Alex Brown Text


.sly; i hadn’t thought of that before, but your paintings are sly, sly in a good way. can you see that in them?
Sly. I hadn’t thought of that before either. I think sly might have a bit of a malevolent undertone to it. Maybe more slippery than sly?

.slippery, i’ll agree with that. so what is it about slippery that you like?
I’m not sure that I like slippery as much as it likes me and is part of my nature. I have never been one to be too vociferous about my views and don’t really see my work as vehicle for that. I guess I am thinking of sly or slippery as the outward voice of the paintings, ultimately their meaning. Were you thinking of sly/slippery in more of a reactionary manner? Like in a “what the hell am I looking at” kind of way? If that’s the case, I can see that too . . . images dissolving, reappearing, coming out and into focus. I think that speaks to the images I choose to paint as well, not to mention the method, more often than not things which you can apply your own experience to and take it from there. Not quite Rorschachs, Bleigiessen interpreting, or trying to find meaning in clouds passing overhead, but still work which requires a bit of experiential input form those seeing the work.

.while i personally like not clearly knowing it all and working my way thru stuff to perhaps understand something, in the art world’s current aesthetic, social and political climate, slippery is good medicine, if not play. do you consider your layering playful, and as well the way you use color and shapes to punctuate your paintings?
Not knowing is half the fun (at least). Being here in Siberia it’s sort of difficult to get a real gauge on the current social and political barometer but I wouldn’t disagree with your assertion that slippery is a nice antidote to the rhetorical heat. I wouldn’t say that the layering is intended to be playful as much as it’s just a result of the process but having said that, the layered/organic paintings seem more lighthearted in relation to the geometric ones. I could elaborate more on color and shapes but am afraid of sounding too superfluous:)

.well having said color, the color in this batch of paintings seems divided. there is a group of paintings with color that seems more intense/brilliant than ever and there is another group of paintings having very limited palettes with extreme and complex variations in hue rather than shades and tints. obviously color has been on your mind.
There definitely is a division in the palettes I chose for this group of paintings. A couple of the paintings made mid-way through preparing for this show had a very narrow range of color which became really intriguing to me in both relationship to the other paintings and the fact that the picture, the image, the thing that I am painting from starts to fade out and the definition was becoming only just visible. I started to look for sources that seemed to be bled of their color. Pictures where the image was barely there seemed to provide a healthy counterbalance to the work, which was more overt and recognizable as something. It’s funny how you only start to see the bigger picture of the work that you have made after things are out of the studio. That idea of the afterimage, the thing that is scarcely there, also provides a nice point of departure towards reflection.

A few of the paintings for this show were chosen as much for their color(s), if not more, than for the image itself. A certain greenish yellow and a yellowish green evoke a weird romantic memory of growing up listening to rock radio, campfires and being a lonely kid. Maybe there is a certain film stock that was used that captures that mood. I’m certain that it doesn’t appear in things printed recently. Maybe something has to have some history to acquire its soul. Either that or be left in the sun for a while.

.you choose images of places and people, often blending one of each together, but almost never things. why not things?
Maybe things don’t have as much of a feeling of time, place and emotion about them as people and places. Would you consider animals “things”? I think of them existing in between people and places. Maybe there is a clue to the answer in the last response, the part about trying to find images that have a soul. Do you see an inanimate object when you look at a Morandi painting or a crooked Cezanne still life? I usually think about the painter painting the thing and the single-mindedness that might foster such an obsession. As for myself, I really don’t try to overthink my work. That’s not to say I don’t consider how things will look both as singular objects and as a body of work, but there’s a fine line between work which is considered and work which becomes something more analytical. It’s sort of like that fuzzy line that I sometimes straddle between abstraction and representation. It’s a real balancing act to make work clean and crisp while still maintaining a comfortable, not quite casual, presence emanating from the work.

.with some frequency you make a painting that despite having its origin in an image or images, always remains completely abstract. when you begin this type of painting, do you know that will occur?
I would say about half of the paintings from this show fall into the category of being difficult to understand or comprehend as a familiar, common object. I usually have an idea of what the work will look like beforehand but I certainly don’t have it down to a science. I think it might be a real bore if I did. My intention at the initial stage is more often than not to try and paint something that is understandable as some thing. If it happens to not make sense to the recognition centers of my brain, that’s fine as well, as long as the thing is tickling me in a good place. I never set out to confuse anyone intentionally, nor would I make work that people couldn’t see as something known by sight. The titles are an important and often under-emphasized aspect of the work in that they do provide a little nudge into that perception of what it is that you are you looking at. I think it’s a great question about my thoughts on the fact that you cannot ever see what is there in some of these paintings. I wish I had something really smart to add in retort but I honestly don’t know what my thoughts are. I can’t see or not see what other people see or don’t see. It never fails to amaze me what people see in the work and spend time trying to find something as if it’s some sort of parlor game. Some paintings that I think are really simple pictures of incredibly common things are sometimes completely elusive to people, while at other times things I imagine no one could ever unlock are nailed right away.

