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VANTAGEPOINT Artists Interviewing Artists

Spring 2010

VANTAGE POINT Artists Interviewing Artists




INTRODUCTORY LETTER Vantage Point is a collection of artist interviews conducted by students in their final semester at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. These interviews address current circumstances of art creating. They provide a forum through which students can define themselves, through comparisons and relations to the art with which they resonate. These dialogues present an entertaining and critical perspective on the artists’ processes and products. Together they demonstrate some of the various platforms from which contemporary art is approached, both in practice and in commentary. The interviews were recorded in the Spring of 2010 through phone or Email correspondence.


















Letha Wilson is a mixed media artist who was born in Honolulu, raised in Colorado, and currently lives in Brooklyn. Her outdoors excursions among the Rocky Mountains have led to the centrality of the natural world and its photographic image in her work. She earned a BFA from Syracuse University, and an MFA from Hunter College in New York City. Wilson’s work has exhibited across the country, including the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Socrates Sculpture Park, Exit Art, White Box, Platform Gallery, Fredrieke Taylor Gallery, BravinLee Programs, and the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art.

My interest in design theory and criticism is what led me to Brooklyn-based artist Letha Wilson. Letha’s clever recontextualizations of space, material, and language are similar to my own interests. She is conceptually driven and and works with diverse media. This interview spans the length of 11 emails in just over one month.


Tim Stoelting: Can you give me an explanation of a few selected works so I can bring out some questions? The works I had in mind are: Prism - Pyramid, Falling, Stained Glass Acadia, Fuller Forest (a favorite of mine once I read the title), Frank’s Staircase, And So On (California), Sailor’s Delight, and Right Back at You. These are some of the works that caught my eye most in terms of space and the use of space. Letha Wilson: There’s a few different areas I’m interested in in my work, and sort of gradually expanding on them using different media and approaches. The ‘photo sculptures’ such as

And So On, Sailors’ Delight, and Right Back At You all begin with the photograph as sort of the initial point of entry both conceptually and literally in the pieces. All of these pieces are photos I shot and printed myself. Somehow this is important to me, not that it’s necessarily highly personal at all, but that there is no need to quote another person’s image. Gathering and producing images is part of the whole process. I’m not sure that makes sense. In those pieces there is a single image / gesture / rupture that may be simple but is gradually gathered through other smaller versions, tests, and trials. And So On - when I took that image I was already somehow thinking of the final piece - and it’s really a simple continuation of the naturally occurring line of wood floating in the ocean, but the ‘real’ piece of wood at the end kind of changes everything. Right Back At You is

a pretty new piece, made right at the end of the Skowhegan summer, actually it came right after I made Hanger Wall in the Hemlock Tree, and I think I was thinking about these two spaces intersecting, light as a sculptural form as a line and binding factor. The light in that piece is what gives it the third dimension, and creates odd amplification and dramatization of the ‘real’ space in the photograph. There is something about the attempt to capture the space you are in with the camera, and then how the resulting photograph really fails to encompass it. Yet the photograph becomes its own sort of sacred form and you can get lost in that. Photographs are always treated so preciously in galleries and I prefer them as a raw tool for what I’m getting at. TS: I also noticed in some of the work a reference to design, furniture design mostly, in the drawings and photographs. Is there a design theme or message to some of your work? LW: Yes. In Stained Glass Acadia I exposed a Xerox copy of a Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass design on the image in the darkroom. Also in Fuller Forest I used a similar technique with a printout of the blueprint for building a geodesic dome out of paper. Falling and Prism - Pyramid similarly use images of FLW chairs, and of course, images of the Falling Water house. I went through a design phase last year after having an amazing in-depth tour of Wright’s Darwin Martin House Stained Glass Acadia 2009 Previous page: Hanging Wall in Hemlock Tree 2009


Fuller Forest 2007

in Buffalo. It was blocks away from where I was doing a show and it ended up feeding that work a lot. TS: You used a phrase that really caught my attention, ‘light as a sculptural form, as a line, and binding factor.’ Can you explain how you approach or consider the use of light? I myself am mystified and a huge fan of light art, Erwin Rendl or James Turrell, even though their use of light is much more direct, I’m curious in your approach. LW: Yes - I am always thinking about light but more in terms of light rays or lines, like walking down the street and imagining every ray of the sun coming down, bouncing off the sidewalk - that’s kind of what I was thinking about in terms of lines. Also, geometry and refraction, 3

that the angles and behaviors of light can be calculated is pretty amazing. The installation I did with the replica artichoke lamp where I made the lamp out of cut out pieces of the wall was really the first time an actual light was in my work. Then the drywall piece in the forest suddenly became this amazing blank canvas for the light and shadows of the trees to really come to the forefront. That was somewhat unexpected, as I was mostly thinking about how the wall plane was broken by the tree branches physically, but then the light took over as the main attraction. The flashlight piece came, in a way, right out of that wall piece. In this case not really breaking the picture plane but sort of engaging it with light and doubling it. TS: You also mention trying to capture the space you are in with a camera, but still failing

to encompass it. Is it that perhaps the camera mimics rather than captures, or creates, a new space? The contradiction of placing a real object over a photograph, as in And So On, highlights the photograph as a false reality. In my own work I also utilize these contradictions by suggesting planes, space, form, and depth, but these suggestions seem incompatible, suggesting and also rejecting perspective. LW: I think I know what you are saying and it’s that in-between space of the thing you are standing in front of versus the image of that thing, or another thing, or a place. Or that by adding a thing to the image, you make the image a thing too. The materiality of the actual photograph is something I’m definitely interested in and treating it more as a tool towards something else. When I’m in the darkroom I’m never really trying to create a perfect print, but just getting an image out, although I do also tweak it this or that way. Getting back to light, that’s exactly what I enjoy about printing my own photographs is that relationship between the light and the paper. The process, and the result, is there in front of you and a reality. That’s why I see test strips or areas of color as just time and light aperture.

