Tell us about your background.
I am a mail artist and painter from Peterborough, New Hampshire. I studied painting at Rhode Island School Design as a sophomore up until this February. Currently I am taking a semester off from school to work as a freelancing artist and pursue my own projects in greater depth. I am fascinated by the flexible and informative characteristics of color, and much of my recent work experiments with these qualities, especially among the range of bright, saturated hues. After a year hiatus, I’ve returned to mail art as well, producing and distributing some of my first sets of artiststamps, and helping my father document an archive of some 30,000 items of mail art collected over 20 years.
Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.
The two most influential artists throughout my life have been my father, Crackerjack Kid and mail artist Ray Johnson. My emphasis on concept and layering especially in mail art can be attributed to Ray who stacked layer upon layer figuratively and literally in his moticos and correspondence. My interest in color began with observing my father’s work, which always incorporated bright, mocking colors accompanied by his signature fast-paced sense of humor. Recently I’ve departed from the use of saturated colors for color’s sake to scrutinize what actually makes colors react to each other and resonate in people the way they do. Many of the artists I admire went through monochromatic phases; Yves Klein had his IKB blue, Mark Rothko did a black-on-black series, and John McCracken created those glossy, monochrome planks. I think there must be something valuable there in really understanding a color. So at this point I want to strip down my work (and my life) to a single range of red hues for a year’s time and see where that takes me both aesthetically and psychologically.
Where and how do you get your ideas?
A fellow RISD painting student, Marisa Marofske and I brainstorm together with a really favorable success rate. Although we come from different backgrounds in art, we process ideas in similar ways, so we always end up on the same page. She can be specific where I’m general, and vice versa, which is really helpful when figuring out the logistics of a project. We’re like an expensive pair of bifocal glasses. More importantly, we also share an appreciation for the weird and unappreciated, and so a lot of times just in everyday banter we’ll stumble upon something absolutely ridiculous and our combined enthusiasm and shamelessness is enough motivation to see the idea through. Neither of us is ever at a shortage of ideas, but the mortality rate of those ideas drops tremendously when we combine our resources. Now the quality of the idea is another matter entirely, but I think the important thing is getting as much stuff as possible out there right now.
What materials do you work with? Describe your technical processes.
I do a lot of mixed media work as is inherent in mail art, which includes everything from spraypaint to parts of old clocks, to my own body. Recently I’ve honed in on achieving some sort of mastery in oil painting, since I am a painter and I’ve sorely lacked any sort of focus as far as media goes. The process varies between projects, but I always start by writing about what I want to do in my sketchbook. My sketchbook is more composed of writing than visual images. Sometimes I like to begin with a pattern or tessellation, which I may or may not layer over. Those are also usually drafted beforehand in my sketchbook.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative? What is the best part of being creative?
The best part of being creative for me is the activity. I get a sort of masochistic high from working long, concentrated hours on a single project. I love seeing things assemble themselves before my eyes. Like all other artists, I get a kick out of playing God. Conversely, the worst part of creativity is paralysis. Often there are so many projects I want to go work on that I become mentally constipated and do absolutely nothing. This tendency toward extremes in my artistic practice is something that I am trying to balance, because I don’t think it is very healthy, but it is a deeply ingrained habit and difficult to break.
What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?
Be inquisitive and study things earnestly. Don’t let anyone spoon-feed you information in class or critique. Even advice that you get from a point of authority is up for questioning, so wherever possible, question it, and reason things out for yourself. This is where creativity comes from. People often times give in to the idea that creativity is innate and can’t be learned, or that it is lost with childhood, but I think this is just a bitter excuse for being passive. Creativity comes with independence which is a learnable skill, but like any sort of positive mental conditioning, it takes much more motivation and effort than technical skill to master.
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