.are most of your images found inadvertently, or do you consciously peruse books, mags, whatever looking for something that grabs your attention. is selecting images relatively ez or labored? do you crop? are you true to the existing colors? is there a  particular reason why one image is chosen to layer   with a modular system and another with second image?
My eyes are always open for things that might prove to be something that will end up in the work. The selection of what eventually ends up being used is sometimes more fluid and organic than others. I prefer to let things come to me image-wise but when I am feeling a bit stuck the used book or record store seem to have a constant stream of images, colors and configurations to keep the pump primed. I try to be as literal as possible when it comes to color. It’s often the reason that I pick a particular thing to paint, so to divert from it would be kind of beside the point. That fidelity only goes so far though as I try to use a pretty limited and basic palette. Regarding why sometimes I use a hard-lined pattern and other times a second image, I like the variety and rhythm of the two playing off of each other. The actual process of making one vs. the other has a different tempo and method as well. I’ve learned that some images break down and are more effective when using the geometric filter while others seem to be happy and breath just fine with the organic one.

.so what do you think about people not seeing your intentions in a painting? regarding your images, in terms of communication, what’s your goal?
I wasn’t aware of the fact that people didn’t see my intentions and I guess that’s not even something I have ever considered. I am just putting work out there, trying to create my own little world. Maybe this is a cop-out but don’t you think if my intent were crystal clear and my paintings in-focus blow ups of my source imagery that it might lose some its fundamental mystery? I always feel like it would be a real bore to know exactly what it is I’m doing. I could answer the second part of that question along those same lines. What does a misty pixelated painting of a waterfall communicate? What does a painting of a backlit woman in silhouette communicate? I am painting people and places at a particular time in a particular place in a particular manner. Maybe it communicates that I like to be left alone in my studio to do all this busy work that people, including myself, may or may not understand in a literary sense but hopefully we can take away from the work some of my experience.


.how was ur tour of japan? is the creativity of being in a band n e thing like the creativity in making paintings?
Amazing. Tiring. Confusing. Uncomfortable. Beautiful. Crowded. Foreign but familiar. Traveling with a band is a unique way to go. Being in that tour bubble and having people show you around and hold your hand is great but it takes some of the memorable challenges away from the experience. You never have time to really do much else than sound check, try and find something decent to eat, play, and try to get a few hours sleep. The creativity with this band takes place when we’re doing anything other than playing. The challenge is to see who can make the rest laugh the hardest. Painting and music are pretty different beasts. The immediate satisfaction of playing live is exhilarating  but it all seems so fleeting and over with too quickly. Not too dissimilar from an art opening. Solo vs. group. Quiet vs. loud. Full vs. hungry. Rested vs. exhausted. Crisp vs. ragged. Empty vs. crowded. Home vs. away.

.r the single person people pics portraits or chosen because they are interesting mmmmages? who are all these peeps; need we kno? this little game reminds me of the notion of think global, act local.
More than interesting images I tried to think of how they would work together as a group and how one might compliment another. Black, white, yellow, brown, geometric, organic, male, female. Those choices are much more part of my decision making process than anything else. The particulars in this case weren’t the primary concern. They’re paintings more than they are portraits. There’s that automatic distance generated by presenting these anonymous heads without giving the viewer much more insight than the hint of a smile or a backlit ponytail in profile. Respecting local/global, yeah, I wouldn’t disagree with the idea that I am both personalizing and making universal the images. That’s also a nice parallel to the micro/macro world I always find myself drawn back to. Things that upon first, up close viewing seem completely abstract, full of seemingly random designs, but after stepping back from come into focus and make sense as one cohesive picture.

.what is it about pics of people? whats the fascination, esp if we don't know who they are?
Maybe it has something to do with finding imagery that I can execute and represent with the most economy. Does that make sense? It’s the same reason I use landscape; when these very familiar things are broken down to their root they still maintain a certain, albeit varying, recognition and ubiquitous understanding. It remains a challenge to try and recreate something somewhat specific with varying degrees of information. Ultimately the images are simply a reason and vehicle to keep painting.

.do you think of paintings, or art, as a way to increase perception but slow down meaning?
Isn’t that question just as relevant if we said that art is a way to slow down perception but increase meaning? Maybe that might be more germane to the less recognizable paintings of mine. That meaning thing is a tough one. Once we attach specifics we lose the act of looking. That’s always the best experience in viewing art for me and probably the reason I shy away from producing work that might lead to a quick summary of me, my beliefs, my experience, etc. That’s a bit of a bore don’t you think?

