No real intro this time. You all have plenty to read as it is. Anything I could possibly say now, would just be said by him already into the 11th dimension (down there). Adam Scott, fucking megalon painter from Kavi Gupta's (Chicago) already very handsome roster. Go see one in person and then make your uncle (or whoever buy it). Ok. Go!
Adam tell us a little bit about your work, for those who have neither seen nor heard of it.
For the past 7 years I have been pouring heavy amounts of liquid acrylic paint onto super-cranked / tight canvases. On the surface, the work uses representational pictorial languages. Below the surface, the DNA code is made up of process based non-objective painting languages. The content of the work is totally immersed in American vernacular visual culture and hyper reified modern / contemporary art visual culture. The ridiculous and the sublime play equally important roles in my work. There is also a generous helping of good ol' American fear & paranoia.
So you started out in California doing your BFA, and then came to SAIC. What kind of work did you start out doing? How did it come to this? Or were you making gigantic awesome paintings from the get go? How did you fall in with Kavi's space?
The art department at Long Beach State was quite conservative. When I started the curriculum was almost exclusively centered around figure painting, drawing, and sculpture. There was really no escape. When you are a freshman in an art department and all of the work produced by the older students has a super technical proficiency you naturally are drawn to it. I saw a big painting of a mustard bottle and a shoe in one of the display cases...I thought that that was the shit!!! All I wanted to do was reproduce that ... But you couldn't just paint it like you felt it; you had to paint it like Manet, or Sergeant, or Freud . . .the instructors were really dogmatic that way. It was really tough and pretty discouraging at times. But, as always the younger part-time faculty, were cool and would turn you on to what was happening in the Los Angeles underground art scene. This one faculty member named Michael Miller showed me that there are no rules and everything is permitted!!!! When I received that important piece of the puzzle I totally went off! It was as if I got plugged into giant electrical transformer. The rush of ideas was OVERWHELMING to say the least. From then on, everything I laid my eyes on became potential art objects. Soil, trash-cans, hang gliders, feathers, matches, found cassette tapes, eucalyptus leaves, spray string foam, snake skin hats etc . . .
Between experiments on the effects of LSD on my brainwaves, I would spend time in the school library devouring every book in the fairly limited and crusty art section. The art books stopped being current at about 1985. It was that they had a really deep section of texts dedicated to conceptual-dematerialized practices and minimalism / post-minimalism. I was on a steady diet of visual art from 1965 - 1975. I really loved it. I had really no conception of how outdated that stuff was. Now, it has all come back around. (i.e. the Whitney Biennial). Those books make the artists and the work from that period look so cool. Everything is photographed in black and white, totally drained of seductive aesthetics, super tough, smart, take no prisoners attitude.
I got my BFA in Painting & Drawing from CSULB, but I had not made a painting in 3 years. I was making big installations, like, 1000 blue-tip matches layered with dried up leaves surrounded by fucked up boom-boxes playing the Greenwich mean time signal. Total cluster-fuck aesthetics!!! I had also just seen the Helter Skelter Show at the Geffen Contemporary (MOCA), which really fucked me up in the best way!!!! The Helter Skelter show had the work of Raymond Pettibon, Mike Kelly, Lynn Foulkes, Lari Pittman, Victor Estrada, Chris Burden, Manuel Ocampo, Liz Larner, Meg Cranston, and Nancy Rubens. The work was visceral, dangerous to the social order, smart, scary, hilarious, pathetic, and muscular. In fact the Helter Skelter show was an actual turning point in my life. I learned how to be an artist from that show. I learned how to get my attitude together. The timing for me was perfect.
After graduating with an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I started a DIY space with other recent graduates Danielle Gustafson Sundell, Carrie Gundersdorf, and Andy Moore called Deluxe Projects. We ran it for three years (2000-2003) and did only solo shows. Most DIY spaces do group shows. It makes sense, because the spaces are usually run by 4-7 artists. The M/O for most DIY spaces is to get your own work out there by any means necessary. We did that for our first show, but after that we thought that it was lazy to keep showing our own work. So, we decided to start showing other peoples work. One of the cool things about art school is that you meet all of these intense and awesome artists. We realized that Chicago was this really artistically fertile place. So we just started talking to people that we all graduated with and pretty soon were doing studio visits and then chose our first show!!! I learned as much about art making running a collaborative space as I did in grad school.
