Artist Talk with Jamison Carter for White Light from Dark Matter 2.12.14
DEB KLOWDEN MANN: Hello everyone, great to have everyone here for Jamison Carter’s White Light from Dark Matter. We love the show and I’m very much looking forward to talking about it with Jamison and all of you. We’re going to do a question and answer format. I will start off asking questions, but I also know that Jamison and I have talked about this work a lot, so I have a feeling your questions will be considerably more interesting for him at this point…
JAMISON CARTER: Yep, it’s all about me…
DKM: [laughs] There are obviously a lot of places to start, but I think I would like to start with this particular body of work and where it comes from for you—in terms of a formal sense, but also how did it begin for you conceptually?
The Man Who Fell to Earth, 2012, Marker, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 21 7/8 by 26 1/2 inches
JC: Okay, wow. Conceptually, I guess it started probably about a year and a half ago. All the work that’s in this show was made over the past 12 months. There was a pause in my practice because I was building my studio and also with my children, and that is a necessity of life, and I have been making work kind of sporadically the whole time, teaching also, so juggling a lot of stuff. So I had a break from my last body of work, and the last body of work was in my mind dealing with a lot of the same concerns, but it was a lot more ephemeral. It was wire—objects made out of wire—with a lot of color, things like that. And with this body of work I really wanted to make the work more substantial in terms of its presence. This phrase, and it’s kind of cheesy, but this phrase from a song—of course the impetus is always a song—gets stuck in my head: shards of light. I became really fascinated with the idea of how can I make that notion intentional, or tangible. So that’s where the drawings started. The smaller drawings in the back are kind of the first part of the body of work. I was able to hone in and use those drawings as experiments, in a sense, to get closer to what I was dealing with or wanted to deal with. And the body of work reveals itself as you make it. It’s never really laid out in front of you. So, that being said, I told myself that I would never work with wire again. Because the process became laborious, and i t wasn’t that interesting anymore, and I wanted to move on to another material, and I figured out—through the drawings—that I could make these forms out of wood, and the first ones that were made were the smaller sculptures in the back. Kind of, I don’t want to say experiments (though yes, they are experiments in the sense that everything is an experiment), and in making them I got to figure out how to cut those forms down with a table saw without cutting my fingers off, and trying to stay as safe as possible. And that’s where the formal relationship started. It kind of expands from a tapered form to an expanded form, and color has always been—I guess since grad school, color was something I had been wrestling with, and trying to make something that does, I mean this is kind of silly, something that catches the eye. I mean, I don’t think you can get any brighter than this. But I don’t think about it that way.
Lucky Charm, 2013, wood, plaster, latex rubber, paint, glue,13.75 by 11 by 4 inches
DKM: So if you don’t think about it in terms of brightness, where does the color come from? And how does that relate to the idea of light and making the light tangible?
JC: Well, here’s the answer that I have in my head already. I walked around everyday—everybody here walks around every day, too, I’m sure [laughs]—but the world seemed blank. There’s not a lot out there that catches your eye. And I wanted to make things that broke that nothing. So that’s why I’m choosing the colors that I’m choosing. I don’t think about them as… Well, I grew up in the South. So, Myrtle Beach, and if anybody that’s been there—How many of you have been to Myrtle Beach?
Okay. It’s like 1980’s, tank tops, neon green, and that’s kind of the connotation I have with these colors, in a way. So for me it’s really good to break out of that notion, and break into something else.
DKM: I wanted to get back to the conceptual side in a minute, but formally one of the things that so many people have said when they come in to see the show is how much they appreciate the dynamic back and forth between the three dimensional and the two dimensional work. You mentioned that a little bit that when you said that you started with the small sculptures and then you went into the two-dimensional. How does that work? And how did the two-dimensional work that you started with come to make you realize that wood was the next step? Was it about the line in the flatwork that brought you there?
JC: It was about the line, yes. It’s also that I was making these drawings and kind of going how do I make them into sculpture, and that just seems like the most evident way to do it. I’m very comfortable with wood—I’m not a fine woodworker, but I know how to use all of the machinery and such. The wood as solution came to me through wrestling with several different ways to make it. And then also, there were a few pieces that are coupled with plaster, the piece in the front and the three sculptures in the back, the smaller pieces are coupled with this more direct and amorphic form. So you have this rigid, calculated form coupled with the organic, and the more direct. So that really opened things up for me, just to bring it back to the conceptual level. I’ve always kind of dealt with two different things, two different elements that can amplify each other in my work. In the wire work prior to this, it was the air that the wire was defining, or the space the wire was defining. And in this work, it’s more about this organic, dark, ooze that has its own connotation, and coupled with the more, again, strict and calculated wood forms.