TS: Your relationship with light is interesting. My own pursuit of light has been towards the physicality of light as an object. James Turrell’s light sculptures are a great example of this. With your artichoke lamp, was the installation lit only by the lamp? Also, how large was the room it was in? I ask these questions because the object itself has so much surface area that if viewed in a huge dark room it would glow like crazy, and I’m really interested in the cast light that escapes the ‘leaves.’ I would imagine it might look like some sort of prism or disco-ball reflection pattern.

TS: Can you explain the concept or thoughts behind Fuller Forest ? The connection between the geodesic dome and the canopy of trees is a nice pun, even more so when I consider Fuller as a Utopian thinker trying to reinvent the world when nature has already done it. LW: Maybe the play between the incredible jumble of tree branches, and the carefully considered, yet equally mesmerizing, pattern of Fuller’s design intertwine into one. The image is already full of intertwined branches- then enter the lines that refer to ideas and Bucky. When I made the piece I was also just kind of experimenting in the darkroom with overlays of diagrams and images, but this was the one that worked the best.

You Only Have What is Here and Now 2009

LW: Lately I’ve been paying more attention to light as a sculptural element. One of my first WOW moments in front of an artwork was in front of a Turrell at the Denver Art Museum. Amazing. In the artichoke lamp room the lamp was the only light source. In that piece the light reflected onto the wall in these weird patterns, definitely. It was an 8’ x 10’ 4

ends up just highlighting those shadows and former medical examination room, so the being a ground for them, so it’s actually fine walls were this weird peachy hospital room if the shadows are the most interesting thing color, and there was a darker tone below as they lay across it. It is almost like giving where the furniture was as they re-painted your eye a chance to see what’s already there a lighter color. I removed the fluorescent light fixture and installed the artichoke lamp by providing a blank screen temporarily, a stoppage to the forest to compare it to. hanging out of the drop ceiling, jig sawing the leaves out of the walls of the room itself. Definitely some dramatic lighting with TS: What I like about the hanging wall is the the door closed to the hallway. element of humor. It’s a very subtle and dry TS: The shadows from the hanging wall are humor, kind of like a simple pun. There is a local in that same area of curiosity; I can imagine Milwaukee what they may have Something about hanging a wall in a artist, Scott who been like. tree and building the drywall around Reeder, uses a similar Because of it seems a bit absurd, although it also humor in his it being in paintings. daylight, reads as rather stoic. The two that are I’d like to see most obvious are Symmetrical Pirate, a pirate the progression of the shadows over time. However, it might just be a cheesy video. with two eye patches, two hook hands, a Shadows are an interesting thing. I saw a small bird on each shoulder, and two peg legs, and sculpture on a class shelf at my school not too Cool Shit, a pile of poop wearing Ray-Ban long ago, lit by four lights and it had four shelf sunglasses. Do you use or intend to use an brackets. The shadows cast by the brackets element of humor in some of your work? was far more interesting to me than the actual sculpture. Not to say that your wall is the LW: Actually I think the elements of humor uninteresting part. and irony are something that maybe only in the last few years have come into my work. LW: At the It’s something very end of I’m glad about, Skowhegan I but also an spent two days element that capturing still sneaks in. I photos at 30 think if you second intervals intentionally of the wall. try to be funny I have about eight hour of it might not light changes work. Not across it but I quite as literal haven’t pieced as Cool Shit them together you describe, yet. It could but that’s an definitely be a interesting cheesy video! I think because it’s a wall it 5

Double Dip 2009 Granite Tumbler 2010

connection. Maybe sometimes a simple element is almost laughable in its singular moment or absurdity. Something about hanging a wall in a tree and building the drywall around it seems a bit absurd, although it also reads as rather stoic. But I like the idea of those branches poking through the wall, and that’s actually kind of ridiculous. Maybe that breech in the wall opens up for humor. Also in some of my sculptures I am thinking about this limp form of bowing, falling, or sagging, maybe even in relation to the human body, like the Granite Tumbler or Double Dip. Thinking about how weirdly funny the earliest Bruce Nauman or Eva Hesse pieces are. Maybe they convey a strange vulnerability that can be laughable. TS: Back to light, I think that is one thing that Turrell’s work does best. Aside from being this beautiful and freaky weird glowing shape on the wall, the light sculptures really bring ‘invisible’ space, air or whatever is in the space in front of a corner to the viewers’ attention. I myself have never seen any of Turrell’s installations. I saw a showing of his holographs, which were interesting but fairly lame. It was not too different from seeing a photo of his installations. I completely lost the question I was going to ask... but I think that is a terrific exploration, bringing the unseen to be seen. Was the wall taken down, or was it a semi-permanent piece? I think it might be interesting to see it in different seasons, with different leaf stages, and its decay over time.

yards, really sets the whole thing up, and by the time you reach the wall you are already in a whole new place. Maybe you become more aware of things when you view art in this kind of un-art moment. I don’t know. One other thing this makes me think of is visiting Michael Heizer’s Double Negative in Nevada a few years ago with my parents. There are only one or two images of that piece from when it was made so to me it ends up being almost a myth. I was prepared to hate it as it sounds on paper like such a masculine gash on the wilderness, however, in person, it was incredible, and subtle, and completely in unison with the land. Although maybe only after 30 years of deterioration. Those ‘massive’ troughs he dug out are like small blips on that incredible landscape, and you are on a giant mesa overlooking the desert valley and the piece is completely about getting you out there, in a strange way. Anyways, I digress, but yes the wall was left up there. I really had wanted to snowshoe up there to take winter pictures, but that season has passed. I will definitely either get up there myself this summer, or have someone else take pictures for me. I am very interested to see how it looks after a year! Although Skowhegan cleans out all the art left on campus, they leave stuff out in the forest for some reason; which I think is interesting. So there’s a few remnants out there. Makes for nice and interesting hikes.

