DIONISOPUNK - February 14, 2015
This is my way of saying goodbye, Because I can’t do it face to face, I’m talking to you after it’s too late, From my videotape - Radiohead
Do you think a farewell would sound less touching from a blu ray? Maybe from my generation, but not for people younger. CDs are beautiful, they have that inherent quality, with the color spectrum tilted in light. Pretty soon, putting a CD into a device will feel pretty ancient and maybe even touching.
What kind of feelings characterize a digital existence? Efficiency. Less stuff. It is why the old things, so important at one time, are special now. A tangible object, it seems silly, but as we move away from it, we realize it is something we really like.
The dangers in feeling nostalgic about the past: Nostalgia idealizes the past. There is no danger in nostalgia, unless you either forget the reality of the past and/or believe an idealized past is better than the potential of what comes next.
Art should always have a purpose, or you just need to be good? Art should only have a purpose to the person making it, whatever it may be. People who make things for other people or with anticipation of other people’s acceptance, are performers or producers. Art comes from an internal desire to express an intangible. It is why artists spend their entire lives doing what they do. When I say this, I’m not talking about art as an elite or better thing, it is just a different objective.
Is there a particular reason behind the choice of your style? Everything I do works with the balance of precision and the inherent limitation of making things by hand. Most of my decisions are based around t that balance.
The invasion of pixels makes us closer or more alone? Closer. I met my wife on myspace, around 8 years ago. Through the internet, I am able to live as an artist. I’m sure it is how you saw my work.
A memory from the past: When I was 6, a kid dared me to knock him off a sliding board. We were probably 15 feet off the ground and I kicked him off the slide. I actually kicked him in the chest several times until he fell off the ladder. Then I slide down and continued playing, as if nothing happened. He gashed his eye during the fall. Looking back, I feel bad about it, I could have really hurt him. But as a kid, I didn’t have that boundary or empathy, it was a simple raw reaction. I like to remember the positives and negatives in that potential.
The right soundtrack for your visions: I have loved R.E.M. since the 10th grade and listen to them daily. But Boards of Canada would possibly be a better soundtrack to my thought process.
BRAIN MAGAZINE - February 28, 2014
Did your parents work in the art field? My mom taught blind and visually impaired students in our public school system and my dad owns a local family insurance agency.
As a child, what did you use to doodle in your textbooks in school? Mostly pen and pencil.
When did you decide to become an artist? My third year of college. I was a business major, planning to work at my family’s insurance agency, but my grades and overall interest were not there. I decided over the Thanksgiving holiday to switch my major to studio art.
Your artwork contains everyday manufactured products, like Pepsi and Coke cans. Were you somehow influenced by Andy Warhol’s work? I think every contemporary artist has a Warhol influence. The idea of Pop Art expanded the boundaries of what Fine Art can be, just the way Picasso and Dada expanded those earlier boundaries. Those ideas just get interwoven in contemporary thought.
Do you drink Pepsi or Coca Cola? Yeah, but I don’t have a preference. Coke has always had incredible ad campaigns.
In your collages, you tend to mash up retro technological items (such as VHS tapes, Atari consoles, etc.), vintage wallpaper and faded family photographs. Can we consider nostalgia as your main work theme? Mortality is my main theme. I end up using identity and the evolving digital world to focus on mortality in an indirect way, so pop culture allows me to get further away from mortality’s morbid and introspective aspects. We do a lot of strange things, like becoming nostalgic or creating unique mythologies, because we are aware that one day we’ll die. That has always fascinated me, so those themes are a foundation. Media like VHS or Atari relate to the temporary nature of things.
While VHS tapes and Atari consoles can be considered as part of the collective memory, you have chosen to use pictures of your own family. Why? I try to take those images and turn them into a template or an everyman/woman that people can relate to. I always get rid of facial features and use them as the protagonists in the story. The lines coming out of them represent abstractions of thought bubbles in cartoons. It is their way of interacting with their environment, trying to understand what is going on around them. I also hope they add a layer that can push the work beyond simple pop art.
What is – or was, if you don’t play anymore – your favourite video game? I love video games. This is my top ten: Fallout New Vegas, Majora's Mask, Ico, Red Dead Redemption, Beyond Good & Evil, Resident Evil 4, Legend of Zelda, Psychonauts, Bioshock, Skyrim
In your artwork, we can see audio tapes of Dr. Dre and REM. What were your favorite musicians back then? I never really listened to music until my 10th grade year of high school. Losing My Religion was a single on the radio at the time and after hearing it and seeing the video on MTV, I bought pretty much every R.E.M. album in a few months. I had a 10 disk changer in my car trunk and it was always completely full of R.E.M. albums.
Do you also listen to today’s music? I love Synthwave. It is really all I listen to. Alpha Boy, Arcade High, Betamaxx, College, Electric Youth, Futurecop!, Kristine, Lazerhawk, Miami Nights 1984, Mitch Murder, 80s Stallone. It all has an either 80s movie soundtrack vibe or early 8-bit video game sound.
Who are your favourite artists? Cy Twombly, Takashi Murakami, Peter Doig, Tom Wesselmann, Jennifer Mehigan and Roberto Calbucci
Are these mash-ups also a way of tackling the theme of technological obsolescence, which tends to come more and more quickly, as cell phones for instance now tend to become outdated only two years after they were released? I was thinking that, there is an opposition between the rapid pace at which technology progresses and the slow pace at which an artwork is composed, and between the overconsumption phenomenon and the DIY aspect of your collages. Am I correct? I use older things to focus on the temporary nature of existence. It really is as simple as that. I like repeating patterns or a large collection of things to go after traditional ideas of the sublime in art, where the sheer number of things, like tiny pixels, imply a much larger scenario, such as infinity. It is the simple idea of stars in the sky at night. How many are there? It is uncountable. The same goes for wallpaper patterns. When does the pattern end? Never. How many piles of Atari and VHS tapes are out there? You just don’t know.
When do you think we will be able to see iPhones in your work? They would need to be replaced by something else. I have a first generation iPod, with the actual buttons around the radial wheel that I’m sure I’ll use at some point. The iPhone replaced the iPod. At the same time, the original iPod already looks like a bulky antique. Who knows if the iPhone will ever get there.
As we mentioned it, collages tend to create time lags in your work. Do you think these discrepancies might have a comical effect? I think comedy in Fine Art isn’t a good idea, so I wouldn’t do it intentionally. I think Norman Rockwell was great at it, but there are not many other examples. That being said, I love comedy and I usually watch B horror movies while I work, so it might make its way in unintentionally. I could see something like the VHS tapes stacked against a Jacobean wallpaper pattern as a bit comical. Maybe the general idea of using themes of mortality and traditional ideas of the sublime with pop art and personal family photos is funny as well.
You use acrylic paint and permanent markers. Can you explain why you choose these media? I’m interested in the actual process, the steps that are needed to get to the end, and I’m very methodical in how I get there. With paint, it is the ability to control the different layers with masking tape. With the marker drawings, I’m trying the recreate as accurately as possible the images I’m working from with a rather inaccurate media, so that tension is always there in the work, trying to make a specific, complex shape with a media that tends to run and bleed and is completely unforgiving to mistakes. I suppose they balance each other, with the paint giving me a lot of control and the markers giving me less control in many ways.
I saw one of your old series, in which you represented landscapes and spaces with pyramidal mountains and starry skies. Where did this Egyptian cosmic inspiration come from? The simple questions of Who are we? Where do we come from? What happens to us when we die? are the foundations of belief systems we have developed throughout history. For a while, I would take different mythologies, such as Egyptian or Native American, and would use those world views. It all goes back to knowledge of mortality. Would these things exist if we didn’t know we were going to die?
Do you rather work in the morning or at night? Sober or drunk? Morning is best, but really I can do good work any time of day. As for drinking, I’ve heard of other artists who were productive while they drank, but I am so process oriented, it isn’t helpful. Ten years ago I did larger abstract, expressive paintings, which I think is a much better format for booze.
Do you believe that Art is useful? It is useful to me. As someone who lives off their work, I would hope that it is useful to a lot of people, but ultimately, I make the work for myself. If other people find it useful, then that is wonderful and I am sincerely happy about the connection.
