It’s actually almost exactly how I was thinking I’d have to do it back when I made it in 1998, just a little easier with digital and computer technology. We’re going to scan every frame, front and back. Then make, like, 70 images of every frame, print it on film, and stitch it together. There will be two sections to the film. Part One is all the forecasts, and then it goes to the back and shows the back of the forecasts. I think the film is going to be about two minutes long. The idea of the film is that it will loop. It’s really exciting.
I remember talking to you a while ago about your decision to move back from New York to Philly and how part of that was because you felt like you didn’t have time to produce. Can elaborate on that?
I had been here in Philly; I graduated, and then I got into Skowhegan. It was the greatest experience of my life. It changed me, made me the artist I am today. Eighty percent of the people at Skowhegan moved to New York. So it was just like, I’d just spent the summer with all these great people and realized, “Holy shit, I could live with them in New York!” But I had no money. Luckily, the artist Fred Tomasseli needed a painting moved and a bunch of us at Skowhegan rented a truck. I didn’t even drive, but I somehow got roped into it. We sold extra spots in the truck to people who needed other stuff moved to New York, so I made like $100-$150 and that was all the money I had when I moved to New York.
The first year and half was awesome, and then the rest was just a slow slide. I witnessed a murder, my girlfriend broke up with me, and then the World Trade Center fell down, and, you know, I was like, “New York is the worst place in the world. My life is terrible!” But I kept going to galleries and seeing museums, and I was still engaged with a lot of people I had gone to school with. At a certain point, I realized I had a lot of friends and a lot of connections, but I couldn’t articulate myself. When I came to Philadelphia in early 2004 is when I could really process and started to make actual work.
Are you still feeling like Philly is a good base for you?
Yeah. In terms of making work, I’m still at a point where I’m still struggling with figuring out how to do it. It still takes a lot of time, and I’m not as productive as I should be. I’m still trying to balance that: thinking about the work, searching for the work—and delivering, getting it done. Sometimes I’m indulgent about thinking about these things, but I have to be because I feel like it is the strength of the work. When the work is there, it’s because it’s gone through a lot of thought and process. I know if I lived in New York right now, that would be even harder just because of the expense and the distractions. I go to New York twice a month, and I want to go to everything. I mean, I know who I am. I’m guy that’s going to movies, concerts, art shows—I just want to be there and see things. And you’ve to have to have restraint. So, it is good to be here. There are times I do wish I was there. But you can’t second guess yourself. You’ll go crazy.
You just curated a show at Fleisher Ollman Gallery. How did it feel to be in the curatorial role as someone who usually operates an artist?
It was the best. There were all these things about looking and finding relationships between artworks. Also, it was just pure selfishness. For example, my friend has this really great dice collection, and he would send me the editions online. I hadn’t been out to L.A. in three years, and I just wanted to see all the dice together. So I convinced him to show it in the show. Artists like Anissa Mack had these two great pieces that are related to each other but that had never been shown together. Well, I wanted to be the first one to put them together in the same room. I want to see good things put together, and that’s why I put together the show. I’m not trying to do this sort of thing all the time, but this year has been an interesting diversion from the studio.
You did not go to graduate school. Do you think artists should or shouldn’t get MFAs?
Some should definitely, and some shouldn’t definitely. I didn’t, and then these other things happened that have actually replaced it. Right after Skowhegan, I was urged to go to grad school by many people. But I just didn’t have the money. I’m not the most organized person.
But you’re so meticulous!
I’ll say it like this: I’m a Braque man, like Picasso-Braque. You know, they founded cubism. The difference between Picasso and Braque is, Picasso took something and then took it apart, you know, fucked it up. Braque took fucked up things and tried to order them. My life is kind of in shambles at all times. I try to make sense of it and put it together. When I do this [through art], I become highly organized and highly observant. And if I had a slightly different personality, I think I would have done good in grad school, and it would have helped me. But the whole initial effort to get your finances together and get the application together, it was just beyond my reach at that point. Four years in New York and then Skowhegan, that’s my grad school. That was six years.
You were describing your organization and disorganization, using the example of Braque bring together or making sense of messed up things. You did that to the extreme, once, when you made a drawing to process the murder you witnessed in New York, in 2001.
It took me a long time. I didn’t make it until 2010. When I was asked to do the show at Churner and Churner in 2011, that was 10 years after the murder. A lot of time had passed, but it was still fresh for me. So I just worked on writing this really taut and concise yet expressive poem—it’s only like a paragraph and a half, and then repeats itself twice. Lenora McDuffy is the subject, and she was the girl who was murdered. She was 18. I was an eyewitness. I went to the trial. It rocked me, I mean, to the point that when 9/11 happened, I was already emotionally troubled and so that was just like, “Oh, that’s just Tuesday.” I was already so emotionally damaged from Lenora’s death.
I mean, it was crazy. It was a great piece to make. I’ve also been working on another version of it, where the colors are darker. I’ve been working on a series of works called “At Night,” so it’s as if the work was viewed at night. All the colors are darker, everything more obscured. Now that I’ve done the really legible one about the murder, I’m interested in receding it. It was tough to start it, though, because it’s an emotional piece, and I kind of don’t want to be around that anymore. It’s heavy. It’s hard.
A Complete Die, etc., runs through Aug. 24, Fleisher Ollman Gallery, 1616 Walnut St. 215.545.7562. fleisherollman.com
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Summer Guide 2013