Friday, June 28, 2013

Steven Cox: Interview

Pathways, 2013, oil and spray paint on canvas, 24 x 18 inches 

Follower of Voltaire, 2013, oil and spray paint on canvas, 24 x 18 inches

Where It Belongs, 2012, oil on canvas, 23.6 x 31.5 inches

Roaming Wild Pastures, 2012, oil on canvas, 8 x 9 inches

Detail of painting in studio

Steven Cox at work in studio

PB:  Your paintings strike me as calm, measured, and subtle. Tell me about the kinds of things that influence your work.

SC:  I tend to be interested in broken objects, decaying items, old antiques, textiles and the reverse side of paintings.  I regularly question how things are made, and how long things will last before they begin to crumble.  At base, I am influenced by the notion of temporality, where the inevitability of change unpredictably alters the appearance and formation of an item.  I tend to apply this understanding of temporality to how I approach the making of my work whilst openly abandoning the notion of creative preciousness

PB:  Yes, when I first saw your paintings, I definitely got the sense of a weathered patina on the surfaces and that you seem to savor each layer. What other technical and conceptual considerations have come up in the making of your work?

SC:  I find that many of the technical aspects that demand most attention revolve around producing and preserving this aged or weathered surface.  Many of my works do in fact take months to create due to the amount of layers involved.  Therefore the main technical considerations revolve around carefully layering the paint and allowing drying time, of which both require a significant amount of experimentation in order to achieve a worthy result.  It’s a delicate balance of not over working the surfaces to a point where the works become overloaded with paint, I like the grain of the canvas or linen being visible in areas.

With this in mind, there is a significant balancing act between the control / chance dichotomy.  An unplanned mistake or occurrence can lead to an unexpected surprise, which is of course critically enjoyable to respond to.  I thrive on this happening, though if it doesn’t, I do feel that the work was subconsciously planned or perhaps too safe.  I do what I can to make each work a bit of an experiment.  Perhaps at best, I want the work to feel like a stranger to me by the end.

PB:  In the midst of painting, do you find yourself trying to seize an image, and is there any slippage of the image due to circumstances and contingency?

SC: The slippage that you are referring to could be interpreted as the unexpected result that begs for my improvisational response.  Perhaps in my mind, the image would be the noticeable elements within my works that are carried between paintings.  As I am interested in both the painterly and destructive gesture, I could consider the surface image as being the processes and gestures evident throughout the works.

Due to the nature of my works being very improvisational and temporal, I aim to avoid working towards a set end image or aesthetic, I feel that each work is a comment on the last, and this comment is primarily subtle in nature and perhaps only noticeable by those who want to spend time visually investigating the destructive surfaces.

PB:  I know that presentation is an important factor in your work. What considerations are involved as you plan that aspect of things? 

SC:  I did my Masters in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating at Edinburgh College of Art, so the curatorial aspect is always in the back of my mind when creating and presenting my work.  I find it important to always consider presentation when painting, as I aim to allow as much transparency to the viewer as possible.  I find that the reverse side of my paintings illustrates a historical journey of the making of my works. For instance, Days of Being Wild (2012) or Time Will Tell (2013) originally began as larger works though were scaled down.  When viewed from the reverse side, the work actually shows a trace, revealing its journey from its starting point to its now end point.  I wouldn’t want to present the works in a manner that allows the back to be viewed simultaneously with the front, though I do focus on allowing the viewer to see as much about the process as possible in a traditional sense.

The main way I go about this is by allowing the sides of my paintings to become as much about the surface as the surface itself.  I aim to continue exhibiting the paintings unframed as to allow the sides to be viewed, for there tends to be drips, brush marks, staples and stains on the sides of the works that are as visually interesting as the surfaces.  To me, this is what the nature of my paintings are exploring, the canvas as object.

PB:  How would you describe a good day in the studio, and what's the Edinburgh art scene like?

SC:  I need to start the day with some coffee and music to waken the senses.  Once I have made my way to my studio, I do my best to semi-plan the works that are to be worked on so I can arrange the layout of my studio to accommodate the works that require working space.  A good day within the studio would therefore involve making some serious progress within one or several works, and I tend to enjoy having the works that are near completion positioned on a white wall so I can study them distraction free.  I feel that by giving time to a work, whilst simultaneously enjoying coffee and music, is one of the highlights to a successful day within the studio.

The Edinburgh art scene is also something that I have done my best to figure out, though I am aiming to move to Glasgow as I believe that the environment is faster paced.  Currently, I feel that Edinburgh seems to own too much of a post-art school mentality where it seems just a bit too safe and slow for serious progress to evolve in any hurry.

PB:  Do you have a short list of artists whose work is vital to you and what aspects of their work do you find compelling?