My own studio practice was very private after grad school. I really was really trashed-out on critiques. They were really great and brutal at SAIC, but I really did not want any more unsolicited feed back for a while. So, I got a cheap studio in a fucked up warehouse in Pilsen (between Chinatown and Little Village, Chicago's Latino community) and started making paintings again. I had fucked with various deconstructive modalities of late modernist and post-modern painting and sculptural languages in grad school, but it was really experimental, disposable, and not focused. Getting out of grad school was totally liberating!!!! I made money by hustling teaching gigs at community colleges in and around the "Chicagoland" area. I still teach to this day. For me, it's the best job ever. I really love it. It's not like work at all. I teach at SAIC.
While I was being a monk in my studio trying to figure out what I am about, I started making trips to various thrift-stores, junk stores, and antique malls around Chicago. I went with my wife, Julie Whaley (fellow Californian), to most of these because she is a fashion designer and is the absolute queen-bee of thrift style!!!! I started to become interested in the massive piles of old and shredded up postcards. The images on these cards were typically oblique, blank, and colorful. The grass is always too green and the sky is always way too blue. Most of them dated from around 1950 to 1970. I was fascinated by the way these postcards claimed to represent specific places . . . a Holiday Inn, an IHOP parking lot, a men's shoe store, the Kellogg's plant in Kalamazoo, the Grand Canyon. The postcards served simultaneously as souvenirs and portable monuments. I saw these postcards as extensions of American landscape painting and American photo/cinematic traditions. Postcards create mini narratives that re-thematize our perception of our collective identities. So, I started to appropriate the postcard imagery. To me, they seemed like finished paintings on their own. I started to cut up and re-collage different postcards together and use those as templates for paintings. I realized that the American landscape is really a constructed space. I started to construct fake landscapes made up of impossible elements from the recent history of American pop-visual culture.
Kavi Gupta opened his space, then called Vedanta, in 1997. As word of mouth spread about Deluxe Projects, Kavi, Julia Fischbach, and Kristen VanDeventer started showing up to our openings, which included our small gallery space (300 square feet), a hallway, and a couple of tubs of iced beer (one dollar donation, please!). Kavi had a space in one of his summer group shows and asked for one of my paintings. It was a painting of the Oklahoma City Federal building at the moment of its destruction. I then got a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It was the first year of the 12x12 show cycle. Since then, I have been represented by Kavi Gupta Gallery.
What influences your work? There is an obvious cartoon presence, but what else. I usually find an artist has some generally unseen inspirations in there work, to the public anyway. Where do the censorship elements in some of your work come from (like in Lay Down, Lay Down and Wait (like an animal)?
When I was 10 years old my parents took me to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and I saw a bunch of Ed Kienholz sculptures there. His work left an indelible mark on my mind. When you are 10, it's hard to process the often-complex cultural data that visual art can deliver. Somehow I did internalize the information, but it was for later use. Back Seat Dodge '38 stuck out to me the most. The sculpture consists of the shell of a 38 Dodge covered with a blue velvet, as if it was flocked with it. The side door is open to reveal two figures engaged in heavy back seat action. The woman is a plaster figure and the man is made out of chicken wire. Beer cans are strewn around the floor of the car and on the ground outside the passenger door. It is hard to tell if the act was consensual or forced. The car radio is continually crackling with weird-old music like Glenn Miller or something . . . very creepy. I remember thinking to myself that somebody made this object. In a very direct way, it made complete sense to me. The sound of the radio, the visuals, even the smell of the gallery, and the sound of people's footsteps reverberating off of the wood floors. I had a radical sense of belonging and I felt very calm.
Overall, I am very influenced by growing up in Los Angeles, Venice, and Santa Monica specifically. Los Angeles is equal parts visual seduction / pleasure and profound alienation. To get a better idea of what I mean read Mike Davis' City Of Quartz and Ecology Of Fear. Growing up in the belly of media culture is pretty intense. The visual perception of America has been, and to a great extent still is, produced by Hollywood. That's where I intuitively learned the idea of the visual hook. The mix of Hollywood glitz, Skid-Row, The Bloods, The Crips, Lowriders, Scientology, and Disneyland's fake wholesomeness is all pretty weird.
In junior high, I discovered the underground music scene of Los Angeles. Black Flag, The Minutemen, Germs, X, Circle Jerks, Fear, Suicidal Tendencies, 45 Grave, Tex And The Horseheads, The Gun Club, The Mentors, The Mau Maus, The Berlin Brats, the Decedents, Aggression, Ill Repute, Rich Kids on LSD (that's more Nardcore or Oxnard to the uninitiated), Dr. Know, DRI (the first two albums) etc . . . the album art and flyer art of the punk subculture was the first ART that I felt was mine!!! I plastered my room with flyers like punk-rock wallpaper and started a band. The visual culture of the punk movement was high velocity, raw, brazen, disposable, and manic. The images these bands used were culled from literally any open source. I equate the visual tactics of punk to a non-ideological cultural butchery where no image was safe form the Exacto knife and the Xerox machine. In many ways, the punk aesthetic continues to inform the subatomic machinery of my own visual art production. The L.A. punk scene was my first art school.
