Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Interview with Joshua Abelow
Joshua Abelow is a great artist and an asset to New York City. His show just opened at James Fuentes LLC, 55 Delancey Street, and is on view until February 13th. Really, really, really, go see it. Its a very important show for right now and Josh is an amazing guy. I got the opportunity to ask him a few questions about this current body of work. More info here: www.jamesfuentes.com
1) Josh, I was just checking out the images from the show online and chuckling out loud to myself. It's super refreshing for me to have that reaction to a piece of art. Is this a reaction that you're going for or does it even cross your mind when you're working?
I've been pushing the work in an intentionally absurd direction. I love when people laugh, crack a smile or even feel a kind of guilty pleasure.
2) Despite the obvious, what was the thought process, if any, behind the tile of the show, Oh! Abelow?
The exhibition takes its title from a drawing I made last year called "OH! ABELOW." I think it has a nice ring to it. Sounds sexy, you know...
3)What was the impetus/ starting point for this body of work? Did you intend to show all of this together when you started or did things just turn out that way?
I'm in the studio making work whether I have a show lined up or not. I never know exactly what is going to happen, but I've learned to trust my instincts. When James asked me to do the show he told me he thought it would be good to bring everything over and see what works in the space. I liked that kind of openness. I knew I wanted to show drawings and paintings together, but we didn't know exactly which ones.
4) In your mind is there a clear relationship between the paintings and the drawings or do you see them as separate bodies of work? Is drawing an integral part of your studio practice? Do you do these every day?
The paintings and the drawings are absolutely connected and I think my work is best understood when they are exhibited together. They poke, prod, and undermine each other in interesting ways. I don't draw or paint every day, but when I go to the studio I usually do both. Making a drawing sharpens up my mind and gives me clarity. Clarity is everything, because it's so easy to make a big mess of everything - in the studio and out of it.
5) In the drawings, do you ever erase? Or is it first line/ best line?
I never erase. It's all or nothing. Some days the drawings are good and other days I toss out ten sheets of paper just to make one good drawing. A lot of it depends on how I feel when I get to the studio - like if I've had enough sleep the night before or whatever. The best drawings usually happen when I have a very specific idea in my mind and it's just a matter of getting it down on paper.
6) I'm a huge fan of the drawings. They're so crude but so innocent and non offensive at the same time, and they come off as completely sincere all around. They sort of paint the artist as this innocent horny expressive elf who's not trying to hurt anyone. Do you see your self in these drawings as sort of an "every artist" or is more of a character you're projecting?
I was beginning to think I was an egotistical, self-absorbed asshole. I decided to make the drawings as a way to exorcise all this negativity out of me. It has been very liberating. And since there are so many assholes in the world, there are a lot of people who can relate to the subject matter.
7) Could you give a brief history of where you're coming from i.e the years leading up to this show? Where was most of this wok made? I know you've sort of been all over the place- so how did you get to where you are now with your work, your location, and your mindset?
Sure. Well, let's see...I graduated from RISD in 1998. Then I moved to New York. I was fortunate to get a job working for Ross Bleckner, back when he lived in Tribeca. I assisted Ross for seven years. It was an education as valuable or more valuable than any degree. Anyway, in 2006, I decided to leave New York to obtain my MFA from Cranbrook, which is outside Detroit. I wanted to have a completely new type of experience, one that was totally different than my New York years. That turned out to be a very good decision, because I was suddenly in a situation where I could not only focus on my own work every single day, but was encouraged to do so. And, besides, there was nothing else to do! I graduated in 2008 and spent half the summer painting in Pontiac, Michigan. Then I drove across the country with my friend, Lucila. The highlight of that trip was visiting Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty in Utah. We were both in awe of the jetty and the landscape and how they seemed to bleed right into each other. It was very beautiful and inspiring. After two months in California, Lucila and I packed up our bags and went to Berlin together. Just in time for the bleakest winter of my life. I spent a lot of time reading Henry Miller novels in the bathtub. Nine months passed. Then I did a six-week residency at The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. After that, I moved back to my hometown outside Baltimore, Maryland. I spent the end of 2009 and most of 2010 in Maryland. That time was productive for me in the studio. My drawings starting getting stranger and more perverse (I think this had something to do with me channeling my teenage self) and my color became more complex. More than half my show at James Fuentes LLC was made at my mom's house last year.