INSTALLATION MAGAZINE - February 21, 2013
The best place to start is the beginning. How did your journey as an artist begin? It began as a childhood hobby. In high school I had a great teacher who encouraged me. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but never considered art a possible career. Three years into a business degree (my family owns a local insurance agency) I realized I had to change course, so from that moment on, which was Fall 1997, I was a career artist.
Your work is filled with references to artifacts of popular culture (VHS, Atari) that are coveted for their obsolescence, yet are humble reminders that technology has advanced rapidly in a relatively short period of time. Each generation relates to a particular format of technology, so do these objects reflect your childhood? Do they conjure particular emotion, perhaps feelings of nostalgia? My dad was going to throw out all of our old VHS tapes in 2006. We had a HUGE collection of movies, mostly taped off TV. It just blew my mind to get rid of them. So thats where my association with outdated media started. Whenever I use something from the past, either the pop culture images or family photos, I try to somehow change the image, perhaps obscure certain elements. I associate that with the way memory breaks down or simplifies, makes the past vague, perhaps altered by my personal experiences. It is one reason I enjoy converting a VHS box to pixels. Part of it is the simplification and obscurity of specific details while maintaining the overall structure. At the same time, the pixels represent the change from physical to digital media.
The use of permanent markers and paint are interesting choice when handling subject matters dealing with technology and our memories of using those devices. Why is painting important in expressing these themes? I like acrylic paint because of a lot of inherent qualities (dries fast, dry paint remains flexible, easy clean up). Painting by nature is also very easy to display. No need for framing. And the painting itself is fairly durable. So acrylic paint simply makes sense in a lot of real world scenarios, both in use and display. As for the act of painting itself, scrubbing the surface of the painting, creating this worn down, weathered appearance was probably my first painting obsession. I spent my first 3 or 4 years of painting getting a surface I was happy with. That surface began with a lot of texture and as I developed and evolved ways to show this erosion in more subtle and effective ways, the surface became what it is now. The tactile quality of the painting's surface has always been important to me. It is something almost like very very very low relief sculpture. Apart from that, I enjoy the process of breaking an image down to the fundamental parts. The past few years I've been taking images and breaking them down to pixels on the computer. I can then reproduce this in any media, but using the scrubbing process mentioned above, the pixels provide the hard edge between colors that allows for much more abrasion and surface development.
What material best expresses your point of view as an artist? Definitely paint. I think more people like my marker drawings because they have that nostalgic touch, but as I described above, the obsession that developed out of how to handle paint, it is a wonderful way of illustrating the temporary nature of all physical objects.
What artist(s) has had the greatest influence on your practice? Cy Twombly is by far my favorite, but I cannot paint like him, mainly because I really have no way of developing off what he has done. I'd have to say in the past 3 years Takashi Murakami has been my biggest influence…… and he is such an unfair influence considering he has many more hands than I do. But I love the repetition in his work as well as the layering and sanding that goes into the images. Roberto Calbucci, Brian Alfred, and Kevin Zucker are three artists my age that follow quite closely.
HOBART - January 2, 2013
You & I are about the same age, you from 1976 and me from 1978, which means we share many of the same cultural references. For example, I vividly remember watching the Challenger explode, playing Starship's We Built This City cassette over and over on my boombox, watching The Goonies on VHS so many times the tape went wonky. These memories are what first strike me when I look at your work. It's as though I feel a connection with you, through your work, based on the recognition that we grew up in a world that seems so foreign today. No internet, no cell phones, no laptop computers back then. I wonder if we might begin our conversation there. What is it about the past that compels you to look there for your subject matter? It is funny, because I'm listening to Arcade High's album The Art of Youth. It is Dreamwave/Synthwave/Outrun Electro, basically synth based mostly instrumental music, almost like an 80s movie soundtrack. I absolutely love this genre (Betamaxx, College, Futurecop!, Lazerhawk, Miami Nights 1984, Mitch Murder, The Outrunners to name a few others) and when I listen to it I always wonder what it is exactly that attracts me to the past. And I don't have a specific answer. I don't consider myself overly nostalgic. I typically take things from the past (from pop culture to family photos) and somehow break those images down. I erase the identities in family photos. I either draw VHS tapes with permanent markers or reproduce them as pixelated images. My two overall themes are memory and change. So the memories typically come from my youth. I remember in the early 90s when I was in high school, I thought the 80s were so uncool and terrible and I would never look back fondly on that time, but it really was a special time. Bright colors. Max Headroom. The Goonies. The NES and digital technology in the early phases. I think using memory and change as my main themes, I'm really concerned with mortality. Not concern or fear or death, but that human element of knowing that we are limited. I think using personal memories rather than a generic idea of memory makes the mortality association more subtle or balanced.
Using memory and change as your focal points seems to grant your pop culture iconography a sense of gravity that distinguishes it from the Pop Art of the 60s, to my mind. Whereas artists like Warhol or Lichtenstein, for example, seem often times to have been obsessed with documenting their present, you choose to document your past. Also, as their Pop work seems fixated on examining the potentiality of the surface, yours seems to desire more, or perhaps something else. Do you consider any particular affinities or antagonisms between your work and the Pop Art of the past to be significant? Or, maybe I'm off base making those comparisons. If so, are there other artists whose work you consider more in conversation with your own? I never thought of myself as Pop Art until recently. My college interest in painting developed out of an interest in 50s Abstract Expressionists and their ideas on the sublime. That still fascinates me, the idea of trying to replicate this almost undefinable emotion in a tangible object. Eventually I discovered Cy Twombly's work and he remains by far my favorite artist and, I think ultimately, my biggest influence. That said, 60s Pop Art is often historically explained as a reaction to 50s Abstract Expressionism, just as I believe my work developed out of my personal association with Twombly. The 60s Pop Artists I think most about are probably Wesselmann, Segal, Ruscha and Hockney. Both Wesselmann and Segal have such tangible qualities. They both incorporate sculpture, but I think it goes beyond that. The chunkiness of the plaster castings with Segal and the assemblages of Wesselmann, they both manage to look handmade and cohesive at the same time. Hockney has a few images that stand out as being so incredibly iconic (his swimming pools, a few portraits, lawn sprinklers), almost like a 60s version of Lost in Translation. And Ruscha, he has just had an incredible career in general. Most artists have a period or few pieces I like, but from then until now, he has been both diverse and consistently good. Currently, I'd have to say Takashi Murakami's recent paintings are my main interest. We (actually his studio) both use several similar techniques (taped off areas, flat colors, sanding to expose multiple layers), so from the perspective of how they are constructed, his paintings absolutely fascinate me. A lot of the ideas involved in my initial interest in the 50s Abstract Expressionism attempts at the sublime are in his paintings, using contemporary and familiar imagery. They have that ability to confound when I look at them and try to figure out how they were put together. That is a great feeling, personally, to be unable to categorize or put boundaries on something.
I want to ask you about your process and mediums (acrylic paintings, pigment transfers, and marker drawings, etc.) but first I'm dying to hear more about your interest in Twombly's work. I'm conflicted about his stuff. On the one hand, I want to love it; on the other hand, I consistently feel like I'm missing something crucial, which keeps me at arm's length. Can you help me see his work through your eyes? What makes him your favorite artist, and in what ways do you feel like your work has been influenced by his? Twombly's work took a while to grow on me. There was a book from his 1994 MoMA retrospective that I would regularly check out from the library. The cover had one of his paintings (Leda and the Swan, 1962) and I was mostly indifferent to the work at first. But a month down the road, I checked the book out again. Then again. And so on. I knew his name, because at the time I was a huge Basquiat fan and he had mentioned him a few times as an influence, so this probably gave me the benefit of the doubt on his work. But again, his work took a while to grow personally. Twombly's mature flat work I break up into two parts, the first being the 1960s-early 2000s scribble paintings. I get how these are a bit difficult, since they seem incomplete, in progress, or incoherent. I like that they are full of action and potential, while also maintaining restraint. I think it is a balance in the aggressiveness of the mark making and the solitude of the predominant white. Personally, these paintings illustrate that fundamental struggle in making something, the decisions you make to either keep or replace. I like how his work documents that struggle. In a number of ways, I focus on flux and change in my own work. I think I'm attracted to this concept in general, so I like being able to see how the paintings evolve in layers. Often times, painting in general ends up losing a lot of energy in the process of refinement, but Twombly's work maintains that internal history. As for his late work, from his Lepanto paintings and especially the work he did the few years before his death, I think it has a much broader appeal. The use of bright colors, simple compositions, really focusing on his basic strengths, it strips down the visual complexity of his earlier work. His Rose paintings and Camino Real paintings, I think they still have the energy of the earlier work but are much easier on the eyes, due to their straightforward compositions.
