Artist Talk for Chad Attie: Contempt 1.26.14
CHAD ATTIE: CONTEMPT
Saturday, January 11th, 2014
Deb Klowden Mann: It’s so great to have everybody here for Chad’s show and his artist talk. For those of you who don’t know, though I think you all do, this is Chad Attie and the show is Contempt. There’s a lot to talk about with this show: themes of mythology, and love, and childhood, and a lot of places to go with all of it. Format wise, we do kind of a question and answer format,but I definitely love having people jump in with their own questions and having it be much more of a dialogue. So if you feel inspired, please ask some questions. Where I’d like to start is where this particular way of working, this sort of conglomeration of different imagery and different materials and textures and themes started for you.
Chad Attie: First of all, I would just like to thank you all for coming today. I appreciate you all coming to hear about the work. When I was probably around 15, I started collecting children’s books. I started also being awareof holding on to my own toys and imagery of my childhood. It was very important to me that those things were not thrown out and kept on shelves. And from that point on, I started collecting and started getting back all this imagery. So I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. Anywhere I went on a trip, I would start buying more children’s books so it was no longer just the imagery that I had as a child, it started to become something I also started to collect. I also started to collect everything toy-wise. I also started painting at an early age, but I wasn’t using any of this imagery. So to fast forward to what’s happening now, a couple years ago. So I started making work at an early age, I also started writing children’s books at an early age, I started writing stories and illustrating stories, I started making paintings, and I started photographing. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I kind of had all this stuff around and I was like fuck it, I’ve just got to find a way of putting this all into a work. I had these five separate things that I’m thinking about. How do I take this super ball and how do I take this vintage image, this crocheted image that I collected from a little thrift store, and how do I take this Playboy magazine, and how do I take this photograph of a sand castle and fuse all these things into my work? And that was sort of the language that became very important to me. That’s what I started doing. I also got to this point where it’s like I don’t want to hold onto these things anymore; I’m going to use them all. There was nothing that was precious to me. My original Little Prince book that my parents read to me was going to be used in the work, like I was going to tear it in shreds and take out my favorite pages. The porcelains that I had collected, the Hot Wheels, even this piece in the back that’s around the corner, The Matterhorn, it’s my actual Hot Wheels that I had as a kid and the color combinations were really important to me— they all had different names and characters. So all this stuff that you’re seeing is either my actual things, or things that I had collected that were really important to me. At that point, once I didn’t care about using it all, this new language was created and I somehow got very excited about all of these things informing me of what I needed to say because all of a sudden, it was no longer about me just making paintings, and me just making separate children’s drawings, and me taking these photographs of laundromats. It was like of a sudden it somehow had a place in the art world, these collages. So that’s sort of what—some people don’t really understand what the connection of all this imagery is. For instance, this was an image from Sleeping Beauty, a vintage book that I had, that I cut her out of and this is a little battleship that’s actually a three dimensional toy and I put the two things together and photographed them. So it’s all this mix of different time periods and actual imagery that was very important to me.
DKM: So in mixing all those things in terms of materials, did you feel like you had distinct, separate conceptual thematic things that were going into each body of work, and did this kind of putting everything together also shift where you were coming from?
CA: Yeah, I think instead of writing these stories, there was a series of children’s stories I did, which I’m still doing, called The Wanderlust, in which this little fellow, the way he’s kind of dressed, he’s swinging his legs and I could write a story about this. It’s this story about this little boy I saw and the ribbon on his feet.
Instead of it just being that, I was able to take that story and put it into the paintings. So it just became much more complete. I didn’t feel like I needed to write the little stories anymore or if I did write the stories, the stories went into the piece. So thematically to me, it just became a lot richer.
DKM: So then let’s talk a little bit thematically about what we’re seeing. I think we should maybe start with childhood a little bit, and children’s stories, and the idea that even when you were a child, you tended to hold onto these particular objects. So what is it that you were trying to hold on to then, and what is it you’re trying to capture or express with those objects now?
CA: Well then, to me, childhood is just important. Obviously it’s just this magical place for a lot of people, and I think that the memories of those things are still important to me. They still resonate. Even with the work now has a lot to do with capturing that magic, but it’s also about the magic that exists right now. So it’s not just about when I was a child and I went into this cave. It’s also about well I also went into a cave yesterday, so how can there be sort of a continuum between the two things? I don’t know if that answers your question.
