Anthony Campuzano may have moved to New York with $150 in his pocket; broken up with his girlfriend, witnessed a murder and lived through 9/11; but when he threw in the towel to move back to Philly eight years ago, his career finally took off. Between completing a slew of projects thanks to a fellowship from Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, curating his own show—currently on view at Fleisher Ollman Gallery through Friday, Aug. 24—and making work for a group show in New York, PW got Campuzano to talk about what it takes to make those meticulously crafted drawings that put him on the map.
What’s your relationship to the studio?
When I moved back from New York, I had a studio at my parents’ house in the basement. And then I was contacted around 2007 to have a studio visit with senior curator Ingrid Schaffner at the Institute of Contemporary Art. I was totally excited but terrified of trying to explain what I do with piles of laundry around me. So I was talking with a friend of mine I went to school with, and she had a studio that she was using for storage. I told her my plight, and she basically let me use her studio. It was funny having the studio visit because it was basically the first time I was in a studio, and there I was explaining how it all worked! But it’s been great. After my friend fully moved away, I rented it. But I continue to have an office at the house and a studio in the basement. I get overwhelmed about starting ideas, and I hang on to things for a while. That’s why I have all these surrogate studios because then I’m just working on one thing at a time.
Does the work ever migrate between studios?
Yeah, particularly the drawings. The largest I usually work on is like 30 or 40 inches. I have this issue about wanting to be able to touch the whole surface at once. And that’s about the length of an arm, so that I can do a fully unbroken line. I like to use board because it’s absorbent, and you can really kind of dig into it so marks stick. The board is also the type of size that I could put in a bag and tote on the subway, which is good because I go back and forth often. And sometimes, part of the work that I’ve shown in Philadelphia and elsewhere gets incorporated into other work. A lot of times I’ll photograph a piece and realize that I want to do it again, and then I’ll do another version. The original work doesn’t get exhibited, but maybe a photograph of an element of it is reproduced within the next work.
How do you decide what to collect, and how do you incorporate it?
I’m always on, I’m always looking, and I kind of make rules for myself. I don’t erase; I only build with my work. So it’s making choices and being observant about what you’re doing. I don’t add water. I don’t dilute. That’s one of the reasons I like to use the illustration board because I like to use materials at their purest. And the only thing that’s modulated or mediated is the mark, the intensity: how light or how hard I can make the mark. But there’s no manipulation of the material beyond that.
Do you feel like that comes out of your interest in found writing and borrowed words?
Borrowing from my earlier work is like cutting out the best paragraph of a story. In school, I was telling stories about why I’d arranged certain objects. I started writing notes for all my work, sort of annotations. Slowly, the annotations became just what they were: They became the art. That’s kind of the bulk of what I do—trying to make these pictures that are basically stories or arrangements of words and letter that are whole, so that the letters become a cohesive picture of painting.
How did you start making these word-based drawings?
I had a period of time in college where I was a pretty decent painter, but I got to this point where I quit. I was taking these conceptual sculpture classes, and I found that there were ideas that I could talk about which came from the newsstand, which came from this idea of writing that I was interested in. I was just interested in a lot of these other conceptual artists that I had never heard of before. I had one great teacher, Paul Ramirez Jonas and also Amy Hauft, who really exposed me to current work like Jason Rhoades, Fischl and Weiss, and people who were just showing then, in the mid-1990s. So I just quit painting; I just made drawings and photocopies. And then three years later, I ended up at Skowhegan [a summer residency for emerging artists] as a sculptor. I was doing things like a piece of construction paper on the floor, a photocopied handbill where I try to describe who I am.
So it was basically just sculpture in name only?
Yeah, it was a purging, too. I was trying to find the essence of things. So I made this towel, but it was a found towel that I carved by trimming into it, carving words into it. I just made weird stuff. It’s actually an interesting thing; I wish I had it to show you. And at the same time, I was also telling stories about why I’d arranged certain objects. Slowly, the annotations became just what they were: They became the art. That’s kind of the bulk of what I do: trying to make these pictures that are basically stories or arrangements of words and letter that are whole, so that the letters become a cohesive picture of painting.
One of the objects in my thesis show was this filmstrip I made where I saved the five-day forecast for a number of months from this local paper out in the suburbs. The five-day forecast is about the size of a 16mm film frame, and so I cut them out, laminated them and taped them together in a line to resemble a filmstrip. I stored the strip in a film canister. It was a great object to me because I had this moment with my mother where she was collecting the Tetley Tea figurines, and I remember being like, “They’re so stupid, why are you collecting them?” But my mother would have these little printer block cases in the kitchen where she would arrange them. So as a goof, I started collecting the weather and arranging it in these cases as this thing that’s so valuable but loses its value as soon as it happens. For example, the weather report pre-Katrina, in hindsight, was very valuable. But now, it’s worthless.
It’s a question of accuracy, too.
Yeah, that’s the interesting thing about the five-day forecast. Wednesday’s forecast on Monday is one thing, but on Tuesday, it’s slightly different. So I had this filmstrip, and I had exhibited it in the gallery. I always thought it would be interesting to make it into an actual film.
Did you ever try to do that?
I’m happy to say that this summer, it is being made into a film. Rachel Churner [of Churner and Churner Gallery, in New York] had seen that piece and knew I’d always liked it. I’d always take it with me to art lectures. I think it’s a piece that gets at some of the essential things that I do: observation, editing and material. It’s also portable. So Rachel found the guy who can help us convert it, and we’re going to do it.
What is going to be involved in converting this five-day forecast piece into a film?