A discussion in Van Hanos’s Harlem studio with Alex Hubbard and Ryan Kitson, who have an upcoming three-person exhibition curated by Marco Antonini at Pianissimo in Milan, Italy.
Van Hanos makes paintings that alternate processes, speeds, and methods of production. His pictorial subjects often reference historical painting while depicting scenes or elements of everyday life.
Alex Hubbard choreographs moving sculptures and videotapes their unpredictable nature. Using raw materials available in a sculptor’s studio, he transforms their original state by burning, ripping, pouring, destroying, and combining them.
Ryan Kitson is a sculptor who focuses on the reinterpretation and modification of things that already exist. Through compression, displacement, or a shift in scale, the works resemble something familiar, but are slightly off.
Van Hanos’s studio in Harlem, New York
Artnews cover, October 2009
RK: Did you see the cover of the October issue of ARTnews?
AH: Ya, I just did.
RK: William Eggleston does them.
TC: Oh no!
AH: Well he paints them, but they look exactly like Ryan’s. I was heartbroken when I saw it.
RK: I know, I saw them on the cover a couple of days ago and thought well there he goes…
AH: You got beat to it.
RK: But he’s supposedly been making them his whole life. They’re really good.
AH: (Laughs) I know.
RK: They look exactly like my scratch pads, but he’s doing exactly the opposite of what I’m doing—that’s what the funny thing is. They look the same, but they’re exactly the opposite. He’s actually making them, whereas I’m finding them. It doesn’t matter because he already did it; it’s on the cover of a magazine. Ha ha. No, I’m fine with it.
TC: It’s also about how it fits within the context of your work.
Ryan Kitson, Scratch Pad series, 2008–2009, watercolor on paper
Ryan Kitson, Figure Sculpture, 2007, denim, cast resin, plastic, styrofoam
AH: That’s true.
VH: I think your scratch-pad paintings bring up really interesting issues about ways of working and keeping in mind your outside sources. You’re using the readymade, but then it goes through this filter where you remake it, creating a second generation, but not a pure translation. It also seems to be centered around the notion of permission.
TC: I think this conversation really gets to core of our relationship as artists, because we are all, in a sense, borrowers. We take from history and play with the tropes that have been laid out for us.
AH: It’s kind of a generational thing, us trying to find personal expression while being free from our predecessors’ concerns about appropriation. We are all using ideas of stock imagery or cast offs and appropriated techniques. And this battle is so clear in our generation—our relationship to reference and historical context is very different.
VH: It’s tied to the Internet and our ability to see everything and anything. We register things without footnoting them.
RK: If you forward an e-mail of a good joke, people know you didn’t write the joke, but you forwarded it so it becomes yours.
VH: When we were kids my dad would wake us up in the middle of the night to play us a song he was listening to. It was so urgent; he’d want us to connect with it right then in same way he was. He would say “I wrote this for you.” We, of course, knew it was Jobim or whoever, but it said what he wanted to say perfectly
Ryan Kitson, Lock Loop, 2008, Tempered steel, rubber
AH: When you find something really good that expresses it for you, it’s yours.
VH: It brings in the artist’s choice as a really relevant tool.
TC: It feels like choice and intuition are being reintroduced (and accepted) into our practices after a long hiatus. Maybe as a backlash to Conceptual art, now we are free to be scientists in our studios again.
AH: It’s personal.
VH: It’s interesting; a friend of mine just e-mailed me a bunch of images of Andy Warhol’s silk-screened abstract expressionist paintings, which I hadn’t seen.
RK: That was such a different time to be expressive.
VH: I think the fact that the market is having such a dominant role marks a dramatic change in the history of art and has really isolated this time.
Alex Hubbard, video still from Lost Loose Ends, 2008
AH: I feel like when the market demands this much work from that many artists, they are stopped from progressing in their work. That’s a very cynical way of breaking everything down, but linking things to the demand is hard to ignore.
VH: Well, the issue of overproduction in art is really important and relevant. It’s in line with all the other forms and conditions of production. The acceleration that it causes, some would say, gets in the way of an artist’s true potential. Like designing a building—if you had no restraints in terms of time or money, you’d get more buildings like the one we’re sitting in now.
Alex Hubbard, Video Still from Weekend Pass, 2009
AH: Or something crazy like the Watts Towers. There was no need for it, and there was no restriction on time or labor.
VH: And right now we can’t measure the effect of these new pressures, but I can only assume it would be negative.
AH: Yea, it fucks you up. Then the people you are exposed to and the people who are influential are the ones who are being driven by these demands, more than just the average guy in his studio. People are looking at them for guidance and picking up these techniques. But then there are always people who do produce things in really creative ways within those constraints. Being broke is a good restraint on art; it can really lead to the biggest moves forward.