To see more of Letha’s work visit http://www.lethaprojects.com/

LW: Get to a Turrell piece in person! I think the one in Denver is still there. Shit yeah it’s definitely an experiential thing, not to say you can’t love and appreciate it having never seen it but, you know. Actually that wall piece at Skowhegan was really made for that experiential moment, if only for the fellow artists and residents, or whomever was there. Walking out into that forest, even if only 100 6


SMALLS FREI BEN STEINECKE Born 2007 in Whitehall, Wisconsin, Smalls brings the thoughtful sensibility inherited to him by his rural town upbringing. Orphaned and adopted at an early age, Smalls carries a strong independent will with an insatiable curiosity. Having received no formal education, Smalls’ development as an interdisciplinary artist has been self-led, his nose has been sniffing out an artistic path that is uniquely his own. Much of his work is installation-based, exhibited in public spaces throughout Milwaukee, the city in which he currently resides and works. When I met with Smalls, it was the late beginning of a long night. The chair he was seated in appeared to be his most cherished spot in his house. Its location before the living room’s broad windows was optimum for observing the other side of the windows. A subtle communicator, his spoken words are few, but his gestures speak loudly.


Ben Steinecke: Artists of prominent stature and recognition have generally—throughout history—populated the large, metropolitan cities of the world, but many of them eventually retreat to the calmer country environments that neighbor the chaotic cities. You live in a moderately sized city, yet you are grounded in the upbringing you experienced in a town with a population that does not surpass three digits. How do the thoughts engrained in you by the town of your origin affect your perspective? How do they inform your artistic practices? Do you find difficulty in your former lifestyle clashing with your current one in the city? Or do you find interest in the contrast created between the two polarities?

Smalls Frei: [He leaves his chair, crossing the floor to put his nose in between my ribs and the underside of my arm, restful and reserved.] BS: You have two ongoing series that employ the use of bodily wastes, the first of which is comprised of fecal matter displayed on the cement of the city’s sidewalks, the ground traversed and shared by the feet of hundreds of Milwaukee’s populace each day, as they bridge their life from one destination to the next—for example, see Untitled (Piece of Poop on Sidewalk #697). On these sidewalks that, to most, are only an interim between Point A and Point B, a transitory ground that is neglected and reluctantly tolerated by the average citizen, you bring a cessation to thoughts of future destination as you bring a light of presence to the ground as you stop to deposit a piece of yourself. It may be noted that there is a correlation between the body and the sidewalk, in that both serve as a vehicle through which the vessel reaches its destination. The sidewalk carries the urban dweller from one building to another; the body processes the raw material of foods from one state to another. As it passes through the body’s internal passages, the raw food loses some of its original traits, gain some of yours, and are then expelled onto the pavement to roast in the sun or be trampled under the sporadic stomp of a hurried shoe. Is it your intent to demonstrate the transience of the form as well as its relationship with its

Untitled (Piece of Poop on Grass #560) 2010

surroundings? And what of the potential for experience and mindful presence that can be found in paths that are typically demoted to ignored modes of inbetween-ness? SF: [The artist returns to his chair, silently regards what lies beyond the window, then, after much time spent gazing, he turns to face me. He meets my eyes with his, saying nothing, staring sternly.] BS: The second of the aforementioned fecal projects consists of the numerous instances in which your fecal matter is installed on a surface of grass, such as Untitled

His spoken words are few, but his gestures speak loudly.

(Piece of Poop on Grass #560). This series is comparable to the sidewalk feces installation series, but it is different in that the waste deposits are able to recycle themselves into the earth rather than remain apart from it as they do when applied to the sidewalks. In a way, you could say that the feces on grass series is a meditation on the self returning to nature—nature distances itself from itself in the act of becoming food which is then digested, which then joins the food with the 8

Untitled (Food and Water Dish) 2008-2010

individual, and then finally expels the food back into the earth, reinitiating the cycle. In light of this, would you say your feces-on-sidewalk installations allude to the separation of self from nature as caused by the urban environment? And the distance created between self (feces) and nature when the cement barrier stands between the two? SF: [Artist gazes below the couch, steps beneath the coffee table and shakes. He then returns to his chair at the window, continuing the process of quiet witnessing.] BS: Your recent body of work, the one we have been discussing, observes the experience of the body by the body (yours and others’) within the framework of various particular settings. In doing so, you blur the distinction between body and environment—inner and outer—showing the reciprocative relationship 9

that permits both of them to exist. Do you consider yourself a distinctly individual form among other forms, or would you align yourself more with the state of being a wave in an ocean of amorphous existence, fluidly shifting in and out of suggestions of definitive structures—from food to body to feces to earth and so on? SF: [The artist’s staring past his apartment’s windows has transitioned from calm gazing to intense entrancement. It is not unlikely that his attention is no longer even in this room for the moment.] BS: What are your plans for the future? SF: [The artist drops his gaze from the window and turns to the floor below him, away from me.]




The San Francisco Moon Duo has had a tremendous impact on my life as of late. The group is a side project by Ripley, the guitarist and principal songwriter from the equally great and inventive Wooden Shjips. Sanae plays keyboards. Both groups are, in my opinion, at the forefront of progressive-minded psychedelic rock these days. Maybe the opposite side of Animal Collective-like groups.

Here’s a short band description: two person group that makes electronically-based drone/ trance spacey fuzzed-out psychedelic minimal hypnotic trip-out music.my opi


Pete Stolowski: If you had to describe the ‘sound’ of the group as something other than psychedelic/trance music, what would it be? Ripley Johnson: I like drone-rock quite a bit. Trance-rock is good too though. PS: With my artwork, I tend to be inspired by any given number of disparate things, not limited to nature, various philosophies, beards, and of course, music of all varieties. What inspires you other than music? RJ: I’m the same as you, all kinds of things. I would add film. I find good films very inspiring. Even bad films. PS: The cover art for Escape is rather interesting and goes well with the music. 10

PS: How do you go about creating a song? Does it start with a general idea or a really great keyboard passage or some sort of guitar feedback drone or…?

