This exhibition present's the final instalment of my “Destroyer Cycle” series, which I began in 2014. These large-scale charcoal drawings consider freedom of speech, protest, as well as American power and violence. This series was born out of my frustration with the state of this country, but ultimately the work conveys a sense of hopefulness.
This is only the second time I’ve chosen to present these works without glass. The only other time was for my “Gang of Cosmos” exhibition at Metro Pictures in 2014, which focused on my drawings of well-known Abstract Expressionist paintings. Viewers often mistake my charcoal drawings for photographs. Removing the glass is part of my attempt to urge the viewer to take a closer look, and an attempt to further counteract our pervasive culture of impatience and to slow down the image storm.
I always struggled academically because of my dyslexia. After I flunked out of The University of North Texas and moved back to New York to pursue art, I realised I could always draw, and because of my dyslexia drawing became a valuable tool for me to communicate.
I was a part of a very lucky generation of artists. There were far fewer galleries and artists in New York at that time than there are now. I think we were less focused on making money than artists are now. We just wanted to make enough to support our art. I worked as a taxi driver when I first moved here. The art world has become decentralised. New York is no longer at the centre of the art world.
I’m really not sure why exactly this series became so popular.
When I first moved to New York, I was working at the performance space The Kitchen. I took home some backdrop paper, and I started to draw from pictures that I had found in newspapers and magazines. Charcoal is inexpensive and was readily available. I realised that drawing was this medium that existed between the pillars of the high art of painting and sculpture. It is essentially a disregarded medium. The possibility of amplifying it is exciting to me, and it’s particularly ironic to amplify it using charcoal–fragile, burnt dust.
When I have an idea about a subject I want to explore, I search for images that get as close to the image in my mind’s eye. I find them in the vast visual landscape (newspaper, magazines, the internet, etc.). Then I buy the rights to the source image, and proceed to assemble, edit, alter and manipulate photos. Every image is highly altered. Then I make two or three studies before producing a large-scale charcoal drawing based on the image.
All art is inherently political. As an artist, I feel a moral imperative to preserve the images of our history with the hope that something will change.
I listen to a range of music while working in the studio: Yo-Yo Ma, Nick Cave, Bach, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, John Coltrane, Swans, Jay-Z, and Eminem. Music is like the gasoline that keeps the engine running.
Impactful art is both highly personal and socially relevant. And the most effective work convinces the audience to spend time seeing what they are looking at. Artists make so that people can see.