Q & A with Paul Wackers
C & P: You grew up on the East Coast, went to undergrad in D.C. and then moved to the West Coast to attend graduate school in San Francisco, at SFAI. Do you feel that the change in coast—landscape, temperature, architecture, etc…, has influenced your
work at all? If so, how?
Paul: I think experiencing all of these different environments just gives me more to draw from. I can’t say exactly how these places have helped to form my work, but it is in there. They are all such different places; the east coast has seasons and everything that comes with that. D.C. was an interesting place and I probably would never have gotten to see all of the art I did, with the National Gallery and the Hirshorn Museum and the Corcoran Gallery of Art where I went to school. They were all free to me and I went there often. Luckily when I was in D.C. it still had a pretty good music scene because other than that I would not call it a great contemporary art city. But I have not been back there in a while and things may have changed.
C & P: What did you like most about living in San Francisco? How has the transition from sunny California to snowy New York City been?
Paul: I did really enjoy living in San Francisco; it offered such easy access to so many different landscapes and experiences. It was a nice place to grow and get a firm footing on what I was working on and what direction it needed to go. Ultimately after 9 years there I felt it was time to move on, and so here I am in New York. Luckily for me I left SF and arrived in New York with a heat wave and then got initiated with one of the snowiest winters in recent history. Fun times! I guess if you are going to do it, you should really go for it. Hmmm, but I like it so far.
C & P: I saw one of your paintings in the Plain Air group show at Cinders Gallery in Williamsburg a few months ago and also noticed that you exhibited at New Image Art in L.A. and the Eleanor Harwood Gallery in San Francisco. Are you affiliated with any other galleries or art collectives in San Francisco or elsewhere? Do you have any shows coming up in the near future?
Paul: Yes, I’ve worked with both of those galleries and have upcoming shows with both. I will be having my third solo show with Eleanor Harwood, opening in early April 2011. I will be doing another two-person show with New Image Art at the end of this summer (details are still to be figured out). And there are a few other galleries that I have some upcoming projects brewing, Alice Gallery in Brussels and possibly something in Toronto; both in 2012. I will also be having my first Solo show with the gallery I work with here in New York, the Morgan Lehman Gallery, in November. I am really looking forward to it. Then, there are a few other group shows scattered about as well.
C & P: Tell me a little about the process of creating a new work. Do you sketch out your ideas by drawing something first? Do you ever work out a composition on a computer before you begin to paint?
Paul: Sometimes I make some sort of a sketch, but its not anything anyone would be able to discern as the start for most paintings. They are very loose and are more for figuring out placement and general composition stuff. Like how will things move around the image or not. Sometimes more planned out drawings happen beforehand but even those I would say are very crude. Many of my paintings come together and change their minds while I’m working on them. So the first ideas often look nothing like the final piece. Its generally a very fluid process and it seems more frustrating if I have a very definite outcome in mind and don’t allow for any change from that. Usually I just go with it. I tried once to use the computer to map out a painting, but it seemed too different and too removed from the process. For me it really is the making and working though the problems on the surface that are enjoyable to me. The computer drawing seemed too complete. Like, if that is good, why do I want to make a painted version. With all that said, I do make drawings that I see as finished works on their own, but they have never directly turned into paintings.
C & P: Do you paint mainly with acrylic and spray paint? Why do these mediums appeal to you? Have your paintings always been so colorful? Or is this a new development in your work?
Paul: I mostly use acrylics and spray paint, I have been thinking about picking up oil paints again. Right now, my studio does not lend itself to using them since I don’t have any windows or proper ventilation. I feel like the colors have always been there, but they were muted and subtle. Over time, as I have gotten more confident with them, I have gone with some stronger palettes.
C & P: Do you also create sculpture? Would a sculpture ever be used as a model to base a 2-D painting upon?
Paul: I actually did just make a sculpture. It’s kind of funny you ask. It’s in a group show right now in San Francisco at Noma Gallery. The show is called Control Group. They asked people to work using methods or materials that they had never really explored before. So I figured it was the perfect time to try my hand at it, since I paint sculptural forms all the time. I don’t think I would make sculptures just to use as props in paintings, but I think if I did make more sculptures, they would influence my process.
C & P: I have been thinking a lot about the Internet lately and how it has become so much a part of our daily lives. Do you feel that the Internet is a hindrance or a helpful tool for you as an artist? Does the wealth of information online and its instant availability influence your work at all?
Paul: The internet is a very complicated thing, endlessly helpful, always distracting and befuddlingly necessary, now that its with us.
C & P: What inspires you to begin a picture?
Paul: Everything! I know that sounds cheesy. But, if I notice something walking down the street, or in a book, or in other art, in movies; there is weird stuff everywhere and sometimes you just need to explore that a little bit.
