I moved into 56 Conduit Street for a residency at V.O Curations in August of last year after graduating from the MFA programme at Goldsmiths. The objects which surround me in the studio are the debris of my research conducted during my time here, which was focused on exploring the history of the building. In going from my previous studio, an old gymnasium in south-east London, to a corporate office space in Mayfair, there was a noticeable atmospheric switch. As a means of orientation to my new environment I thought a look into the history of the building seemed like a good place to start.
My creative process begins with a desire to understand and express some element or experience which mystifies me. The different sources I currently reference in the work are all related to this desire. For instance, the vintage clothing hanging in the studio are from the fashion label Alexon, whose flagship store was here at 56 Conduit Street. I’ve been collecting the clothing from eBay over the last year. The metal buttons, buckles, and hardware are all sourced from a military button factory which occupied the building 100 years prior to Alexon. How the disparate pieces fit together in the end is informed by a long-standing inquiry into how meaning attaches itself to imagery.
I can say without a doubt that punk and hardcore subculture put in motion a lot of what I am still pursuing today. Playing shows, booking shows, and touring brought me in close contact with what cultural production and contribution can do to create meaning and value from a personal level. Growing up with the long history of underground music in the pacific northwest, record labels such as Iron Lung & Perennial Death, provided me with a lot of inspiration and communal support. In that world I feel like you are less dependent on outside validation... Touring was also a way for me to visit museums and galleries in other cities which had bigger visual art infrastructure. Seattle has always lagged in that department. I remember one moment in 2014 at the Menil collection when I encountered Haim Steinbach’s work. It was an experience which altered my level of engagement with visual art, and expanded my perception of what was possible. From that moment on I started moving towards a conversation which was more centred around visual art.
In the history of still life painting, a genre interested in the ‘insignificant’ and ‘ignored’, the wooden table or the marble ledge are almost always the support structure, or framing device, which hold multiple objects within the same plane. My repurposing of trompe l’oeil painting techniques (in relation to still life) stems from an engagement with the development of this visual history and its ties to the development of modern science and capitalism. Wood and Stone are both potent metaphors for resource extraction in any locality across the globe century after century. For example, where I’m from in the US is know for logging and timber industries.
In a way I think of my paintings as anti-symbolic. For me, mythical or symbolic interpretations have a way of privileging a certain knowledge and experience over what is being represented. I usually shy away from a heroic or moralistic reading of art, and it is hard for me to detach the symbolic from this. I am generally more interested in pursuing meaning through what “importance tramples underfoot.”
It’s the idiosyncratic which keeps things interesting. I often feel the need to cancel out certain elements of my thoughts or practice if they are veering too much in one direction. David Joselit speaks about how modernism is “the condition of being many”. And the expansion of this condition is growing faster and stranger by the day. Our relationship to categorization is much more abstract than we might like to admit, and that seems to be reflected in the continued rise of social polarization. I like to use painting as a method to study and further abstract these dichotomies.
Historically, no. I love starting fresh on an idea or project. I don’t like to recycle through images I’ve worked with before. Usually when I get an idea for a project it is so specifically that thing and it wouldn’t make sense to work from something I’ve previously collected. In terms of navigating or ordering the various parts, my affective or emotional preferences are undeniably present. Sometimes I work against what I might prefer. Often there is a deep emotional response or resonance which sorts through which pieces of information seem most relevant. I’m hesitant to use the term intuition, but maybe it’s applicable.
During my residency I got a book called Storage by the designer George Nelson. It came out in 1954 and was published by the Whitney. It is full of images of images of modernist cabinetry. In previous works I had made paintings which referenced Television Cabinets. For me this piece of furniture was the meeting point between the analogue object and the screen-based image. Family photos, heirlooms, and souvenirs were displayed by the television set. Slowey screens started getting bigger and the objects started disappearing. Now there are no cabinets, and the flat screens are just on the wall. But that’s a different story... I wanted to find the precursor to the Television Cabinet, and George Nelson’s Storage wall ended up being that. Largely the impulse behind the show stems from a desire to understand how technology, from network television to current social media platforms, became domesticated. Furniture played a large role in this progression of transforming threatening technology into commonplace domestic consumer objects, and the form of the works in Storage Solutions recognize this. They reflect on the conditions of living in the wake of the ‘solutions’ offered by mid-century designers to introduce media into the home.
In a certain sense the use of the term ‘solutions’ for the show was ironic. On the one hand it’s addressing the design history mentioned above, which gave shape to the origins of the digital technology which people are currently looking for ‘solutions’ for. On the other its coming to terms with the sometimes-catastrophic effect pervious ‘solutions’ have had on our planet and quality of life today... But yeah, the studio is such a special space for me. A container where anything can happen. I try and get a lot of the physical objects which appear in the paintings to live in the studio. Even if I work from an image in the end there is something about being with an object which still seems to have a different affect/ effect.
One of the modernist designers I was looking during research for the VO Curations show was William Phalmann. Phalmann did these amazing exhibition rooms for department stores, such as Lord & Taylors, that were completely over the top eclectic mashups of visual information. Sort of opposed to the cold, slick, minimal lack of ornament which was more in character for a lot design trends at the time. In considering how to present the different histories of the building I kept coming back to his rooms as a possibility because they could present different eras and narratives together in a somewhat holistic (and completely eccentric) way. In 1942 the building was very badly bombed in the war, so it was a strange coincidence that the William Phalmann cabinets and rooms I was referencing were from that same year. It was sort of like moments of the building’s history got transferred into these other forms at a moment when the building didn’t physically exist.
I often think about images as containers and for the last few years the objects in the paintings have often been objects of containment. Belts, buckles, construction harnesses, life jackets, etc. Painted imagery has so much baggage, and it’s interesting to trace how this bondage transfers across time, from 17th century painting to music subculture to the high end fashion retails down the street from my studio... I would really like to paint a leather pretzel.
The tension between image and object is still very giving for me. I keep coming back to moments in modernist painting where the lines between painting and sculpture were becoming ridiculously thin and redundant, but also strangely upheld and reenforced. On the other side of the so-called ‘ground zero’, offered through minimalist works, so many amazing artists have kept this painting/sculpture alive and well. I’m inspired by this conversation, and I would say I’m interested in very slight alterations which can incorporated into a painting which could shift it’s classification. Categorization is being strongly upheld through digital technologies, so it is a frequent subject of my work.