Saturday, February 7, 2015

Ken Weathersby: Interview

218 (arpln)2014, acrylic & graphite on linen over wood, 32 x 40 inches

2252014, acrylic & graphite on linen, wood, collage, 40 x 30 inches

197 (dccch)2012, acrylic & graphite, linen, wood, 25 x 15 inches

Beginning with this photo and those that follow is a sequence showing various steps in the making of the painting shown at the top of this post:  218 (arpin).

The marble tiles in the center are used for weight while the glued panel is drying.

Exactitude is how I describe the working sensibility of Ken Weathersby. His paintings are finely crafted and highly visual, yet they also carry a complex narrative. It's clear that he thinks about the whole work, back and front, along with it's internal space and the space it occupies externally. Weathersby's process is something I've always been interested in, and in the following interview, he really opened up and explained things in detail.  

PB:  What I like about your paintings is the fact that so much consideration has been put into each one. There’s an optic buzz on the surface, but there’s also plenty of curiosity generated by the framework/support structure. Tell me about the aesthetic decision making that goes into your pieces.

KW:  Well, I would say that each piece starts with some simple notion that comes from… not sure where, actually. There is a certain territory that I’ve been involved in for eight or nine years, to do with reshuffling the given parts of painting. By “given parts” I mean the wooden stretcher, the canvas or linen, the paint film, staples or hardware—the things paintings are generally made of. I’m always looking for a kind of de-stabilization of what those parts normally do. It’s a process of looking for a way to open up a space where I could work with the usual ingredients, but to different ends from what I think of as “regular painting.” 

So these little ideas come and each piece would be its own idea. I could be watching a film or going to sleep and get the sense of “I want to see a painting with two backs and no front” or whatever, and that comes to me with an image, which I quickly sketch, to remember to work it out later. Then it’s a matter of engineering the structure along with the visual considerations of working that out. The working it out part sometimes takes weeks for each piece, with lots of working sketches and different processes, and I make up my own self-taught ways of doing things.

Lately it’s been a little different, though. The main difference is that I am interacting with found things, collage elements, and inserting them into that situation of abstract, physical and structural stuff. With the collage pieces, sometimes an idea comes from a moment of seeing things together in the studio, noticing possible juxtapositions. Mainly the collage cuttings are images from art history (I’m cutting up old books). The images are usually reproduced photographs of figurative sculpture, whole figures. They are injected into the painting, but also stand outside of the retinal abstraction areas in the painting and look on and gesture. They are kind of re-enacting or anticipating—or in any event participating in and complicating my experience of looking into possible relationships within painting.

PB:  How do you go about working in the studio; do you have to strike a balance between painting and constructing? 

KW:  I think of it all as painting, whether I’m hammering nails or cutting wood or using a brush. I go to the studio just about every day, and thankfully just returning to the space helps me remember how I am engaging with whatever painting process is going on. I always seem to get myself into very complicated situations of layering and gluing and constructing. It seems the building of the panel, or layering of wooden grids, always has to happen in a certain order in relation to building up the painted area, or cutting through to insert some object or image. The sequence has to be right for very basic reasons of what will logically work and hold together and not lose the sense of what I’m trying to do. I think my primary tendency to work on a single piece at a time helps to make this manageable. The process always changes, it’s always different. I will say I envy painters who use basically the same process every time and don’t have to worry about that sort of thing, but if I am truthful, there is something in me that is drawn to making things different every time, that have to be figured out anew with each piece. I have claimed that if there was an easier way I’d take it, but apparently the difficulty is connected with what the work is about, and maybe I’m less interested in the easier way.

PB:  As far as other artists are concerned, past and present, whose work has influenced or impacted you?

KW:  I’ve always loved the early Renaissance Sienese painting. The John the Baptist cycle by Giovanni di Paolo at the Art Institute of Chicago was pivotal for me at a certain time.

I was very fortunate to study with George Ortman when I was a graduate student at Cranbrook. After I finished the MFA, there were years of me painting on my own before I saw the influence of his constructions in my paintings, but I continue to be interested in his work, and we remain friends.

There are friends and contemporaries, but I don’t want to risk leaving people out...

Actually I get a lot of impetus to work from watching film. My wife Michele Alpern (also an artist) and I watch films together, thanks to her constant and discerning tracking of what’s worth seeing and playing in NYC each week.  We also go to the NY Film Festival every year, and fill in the gaps with things on disk if it’s the only way we can get them. Great films make me want to do my work. Jean-Luc Godard’s 2014 “Goodbye to Language” affected me as much as anything I saw recently in any gallery.

PB:  What are some art books that you can’t do without?

KW:  I used to be addicted to buying art books, to the point where we needed more and more bookshelves, and it was costing a lot. In the last few years though, I guess because images of anything are so easily and instantly accessible online, my book addiction has tapered off.  Lately I only seem to covet books that are compelling and irreplaceable objects. Michele got me an amazing book recently about Czech modernist puppet theater, beautiful.  Amazing images, a subject I didn’t know, and a beautifully designed book. I have Chris Ware’s Building Stories on my studio table. I’m a big fan of the way he messes with the physical form of the graphic novel.  

PB:  What’s coming up in the near future for your work?

KW:  This spring I will be in a four person show at Odetta gallery in Brooklyn, NY, called Textual, with Elana Herzog, Annette Cords and Leonardo Benzant.  Also in the spring I’ll be in the group show Therely Bare (Redux), which will open in Leiden, The Netherlands, and travel to be a part of Arts Athina and possibly other stops after that. Later in 2015, I will be in a two person show at Key Projects in NY, with the artist Li Trincere.  A few other things, but those are foremost right now. 

Also coming up, lots of time in the studio!