Julia Schwartz interviews David Lloyd in Figure/Ground 2.13.15
David Lloyd, All Possible Worlds, 2014 Mixed media on canvas 48 by 69 inches, courtesy of the artist and Klowden Mann Gallery
A Conversation With David Lloyd
David Lloyd was interviewed by Julia Schwartz. Posted February 13, 2015.
David Lloyd graduated with a BFA from Cal Arts in 1985, and began his career with a series of intelligent, near-humorous abstractions, turning towards the incorporation of imagistic referents several years later. He has shown in California at Klowden Mann, Margo Leavin Gallery, Gallery Paule Anglim and the Orange County Museum of Art, along with many others, as well Metro Pictures, and Milk Gallery in New York. His work has been written about extensively, and he is included in the collections of the Orange County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. He lives and works in Culver City, California. After many wide-ranging conversations via cell phone – each of us in our studios or driving around town, or in person over coffee, we conducted a more standard Q&A by email in February 2015.
David, if only we’d had someone driving around with us transcribing all that time, we’d have a really long amazing interview- so many gems! But here we are, neither of us types as fast as we talk. So how and when did you decide that art was something you wanted to pursue?
I decided to become an artist professionally at around 23 years old (about the time I entered Cal Arts). Up to that point I’d been making art consistently since I was a little kid but it never occurred to me that I could do this for a living.
What was it like there?
Cal Arts was a really unique place. When I started there in the early 80s I don’t think there was anyplace quite like it anywhere. I remember walking down to the pool when I first got there and there was a naked guy playing the trombone underwater. And I remember being exhilarated and afraid at the same time. Over time I came to realize that Cal Arts was more of an artist colony/think tank than a traditional school. I was an older student and I think that helped me because you needed to be self-motivated there, if you weren’t you wouldn’t get much out of the place. There’s been a lot of talk about Cal Arts being anti- painting and I do think that a lot of teachers (at least when I was there) were primarily interested in conceptual art. But I don’t think that was necessarily a bad thing. It made me think more critically about my work and sort of toughened me up. For being a so-called anti-painting school, Cal Arts has consistently produced interesting painters.
Who were some of your mentors over the years? Or inspirations and influences?
I didn’t have any direct mentoring when I got out of school. I hung out with friends from Cal Arts and we influenced one another. Thad Strode and I shared a studio and I can’t speak for him but he definitely influenced me.
I’ve always been particularly interested in artists who hover in the indeterminate area between the narrative and the abstract. Philip Guston, Picasso and Frank Stella have all had a profound effect on my work. Also my contemporaries in the ’80s and 90s like Lari Pittman, Elizabeth Murray, Albert Oehlen, Kerry James Marshall and Martin Kippenberger. A lot of painting at that time was highly theatrical- over the top- people like David Salle and Julian Schnabel come to mind. Painting seemed more wide open than it does now and maybe a little less self-conscious.
That’s a great list there. You and I have been talking lately about how much we like Katherine Bradford’s term “freedom painter” because it describes an approach to painting and does away with categories like abstract and figurative. But I’m interested in what you are seeing over all the years that you’ve been painting. Can you say more about what you mean, comparing then and now?
It’s interesting as I go to galleries and art fairs, much of the painting I see seems incredibly unambitious. It’s almost as if they’ve thrown in the towel so to speak. I don’t know if it’s due to fear or cynicism but the end result is pretty dull. Paint can do amazing things. Maybe it’s viewed, particularly by younger artists, as a used-up language, but that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not about what kind of painting one makes. Two painters like Lisa Yuskavage and Chris Martin, for example, are completely different artists yet they both exhibit conceptual and formal rigor and an absolute investment in their paintings that makes the work compelling. I like the way writer/artist Jason Ramos expressed it: artists that have “skin in the game”.
Could you talk about a significant success? Or a noteworthy failure that was an important turning point in your career?
The first thing I did out of school was a one person show at Margo Leavin Gallery in Los Angeles. At the time Margo was probably the best dealer in LA and it was a pretty surreal experience having my first show there. I was thrown into the lion’s den, so to speak. I went on to show with her for the next six years.
I can’t point at any particular success or failure. I’ve had a lot of both over the last 30 years. I think the secret to longevity as an artist is the ability to ride out the ups and downs and continue working.
Yes, that is something I try to keep in mind, that it remains about making the work. Do you start work with a concept or does the idea come later?
I start with a concept but it inevitably changes in the course of making the work. I can’t conceptualize a whole painting ahead of time nor do I want to. For me paintings have a life of their own. If I leave myself open the painting will usually lead me in an interesting direction. I don’t edit myself much in the studio. If something doesn’t end up working I have the option to not show it.
Can you describe your rituals or routines in the studio?
I am highly sporadic. I tend to work short blocks of time interspersed with surfing, music, reading, teaching, hanging with my dogs etc. I’ve never been an artist who paints for six hours straight. That being said I work in the studio seven days a week.
What about your choice of materials: what drew you to them?
I think you can make a painting out of almost anything. My choice of materials has always been highly democratic: dog hair, boat sails, fiberglass, resin, dirt, plastic, all matter of collage, as well as traditional materials like oil and acrylic paint.
I would love to see the one with dog hair! What would you say is the impact of your personal life on your work? What about other external influences?
It’s important to have a strong support system whether it’s friends or family. I’ve been lucky enough to have both. I’m also a longtime surfer and surfing has been the perfect counterbalance to the cerebral and internal nature of my studio life.
Can you describe what are you working on now?
A solo show of my paintings just closed last week so I’m in the process of starting a new body of work that will expand on the last one. Right now I’m doing a lot of experimentation. There’s no pressure to produce for a new show just yet so this is a period when I get to try out new ideas or directions. I have no interest in making the same body of work over and over.
Indeed! These paintings are such interesting concoctions of elements- thick and thin areas, brightly painted geometric constructions, occasional barely recognizable human shapes, all held together by trompe l’oeil string. Kind of wacky Rube Goldberg machines. All the extraneous noise typical in some paintings is absent; the paintings are pure distillates- I keep thinking of that French brandy eau de vie. And the existential weight of them is there, but it is handled with a light touch: I might see earth hanging by a thread in an acid green cloud, but someone else can just enjoy the eye-popping colors and shapes.
I’m in a group show in Naples, Italy in May.
Any advice for future or emerging artist?
Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself- it might be the very thing that leads you to a breakthrough.