Getting To Know… is a monthly article we will be publishing along with our monthly exhibitions at Rosalux to give you the chance to get to know our exhibiting artists a little bit better. We got the chance to catch up with our current artists on display John Diebel and Terrence Payne and this is what they had to say for themselves:
1. It has been six years since you have worked on an exhibition together, what drew you to show together again and how has your work as well as your approach to exhibiting together changed in that time?
JD: In the last two years I’ve changed my work considerably in terms of color usage, pattern, and technique. I’ve been influenced steadily by Terrence’s work over the years and I’ve always recognized it as communicating successfully through a sophisticated language of pattern and color- with an overlay of sardonic humor that suits my own view of the world. Each of us has his own individual interest in utopian follies, so it seemed a natural idea to show with him again.
TP: I am a huge fan of the Diebel and was really blown away by his last show at the gallery . His work is always inspiring to me and I thought that showing together again would be a great opportunity to explore some ideas I had been kicking around for a while and to push each other to do some new things and come out showing something more challenging than the norm for myself. When we met to discuss what we would do in the year leading up to the show we kept coming back to this idea of utopia and what it means and it seemed like a good starting point to build the work around. It was a lot of fun to see where we each would go from a similar starting point and has made for a great show.
2. You mentioned that you decided to structure your exhibition around the theme of utopia, how did you each use this when preparing your body of work for this exhibition?
TP: The thing that most intrigued me about the idea of utopia was personal sacrifice, what an individual was willing to give up from their own identity in trade for the happiness or piece of mind promised by another individual or group for their obedience. I decided that the best way to approach this was to have several ongoing concurrent narratives working together to tell the story of the whole with the entire body of work, the chronicle of different systems within the whole throughout the smaller groupings of work and finally on down to the singular experience of the individual taken on through each piece on its own. The larger narrative is held together through the honeycomb pattern in each piece with the unique iconography and text of each piece flushing out the more detailed narratives as you approach the individual experience. My hope has been to show the relationships between larger groups and individuals and how the two are in a constant back and forth dependent on each other for evolution and change.
JD: My own view of Utopianism has been shaped in part by my experiences while living in Berlin during the Cold War. At that time I was regularly able to access one of the showpieces of the Communist world and investigate its strengths and weaknesses at first hand. The imagery and architecture of that world still plays a large role in my work. But I was also the product of a popular culture that was becoming disillusioned about the coming technological utopia that had been marketed to it since the 1950s. Some of my new work incorporates the sort of monolithic future-city imagery I was exposed to in science fiction magazines of the 1970s.
3. Did your understanding of this theme change as you prepared work for the show? if so how?
JD: It did, to a degree. I’ve been focusing in my work on specific historical events and structures for several years. It was only recently that I opted to move away from specifics and toward a generalized and idealized vision that represents my own engagement with the lost world of Communism or the flinching idealism of futurists in a rapidly unraveling world.
TP: Absolutely, I had initially thought about it from the individual experience and as I was creating the work I came around to the perspective of the leaders or systems that control the individual and started to portray their point of view as well.
4. What was the biggest surprise you had in preparing for the show? Were there any “eureka” moments for you?
JD: The realization that I had had a “eureka” moment came only after I had hung my work at the gallery. Due to “real-world” circumstances I had gotten a late start on my work for the current show. I had planned a full series of large-scale, highly detailed collages that just couldn’t be completed in time for the opening date, so, in an act of desperation or inspiration I turned to my archive and found a trove of loose images cut from books that I had accumulated years ago when I was experimenting with found imagery. I quickly adapted these as backgrounds for images of sterilized, futuristic utopias that were independent of the historically-based larger collages. It turned out at the opening reception that these pieces were very well received and sold out quickly.
TP: My experience was similar to John’s. I am not really ever able to see how my work will relate until I get it up in the gallery due to the size of the work and the limited space of my studio but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that it actually fell into place as I had planned. It is always a bit nerve racking wondering if everything will work out up until that point and it was a big relief to see it how the individual pieces related to one another and then the added bonus that John’s work and mine fit so well together also.
5. How do you get from the first spark of an idea to a finished work for exhibition? Where do your ideas come from?
TP: I keep a lot of lists. While I am drawing one piece I am always thinking of what might come next and write down my ideas on my drawing table. Sometimes it starts with a phrase that keeps popping into my head and I build the imagery around that, other times it is an object or an image that I think is interesting and in line with the theme for the show. Once I have that I do a lot of sketching using tracing paper to overlay images and word until I have a composition that I like and then I determine the scale and palette for the piece before I do the final rendering of the drawing.
JD: I have a large collection of books, magazines, and other source materials which frequently serve as a starting point in my creative process. For my current work I researched texts and drawings of unrealized utopian cities and combined that information with what I know from my own experiences in Germany. The first work began with rough thumbnail sketches that helped me to develop a sense of space and volume within a rectangular composition. My next step was to work up a digital maquette for each piece using Adobe Illustrator, which allowed me to construct each image in detail, including any repeating shapes and patterns that became prominent in the final pieces. Each digital file also served as a map for me when making and adjusting color choices before purchasing paper, as well as a literal to-scale guide when cutting the paper. The cutting process was done both by hand or with the aid of a plotter for particularly complicated shapes. The assemblage of the final image began with the preparation of an acid-free surface followed by a painstaking job of gluing each piece in the right place, on the right layer. The final composition is composed of many layers of cut paper -each color representing a separate piece. Many of the layers are unseen in the final image, but they serve to buttress other layers in order to avoid creasing where shapes overlap. The built-up areas also project an added illusion of depth, which works well with the perspective and shadows I employ.