Another influence on my work was the sense of impending catastrophe and cataclysm that was cemented in my mind by living through the Los Angeles Rodney King riots / uprising in the early 1990's and the devastating fires, mudslides, and earthquakes that are indigenous to the southern California landscape. . Armageddon in the noonday sun. Pop noir.
The cartoon look really came from the flat blocks of color I was using. I was actually trying to replicate the offset litho post card look. During my first solo show with Kavi Gupta Gallery, someone commented that the space in my work looks cartoon-like. After the show, I started to research American post-war animation. Obviously I had grown up watching Popeye, Tom & Jerry, Bugs, Daffy, Yosemite Sam etc . . . as most children of the 1970's and 1980's did.
I started to butcher up the different characters and sample them in my paintings. I also started to look at very politically incorrect animation of the post war period. Most of these now "banned" cartoons were used for propaganda purposes. Like Walt Disney's Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi. This animation chronicles the story of Hans, a boy indoctrinated into the Nazi belief system. One of the most wrong animations I have ever seen. I also started to re-examine the animations of Ralph Bakshi. Films like Fritz The Cat, Heavy Traffic, Wizards . . . etc. The pixelization or the black-bar-blocking of the faces and genitatila of the various figurative elements in my work has to do with pictorial violence, witness protections programs, anonymity, and modernist abstraction.
So you just finished up a solo show @ Kavi Gupta's Leipzig space. This isn't the first time you have showed in Germany. How is your work responded to in Europe as opposed to the states?
My work gets a very interesting response in Germany. Other than Leipzig, I've shown in Berlin and Frankfurt. I've also shown in Oslo at the GAD, and in the Prague Biennale. I really love showing in Europe. People in the art scene are less interested in HOW you got the show and more interested in what your work is about. Here in the USA, we live in a more cutthroat and desperate way when it comes to navigating the gallery scene.
The European interest in my work has to do with its content. Every since 9/11 the world has been wondering what the fuck are we doing? There is both an exaggerated interest in our culture and a huge amount of skepticism about our role in the world. The content of my work deals directly with the visual residue of our "Americaness".
The show I just wrapped up at Kavi's new space in Leipzig was really interesting. I was showing in the belly of the Leipzig scene. My work looks very different from the work that permeates Leipzig. The opening was packed and I had a bunch of great critical conversations with other artists, gallerists, and collectors. Germans do not fuck around when it comes to supporting the visual arts.
For the Paint By Numbers show you pretty much made a variation of the exact same image ten times, this is unlike you past exhibitions. What made you decide to do this?
Recently, I have been making a lot of work to be shown at art fairs around the world, which can get weird and disembodied very fast. Art fairs require single pieces and I really wanted to make an entire trajectory... The Paint By Numbers show was for the DoArt gallery in Seoul, Korea. I wanted to experiment and take a risk. I never thought I would be showing my art halfway around the world. It was such a crazy idea that the only route to go was equally strange. I wanted to make a hybrid of my decidedly horizontal western landscape ideas and the more vertical compositions that come out of the Korean/Eastern traditions.
The show also had to do with repetition as pictorial violence and alienation. The title "Paint By Numbers" comes from a review of a past show of mine that said my work looks like "paint by numbers on steroids". I really loved that comment. I happen to be a fan of the paint by number phenomenon. It is a dirty pleasure of mine. It is so quintessentially American, flattened out, and democratic in the worst way!!! I was also thinking about "Waiting for Godot" and Becket's leanness.
The Paint by Numbers series was a way to put my practice under a brutal regimen. It's really monotonous to paint the same work over and over again. It was mentally and physically exhausting. What is really weird was that when I finished the 10 paintings, Cho Seung-hui shot up his classmates at Virginia State. I thought the cultural folding and imagery of that incident and my series of gun toting chopped up critters were strange and kind of morbidly perfect.
I actually had never seen one of your paintings in person until the NEXT fair. (The big train one, what is the title for that?) There is a lot of surface activity that gets lost in the internet/in person translation. How do you pour/ or manipulate paint on such a massive scale?
