GJ I want to start by talking to you about humor. To me, all of your work, even your most “serious,” capital “A” Art, contains at least some levity or absurdity. What do you think that’s a product of? I mean, I know you—you are, in everyday life, a funny person who likes a good HAHAHA—but I’m curious whether the dry comedy is the result of a conscious, deliberate approach, or more like something you simply can’t help but inject into everything.
CW I want to start by thanking you for speculating or acknowledging, on purpose or by accident, that any of my work is “serious.” I’ve been hoping someone might say so—feels nice. I would agree that all my work—especially that work which you may perceive I’ve taken more seriously, or expect you to—contains something that you wouldn’t be wrong to laugh at or with. Somehow, possibly, the very work that seems to signify “seriousness” the most, be it in terms of the labour intensity, subject matter, or discernable intention, might be, as a rule, the funniest. Maybe this is because serious things tend to be the most ripe for satire. The inverse is also true: objects or images created freely, with a wink or smile or giggle, tend to be taken as more meaningful or serious. It may have something to do with the way we read intention in works of art. I feel like an obvious example would be theater; it’s a totally fertile joke-soil when you can agree to find the fault or overly sincere comedy within some super intense and ornate thespian monologue than it is easy for an intentional joke performed by an expectant stand-up comic to be truly funny. So, to answer your question, I don’t think there’s any intentionality or specificity in the tone of my work, but I do take jokes seriously and find seriousness funny. I think my dumb sense of humor happens to bleed into every thing I do, and as an unhinged person who lacks the fundamental mechanisms of shame, I may not be the best at forcefully keeping those lines intact.
“My friends are around, so that’s who I can safely request to portray the likeness of without a lawsuit, according to my lawyers(s).”
GJ Arguably, food has been the most consistent motif in your work over the course of your career. While your conceptual interests have evolved over the years, food generally makes an appearance at some point, in either a very direct or subtle way. Why are you interested in food? What do the connotations of food offer you in your art?
CW On one hand, there are certain images and subjects that seemingly have, as far as we can collectively remember, remained unquestionably paintable. The human figure, the face, the place, and the stuff grown, cooked, and eaten in the place, by the face. So, I suppose it’s no coincidence that I make work containing two of the four common things humans like to represent, as a representational guy myself. All of the colors are in food and plants, and so formally it makes sense to turn to food as subject matter, to use colors to depict colorful things. But food also is a very broad category, right, so once it’s food, that means it’s been determined edible by human capacity for naming and distinguishing, and those categories are further compounded by culture, location (both geographically and in time), ideas of family, gender, or whatever, class, status, loss, luxury, need and desire. Then there’s the way food is packaged and advertised, much like any other commodity, using the same visual and textual language that one would use to inspire desire or aspiration in the consumer-victim. So, food is a fun vehicle providing the means to explore all the topics that one may be inclined to. Plus I’m a food-loving sensually-greedy person. Side tangent (and not to flex) but right before typing this I picked a bunch of tomatoes, eggplants, radishes, and baby lil lettuces from the garden where I’m currently *summering*, and it truly felt, despite my not having grown those things myself, like a creative or generative act. Like, we’re inclined to appreciate the food, just as we’re supposed to, evolutionarily or somehow, appreciate and be drawn to beautiful, potentially edible or consumable things. And just like with other beautiful and desirable things, their desirability—the gleaming glint of their fleeting shiny exterior, is as mutable as any living thing. Flowers wilt, vegetables rot, humans get wrinkles, and everything becomes dirt, etc, etc, Memento Mori, tale as old as time, but an inescapable comparison, and so, an inescapable subject. Plus I’m hungry.
GJ Many of your paintings depict friends of yours. How did that begin? Do you ever question the instinct to make your friends your subjects, in a way, mixing “business and pleasure”?
CW My friends are around, so that’s who I can safely request to portray the likeness of without a lawsuit, according to my lawyer(s). I don’t question that impulse, but I do sometimes feel it would be interesting to base paintings off of people, but skewed, or generalized, so as to not be so beholden to the specificity or likeness of the sitter, cause half of the time while painting I’m just hoping I do justice to the friend who’s face I am representing. Maybe without that worry there would be a little more painterly freedom. Do you think I should try that? You know those AI generated faces that are, at first glance, super recognizable, but then you realize they’re mixtures of celebrity features, and that those faces don’t exist, but they feel like they do? Maybe that would be fun. I’ve been playing with DallE a little bit. Love the stuff. I’d love to give that program a data set of images of friends of mine, and create new fictional data-based friends to paint, so as to insult no one if I make a nose a little off kilter. Also all my friends and even acquaintances are so cute! I love faces and people who have them.
GJ When do you feel most disillusioned with making art? Are there periodic moments when you question what you’re doing and think about running away from the life you’ve built? What would that look like?
CW When I go to an art fair or find myself in conversations with people on the other side of the art system, the selling side, and I hear artists and their work referred to in a way that sounds more like the buying and selling of stocks, I get a little bummed (even though I love that for them). I don’t mean that in a purist or self righteous way. I consensually participate and benefit from the market side of it, but it can feel a little bit sad or deflating to think of that baby piece you’re painting growing up and going out into a world where it’s going to be treated like an OBJECT! But wait, then again, paintings are objects, right, so I’d like to go ahead and redact, or rather, amend that, by taking responsibility for my own emotions. It’s my fault I perceive a painting as a baby, or a quasi-subject, so it’s my fault that I feel any sort of protective impulse over a work on canvas. That’s not the market’s fault. That’s the way the cookie be crumbling. Yeah I’m glad we worked through that, I’m not bummed anymore.
GJ You’ve got a large following on the internet. How do you feel about that? Does it ever feel like all the noise of that world affects what’s happening in the world of your studio? Do you make an effort to isolate the two?
CW Thanks, I’m glad you think it’s large, it’s actually all natural 😉 But yeah, I didn’t do it on purpose. Thanks for following me on Instagram, if you do that. That’s nice of you. I hope you like doing that. I don’t feel any sort of way about it. It’s fine. It’s the year of our lord 2022. If anything, I feel like I’m old school or retro for using Instagram and not discord or TikTok or whatever the kids are using these days. But wouldn’t you agree it’s…so…vintage of me? *bites lip, lens flare, giggles* This may sound hard to believe, but I don’t actually check the social media platforms. Not lately anyway. I definitely contribute and enjoy that, but I don’t really scroll so much. After 40 years of having social media, it’s just redundant and I don’t feel anything anymore. Now I just ring strangers’ doorbells and hope to have the door slammed in my face to feel that same thrill. But I feel like I actually miss out on some of the Noise of The World, such as friends’ birthdays or pop culture things that are or would be fun to talk about. I mostly just do podcasts and audiobooks while I paint, so sometimes the political world-noise permeates the studio, but not really the fomo-industrial-complex so much. I recently got locked out of IG for two weeks, rendering me accidentally off grid, AKA, one with nature, holier than thou, etc. And honestly it was nice.
GJ As you’ve gotten more established as an artist, do you feel like it’s empowered you to take risks or made you feel pressure to meet certain expectations?
CW Yes, both, at the very same time
Read the full interview on Muse September Issue 60.
“I don’t think there’s any intentionality or specificity
in the tone of my work, but I do take jokes seriously
and find seriousness funny.”