Q: I especially enjoy your “Black Paintings” series. You mention being influenced by the story of how Miles Davis developed cool jazz, making this work uniquely American all around. How did you use jazz history in this series?
A: In 2007 I finished the Domestic Threats series and was blocked, certain that a strong body of work was behind me. But what would come next?
The idea for the Black Paintings began when I attended a jazz history course at Lincoln Center and learned how Miles Davis developed cool jazz from bebop. In bebop the notes were played hard and fast as musicians showcased their musical virtuosity. Cool jazz was a much more relaxed style with fewer notes being played. In other words, the music was pared down to its essentials. Similarly, the Black Paintings evolved from dense, intricate compositions into paintings that depicted only the essential elements. As the series evolved, what was left out became more important, resulting in more demands being placed on the viewer.
Eventually, after much reflection, I had an epiphany and my painful creative block ended. “Between,” with drastically simplified imagery, was the first in a new series called Black Paintings. I like to think this series includes work that is richer and more profound than the previous Domestic Threats.
Comments are welcome!
A: I always have the stereo on when I work in my studio, either tuned in to WBGO (the Newark-based jazz station), WNYC (for news and talk radio; Leonard Lopate, Fresh Air, etc.), WFMU (Fordham University’s radio station, to learn what college kids are listening to) and other local radio stations. I still listen to cd’s, I read the lyrics and the liner notes, and I prefer to listen to music the way artists intended it, meaning that I listen to entire albums from start to finish instead of jumping around between single tracks by different artists. When it comes to music, I’m interested in everything: jazz (especially classic jazz artists like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Art Blakely, etc.), blues, classical, pop, rock, world music (especially artists from Brazil, Cuba, and any country in Africa), electronic, indy, experimental, ancient music, etc. You name it, I probably listen to it, and if I don’t, I’m eager to learn all about it. When I’m working, certain artists are better to listen to at particular points in a painting. For example, one of my favorite artists to start a new painting with is Lady Gaga. The beat, her energy, and sheer exuberance are perfect when I’m standing in front of my easel with a blank piece of sandpaper in front of me. Gaga’s music gets me moving and working fast, putting down colors instinctively without thinking about them, just feeling everything.
It’s a different story when I am at my apartment and am shooting a photo setup. Then I might or might not listen to music. Lately it’s more about working fast (I shoot 24 images in about 15 minutes), choosing a variety of interesting vantage points, getting surprising effects, etc.
Comments are welcome!