DKM: I think it definitely does. A lot of people come in, and I think because there is so much going on in the pieces, it’s interesting to see different people become attached to different things in the work, and see different things in the work. There are people who come in immediately and are drawn to these kind of idealized landscapes that are in the work, and feel like that’s something they can enter into, and there are people who definitely immediately find the toys, and there are people who immediately believe all the work is about love. And talking to you, all of those things are all true to some extent. Is there in this particular body of work, sort of one theme that kind of stood out more? Was it about of looking at love through the lens of a child? Was it sort of a combination?
CA: I think all of the work is about love. You know, as sappy as that might sound. I mean it’s not about love working, but it’s definitely about love. It’s about the things that I love. Wanting to love something and that thing being unattainable. That to me is in a lot more ways is more interesting to me than love. Also you and I have talked about this, just that theme of desire and how potent that is. I think that all those things are true that you said. It’s about unrequited love. It’s about desire. It’s about loss of love. It’s about wanting true love. It’s about a child’s love of their world. It’s about a child’s loss of their world; you know that loss of innocence. So there are sort of all of these levels to it. Somehow the toys are a constant connection to the childhood. Either my childhood, or I have two children, so that’s also a big element in all this work.
DKM: I will say that my favorite part in our installation of the show was when Chad’s son came in and–I think most of you have seen his sculpture in the back–and pointed at one of the figures in that sculpture and said, “That’s mine.” I think that there is a definite attachment to objects in this work, and I think that when people are looking at the work, it seems that it brings up the kind of things you want as a child, and also maybe the recognition that it is difficult to access that kind of desire as an adult, and I wonder about that in relation to the way you treat your surfaces. The light box as surface is sort of perfectly finished, but there’s still the cuts and the spaces that you can almost see into, but not quite. And I wanted to ask about that in relation to desire. Is there kind of a refusal going on there, not allowing the viewer to actually enter a space completely?
Chad Attie The Matterhorn (detail) 2013 mixed media 58 by 37 by 24 inches
CA: I think that part of what you said, is that there’s the part that makes it tangible, but then there’s sort of a part that separates from it which you see in all the work. There’s windows that kind of open up, there’s little glimpses of people and not all of them. That has to do with yes, part of you desires something, but you can’t have it. There’s also certain things that are sort of untouchable. There is this barrier distance and there’s also this element of voyeurism to a lot of it which part of me just wants to desire and actually doesn’t want the intimacy, there’s also that element. Some of that is just exploring that. It’s just sort of you get that peek, you get a taste, but there is a distance between you. That’s what I’m saying about the voyeuristic, there might be a little window, circle, or cave you just catch a little glimpse and maybe that glimpse is totally satisfying. I mean, I can give you an example. I love driving in the car and just catching a glimpse of somebody. I don’t want to talk to that person, I don’t want to know anything about them, but just that little moment of like the hand sitting out the window framed by the car and circles. You’re getting a little window into their life and those things are all around us, and that’s to me just as magical. It’s beautiful, it’s there, in other words there is sort of a separation, but it’s a lot about that. It’s not necessarily about a specific relationship; it’s about sort of appreciating and desiring and not having rough times.
Chad Attie Contempt 2 (detail) 2013 mixed media 48.5 by 120.5 by 5 inches
CA: A little bit. Yeah I was. The texture was very very important to me and a little bit of how this started, just to kind of tell you, I was working on these paintings. I was using sort of an ice pick to scratch into the paintings and often it would go through the paintings. I didn’t really want to be doing that, so then I sort of started building them up with paper and part of that for me was I am a very tactile person so I want to be really using the knife; I want to be physically touching the different textures. That’s sort of where the tearing and the ripping kind of began. I felt like the work felt more vital somehow, I mean I had a lot of feeling to put into it and to be able to rip into it and pull out things was much more satisfying to me and ultimately in the end it gave what I wanted to say. In the light boxes there’s this strange play, you have this texture this sort of ripping into some of it, but at the same time, they’re different. This one is towards the end so there’s more negative space in it, there’s more openness, there’s less of what’s going on in this. It gives you a little more space to rest and I also knew it was going to be turned into a light box, so I was playing with different levels of texture so some of them are completely porcelain and three dimensional and other ones explore lace and how it feels like you can touch it, but again going into that idea that it’s just out of reach so I liked that exploring a new sort of venue of distance. It’s so much texture and with the person, it seems like they’re able to reach it, but you can’t because it’s sort of in this luminous box which is in a golden frame.