.though still quietly so, do you think your recent paintings have become increasingly charged with emotions and that you accomplish this through the modulation of colors?
After the decision of what to paint and how to filter it onto the canvas, it’s a rather simple matter of sitting down and doing it. They’re fairly time consuming but definitely not exhausting to make. Digging ditches is exhausting. I wouldn’t make them that way if I didn’t like the outcome and there’s something undeniable with work that bears evidence of attention to detail. Regarding emotion, I feel too close to the work to really comment on that other than to say if I am doing my job as a painter I certainly would hope that there is something other than mere labor indicated in the work. There’s that myth about someone crying and overcome with emotion while looking at a Rothko. Have you ever had the reaction to a piece of art? The only time I was ever affected like that was upon seeing Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s. And that was ephemeral. Music, film and literature are much more effective at drawing out a more fervent emotion.

.what are some of your pleasures with mashing and meshing images? as a viewer one could look at it as multi tasking yet also it really is a simple obvious day to day function of the thinking process.
It’s fun to look at these worlds within worlds. It offers a nice balance to the ones that are done with rigid, geometric grids and vice versa. Somebody attached the word palimpsest to the paintings you’re asking about. Something altered but still bearing traces of it’s original form.

.who or what are some of the things that inspired your interest to have your work delve into the interdependent relationship of representation and abstraction?
Lack of skill as a painter in a more traditional sense of the word? Unwillingness to give you a clear picture of what’s really going on in my brain? That relationship is a direct result of the manner in which I have chosen to paint. I have always been confused by abstraction. Confused because of a lack of orientation. Taking something realized and turning it into something unrecognizable makes sense to me. I try not to think in those terms so much. They’re all just paintings and some look more like something that you’ve seen in your experience than others do. It all trickles down in varying degrees form a clear source image to finished painting. My abstractions are really just less than overly clear realizations.

.given all your years of making paintings, do you feel progress is linear, circular, spiraling? do you feel like you now know more? does motivation change?
All of the above. I feel like the more you know the less you and I definitely know very little. You’re making me feel old by the way. I don’t think the motivation ever changes. It all goes back to trying to one-up your brother by drawing a better super hero than his. Making things that people appreciate or are drawn to always feels pretty great.

Pecoil, Vincent. “Square Pusher,” text for exhibition catalogue, BFAS, Geneva, 2005

Alex Brown’s paintings update the great tradition of landscapes and portraits, nudes, seascapes, interiors and still lifes. He works from found photographs—generally quiet and lacking in any obvious emotional impact—taken from postcards, travel brochures, press cuttings, and the Internet, and his initial attraction to an image often has to do with some small area of color. In paintings from the mid-’90s, Brown imposed a series of transformations on this material, turning to computer graphics programs in his preparatory work to break the images up into pixels. These pixels, which both defined and abstracted the original picture, evolved over time from squares to overlapping circles and interlocking tile patterns, finally breaking free of the Op-art-like grid entirely to become free form shapes.

In his more recent work, Brown has been making frequent use of a second image, which has been reduced to a line drawing, to fracture the first. These double exposures filter each other, with the first layer creating a kaleidoscopic effect, and the second shimmering through it. Through this process, each image exposes and informs the other. International Slackness (its title suggesting both a holiday-like relaxation and a universal cliché) is a seaside landscape seen through a drawing of buildings. The buildings appear definitely waterlogged, as if inundated by the ocean, while the ocean seems to be occupied by the buildings.

These recent paintings also function as modern equivalents to the anamorphoses—unrecognizably distorted images—hidden the paintings of early masters like Leonardo Da Vinci. Although Brown returns from time to time to the pixilation of his earlier work, the patterns in the paintings here are more often intuitive than geometric. The images that appear out of their disorganized forms are more like apparitions than appearances—phantasmagoria emerging from the surface of the painting. In this way, Brown’s work maintains its link with photography: The image is revealed slowly, as in the developing of a photographic print. Here, however, it is often the titles that play the part of the developer, providing a key to unpacking the images.

Brown deliberately distances himself from his sources. Working from pre-existing images—pictures that are “already out” as Richard Prince once said—is a way for Brown to leave the largest possible part of himself outside the painting. This distancing is accentuated by Brown’s working method: Diorama, a pixilated image that refers back to earlier paintings, is a blown-out, low-resolution digital file pulled off the Web, and the title suggests that the landscape depicted might itself be only an approximation of reality. In a sense, this is also the case for Alice, a portrait of Alice Coltrane. Here, the underlying grid is similar to a zenithal projection, like those used to map the Earth in which the projection plane is tangent to the Earth’s pole. The title recalls Alice in Wonderland’s extraordinary trip though the flat plane of the looking glass and into another world.