C & P: Are you a frequent daydreamer? Do you feel that you notice more minute details in your everyday experience, the stuff most people do not see? Do these details make their way into your paintings?
Paul: I don’t know, I don’t think I’m a total space cadet. But I don’t know how much other people daydream, so I will abstain from assuming whether or not I dream or notice more than others. But the little things I do notice will end up in paintings for sure at some point.
C & P: There are rarely (if ever) humans depicted in your paintings. Have you ever painted figures in your landscapes? Is there a reason why your landscapes are void of people?
Paul: I used to have figures in my paintings, a long time ago. But I kept having a problem figuring out who they were. I did not want the figures in the paintings to be me, or anyone else specific. So now I think that my paintings without figures, but being convincingly inhabitable spaces, allow for more interesting stories to be projected into them. Maybe there is something really happening outside of picture. Almost like theatre stages or film stills, before or after the action has happened, which still leaves the space charged.
C & P: The architectural elements that often show up in your work have a very 60’s feel, a geodesic dome, for example. What interests you about the architecture of this time? Are you influenced by the work of any architects in particular?
Paul: I think things from that period have a very human feel, or at least the ones that I am drawn to. They feel like they are looking into the future. Not just how it might make its mark in a historical sense, but like a future ruin. As some more classical approaches to buildings do. I also do find a building in general interesting, because pretty much every thing we do day to day is dictated by them; but mostly they are these invisible things we move through or around. For me, buildings are these silent subjects in my work and they become something that the viewer becomes hyper aware of.
C & P: Some of your work reminds me of the collages of Archigram. The futuristic landscapes that you create cannot exist in reality much like the architectural sketches they made (in the 60’s) for future cities. Have they been an influence on your work at all?
Paul: That’s pretty cool. I like Archigram a lot. I have never thought of it in my work. But why not?
C & P: Plants, trees, various flora also show up frequently in your work. Even though you live in the city do you find it necessary to escape the city and emerge yourself in nature from time to time?
Paul: Leaving the city is always great. But a good selection of little buddy potted plants can be just as inspirational. Just to dork out for a minute, when you live with some plants and really care for them, you start to notice some of the really trippy stuff they do. It happens slowly but sometimes they get pretty cool. I have a bromeliad that shot out this crazy flower one time, that just kept shooting out new stages of flowering radness. It was like a very slow three-stage fire work starburst going from pink to orange to purple. And it just happens like its no big deal. But yeah, being out in nature is something I try to do whenever I can, but I also need to be in the city, to know just how great it is out there.
C & P: What artists would you cite as influences? If you could grab a coffee (or tea or whiskey) with any artist, living or dead, to have a chat about the state of the world, art, kittens, or whatever, who would you choose?
Paul: One of my first artistic heros was Francis Bacon; those paintings are genius. There were many artistic heros after him. Right now, I have been really into Rousseau and Twombly sculptures and photos. I have been looking at Bruce Weber’s book A House Is Not A Home a lot. Paul Outerbridge’s color photos are pretty great. I am a big fan of Peter Doig and Isa Gensen. I like Aaron Curry’s sculptures a lot. Also lately I’ve been really into the idea of making ceramics, who knows. Really, there are too many to name and they vary greatly.
I’m sure Picasso would have been a handful to hang out with. Brancusi seems like a heavy guy.
I bet he liked cats. I don’t know who I would like to meet really.
C & P: Are there any landscape painters that you admire?
Paul: Not specifically for landscape painting alone. There are plenty of painters I admire just for the way they use paint for what ever situation they choose.
C & P: Have you been influenced by the work of Frank Stella?
Paul: More so by his later work; that shit is insane. I don’t know how that stuff works, it seems always on the cusp of collapse…
C & P: A lot of the artists that are included in this issue of Cheap + Plastique also make music or are affiliated with musicians… Have you been in bands? Do you currently play music? Do you feel that there is a connection between art and music? Does music influence your work?
Paul: I have never been in a band, but I tend to gravitate towards musicians socially and I go see live music often.
C & P: You have created album artwork for Thee Oh Sees. Is the image on the Dog Poison cover something that already existed or did you create it for the band to use? Have you contributed artwork to other musical projects?
Paul: That drawing already existed. John saw it at the opening and he wanted to use it, and of course I let him. I was already a fan of what he was up to. I also have one of my paintings on the cover of a Mick Barr record called ment which was mixed by Tim Dewitt that came out on Brown sound, Gavin Brown’s label. I made a few 7” covers for a project by Sonny Smith of Sonny and the Sunsets. Those were made for him, but it was the kind of “anything-goes” sort of thing.
C & P: What could you imagine doing if you did not create art?
Paul: I’m not sure that I am qualified for anything else. Maybe park ranger could be cool. Or professional camper. Travel writer???????
See more of Paul’s work here.
This interview appears in issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique, available here.