making works in a closet: what did you work on in your time in Wassaic?
One of the things I wasn't sure about was my access to tools and what I would be able to take home with me, so I ended up focusing mostly on two-dimensional work. I had started a series of tools wrapped in trash bags. Which is about the tendency to value individuals by their utility. Practical function becomes the way in which you engage with the individual, and then once their utility is wasted, done, or used, they’re simply a discardable item.
Spending a lot of time rendering those also became this idea of putting the labor back into the practice. Spending roughly 32 to 40 hours per drawing meant that I was spending about a week's worth of time on each drawing. It’s a way of discussing the hourly wage as a common form of measuring people by their labor rather than their humanity.
Photos courtesy of Ryder Richards