DKM: So intuitive thought vs. control, maybe. And are those things polar or opposite to you? Are they connected? How do they interact, and where does the pull to explore that dynamic come from?
JC: They are connected. I think it is a personality thing. Not everything can have the same type of connection, and it comes from my experience with my own life I guess, and where I am. It’s like in this piece [The Unfolded Head], the woodwork is so type A it’s ridiculous. Then to put that together with something that could potentially destroy, or would negate that—it’s about a struggle, it’s light and dark, it’s every situation has a positive and a negative. And I think people shy away from the negative, but it is a necessity. There is darkness there, and we need to embrace the darkness. I’m not telling you what to do [laughs], but it’s what I do, or what I like to think about. So if you, or if I, can embrace both of them, then life becomes more understandable.
DKM: So, speaking of the darkness, when you do the dark forms in the sculpture, is it plaster?
JC: Up to this point, yes.
DKM: And you need to form that, I would imagine, pretty quickly.
JC: I’m mixing up plaster and I’m literally forming it as it sets, so it happens within ten minutes.
DKM: But with the work on paper, that is monoprint, right?
Gash, 2012, marker and acrylic paint on paper,26.5 by 21.5 inches (framed)
JC: Yes, for the most part. All of the black splattered paint is monoprint. Some of it is slightly controlled with masking things off so I can control to a degree where the paint is going to go. But it is literally that I’m taking paint, pouring it on a piece
of cardboard, and pulling it off. It’s a really cathartic thing for me to do. I’m sitting there working on a piece that is taking me maybe two weeks to get the lines perfect, and I’m sitting there with a ruler and doing this, and I start going crazy, and it’s very cathartic that the dark element is unplanned. I don’t care about the controlled element anymore. Or, at least I don’t care about the part that becomes entrapped.
DKM: And I guess I also think it’s interesting that that more cathartic experience is still mediated… I guess I think that more traditionally we think of cathartic expression in paint as being very directed by the hand, and you are actually removing your hand from it, by doing it with the cardboard.
JC: I think my hand is pretty much removed from everything in here, which is interesting to me. I am self-conscious about my hand. And to my colleagues in here that I teach with, I am not confident in drawing from life and yet I teach drawing. It’s just never been part of my visual language to do portraiture or to pull from life in the sense of recreating it, either in sculpture or 2-D work. It’s because I don’t have the confidence in it, to a degree. I think I’ve been able to work through that notion, and develop a practice that still talks about things I want to talk about, and is still applicable to things in life, but do it abstractly.
DKM: When you say that your hand is removed from just about everything in here, you mean the use of a straight edge in these pieces, and then in the wooden forms…?
JC: The wooden forms, I mean it’s all cut with a table saw. I’m not cutting into it with a razor blade or something like that. There are guides in place so that, you know, I can cut them straight because I know how to use a table saw. It’s not like I’m sitting there with a chisel and hammer and carving things out.
DKM: Not direct or gestural, but what about plaster? Does that have your hand?
JC: Okay, you got me, that’s true. That is a place where—interesting, for me, I don’t know if it is for you or not [laughs]—but that’s where the directness comes in, and if I can embrace my hand in that way, and make it work in the work, then I think it’s a launching pad, or another step for me to investigate.
Super Collider, 2013, wood, paint, 3.5 by 3.5 by 96 inches
DKM: That’s also in our conversation the place that you’ve talked about as being the most embodied, or most related to actual physical, sort of human forms, so that makes sense to me. I also think, just when you were talking about the darkness, it doesn’t always seems like a super strict opposition to me, just in the sense that the darkness does have such freedom to it, and the control of the shards of light—you know, you are trying to capture light, which is something you can’t actually capture.
JC: I mean, I don’t think that Turrell really had any influence on this directly, other than through historical context (and of course he comes to mind right now because of his show being up at LACMA) … but you know, he creates forms of light that appear to be there, and are not.