That helps me understand Twombly's work in a different (and much more interesting and engaging) light, thank you, especially in terms of the tensions you describe between aggression & solitude, and retention & replacement. I feel like those tensions are visible, when put in that frame of mind, upon looking at a piece of yours such as "Far Above the Atmosphere" or "The Fortress of Solitude." Both of those pieces are acrylic on canvas, but you also often use permanent marker on paper, and pigment transfer on paper. Could you say a little about these three approaches, how you came to them, what attracts you to them, and perhaps how you decide which to use for a given work? I'm especially interested in the pigment transfer, which sounds strange and fascinating. My work usually begins on the computer, such as manipulating family photographs or drawing pixel images. I'm able to make all of the compositional and color decisions before I make any physical object. Sometimes I work in a sketchbook, but the majority is computer. The first step in making an actual work is usually a pigment transfer. The transfers basically move the ink of a photocopy to another surface, giving me the ability to reproduce anything I do on the computer as a tangible object. To make a pigment transfer, you basically make a photocopy, put that photocopy face down in wet acrylic paint, let dry, wet the photocopy paper (after it has completely dried), and finally scrub that paper off with a brush. The result is the pigment from the photocopy bound to the acrylic paint. It is a good first step, getting the work off a computer screen. Then, depending on the image, I'll continue with either a marker drawing or painting. The marker drawings initially developed out of the desire to use something that didn't have the associations with fine art, something that would have a more playful mentality. I picked up a set of Crayola markers about 5 years ago, mainly to use for sketches, and they evolved to the very intricate and time consuming VHS/Atari/Cassette drawings I've been making today. The decision to use the permanent markers or paint partially comes out of image complexity, the fact that my painting process is not friendly to fine detail. A great example is the writing on the VHS tapes. I can reproduce that in paint, but the effect is different. The markers also have an inherent association with youth, so they work well with things from the past. On a technical level, it is appealing that I cannot make mistakes, that every decision I make in regards to color or line quality is in many cases final, stamina and precision are the inherent challenges of the marker drawings. Painting is typically the ultimate goal. I usually try to make images that are strong enough to reproduce on a large scale canvas, so I ultimately decide after the transfer process whether I want to continue. Each technique has something on the production level that I enjoy. With the pigment transfers, the removal of the paper from the photocopy, that scrubbing as well as the control of the scrubbing, being aware of possible air bubbles, as well as controlling the removal of the pigment from the original image. With the marker drawings, as I mentioned, I enjoy the importance of precision. With the painting, the scale and the amount of physical work involved with moving the object around, sanding and scrubbing the surface, taping areas off and cutting shapes with the x-acto knife, all the steps involved has an aspect of construction. There is the idea that any object in the physical world is either in the state of construction or deterioration. I think I try to illustrate that with the paintings. And I never feel like they are finished until there is that balance of construction and order balanced with erosion and slow deterioration.
That's probably a perfect place to conclude, but I'd love to squeeze in one last question about books for the Hobart audience. You mentioned the Twombly book that had a great impact on you. I was wondering what other books might have been significant in your artistic development, be they artist books or any kind of books: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, etc.? The Fountainhead was a very big influence, which I read in my early 20s. I'm not on board with a bit of Ayn Rand's philosophy, but the idea of the individual and the endless pursuit of a person's ideal, that had a huge impact. When you start out as an artist, no one cares what you are doing, and in many ways it feels like a joke career. So that gave me a lot of the momentum in the early days. The Cantos of Ezra Pound is something I'll pick up every month or so. I don't really get much tangible out of it, but it is always fascinating to read. It is dynamic, overwhelming and really doesn't make much sense, but I like that. Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful is probably my biggest reading influence. It is a great and fairly simple contrast of Burke's ideas of the beautiful and sublime and, in my opinion, the best entry point to understanding the sublime as a possible aesthetic.
EDIAL - November 2, 2011
How did it all begin for HBT? I went to the University of South Carolina as a business major, to work at a family insurance company. Throughout youth, I had a strong interest in art, especially drawing, which continued into college. It was a natural attraction, something I probably took for granted. I eventually began to really miss the work as college progressed, which eventually pushed me to change my focus from business to art half way through my junior year. I believe that was the beginning, deciding to do something other than working in the family business, which I had more or less planned on doing throughout youth.
You explain your work as themes of memory and perception, when and how did you first realize this as the central theme for your work? Probably in 2007, when my work began moving from large scale nature abstractions to working with family photos. I'd always had an attraction to the photos, using them from time to time over the years, but they were never the starting point. I used them like Gerhard Richter uses photographs, applying an established method to the images. I was doing the same thing with a different technique. Sometime in 2007, the photographs became central to the work, beginning with those images on the computer and working from that starting point. I think it was then when my personal history became a key element. I think it was also the decision to quit making work for a large or general audience (which I considered large scale abstraction to be) and to begin doing something with which I had more of a personal connection. I believe it also became more apparent as I got older, things from my youth were different, such as watching The Goonies. I probably watched that movie several hundred times growing up. I still enjoy the movie, but it is different. Seeing how those important things from my past change as I get older as well as the general nature of idealizing/changing/forgetting the past, those themes just gradually became a focus.
The past plays a significant part in the nature of your work, old photographs, vhs cassettes, myth and custom. Does the past, or more significantly your personal history, serve as a starting point to your work and how you approach it? As of now, almost always. My recent work begins with an significant event (Challenger explosion), something from popular culture (VHS, cassettes, Star Wars) or something from my personal past (the old photos). For a while I worked with the theme "The Earth on the Back of the Giant Turtle", which is still a main theme, but this idea has been transferred to these more personal events. The turtle story was attempting to underline how the view of reality changes over time. The story itself if a Native American creation myth, similar to a number of other earth diver creation stories. I think at the moment, the idea of reality becoming more and more of a digital reality, as well as the things from my past changing or becoming almost irrelevant (VHS tapes) relate back to the turtle story, in a much more subtle way.
In many of your photographic pigment transfer pieces the faces of people are removed or altered or scratched, is this significant to your personal view of altering memories, people and the past or is the viewer left to fill in the gaps, so to speak? Yes to both. I'll copy and paste a few sentences from my statement, which best sum up why I manipulate the photos: "The erased photographs represent individuals questioning their environment, lines coming out of them like thought bubbles in a cartoon. The lines connect with other people and objects in the environment, representing our dependence on and desire to understand things happening around us. They are our thoughts, questions, and ideas that lead to understanding we develop, either with variations of myths/religion or through science and objectivity. The protagonists identities are hidden, representing anyone. They represent the incomplete nature of memories as well as the fragmented nature of the people and environments in the photos, that inherent motivation to understand their surroundings. The erasure hides individual identities and, most importantly, represent inevitable change and the fact that these individuals, in that specific form, no longer exist, either older or completely gone."
Through your work you obviously understand the importance of historic moments on a nations psyche, so are your works based on the twin towers and the challenger explosion, made out of a compulsion to interpret these moments for your own understanding and comprehension? The Challenger explosion and 9/11 happened for two different reasons. One a tragedy in the pursuit of science and the other in the pursuit of an ideology, or, more importantly, a dogmatic belief. They are the two key memorable large scale tragedies of my life. Worse things have happened to people around the world no doubt, but these two events had the most personal impact. They represent the two main ways we pursue knowledge (science and religion) and they represent the occasional tragedy that happen within these pursuits. They have that balance, two unforgettable moments based in two entirely different circumstances. I convert a lot of my recent work into pixels in Photoshop. Part of this is the continual transition from a physical to digital reality. On another level, these images looks like old video games. They look like youth. Personally, I think combining these explosions with the idea of youth has that sense of loss.
Who or what influenced you and how did you interpret those influences into your own work? It is probably unnoticeable in my recent work, but Cy Twombly by far has been my biggest influence. Personally, he has an emotional impact far beyond any other artist. I suppose everyone's favorite artist has that emotional impact. Twombly is probably one of the main reasons I no longer work in non representational abstraction. It is very difficult for me to be directly influenced by an artist and not copy them. I have to work in a different format, with different media than Twombly. A friend Roberto Calbucci is also heavily influenced by Twombly and it is completely obvious in his work. But he adds something else. I think he is possibly Twombly's successor. I could never add anything. I was always an imitator or follower. So Twombly more or less pushed me into an entirely different direction.