I started pouring my paintings in 2001. After Gerhard Richter, I had no idea how to use a brush anymore. I felt that any brush mark was too referential for me. Plus, I'm really not a painter's painter. I'm more interested in Art. Techniques come out of necessity. I wanted to make blank, flat, gooey, thick, and colorful images. I wanted the surfaces to be homogenous. I want the viewer to try to figure how the work came into being.
I've always been interested in both ideas and processes. I am about thinking and playing. My journey as an artist has been about reconciling seemingly opposed actions. I spend months researching and making digital collages and studies on my computer. When I get into the studio, I just want to act in the moment/play in the mud. For example, the piece you saw at the NEXT show titled "Painting", had a 6-month research trajectory. The actual creation of the material object did not take nearly as long. I love the idea of representational imagery bubbling up out of a giant ocean of raw liquid plastic.
How do I manipulate the paint? I'm going to keep that secret. Mysteries are good for art.
Why are all you paintings really big?
I really don't think they are that big at all. I've only done two paintings that I consider big. The first would be the painting I made for my 12X12 show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2002 and the work I just made for the Next Art Fair. Those were both about 70" x 180".
My usual measurements are 70" x 76" or 60" x 66 (a more satanic measurement) or 30" x 36". The 70" x 76" proportion is the measurement of my body with my arms and legs stretched out. I view art scale in direct relation to human body scale. When a work is smaller than you it says one thing, if the work is as big as you it says another, and if the work is bigger than you an entirely new content unfolds.
Do you have a favorite painting of yours? One that everytime you think about, you say, "Damn! I'm awesome".
I don't have a favorite painting. I tend not to think about best works or about how awesome I am. That can be a very slippery slope. All I want of my work is to effectively perform the material and conceptual tasks I set out for them. Actually, I think my new music project is pretty kick-ass!!!
What things do you love to do in Chicago? Like if some San Fransisco nerd was here and asked you what they should do for a weekend, you would tell them?
Eat at AVEC or Cafe Lula. After that, check out a live show at the new Bottom Lounge or the Empty Bottle or Mr. City (DIY noise/psychedelic) or the Lucky Gator Loft (DIY punk rock). Wake up the next day and go vinyl shopping at Permanent Records. Jam it on over to the West Loop to check out the galleries (go to Kavi Gupta Gallery first), have a snack Bari Foods (take a sandwich to go for the Airplane), then get your butt on the Blue-Line to O'Hare or the Orange-Line to Midway airport and cruise on back to SFO or OAK!! Do nerds exist in San Francisco?!?!?
What do you have in stock for the future?
My wife, my sister and I just bought a beat up Victorian mansion to share in Wicker Park. Its right across form a state lockdown mental institution, quite charming and rustic in a Stanley Kubrick kind of way. We've been rehabbing it for 3 years and are about to finally move into it in August! I'll have my first in-house studio. We're stoked!
Name drop list!
Barack Obama (Props to Chicago!!!), Ed Ruscha, The Pets (Oakland!!!), Down at LULU'S (Oakland!!), Wowsville Records (Berlin), Julie Whaley and Dawn Reed's designed objects for the body (watch for them, buy them, freak on them), Let It Bleed (Berlin), The King Khan and BBQ Show (Berlin / Montreal / the World), Monsieur Vuongs (Berlin Vietnamese food) The Birds Of Avalon (Raleigh, NC), Aquarius Records (Mission District!!!), Cellar Rat (Chicago), www.victimoftime.com (Chicago/ Planet Earth), Wr. Mysteries of the Organism, & Sweet Movie (Dusan Makavejev), Holly Mountain (the Film by Alexandro Jodorowsky), The Wooden Shijps (San Francisco), Dexter (Showtime), Mourning the loss of the Wire (HBO), My new garage/punk/psych band (no name yet), The GO (Detroit), Human Eye (Detroit), The Dhaba Indian Restaurant (Santa Monica, CA!), Mr. City (Chicago), Lucky Gator Loft (Chicago), Wide Eyed (by Trini Dalton), Little House On The Bowery (Douglas Cooper), Palazzo Grassi (Venice, Italy). Dr Brian O'Blivion's Cathode Ray Mission (Videodrome)
Invent something right now, what is it?
I recently had a dream about a giant sunflower plant that also grew marijuana buds. You could get high and then munch on the seeds. Sunflower Weeds.
Any good (possibly controversial to internet kids) advice you have been given or could give to us folks?
Death to Videodrome! Long live the new flesh!!!!!
All these fine images, my ability to talk this guy and maybe some others things...
Courtesy Kavi Gupta, Chicago/Leipzig
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