Can you tell me a little bit about you?
My life growing up could be understood as an argument between a few disparate worlds. I’ve had to make my own leaps in deciding what to believe, how to behave, what matters and doesn’t matter to me. So for one half of my life I was left without a way to take hold of these arguments, whether it was religion, family background, or personal identity. So then maybe because I just felt like I had no other wall to lean on, I chose to stare into the blind spot sort of speak and face such things by asking where it all came from in human experience. This asking became study, which became a love of epistemology (what can we know? Where does knowing come from?), which then became formal study in art and philosophy. As I’ve gone along this path, I’ve really locked on to subjects related to thought and ideas that are so comfortably felt, but which can be flipped on their head.
So I studied Philosophy for my Bachelors degree, I studied painting at Tyler School of Art in an art program that pivoted my understanding. I worked and learned from an artist for a year. When I lived in Tokyo, I did artist talks and interacted with the art scene there- it has all been an education, still is. I mean an artist is never not a student… All of it has always led me towards making art that is a mechanism for shedding light on existential themes, what society thinks it knows, what we’re all used to- but instead should be in awe of.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
As a kid, I had a whole filing cabinet completely stuffed with all my drawings from age 3 to around 12. I drew every single day; I prayed to come up with “ideas” every day. I used only a #2 pencil and computer paper- I didn’t care about anything else for some reason. It was all from my imaginings, I didn’t draw from what I saw in life or looked at. I think I wanted to create other worlds, composed of all these inventions I came up with, separate from the reality I was in front of. I guess it gave my hands and brain some initial dexterity. It definitely structured my thinking into the visual with regards to memory.
So I started making art from the first. But later, in middle school, I had an art teacher who really put me on the spot and forced me to recognize my artistic worth. I was a shy kid, but the art teacher sneaked my work up on display as the first prize in a competition I didn’t even apply to. I heard my name announced on the loud speaker, saw a copy of my work on the school board, and instead of being embarrassed, I felt stronger. It was the most comfortable “identity” I had ever felt. From then on I was not afraid of showing my work to anyone.
What do you like most about working where you do?
I live in Los Angeles, but within a marina surrounded by water. It’s a very different feel than the rest of the city. For me it’s just right, because I feel that I need to be somewhere that has elements that are not manmade- there’s many places where I can walk and walk, without hearing anything but water lapping against the boats, and an occasional bird caw. I can take a quiet walk, in the middle of L.A., and then head back into my apartment studio to paint. It’s peaceful.
On some weekends I head downtown and go to shows. In L.A. each night is different- the shows and experiences, people groups. It all morphs from week to week. The art scene is growing here tremendously and so interacting with everyone and everything is essential.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Epistemology, metaphysics, metacognition/inner existence, ideas surrounding complacent comfort vs dynamic shifts in belief, ideas. My work relates to these through their process of formation and their final visual outcome. The most common thread through it all is a struggle to bear down on truth- a “thing” that if it were a physical substance would be unbearable in itself. Something impossible, finally, to relate to at all. But somehow we as humans make unending efforts to make such relations. I love that, it can be indomitable, defeating, maybe both.
Recently, my Warped series [pictured in the 7 first images above] is about metacognitive existence, abstracting into the abstraction, going deeper into my own tendencies and purposes. The midpoint of my process has a “control” method that forces change into the work, literally squeezing and manipulating it into a different kind of language. There’s a huge struggle in it, you can see the debate where my own hand and the digital manipulative-force is at odds.
What is your process like?
With Warped I end up repainting my work over and over again, from one canvas to another. In-between these paintings is the digital control that distorts the work into a different evolution. The distortion is done digitally, from an image of the prior work, and I use it loosely as reference for the next piece. The distortion takes the image and totally reconfigures it, keeping the work from fragmenting but pulling and stretching it in a distinct way- a form that has been put through a filter (or more like a meat grinder). So then when I use this image to physically paint the next derivative work, the final outcome is an abstraction of an abstraction. The discussion that this brings up is always interesting- the final painting informs me about my own initial work and talks very loudly about what can be known, what can be interpreted and how. It’s almost like a translation of the first painting that is its own “test of proof” of its identity.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
I started the Warped series back in 2013/14, when at that time, the inclusion of digital forces at play was still somewhat new. It was called “digital as manual” and usually related to a group of artists conveying visuals that were born out of the digital, as manually produced paintings. Artists like Linda Bessemer, who started ideas about this much earlier, have been leveling the grounds for this for some time now, allowing the ideas to be taken in serious context. Others like Yang Tsung Fan and Trudy Benson continued this, and inspire for their playful and inventive use of the aesthetic. Using my own work for the initial imagery and recycling that into a final work was a bit different than that, but still relates. Fast forward to today and it’s become something called post-analog, or the “new aesthetic”, a kind of amalgamation of what we are all exposed to every day, now literally spilling out onto the canvas throughout the art world. I think this is good, but it can also be an unintentional simulacrum.
The Hole (NYC) did a show last year called “Post Analog Studio” in which a number of artists showed work related to this sort of practice. I’ve lately been interested in work by Morgan Blair, as well as Greg Parma Smith.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
While working at Prism Gallery, I had to use gallons of metal cleaner to polish the tarnish off of a 1-ton solid brass polygonal desk. I almost passed out from the fumes.