Who designed it? It reminds me of the first 13th Floor Elevators record cover, but coming from some unknown corner of the universe. RJ: That was drawn by Jeremy Earl who runs Woodsist, and is also a really great artist. We asked him to do the cover, and there was a little back and forth with different ideas before settling on that one. He has an art book out called Skull if you’re interested in exploring his work further. PS: I feel that artists and creative people today, myself included, can’t really settle on just one medium and I was wondering if either of you are involved in other projects- music, visual art or any other creative outlet (other than Ripley being in Wooden Shjips)? If so, are they similar or completely different? RJ: Sanae does video projections for bands and also writes fiction. I’ve been known to dabble in poetry and various 2-D mediums for Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo. Lately music is about all I have the energy to work on. But it’s good to have focus. 11

RJ: It could start with anything but the main sparks would be a guitar or keyboard riff, or a beat. Songs that start with beats tend to come to me while I’m walking around by myself, out in the world. They sort of come out of nowhere, or I guess from the surroundings. I like that experience quite a lot. It’s a spontaneous soundtrack in my Escape 2010 head. The problem is always remembering them, or getting home to document them before I forget. PS: How do you make your videos? Does someone approach you with an idea or do you come up with ideas and then have friend or acquaintances produce them? How does that aspect of your music work? RJ: It’s a little of everything. We’re always open to ideas from whomever, but it doesn’t always fit. We don’t really have a budget to hire professionals, so we try to find people who are truly interested in the work. PS: There seems to be a lot of traveling references in your lyrics and song titles. I feel that the mood of trance-type rhythms is a welcomed pairing with the physical act of traveling, and this seems to be an overarching goal with the music - to take the listener on a voyage of sorts. Is this your intent? RJ: That’s really the goal of all music, in the loosest sense — to have some effect on

the mind of the listener. Even very static, repetitive music does this. As far as the lyrics, I do come back to the theme of travel and movement a lot. Part of the reason is that everything is moving at all times — the mind, the body, time... I find it fascinating. PS: I find myself being quite excited by the fact that I cannot understand all of the lyrics; they float in and out of the background acting as another instrument or layer. The snippets that I can decipher lead me to wonder what they are about. Are they ever going to be published, or do you have any hints other than song titles? Are the specific words even important? RJ: We put a lyric sheet in the Killing Time EP. But I like that the listener has to use their imagination a little bit with any lyrics they can’t make out. We’re not trying to be obscure. I approach vocals more from a musical angle, so being clear is not a primary goal. The words are important

to me but you can hear something different and that’s OK too. PS: I recently saw some clips of the group performing in KEXP’s studio on YouTube and was super excited to hear your music performed live. How long are your sets usually? Do the songs ever reach jam-band length excursions? Are you even interested in that approach? It seems like there could be a delicate balance between a concise expression versus tipping the scales and just freaking out on a great passage for fifteen minutes. Do you have a light show or video projection? Is the visual atmosphere of a show something you’re concerned with or is it all about rocking out? RJ: The sets depend on the situation. A bar show will be different than a gallery show. A day show will be different from a late-night show. We’re flexible. We are concerned with the visual aspect of a show. We don’t always have control over it but we’re working on that. Part of our thing is we want it to be very portable, flexible, able to tour easily without a lot of expenses or baggage. So we’re still working on some solutions for the visual part. PS: I find the simplistic approach of your music something that I have been working with in my art—shapes and colors remain minimal while having conversations with each other. By simplistic, I mean sounds of a two-person group, Killing Time EP 2009


energy. We’re more about the light, but you trance-y type vibes where repetition, nuance know it’s the same thing anyway. and subtlety become central players, a wallof-sound or shoe gaze type sound-fields, and so on. Do you feel that your music is a part of PS: Do you have anything to say about the length of Escape? I only bring it up because a larger conversation happening in this veinmusically or in other outlets? I’m curious (I didn’t want to drag them into this) Wooden because generally I feel that there isn’t Shjips’ records are also around 30 minutes such a thing or so. It feels It’s more about staring into the void to me like it’s happening here in than expressing any kind of dark a purposeful Milwaukee. there energy. We’re more about the light, move—is a reason why? but you know it’s the same thing RJ: The minimalist RJ: There’s no anyway. aspect has been correlation in this around for a while, and within the noise and case. One of the reasons that drone scenes it seems to be more common Shjips records stay under a certain length is to have one or two people in a group. I don’t that we are creating them for vinyl. feel like we’re really part of a conversation. We’re really coming from a rock perspective, PS: Your music, especially the album, so maybe there isn’t a lot of light shed on that Escape, fill me with potentiality. Have you kind of stuff. I consider bands like Peaking been working on new material or album Lights, Blues Control, Sun Araw, to be part of other than the forth-coming Record Store the conversation in my head at least, even if Day single and Dead West Pt. II? we’re going for different sounds. RJ: Thanks! We have a new single out right now PS: In my art, there is a certain type of on Agitated. And we’re working on a new LP. darkness, which sometimes comes out in my thinking while I’m making the work and may PS: It seems like there is a lot of potential or may not show up in the final product. I’m for the group to continue making music. wondering about the intent of darkness in Do you see the group continuing or is it a your music. I can sense a dark-ish nighttime, short-lived project? mystical vibe in your sounds, but I feel it isn’t overly dark or ‘evil’, which I find particularly RJ: We are trying to live in the moment refreshing, like other current hard-psych as much as possible, but I think we’ll be groups such as Naam or Boris. Do you have around for a while. any thoughts about this? PS: Who are your favorite groups? Which RJ: There’s certainly an existential element groups or musicians do you find exciting that in the music, or I should say an existential are performing today? preoccupation that influences the work. So there’s an interest in the darkness, because RJ: I’ll name some current ones: Purling Hiss, it’s there. But it’s more about staring into Silver Bullets, Gonjasufi, Kurt Vile, Cave. And the void than expressing any kind of dark 13

as I mentioned above Peaking Lights, Sun Araw, Blues Control. PS: Here’s my final question, specifically for Ripley. You have a sweet beard, how long have you had it? Do you have any comments about it? I only ask because I’m an immense beard nerd, who hasn’t shaved for 10+ years and have been growing mine long for 3+ years now, it’s easily at least two fists full. RJ: I’m terrible at keeping track of these types of things. 6 years maybe?