8) Are you psyched to be back in New York?
Yes - I'm off to a great start! Returning to a place where you've put in so much time feels really good. I'm reconnecting with many friends and colleagues (and their children!). I think the art scene is more interesting than it was five years ago - I like what's happening with the LES. Of course, there's still a lot of crap, but I guess that goes without saying. In general, I feel more of a communal vibe here now amongst artists and I like that. My blog has been a wonderful tool for me to connect with many artists.
9)Can you describe the process behind the paintings? Do you do one at a time or a lot at once? I know a few years ago your paintings were larger, how did you arrive at the small scale of this work?
I work on many paintings at the same time. Each painting is an extension of a piece that came before it and a guide to the piece that will come next. I have notebooks filled with notes on color that are the result of many intuitive based experiments. I use these notes to make all my paintings. They tell me which colors to use and how to apply the paint. I'm very specific about everything. Lately, I've been using the palette knife a lot. I used to make large paintings, but making big paintings just started to feel like a chore or an ego trip, so I decided to shift gears. I know this is a generalization, but big painting feels out of date to me.
10) Whats a typical day in the studio for you? Where is it, etc?
My current studio is in a basement on Grand St. in WIlliamsburg near the water. I've been in this space for almost four months. It's okay. A little depressing, but for some reason I'm attracted to basements. My routine revolves around painting and waiting for paint to dry. I probably spend more time pacing the studio waiting for paint to dry than I do painting. My paintings are made over a period of several weeks and/or months while my drawings are made quickly in one sitting. I often make drawings when there's nothing else to do. Or I stretch canvases. I stretched about 100 small canvases before I moved back to New York, so thankfully I haven't had to do that lately. ART BLOG ART BLOG also occupies my time and gives me something to do while I wait for paint to dry. I've been reading a lot -- Richard Brautigan is such a great writer.
11) Do you drink or do drugs in the studio ever? While you're working?
No, I never do that. Specificity and clarity are very important to my work so I don't mix recreational activities with my working practice. I did write a poem when I was very stoned once...It wasn't too bad.
12) Can you name some artists working today that you love or that you think your work has a relationship to? Are there any friends of yours you'd like give a shout out too right now? Any artists you think we should definitely be checking out and watching out for right now?
Oh gosh, you know that's a tricky question because I don't want people getting mad at me for mentioning or not-mentioning particular people. But, ok, let's see...I'm a big fan of my friend, Jeffrey Scott Mathews. My sister, Tisch Abelow. Mark Grotjahn. Noam Rappoport. Ella Kruglyanskaya. I think Jordan Wolfson is very interesting and one to watch. I saw a great show at PS1 the other day --Laurel Nakadate. There are many others, but I don't feel like playing the name game. Seems like artists come and go so quickly that giving any young artist TOO much thought would be a mistake.
13)Is there an artist in history you'd say was a huge influence on you? Do you feel any connection to Blinky Palermo with these paintings or do you think about his work much?
Francis Picabia - I think about him all the time - especially the late work. Sigmar Polke. R Crumb. Alice Neel. Yes, I love Blinky. I love that he just took somebody else's name and ran with it. He understood the power of a name. I love Charles Bukowski - he helped me get through a lonely time in my life.
14) What, if any, is the over arching feeling or vibe you'd like people to come away from your show with?
15) Any last words buddy?
I have an upcoming group show in Baltimore at Nudashank with some great young artists. Please check out the Nudashank website for more information: http://www.nudashank.com
Would love to see all of you there! Oh, and I'm looking forward to visiting your studio, Ryan. Talk soon. --JA
THANKS YOUR SHOW LOOKS FUCKIN AWESOME!