Crossdown Dragit, oil on linen, 9 x 12 ", 2011
What are you working on in your studio right now?
I am currently working between two studios. This summer I moved into a rented studio in the city (Philadelphia) that I share with friend/painter Tim Schwartz, having previously worked exclusively in a studio set up in my home. It takes about 40 minutes for me to get to the city studio, which means I am not there as often as I would like. So, I keep the home studio set up for aqueous or mixed media works on paper and smaller projects, working whenever I can steal a few minutes, while the city studio is set up for oils and/or larger projects (“larger” being a relative term). Right now I feel that I am finding some traction in my oil paintings. These newest paintings begin to capture the immediacy of my works on paper. This has been something I have struggled with for a while, reconciling the work I make on paper with my more “formal” painting.
Can you describe your working routine?
I would hesitate to call my working process a routine. In many ways my work has evolved from my inability to establish routines or regularity in my life in any significant way. I began painting right around the same time I was first hired as a high school art teacher, about five years ago (previously, I went to school for sculpture and for a time after graduating I maintained a studio practice as a sculptor). Early on, out of necessity, I would take a minute here and there to throw a few marks down on a found scrap of paper while on hall duty or waiting for classes to change. I started scanning these little pieces and posting them to a blog as a way to force myself to keep making. This was my routine for years, if you could call it such. Eventually, I set up a studio in my house and was able to work for a couple hours after school before cooking dinner, cleaning, spending time with my wife, etc. I remember having a conversation with another painter about how excited I was to have two whole hours to paint, to which he dubiously responded, questioning how I could get anything accomplished in such an insignificant amount of time. Recently I have begun getting up early so that I can have a half an hour or so to paint before going to work. Additionally, I get to my studio in the city a couple nights a week. My routine continues to be sporadic at best, which I embrace. I see my provisional approach for the reality it represents: the compromises, constraints and imperfect nature of any emerging artist’s life and practice. My work attempts to engage the imperfections of the everyday as opposed to overcoming or ignoring them.
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
As mentioned before I have two spaces where I work (not including the work I make while I am at school teaching). My new studio is in a converted Catholic high school. I am in a space that most likely was originally a storeroom or closet, much smaller than the studios around it, which are converted classrooms. I share the space with the painter Tim Schwartz, with whom I have been a friend for close to twenty years. I am rarely in the space without him there, making our conversations, observations and critique an essential part of my process. My space, like my life, is far from pristine. It is much the same in my home studio. A messy mix of clutter, sounds and smells, ideas, memories, phone rings, cats and interruptions, coffee or whiskey, songs, tape, pencils, paint, paper, an uncomfortable chair, a view out the window; all of which contribute to the making of my paintings.
29 Missing ,ink & gouache
on polypropylene, 9” x 5.5”, 2012
Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
A few years back, attempting to figure out my process, I adopted a sort of mantra: fill the space. I thought if I could reduce the process of painting to its most essential practical operation it left enough space for something uniquely personal to be left behind; a sort of trace fingerprint of authorship unencumbered by formality, narrative or intent. It was from this initial idea that my work has evolved. When I sit down to paint (or stand up as it may be) I am intention-less. I attempt to be wholly receptive, adopting a sort of neutral buoyancy, so that the faintest of influence tips the scales and starts my process. This influence could be something I see, think, hear, or remember, the more mundane or under-considered the better. From there, my process is one of action and reaction. Sometimes I take it too far, other times not far enough. When influence is hard to come by, which is quite often, I may run through any number of standard operations: fill the space, draw a line from left to right, draw a line from right to left, make a shape and fill it in, make two marks and connect them. These operations may end up as the work itself, or may lead to an unfolding of responses. Recently I have been including text in many of my paper pieces. This is just a way for me to connect or pair observations. The text is often something heard or thought while the painting is being made. It is meant to reinforce the marks with which it shares its origins.
The Burden of Counting, ink & gouache
on polypropylene, 9” x 6.5”, 2012
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
I struggle with the physical differences of painting with oil on linen and painting with ink, watercolor or gouache on paper. I want to translate the lightness and quickness of my works on paper to my paintings, yet retain the presence afforded oil paint as a medium.
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
I love playing with different materials and methods. My current work evolved from a process of using scraps and materials leftover by my high school students during a normal school day. As a sculptor I used anything I could get my hands on and much of my work was performance based. In grad school I spent most of my two years taking photographs. I have been painting for the last five years and now I teach ceramics everyday. I typically don’t find myself too constrained by parameters, at least not for too long. I genuinely believe that whether it is a drawing, sculpture, performance, photograph, painting, or pot, anything I make is made with the similar motivation of acknowledging the everyday as sublime.
We Are Sailing, ink & pencil
on polypropylene, 5”x 6”, 2012
What does the future hold for this work?
Well, my biggest hope for the future is that this work finds an audience. I struggle at times with the confidence and commitment necessary to build a career of painting, but I believe with opportunities such as this one I am gaining momentum.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
This has been a great honor and pleasure for me, and I want to thank you for the invitation. I have been incredibly fortunate to find support for my work through primarily online forums. I think we are experiencing an amazing point in history, that through technology we are able to connect instantly and intimately with artists across the world, trading ideas and critique (and sometimes even trading work). Your blog serves to inspire and inform, thanks for your hard work Val!
Half Awake, oil on linen, 10” x 13”, 2012