To see/hear more of Moon Duo visit http://moonduo.org/splash.cfm

Riply Johnson



John Kilduff JEN PRICE

John Kilduff is an LA based painter who hosts a former cable access turned live internet show titled Let’s Paint TV. Believe it or not, anyone with mild amounts of video recording skills can earn airtime. On the show he combines painting, running on a treadmill, blending drinks, and just about anything you can think of in a frantic multi-tasking adventure. The show is ridiculous, and mostly ends in bad paintings and failed equipment, yet Kilduff still manages to leave each episode with positive words of inspiration for his audience. Take that Bob Ross, and tell your ‘happy little trees’ to suck it!

Why did I choose him? Because I wanted to pick a person who was a painter, and he’s a pretty eccentric personality…and, um, ah, I thought that would be a good match, because those are my requirements for a decent interview.

Jen Price: First I want to ask you about the episode where you paint, exercise, and play ping pong with the Invisible Man. That’s one of your best episodes, in my opinion. Putting aside the absurdity, I think you make some pretty profound comments. At one point you say ‘It’s good to experiment with the impossible.’ Can you elaborate on this and explain the philosophy behind the show?

I think it was that I discovered his videos and was like ‘oh my god I have to talk to this guy.’

John Kilduff: Thanks, I like that one a lot, too. Well, I like the idea of the experiment, especially in making art but also in life (though there’s not always so much wiggle room there). Impossible is just an artificial barrier, we have been told it can’t be done...


double edge sword. I sometimes think of but maybe it could? ...the impossible these paintings as if I am a plumber, just gets solved at times, and it’s through doing a job. experimentation I like to defy gravity, conventional There was a that doors open more times than wisdom, etc. I say stuff that makes brake-down ago when logic or science no sense at all to get to a place years I needed to try (I’m not sure if where I might actually makes something else, this is true, but I make something would bet it is). some sense. that is free of commerce. I In my show I like to think needed to express myself in a different way. of the idea of throwing in the kitchen sink Video was the escape for me, better yet, video and then somehow try to make sense of and painting together. Ideally, I would like it all. I like to defy gravity, conventional to not make the landscapes and pursue only wisdom, etc. I say stuff that makes no sense at all to get to a place where I Let’s Paint TV related works. More elaborate might actually makes some sense. works where some of the finesse in the landscape ones could enter into the them. JP: It seems like the same statement could What stops me is the economics, I still sell the apply to your work on the show versus your landscapes, though not that well, but it is still landscape paintings. The paintings on the my primary income. Having said all that, I do show are really silly and spontaneously at times enjoy painting the landscape. I enjoy put together, but that seems like a really painting period, maybe I do need both. good recipe for making exciting work. At the same time, do you need the stability JP: Also, define what a “bad painting” is. Is of the landscape paintings to be able to this even possible to make? make the wacky ones on the show? There Let’s Paint TV Screen Shot must be some kind of balance between 2006 complete insanity, and extreme seriousness. JK: For over 20 plus years ...All I ever did was paint the landscape en plein air [on location]. At some point I got tired of painting the landscape 100 % of the time. I have been fortunate to be able to sell these but that is sometimes a 16

Embrace Failare Box Car 2000

JK: I think that a bad painting is a more successful one than a good painting. A bad painting is closer to the human condition, closer to our failures. A good painting or a great one only hides the human condition. You don’t get anything from a great painting except that the artist is a great craftsman. Humanity is hiding in a great painting, a bad painting shows the scars of life. I would rather see a bad painting than a good one. I am generalizing here, I would say a bad painting is one where the artist tries to be perfect which might make it really bad or make it great!

JK: Great! I do feel that too much effort is put on the perfection in the arts. Artists are being mislead thinking this, at least some are.

JP: I agree that the roles of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ painting are actually reverse. A bad painting seems like a more genuine attempt to make honest artwork, despite it looking like shit as a painting. A good painting seems more about a person finding a formula for making something pretty and repeating it to exhaustion. When those areas start to contradict themselves, then we have something pretty interesting on our hands.

JK: I am not exactly sure when and how it came about but it did come from my show. I am pretty sure that after struggling with whatever I was trying to do, be it painting, cooking, running on the treadmill (sometimes it doesn’t turn on), power outages, or just life itself, it occurred to me that you have to just keep going after all the cameras are rolling, and I blurted out ‘Embrace failure’ in one of my many verbal diatribes. It just stuck with


JP: Maybe that’s why the phrase ‘embrace failure’ is awesome. It’s not just about accepting failures, as in accepting flaws are part of being human, it’s also about embracing failure as its own entity that’s just as rad as something ‘good.’ Maybe it’s possible to work towards failure, or to set yourself up for failure and still have the outcome be positive. That’s my personal read on that phrase. Can you talk about where how that came about?

me and the show. I spell failure wrong on my Embrace Failare t-shirts because it just makes perfect sense to fail at the spelling of failure (though, I originally did misspell it). JP: And now we begin the short answer quiz section. What is your relationship to your treadmill? JK: I am sort of indifferent to it, I wouldn’t be running on it if it weren’t for the show, so I am grateful in a way because I am getting some exercise in my life. JP: What’s your record of longest distance run during an episode? JK: Just over 5 miles. JP: What was it like painting the Hoff’s portrait on America’s Got Talent?

JK: I sell some, others I paint over, and the rest are piled up here in my studio. JP: Is there a secret library containing all your works and a catalog of videotapes somewhere? JK: In my garage. JP: Describe the most ultimate multi-task combination. JK: Here’s something that I would like to try: running on the treadmill, playing basketball, hitting baseballs, shaving, blending drinks, browning onions, painting one minute portraits, singing ‘Stairway To Heaven’, taking phone calls, doing my taxes, boxing, playing chess, and blowing bubbles. To see more of John’s work or watch Lets Paint TV visit www.letspainttv.com

JK: Total mess, and amazing at the same time. JP: What happens to all the paintings from the shows over the years?

Lets Paint TV 2008




shown at aproximate size

Born in 1977, Peter Greaves received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD. He began showing with Forum Gallery in 2002 and had his first solo exhibition, Reverie, in 2004 at Forum Gallery, New York. Peter Greaves’ work is held in many private collections, as well as in the public collections of the Arkansas Art Center, and the Cantor Museum of Art (Stanford, CA). He has lectured and taught at various institutions, including the Maryland Institute College of Art, and was the Artist-in-Residence for Vose Galleries of Boston from 2006-2009.

