This new body of work is quite a stylistic departure for you both in terms of composition & palette. What's behind the shift? Is this a conscious & premeditated direction or a natural evolution? What motivated you to move away from the flatness & decorative elements of your previous work?
It’s a natural evolution, but there is also a lot of thought behind it. When I find myself getting used to a way of working or using images over & over out of habit I know that it’s time to change it up. I’ve done it quite a few times before, but it seems like this shift is quite a bit more dramatic.
How has working in this more loose & painterly style affected your approach to executing the work? Do you find that your working methods and thought process is different when working in this style?
Yeah, very different. The main issue is editing. I have always had a tendency to fill up every space. It’s like a mental block that I have. I know there’s a medical term for that. Not sure what it is... Something like OCD. Anyway, I had to keep looking at these paintings to figure out if I wanted to put more in because the painting needed it or if I was just habitually filling in empty space. There’s a piece in the show called “Code” that is about the way that I see things. I have a lot of trouble with reading & generally paying attention. I think that I fill spaces like that when I stop thinking about the painting & just let myself go.
The obvious theme in this body of work is the darkness of both the palette and the imagery. Is this series a personal statement of some inner darkness or does it address some greater concept outside your personal experience?
There’s obviously a lot of heavy emotion going on in this work. I’ve always had dark themes in my work, but I really wanted to explore that part of it. I was a little shocked, frankly, when I did the first few of these paintings. They just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of my work. The bottom line for me was that they felt like more accurate portrayals of those feelings so, ultimately I gave into it & just painted.
I’ve always found that if I put a lot of myself into my work it’s much more satisfying & it actually makes for better work in general. Part of the emotion in this show is about my personal life & part of it is about the state of things in the world today. The last show that I did, “American Cyclops” was about American history & how the original intent behind the formation of America was corrupted over time. I tried to look at that in a personal light & see how my own intentions get corrupted. There’s a quote in one of the paintings, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”. That is from a proposed version of the great seal that was put forward by Benjamin Franklin & John Adams. It seemed extremely relevant, given the state of America, today. It also made sense on a personal level. For me it is about re-thinking your beliefs & killing off the bullshit. This new show is all about that bullshit that invades your mind & makes you crazy.
This series is very cohesive in its imagery. Is there any particular narrative flow through the show? Communication seems to be a central theme with the "ticker tape" elements seemingly representing dialogue of some sort. What does the series title "Vapor" signify?
I don’t know if there is a narrative, necessarily. The ideas are very abstract. When I first started sketching out ideas for this show there was an obvious narrative. It felt like it was too limiting, though. I didn’t want to end up illustrating my feelings too clearly. I think that would have distracted me from the more complex aspects of those feelings.
Yeah, the ticker-tape is all about communication. It’s about how impossible it is to really express yourself completely. You either find yourself spewing ideas in an attempt to explain things (“Liar”) or you hold back some element of the story because you don’t know how to say it or maybe you don’t even know it’s there (“Cut”). In “Wrong”, it is more about unspoken persistent thoughts. The feeling that something is wrong is one that I’ve carried with me my whole life. I’ve always felt like there was something wrong with me, but also that there is something wrong with the world & everyone in it. I think that feeling is pretty universal.
The title is purposefully vague. I wanted to give myself a lot of room to interpret the ideas that I was having. Vapor is abstract & volatile, like relationships, feelings... Life itself. I thought a lot about death & loss & how impossibly difficult it is to get a grasp on my own thoughts. “Scatterbrain” is all about that. I also made a point of keeping the titles to a single word. That’s part of the editing that I tried to do in every part of the show.
Some new "characters" seem to have emerged in these paintings. Can you elaborate on the imagery in the paintings "Liar", "Passing", & "Tyrant"?
“Liar” has a character called “Relphe” in it that I have used before. He’s a darker, more sinister version of the “Helper” character.
The big dragon in “Passing” is just a reworking of the “Dragamel” character that has been popping up in my work for that last few years. I like to keep the characters that I use flexible & ambiguous. That way I can just paint & not try to remember how many horns he has or where his teeth go. He’s like a wart-hog sometimes & more like a traditional Chinese dragon at other times.
“Tyrant” is totally new to me. I see him as totally pure evil. There’s really no personality there at all. There’s usually some sort of balance in my characters, but not here. The quote behind him is the same one that I used in “American Cyclops”.
This new show debuts in Berlin at the Pictoplasma conference. Is this work indicative of what's to come in your future solo shows, particularly the upcoming solo show at Billy Shire Fine Arts?
I feel like there is a lot to explore in this new direction, so I think I’ll keep pushing it forward. I am really interested in pushing the intensity further, so I’d say look for even more drama in the next show. The main goal for that show will be to explore my own fear of these feelings really taking over & controlling me. I want to make the audience understand that fear as much as possible. There’s only so much of that that I can do with paintings hanging on a wall, so I’m going to have to take it quite a bit further. You should probably bring earplugs.
The LA art scene seems to be digging itself deeper into a hole of repetitive, derivative cartoon imagery, feeding off toy culture and art school illustration styles in particular. What's your opinion of the West Coast pop art scene and where would you like to see happen to it?
I think there are a lot of amazing artists out here that come from a production background. I came from animation & my work looked like it & still does to some extent. My goal is to break away from the mental state that I learned to be in when I was in that industry. There was so much concentration on illustrating a point & then there was the need to adhere to technical specifications, plus I had to listen to other people’s opinions. It’s tough to make work that is truly innovative when you are thinking about all of that stuff. I think the best fine artists are the ones that don’t think about any of it & just do what they want to do.
I’d love to see artists break out of their own limitations & do things that don’t make sense. I see a lot of work that looks like a pitch to a toy company or a character model for a cartoon. I can relate to thinking like that. I do it all the time. It’s fun, but I think it’s ultimately limiting.
The real breakthrough, for me, is for media to adjust in order to accommodate the requirements of the artist, rather than the artist adjusting their work so it can be used in the current formats that are available. That’s when truly original ideas happen.