Like Georges Seurat in his day, Brown seems fascinated by the mechanics of perception, and incorporating this into his work. Looking back over twentieth-century art, and particularly to Pop art’s fascination with cheap mechanical reproduction, Seurat emerges retrospectively as a progenitor of the anti-romantic art of the Sixties. This is Seurat’s secret glory, because historically his influence has never been clearly defined. Yet Seurat’s relationship with technology is understood to have had an essential impact on our own perception of the world. Brown is obviously not a Postimpressionist, but all the same there is an underlying filiation to Seurat in the way he breaks down images and reconstructs them as areas of light and color.

Brown’s paintings never completely divulge their secrets the first time we see them. In Alice, the subject only comes into focus as the viewer moves away; as one approaches the painting, she disappears. In those works where one image nearly supplants another, the painting becomes almost abstract. In all of Brown’s work, the subject always seems more or less camouflaged. Perhaps he is expressing a distrust of an image’s ability to tell the whole truth, or an interest in an image’s ability to tell more than one truth.

Nickas, Bob. “Seeing Is…,” text for exhibition catalogue, Feature Inc., New York, 2003

If you care to consider almost any of the issues which invisibly surround art-making today, both machine-assisted and handmade (the hand, animated by fingers, is also in a sense digital), have a look at a picture painted by Alex Brown. While the examination may at times be purely speculative and at others eerily formalist, this seems appropriate for an approach to painting in which the image is always to a certain degree deformed.

Photography, having displaced painting as the mirror in which we regard ourselves and the world around us, is no longer implicitly entrusted. Photoshop being the least of it. There are documentary and street photographers who will tell you that the picture recorded by the camera “. . . isn’t what was photographed. It’s something else. It’s a new fact.” That’s what Garry Winogrand thought. Near the end of his career, he endlessly shot pictures with a motor-drive camera from the passenger side of a moving car. There are scores upon scores of proof sheets of Los Angeles streets, but what, if anything, do they prove? A woman stands on a corner at least a block away, and you wonder: “What was the greatest distance at which she could be convincingly described?” (1.) Winogrand himself would be the first to admit that each picture represents the world for no more than one hundred and twenty-fifth of a second. Every picture the slightest trace. In Ghost (2001), Alex Brown offers the evidence of a woman, evanescent yet undeniably present, a measure of the distance at which she was, and can be, apprehended. Whether or not you can decipher the photographic source image within one of Brown’s paintings—the picture he recorded/re-ordered—is entirely beside the point; the painting is its own new fact, and seeing/searching is an act of engagement for artist and viewers alike.

[Do people ever really look at pictures? That someone makes a painting which can be hard to see, or difficult to photograph, is an achievement in and of itself. These are paintings which refuse to yield everything in an instant. Paintings which reveal more of themselves over time. Paintings which live longer.]

Any detective will tell that you that if five people witness a bank robbery, you will get five different descriptions of the suspect. She was short. She was tall. She was wearing a blue jacket. A black jacket. What happens if five people look at a painting by Alex Brown? (2.) What happens when three of them review his show? The implications for art may not be as dire as those for law enforcement, but at this intersection there is one fact of which we can be sure: as recalled from memory, every picture is a composite. Brown raises the possibility, and not only for himself, that every picture painted is a composite. Even someone with a photographic memory might find the task of describing a painting like Monster (2001) daunting, to say the least. To the best of my recollection, there are numerous red-orange, brown, and black shapes piled on high, forming a giant hive. Before I was told that this is a portrait, it reminded me of a picture I had once seen of bees swarmed completely around a man’s head and neck. As I go back and forth between the two pictures, though, do I really know what it was that I saw?

A mirage is something thought to be seen which is not in actuality there; the mind creates an image for the eye to believe. Some of Alex Brown’s paintings appear to be mental pictures of exactly this sort. Ship (2001). The ship itself seems made up of the very waves and swells of the sea on which it floats. Blue on blue on blue. Upon close inspection, an airplane is visible, descending from sky and clouds (even more blue) as if about to merge with the ship below. Ship presents us with an image that is entirely buoyant, spectral, the picture plane doubled, ocean and sky nearly fused. Is this a ghost ship? One composition haunted by another . . .

[Can we ever experience an image as a truly singular event?]

Discussing his most recent paintings, Brown has spoken of how one image acts as a filter for another; a landscape, for example, may sit on top of a cityscape—as in TNC (2001), the title referring to town and country. Here, a river flows so completely into the town that the built environment forms a precarious dam, more closely resembling a proliferation of levees and floodgates than a habitable site. Here, one image inhabits another, and yet the picture can only be seen as a totality, where everything appears perfectly in place. Superimposition has occurred with some frequency in the history of painting—in the “transparencies” of Francis Picabia most notably—but Brown’s application is something else entirely. An image used in much the same way as a magnifying glass, a tool that brings the eye into closer contact with something otherwise elusive. (Or a map entirely comprised of insets.) Where the surrealists may be said to have compounded vision to layer meaning, the strata in these paintings of Brown’s suggests a more direct, even rational approach: we’re using the image to see.

