Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cameron Gray - Birth of a Legend - Mike Weiss Gallery

As I walked out of my accidental encounter with Cameron Gray’s show at Mike Weiss I saw the show’s title “Birth of a Legend” and thought ”You may very well be right.” 

Like the culture that inspired it, the work is an eye-melting overload of images and ideas, as if the internet suddenly ruptured and spewed forth into the blacklight din of a Spencer’s Gifts. At once whimsical and menacing, the overlapping, ever-shifting, neon barrage of sights and sound seems at first to border on satire, skewering pop culture and the tropes of contemporary art. Though Gray makes prodigious use of humor, technology, and the animated .gif, the work is beyond novelty. As you stand in front of the pieces and investigate the details you will laugh, but the tragi-comic punchline slowly sinks in: this is the world we have created. 

I got in touch with Gray to ask him some questions, and he was very gracious to respond.  

DAD: The work in “Birth of a Legend” seems to be a nexus of ephemeral things: comedy, technology, media, pop cultural references. Even some of the sculptures themselves seem at risk of physical decay. Do you worry about the longevity of the work (both physically and its content) or is it intended to be of the moment? Conversely, do you see these pieces as a time capsule of sorts?

CG: I think you've got it just right. The collages are time-capsules of the early internet-- I still think we're in the early stage, there is still so much potential for what can exist and will exist through this technological medium. I include the memes that I find the funniest and most interesting as well as the bright colored and kitschy/glitchy gifs found on sites like The work does have a fragile, ephemeral quality. I'm focused on making the work as pure as possible and it's up to the culture at large, or more specifically a small group of collectors and curators to decide whether the work is going to be included in the historical canon.  I'm also working in a variety of media, so if certain pieces don't survive, hopefully others will. The main thing is that the work is enjoyed by the living, here and now. As far as the longevity of the content, I can only reach as deeply as possible inside myself and take the biggest risks I am capable of taking. Hopefully the psychological spaces I have created will continue to resonate.

DAD: When making the large–scale collage pieces like “I Have a Feeling I shall Go Mad…” and “It's Been a Series of Unforeseen and Unexpected Circumstances Outside of My Control,” do you begin with an overall structure or composition in mind, or does it evolve through building?

CG: Normally, I start adding photos to a blank digital canvas and build up the image organically, responding to it as I go, allowing the image to be constructed without any pre-planning. For It's Been a Series... I deviated from my normal practice and used Joseph Turner's Scarlet Sunset as a color guide. With such a large piece I wanted to give it some compositional structure and I also like the metaphor of the romantic Turner landscape turning into a deconstructed, chaotic, disco-after-party-hang-over…

DAD: It seems like such an incredibly difficult tightrope-walk to create work that is funny and visually interesting and intellectually satisfying all at once. Could you describe how you achieve that balance? Which of those elements is most important to you?

CG: The most important element is the feeling I am having, in the moment, while creating the work. I've learned to trust that if I feel good about every decision and I'm pleased with the results of my actions, the work will resonate with others in a similar way. Intellectual satisfaction is the least important factor for me. I never respond to work that needs too much explanation in order to be enjoyed. Conceptualism has held sway over the art world for 40 years and I think that's long enough. It's time for something new. I'm exploring "Instinctualism" with a practice rooted in the idea of not thinking by way of working from the gut, and allowing myself to meander in any direction at any moment. Many of the ideas come from random events that happen in the studio, something overheard on the radio or suggestions from my assistants. It relates to Casualism in some ways, but I'm not focused solely on painting. I'm open at all times to the best idea, always attempting to achieve a state of grace where each paint stroke or mouse click feels appropriate. I would like the work to take the viewer to a new place, beyond explanation, where conceptual rigor falls away and you are overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities presented in the work. “Instinctualism” is a rejection of conceptualism, but that is not to say it isn’t intellectually satisfying. I trust my instincts when creating a piece, but I know that my instincts relate back to an understanding of the past and lead me to choices that are relevant now. At some point you have to stand your ground as an artist and insist that everyone else follow you down the path you're on. Hopefully they'll come along for the ride. 

Birth of a Legend runs through August 17th at Mike Weiss Gallery.

See also: a better article written by Emily Colucci.