Since I first saw Peter Greaves’ work, I have been forever captivated by the delicate intimacy of his portraits. By combining the anti-scale of the miniature with painstaking attention to detail, Greaves’ work possesses a gravity that entices even the most casual viewer to take a step closer, and then another. After being drawn far enough inward, the photographic nature of the work allows the viewer to flit between the pure and objective reference of the sitter and the deeper emotional connection shared between themselves, the Artist, and his subject. Through this interaction, Greaves has shown himself to be an artist of 19

great importance in the world of today, making his dedication and care a pointed argument, an argument that states perhaps some things should be looked at more closely, some decisions should not be made with impulse and haste, some things are delicate and should be handled with care, and maybe, just maybe, there is something deeper to be experienced. Josiah Edimann: To start the interview I was wondering if you could, in your own words, give me a description of what it is you see yourself doing as a painter?

Peter Greaves: I started this series of portraits of young woman while taking a couple years off from undergrad at Maryland Institute College of Art. I was very shy when it came to girls (the attractive ones that is). They scared the hell out of me, but I was, of course, intensely drawn to them. An old friend, sort of a mother type figure, wanted me to draw a portrait of a beautiful young lady she knew. Through the process of drawing her, I got to know her on a personal level, and, as you would guess, she became less scary to me. I repeated some version or another of this process again and again, until attractive girls stopped being scary to me. It is in this way that I see my work as dealing with fear and attraction. Once the fear was gone I was free to make observations, ask questions, and think about certain things that all these young ladies had in common, both because of, and despite, their attractiveness. It became a process of not just getting to know an attractive girl, but recognizing these girls in

relationship to each other and to other people. This may sound insignificant, but in my mind it de-objectified them and made them human. JE: You create small, oftentimes miniature, paintings of your sitters, which function much differently that a much larger version of your work would. What is your intent behind this sensitive scale? PG: Ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil, about three years old Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m told, I would fill sheets of paper with tiny little drawings. As I grew up I liked most everything to be little, so it is my natural inclination to work small. I work small because I am a very sensitive person, and I did not intend to create sensitive paintings through the scale. They just are sensitive because I am, and that is what makes art real versus art that just looks like art but is empty inside. Real art is something and doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t just look like something. Art is real expression. JE: There is a very strong reference to photography in the body of work titled Reverie. This is contained in the scale, lighting, application, and palette. Can you talk about the significance of photography to you? Do you tend to work from photographic reference material or from life? Is this an important choice for you?

shown at aproximate size Jen 2002

PG: As a child I somehow learned of pen stippling technique. This was in the eighties and many of the magazines at that time had ads that were really grainy due to poor printing, or whatever. I was convinced that these photos where actually stippled drawings done by hand, so very early on I realized, though incorrectly, that such a level of accuracy was achievable. The power of photography is objective (I know, I know) memory. I have a horrible memory. The first 20

to. Any real art must come from a truly personal place (but must also not bare all, because the tease is very important to drawing people into the work). I try to be honest, but not an open book. The more personal something is, the more it will mean to others, because it can be more correct. If it’s more general, it is less accurate, and then who cares about inaccurate information? On subjectivity, and this may overlap with the photo question, I do see my attempts at accurately rendering certain aspects of the JE: As I look at ‘objective view’ of your work, many the photo as being of its strongest a way to correct characteristics my own distorted (intimacy of scale, (subjective) devotion of time, understanding specificity of your of the girls I gaze, along with your draw. The visual rigorous dedication shown at aproximate size Violet misunderstandings to realism, and the 2003 are for me linked surface of your to an actual canvas/panel), speak misunderstanding of a very subjective of the person or and personal subject drawn. I found this to hold true connection to your work. While this runs the for myself when drawing many selfrisk of becoming self-involved, it also makes portraits as a student. As my accuracy it more specific, honest, and vulnerable. improved, so too did my objective Also, it makes a statement that formalism is understanding of myself and who I was. perhaps inseparable from the personal. What do you think about the idea of honesty and JE: One of my favorite strengths of the work subjectivity in your work? How do you think from Reverie is how well they function both this is important in the art world, and in the creation of art? as individuals and also as a body. To me as a body they seem have a dual function as a PG: Not sure if I’m answering this one. I self-portrait showing again the subjectivity think that any real art, like many actions, of your gaze, along with the visual reaction say more about us than we could have to the images of these women. Would you intended. Honesty is of the utmost be willing to talk about your interactions importance, as people hate to be lied with these sitters, and how you are of the cropped small-scale drawings was done from snapshots of an old girlfriend who I really missed. When the photo is all that’s left to spur your memory, I associate some of this sadness with photos. This is part of the idea of loss that is important to my work. The other issue associated with photography and loss is the complexity surrounding pornography, both the inherent abuse of pornography and its unintentional record of prior abuse. (That’s a Pandora’s box.) I see my work as being related, but in opposition to this sort of abuse.


translating that into paint? PG: To explain the connections between all of these girls, what they all have in common, would be a breach of their confidence. The connection between them is specific, deep, very personal, and something they are most often not consciously aware of. My own connection to them carries that same common thread, so I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t speak directly about it. JE: So far you have discussed how deeply personal and important the process of painting these women has been. I am interested though, to hear more of how you see these works as important (and donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t take that the wrong way, I think they are very important) for people beside yourself. Others who have no relation or prior knowledge of these women. You mentioned de-objectification and an opposition to pornography, could you go into more detail about how you see the work as serving this purpose, do you see this as functioning primarily for yourself in the creation of the work, or does it exist for the average viewer as well? PG: I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think too much about how my works are important to others. When you think too much about what you are doing, you start to control it. Once you control it, it dies. The paintings are important to me, and so, I imagine then that they would be important to others. Ultimately the message is out of my hands, as intentions can often be irrelevant to the final outcome and message. Someone may intend to do good, but unknowingly does harm in their attempt, the outcome and message is then harm, and not what was intended. Maybe I hope that the message is that some things should be looked at more closely, that some decisions should not be made with impulse and haste,