Trompe l’œil, the technique of realist painting with its origins in decoration, translates as “fool the eye.” Mechanical reproduction in our time, even when offered up as the most advanced example of picture-making, increasingly partakes of this tradition. Do computer-generated and manipulated images suggest another translation of trompe l’œil? Fool the lie?

Stand several inches from the surface of a painting like Lobby (2000), and what can you see? A few overlapping blocks of beige-brown or forest-green? Take a few steps back. Those blocks begin to radiate, ziggurat-like, from the center out. Now we have perspective, and so we look down. Color mixes more uniformly across the bottom—a ground to stand upon. The title of the painting is known to us, and with a few more steps the picture begins to cohere. A lobby, as corporate as the colors it’s painted, awaits us, and waiting is the activity—if it can be so designated—this kind of space was designed for. There are any number of paintings that have come to rest in the lobbies of the world. It’s unlikely that this one has met a similar fate, but could it be more perfect? This is a painting that, with patience, you will eventually see. A painting, like the little plaque near the elevator doors, that says: You Are Here.

These paintings are at the same time representational and abstract, perhaps even to the extent that those very terms lead nowhere useful.

After my earliest encounter with Alex Brown’s paintings, I wrote: “In some of his more abstract works, the image almost defies clear reading. You stand there and ask, ‘What is this? What am I supposed to be looking at?’ Which, in art, I think of as a good thing.” (Art being a matter of curiosity or nothing at all.) Although more of these paintings have been brought into the world, they don’t possess any greater sense of normalcy. If anything, they are increasingly complicated as visual information, and as full of strangeness as ever.

Hallucination. There were paintings all around the room. Just looking at them altered all perception—of the pictures and the walls they were hung upon, of everything and everyone in and outside the room. Only later, when our minds cleared (or so we thought), could we conceive of the painting as a drug, and then we knew we were still on it . . .

1. John Szarkowski, Winogrand: Figments From the Real World, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1988, p. 38.
2. If Alex Brown were a police sketch artist would anyone ever be caught?


Do you ever consider painting straightforward, pictorial representation?
All of the work stems from that desire to re-present these images in a straightforward manner but not being in possession of that particular virtuosic faculty, has forced me to approach them from a slightly different angle.

Why filter or layer?
The filter was initially just the evidence of the process; a simple, systematic means to transfer these images that I was intrigued by. In the new paintings the filter has taken on a life of its own....filter as equivalent, primary, or secondary to the image it is portraying.

Are the paintings developed around a specific matrix of co-existing values?
Not so much developed around as in acknowledgment of that agitation between abstraction and representation, expression and the absence thereof and a studied, scientific approach versus intuition.

What happened to the technological reference imbedded in most of your paintings made between l996-2000? How do you describe your recently developed filtering system?
That reference seems as applicable to Islamic pattern or Byzantine mosaics as it does to digital technology. That allusion still resonates, albeit much more quietly. These new filters are also based on the principle of utilizing pattern to reconstruct an image but rather than employing geometric, repeated modules, I’m now using a second image through which the source image is seen.

How and why do you use distance in the paintings?
Primarily due to the fact that I don’t have an emotional investment in the material from the outset. That and the fact that you can’t see a painting with your nose against it.

Interview with Steve Lafreniere, August, 2000

S: There’s a bit of the sewing bee in the way your paintings are made. Hours of busywork creating this much larger effect.
A: Actually, one of my earliest memories is being dragged by my mother to her sewing meetings, and watching these women do their thing and gossip. Certainly that busywork can be found in the mundane activity of these paintings. The process is very overt. At times it overrides the subject. I suppose that’s my modus operandi, trying to find a common ground between them, which ends up somewhere between abstraction and representation.

S: A 50-50 balance being struck?
A: It’s about continually trying to find that balance, and to find the doors that balance opens up into, and the possibilities that it creates.

S: To me, at first, it just seemed like a succinct, cogent method of examination. But then it began to develop all these other levels.
A: Well, the simple satisfaction one receives from copying an image is undeniable, and a very rudimentary fascination. For myself, at least, that’s why I was always drawn towards this kind of work—and the myriad of other levels hidden beneath that initial gravitation towards this straightforward method is why I’m still at it. This economy of design clicks on something very basic in one’s visual vocabulary. But it is merely a means to an end.

S: And you’re still content with it?
A: I feel that one falls into certain means of making things that becomes habit. Right now I’m in the process of trying to change the way I’m making them. I found that I was becoming content with being content.