What would be the best advice you could give an artist who is starting out today? That is hard. Everyone has a different situation. Personally, it took me a long time. I worked for years without anyone knowing what I was up to. That was difficult, because I had no way of justifying or getting reaction to what I was doing. This was 1999-2001, without the reach of myspace/Facebook/Tumblr. On another level, it just takes a long time to develop. It takes a while to do anything different from what has already been done. It takes a while to refine techniques. And it takes a while to develop ideas. And, most importantly, it takes sacrifice. You have to make so many life decisions that are purely centered around being an artist.
Where to next for HBT? It is hard to say. Right now I have just started a Han Solo painting. I have three or four other images I've converted to pixels. I also have not made any marker drawings in several months. I spent a lot of time figuring out a number of specifics with the pixel paintings. The goal for this year were the paintings. I've been happy with my pigment transfers and marker drawings for a while now, but the painting has remained elusive. I do enjoy every aspect of these pixel paintings so far, the manipulation in Photoshop to the tedious reproduction on canvas, drawing the shapes on masking tape and then slowly cutting that out with an x-acto knife, so as the year winds up I have to say I'm very happy where the paintings are at. At the beginning of next year, I'll start working on a body of work for an upcoming 2013 solo show.
URBAN OUTFITTERS - September 29, 2011
The artwork is what you created for our Store on Tour, can you tell us how it came about? The only guidelines were to use the material from the Alph(a) Khakis somehow in the work. I've been working with manipulated family photographs for over three years now. I'll take the photos, erase identities, and add lines or shapes coming out of the figures. I do it partially to create a sense of flux and disappearance, as well as creating ambiguous shapes, similar to thought bubbles coming out of cartoons. These shapes represent the figure's attempts to understand their surroundings. The pixelated images are a recent development. They represent the idea our physical reality is becoming more and more intertwined with the digital world. There is also a transformation that is almost cartoonish when the image is manually converted to a pixel image, reminiscent of childhood as well as old video games. And finally, in keeping with the theme of the work, the darker color of the khaki is the actual Dockers Alph(a) Khaki material, in its original form.
Describe the process that goes into your work. I split my time working with pigment transfers, marker drawings, and acrylic paint on canvas. The initial work almost always begins on the computer, either manipulating an image or composing a composition from a previous photo (for something like a VHS drawing). Then I typically do a pigment transfer, which essentially transfers the pigment from a photocopy to acrylic paint, as a way to bring that digital image into the "real" world. If I'm happy with that image, I'll either work in marker (largely to make color decisions) or begin a larger acrylic painting.
You use a lot of modern cultural artifacts in your work (like VHS tapes and cassette tapes). What are your two favorite pieces of technology, one from the present and one from the past? I'd say the Nintendo is a favorite piece of older technology. I see video games as a modern form of story telling and adventure, something like the early stages of movies. I don't know if video games will ever have the art of movies, but I hope they have a chance. Those old games, there was a simplicity to seeing that structure of all the pixels, like the atoms of everything in that world. It is one of my personal attractions to the pixel images I'm working with. As for modern technology, I would definitely choose the iPod. More specifically, the iPod classic. I actually just read today on CNN that it may be coming to an end. It is another step in both the physical world (CDs) becoming digital (mp3s) as well as the newer forms of technology (iPhones and iPod Touch) replacing the older (the classic iPod).
Your work makes us feel extremely nostalgic. Tell us a memory from your childhood! One time, I was in a Big Wheel race (the small plastic tricycles that were popular in the early 80s). I had never ridden one. It was a race in downtown Aiken, with a lot of people. A large festival with the entire street closed off. The races were broken up in age group. I remember there were 4 of us in the race—two other boys and a girl. We all got on our Big Wheels and a lady came up behind us to adjust our seats. Unfortunately, she pushed my seat up too close. I could barely peddle the Big Wheel and I came in last place. Very last place. I probably finished a minute after everyone else (the race was probably 100 yards). I still have photos of the race. It is one of those memories that was so terrible and embarrassing when it happened but so funny now.
What is your favorite thing about living in South Carolina? NASCAR and Southern Baptists! I'm kidding. It’s definitely the climate. Having four distinct seasons is wonderful, especially after living in Chicago for four years, where it is either cold or hot. Also the people and personalities. There are a lot of embarrassing stereotypes, but there is also a hospitality and quirkiness that is rare.
If you could go see any artist on tour, past or present, who would it be? Of any band, I'd like to see Boards of Canada live. They play so rarely and have been such an influence on the associations of innocence and childhood I make in my work.
If you were to go on a tour of the United States, where would you go? My wife is from California. Last year we drove a bit of the coast (from central coast to Redding). It was just a diverse, dynamic, beautiful drive. I'd like to see more of that.
UNDEFINED MAGAZINE - October 26, 2011
Tell me a little bit about yourself outside of art. There really isn't much to me outside of art. My wife and I own a contemporary clothing store in downtown Aiken. She actually does 99% of the work with the store. I used to help my dad with our rather sizable garden (a little over an acre), but I have less and less time for that now. Personally art is a full time job. Pretty much every aspect of my life is wrapped up in it.
What is your background in art? I have a BFA from the University of South Carolina, which I received in 1999. I lived in Chicago for 4 years and worked as gallery director of Mongerson Galleries for 3 1/2 years and I as installation assistant at Russell Bowman Art Advisory for about 2 years. On a more personal level, art was a big interest throughout childhood. I won school awards in both middle and high school for art, so I more or less had the identity as the art kid. Not really the eccentric art guy, but someone who could draw a cool picture. In middle school I mostly did comic book drawing. By high school I was doing very precise representational graphite drawings of figures from popular culture. Mostly musicians. Especially Michael Stipe of R.E.M. He was my teenage idol.
What originally drew you to produce art; how did you get started? Like I said, I was naturally inclined to make 2D reproductions of interests throughout youth. I suppose what took me beyond normal childhood curiosity was my obsession with each piece. I'd typically spend 20-30 hours on a single drawing. There was something about that process, which I suppose is largely the challenge of getting an image as close to another image as possible, that got me into the very basic level of attempting to be technically capable with the medium. What got me producing art on an "adult" level was college. Philip Mullen taught an intro painting class. I really didn't have much experience with painting growing up and this was a typical lower to intermediate level class. The first project I turned in, I received either a C or C+. It was hard because not only was this the first C I'd ever gotten on an art project, but I really thought it was a decent painting. In retrospect is was not, but that propelled my determination to figure out painting. And it became almost obsessive over the semester.
How does producing art make you feel? Well it is a spectrum of emotions. Frustration. Stress. Occasional success. But I think no matter how good or bad the work is going, I always feel productive. Even in failure there are many things to learn. So I'd say productive is the main feeling, which is a very good feeling.
How has your art developed or changed over time? It is hard to look at the work over time and not create some sort of false narrative. The work changes for a number of reasons, either by technical or conceptual influences. My work has changed a lot over the past 10 years since I've been out of school, largely making my own decisions. My earlier work had a griminess that I've mostly gotten rid of. I would use washes that gave the paintings an eroded patina. I can get that same eroded quality (which is something I very much want to happen) in a much more subtle way.
What mediums do you most enjoy working with? Acrylic paint, pigment transfers, permanent markers, and Photoshop. These are the materials I've been using regularly the past 4 years and the range they provide seems to work very well. My work almost always starts on the computer in Photoshop. The pigment transfers are a way of directly producing a physical version of the computer work. The marker drawings convert the original image into something a little looser, preparing the image for the potential final version as a painting.
Where do you get inspiration for your work? From my previous work. 90% of my ideas come out of the physical process of producing the work. There are both limitations and potentials in the work, I'll see something I want to improve on. For example, my recent pixel paintings came out of the desire to have more control over the conversion of the manipulated photographs to painted reproductions. First I would use masking tape, cutting out the organic shapes with an x-acto knife. That evolved into the idea of creating the pixel images, where I could precisely measure out the original computer image and cut those shapes out. Then inspiration comes from discontentment. I for years tried to reproduce my computer work as loose oil or acrylic paintings, similar to Peter Doig. I simply cannot paint that way. I have the patience to do extremely precise, time consuming paintings, but cannot reproduce an image in a more traditional way, using brush strokes. That idea of tradition as well, trying to do something with standard equipment, that is different than anything else I've seen, that is a main motivator or inspiration.