that some things are delicate and should be handled with care, that some things should be held on to and others eliminated. JE: I am also intrigued by your description of photography as objective memory, and how it serves the purpose of correcting your distorted perspectives of these women. How involved are you in the composing and taking of these pictures? To me photography has always felt like much for subjective media because of its composed and directed nature, the exception to this being perhaps candid or snapshots. PG: Except for the first two portraits in the series, I control the lighting, pose the sitter, etc. Before hand it varies depending on the girl and my relationship to her. Sometimes I pick out the clothes before hand, sometimes they wear whatever, but the more control I have the better. The real interaction is with me, and the camera catches it. Though clothed, the sitter is as if naked under the definite gaze of the camera. They are being watched, and they know it. This is where you learn a lot about them, how they react to this pressure of being watched. It is my job then to relax them and make them forget about the camera. They are first alone with me, and then they are just alone, and then I can get the right shots. JE: What do you think about the flaws created by the camera (angle of the lens, loss of color/ tonal range, etc.) in theory a camera is also creating a flawed or false representation or memory of the person. Some would perhaps say adding another layer of mechanical disconnect between yourself and the sitter. You mentioned loss in relation to photography, is this perhaps one of the vehicles? PG: As far as the distortion topic goes with photography, I see the photo as a ruler and I am trying to measure something exactly. Yes, 22

the photo lens has distortions, mechanical flaws, but not subjective ones like people. This is the distinction that matters to me. The distortions of the camera can be easily understood. It is the subjective distortions of our own perception that are so difficult to identify and correct. JE: I have been thinking a lot recently about the idea that one of the main drives for creating a portrait is to attempt to connect on some deeper level with the sitter, to soothe or rationalize some of the desire for contact with an other. But it seems to me that the harder one tries to create a piece of art that does this, the more apparent it becomes, that the creation of something only points a finger more directly at the absence of the connection or interaction desired. Effectively creating a hollow shell where the sitter, or subject can never truly exist. How do you feel you are able to overcome or use this in some way? Also, you mentioned memory, which is inseparable from time, how do you utilize or understand time as an element in the work. PG: I couldn’t draw these portraits from life, I don’t do it because I would have to separate myself from the person and think about rendering rather than our interaction. I spend time with people, but don’t draw them, and only shoot photos for a short while. The act of rendering is isolating by nature. You must focus solely on what you are doing, which takes you away from what’s around you. That is a large part of the sadness of these drawings, they are an unrequited love. She, the painting, will never love you back. And the more you draw (love) her, the farther away she becomes and the more this false image of who she is, your painting, takes over the real memory of the person you once loved and could see so clearly. Time spent, memory lost, and it slips away, 23

In Her Mother’s Nightie 2008

completely out of your control. (I’ve only loved a couple of my sitters, many are like actors. I’m just saying, this is the idea of it.) This idea of devotion through rendering is also a link I see to religious icon painting, also visible in my imagery. The Virgin Mary, what sort of thinking makes us believe that babies can come from virgins? Blatant denial of the very real and human act of sex.

JE: Can you also talk a more specifically about In Her Mother’s Nightie? This one seems to take a bit of a shift from the previous body of portraits in that you are starting to increase your scale, and include the majority of the figure. Because of this inclusion of her body, the ephemeral/feminine qualities of her garb, combined with her direct eye contact with the viewer, this work has a much more provocative quality, and for me is much more arresting and emotionally charged than the preceding portraits. What prompted this shift? PG: In Her Mother’s Nightie was an attempt to communicate more of my reasons for making the paintings than I had before. Though vulnerable, it was meant to be confrontational. Since I was showing more of her, I wanted her to be full size, less voyeuristic and easy to gaze upon. Originally it had a much more obvious message. She stood in a room, objects on a table, the wallpaper behind her told a story which related to the flowers in the lace of her nightie. As I painted it I decided it didn’t need it, that her expression and pose and the transparency of her dress said all that was necessary. So I sawed the sides off the panel and painted out the background. Where I really give the most away is in the title. Normally I don’t title, but this title implies that she has taken on something from her mother that has left her both attractive and vulnerable. JE: Again, you mentioned the importance of cropping, and I am excited to hear what you have to say on this. PG: The idea of cropping comes from the first portraits. Her environment and the circumstances around her were horrible, so I cropped them out to be able to separate her from them. This became the metaphor for removing the sitter from a situation, or influence, or circumstance. To see more of Peter’s work visit http://www.forumgallery.com/adetail.php?id=153




Barrickman Ben Miller Peter Barrickman, born 1971, is an artist currently working and residing in Milwaukee, WI. He earned a BFA from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and an MFA from Bard College, Annandale on Hudson. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including the Chicago Underground Film Festival, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Green Gallery, Milwaukee International Art Fair, Frieze Art Fair, the Dark Fair (in New York and the Swiss Institute), and Crisp London/Los Angeles.


Ben Miller: I recently viewed your new paintings at the Cedar Gallery, could you offer some introductory thoughts?

I have never seen the film The Blob but I am aware that its title refers to a wild, amorphous form that amalgamates all things in its path. My relation with Peter’s paintings is similar to the relation I imagine I would have with the Blob, the only difference being that Peter’s blob is of a friendly nature. The blob’s allure was at first that of gut reaction, and then, once engulfed in its gelatinous chamber, I was kept there by the new state of not knowing exactly where I was or how I was there or even what there was, but enjoying the act of being there nonetheless.