S: I’m curious about your criteria for choosing the image.
A: The first ones I made utilizing this process were things I thought were light or humorous, but had a poignant edge to them. A painting of a cute little gerbil amidst some flowers, a drunken looking interracial couple embracing, a monster truck. But as I got looser with the paint, I was getting more interested in pure colors, the way they were relating to each other on a microscopic level. I think that led to opening that door and letting the pattern overtake, or at least coexist with, the image. The image itself only provides me with a seed of a reason to make the painting, and the outcome is not necessarily related to that, except maybe by a suggestive title.

S: You don’t quite know where it’s going to go . . .
A: Yes, there’s that unknown. I probably would not have pursued it this far if that weren’t the case.

S: If the work is about the process as much as the result, your experience of it must be quite different from that of the viewer.
A: No, I don’t think so.

S: Oh, because the process is so evident in the finished piece?
A: Yes. And I would certainly like to be honest about what it is that I do. Not putting up any fronts.

S: A couple of years ago you were quoted saying that making these paintings is “a ritual that allows me to enter their profound vapidity.” How do you feel nowadays?
A: That sounds pretty pompous! I think that statement would relate better to the earlier work in which the image was more at the forefront. As the recognizable image slides further away, the less the criticism inherent in choosing an image in the first place becomes.

S: Ah, okay. I was going to challenge you on that one. (laughs) Because they do seem so charged, though there’s a distance as well.
A: That’s really important to me, to have the distance. In fact, I think that’s why this process suits me—painting from photographs that I’ve come across rather than from things that I have dear feelings toward.

S: What’s your relationship to photo-conceptualists like Richard Prince or, say, Jeanne Dunning?
A: I don’t see my work fitting in with theirs so much. I think of that work as being contracted out. It has a very slick, distinct look about it, which I suppose, is inherent in that medium. I mean, I’ve always admired Richard Prince’s work, and what I do know of Jeanne’s I would see more of a connection to my own. I see her work dealing with abstraction within the specificity of photography. But I think it definitely lies in a much different world than my own.

S: I would guess that you’re not as ambivalent toward the image, but it seems like there’s an equal remove from the original event to the viewer.
A: Actually, what originally struck me with Prince’s work was his daring to take things and quote them verbatim—his sort of honest admiration for what he’s looking at, and seeing that beauty within these very common events and images.

S: You’ve said in the past that you were interested in “the chronic emptiness of certain images” . . .
A: Again, I think that points to earlier work. I still find myself gravitating towards that type of image, but without a recognizable image being the focus of the work. I don’t think that is so relevant presently. Having said that, though, I just did this large portrait of a caveman, culled from a book on miniature modeling. It’s just a ridiculous, recognizable image of a guy in three-quarter view with a big beard, looking like a Judas Priest roadie. I certainly feel that emptiness in that particular piece. I suppose I thought it would be interesting to make a hero out of this 1:32 scale Cro-Magnon.

S: These images are warm to you in some way.
A: Oh, definitely. The word “pathos” comes to mind. I think that there’s a tendency in this type of work to use imagery in a condescending manner. That was an approach that I was interested in, and probably still am. Lately I’ve been making paintings of these little military models. They’re just dumb, these clumsy little dioramas. But the more I look at them, the more beauty and history and warmth I see in them.

S: When you were a child, were you interested in pixelation? It was my first dissociative experience, and I remember that it fascinated and frightened me all at once.
A: Yes, I remember a specific moment of sitting with my nose against the Zenith television, having an early psychedelic experience. I don’t know exactly what relation that has to my work now, but I can clearly recall that breakdown of colors within the TV tube.

S: There’s a parallel to Op in what you do, with the involuntary synaptic response. But in your case, there’s enough information provided to hallucinate the rest into something figurative. I like looking and trying to “get” what the image is.
A: Yeah, and I think that’s the danger of working in this manner. They can easily become one-liners. I hope they don’t. By providing someone with both the image and pure pattern, I was intending to delay that. The comments I’ve gotten more recently, though, show that people realize I’m as interested in the color relationships and patterns as an entity in and of itself, as I am with the actual image, due to the glory of the color and attention to an evolution in the patterns employed. The color seems to be more and more the initial draw to a specific image.

S: The color combination in a given piece is pretty close. As in close harmony.
A: I use a very limited palette. I’ve been using these old magazines that more often than not have faded blues that are turning green, darkening reds and faded blacks. There’s always a tone of improvisation and I think that’s why they may seem close--just seeing how many colors I can get out of that thin palette.

S: Speaking of harmony, I understand that you’re also a musician. Do you make a connection between music and your visual art?
A: Only in terms of having music playing all the time in the studio, and just being surrounded by all these great sounds while painting. I don’t know if it has an influence or not, actually.

S: But the busywork of art-making is very conducive to listening, I think.
A: Yes. I tend to get stuck on all these different genres of music, and then get very specific with them.