6. You both seem to communicate with your audience through symbolism, How do you choose the imagery in your work?
JD: My own symbolism is derived from some of the ubiquitous forms of heroic propaganda. Wreaths, flags, sheaves of wheat; all of these help to re-enforce a sense of nationalism which has been crucial in creating the illusion of a utopian society set apart from the rest of the world. The building types, themselves, are also emblematic of human behavioral engineering that met the blunt end of economic reality. Large-scale apartment blocks which were originally conceived as “residential machines” that would help collectivize a new society have, in the aggregate, become synonymous with monotony, conformity and domination.
TP: I try to use imagery that people might already be familiar with and have associations to. I think it is helpful in communicating with an audience if you have common ground to start on and then lead them from there in the direction that you want them to go. I like to take peoples expectations about what something is and turn it askew to make them take a second look and think about things differently and what their relationship to the point of view of the work might be.
7. You both have a very graphic and commercial style to the rendering of your finished pieces, do you have a background in design and if so how does that influence the work you make?
JD: I have a background in educational software design and print design, the former of which has influenced some of the content of my artwork and the latter influencing some of my practice. But my overall method differs somewhat between my art practice and my design work. A primary difference is that design work is generally client-driven with much feedback and an element of compromise that may not always suit my own vision. With art-making I am working wholly under my own regime which requires me to maintain some degree of faith that my original idea will manifest itself finally in a functional, forceful way. The conception of an image on paper and its development in the computer would seem to be the most creative, playful parts of my workflow, but there are many times when choosing paper stock, cutting or pasting that creative opportunities arise, forcing decisions on the fly- sometimes with only a few seconds to act before the glue dries.
TP: For me it is the value of communication. I use an illustrative style with patterns and text because these are all design elements that people are comfortable with and used to responding to from their experiences with print media. It goes back to the idea of playing around with your audiences expectations and leading them from common ground.
8. What has been the most rewarding moment in your career up to this point?
JD: A few years ago three of my pieces were chosen for the 2DII Biennial show at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, two of which were purchased by the museum for its permanent collection. That was a great honor, but I think that the most rewarding moment is when I am able to witness the enthusiastic reception of my new work on opening night. That, and selling it, of course.
TP: I usually try to focus on the next challenge I can create for myself rather than what has been successful for me in the past because I think it can really slow you down to dwell on the past, but if I had to pick something it might be the wallpaper that I designed for Hygge & West over the past year. It is pretty cool to think that I was able to take an element of my artwork and transform it into something that people will use in a more utilitarian way in their homes. To be a part of peoples everyday lives like that on a larger scale than is possible through my art and to reach a brand new audience as well is pretty exciting.
9. What would you like to hear people say about your art?
JD: May I pay you twice your asking price?
TP: What John said.
10. You have both been a part of rosalux for some time now, how has the collective affected the way you make art?
TP: I have learned a lot over the years from the artists I have had the opportunity to work with through the gallery. I am always impressed with the leaps they make in their work from show to show which pushes me to make the best work I know how. When I see an artist from the gallery do something totally amazing my first reaction on a personal level is, “man I suck” and the next is, ” how can I do better?” As a group we are constantly pushing one another to do the best work we can and I think that has been really important for me over the years in keeping my work moving forward and evolving in a positive direction.
JD: I feel that I am always learning from the wide variety of experience and talent amongst the Rosalux members. As I make my work I have them in mind as an important component of my critical audience, which keeps me on my toes, and as friends, which is a source of strength for me. Whether I need a critical eye or just a steady hand to help me install my work, I have been lucky to have access to this accomplished and generous group.
11. What are the best and worst parts of being an artist for you?
JD: One of the best parts of being an artist comes as the result of enduring one of the worst parts, which is a prolonged period of anxiety that accompanies risk-taking while developing something new. It really is tortuous trying to get work done while wondering if you’re actually going to pull it off. When it works, the payoff is unbelievable; making all the months of stress and doubt seem like a passage.
TP: The best part for me is the reactions people have to my work at a show and seeing it fresh through their eyes. The worst part is the isolation of working alone in the studio and wondering if anyone is going to get it. I suppose one is dependent on the other and you can’t have the sweet with out the sour so whatever.
12. What is coming up next for you?
JD: I’ll be exhibiting work at the Anderson Center at Tower View in Red Wing, Minnesota through December and I will have a new show at Rosalux in April of 2014 along with Jonas Crisco.
TP: I’ll be exhibiting some new smaller drawings at the SOO Local which is a new satellite gallery of SOOVAC this coming November and December in a group exhibition with other local artists as well as working on some new projects coming up next year as well as whatever else pops up along the way. You can keep up to date through my website at: http://www.terrencepayne.com/new/