What does your art mean to you? It makes me happy. It is the perfect balance of challenge and reward.
ILLEX - March 7, 2011
You've said in your artist's statement that VHS tapes represent outdated things that continue to exist, are bound to us by their initial value, and are now wound up in habit, nostalgia, or loyalty. In working with ideas and images of nostalgia and memory, such as VHS tapes of the past, is there something that you are being be loyal to or something that you would like us all to be loyal to? Not at all. I'm against loyalty to a belief system or idea from the past. If anything, it is a criticism of how people grow up in an environment, surrounded by certain habits or beliefs and they somehow feel that is the only way to be. The VHS tapes are a form of self criticism. My dad was about to throw them out and I had to keep them. I grew up with those things and I can't let go, even to this day. In other words, it is identifying with the same weakness I see in others in myself.
In Secrets of the Sea, there appears an outline of a boy in solid red shorts. We the viewers can feel that he's there, we can know that he's there, but we cannot see him exactly. In bringing this boy to us, what feelings do you wish to provoke? Science works for me because it is empirical, based in observation, learning, and experiment. So I'm inclined to believe the scientific idea that we all evolved from tiny organisms that originated in the ocean. Yet I'm also completely capable of believing something different if discovered otherwise. So with Secrets of the Sea, we came from the ocean and we're made of water. Erasing the figure implies we're temporary. The squared-edge lines coming out of the figure illustrate how we are becoming more and more intertwined with digital reality.
In Sunset On a Wall, can you tell us about the negative space you've created? The erasure in that image connects the two figures, representing our dependence on and desire to understand things happening around us, as well as our dependence on others to learn. That also hides the identities of the figures, letting them be anyone. And finally, it is a fragmented, incomplete image, representing the incomplete nature of memories as well as the fragmented nature of the figures in the image, giving them that inherent motivation to understand their surroundings.
In Colors That Don't Exist, you show us a UFO with the words "I Want to Believe." Are you equating a UFO with memory, and is memory as make-believe as a UFO? I think to believe in anything you have to somehow want to believe. People believe a wide array of things throughout history that explain the world. It is that leap of faith people take. I want to believe in science because it attempts to self-correct itself. As for memory being make-believe as a UFO, it definitely has the vague quality of the UFO. I think, like a lot of beliefs, a UFO fills in the blank of a question we can't answer. Memories fill in the blank of a gone past. Sure a lot of things in our memories happened. But there is also the idealizations that happen over time, slanted by how we want to remember the past.
ANJELICA TRIOLA - February 8, 2011
Tell us about the three biggest influences in your work to date. I'd have to say over the past 5 or so years it has been Cy Twombly, Peter Doig, and Matthew Barney. Twombly's work has an immediate emotional connection for me, a sense of vitality and energy that I don't get from any other visual art. Peter Doig's paintings are representational with a strange dreamlike twist. He was the artist that made me decide I could possibly do a decent representational painting one day. And finally Barney, I'm more attracted to his conceptual foundation and his ability to articulate what he is doing. The work itself can be a bit much, but the underlying ideas are fascinating.
Is there a hidden meaning behind the common theme of erased faces and people in your work? The erased faces usually have some form of lines coming out as well. These "limbo lines" as I've come to call them connect with other people and objects in the environment, representing our dependence on and desire to understand things happening around us. They are our thoughts, questions, and ideas that lead to understanding we develop, either with variations of myths/religion or through science and objectivity. The protagonists identities are hidden, representing anyone. They represent the incomplete nature of memories as well as the fragmented nature of the people and environments in the photos, that inherent motivation to understand their surroundings. The erasure hides individual identities and, most importantly, represent inevitable change and the fact that these individuals, in that specific form, no longer exist, either older or completely gone.
How did you develop your pigment transfer technique for creating these mixed media pieces? Around 10 years ago an artist in a neighboring studio was transferring black and white photocopies into gesso. She gave me the basics of the process and it developed from there. Outside of that, a lot of trial and error. Getting familiar with the variables of the process.
What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of? Continuing with art, especially in my early years. It is somewhat easier now that I'm older and have an identity as an artist and a variety of techniques I've developed. When you are just starting out, for myself at least, it felt like years of limbo.
If you could travel to any place at any time in the past or present, where would you go? I really have no answer for this one..... I've never had the desire to travel. I don't know why.
What's your most recent muse, and how do you think this will impact your art moving forward? Definitely my girlfriend, who also helps a lot in the studio. It is great to always have someone else for objectivity as well as accountability.
DETAILS MAGAZINE - November 10, 2010
How do you determine the design choice? Love the old school meets new product...
Thank you, the ideas behind my work very much represent the things that were once so valid and essential that now are unnecessary and just... old. Yet they still have a hold of our thoughts every now and again. The "VHS Heroes" marker drawing was one of my first permanent marker drawings that just so happened to capture the eye of the Infectious.com, Inc., the company who makes my drawings into iPhone/iPod/Laptop skins. My "Earth on the Back of the Giant Turtle" and "Black Panther" pigment transfers also happened to work well for the electronic decals. So, I'd like to take credit for being a designer-- but really, I'm a painter who just happened to fit into a designer's shoes for this occasion.
With so many iPad, laptop and iPod skins out there how do you stand out?
The VHS works on a level of nostalgia and familiarity. Children of the 80s and 90s had their heroes and dreams on VHS tapes. The ROYGBIV Circuits illustrate the internal workings of technology and by using permanent marker and incorporating the color spectrum, it becomes playful and familiar while simultaneously placing them into our overall panoramic of reality. Then I have The Earth on the Back of the Giant Turtle, which represents my overall theme as an artist-- Who are we? Where do we come from? And what is going to happen to us when we die? The work stands out through the attention to detail and the use of permanent markers which have such a warm familiarity, while the pigment transfers add a weathered quality to the often clinical computer imagery. The pieces that are available in tech skins are relatable at a everyday level of understanding, they are personal drawings rather than products designed to sell, and
they provoke such strong, lingering feelings. These are the reasons why I think people like to look at their iPhone thirty times a day and remember those feelings when they see my images.
Why are skins such a personal statement?
The technology the images are attached to are individuals personal property. The skins take a universally designed device and make it unique. I like to imagine a sea of suits in a busy subway and one of them whips out their Blackberry with "Flash Gordon" and "Indiana Jones" VHS smacked on there.
What's next on the horizon with the skins?
It is completely up to Infectious. Perhaps, something featuring Atari or other outdated technologies, or maybe something I haven't thought of yet. Right now I'm looking at Christmas lights reflecting off my computer screen and I think something 70s- Battlestar-Galactica-esque would be great. Overall, I owe so much of my success to what has already happened and what already exists-- I think I'm more or less a modern-day landscape painter.
A rough range of the prices and skin products available would also be great.
www.hollisbrownthornton.com has a list of each and every individual skin that I have available and its price on the "Gift Guide". The skins are made for various Apple products, smart phones, and laptops all ranging in price from $14.99 to $29.99
NOTASTEREOTYPE - April 24, 2010
Your artistic production is invaded by a sense of nostalgia, memories caught and reworked, transition. Is this the connection in your work or there is another, more subtle, that we still have not guessed? I use a phrase "The Earth on the Back of the Giant Turtle", which comes from Native American creation mythology, basically one of the number of world views or explanation of reality from the past. And I use fragments of other mythology throughout the work, basically focusing on the idea that reality and our perception of reality are constantly in flux. So, as you said, transition is a key element. I use memories a lot because they represent our knowledge from experience, things we've learned through trial and error. The erased figures in my work are the ones who come up with all the different stories or go through the objective process of science in understanding reality. But all these things from the past I use, it is the fact that a lot of the important things change through life, that there is never a sense of stability.
What is the memory for you? Learned experience and personal, close to the heart events, that gradually fade over time and/or are broken apart or idealized by the way our brains store things.