SC:  There are a few individual artists who I keep in close contact with and speak to regularly about painting, as well as my own painting.  I feel that it is healthy to have a good base of creative contacts around you in order to avoid feeling like a single fish in a big pond.  Though the artists who I do speak to regularly are Christopher Orr and Ross Chisholm, they are good friends whose work I feel an affinity with.  Not necessarily on an identical conceptual level, though primarily through discussing technique and notions of temporality.  I feel that mutual perspectives on painting regularly overlap in a nice way. 

The works of other artists who I am friends with always keep me inspired, for I know that they are constantly hard at work and this keeps my motivation alive.  Additionally the works of Michiel Ceulers and David Ostrowski are also punching out at me; I think their work is fantastic and always a pleasure to explore.  I recently interviewed them both for HUNTED PROJECTS and it was great to discuss their works with them.

PB:  Since you founded your blog, Hunted Projects, is there a nexus between it and your own work, and how has your own progression been affected by it?

SC:  HUNTED PROJECTS began as a curatorial project in Edinburgh just before graduating from my MA in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating at Edinburgh College of Art.  Primarily HUNTED PROJECTS began so I could exhibit the works of Edinburgh based artists whose work I believed in.  It was initially a platform for the audience of Edinburgh to engage with artists, who at the time, were not exhibiting widely or regularly enough.  I truly believe that to this day, there needs to be more regular opportunities for ‘emerging’ artists within Edinburgh.

Now, HUNTED PROJECTS focuses on interviewing international artists where I feel it’s necessary to interview pivotal figures of contemporary art.  All of the artists who I have interviewed are artists who I would love to work with.  They are hugely ambitious artists who are creating very exciting works.  My progression as an artist is partially influenced by the energy I receive from the amazingly inspiring and interesting dialogue I engage in through HUNTED PROJECTS In Dialogue, though at base, my inspiration to explore my own practice is independent of HUNTED PROJECTS.  I do what I can to keep HUNTED PROJECTS and my work fully separate, though at times it is difficult to choose one over the other.  I really love HUNTED PROJECTS and it is fantastic to be in contact with some fantastic artists who are not living within Edinburgh.

PB:  What’s your take on what’s been happening in painting these past few years?

SC:  That’s a tough one, from my perspective there is a real attraction towards abstraction and the use of alternative materials. Additionally to this, there has been a focus on the idea of failure where virtuosity is not of central importance whilst simultaneously the use of cheaper or shittier materials is fashionable.  I think that this is pretty much across the board with many currently emerging painters, mixed media artists and sculptors.

I am unsure if I fully believe that what is being done across the board is particularly progressive as there are a lot of regurgitated elements that are evidently noticeable when viewing a lot of young painters’ work, though across the board it comments on the zeitgeist of a global socially connected culture amid an international recession.  I feel that it really comments on the difficulty of being original when everything is online and is unavoidably viewed on a huge range of Internet accessible computers.  Everyone is looking at the same things, and more regularly now then ever before, so there is an understanding that it is tougher than ever to be an original painter, if it is at all possible. At the end of the day we are all fighting with the same materials.

PB:  What's in your personal library and on your walls--and what sounds fill your airspace?

SC:  Currently I have a mixed bag of works on my walls as I have a few works in storage at the moment, though currently I have prints by Christopher Orr, Andrew Cranston, Kevin Harman and Invader, paintings by Mason Salterrelli and some old Jeremy Fish prints from 2007. 

Books, I have a real mix of material.  I have the History of the Royal Scottish Academy 1826 – 1976, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, Selected Maria Lind Writing, Contemporary Art-From Studio To Situation, The Future of Art, Art in Theory 1900 – 2000, a few Armory Catalogues, Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, Hans Ulrich Obrist Essays, A selection of artist publications: Daniel Turner, Ryan Wallace, David Ostrowski, Eric Yahnker, Sam Martineau, Alex Pollard, James Nizam, Ross Chisholm, Wilhelm Sasnal, Albert Oehlen to name a few.  And a collection of Afterall, Kaleidoscope and Art Review publications. 

Regards to music, I have recently downloaded the Nine Inch Nails discography, Daft Punk and I listen to my friend’s music - The Young Fathers, and Dandy Riots.  They are really worth checking out as they are doing fantastically at the moment.

PB:  I’m looking forward to seeing your work soon. Tell me about the recent and upcoming exhibitions that you’ve been included in. 

SC:  I just finished my most recent solo exhibition, Clinging To The Wreckage.  It was a long weekend exhibition in Edinburgh’s Old Ambulance Depot.  Though I have also just sent some works over to Halsey McKay Gallery in East Hampton, NY and these works will be available for viewing at ArtHampton Art Fair in July.  I will also be exhibiting within a painting group exhibition at Halsey McKay in the fall that will be fantastic.  I am a huge supporter of Halsey McKay Gallery, so it is great to be part of their program.

I also have some curatorial projects in the making though nothing is concrete at the moment, though a few group exhibitions should take place between now and October if everything goes to plan.  Just keep referring to my website for updates, will be exciting for sure.