A questionnaire from Michael Jess (Decoupage Publications), January 2013

1. What project are you working on now?

This autumn, I began using the sculptural approach I had been using to rework the supports of paintings to make works using books. I am still interested in pursuing this question, as I conceived of a project involving books as supports about ten years ago, and I like to work elliptically, to come back to an idea years after making the first sketches for it.

2. What’s the last show you saw?

Traces at the AGGV, though by the time you read this, perhaps the Blue Republic show opening at Deluge this Friday (Jan 25th)?

3. What’s the last show that surprised you, and why?

Last summer, I was in Seattle with my daughter Mia and they had an exhibition of contemporary Australian aboriginal art at the Seattle Art Museum; I am familiar with their collection and recalled that they had a terrific piece by Gloria Petyarre [Gloria Petyarre, Leaves, 2002]. The power of the show as a whole really was remarkable, particularly, I guess, because I had been in this pedagogical framework of walking Mia through the more familiar 20th-century Pop and Minimal and contemporary works on that floor, and this work was just so disarmingly strong and centred by comparison. So many of the dialogues we had been having with the other [Pop & minimalist] works were about deflection or deference, whereas these located a centre for themselves in a way that really exposed the insecurity of so much of the art-making enterprise.

4. What’s your favourite place to see art?

Context is so important, and wonderful experiences come from seeing work in contextually rich situations. Studio visits, obviously are a big part of this. I think we value the studio and the street because they are areas in which what we are seeing might or might not be art, and there is this searching after experience that comes with the encounter.

5. How much time per week do you devote to your practice?

I’m not sure. A lot of the time happens in away that (perhaps not surprisingly) is parasitic or symbiotic to other activities, or almost a kind of sleepwalking from one kind of domestic activity into another, and in that space you are making work. I try to find space every day, and am frustrated when this does not happen.

6. What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?

Well, the floor is important. The way things fall to the floor or are found on the floor is a form of restraint and extension that is tremendously useful for me. The things that are close to one’s feet, the way things announce themselves or lay low in the corner of a room, or come up to meet you on a walk. Giacometti said his studio was “two feet” and I understand that. The floor has a kind of aesthetic as well, the aesthetic of “eventually…”

7. Do you collect anything?

Collect and use and wear out/pass on: clothes, books, papers and cordage. I really like to go look for things two or three times a week if I can. The collection is not stable. I wear things out very quickly, am very hard on things; and things get lost, or lent.

8. What’s your art world pet-peeve?

What a tough question to address. Whose or which world I wonder? I’m not sure if I want to make pets of these things! Very dangerous for artists… Sometimes the only way I can make work is to imagine that there is no one, no one that will ever want to see this work. But then, it is very productive, very conducive to studio work for me to have a show lined up. What concerns me is that there is a perception of an art world now that can be approached on a very shallow level, and this is seen as excusable because of the nature of the interface (online), but that this is so far from the really interesting interactions you want to have with creative people. Some of these experiences could happen online, or have representation online, but I miss the weather. Watching money is not the same as watching the weather.

9. Who are one or two people who have been most significant to you in your development as an artist?

Joseph Beuys was very important, but as a complex of sorts with Paul Celan. Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacommetti also came to me as a pair, as did Cage and Johns. My mother made me understand the starkness of art, the way it brooked no compliance with mendacity. Wendy Welch and [my wife] Julie both could see work and understand if it was or was not working right away, without the discussion. I’ve always had to talk through my apparatus.

10. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you gauge your level of ambition as an artist?

I am not sure what to compare it with. Ambition seems so connected to other drives. I guess as you age you find other outlets for this vitalism, so the Faustian character of your ambition dries up. But the work pushes out across the room. So now I am not really ambitious, but being led around by the work, being tugged around by it, and I have not really solved the problem of how this relationship metastasizes (or lays dormant) in the world.

11. What are one or two factors that, when they’re in place, enable you to really flourish artistically?

Domestic traffic and dead time.

12. What are one or two factors that make it more difficult for you to flourish?

Obligations and anxiety.

13. What are one or two primary areas of fear for you as an artist?

Violence inhering in the process, waiting around to be catalyzed; the way work pulls you away from everything, or directs you towards the place in life where things are mended and divided…The seriousness of it.

14. What is your next challenge?

I think the next challenge is also always the immediate challenge. Which I think in this case relates to trying to get closer to the vocalizing of the work now. Asking the right questions so as to determine how to find an appropriate venue, and understanding timing in this respect.

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