How do you profit from your strongest inspiration? I think, personally, and I assume this happens with other artists, inspiration comes out of work. You do something and either figure out a way of improving it or move on to something else. But ideas almost always come out of work. Even if I have no idea of what I want to do at a specific time, the limitations of the materials and the physical act of using those tools is the majority of inspiration for me. There is also the influence of other artists, especially artists I'm friends with over the internet. All art comes from other art, so it is a great feeling when someone does something much better than you do or did it.
The process of transferring pigment from virtual reality than concrete, which you use, has a strong symbolic value but also a great technique. How did this technique develop and how much you have been limited by this uncontrollable processes? Yes, definitely, transferring something from the digital world to the physical work is symbolic. It happens all the time, in the real world, and vice versa. From using Google maps while driving to scanning images into your computer or writing a word document. But the technique itself, a studio neighbor was transferring black and white photocopies into gesso and gave me a quick, basic outline of the process. From there I figured out all of the variables. Well, most of the variables. Things happen from time to time (I think it has something to do with either studio temperature or humidity) that I don't understand. But I have a lot of control over the process. Most of my processes, the transfers, the marker drawings, the acrylic paintings, have an extreme amount of control. So the limitations are minimal. One of the reasons I use this process is the instant age it gives to graphic imagery. The way the pigment can rub off in the transfer, it is an almost instant aging. But I'm more limited by my imagination than by the process.
Which of your works would you donate to your father, which would you donate to your child and which would you donate to your favorite artist and why? To my dad, I'd give one of my photo erasures that has him in it. My kid, probably my first drawing, which I did when I was 3 or 4, of a whale. And my favorite artist, I have no idea. Cy Twombly is my favorite and my work now bears almost no resemblance to his, so he probably wouldn't like it.
Does hiding the face of your subjects make them no one or anyone? Anyone. One reason I erase the faces is because they're myself and friends/family members. I don't want people looking at the work looking at specific individuals, I want them to have an open template they can either plug themselves or people they know in, or just allow it to be completely ambiguous.
Any current work in progress? Right now I'm stacking Atari games for a photo, which I'll then add to a wallpaper background on the computer and then draw on a large piece. And a number of erased photos on the computer, which will be transfers in a few days I imagine. As for painting, I just finished a mid sized painting called Fortress of Solitude, but I'm not 100% with it. So I'll likely do some more computer work on it and probably start a new one, with the improvements. Well, hopeful improvements.
TAKE WITNESS - April 20, 2010
You utilize a number of different techniques in your work- sketching, paint, even pigment transfer- how do you decide which approach to take? Other than my doodle line drawings, the work originates as either a photo or computer manipulated image, so the initial transfer is almost always the first step. It is a natural way of translating the digital to the physical, taking on the tactile, eroded qualities of the process. This step starts to break down that precise, detailed computer image. Then marker drawings move the image from the photo format to a more organic, handled area, breaking down a lot of the complexity and intricacy of the photo. I use a light box to essentially trace the original image, so I maintain the proportions and a lot of the fine detail, while at the same time erasing or simplifying areas that don't benefit the overall image. Then finally, the painting, after I've gotten familiar with all the variables and know what I want to focus on. So it is a process of refining an image to the final painted form. The original image always begins with the potential of being a painting. Some make it to being a painting and others don't.
Your work has been very popular on Flickr. How can an artist best publicize their work today? Has your online popularity translated into real-world success? I made my own website in 2002 and that was somewhat beneficial, but the real exposure and connection began with myspace, around 2006. That was when I realized the usefulness of social networking. And the Flickr and Tumblr usage came out of that. One of the largest benefits of the internet is blog exposure. They provide such a diverse demographic, as well as a different group from those I interact with on a regular basis, which online are either artists or people with similar art/music/film interests. So, personally, I recommend Flickr/Tumblr/Facebook/Twitter. Just get the range of social networking. But Flickr and Tumblr have by far been the most beneficial. And possibly set up a bigcartel.com account, it is free in the basic form and can't hurt. And perhaps explore certain product skin or t-shirt companies, like threadless.com or infectious.com. I have a few product skins at Infectious and I know for a fact they've been responsible for a few original sales. And absolutely, overall, I've had a number of sales come from online exposure. I'd say sales on a monthly basis since Fall 2009.
Many of your pieces recall memories of childhood in the 80s -Star Wars, The Goonies, VHS tapes- What makes you include this imagery? The underlying theme of my work is the phrase "The Earth on the Back of the Giant Turtle" which is a piece of origin story used, at one time, by a variety of Native American groups. I chose that phrase to represent the wide range of beliefs that explain or attempt to decipher reality. Myths in other words. And these things like Star Wars, The Goonies, all those movies on the VHS, those are our modern myths. Those are the coming of age stories and hero adventures we grew up on. And the VHS tapes, like the turtle story, represent how things that were once important, useful, and relevant can eventually become outdated and replaced. I also focus a lot on memories and the bittersweet aspect of things from the past loosing bits of their identity. I mean, watching The Goonies now is completely different for me than watching it when I was 10 years old. I tend to focus or at least ask myself how people believe certain things that seem completely out of touch with reality. And then I focus on the a lot of the flux or the persistent change of time, using that as a source or catalyst to why one person believes this or that. And taking 80s images to be somehow connected to those things, I don't know, it just seems appropriate to use something more light hearted when dealing with broader, human nature issues. And the 80s were my childhood, it was rather easy going for me, being a kid. So that is one of the main reasons I focus a lot on that period, combining those images with the broader themes of the ways we create perspectives and put boundaries on reality.
Is art your full time profession or a very active hobby? Is monetizing art even viable in this economy? It is full time. I install art occasionally, but that is about it. Art is a challenging career no matter what economy, but the economy of 2009 was brutal. I pretty much only worked on the small scale, mostly my marker drawings. And that was hugely beneficial on a number of levels. For example, working small scale rapidly pushes the developmental process, since it is typically less physical and time consuming work. It is also an extremely controlled environment, working on the computer and small scale drawings. So these problems with the economy just force you to adapt. And situations that seems like inconveniences at the time often make you think outside of your conventions, which from time to time is a great thing. I absolutely believe you can make a career in this economy. You just have to adapt.
FORTH THREAD - March 2, 2010
How did your artistic journey start? Drawing was something I did on a hobby level throughout youth. Mostly comic book style illustration until high school, when I started doing representational graphite drawings of pop culture personalities. I suppose it officially started half way through my third year of college, when I changed from a business major to art.
In your opinion who are some influential artists of our time? Matthew Barney has a way of thinking outside of conventional narrative mechanics and developing this interwoven network of mythical and gender related symbolism. I think he has created some of the most iconic and memorable imagery in recent history. For me, his work represents almost pure potential, like strange organisms swimming around in prehistoric oceans. Peter Doig's paintings have this rare energy, the fact that they're slightly melting and his color pallette, they're both surreal and realistic. His work always looks like it is about to vanish. And Takashi Murakami, whose 2009 painting "A Picture of the Blessed Lion Who Stares At Death" is in my mind, the great painting of the past decade.
What are some of the themes or subjects that you explore in your work? Nostalgia, which relates to memory and how things we remember break down, are idealized, become fragmented or are completely forgotten over time. And uncertainty, being in a constant state of "What happens next? Who am I? Where did I come from? What happens when I die?" and the way we have, throughout time, answered these general questions that relate to uncertainty and the unknown. It is why I use a lot of old photographs or things from pop culture in my work, as well as why I erase parts of those things, I try to articulate the felling of memory. And why I use a lot of religious/mythological/scientific references, because they help us deal with what happens next.
How did you discover the pigment transfer process and how did it effect your visions..? In 1999, a girl in a studio next to me was transferring black and white photocopies into gesso and in a few minutes explained the process. Then, over the next few years, I figured out a lot of the variables. It allows me to transfer the work I do on the computer, such as the photo manipulations, to canvas or paper. It bridged the digital and physical world for me.
You talk about different realities between pixel's and pigments, what are your thoughts on the difference between the two? The main reason I draw or paint pixels or transfer work I do on the computer to physical surfaces is the reality of the physical world and the digital work becoming more and more intertwined. I don't think one is better than the other, so there isn't any social morality in combining the two. But each has its own nature. Computers allow you to be incredibly precise and organized, so I do much of the preparation work on the computer. And it is so forgiving, you have a history palette, Photoshop layers, you can save different versions of the file, etc. Then I might do a transfer or reproduce the image in marker or in paint. Or a combination of the three. Handmade things have a tactile quality. They're always slightly flawed. I think we relate better to something of this sort. We empathize with handmade work, more so than with computer work.