While at the Tyler School program I once got locked out of the dorm I was in, because the bathroom was outside of the main dorm door which had a faulty lock. I was left completely in the buff without even a towel to hide behind. An hour-long odyssey of epic proportion resulted. I won’t go into the details, suffice to say I eventually regained my clothes.
Many stories in Tokyo- once I was walking to my studio back from a supply run when a photographer ran up to me and asked to take my picture. I had no idea what the point of it was until I received a magazine with my face in it- it was a fashion type publication. I really wasn’t wearing anything that stood out, to this day… no idea.
Again Tokyo- I had some of the oddest, and some of the most intriguing conversations while living there. From a derailed gallery owner who lost his space, berating me for making work that to him looked like flowers from Georgia O’Keeffe… to a regular salaried business man who just walked into one of my shows, the first time ever at a gallery, and spoke with such amazing eloquence and insight that I learned new things about my work that I’d never thought about before.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I’m working full-time as an artist. My last job before this had me working for the Government of Fiji. I had some real adventures in that position!
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both) which has influenced your practice?
I’ve been told that I couldn’t and shouldn’t do anything that I am now doing- art is worthless, it isn’t responsible, etc. I can say that apart from bad advice from older people, the next worse thing can also sometimes be to take good advice as well. By this I mean, if you are led by others and do not go out on your own, you won’t develop as an artist with an independent mind. Artists above all others need to do what they decide they should do, without letting anyone else decide for them. Advice is good, mindless obedience to authoritarian voices is not. Sometimes people don’t realize that their mentors might actually be in control of their development.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
I think an artist needs to have that vigilant staying power- they need to learn how to get back up hundreds of times. Keep getting up, either from failures in the studio (which can be extremely emotional downers) to the business side, submissions, shows, etc. Chip away at problems a little bit everyday. I keep learning how doing this will eventually solve issues that you thought were dead ends.
What does it mean to you to have a community?
It means staying relevant, and staying sane. The artist needs to connect with humans, in order for the work to connect with humans. So you can’t stay in a bubble of a group, but you can’t stay at home either. You have to constantly put yourself out there and meet people. It never feels safe, I’ve had just as many negative experiences as positive ones. I find community to be a place of social challenge honestly, but that’s a big part of what community is. If you think about it, even your own family is a social challenge, just one with very familiar arguments!
What is your studio like?
It’s a room in my apartment, which spills out into the rest of my life- kitchen, den, the balcony (where my paintings go to dry). I love it. I like being able to take a few steps and boom, get to work. I’ve learned how to segment my work hours with my home life hours, so it isn’t too challenging in that respect.
My studio is purely functional. I store my finished work elsewhere- I don’t like to have prior work around. So I keep the walls clean, I make the space meditative and peaceful, efficient.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mindset to make work?
There’s a few dimensions that I can get into, in answering that question. I could probably answer it differently each time. I’ll talk about the more outwardly functional meditative aspect that leads up to producing the work.
I read a lot- from philosophy to sci-fi. I read about history and art. I delve into my mind and develop realms of thought that lead to a nestled contentment of thinking, which I can put into a kind of visual debate while I am laying in bed about to go to sleep. It all adds up the work-mind I have when I paint. It’s the homework. When I begin, It’s a rule of mine to make the canvas stretchers myself, stretch the canvas, gesso it and prepare my materials- I don’t buy pre-made stuff. As I prepare, I’m in a place of reflection and digestion. Once I’m ready to paint, I relax my focus and then find that there is a quietness that results.
What do you find most daunting, frustrating or challenging about pursuing art?
You can lose you life-blood sort of speak. You can wear out and not have any energy to work creatively. It takes a certain state of mind for me to make meaningful work. I have to look at what I did and say that I like it. If I don’t, if I really find it to be dead, I throw it out. Some days I can’t make work, I just can’t do it.
Another part is that there’s so much you can’t control, like the speed at which your work gains a spotlight, or the network you do or don’t develop. It takes a lot of patience and letting go of what cannot be held on to in the first place.
How would you describe “success” in art?
If the artist is not content, but also feels satisfied. There’s a struggle between complacent contentment and confident satisfaction. You need both, and you need to wrestle continually to be as honest as you can, and push that further. Living life out this way is to me, success for an artist. You also need to show in blue chip galleries, make untold hordes of money, and be remembered for the rest of human existence.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far relating to your work?
I really see the work as a journey that matters more than the “results”. I’ve been working to understand and implement my process more effectively, and I’m looking at concepts related to “progress” and “advancement”- how can I advance the work, related to how society thinks advancements in technology, infrastructure, politic, and other systems seem to automatically advance. I want to parody somewhat in this, maybe to expose paradigms. Which is another part of my work that I think broadly matters- do people see it and understand it? What does seeing it mean? Does understanding even exist here? The questions matter, so if the questions get asked, it means a lot to me.
I’m working on my Warped series. It’s a large, continuous process. It takes hold of otherwise airy subjects in philosophy and makes it an intuitive experience. It keeps hold of itself in a way that allows me to imagine all kinds of what ifs, and I love that.