Audience member: Can you tell me a little about the title of the show? I’m not sure if you’ve referenced it in your art?
CA: Yes, so first of all it’s one of the most extraordinary films. I put it in the top three films for me that have ever been made that I’ve seen. The film is Contempt. Godard’s film, Contempt, which came out in 1963 and starred Brigitte Bardot, who I have been working from as sort of a muse for years before this show just as sort of a symbol as a beautiful, iconic, magnificent creature. In this film, she is all those things and it’s incredibly tragic also. The film had all of the themes I had been working with before for 15 years. It’s extraordinary, filmed in Capri on this island and the structure that they’re going to visit is this beautiful Casa Malaparte which was designed by an Italian architect and just incredibly modern, but Grecian at the same time. They’re stranded on this island, the relationship isn’t working, all the scenes are framed of where you see sort of the relationship playing with the sea. It had everything. I thought about the film for years. When it came to making this series, what I had been working on was very similar, like desire and the inability to kind of have a relationship that was long lasting, and at the same time I also loved the use of color in the film. She’s always shown in red, he’s always shown in blue, and somehow these two colors don’t work. However, having said that, I didn’t want to watch the movie before making the series again so I had seen the movie 15 years before and I purposely didn’t see it while I was making the series. The film stayed with me, but when I finished the series, I would watch the movie again. I was still so blown away by it, but I was glad I hadn’t watched it. I didn’t want this to be a literal interpretation of the film. I wanted it to be my own expression of Contempt and contempt, the word, is sort of a loaded gun. It can be my contempt for her; it can be her contempt for me. I mean, it’s sort of open ended.
Chad Attie Contempt 2 (detail) 2013 mixed media 48.5 by 120.5 by 5 inches
Audience member: I guess it’s something I’m reacting most strongly to, but it seems to be a lot of aggression towards the female body and it doesn’t seem to be framed in the way. I mean it’s interesting, you’re definitely responding to it in some way, whereas someone like talks about the female body and talks about romance and sort of heterosexualized images of women kind of moved around and remained aware of how hypersexualized it is. It feels like it’s not an act of aggression, it’s angry. It looks like it’s more of a child’s frustrated aggression and I guess that it sort of feels like how you talked about throwing everything into your work, but I keep thinking about that moment between childhood and adulthood where the veil sort of slips away and adulthood presents itself and I guess in some ways the female body does become kind of the ultimate mystery at that point.
CA: I don’t know if it’s a question, but I’ll just tell you one little story that maybe will help you, maybe it won’t help you. I was at the beach with my boy and I was building a sandcastle and this is a good example of how I feel now. I was totally into it, we were building castles, and we’ve got tunnels running through it and a mote running around it and I had him collecting sticks so we could build bridges and it was going to be the greatest thing, and it was such a beautiful thing, but it’s not the first time we’ve done it, but it was just very exciting for me. I was not remembering the past, it was much more exciting as an adult to build it than I remembered as a kid. So while we’re building it, I kind of look over to mommy who is on a blanket and she’s wearing like a crocheted top and it’s beautiful, it’s like a cream color. I said to him, “Give me a minute, I just want to grab my camera and shoot some pictures of mommy.” So I literally took a minute, and while I’m photographing her on this towel against the sea, I see him take his body, I’m telling you a minute had passed, and throws it into this entire castle and destroys the whole thing. So it’s very, it still is difficult to me, but I think it’s a good story to tell you because it’s not about the violence to me. The woman was the most extraordinary thing I’ve seen, which is why it continues to come into the work, and at that moment it was sort of like my child and my own childhood were intersecting with the beauty of a woman, and those two things that are in the same place with me, which is why you kind of constantly see this imagery mixing with this kind of extraordinary creature. At the same time, it’s sort of packed with feeling and complexity and also sort of connects to not only my own childhood, but I wanted to be there 100 percent there with that castle, but I couldn’t. My own sort of failings were I saw this other thing that I also somehow needed to appreciate and capture. I don’t know if that helps you with your question.
DKM: Also one thing that Chad and I talked about in regards of putting the show together was about the frustration that we can have about our own ideals, and what it is that we are so focused on, and not necessarily in a way that is about aggression towards those desires or what we want, but in a way that kind of reveals that the ideals and the hopes in and of themselves can sometimes be inescapable and how that connects to the same things that we hope for and invest feeling in as children, and in such an intense way.
