"I try to spend some time every morning in quiet reflection and there for a while, upon awakening, I would write down the first words that came to mind. These fragmented sentences, word combinations and bits of poetry became the basis for a large body of my visual work."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practising artist and where did you study?
Never in my life have I taken the conventional path and my practice as an artist is no different. I started calling myself an artist as a teenager focusing more on lifestyle rather than output. I loved making things but I lacked focus and work ethic was a completely foreign concept to me. I don’t think I realised the amount of work/practice involved in being an artist until I was in my mid to late twenties. Around then, after some major life changes and changes in lifestyle, I found a passion for creation and the work that it took to be active as an artist.
At that time, I had been living well below the poverty level for many years working low-paying jobs in order to support myself and my art. It was time for a change, so I decided to go back to school. After so many years of financial struggles, I knew I wanted to get a degree that would make me marketable in a creative field. I had been making a lot of zines at that point of photography, poetry, and collage mostly by hand but also doing layouts using a bootlegged version of QuarkXpress. I had an abstract understanding that graphic design had something to do with layouts and that is how I chose the degree I would seek. As luck would have it I chose a school based on its mountainous location and temperate climate but there I would meet the two most influential mentors to my creative practice in Tricia Treacy and Clifton Meador.
Both are interdisciplinary artists that have extensive backgrounds in artists’ books and print. Working with them I was able to develop new techniques for combining the different disciplines and mediums that I was passionately pursuing. I am currently in the last few months of my graphic design program at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. Beyond my studies in graphic design, I work as a graphic designer for a local contemporary arts centre and I run a small-press publishing house of artists’ books and zines, all of which has had a strong impact on my work as a painter and maker. As I began to learn more about different software and digital technologies, I was even more motivated to make by hand when possible. I started to paint every day to give myself a break from the hours I was spending on screen. This daily practice became more and more of a ritual where now it is almost second nature for me to walk home on my lunch break and paint. I am constantly working to push myself as an artist and I believe my prolificness stems from the feeling that I spent so many years not being productive that I have time to make up for now. Each day I get to make something and push my craft I become more grateful for all the days in my early adulthood that I didn't create, for those days “wasted” are what drives my passion today.
Your paintings often include text, could you tell us about your paintings and the use of text in your work?
Literature and meditation play big roles in my work as a painter. I spent much of my early adulthood in a frenzy of scattered thoughts and evaporated ideas. I was a late bloomer when it came to focus and it was something I had to consciously learn through meditation. I try to spend some time every morning in quiet reflection and there for a while, upon awakening, I would write down the first words that came to mind. These fragmented sentences, word combinations and bits of poetry became the basis for a large body of my visual work. I find that for myself when I look too much to other painters for inspiration their techniques, colour palettes, and line work gets in my blood and I lose some of my ingenuity. Yet, when I have the chance to be immersed in the written word, the mood, tone or even ideas get in my blood giving me the challenge of giving it a visual form. Also, in my work as a graphic designer, I have become much more comfortable with using text in my creative practices. Painting has, over the years, become my way of shedding the demands of the occupational side of my life, yet the more I work in each discipline the more the lines blur. For a while, I was using the vinyl cutter that I use for exhibition design to bring text in my work but over the past several months I have been doing a research project on hand-painted signs you find at flea market signs and I have moved back towards hand-lettering in my paintings. Either way, it is unusual for me to feel a painting is complete without a bit of text. Most commonly these bits of text come from my daily writing or the thoughts I am working through in my head as I paint.
You also create books, with sketches or "Zap Paintings" as you’ve called it, as well as photography and poetry. Could you tell us about these books and how they relate to your paintings?
I believe in doing my best to stay in a constant state of creation. I try to do a list of activities daily in order to keep my mind fresh and limber. These activities include read, draw, paint, take at least one photograph and write something down. I don’t get to everything each but most days are pretty productive. I don't consider a lot of this work to be substantial enough to stand alone so I collect, compile and every so often I organise them into books or zines basically working as an artefact of the process. So much of my work is process based so each aspect of the process influences the other. Pieces of the books make it into the paintings and then the paintings work their way into the books. Recently I embarked on cleaning out my archive of test prints and make ready from all the books and zines I have published. I printed over these pages, collaged and layered them with drawings until I felt they were sufficiently altered and then I trimmed them down and bound them into a volume of books entitled “A Stack of Papers”.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
I live in my studio and it shows. One of the reasons I love the small mountain town I live is in that it affords me the opportunity to have a lot of space. I have a studio in my house which is important to me because I am constantly working on many different projects and pieces. I also have my print shop for my publishing practices set up in the basement so each day it is not uncommon to see running up and down stairs risographing prints to use in paintings or carrying a painting down to the print shop to screen print directly onto it. My studio is a mess, I would like to say that it is controlled chaos but honestly, it is not. I have to purge every so often because I acquire so much material and items of inspiration that I am only able to get the items closest to hand. I am a collector through and through and that goes for everything from t-shirts, the vintage paper I use for drawings, magazines, canvases, tchotchkes, and music, but more than anything my studio is full of all kinds of books. Stacks and stacks of books that I have collected over the years ranging from pulp to fine artists’ books. It is exciting for me to reach a point of confusion in my process of creating and pause to dig out a book that I may not even remember buying. Generally speaking, though I wake up every morning and unless I have to be at work right away I try to make a mark or write a thought down. The best days are when I am able to spend my entire day between studio and print shop.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
In person, I saw the Seth Price retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum and was blown away. His use of materials and technology coupled with the recycling of common motifs and/or everyday forms bring everything I love about the Surrealists and Dada into the twenty-first century for me. He is also steeped in the artists’ book tradition which was my gateway into his work and I found it fascinating to see those books in the context of the rest of his work and its trajectory. I also have been fortunate enough to see two William Eggleston exhibitions in the past year. They were my first two encounters with Eggleston outside of books and the internet. Seeing his use of colour in person has had a dramatic influence on my colour use in all of my creative practices. I tend to be very bold with colour but after studying Eggleston’s photographs I have seen a distinct change in my work, I feel that I have become more confident in using bold colours in a loose way while still refining the work as a whole by paying much closer attention to balance. Also, in reference to my own photographic practices, since seeing the exhibition I have had to start a new folder in my archive labelled “Post-Eggleston”. I had several dozen rolls developed a couple months ago and I almost didn't think they were mine because my photographic eye had progressed so much after seeing Eggleston’s work. There are so much more, I am constantly visiting museums and galleries but two others that were very important to me were a Sigmar Polke print retrospective and a Daisuke Yokoto exhibition.
How do you go about naming your work?
Naming my work is the easiest part after I have struggled with a piece for a while and have built a relationship with it, I tend to call it as I see it. For example, the aforementioned book project that started from stacks of archived test prints was entitled “A Stack of Papers”. Other projects get titles from the words that are found in the piece or they don titles from books I am reading or lyrics that get stuck in my head. I generally like naming my pieces either very simple names or nonsensical names that still leave room for the viewer to interpret their own meaning.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
As I have been working through this interview I have also been intensively preparing for Printed Matter’s 2017 New York Art Book Fair. After years of following book fairs, I finally decided to submit an application for my publishing house, U.D.L.I. Editions. We were accepted and in a few short days, Sept. 21-24, I will be releasing 9 new personal zines and artists’ books as well as several more titles from artists friends in my network. Heads Magazine #3 and #4 will also be released at the book fair. Heads Magazine is a collaborative community project that I curate, design and publish with a couple collaborators that acts as an exhibition platform for artists from around the world in addition to artists from my local community.
All images courtesy of the artist
Publish date: 28/09/2017