What's Old Is New Again
As my first “What’s New” post, here is something not new at all: an excerpt from a 2012 interview I did with Kristian Goddard. It feels like a lifetime ago and also I still resonate so strongly with the way I felt then about the beauty and importance of public art, and my own role within its large, diverse landscape.
Do you have any art school training and, if so, would you recommend it to others?
I went to an arts conservatory for my last two years of high school, at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and it was a turning point for me. It's not so much about the technique I learned as it is about how I trained my eye. I didn't learn how to draw, I learned how to see. My teachers were great mentors, they took pride in ridding us of any illusions we had and getting us to actually pay attention, to really observe what was there. I was also spending every day with other artists, musicians, dancers, and actors, and I learned how much I love collaboration and how important it is for me to be surrounded by creative, dedicated people. I know art school isn't for everyone, but I learned so much.
How did you first get into working on public projects?
I remember even when I was first making art in high school that I struggled a lot with the idea that it was something primarily to be bought and sold. And as time went on I felt less and less satisfied making work that I knew would only be seen by people who went to galleries or could afford to buy art — I wanted it to interact with the big wide world, with the complexity and the mess.
So I just started where I could, helping out friends who were painting murals, volunteering on projects, seeing what other people were doing to make art more visible and more accessible. Once I started looking around and seeing ordinary places as possible platforms for art, it changed the whole way I saw the world. I don't think I will live long enough to do all the projects that I want to do! I started to see the effects public art could have, putting creative energy and dedication into spaces that most people had stopped seeing. Even one mural or one performance can transform a whole neighborhood. Art is amazingly powerful, and I think it's becoming increasingly important that we put that power toward the service of our communities.
Would it be possible to describe your work/painting process?
I use geometry and pattern as my framework, but my approach is very exploratory. Basically I devote myself to connecting lines together to create forms, and I try to pay attention to what is emerging so I can help cultivate them. I don't go into a piece imagining what it will look like in the end, I just begin with one point and let that point grow until it begins to take shape. There are a lot of paintings and drawings that I throw away, because I realize halfway through, or at the end, that I tried to push the process in an unnatural direction. But generally, I just try to stay in touch with the momentum of the lines and shapes, and they sort of guide me in the right direction. A lot of my process is getting out of my own way, fighting the urge to impose control.
What inspires you and how does it affect your work?
My work — and my life — are guided by the idea that everything is, on some fundamental level, connected to one giant (infinite?) network. This means that there are patterns all over the place, so I spend a lot of time just looking around and noticing them. I am always inspired by nature — geology and biology and the processes of growth and change. It's usually easier to see patterns in the movements of flocks of birds or glaciers than it is to see patterns in human behavior. But that's the most interesting thing to me, to see how we — even as ardent individualists — fit into something that we often times feel so distant from.
In my work, I use connecting lines to represent these networks, and to explore how they can fit together. Quite often, the shapes that emerge look like things in nature — cells or organs or animals — and I think that speaks to the universality of these connections, to how basic they are to the composition of things.
Do you enjoy working on a large scale?
Yes! To me it feels so natural. I get to use my whole body and not just my arm or my hand. When I'm drawing I can only sit and work on something for a few hours at a time, but when I'm painting a wall I can work for twelve hours and feel amazing. There isn't a place in the world I feel better.
How do you go about finding projects?
Every project is different: some I put together myself, some I worked really hard to be a part of, some just fell into my lap. I don't have a specific approach to finding things, I just put myself out there, work hard, and trust that I'll cross paths with the right people at the right time. I've been really lucky to find incredible people to work with.
Do you write your own proposals and if so is that something that you actually enjoy?
I did a project in Asheville in 2010 that was a collaboration between me and two very, very talented friends — one dancer, one musician. We wanted to put on a free, one-time, outdoor public performance along the French Broad River, on the concrete foundation of what was once a transmission repair shop. The idea was that we would build a temporary backdrop and I would paint a mural on-site leading up to the performance, which would feature a dance piece inspired by Spring rituals. The whole thing would be set to an original score, played live by a percussion ensemble during the performance. And we didn't know what we were doing really, but we knew we wanted to make this project happen so we just started doing it: we wrote the proposals, we got the permits and the permissions, we raised the money. And we had our performance in May, with our friends and family and strangers there all standing and sitting together in this field, watching this beautiful performance as the sun went down. To be able to build an experience like that, to share something you believe in — it's worth writing a thousand proposals!
Some community-based art often feels like design by committee. How much freedom do you get when you work on community-based projects?
I generally have total freedom, but I always try to take into account the needs and identity of the area where I'm painting. I think it's important to be sensitive to what was there before, and what will be there after you leave.
How do you hope the public will react to your murals?
I hope it sparks their imagination. Beyond that, it doesn't matter to me what they think or see or do with it, I just want to give people a chance to look at something and let themselves experience it in whatever way is natural. So much of our visual culture is advertising of some kind — for products, for politics, for a certain lifestyle — and it's not often we get to see pictures that don't have an agenda. But I think it's essential to let our minds wander sometimes without an endpoint in sight. I don't think we let ourselves do that enough.