Audience member: Do you ever have concerns or anxiety about using one of your images in the right piece or at the right time? Like how you’ve got that lace right there and there, do you allow yourself to fully prep them again, to fully understand them again?
CA: That’s a good question. Actually this goes into the objects a little bit which we have talked about. Of objects, and the lace, they actually have a real resonance. I can’t explain 100 percent, but it’s not random. I’ll keep a certain material there or in my studio for years at times. The only time there’s ever been a repetition is with this [image of lace in one piece] and with this [same image in another piece]. The imagery is created; it might even be in bits. Like this one is. There are only one of these [Ulysses Gaze] light boxes so everything that went into this was only done for the photograph, so each light box is different. This one [Ulysses Gaze], I set it up as a photo and I knew I would use those things in something else. This one is actually from the seventies. It’s an old light box, I just know it was a seascape and in that one, I cut into it and some of them I did photoshoots. This [photograph of boy on sand] is actually my boy. So we did this photoshoot at the beach and then I treated this almost like this was a collage so I cut into this whole piece. This one was just shot as a collage first and then photographed, but those images weren’t used for anything else.
Chad Attie Ulysses Gaze 2013 mixed media 48.5 by 120.5 by 5 inches
Audience member: And even if you were to find the same image again later on?
CA: I don’t ever use it again
Audience member: Even if it was at complete random?
Chad Attie The Matterhorn 2013 mixed media 58 by 37 by 24 inches
CA: No it’s a one shot deal, yeah. Like I’m saying, these images, we were talking about this a little bit, I’m telling a lot of different stories and I would like to feel that in some way I’m relating to these actual figurines. Sometimes it’s the figurine itself, the gaze in the eyes in the figurine to me is so potent and with that, a whole work will be created around or in relationship to two figurines.
DKM: Since we’re talking about the materials themselves, where do you find all of these things?
CA: My kids. It’s funny, that one piece around, The Matterhorn, I’m telling you that I’m holding on to all these things from my childhood that are very important to me, but then what am I doing for them if I’m actually taking their imagery and using it in my own work? I’m doing the opposite of what I’m saying. So the answer is, it might actually have been from you, I used my son’s. In The Matterhorn, you can see there is a gun that runs through it. First of all, my kids come by my studio regularly and while I was working on this whole series, they would come and see the pile, the stash that I had gotten on the ground. There was this great moment when they would walk in the studio and they would just be like this, just slumped over this giant pile in total disbelief like they would be like how would Daddy take this house or this figurine, so with that I told him I would give him the $12 back for the gun. With his own money this one time, he bought this cowboy set. Even though he discarded it and it was in the backyard for about a year and a half, he still feels like it belongs to him, and you know he’s got a point. He tried pulling it out of the piece. First, I was really angry about it, but then I was like he’s got a point. So what was the question? [laughs]
Audience member: Where do you get the material?
CA: Oh the material, I get it everywhere. I am constantly traveling. I do talk to my kids about making a pile of things that they don’t want anymore and they know it’s going into the work. I go to the thrift stores, I travel, I take road trips, I go to as far out of L.A. as I can. I look all the time.
Audience member: Where did you find the landscape?
Chad Attie Eden 7 2013 mixed media 32.25 by 40.25 by 2.5 inches
CA: The seascape? There’s a guy I go to regularly. He’s on Pico near Alvarado. He had this in his shop. I love seascapes. It was vintage. I just couldn’t, I just tried to control myself and was casually like, “How much do you want for that?”
DKM: Where did you get the desire to use the light boxes?
CA: So the light box, I had an image in a house that I owned in my bathroom of a boy in a boat. A lot of this is sort of about building a house and tearing down a house in a sense and this was in the house I just built. So this boy on this boat was sort of a symbol of that house, but it also reminded me of my childhood, like going to Tahoe and going on a boat and being in the woods so that image was the first image. To me, I mean it looks like a very cheap thing, but there was something so magical about this boat with this light coming through it that reminded me of my childhood. I mean, again it looks like a very cheap thing, but there was something so magical about this boat with this light coming through that reminded me of my childhood. So when it came to creating this series, I knew I really wanted to start exploring my past. I think one thing that resonates and creates a lot of different stuff for different people. A lot of this was in the 70’s when I was growing up so hopefully it resonates something with the past, but at the same time they’re very modern.