S: So you have a large CD bill every month? (laughs)
A: Yes, but I write it off on my taxes. It’s “creative tax.”

S: Are you a person who searches out old records?
A: Oh yeah. I love old LP covers. I was using a lot of that as fodder for my paintings. Mostly unknown or underappreciated Jamaican singers or rap groups. I haven’t done it too much recently, though.

S: What are you listening to lately?
A: Jamaican. Mid-80s digital dancehall. I like Johnny Osbourne, or anything on the Jammy’s label. To me, King Jammy is the penultimate producer. Also King Tubby, right before he was killed. But then I also like German music. Either really woodsy German folk or progressive rock like Neu! and La Düsseldorf. Are you familiar with the contemporary stuff coming out of Berlin and Cologne, such as Thomas Brinkmann? I think he’s genius.

S: I have friends who’ve been going to Berlin quite a bit, and they say it’s like New York used to be, very open and experimental. Do you think it matters where you live if you’re an artist?
A: I keep trying to convince myself that it’s not where you are, but where you’re at. But I think that it’s important to have a social existence that agitates your creative existence, which is really tough here in Des Moines. I think I’ve kind of worked through that, but I’d love to live in New York again, or Berlin. I just don’t know if I’d get my work done.

S: I understand that you do your paintings freehand. Yet the end result is so complex. Can you explain your method?
A: I find a pattern I’m interested in, and that I may or may not be able to recreate . . .

S: By “pattern” you mean the pixel itself, the basic unit of repetition.
A: Yes. What I’ve been working with lately are irregular patterns that do not seem to want to fit together at first—taking that and trying to modify it into a particular shape and then pushing them together. So, find a pattern, make a template, transfer it to the canvas, make a very skeletal grid over a photograph and begin. There’s no written rule for myself in terms of the way that I put it on the photo. Sometimes it’s a very simple grid, it’s rarely the same grid that I have on the canvas. So there’s always room for improvisation. I find the looser the grid is that I’m painting from, the more interesting the outcome.

S: Your description belies how gorgeous and strange each pattern is, though. And they’re becoming more so.
A: I think it’s an evolution. My earliest paintings done in this style were just straight grids. But I wanted to keep presenting myself with new possibilities and challenges, like finding a pattern that was not rooted in that grid—something that was offering more possibilities in terms of how things fit together.

S: Yet there have been times when you put all this in place, and it didn’t yield anything very interesting?
A: Oh, yeah. So many times. I have here in the studio maybe ten or eleven paintings, four of which I will show. I find the more and more I do this work . . . I don’t know if you’d want to call it an editing process, but the stricter that gets, the less I find that falls into the particular agenda that I’ve constructed for myself.

S: But if the process of creating them is so absorbing, is it difficult to see other aspects? I guess I’m thinking of “perfection” and the trap of craftsmanship.
A: Well, I find myself falling into that hole presently. So I’m trying to get a more organic, or at least less straight-edged feel—tightening it up and loosening it at the same time. I think that these new drawings that I’m working on are a good manifestation of that idea. They seem to maintain and utilize the craft aspect, while denying a more virtuosic tendency. I think this has also translated to the paintings—finding moments in them, and acknowledging them, while at the same time trying to ignore them.

S: There’s certainly an increased complexity since the earliest paintings.
A: I’d say the first ten paintings I did like this were merely based on a straight one-by-one grid. I started tilting that, and then began playing with a six-pointed star, and then fitting things into that motif. That’s what everything was based on until recently when I began to do these all-over hand-drawn patterns that don’t relate to the grid whatsoever.

S: The latest patterns are so loose, almost sketchy. Yet the image arises.
A: It’s exciting to find that medium which I was speaking of earlier. There were a few things I showed with Feature, completely abstract work, that I thought at first were complete failures. Because they did not re-present the image as something recognizable. But I found that showing them with these more realized pieces, that they definitely provided another level, as well as informed these paintings.

S: As your work moves forward, would you say that you’re less interested in trying to merely comprehend the dynamics of an image?
A: Well, using a very particular process to convey an image is conducive to ignoring the way that a picture works. That was always my approach, to leave as much of myself out of it as possible


Do you think of your paintings as a way to expose, and enjoy, the rather lurid voyeurism inherent in photography, especially in amateur and commercial photography?
I don’t think of this work as being particularly voyeuristic. The more recent work has seemed to lean more towards a gentle or subdued image. I think of the drawings I have been working on as being much more voyeuristic, using photographs from swingers magazines which are meant to be titillating but ultimately occur as lonely, desperate attempts to find adventure and fulfillment. I think that the paintings are merely voyeuristic due to the fact that the images are not mine and I find myself looking for a story within them--a story which I try to expose by boiling out the proverbial impurities.