DKM: Other things that you and I have talked about a lot, in relation to the vibrancy of the color, and also the idea of creating static objects that question the idea of objects existing in a static form, or the idea that they are moving…
JC: So, I do like the notion of movement in a lot of the work. The Super Collider, which is the 4 by 4 in the back. The color is there, but I didn’t manipulate that sculpturally at all. The color does in that case, for me it makes it move. It is retinally challenging, so that goes back to Op Art, Bridget Riley and all of those people and addressing some of those issues, and there are a lot of things going on in the art world today that are doing the same thing, or addressing some of the same issues. It’s interesting for me and fun in the studio trying to figure out how to create sculptural work and flat work that does the same thing in terms of that movement. Easier to do in two-dimensional work because it is an illusion, and how do you kind of mimic that illusion in three dimensions? Because then it’s not an illusion anymore. And it’s not rapid prototyping. I remember there was a guy I think in Kansas city, and he was rapid prototyping skulls that he would take in an auto-cad 3D vector program, and he would twist them or just alter them a bit, and put them on a wall and you’d walk in the room and you’d want to fall over. It’s vertigo to an intense degree. And I don’t want these to have that much impact, but that is completely manufactured process and these are more, I think there is more variable involved in what’s going on here, so if I can create that illusion of movement, then it’s just that much more successful in terms of creating a notion of what light is about.
DKM: So where does the fascination with light come from?
JC: Well I mean it’s… You know the title is White Light from Dark Matter. Nothing escapes dark matter. It’s all in, a big way it is a metaphor. Light is the life force. Light is the intangible. Light is the thing that makes us all go. It’s not just because
we get up and eat, and you know our body absorbs food and we move around. It’s our life force. And the darkness, the black stuff, you know the square on the end of that one [Super Collider] is a way to explore that negative space, the notion of nothing, and how can you put… In my mind and my experiences, I’m trying to figure out—and maybe this is the crux of my existence—how can you reconcile that push to do something with I guess the notion of death. Like, what’s the point? And death is the darkness. So…
DKM: So what about the darkness in Cut?
JC: I don’t know if anybody sees that the way I see it.
DKM: Well maybe you should tell us how you see it, and then we can tell you. [laughs]
JC: So, there’s a reason why these two [Cut and Super Collider] are in such close proximity to each other. I’m seeing that piece [Cut] as one of these things—a super collider, or a shard of light, or whatever—slicing through the wall, and the black
is negative space. So it’s about that kind of other existence. I am very interested in physics and metaphysics, and how there’s a great potential for multiple realities to exist at the same time, and all of that stuff, and quantum physics explains that that can happen and that does exist. We don’t have the cognitive ability to go there, but this is an attempt at trying to go there, and talk about that. Without being this kind of didactic scientific diagram or something. This is like the emotive sense, from my interpretation of that kind of stuff.
Cut (detail), 2013, paint, wood, hardware, 133.5 by 4.75 by 2 inches
Audience Member: Could I just ask your clarification, because as I understand what you’re saying, it’s not negative space as in the wall simply isn’t there, it’s negative space as in all matter being taken away.
JC: Yes, yes. That’s yes.
Audience member: The thing is for me that’s interesting about the way that you’re working, is that you’ve erased the hand, you’ve brought things down to the symbol, and one of the ways for me that that happens with the paintings, it’s not a symbol…
Big Yellow Sun (detail), 2013, wood, paint, glue, hardware, 93.5 by 66 by 3.3 inches
JC: It’s stripped down, it is. Yeah.
Audience member: But this form, this stylized version of something that’s gloppy. It’s not gloppy in itself, and you’ve somehow stylized it and I don’t think you really did but that’s the feeling I get from the matte black. The black is not like rich black, you’ve kind of erased the colors so that it’s kind of a dead black, and the way that you’re dealing with the wood is again that thing of you’re kind of you’ve made it so simple that it’s almost like, “Wait a minute, where is the
lusciousness of it?” because you feel like you want that from it and it’s not there. It feels like to me like that’s a conceptual statement on your part, that you’ve pushed that away.
JC: Yes, thank you for being so observant in making that connection. Yeah, I don’t want to make things that are conceptually pretty. I mean, or at least aesthetically pretty, so that the concept does come through. But I’m also wary of making something that is, you know… I don’t want it to be a rough, un-crafted object. So it is a decision on my part to not, yet I can take these things, I could powder coat them and make them super pretty, but you see the table saw lines when you get up close. You know, I want it to be direct in terms of the way the wood is used. Almost as direct, in a way, as the plaster work in
there and the other pieces. But I think that because I am using mechanical means, it doesn’t appear that way initially. Good, I’m glad you see that.