DKM: There were a couple things we talked about when we talked about mythology and the first thing was Disneyland, and other related things. You also have the silhouettes in the other gallery room…
CA: So this goes back to Contempt and why I wanted to keep it loose. It’s much more than Contempt. With mythology from an early age, I started reading and it was very important to me in a lot of this work. There’s a lot of stories behind this work. There’s a lot of text behind this work. The idea of Homer’s Odyssey, it sort of runs through all this work. There’s a lot of text in the work. You can see the boat. You can see a woman behind the boat which was Penelope waiting for Odysseus to return. I also sort of ended a relationship so it was a lot about Odysseus. If you don’t know the story, basically Odysseus for ten years is trying to return to his wife, Penelope. So before this show, I’ve been exploring this for years, this idea of this man that is in his vessel surrounded by water who just wants to return to his wife, but along the way, he’s having all these adventures and then there’s the question of does he even really want to return to his wife which is raised. So that’s a lot of what you see. The moment he’s about to return and he’s had all of these experiences. So Homer’s mythology of this desire basically when you have this myth of this man who is submerged with water, and you can’t drink the water of the sea and if the tree has fruit on it, you can’t actually touch it. It’s this perpetual state of desire. Now that’s something that’s been interesting to me since I was 14. So this element of desire is what you see behind the story. The reason her back is to you is because you have this love, but he can never love her again, but he constantly loves her. To me, it’s like you can’t have everything. With Disneyland, obviously it’s part of my childhood, but at the same time if you look inside the Matterhorn I built, I expose this structure that’s sort of like this house and inside the house, you know there’s a princess. At the very center of this mountain is a princess. This princess also runs throughout this, but basically this ideal of this woman that gives this princess a sort of perfect being and this whole sort of myth of childhood structured around her and it’s all broken down. The train doesn’t work; the cars are all messed up. There are things from my own childhood that I just put there because I wanted it to relate to my own childhood with my own children’s work. At the same time, I also think it’s very beautiful and uplifting and sort of magical to look at.
DKM: A lot of the things that you’ve seen as a child kind of come back to you as you watch your own kids. It’s kind of easy to talk about the ideals that are major influences in our children’s lives, and look at that in relation to what we grew up with. I don’t know if everyone’s gotten the chance to see the silhouettes in the back…
Chad Attie Silhouettes ( 1-8) 2013 mixed media each approximately 5 by 4 inches
CA: The silhouettes, and hopefully you’ll see it when you come around. I teach at an all girls school in LA and one of the students had done a project. She said she’s got this idea for silhouettes at Disneyland and I was like ok that’s a great idea to go back there right away and get all of us a gift. So basically the idea was that she was going to work on these silhouettes and if you go to Disneyland they have sort of a caricature thing that cuts out your silhouette for $5, but the scraps of your silhouette are left on the ground and thrown in the trashcan. So she brought in the scraps and she was done with it. So you see what the ends of the silhouettes. So you have something from Disneyland, and I mixed it with all kinds of combinations. Me as a child thinking about a woman. A girl thinking of herself as an adult woman. It’s all played out with Disneyland as sort of a template. And I talk about this a little bit. I do have a young girl who just turned six and I’m watching Disney and princesses sort of influence her life, and questioning if it’s coming from me, is it coming from her mom, is it coming from this iconography, is it coming from society? It’s also playing with this idea of where does this princess come from and how can you stop this? And the piece that’s right behind this is all about that. It’s called 40 Fires and basically it’s the same thing, it’s this image of this Barbie that’s sort of stylized to the max and it’s this history of the Barbie that’s all behind these houses that are being destroyed. It’s called 40 Fires. You have 40 houses that are all exactly same and inside each one, is this imagery of this Barbie throughout the history of time that are sort of tearing this house apart and burning this house down.
Audience member: First you’re talking about how you can stop this, then you’re talking about the celebration or adoration of these images in childhood and it doesn’t seem like the innocence of these images even though right now it’s your daughter. Is it something that you really do want to stop, is more about the adoration?
CA: Yes obviously there’s this thing that’s extraordinary, their dresses are beautiful, the gowns, but there’s something that I also think is very dangerous and is used in marketing that I’m not a fan of, that I don’t want to see my girl subscribing to. I want her to not be caring about that kind of stuff so it’s both. It’s complex.
