Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I grew up in a small town in North Dakota. We got all four seasons there, but the winters were long and harsh. For months we mostly stayed inside. I learned how to exercise my imagination in these conditions. I would play imaginary games or sit and draw for hours. This instilled the idea in me that you can make anything real if you can think it up. Through drawing different worlds, characters, experiences, and emotions could all materialize and become valid.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I was taping pieces of printer paper together to draw big monsters ever since preschool. I suppose my first encounter with art proper was when I realized that the dinosaurs in the “An Alphabet of Dinosaurs,” book weren’t photos, but were paintings. I stared at that images in that book like they were devotional images, amazed that someone could paint that well.
I used drawing as a way to escape and to make bizarre things to show my friends. In middle school, I would draw during class whenever I could. After class, I would try to get approval from my peers by showing them my sketchbook. Similar to flipping through a collection of Pokemon cards, opening up the sketchbook was like going into another world. I made wacky, surreal images to make them laugh or shiver. Since then I always wanted to be an artist. The school would hand out questionnaires that asked what we wanted to do when we grew up and I would write “ARTIST” in big bold letters as if they’d see how badly I wanted it and let me. In undergrad, I kept switching majors until my painting professor asked me why I wasn’t majoring in painting and drawing. I worried it wasn’t financially possible I told him. He told me that there were no guarantees in any job. I now think that is a little bit of a stretch, but it gave my the freedom to put all my efforts into being a working artist.
What do you like most about working where you do?
Currently I like in Knoxville, Tennessee. I moved here to go to get my MFA. I love working here because of all the history and nature. The area I live in is mostly made up of house that have been preserved and lived in for around hundred years. They aren’t model homes. Each one looks and feels different, as if they organic. The smokey mountains are easily accessed nearby. All one has to do to get to the heart of them is drive through the Gatlinburg, which is like the South’s Las Vegas. I think my practice feeds off of the organic curving lines I see around me. If I lived in a big city, I worry I’d begin to move towards hard edge abstraction.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I am fascinated with how people interpret and engage the world differently because of their upbringings, beliefs, culture, or other influential conditions to how they think. Like a writer describing someone from the third-person I am exploring mind of a fictional character named Father Mark. He is a newly ordained Catholic priest who finds himself lusting after a parishioner. I paint his guilt-ridden psyche, where he abstracts these musings and tries to transcend earthly longings. I pull from my personal experiences having been a lusting Catholic, pop culture, classic literature, and actual accounts of priests. As my paintings depict his internal struggle they also deconstruct and piece back together the aesthetics of my hometown parish. It is a beautiful mid-American Catholic church with glorious stained glass windows. I mix all these influences together and let it marinate like a stew. In the end it is kind of like looking at Rorschach blots through the lens of Father Mark.
What is your process like?
My work values the discovery of content through the act of making. With all the parameters set in place I let loose in the studio. I pour paint onto canvas, letting it pool and run off the surface how it will. Old paintings get painted over so that the previous image can inform the subject matter that comes next. I work on many paintings at once. I’ll be finishing up an area on one painting then see something in another that needs to be done. I try not to control the paint too much. I like to find things as if I were watching things happen.
What is your favorite material to work with, and why?
Oil paint is my favorite material to work with. It’s so bodily and appetizing. Acrylics have all sorts of great qualities, but they don’t have that same kind of textural finish to them. Oil paint feels much more alive somehow. I also like how oil paint has such a long history to it, going back to the master painters and icon makers who would make images meant to be worshiped.
What is the last thing you read?
Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation by Gilles Deleuze
What are you passionate about?
To relax, I watch a lot of NCAA wrestling.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
I have been interested in how art changed during the Protestant Reformation. Artists were commissioned to paint different kinds of subjects and they were censored in new ways. Genitals in religious subjects were terribly taboo to many sects. The Council of Trent put a stop to all nudity in religious art so the Vatican had Daniel da Volterra paint loincloths over the figures in Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement.” Then he was nicked named “The Breeches-Maker.”
How do you spend your time when you’re not making work?
I spend time with my friends, go hiking in the mountains, or go to the local punk music venue.
How has your work evolved over the last few years?
I use to make quick gestural drawings on post-it notes that led to refined ones that led to laboriously detailed figurative paintings. The work went from being strictly figurative with small areas of abstraction with the handling of the paint. Now I go straight to the canvas make large abstractions that try to capture a sense of liveliness that those pot-it note drawings had, while hiding small figurative elements within it.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I had been working as an Instructor at large, which was part of my Graduate Teaching Assistant position.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
If you want to talk about politics, spirituality, or sex people are going to get upset, but that’s ok.
What do you do when you’re find yourself in a creative rut, or feeling unsure about what direction to go?
I get out of the studio and enjoy life. I’ll go for a long drive to another town, go to a movie alone, or generally just look for a little adventure that is not art driven.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
I never knew how important community was until I moved so far away from home. One’s community deeply affects their practice. I’d say every artist needs community. We are communal animals. Even artists like Henry Darger, who never showed his work to anyone, thought he was making it to been seen by God.
What is your studio like?
The studio goes through periods of chaos and order. I’ll work on five paintings at once, push tables to the side of the room, leave garbage lying around, let paint seep on the floor, and let paintings dry flat against the ground until I have to hop around to get through the studio. Then I will come in and clean it all up. I am a very neat and clean person, but the studio is a place where that need for order can be routinely forgotten.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I try to warm up with a set of drawings before going to the paintings or to just sit and observe them before I get to work. I listen to music that fits the mood of the work. When it is on shuffle it is hard for me to stay consistent. I might think the painting is doing really well when I am actually just listening to a great song. I try to get to the studio nearly everyday. It is where I process ideas and get my introvert time in.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Never feeling like there is enough time to see all your ideas through.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
Well, I just finished my thesis. I went into the gallery, painted the walls, set up the work, took pictures, and took it down. The school had decided there would be no receptions and it was optional to set the work up at all. I decided to do it anyway, then while I was in the middle of setting up then the whole school shut down due to the Coronavirus. It was a bummer not to be able to show it to my friends, peers, and community in person, but luckily I was still able to get pictures. Many artists have not been that lucky.
What are you working on right now?
Due to the Coronavirus, I am currently working on a body of drawings because we are not supposed to leave the house.
Find more at williamrerick.com!