Audience member: I think these are really successful in a lot of ways, like drawing in space. I was looking at Richard Serra’s the other day, and they’re all about mass and weight and sculptural stuff, but these really aren’t about that. These really feel like they’re drawings, and I think you’ve achieved that and I think it’s really hard to do. They have an ephemeral feeling, and I like the fact that they’re kind of fussy, and they’re not. They’re fussy from a distance, and then they’re kind of fucked up when you get up close, and that’s really kind of cool. You see the hand in it.
JC: You see the drip from the rollers…
Audience member: Yeah, and I understand that because I think a lot of artists struggle with that, because you want to make something that’s perfect, and then you want to make something that’s imperfect, but then imperfect becomes something that’s sort of cliché… And you struggle to hit that place.
JC: Have two kids and work a full time job, and then you’re just like, I’m just gonna get this done. [laughs] In a way… It’s something that I think about, but then there are practicalities that come in to play.
Audience member: Limits on ability is a great thing artists have. If you’re too good at something, too facile, it screws things up. I think they work as drawings, I seem them almost as line drawings sort of floating up a void. I don’t know if that was intentional.
JC: Well, I think that’s part of the conversation between the flat work and the 3D work. I conceive of them in the same way. I don’t think about I’m going to make that drawing now, I’m going to make a sculpture now. They happen simultaneously. And you know some of the decisions that I did make in the sculpture were searched out in some of the drawings, and some of the decisions in the flatwork were decided by what I did in the sculpture. So, there were multiple things going on at the same time and came to a resolution.
This is not a Spire, 2013, wood, paint, glue, hardware, 110.5 by 12.5 by 13 inches
DKM: You started with the smaller pieces, which all, I don’t know if everyone has seen the pieces that are in the back, but they all have that plaster element to them. They all have the dark and the light very clearly together. And then I’m not sure if I’m going to get the order right, but is the one up front [Unfolded Head] next after that, and then these two [This is Not a Spire, and Super Collider]
JC: Right. Then these two [This is Not a Spire, and Super Collider] and that one [Pinch].
DKM: So it seems like the movement was not in a linear way, but sort of in the direction of the dark moving away from the actual piece itself, or the moment of tension not necessarily being as overt in the object?
JC: I’m hoping that you’ll bring your darkness to the piece, in a way. I didn’t want to. I mean I had a big struggle with this piece [This is Not a Spire]; should I put a black thing on top, and have things up there? I had a black t-shirt up there for a while, and looked at it and I’m like no, that’s not going to work. I just felt like after a while, it was strong enough formally that it stood on its own. It really doesn’t stand on its own physically, but… [laughs]. Yeah I didn’t want to hit the show over the head with every element having the same binary thing going on. So, that’s the decision of not putting it in everything. I’ll speak for myself, but, the darkness is there. The light is also there. So you can bring your own to it, depending on how much you engage.
DKM: And then is the opposition something that you’ve kind of been dealing with as a theme for yourself,
and your work for a long time? I remember you telling me that you had a professor at some point who told
you not to do it.
JC: So, way back when in undergrad, I was working as a baker and taking sculpture classes in North Carolina, and it’s a big “Rah!” object-making steel school. So we’re casting stuff in bronze, making 500 pound sculptures out of steel, and stuff like that. I started to see bread dough as a material. So, I started putting together or making these metal sculptures with the idea that I’ll stuff them with bread dough and put it in the kiln and let the bread dough just go nuts. And they were really fun! It’s like a present every single time you open up the oven, or the kiln; you never know what you’re going to get. So, there’s that binary thing. It’s that expansion and contraction element. I think they’re both evident in this work, too. A little less so in the wire work, which I did for 12 years or so. And when I got to grad school, I mean everybody if you’ve been to grad school, if you have a good professor, they are just going to make you change. It doesn’t matter how you change, it’s just… and I think that’s what happened in grad school. I just started painting, so that actually made me deal with my sensibility of color. I mean I never took painting classes. Color theory was never a big part of my repertoire in undergrad, and so this sensibility of color just, I don’t know, came out. So yes, there has always been this kind of binary thing going on.