VH: And having a budget can be really good too.
AH: Look at the new Mike Kelley / Mike Smith at Sculpture Center, those are guys with a budget and that’s a great show.
Prentis Hall, Location of conversation
RK: Well at least one of them does. I don’t think Mike Smith has much of a budget. I think the urgency and the pace that you’re talking about, Alex—that the people who are dealing with this pressure are the people who are influencing all the younger artists—are the people that have a sense of urgency in their work. I like that look especially if it has that quality aesthetically of “let’s make this as fast as we can.” That’s one of the divides between Van’s work and Alex’s work (points around the circle). When I think about your work, Van, I think of your father making really intricate cigar boxes. Van was born from that.
VH: He was a rock and roll musician actually. But yes he did that too.
RK: The difference between your work is time and immediacy. Like in Van’s paintings that are really labored, like this painting of Talia, and then I think of Alex’s videos, even if it takes you hours and hours to edit these videos they have an immediate quality. If you need to make a shape, then you set up a board and cut it out. AND you videotape it! You don’t even have to ship the thing. That immediacy is where the divide is. And I don’t think the ramped up speed of production is a negative thing. I think it’s the natural progression of things. That’s just what’s happening. There will always be good and bad things that develop out of situations. If we all had to make art out of stone there would be the same amount of good shit and the same amount of bad shit. It shapes an aesthetic.
AH: You give people more credit.
VH: I guess there’s a flow that happens with production, and I’m interested in maintaining that flow: consecutive days, making quick decisions, letting things sit and not fussing. Having the “moment” present in the work. I think certain pressures can help that, but I guess the problem I foresee is in trying to sustain this unrealistic condition. We have different speeds, say I move between 0–80mph, but when an artist is expected to move at 140mph everyday without slowing down, then you see artists making consecutive lame shows.
RK: Where they move horizontally, not vertically.
Van Hanos, Portrait of Talia Chetrit and Portrait of Talia Chetrit (Pressed),
2009, oil on linen
VH: Exactly, so I think that a flow of capital is a positive thing, but not when the art world is this glutinous monster, eating its young. That’s part of why people were so excited about this economic crash, people know something is wrong and hoped it would cure it. We need different speeds, a day in the park can bring out the best in someone. That being said, I think artists function differently, and some are only happy when they are overworking.
AH: And there will be people that will excel in this way.
VH: Definitely, but it depends on the individual. I think it’s an important thing to be conscious of and either engage in or not.
Alex Hubbard, video still from The Paranoid Phase of Nautical Twilight, 2009
AH: One of the most interesting things I’ve seen lately is Takashi Murakami’s new painting. It’s so good, and it’s totally different than what he’s done before. He was briefly broke, and maybe this has nothing to do with it, but maybe it’s an example of someone who used a shift to make a big change.
TC: There’s a lot of expectation for artists to make a ton of work and have several brilliant ideas in one lifetime. I started to feel a lot of sympathy for the struggle to reinvent yourself as an artist during Cindy Sherman’s show this past year. You know, she’s Cindy Sherman! She’s done so much for art and contributed to the expansion of photography in so many ways. People were so quick to discredit her show but she’s only one person.
Van Hanos, White Marble, 2009, oil on linen
VH: But within that, I think what Alex just said is interesting, about shaking things up. Murakami is not going to stop unless something interrupts him. I think as an artist, one of the few obligations we have is that interruption. Everyday we have to show up with a wrench and throw it at the work… well, sometimes not throwing a wrench is the wrench.
TC: Like how not having a system can become a system.
RK: I got great advice from this guy Nayland Blake, whose work spans a whole bunch of different things: drawing, video, sculpture, performance—it’s all over the place. He said that if you get caught going horizontally and making the same work over and over again—because of demand or simply cause of a rut—after you finish a body of work or a significant piece, make one piece that’s going in the same direction as the last piece you finished, one piece that is completely the opposite, and then one piece that fits in between.
And he’s not saying show any of this stuff. He’s just talking about growing in the studio.
Talia Chetrit lives and works in New York City. Chetrit recently had her first solo exhibition, Reading, at Renwick Gallery in New York and has an upcoming show opening at IMO Projects in Copenhagen in January. Recent group exhibitions include The Reach of Realism (curated by Ruba Katrib) at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, FL; After Color (curated by Amani Olu) at Bose Pacia, New York, NY; Palomar: Experimental Photography at Marvelli Gallery, New York, NY and Full of Light (curated by Dirk Knibbe) in honor of Bruce Connor at 610 S. Main, Los Angeles. Chetrit is represented by Renwick Gallery, New York. taliachetrit.com renwickgallery.com
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