Monday, January 20, 2014

Joseph Montgomery: Interview

By Michael Rutherford

Image One Hundred Ninety, 2011-2013, oil, pastel, lacquer, wax, resin, fiberglass, epoxy, canvas, and paper on cardboard mounted on plywood, 20 x 10.5 x 4 inches

Image One Hundred Thirty Four, 2011, oil on cedar shims and linen mounted on gypsum panel, 16 x 10.5 x 2.75 inches


Work in progress in studio

The work of Joseph Montgomery has the structure and syntax of sculpture, but it also has all the trappings of painting: wood, canvas, various types of coatings… and paint. It’s the blurring and confounding of classification that lends it a strange sense of hybridity, and its inclusion in the Painter Painter exhibition at the Walker earlier this year was a vital choice, since the curators wanted to highlight work that represented an expansion of abstract painting.

What further complicates things is the fact that Montgomery considers himself a painter, and it’s a complication I appreciate. His experimentation with materials has resulted in paintings that need a good walking around in order to see them in full. The images they project have such a basis in dimensionality that they require viewing from multiple vantage points. In essence, these are images that are grounded in object-hood.

The following interview sheds light on Joseph’s viewpoints and studio practice.

PB:  What I like about your work is that it seems constructed rather than painted, yet it can still be classified as painting. How do you feel about that aspect of it?

JM:  In 2008, I wanted to make work that embodied the idea of paintings as lies, fibs. I have since developed a studio practice that facilitates the building of objects that look and act as paintings while I publicly call myself a painter. I assemble the image of a painting from a variety of materials that achieve the component elements of painting (color, form, overlap, transparency, figure/ground, etc.) in three dimensions and without the use of brushes. It is my intention that you see the work as constructed because I want the object to document studio labor in pursuit of formal images. The act of painting is, at this point in art history, only a portion of image creation labor. The emphasis on construction, assembly, and relief act to represent painting and in doing so, define the boundaries of painting’s usefulness. Painting is the object of my study in the studio and a useful tool, but I am hesitant to participate in painting. The incongruity in the categorization of my work by my own dissembling and the presentation of their position should highlight these distinctions. 

PB:  What’s your daily schedule like and how would you describe a good day in the studio?

JM:  My work, as you may know, contains two distinctive types of painting.  Reasons for this include what I said earlier, especially the attempt to represent painting.  Representations include the collage, which is the image of gestural abstraction, and the shim, which is the assembly of minimalism. These two genres also represent two very different types of labor. 

Much of my interest in studio labor stems from my interest in “having a good studio day,” i.e. how can I be productive, how do I make something, how do I keep making something. These two types of painting exist because they demand multiple types of labor in the studio, and in their requirements provide a mental and physical choreography to the day. The movement from one to the other and within their purviews keeps me fit, keeps me questioning, and provides solutions across difference. So, specifically, the past six years of operating within this project prepare a daily studio practice through institutional studio knowledge, buckets of materials, and self-awareness of how to begin and end a studio session given the usefulness of the different kinds of labor for different kinds of mindset.

The shims are straight up process work. I find it is best to start the day with this kind of effort. That might include gluing, sanding, cutting, spraying, or coating. After a few hours of this I move on to looking at things hanging on the wall. At this point in the day I begin the contemplative collage tasks that I group with painter labor: watching the paintings in various states of completion for gaps in their performance and attempting to solve the problems with materials. A good day equals progress on both fronts with perhaps something new started in the mix.

PB:  I’ve wondered about the kinds of problems that your collaged canvas pieces have posed for you. What steps have you had to take in order to keep the material fixed? 

JM:  If you are referring to any issues with conservation, I have yet to run into them.  Different materials call for different adhesives: epoxy for metal and heavier objects; jade adhesive for papers; wood glue for wood. I am also interested in paint being an adhesive. Some of the materials are jointed together with cuts and penetration and then adhered. I am in no way cavalier with the assembly of the images but I do want the fragileness to be on your mind as you look at them.  

PB:  Your other works made mostly with wedge shaped wood seem to offer a good amount of counter-balance to the canvas pieces. What kind of art historical heredity have they emerged from and how do they fit into your body of work as a whole?

JM:  As I discussed earlier, a majority of the reasons for these works to exist in my practice is because their role has to do with types of labor and representation of painting’s diversity. I began making them in the midst of the collage process because they were fast, immediate methods of constructing a minimalist, monochrome image. They were both literal and figurative reliefs from the slow build of my collages. The shim paintings knowingly emerged from a personal development in studio practice. In retrospect, their subconscious antecedents were what I knew of Rudolf Stingel’s practice, Judd woodblocks, minimalist progressions in general, but with the softness of paint, wax, and canvas frames as final layers to keep them in the painting conversation.

PB:  Looking back through art history, whose work keeps feeding you visually?

JM:  Soutine, Dubuffet, Frank Auerbach, Guston, Ben Nicholson, Sherrie Levine, George Stubbs, Constable, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Bonnard, Schoonhoven.

PB:  What kinds of things outside of art have influenced or made their way into your work?

JM:  Methods of fabrication as I mentioned above enter my work through experience in construction and house building.  When I first began making small abstract paintings, I thought of them as illustrations for science fiction book covers, particularly imaginations of outer space, planets. This reflected an interest in physics, which still applies, and I think is visible as a metaphor in breaking painting apart and reconstituting its component parts with emphases on gravity, laws of attraction, and entropy. Physical issues of resistance and repetition also come into my studio and work through my interest in power lifting and kinesiology.

PB:  Tell me a bit about what’s on your bookshelf and the music you’re into.

JM:  My wife knows a lot about the Shakers and my friend Rosy Keyser and I picked up a history of the group to read and talk about together. A writer/critic just recommended a speculative science fiction author who is excellent: James Tiptree, Jr. and her (Tiptree was a pseudonym) collection of short stories, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. I read a lot of speculative science fiction and am also on a Margaret Atwood tear and finished up Hugh Howey’s entertaining Silo trilogy (Wool, Shift, Dust). Art wise I’ve been reading about studio practice and painting, making my way through the Institut fur Kunstkritik series from Sternberg Press.

Music: I start the day hard – lifting music at the gym – black metal (Vreig, Burzum, Immortal, At The Gates) and then at the studio am a little more mellow but with a Texas flavor– country, zydeco, public radio (Yoakum, Strait, Waylon, David Allen Coe, Jimmie Dale Gilmore) and then after dark I go back to the metal.

PB:  I thought your contribution to the Painter Painter exhibition at the Walker was significant. What other projects will you be involved with in the near future?

JM:  I am preparing my third solo show with Laurel Gitlen in the fall. I’ve given myself the next nine months to sort that out. It will probably be a show that exhibits recent iterations of the two main bodies of work, shims and collages, in pairings. 

Images courtesy the artist: and

Additional Note:  For more information, I’m also providing a link to a video interview Montgomery did in 2012. Things got particularly interesting just after 38:30 minutes into it and I was impressed by how he maintained his composure, which is why I’m including it here.

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