May I ask why your characters remain faceless and mysterious, to great effect? The photos relate to fragmented and incomplete tendencies of memory, so breaking down the stability of the photo is important. The people in the photos are meant to be the main characters in the story, the ones who come up with the scientific and mythological explanations of things. So the figures themselves are fragmented, motivated to figure out things and understand their surroundings. The lines coming out of them are abstractions of their thoughts, like thought bubbles in a cartoon. They're also erased because they no longer exist the way they did in the photos, they're older now and sometimes deceased. And, finally, they're family photos. I want to get rid of specific identities and give the viewer blank templates with which to form a relationship.
What are the main devices or tools for creating your work? On paper I use Prismacolor and Copic markers, tracing images I've prepared on the computer using a light box. I have a step by step of the transfer process on my site http://www.hollisbrownthornton.com/information/transfer.htm that gives a description of that process. On canvas, I'll either use an opaque projector to reproduce that image I'll then paint in oil or acrylic. With the oil, I use a lot of paint thinner and stand oil. For the hard edge acrylic paintings, I use masking tape and cut out each color area with an xacto knife. I also use dry wall sanding blocks with water on the surface of the acrylic paintings to control texture or make lower layers of paint visible, as well as giving it an overall washed down and eroded effect.
How do you go about preparing for an up coming show? I don't know, I really don't have a good answer. Months before a show, I'll do a lot of work, in anticipation for the show, and it usually doesn't turn out very well, because it is rushed. But the themes of the shows build off the general themes I've been working with for years, so it is a matter of picking a cohesive and dynamic body of work.
What was the last thing you found, and picked up from the ground to keep? I have no earthly idea. I found an old Budweiser can on the ground years ago that was faded on one side from sun light and I saved that. That's the last thing I can remember.
Finally do you have any advice for young creative's? Work work work. I think great artists aren't talented, they're just hard workers. I mean, it is a little more complex than that, for instance I think personality traits give people certain advantages, but almost everything comes out of work. If possible, try to work in the art business for a while, either at galleries or an auction house, to get an understanding of that end. But in general, be uncompromising, do what you want to do because it is a self motivated career. And be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices.
FILE MAGAZINE - February 19, 2010
Does your surroundings influence your type of work? There is something about the heat in the South that is very important. I think its partially the activity during the warm time of year... the plant life, all the bugs making sounds at night, the variety of animals running around, the cicadas. It has a vitality and a restlessness that is naturally motivating. But the heat itself, it can be very uncomfortable at times, because of the humidity, but I'm so used to it (my family's house didn't have air conditioning upstairs until I was 10ish) that I think I physically and psychologically need it.
How would you describe your work in 3 words? Memory & Uncertainty
What general emotions do you call on when you create your work? Nostalgia, which relates to memory and how things we remember break down, are idealized, become fragmented or are completely forgotten over time. And uncertainty, being in a constant state of "What happens next? Who am I? Where did I come from? What happens when I die?" and the way we have, throughout time, answered these general questions that relate to uncertainty and the unknown. It is why I use a lot of old photographs or things from pop culture in my work, as well as why I erase parts of those things, I try to articulate the felling of memory. And why I use a lot of religious/mythological/scientific references, because they help us deal with what happens next.
What do you do to switch off? Watch movies, exercise (gym or running) or nap.
Who would your ultimate collaboration be with, from any field you choose, and why? I really like Miranda July. She gets a bit twee at times, but her sense of humor and her round about way of getting at general human themes of love and isolation are brilliant to me. Plus, I think we'd get along really well.
Tell us something no-one else knows about you? When I was in college, I used to write a lot of music on guitar, but I didn't have a very good singing voice. So I'd drive around and record myself singing to music on my car radio and then replay it, to figure out what was and wasn't working with my voice.
What did you struggle with the most when you were starting up? The slow pace of development, filtering though a lot of influences and developing a conceptual foundation for what I was doing. Art in general is this continuous development off art from the past. Its just a long, drawn out process of trial and error before you get to something that has a sense of your own identity. When you're young, you want it to happen much faster than it does.
Do you think its possible to retain your artistic integrity and be commercially successful? Absolutely. There isn't much about being poor and scraping by that gives you artistic integrity, except the internal drive. When an artist works and works and works with no on in the world caring about what they're doing, making no money off that, I think that persistent effort legitimizes it to a degree, because there is a genuine internal motivation that comes from the desire to make good art. Financial or commercial success canceling artistic integrity happens sometimes or maybe a lot of times, but it doesn't have to happen. The lack of commercial success can have an adverse effect as well, because it forces artists to make compromises, trying to gain that commercial or financial stability.
Do you ever get stuck for inspiration? Not really. In early 2009 a series of personal and professional things happened that really threw me off track and dug a deep hole I had trouble getting out of, but that is about it. I'm a pretty hard worker and most inspiration comes out of work.
What are your top 3 favorite places in your city? Hitchcock Woods is a great wooded area in the heart of downtown Aiken. It has a place called Sand River which is literally a river of white sand, with huge white ciffs. The rather large garden my dad and I keep behind my studio is great, in reasonable doses. And my studio.
What are some of your goals for 2010? To do more large paintings. The 2009 economy pushed me away from large work by March. I made significant developments with my small work, especially my marker drawings. So now I'm concerned with getting back to the larger work.
Can you talk about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about? In all honesty, I'm particularly excited about being able to do another drawing. I've been so busy the past few weeks, I haven't been able to draw. Or, I guess, focus on a drawing. Drawing is one of those things I genuinely enjoy doing and its where most of my ideas develop and solidify. I feel slightly off or unstable when I can't draw for long periods.
What is your favorite time of the day? I go running in the morning, at a local track because I have a lot of dogs running around my neighborhood. After I run, when I'm driving home, I'm driving into the sun and especially during the cold time of year, I can see steam coming off my arms, which is all the sweat evaporating. Thats always my favorite moment of the day.
DISKURSDISKO - April 8, 2009
To start things off, what's your background? When did you start doing artwork? All growing up, it was an interest, though as a hobby rather than any consideration as a potential career. The work was all drawing, mostly as-accurate-as-possible reproductions of photographs (usually people from pop culture), no painting. In middle school (11-13 years old) and high school (14-17 years old) I won some school art awards, but at the same time was denied certain other awards, like acceptance to South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities (a public high school for emerging artists). So I eventually went to college studying business to work for my family. And that eventually eroded to poor grades and a general lack of interest, so largely on instinct, I changed to studying art. And from that time, at the beginning of 1997, and following my 1999 college graduation, the work has been my main focus.
How do you mainly produce your art? Do you have a system or method that you adhere to? The most obvious method I use is the pigment transfer process. It is a way of taking photocopies (though it can also be done with drawing/painting/other pigments) and transferring the pigment to another surface that takes acrylic paint. When I do any type of representational painting or drawing, I use either a light box or opaque projector. The drips in my paintings are a combination of brush painting and spray bottle. I often use rubber gloves and finger paint to get very smooth transitions in the paintings. I use a lot of masking tape and cut shapes out with an x-acto knife, paint, and then peel the tape off. To get the surface smooth on my paintings, I use dry wall sanding blocks (sometimes called sanding sponges).
What inspires you? Watching the Bruce Springsteen making of documentary for Born to Run. Episodes of Arrested Development. Peter Doig & Matthew Barney & Basquiat & especially Cy Twombly. Bees. Being outside or at the lake. Listening to audiobooks on galaxies and philosophy and science and the art of war. And listening to Crystal Castles and Justice and Boards of Canada and Wavves and R.E.M. and Burial and Robyn and M83.
