Alexis Gideon spoke with Francesca DiMattio about dream remembrance, self portraits, the history of her artistic materials and how most painters reach their peak at age fifty.
I am interested in the blurring of histories, places and cultures. In breaking and rebuilding.
You remember your dreams almost every night. What effect on your work and your life do you think that has, if any?
I have always remembered my dreams. I don’t write them down or keep track, but I think remembering that slippery altered state must affect how I see the world. In my work, I look for a movable state where things morph into other things even in static images or objects. I am interested in the blurring of histories, places and cultures. In breaking and rebuilding. Maybe remembering my nightly dreams makes me more likely to articulate that kind of state and space in my waking moments.
In Roland Barthes’ essay Death of the Author, Barthes argues that we should abandon the practice of reading art of art through the lens of the author’s personal history and intention. What role do you think intention, or even a subconscious intention, plays in your work? Is there value in an intention that might not be directly readable by the audience?
I think artistic intention is very important, but I don’t think it’s important that the viewer clearly receives that intention. I am totally comfortable with lack of clarity in an artwork.
I actually think it is really important to protect the moveable, unclear, fuzzy way in which artistic objects communicate. In a world where modes of communication are constantly trying to become clearer and more direct, I appreciate the contemplative space that an art object can create.
If the artist’s intention is too clear, it directs the way a person takes in the piece rather than allowing the person to navigate him/herself. Taking something in without complete direction takes more time and allows the viewer to be more involved in interpretation.
Is improvisation part in your artistic practice in any way? If so, how?
I try to access an informed improvisation. An improvisation that is built on the learned experience of work that came before it. I like to work in a loose state where decisions get made in a quick, guttural way, but these seemingly improvisational moves come from years of thinking and criticizing. I try to access an objective critical state in which I approach the work as though I had nothing to do with making it.
One gets better at their craft with time because each work evolves from the work before it. I love that. It’s a case where getting older is only positive. I notice painters get especially great after fifty. It’s as though they have memorized all their moves and they can finally come freely. Their process seems free and without hindrances, but that’s only because that painting sits on top of all of the fifty years of paintings before it.
You have created works using a large variety of materials – oil, acrylic, glazes, collage, stoneware, porcelain, steel and more. How does the physicality of the medium you’re working with shape your process?
I think a lot about the history of whatever material I am using. When I started working with clay I learned all about of its different histories and how different cultures copied and developed different techniques.
When I am painting, I am thinking about painting histories and its varying techniques. I look to stretch each material to its extremes, asking myself how smooth or rough I can make it? So far, I have been drawn to the two most elastic of materials – clay and paint.
It’s important to direct your process, but the best work comes from finding an almost stupid and guttural way of creating.
While thinking about what questions I wanted to ask you for this conversation, I tried to maintain a soft focus and let ideas slowly come to the surface. Do you ever use a soft focus in your work or life?
I think the notion of a soft focus goes back to accessing an informed improvisation. It’s the space the unconscious needs to operate. I oscillate between being very clear and purposeful and very free.
It’s important to direct your process, but the best work comes from finding an almost stupid and guttural way of creating. Overthinking is the worst. I try to get the overthinking done before I start working. Mostly while lying in bed before sleep. You need to think about it all, but you don’t want the work to show it.
I would hope that when I am finished with a lifetime of work, that would serve as a self-portrait.
I haven’t ever made a self-portrait. But I would hope that when I am finished with a lifetime of work, that would serve as one.
Here is a picture of a sculpture garden outside my studio, It’s not a self portrait, but I think one’s environment is important. I’ve been working on shaping my working environment for the past five years.
Curated by: Alexis Gideon
Conducted by: Email
Edited by: Morgan Enos
Published: July 26, 2017
Total questions: 6
Word count: 794
Reading time: Three minutes
Artistic media: 7+
Best age for painting: 50+
Self portrait: Sculpture garden
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About the curator
Alexis Gideon is an American visual artist, composer and performer, best known for his innovative animated live video operas and multidisciplinary techniques. Combining research, literature, musical composition, painting, sculpture, installation, video and performance, Gideon’s work examines the loss of the mystical in contemporary society. Alienation, subjugation and the human condition are persistent themes in his work.
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