Chad Attie Camille 2013 mixed media 24 by 12 by 7.5 inches
DKM: What happens for you and your understanding about the way you process all these things, and how you’re going to put them all together?
CA: So the process would be very exciting. Part of it is using material I have never used before. That’s part of going back to the childhood. I’m not trying to master any of this; I’m actually trying not to master any of this. There’s a part of me like a child that wants to discover it, and that’s what it also comes to changing with the materials because I want that struggle and that conflict so it is very exciting. It’s very exciting to go into off the county and going to this thrift store and finding this doll that I just don’t know what to do with. I know somehow that I just need to study it for a period of time and just watch it and then something is just going to evolve and then I can move on to something else. So the process is very exciting to be like oh my god all these things that I’ve collected, that I’ve seen and photographed are somehow going to find a way to put this all into my work. It’s overwhelming to be honest, and that’s just what it is.
Chad Attie Ithaca (detail) 2013 mixed media 24.5 by 27 by 7.25 inches
Audience member: Can you talk about your relationship with surrealism?
CA: I think as a kid it meant a lot to me. When I was like 14 or 15. Now I would say it’s not on top of the mountain, but I think more than anything it’s telling stories which is really interesting to me. I don’t see myself as really influenced by surrealism. It’s definitely there, but I think I’m more interested now in sort of in moving forward and backward in time and definitely telling a story. I think mainly using music, literature, and cinema are having more of an effect with me in terms of unlocking stories and with there being some cohesiveness between the pieces and it sort of being like a concept album.
DKM: I was going to ask a little bit about what you said about that sort of cinematic nature of your work.
CA: I don’t think so. What I do think about it, I think about how anything could happen. To me that’s a film that is of all these films incredibly personal. This work’s very personal, if you haven’t gotten that, much more than anything I’ve ever done before. Three years ago, I went to the beach, and like I told you, I’m using everything. I’m using my actual letters. Her letters to me. It’s all there. The reason I’m saying is that it’s the most personal film, it’s like about his life. And I think about Astral Weeks. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. Those are the things that really move me as a person. I want to make a work that invests in the same thing. This is my last night that I did what I feel like I needed to do and I set what the reality is. Whereas older work was me thinking about something, but I don’t think I used all of this. So the idea about the cinema is yes there’s a moment in the film that I think are extraordinary to someone like taking out a teabag and steam coming out of it. So that’s the cinema part of it. I don’t want to spell out too much of it. I feel like the work sort of puts in play or motion on a moment or an atmosphere or a whole situation and I’m interested in how those little roads are going to connect or not connect.
Audience member: What’s the sequence of when you did what in here? Because I was thinking whether the light boxes in relation to the one in the back, which to me are really different. I mean obviously the same artist, but that one to me is pretty successful because it is physically feels like an archaeological dig and going through memory in a very physical way.
CA: It’s been questioned, and I think like this is the last piece. This is it. The idea is that this is actually a series of two. It was like this is it. I’m done. So after that I’m getting on this boat and taking off for a long time. This is actually one part of two. The whole thing goes beyond there and two pieces go together in a way so it could be my last collage. I mean, I’ve been doing this for three years and I told you how I’m sort of just moving on. The next movement becomes the sculpture, I don’t know. Having said that, if you went back a year ago, there’s a few in the show that were similar to this. Like the one you see around there, that was a series of four pieces called Eden, and they were I think sort of different from this, but working in a similar way. So there’s sort of starting with it and I stored them in boxes and then I went into the sculptures. At some point I was going to make 12 of those and Contempt was going to be you were going through these individual islands and inside each island is all the different information. Then I went away from that and then sort of started going into the light boxes. I don’t know if that answers your question.
Audience member: Yes. Obviously to put that around that would be really expensive, but still not having it feels really like raw.
Chad Attie Penelope 2 2013 mixed media 48.5 by 120.5 by 5 inches
CA: Ok I love that you brought this up and you also completely hit on a key point, which is the plexi boxes. Part of it was they looked good. Another part of it was I wanted to create a distance between, because it works like this piece here. Basically this is like Penelope. You have Ulysses returning home and these are all his experiences. This is my note to somebody I love. I want to distance you between you and them. And I don’t want the distance to be between you and the whole piece obviously, and this is like real estate basically. I was buying space or land. It’s like you wearing glasses. Someone can’t look directly into your eyes so it’s creating a shield somehow. In the last one, you’re right. It was incredibly expensive and the truth is it wouldn’t move out of the studio. And I looked into it. Then I thought you know this is the last one, let people touch it. You know it’s a different level than the other ones. You have the boxes. You have the ones that are sealed. You have vintage boxes. This will be the one that’s sort of the last one you’re actually able to completely interact with. So you’re right on.
