“It’s the artist who is in no hurry,
who takes the long road, that I admire.”
Interview by August Smith, WTP Feature Writer
William Crump earned his BFA from Ringling School of Art and Design 1994. Currently lives and works in the East Village. Selected exhibitions include: Objective Painter, Station Independent Projects (curator); American Pharoahs (curator); TSA Gallery, Brooklyn; JAUS Gallery, Los Angeles; The Franklin, Chicago; Momenta Art, Brooklyn; 500X Gallery, Dallas; Frame & Canvas (Solo); Formally Pocket Utopia, New York; Hal Bromm Gallery, New York; The Hospital Club, London; Station Independent Projects, New York; Fold Gallery, London; Phenomena Projects, New York. Press and interviews include Gorky’s Granddaughter, The L.A. Times, ArtSlant, ArtUS, and NYArts. William is a participant in The Artist Pension Trust, and also co-runs the artist collective Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Brooklyn.
Smith: I’d like to start with your collages published this month in The Woven Tale Press. I love how they achieve a careful, exacting visual balance, using only a handful of elements to evoke something strange and beautiful. Could you talk a bit about your process for these pieces? Do you start with the found material, or a general abstract idea, or something else?
Crump: The collages featured here were essentially made from leftover images I hadn’t been able to fit into another series. From these leftover cut-outs I began to think about the way you might see a photo of an artist’s studio in which the artist was absent, but time stood still, the materials carefully balanced along the studio wall or left exactly where the artist placed them, fully expecting to return to work the next day. There is purposefully something phallic in those collages. I was being playful with the notion of outsized egos or legends and how history only serves to reinforce that idea.
Smith: How did you come to use collage as one of your primary mediums?
Crump: Quite by accident. Coming out of art school there was Duchamp and then everyone after. I suppose I always held on to the idea of not repeating myself, or rather not repeating what others were doing. Not to say that I don’t do that; however, the notion of following a trend does not appeal to me. The collage works started when I became tired of working on a specific series of figure drawings, which relied heavily on a personal narrative. Considering I’d never made collage before it seemed like a challenge. The collage that I saw being made around me was either really good or just awful. Since I had so many books and magazines being used for drawing reference that were not specifically special, I didn’t think twice about cutting them up.
Smith: Collage has its roots in Surrealism and Dadaism, two very political, anti-establishment movements that sought to shake the foundations of fine art and high society. And some of your three-dimensional pieces also remind me of this era; they’re not unlike Duchamp’s ready-mades. Do you see these mediums as revolutionary or insurrectionary? Can artists borrow from the past to respond to the present? If so, how?
Crump: Well, yes and no. I tend to shy away from political-based work, but stealing from history was never a problem for me. Revolutionary to me is specifically a generational reaction to the present to insure or force a change in the future. Political work in general is just not something I’m interested in at this point. I can’t say I haven’t considered it given the era we are living in.
What has interested me for some time now is combining everyday materials that are common to painting while exploring just how they can be repurposed into something that exists between painting, collage, and sculpture. The pieces you mentioned are also something of a bridge that led me back to painting. In regards to making formal collage work there seemed to be a niche world where as an artist you could show as long as you were making collage only and/or showing the same kind of work as like-minded artists in that genre. I asked myself what was happening with collage and where was it going?
My answer was to rethink my approach toward the materials and imagery that were being considered by others. I wish I was more revolutionary. I’m not. There are some artists who do this on a level that is way beyond anything I could hope to reach. John Stezaker, Elena Damiani, Ian Pedigo, Meredith Rosen, Paul Loughney, etc. Every few years there are artists who are playfully labeled Duchamp’s children or Warhol’s children in hopes of building hype…but it’s the artist who is in no hurry, who takes the long road, that I admire. The risk takers and those undaunted by money or fame. Those are the ones who are revolutionary.
Smith: Your selection of color can be surprising, at times, even jarring: juxtaposed with black-and-white imagery, a viewer finds pastels and hot pinks. Your paintings do this too: bright, candied colors cutting through darker tones. I’d love to hear about your relationship with color—how you approach it. How do you view its role in your work in general?