DKM: I guess we talked about the color, but one thing I don’t know if we talked about was where these colors come from, in terms of… they are just actually pen colors?
JC: They are all pens. [laughs] There’s a line of pens that… Well, you can tell which ones are indelible because they soak into the paper and they are not opaque, and sometimes you can see a mark from the pen itself. This is all the pens for the sculpture… I called the company and they wouldn’t tell me what the ink is, and I was like, really? I think they’re gouache. They’re very close to gouache pens. And because the ink that’s in there, and I’ve actually figured out how to…They cost like $10 each and last maybe for half a drawing, so I figured out how to open them up and put acrylic paint in, which is part of this piece [Big Yellow Sun]. There’s acrylic and those pens in this piece. It’s a line of pens and they have a full color spectrum and I don’t have to mix anything. If I had to mix things, I would never get anything done. [laughs] A lot of the drawings, too, are about investigating what this pen can do. They come from a little tiny nib to that high, and every size in between. It’s a very simple solution, but it worked.
DKM: I kind of like the idea of investigating the idea of precision with something that is manufactured, too. It’s brings in this whole other element.
Pinch, 2013, marker and acrylic paint on paper, 45 1/8 by 37 1/8 inches (framed)
JC: Yes it’s a color palette that exists in the world. They’re made for sign painters, and you know people that manufacture that kind of product. Thus, the bright colors, and the saturation, the pigment, and the stuff like that so they kind of pop. So that’s another element where I’ve kind of relinquished some control, but the control is there because it’s a limited palette. So. I’m not in control of the colors, I just buy them. It is right out of the tube in a sense, but their relationship to each other, and the work and so forth is how I’m trying to play with them.
DKM: And then that’s the last one [Pinch], and that’s second to last [The Sound that Fire Makes]?
JC: Yes. Out of the four larger drawings or whatever they are, that one, well the lines in that one were first and then the lines in that one happened and then I put the paint on that one. Then I made a bunch of sculptures, and then I made these two, and then I put the paint on that one was pretty much last. I had to figure out what was going on with that. I wasn’t sure.
DKM: So, then the last one, that one [Pinch] is the one paper piece that doesn’t have the darkness actually present in the composition.
JC: The way I see that drawing, which is titled Pinch, and with the vanishing point, it relies on the laws of perspective, and I look at it and I go okay, is that two walls coming together or two planes coming together, or what happens when you go around those planes? And then in my mind I’m like okay there’s darkness, but the color choices and so forth in that, I was actually investigating how to paint this thing. Obviously none of those can go in that, but it was a way to exhaust some of the possibilities in my mind.
The Sound that Fire Makes, 2013, marker on paper, 45 1/8 by 37 1/8 inches
DKM: So, when you say there’s the darkness, the meeting point, the point of tension between different possible planes, and the space you can go into that isn’t here. Then this one [The Sound that Fire Makes] is the only one where the dark element is not actually monoprint, is that right?
JC: Right. So that one’s called The Sound that Fire Makes, and that was the last piece I made. I knew it was going to be the last piece I made, and I wanted it to be more chaotic. I felt like there was too much order, and I wanted to see what would happen with this overlapping and layering. It’s kind of, my dad calls it a bird’s nest, but I’m seeing it more as that’s the —I know it sounds cheesy—but that’s the soul of the fire, that’s the spot where the cinder just continues to burn. I didn’t want to put anything uncontrollable there, because I felt like the way that I used the color was more or less uncontrollable. I was not really making decisions; I was just laying a ruler down and grabbing a pen and going.
Audience member: The color seems interesting, it feels like kind of random, in a way, like you have the pens and you just pick them up start.
JC: That’s exactly what I do.
Audience member: Right. And you like that obviously, and like the idea of not making all these color choices as you go along. You kind of let the colors do what they do, and they’re all super keyed up so they kind of work together. I was thinking of this line thing, that you know Mark Grotjan does this line thing, and if you look at them, they’re almost like a decorator element, really almost like they could have come out of a House and Garden. And you know, this is interesting because they’re kind of like artifice, like high synthetic.