Audience member: Could you talk more about your relationship to the materials? The layering and the cutting.
CA: So when these originally, the very origins of these were all the base was floor plans to a house. So I was working with a couple different architects and the base, the buildup are all floor plans. Part of the idea with that was that I had a relationship that ended and that relationship was we were building a house together. It was sort of the destruction of that house was what was going to be behind this. What I would do is I kept all this imagery, thousands of imagery I was collecting in suitcases and I would pull those images out and put them on my studio wall and then have these floor plans on the ground. I knew none of this was random, this totally resonates, this resonates and I would stuff them inside these floor plans and then I would sort of seal the floor plans and cover with some imagery and some from the museum of natural history. Some images and dioramas and then I would use a drill or ice pick to cut in and sort of excavate these plans, not really knowing what was up. There’s a glimpse, but I never really want to show too much. Like that girl in the car window, I wanted just a moment. I didn’t want to give away too much; I wanted to seal the moment there without giving you too much. I would use all these things inside there. The lace would become part of it. I was trying not to alter it too much. I didn’t want it to be me painting something so I want it to be sort of as organic as possible and a discovery. An element of discovery was key to all of this. Like what’s going to happen when I drill into this lace and it all of sudden gets wound up in my drill? Then it goes all over the place and gets unraveled and then gets used. A lot of the process is organic as the materials are. It’s sort of I didn’t know what was really going to be happening and I would have to be doing problem solving which I think adds to the sort of the battle in the work. That tension was interesting.
DKM: When you were cutting into them, you said you were doing problem solving. If say you cut into a point that you didn’t like, would you go back in and cut more paper?
CA: No kind it’s just what happens, happens. Yeah, it is what it is. I tried not to draw out in pencil. I tried not using exacto blades. I tried to like on the spot figuring it out. And there’s a raw feeling in these. Again, it’s not where the cuts are, who you’re seeing, the relationship of the two children you see sort of repeating in all this is a lot of it my own children and how I’ve imagined them viewing everything. That purity, that innocence, and trying to be as honest with that as I can. It’s also my own feeling about the relationship and also about being a child myself and how I imagined a relationship would be.
Chad Attie Capri 5 2013 mixed media 20.5 by 16.5 by 7.5 inches
Audience member: How do you negotiate sort of the lives these images have before you put them in your work?
CA: That’s a good question. I think I don’t really negotiate it. I somehow see them as there’s this artist from the 70’s, Leo Jansen and he painted women or these old landscapes and I just find that when I get them, they’re somehow mine. I’m not really thinking about the house they were in or who’s looking at them. I don’t know if that’s what you’re saying, but when I find them, I’m like thank god I found this. It’s so much like she made that moment and she’s living in that moment and she’s alive and present in that moment so somehow I can tell my story through this person.
DKM: It does feel that way in your studio. I remember the first time I came into your studio feeling like all of these found objects were totally living there.
CA: Yeah I feel that too. I actually wanted to say this one thing because I believe that this is hard for some people to understand, like this guy here. I got this at a swap meet probably haggled it down to $4, but it’s solid. Like that figure to me has just as much power and resonance as a painting. So I think that’s where all of this imagery to me are relating.
DKM: You get excited about that.
CA: Yes, I’m as excited about him and holding him and that song that he’s playing, as you know, seeing a painting. You know they’re on the same level with me. That’s also where this interplay to me makes sense. Also going back, using this childhood hot wheel in the same place that I’m going to use a great etching. It makes perfect sense that I’m just as excited as the toy color, you know that yellow with the silver engine as a combination.
DKM: I feel like you feel a lot of that sort of joy and affection as well. These are all things that have been loved.
Audience member: One question that clearly occurs if you’re not going to do this, what’s next?
CA: I’m just going to take some time and travel to think about it. But I think definitely that idea of building sculptures and working three dimensionally. You definitely go into that direction. Maybe I’ll come back to painting. I’m sure there’ll be three-dimensional multimedia, but it won’t just be just collage.