Peter Barrickman: The paintings you saw at the Cedar Gallery are part of an open series which are composed of graphite, paint, and paper glued onto canvas. On the surface I think that these pictures are movies. They’re talking about projected or otherwise contained or mediated light. I don’t think of them as stills from movies. Rather they’re movies that will only work as they are—on canvas. They remind me of film sets in a way. Those which are constructed as the perfected model of what ought to be ignored. At the same time these pictures are also made to be a kind of internal portraiture. Here, the subject or sitter is depicted from within their own head. If a person’s head is a room, then


of energy… lumps of something and no-thing their eyes would be windows. It’s a comical at the same time. This may be going out on interpretation, like Betty Boop’s guide to a limb, but do you have any familiarity with philosophy. To look out of their eyes you need quantum theory? Any fun with it? Any beef to go over to the window and look out. But with it? Do you relate it to your art at all? it’s not so easy. Standing in someone’s room like this we have to It’s a comical interpretation, PB: I often make look past their inner dialogue, their to-do like Betty Boop’s guide to strokes or blobs of paint out of paper lists, their phobias philosophy. and glue them onto a painting and fascinations... trying to keep the piece from forgetting that it’s to see what the world is doing through supposed to be a painting. A place where their eyes. In so much as our realities are the picture can deviate back into the basic composed of our ability to see beyond elements of stroke, blob and line. I’m not sold what is in our heads these portraits on any one way of painting. This refusal is in demonstrate a few channels of awareness. the work. Nothing is the whole truth. There are simultaneous and contradictory realities. The BM: Lunts, Under Village Hair, and Behind A.C., depict various objects, usually comprised piece is pitted against itself. That’s as close to quantum theory as I get with this work. of some indeterminable substance shapes filled with the squiggles of a pen or pencil, BM: Titles like Behind A.C. and Under Village gray orbs that emanate alien characteristics. I’ve recently been doing some rudimentary Hair suggest the unveiling of something reading on the basics of quantum theory. As hidden something behind this, something I understand it, this theory dictates that all under that. But if that which sits on the matter is energy that is potentially anything stage in each painting is that which is being until this energy is experienced through revealed, then it would appear that instead the nervous system and then consciously of the revealed object or scene offering some observed. I’ve been obsessing with this idea dissolution of the mystery, it only adds to it. for a while and could not help but think of your paintings’ strange objects as being lumps PB: The titles refer to these minute locations and the nearby conditions: One person is falling asleep, another has sloppy hair, one is giving a lecture. We’re always behind our individual faces. Those with beards are behind them, looking out under eyebrows. I noticed these pieces have the presence of a watcher or audience. They’re watching but without a face. In a sense we are all acting for a good portion of our Behind A.C. 2010


lives. Acting surprised, thankful, oblivious... I think these portraits are of such daily life actors. In theater there is a sense of being seen while being unable to see. It’s like the feeling of being under the hot lights before a darkened audience and forgetting what the dialogue is supposed to be. At that moment an actor remembers their grandmother’s hands, Thousand Island dressing, and a smell of gasoline before remembering what they’re supposed to be saying. BM: This sort of perpetually expanding occlusion mirrors a facet of the process of philosophical questioning. How the attempt to dispel or make sense of mystification can often lead to more mystification, and then, maybe, that leads to peaceful acceptance of life’s wonder. Or maybe it leads to mental arrest. I feel this idea resonating from the four pieces at the Cedar Gallery, but also in images I have seen of your other work. 27

Under Village Hair 2010

What kind of connection, if any, do you have with this supposition?

PB: Making an ambivalence is making room for someone who isn’t there, it’s an act of inviting. These pictures appear to be ignoring us a little bit while they still need us. Like a kid who just turned 13. They recognize us but push us away and so we scrutinize them. BM: In Lunts, a collection of orbs and a couple lumpy masses sit on and around a bench, seemingly beheld by the presence of misty, white fog that stands between them and a large window. It is easily apparent in your paintings that there are things interacting with each other and their environment. The mood or overtone of their interactions and relations is somewhat discernible, but, to me, it is not possible to determine what they are, what they are doing, or why they are doing it. This is something I thoroughly enjoy about them. Instead of trying to ‘get to the bottom of it’ I can more easily more carefreely immerse

Lunts 2010

myself in the piece, experience it, and almost be it. Is this a reaction you to seek inspire through your work? Why? Or, if opposed to it, why not? PB: Lunts refers to theater legends Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne who lived not far from Milwaukee, but that’s not important in looking at this piece. I agree, the what, who and why questions aren’t so important to me in this series. I’m looking for something more general. A fundamental and universal relationship between things. There’s no wrong way to read my work. I read it differently all of the time. I think people have a tendency to want to nail down a specific reading or objective. This is an ambition that I’m not working with. BM: In the paintings at the Cedar Gallery, your palette is generally black, white, and grey, with the occasional subtle twinge of a hue or shade whose hints of color may not be noticeable at first glance. This palette extricates from the pieces the kind of emotional associations that colors would bring to the table. Is this relative neutrality of tones chosen in order to avoid the specificity of a color’s connotation or mood? PB: These pieces all share a set of material rules. The black and white is familiar to us all and I decided to go that route with this series because of the connection to movies. Black and white normally means there is a technological limitation of some kind. My rule plays out through adopting this famous restraint and then contaminating it. These pieces almost succeed as black and white they’re in the ballpark of black and white. This was my rule. To make black and white

paintings using color at times...to get close is good enough. To bring into focus the idea of a ‘good enough.’ To drop the idea of Right and play Wrong a little. BM: Are there any artworks (fine arts, movies, music, or otherwise) or life experiences that really knocked your socks off? Any encounters with “The Twilight Zone”, so to speak? PB: I just watched The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner again. I recommend watching that one. It’s one of Werner Herzog’s earlier films about a ski flier. The man in that film has a remarkable relationship with a terrifying sport as judges and onlookers ask the impossible. This is a film that reminds me of skiing when I was a kid, how dangerous it can be, and how lonely danger is. I’m reading something by Svetlana Alpers called The Art of Describing. In this book the author divides the painters of the Italian Renaissance from the Dutch masters. She explores the work of the 17th century Dutch painters as developers of a significant visual culture. It’s a dense book and I write a lot of notes as I read it. I read about 10 pages at a time, but no more. It would be like eating too much fudge.

To see more of Peter’s work visit http://www.thegreengallery.biz/artists/peter


Profile for Tim Stoelting

Vantage Point  

A collection of artist interviews conducted by the class of 2010 at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design

Vantage Point  

A collection of artist interviews conducted by the class of 2010 at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design