Much of your recent artwork is based around negative space on manipulated photos - how did you develop this style? That developed over a 1 1/2 year period. I had nonrepresentational graphite and marker drawings/doodles I was scanning and trying to combine on the computer, with the intent of emphasizing fragmentation and flux. But they didn't have a context or any subjective meaning, so I began combining these computer manipulated images of the drawings with photographs, mostly landscape. And gradually, those landscapes changed to the family photographs, largely to serve as the protagonists for the overall theme of the work (which was dealing with creation mythologies). First there was the idea of taking away the stability of the photograph (the frozen moment of time) by superimposing the drawings..... then it merged into an active combination of the drawings and the photographs by directly erasing elements of the photos and drawing with simple Photoshop tools (like the square pencil or eraser or magic wand). I erase the faces largely to obscure identities, to make the figures more universal (man/woman, child/adult) while keeping other period elements (clothing, decor, automobiles). The ideas eventually resolved with these incomplete figures, where something is obviously missing, and the lines coming out of them representing the uncertainties and ideas and potential they have, as well as the origins for the creation mythologies which were conceptual foundations of the work. The lines radiating from the figures is like being able to see thoughts in a cartoon.
You've done a series of VHS video tapes portrayed on shelves - where did the idea for this come from? Growing up, we had an HUGE cabinet of movies dad taped off TV. In the 1980s, this really was a sacred cabinet for kids. My friends would come over and go berserk finding movies to watch. Then, about 2 years ago, dad came out to the warehouse (where my studio is) and was about to throw out the hundreds and hundreds of VHS. It was just a shock to see these things that were so important at one time being worth nothing now, just taking up space. So there is that idea of modernity/progress/consumerism, and how technology is so quickly outdated. And how it can be difficult to let go of the past. So they are monuments to the VHS era. And the contents of the tapes is usually very funny. The passing technologies also relate to the ideas of the creation mythology, where past myths or belief systems are replaced by new ones.
Looking at your archive of work, I see a strong progression in style from the earlier works, which are more abstract, to more recent collages and still lives. Do you feel this is a natural progression, or have you made conscous choices in determining the direction of your art? Early, I really didn't have specific ideas of what I wanted to paint. General themes, but nothing specific. Really more influenced by other artists. So, on the level of being new and young to making art, abstraction was an obvious direction. Plus, most of my early favorites were abstract expressionists or related to that genre (Rothko, Klein, Twombly, Johns). On a conscious level, I was intent on understanding how to control the paint. From an early stage, I wanted the surface of the paintings to be smooth and visibly eroded, so there were vague ideas about the content of the paintings dealing with time/age/erosion. Later, I became focused creation mythology and the psychology of creation, so abstraction was pursued at that time with the ideas of something being in the state of formation and potential as a theme. And really from that time period, around 2003 until present, to the best of my knowledge I've been making conscious decisions on what I use in the paintings. Sometimes the development seems very natural and sometimes it seems completely chaotic.
As you use the internet to showcase your art, are there any other websites you feel have influenced you, opened your mind or shown you new ways of creating art? Myspace was very helpful for a while. That was my first encounter with networking on the computer. Myspace went through a golden age and then rapidly declined for me. I eventually deleted that account (though I wish I hadn't) out of not using the service for some time. It was an important connection to a lot of other like minded people. Flickr is very important to see the effect of recent work. For instance, the VHS pieces are very popular (relatively speaking) and I really would have had no idea otherwise. And then there are things I do that I believe will knock people's socks off and there will barely be any reaction! And Tumblr is a great way to follow other people with similar artistic interests, where I almost daily I find a new discovery.
Do you have any specific plans for the future direction of your artwork? For the photo manipulations, I'll continue creating them on the computer and redrawing with markers. I see no drastic changes there. I am in the process of painting these photo manipulations on a larger scale. The room pieces with the tile/grid floors, they need to become more developed, with less of a clean break between the floor and the wall, so they'll be furnished before too long. And I'll likely add the VHS tape shelves to the rooms. My very large paintings, they need to be much more chaotic and overwhelming and I really have no idea where they are going from here.
Many thanks for the interview - is there anything you'd like to add? No, nothing at all. Very good questions! Thank you!!
ARTIST INTERVIEWING ARTIST - December 7, 2007
What are your favorite materials to work with? In terms of the actual working/making experience, drawing and erasing, as well as the scrubbing aspect of my transfer process. And being out taking photographs... I prefer physical, moving work, as opposed to the stationary aspects [reading/research, computer work].
What artists are you inspired by? Artists I know, both personally and online, are by far my biggest influence... with the famous or historic artists, though influential, you only know them from a distance. They include: Twombly, Barney, Miranda July, David Gordon Green, Rothenberg, Basquiat, Kerry James Marshall, Hirst, Nicolas Roeg, Kubrick, Johns, Rauschenberg, New York School Abstract Expressionists, Schnabel, Mark Bradford, Warhol, Wesselmann.
Tell us about your educational background. Do you have formal training in art? I studied art at the University of South Carolina... I was there as a business major [my family owns an old insurance business], but I changed to studio art half way through my junior year.... with the loss of credit hours, I stayed and studied there, in a small yet resourceful art department.
When did you decide to pursue art? Really at the time I changed to studio art in college. Once I made the decision, I've never questioned the idea. My family is supportive, which makes this type of career much more manageable.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your background in regards to how your art has evolved? Well, the majority of the old imagery I use comes from family photos, so the imagery of growing up in the late 70s and 80s in the South is there. But, in general, growing up in South Carolina, that environment is very important, especially the drive from where I grew up to my family's lake house, seeing those rural, decaying areas, that had a significant impact. The South has so many offensive, clichéd, boring stereotypes. A main reason for moving back to South Carolina was after watching David Gordon Green's "George Washington", which is an extremely honest representation of how I see this area. It is a very beautiful, almost perfect place. Perhaps it is why it is the most conservative state in the country, people here don't want things to change.
Can you go into detail about your artistic process? How do you begin a piece? When do you know that a piece is finished? I honestly have no organized process. I constantly have work in progress, images laying around, drawings, not messy really, but not a system, at all.... but I am very organized. As for finishing something, it is finished when I stop working on it. I could be dead tomorrow, so everything is finished when I'm away from it... I just see it all as a constant state of potential.... with my work that is completely transfer, it is very much hit or miss, so those have craftsmanship concerns...
How does contemporary life impact your creative practice? Contemporary technology is very important [computers, scanners, Photoshop, photocopy machines], especially being in the South, staying involved in contemporary life via the internet and other new forms of media is unique.
Tell us more about the philosophy behind your art. What motivates you to create? Largely, my interest is in the way that we deal with being temporary, such as continual flux and death. That makes us ask questions "Who am I?" "Where did I come from?" "What will happen to me when I die?" and we answer those questions differently due to what we know don't know, as well as the belief of the cultures into which we are born. And our answers at always dictated by our limited perspective, such as being born into a culture with a dominant religion or mythology or scientific belief. Fundamentally, this is my main interest and the motivator for why I make the work and why I use the type of images and materials and words I use. And potential, the idea that everything is constantly in a state of construction or decay, but ultimately, potential, the idea of something in continual formation, it is the optimistic perspective. And influence, how we become what we are or believe what we believe, like radiating lines from some unknown origin.
Why did you choose to work in the medium(s) that you use? I like photography because it is a way we try to stop time, to make something last forever. There is beauty in that. I'm however interested in destabilizing that frozen moment, to emphasize instability or unrest, so I ultimately erase areas, turn the image sideways, add drawing that is influenced by or completely uncontrolled by the image in the photo. As for computers, they allow these manipulations and I suppose, in terms of potential, computer work doesn't have the historical associations of painting. The transfers allow me to transfer the computer images to the traditional stretched canvas or paper. My main materials are carbon [from the black transfer pigment] calcium [in the gesso and marble dust] and water [used to remove the paper from the transfers].... these are also a human's main ingredients.
What are you working on at this time? The continuation of painting/drawing/photography combination I've described. I am writing a story that corresponds with events in the work, a narrative description of how certain symbols I use relate to my experiences or how I intend for these symbols to be interpreted. I am working on a project with old VHS cassettes my family had growing up. Right now a friend is producing a publication with the theme "Bad Things" and I'm doing a piece I'll likely call "Water Wars", an idea that relates to the potential of wars being fought over water if extreme global warming occurs. And getting Barrack Obama elected president... well, I'm not directly working on that, but hoping.
What is your studio like? Can you go into detail about your studio routine? Do you work in silence-- listen to music? The studio I currently have is a warehouse building where I also live.... I really have no routine, I have my living space where I do computer work and then the exterior warehouse space that I do the painting and transfers. It is broken up between these to spaces, just depending on whether I want to do physical or stationary work. I'm almost always listening to music.