JC: They don’t exist in nature. They’re neon. I was talking to Christopher Michlig, who did a bunch of stuff with Colby printing guys after they closed down and they had a black light—this was at For Your Art on Wilshire—and they had a black light on with all the posters up. He had made some of them, and I was talking to him about them. And this was like the paint was going to leap up off of the page and eat you. It is so incredibly intense, under the black light. I haven’t done black light here—It might be kind of fun one night, I don’t know… I was talking to him about that pigment, and I didn’t quite completely understand what he was talking about, but scientifically it is such a saturated thing, and the base element that is used —and I don’t remember which one it is—for each one of the different fluorescent colors, like cobalt blue or something like that. There is a basic element that makes these colors, but in its natural state it does not look like that. So, that interests me greatly.
Audience member: They are light. They feel like they imitate internal light, like they have light inside them or something. And that’s hard to do, but yeah.
Sample, 2013, marker and acrylic paint on paper, 45 1/8 by 37 1/8 inches (framed)
JC: Something you just said about how… Alright, so the randomness and how I present it there, is kind of how I tried to deal with putting together all the little pieces. I’ve got all of these links and I’ve cut all these things down, and the color and everything’s there, but then when I’m assembling the sculpture, it is more or less that I’m trying to make it random, so that it doesn’t feel orchestrated.
Audience member: Can you tell me more of that kind of spontaneity? Because most of these, or all of them really, have this kind of focus in their design, and it’s kind of weird how there is this sense of order, like you were saying, that keeps hovering away and from glopping all over the place. But obviously there’s no room for error in terms of we’re going to see it, whatever mark you make, we’re getting it. So, what is your process with this kind of relentlessly exposed piece of paper that is going to show every once of those gestures and spontaneity, and also maintaining this feeling of very concise design?
JC: Hmmm… You know when the cleaning lady comes and completely cleans your house and it feels great? And then two days later it’s a complete mess and you just want to destroy it all? That’s the way I feel. That’s it. I enjoy both, and I think they’re both necessities; at least they are for me. So. I’m always nervous when I do the spontaneous act, because I don’t know if there’s going to be an area that I don’t like. And in some of these, yes there are areas that initially I didn’t like, but it is what it is. For instance, this one is called Sample. [walks up to the piece] This drove me crazy for a long time [pointing to drip on Sample], and I kept saying it’s not going to work, it’s not going to work. But, you step away from it, and it’s fine. It’s just not dripping in the same direction; it just went in a different way.
Audience member: I feel like we’re all saying, or no you said, that the colors are not from real life. And that seems like it’s as important as the fact that you’re not allowing things to be natural…
JC: Everything here is a facsimile. I look at everything here as a facsimile. In a big way.
Audience member: That’s kind of huge. It’s almost a frustration for the viewer because it seems like this thing of holding back. You know, like allowing this place where the black is black. And you said it’s straight out of the bottle, and that makes total sense, and you can see it in the other colors, too. And you know when I think of black I think of it as something that’s really complex, but you don’t do that, you go flat. And I don’t know, that seems really important, that you’re playing in that realm, and I think—whether you intend it or not—it seems like that’s hugely important to the way that we absorb the work, or understand the work.
JC: Did anybody see the Hammer lecture that Paul McCarthy did on Paul Thek? [laughs] Paul McCarthy’s up there and he goes, “Paul Thek just dealt with the goo.” And it’s so great, it’s the most inarticulate articulate statement ever. And I don’t want it to be that direct. I don’t want to be orchestrated. If I orchestrate it, then it becomes… I feel like the crux of what you’re saying is about whether or not I’m going to orchestrate it, in a way. Meaning, like mixing the paint to be a certain matte black or….
Audience member: The complexity of black, or the complexity of choosing the color is nuanced, but no you’re saying I don’t want you to even have the association with the world, I’m just going to pour it out of the bottle, because you can’t bring it to the world. Then yet you’re talking about darkness and light, which is a total phenomenon of matter. But you’re not giving us matter. It’s almost as if you’ve erased matter, and yet your concept is matter. So that, to me, is really weird and great.