In making these eight or so paintings, how intentional is the range of subject matters, and what are some of the unifying factors for the grouping?
The range of subject choice is not really an intentional device employed in the hope of steering the viewer to a particular conclusion, but ultimately there does exist a rather quiet, if not silent, conversation between the paintings--one that arises not so much out of a common theme as out of a common hand. The subjects in the most recent work have become less of a statement and more of a simple means to an end.

You seem to have upped the abstract nature of things, making more obvious demands on the viewer to fill in, rearrange, continue...
...and embrace this amorphic, nebulous middle-ground between the simple pleasure of re-creating something recognizable and cogent, and the sheer frustration of losing that object/image. I feel the more abstract work informs the representational paintings and vice versa. Demands are made on the viewer to find representation in the abstract, and hopefully this allows them to fall into those less recognizable moments found in the more straightforward work.

What is your favorite thing about this simultaneity of abstraction and representation?

Is it that you often scan books looking for a picture of something specific, or with specific qualities, and just can’t find it? Are there sometimes surprises that you clip and save for months or years, yet still can’t quite paint? What is it about those? Or the ones you think would be perfect, and you try, yet they don’t translate.
It’s a rare occurrence to find an image that strikes me as something that I would be interested in painting--sitting down and actually executing it. Most of these images are floating around the studio and waiting for the right moment to be exploited. I’m always looking for something specific; I guess I just don’t have it down to a science yet. The work that does not translate well usually comes as a surprise (as do the successes) yet the relative failures seem to lead in their own interesting directions.

Are preparatory drawing or paintings necessary?
I do not work with preliminary sketches for the paintings. Preparatory drawings would deny the enjoyment of the excavation of the image, and it is this process of discovery and evolution of the work--the physical construction--that keeps my interest.

Do many paintings get near completion and then tossed?
There always seems to be something salvagable in the failures, if only the materials used to make them.

Are you frequently dodging content--painting around something, like in Blue Tit or Game?
Not dodging content so much as attempting to introduce a more plural interpretation of content through the employment of a contradictory or suggestive title.

The titles read rather like the appearance and disappearance of images in your paintings, latent or oblique, yet after a view, also obvious and with a sense of humor. Is humor important to you?
I guess... I mean, to inject some levity into work which could be construed as formulaic and stiff is definitely important to me. I think of the titles as a seed of information--not always humorous, but hopefully providing entrance into the work.

Are your paintings attempts at unifying oppositional values?
I don’t think of the values as being oppositional. I’m merely using these tools in order to construct paintings.

What is the origin of the module, and what is its relation to the subject?
The module for all of these paintings is based on a grid of equilateral triangles, which in turn forms six-pointed stars. The relation of the module to the subject composed by it really has less to do with the subject that it is defining than it does with the shape of the unit itself; the way in which it intersects with the piece that it is resting against or atop, the overlay of the second pattern over the first, forming a matte surface between the semi-glosses, the organic against the mechanical. Again, I find it similar to the choice of subject in that it is introducing something new, a sense of play, and keeping something fresh that so easily could become stale.


Do you think of your paintings as a way for you to study something?
Instead of using the word "study" I would say I am chronically fascinated by the specific emptiness of certain images. Turning them into formal arrangements of color, pattern, and repeated form becomes a sublimation, a ritual that allows me to enter their profound vapidity.

What’s the source of your images?
The sources of the paintings are found images: postcards, travel brochures, newspaper clippings, images culled from internet dating services, and amateur pornography.

Are there specific, overall qualities you look for in an image, or is it more to the particularities of the subject matter?
I think both determine the particularities of the subject and the overall qualities of the image. The subject matter is inevitably wedded to the atmosphere/ambiance of the picture and it is this systematic relationship that intrigues me.

How do you get from the commonalities of the original to the painting?
As straightforwardly as possible. I begin with the image, lay down a proper sized grid in relation to the size/scale of the image, translate this grid to the canvas, find a motif that works well within the particular canvas, and start the painstaking process of actually painting the thing.

Are the shapes of the units related to the painting’s meanings?
No, not initially. But what begins as play/experimentation culminates in a bemused recognition of the emergence/discovery of the final effect of the coalescence; i.e. how the structure holds, supports, defines, and ultimately becomes the image itself.
Is repetition of interest?

Repetition is obviously an interest, more like a mantra. The meditative boredom and masochistic rhythm are central to the work. What about humor?
I think the use of humor or subversion serve as comic sidekick to the more stoic works as well as offsetting the analytic/dry nature of the process.

Is the structure purposefully blurring the science/art separation?
No. Artists have always responded to the idioms of other disciplines; incorporating, adding to, or simply ignoring them.

Are your subject matter choices a way for you to work comfortably within the painting tradition?
Certainly. The work unabashedly looks to that tradition and hopefully uses history as a springboard to invention. The paintings aspire to a classicism filtered through a pre-millennial screen.

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