Crump: Returning to those colors again and again is something I can’t explain. Whenever I move away from them I tend to return. Perhaps it’s optimism. The light breaks through. Having always had an outlook toward the horizon I probably took that literally at some point. The pinks, oranges, yellows, and blues are a reflection of spending my formative teen and young-adult years in Florida. The colors of my ’80s youth are ones I tend to fall back on pretty often. Certain influences come from punk, skateboarding, bands, album art, etc. There are deeper, more lush colors that remain a constant source of inspiration. I attribute many of them to nature being a huge part of my childhood in North Carolina. Those rich blues, greens, golds, browns, and mauves are all part of the fabric of memory. Those colors recall the experiences of early life when I bring them to the surface.
Smith: Along with the variance in color, your paintings exhibit a plethora of painting techniques, textures, brushstrokes. I’m always fascinated by all the tools and techniques at a painter’s disposal, and how the painter utilizes them. Can you talk about your process with regards to your paintings?
Crump: I use a lot of smaller brushes, pallet-knives or often I pour paint directly onto the canvas or panel I’m using. Some years back I switched to acrylic paint and have found that I rely on Golden mediums, using a lot of polymers and a variety of GAC mediums. The drying time is a factor, as I like to go in and manipulate the surface once it’s set for awhile. Gravity plays a part since I paint flat and sometimes stand up or tilt the piece I’m working on. I’ll add more paint to the surface as it dries or push and pull what’s there already. Polymers are added as the surface begins to dry, which polls and changes the nature of the paint, allowing different colors to bleed together and activate the surface in a more dynamic way.
There really is no right way anymore. It’s all on the table. It took me some time to get over my prejudice regarding what is right and wrong in making art. I was not a big believer in abstract work before moving to New York. My ego was in the way. So much of it seemed to hide the fact that the artist lacked any drawing skills. It’s one thing to break down nature, but another to be able to master it before doing so. Or so I thought. It took some time for me to say “who cares.” Just make something. Give over to it. Let go of tradition or any lens I see things through. None of that matters. The way I look at it now is not about skill or what degree an artist has, but rather is that artist being original—is that artist moving modern art forward?
Smith: Over the past few years, your paintings have grown more complex, vivid, dense, and colorful. Without trying to pry into your personal life too much, to what do you attribute this growth and evolution?
Crump: For some time I was creating work that existed between two-dimensional paintings and three-dimensional, off-the-wall conceptual work. The last two years have brought a tremendous internal editing process to my work. This and some very critical thinking have led me to approach my painting from a new perspective. Recently, I came to understand that it has been painting, not any one specific style or artist, but just painting that has shaped my work and influenced my understanding of modern art. When this became clear I set down all the other elements that went into my work. This decision has helped liberate and guide my thinking about where I want to take my work. The idea of “mining” or “seeking” to understand the past was something I explored for a time. When I returned to painting, my shadow was somewhere beneath, and I sought to bring it forward. I think of this as accepting both my shadow and light. Slowly, I’ve been able to create a harmony in the new paintings. One that I couldn’t find before. Now, I am building on the surface. I’ve learned to be patient and let my hand guide me. It’s only through this acceptance that I’ve found the joy in making work again. It had been missing for some time.
Smith: You’ve been prolific over the years, which is impressive for an experimental abstractionist like yourself. It’s easy to lose steam when you’re following your own path. How do you keep yourself interested and inspired?
Crump: I’ve never been happier making work than I am right now. It took me a long time. After years of constant rejection there came a lot of self-doubt about my place in the art world and what was important. I’ve always told myself that I don’t care about that, but it certainly hasn’t helped to feel marginalized. There were true difficulties in remaining inspired and motivated. After two years or so of serious reflection on my work and life—not to mention the trials I faced in my studio—I was able to figure some things out. Namely, that being an artist doesn’t have to be at odds with everything else in life. Once I began to accept this and let go of some things, I was able to work through those doubts I’d run up against. I suppose the new paintings began once I was able to feel whole.
Smith: Where do you see your work heading in the future? What new ideas are interesting to you right now?
Crump: I can’t really predict where these new paintings will lead, hopefully a scale jump and/or a larger studio to work in. Currently, I’m interested in what is taking shape on the canvas in front of me. It feels like all of the influences, styles, and connections I’ve worked with over the years are coming together for the first time. Being present with each new piece in the studio has been rewarding. For the foreseeable future painting is where my interests lie. There is a freedom and life to it that charges me. That is something new for me and I plan to enjoy it.
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