JC: Good! The way that I think about it, there is a strong link between this visual abstraction and how I feel about the world. This is rather elementary, but we all have this space in our minds—and I talk about this in my classes—we all construe what’s in here [points at head] as space, right? But actually, there’s no space. And the best way for me to think about that is, this kind of facsimile of how I interpret it, and that’s where the dark comes in, or the black paint. So, it comes about in terms of metaphor, for me, and I don’t know, again, if that’s going to come directly across out of the work for everybody else who sees it. I don’t know if I’m answering your question exactly, probably not, I’m talking around it…
The Unfolded Head, 2013, wood, plaster, latex rubber, paint, glue, 75.7 by 9.75 by 8.75 inches
DKM: I get what Rebecca is saying in the sense that you would want—and this work kind of brings up a kind of desire to enter this space. If there is dark matter everywhere, and if your work is giving us a sense of a dark space that you might be able to enter on this plane… And if the blacks were these crazy, sumptuous, deep blacks that you could enter into in this kind of emotive way, that would create a different kind of process. Instead, you’re giving us this idea of being able to move somewhere, but then you are also keeping us very much in the space we’re in, and on this plane.
JC: Well, we are here, right? Yeah? So this is an effort for me, and maybe it’s my own cathartic BS, I don’t know, but how can I take these ideas that I relate to so well to explain my existence, and bring them into our physical world? But, still let
them remain as a dream. Still let them remain as not real. So…
Audience member: It’s like you’re working with ideals. I keep thinking, for a couple of reasons, of this statue of St. Peter with this corona around it, which brings in this notion of light. You talked about in the beginning this idea of shards of light… Show me one! [laughs]
JC: I know, exactly!
Audience member: So if light is illumination, then what can these illuminate? And I’m looking at them, and that doesn’t happen. But also, you chose such specific colors that you can’t cheat. You can’t say that this is a representation of light, it’s really this settled. So, in that case I have to go back to, well, hmm… Were you the one who said that there was too much order, and in that way it became more chaotic? I want to stop and say, ‘dude, that’s so awesome, that’s like the Enlightenment’. Visceral, decapitated body over here… The Sword and the Stone is what that piece [Unfolded Head] makes me think of.
Audience member: There’s something you said at the beginning about dark matter and light, and on a quantum level we don’t know what this stuff looks like. We don’t know what light looks like really. We don’t know what dark matter looks like. What we see are just our eyes catching reflections that are just bouncing off to get the spectrum of light. But we don’t know what light looks like. So, what Rebecca [Ripple] was saying about how this is all about matter, and you said it’s a facsimile. You’re just imagining what these things could be. Because with light and dark at the quantum level, you don’t know what these things look like. You don’t know what real darkness is and you don’t know what real light is.
JC: Exactly. And I was very wary that I’m not going to use the eight colors from this to this, and it’s not going to be a Dark Side of the Moon album cover. I was worried about that, if it was going to go there. I’m
Big Yellow Sun, 2013, wood, paint, glue, hardware, 93.5 by 66 by 3.3 inches
glad it doesn’t, but I think the fact that the colors don’t exist in nature, and it’s the idea of trying to create—I mean the color coupled with the form, and we know that light expands, light rays. You know that light spreads. Those are our direct relationships with light. So I’m trying to deal with those direct relationships in a way that we understand it, in a practical everyday way, and add or also use a color palette that doesn’t exist in the light spectrum. And I think that’s where it starts to hook up, in terms of it still not really existing, because there’s no way to create actual light that is tangible.
Audience member: It seems like your work has a lot to do with pressure in a way, and compression. In the yellow piece [Big Yellow Sun], you can see it where the tips are coming in. Even in this piece Super Collider, the fact that one end is black and the other end is in color makes some sort of contained pressure. I’m just wondering, is that something you’re playing with beyond the light and dark, or where does that come into play in the work? Could you talk a little about that?
JC: I’ll put it this way, it made me very happy when there was actually tension in the materiality as well as the idea. I didn’t know this was going to happen when I made the piece [the tapered end of Big Yellow Sun]. I didn’t know… I’m cutting these things down as precisely as I can, but when you put them together if you notice, about a third of the way down, it bulges out more. So yes, that was a happy accident, but I didn’t try to fix it. I didn’t want to fix it. It felt right. And I do think that the tension within the actual wood just kind of compounds the tension between the bright and the dark, and the lines and the amorphic.
