“In the long run I’d like to see these paintings compiled to form an encyclopedia for artists to use as a reference book.”
Interview by: Stephen Feather
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Where did you study?
I grew up on a Christian commune in Colorado, where my parents ran a hand thrown pottery business. When the commune dissolved we moved to the San Ysidro, right along the US/Mexico border. San Ysidro is a predominately Mexican and Pilipino city, making me a minority, which has had a lasting effect on me. My older sister is a watercolor and oil painter and she taught me a lot of techniques, all the way through my first year of undergrad her help accelerated my understanding of art and mark making.
I received my bachelors at UCLA. It’s a school with amazing scholars in every field, so taking classes on linguistics, archeology, game theory, and religious studies, were more interesting than most of what I was learning in the art department. I was also living in a Co-op with about 500 grads and post docs so outside of class time, I did very little socializing with my artist peers.
In the 2000’s UCLA’s art school was in the spot light. From my point of view there was a lot of pressure on the grad’s from galleries that were looking to scoop up talent. Some of my undergrad peers were finding their careers forming while in school. It was a very valuable experience, but not very nurturing, and it turned me off. Shortly after graduation I moved to my grandparents’ farm in Colorado and spent several years there making art with almost no one to look at it. Towards the end of that period my work started to gel around the possibilities of still-life.
Eventually I made it to San Diego and stumbled into the UCSD’s graduate program. I was mentored by YBA artist, Anya Gallaccio and formed a close dialogue with art historian and peer, Melinda Guillen. Those friendships have been central to my maturing as an artist and figuring out how to position my own identity in relationship to the work I wanted to make.
What is the relationship between image and language in your work?
One of the main functions of the Love and Boredom series is to apply a control variable process to painting so that I can extract a vocabulary. Within a single painting, the gridded composition, raw fabric background, and repeated image are the controls while the gesture, thickness, color and background are the variables. Conversely, between paintings the range of gestures, thicknesses, colors, and backgrounds are the controls and the image is the variable. In both cases, as the variables change I’m always paying attention to mood, trying to be as sensitive as possible to what mood is engendered by a particular combination of mark, color, texture, image, and background.
In the long run I’d like to see these paintings compiled to form an encyclopedia for artists to use as a reference book. It would be a library of potential painting moves divorced from the narrative structures and historical contexts typically read into paintings. An encyclopedia isn’t something I was initially interested in, but rather is something I couldn’t get around as I struggled with how to create a narrative painting that would accurately communicate with a viewer. To put it differently, the struggle is to create a painting where I can predict the relationship the viewer will have to the work.
Every few months I make a painting with a single object and a single background which aims to employ what I’ve learned in the Love and Boredom paintings toward some specific end. These single paintings directly address subjects I think about most: self-image, fetishization, xenophobia, prejudice, and racial paranoia.
Several of your paintings show us repeated forms placed on shelves across the picture plane. To what extent are you presenting the deconstruction or evolution of form, meaning and representation?
If my paintings have a personal stake in evolution or time, it’s in proposing that things rarely change and when they do, it’s non-linear. The grid/shelf decentralizes the subject, the paintings refuse the authority that comes with having a central protagonist. I like this because it puts pressure back onto the viewer to form a hierarchy or evolution out of what they’re seeing.
Most of the variation in style comes from where my attention is placed. It’s about looking, Ways of Seeing[i], Looking at the Overlooked[ii], the variation in a subjects representation doesn’t come from something that has changed about it, but rather from something that has changed in me. An object looks different depending on whether I’m focusing on its surface, silhouette, scale, mass, temperament, and this ties back into prejudice, paranoia, and even love. Things look different and we form different relationships to them primarily based on what our perspective is. The titles Love and Boredom, and Utility and Apathy, point to the shifting and conflicting attitudes I have toward the objects in the paintings and the paintings themselves.
Your paintings embrace both a physical exploration of paint and a conceptual investigation of subject matter. How do you balance both activities in creating a final piece?
I favor this gridded and repetitive format because it gives me the room to do both. The paintings can take a lot of abuse; so long as there are one or two representations of the subject that are close to a signifier that the viewer is familiar with (a duck-looking duck, a banana-looking banana), the game of representation suddenly inverts and there is endless room for distortion and alienation. Typically, in representation, we strive to get close enough to saying the thing without being didactic or obvious. But if I paint a bland duck-looking duck in one portion of the painting, it becomes painfully boring to paint or look at a duck-looking duck a second time. I am launched into this fight over and over again to find some new way to see and say “duck!” To win the fight and keep the painting interesting, I have to push the physical qualities of paint and stretch the conceptual framework of the signifier.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
All year I’ve been thinking about Patrick Staff’s video Weed Killer, it showed last year at MOCA Grand. The visuals were made with high definition thermal imaging, which made it one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, but the video was of a person describing their body being destroyed by chemo therapy. At the same time MOCA Geffen was screening Arthur Jafa’s Love is the Message, the Message is Death. Another unforgettable work. I suppose they resonate because they have that toxic-seductive push-pull that I always love in art and am after in my own work. And then, most recently, an amazing grouping of video works by Dan Finsel, Trulee Hall, Chris Peters, and Kaari Upson, at Michael Benevento Gallery.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
I live in a large open studio with a bed in the middle, so I go to bed and wake up with my paintings. I like it and have done that since I was 18. The studio has 2 working walls with 3-4 paintings that I’m working on over a given period, the other walls are plastered with previous works that I’m looking at in reference. There are so many styles I’ve attempted that it helps to have past paintings up, I look at them to remember strange possibilities that should be followed up on or dead ends that I should avoid.
I spend most of my time looking at the work trying to strategize what is next and then painting happens in short bursts. Different painting styles require different moods so I tend to wait around for the right high or low in my day or substance routine to execute certain portions of a painting. It can get campy, like role playing, and a bit tiring the way I imagine acting would be tiring.
There are two major ongoing series of work and several smaller series that I expect to be major in a few years, so I rotate every few months between the groupings. The emotional cycle of making a painting within a given series is relatively consistent, so after making 2-4 of the same series I’m bored with the ups and downs. I switch to another series so that I can have a different emotional cycle. It keeps me working at a good pace and also keeps me nervous. When I get too comfortable with a way of making, I start to make a lot of automatic and insensitive decisions, and the paintings can suffer.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I’ve been working on a new series of Utility and Apathy paintings for a project with François Ghebaly Gallery, a book of drawings to go with poems by Spencer de Gauthier, and Spencer and I are planning a restaurant church called Last Supper. But right now I’m most excited to be making my first historical tableau painting. It’s something I’ve aspired to since I was a young artist but only recently landed on a subject worth painting in large scale. It pulls moves from James Ensor’s Christ Entering Brussels and Manet’s Olympia, but it’s unique and hopefully a timely painting.
[i] Ways of Seeing, John Berger, 1972
[ii] Looking at the Overlooked, Normal Bryson, 1990
Publish date: 02/10/2018
All Images are courtesy of the artist