Audience member: Have you done anything else at all during this process?
Audience member: So the collage was it?
CA: Yeah. The only thing I did was I did this children’s book, but no this was it. This was like 24/7.
Audience member: What’s the title of your children’s book?
CA: The title of it is the reason I’m going to be making a new one. I’m not a big fan. It’s called The Adventures of Fifi and Noni and the new one is going to be about my two kids and their relationship because it’s fascinating for me and they’re in arguments right now because they know the title of it and my son is ok with it, but my girl isn’t at all.
Audience member: Why aren’t you happy with that title?
CA: You know, it’s just like anything. I just don’t really relate to either of those names. The adventure part I’m fine, but it’s just two names I wouldn’t choose.
Audience member: Would you have a re-write in the works?
Chad Attie Capri 1 2013 mixed media 20.5 by 16.5 by 7.5 inches
Audience member: What you were saying about the generation of the items; these are things that I would imagine from my grandmother’s house not necessarily my parent’s house. I’m curious, what kind of discoveries did you encounter and using those kinds of materials from like a generational kind of viewpoint?
CA: Yeah that’s a great question. They’re much more sexualized now. It’s totally different. It’s just totally changed. I mean if you look at the princesses from the fifties and the sixties, it’s just so much simpler and also the color combinations, the printing; it’s all just to me much richer and more interesting. Now it’s why I combine the Barbie and the princesses; it’s all very similar. It’s a great question. I didn’t think about it actually. I think it’s a little bit one note now. It’s either the colors are one note, it’s plastic, it doesn’t have the complexity that they did 50 years ago. Because I’m looking for new materials all the time, there’s not much to work from now. It’s basically now just shiny plastic and cheap paper.
Audience member: I just love all the enthusiasm and the exuberance it made me think about, I don’t think there are any particular characters in the movie Contempt, but it made me think of Jack Palance because of that energy when he got that Academy Award as a producer he was just in shock.
CA: That’s just such a horrible character
Audience member: I just think with the movie Contempt, were there any characters that drew you in?
CA: Definitely the character Paul who’s the writer. I mean it’s not so simple, it’s also complex with him too because there’s the question of whether he’s doing some philandering in there and he brings it on himself so and it’s not and by no means do I feel like I’m a saint in any of this. My obsessions and I have a lot of them are a cause of what’s behind a lot of this and I think that in that film, it raises what’s his role in all of this. Definitely not Brigitte, I don’t really connect to.
Chad Attie Clarissa 2013 mixed media 16.75 by 12.75 inches (framed)
Audience member: She’s the one who says, “I only have contempt for you.” That’s her line in the film. That’s the title of the film. Her agency and her voice, I mean she finally has a voice.
CA: True and I guess I’ve talked to Deb about this, to me the contempt goes both ways. I don’t want it to just be her contempt for him. It’s also about his contempt for her. It’s contempt for the whole situation. Also how it ends up in Contempt. It just starts so magnificent. It starts so pure and so beautiful. That really depressed me how it goes from that first moment in Italy and how those two people end up in that estate.
DKM: I think the idea of agency is and where it exists is present in your work in terms of who is in control, who is the subject, who is the object, who has the power in relation to that dynamic.
CA: Definitely and that’s at play a lot in the film where she is just emblazoned with power. Then there 2013 mixed media 16.75 by 12.75 inches (framed) are other moments where he has the power. I definitely play with that a lot.
Audience member: I’m just wondering if you’ve ever tried and then discarded using not beautiful women.
CA: Yeah I wouldn’t say discarded.
Audience member: I would say from an individual piece.
CA: So you’re saying like the person wasn’t like this, then I felt like I couldn’t use it?
Audience member: I looked around and saw all these beautiful bodies and then I wondered if you’ve ever worked with someone that was not.
CA: Definitely, there are a lot of Rubens figures in here. There are Goya figures in there.
DKM: Different times and various ideals maybe?
CA: So the answer is yes.
Audience member: Can you go into your music catalog? What do you use?
CA: Music is very very important. I mean everything from Miles Davis to Childish Gambino. I listen to a lot of music and it’s very important in the work. The sort of mood is important it just depends on what part I’m working on and when is key.
Audience member: Frank Zappa seems to be coming up with different artists recently.
CA: Maybe for the next show, but no not from this work. Anyways, seriously you guys thank you so much for everybody coming and spending this time listening. I really appreciate it.