Audience member: There’s no gradation in your work in terms of color. You don’t use gradation in terms of mixing paint…
JC: No. I thought about doing gradation here [Big Yellow Sun]. It’s also, just to talk about it, it’s an effort to make it as random as I can. I feel like if I used gradation or something like that, then it becomes more controlled, and I don’t want it to appear that way. It’s almost… it’s phenomenon. I know they’re orchestrated sculptures. Somebody made them. But if I can allude to the idea of phenomenon, that’s what I want, and that’s the randomness, at least my effort in randomness. And it’s also interesting; can a human really be random? I mean, everything I did was a decision in some part, but is it still random? I don’t know. That’s where it becomes interesting for me also, in the studio especially.
DKM: Do other people have questions? I’m just sitting here enjoying listening to all of your questions…
Audience member: Can you share the story about what Adam said?
JC: Oh! Okay, so Adam is my wife’s cousin and he pretty much folds proteins at Cal Tech and does these crazy diagrams and figures out how drugs will attach to your molecular structure. So, he’s crazy. And he came and saw the piece in the front, which is called The Unfolded Head, and he’s like, “This is lightning striking sand in the desert.” And that is exactly what it is. Because when lightning strikes sand, it creates this thing called fulgurite, and I looked it up, and I’m like oh wow, shit, yes that’s it. They’re not black, but they’re these amorphic blobs that fuse silica together, and they totally turn into that form. And the light coming down is lightning. And I knew nothing about that, so that was kind of cool. Maybe I’m on the right track, I don’t know.
Audience member: First, I really want to know when the black light party is happening, because I would totally come. [laughs] But second, I just wanted to ask about your relationship with scale, because in some of the smaller ones where you are really feeling the hand… In general, your feeling of going in and out of things, or having something really tiny, or pressed up against it, what’s your…?
JC: It’s an effort in making these as dynamic as I can in terms of body of work. I’ve always been wary of making the same thing over and over again. It’s not something that I enjoy in my practice. So, I try to vary the scale. In terms of the sculpture, I always try to make things that are somewhat diminutive, but also things that you have to reconcile yourself in terms of the body. So that’s the different scale in terms of the works in the back, and the work in here. It’s very much about trying to create dynamism in the work.
Audience member: If you have a complete concept of what this piece [Big Yellow Sun] would be in your mind before you started it?
JC: No, not at all. So these [the wood pieces in Big Yellow Sun] are the cutoffs from making that [This is Not a Spire]. I had no idea what I was going to do with all of them so I just stacked them up in the studio, and wow, there it is. The refuse in the studio becomes another piece.
Audience member: Didn’t you color them before?
JC: Sure. Well, I stacked them up against the wall to see what it looked like, and I thought wait a minute it looks like a clock I saw the other day. I stacked them up and did not fasten them or glue them together, and then I took them apart, and lay them all out, and painted them all white, and then painted each one a different color. Actually, each plane a different shade of yellow. There are approximately eight different shades of yellow in that piece. I was just trying to make as many as I could, so that it doesn’t become predictable. So no, I didn’t know what it was going to be when the material was cut.
Audience member: Have you had visions of seeing something in your mind and then putting that down or painting it, or it always comes off as you start with something or does it always comes up as you go?
JC: I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I started… I didn’t have a show yet. And I was like, I have to go out to the studio to make something or something’s going to happen. [laughs] So I have a drawer full of pens. Not any of these pens, just Prismacolor, Sharpies, whatever, and I had paper. I wasn’t going to make anything out of wire anymore, and I had all of these pens, and I just sat down and started drawing lines, and that’s what happened. I had never drawn 500 lines on a piece of paper before, with different colors, just kind of randomly placing them, and I liked it. So, that’s how it started.
Audience member: How did you get the pens to be opaque?
JC: Well, again, these pens are… there’s translucency going on there. I guess the black, the red, the blue… The fluorescent colors are translucent, and the regular palette colors are more opaque. So, that’s another push and pull within that line of pens.
DKM: One question that just came up for me in relation to titles of the pieces, are there different forms of light in your mind —for instance, this is The Sound that Fire Makes, and that’s Big Yellow Sun, or is it all just a part of the same thing, and
then a name comes to it?
JC: It is all part of the same thing, and then a name comes to it, yes. There’s never a title. Everything’s it titled after the fact, by far. I just sit and look around, and the first thing that pops into my head is usually what I go with.
DKM: So light is still an abstracted concept in relation to the way it manifests in each piece.
JC: Yes, definitely.
DKM: Any other questions for this gentleman who has been talking to us so nicely for such a long time?
JC: Thanks guys.
DKM: That was great, Jamie. Thank you.