KRISJANIS KAKTINS-GORSLINE: Your work has often made pointed appropriations of other artist’s work. Especially in this new series, beginning with the work in Easy Come, Easy Go, it seems that you are appropriating other artist’s work as a means of discussing the status of works of art as commodities. Could you talk about your appropriation of other artist’s work, and in particular how you arrived at the set of concerns that define this new body of work?
GRIER EDMUNDSON: I have been working with found images for a while and was really trying to figure out what it meant to re-present these images as a painting. That contemplation of the dichotomy of the reproducible image and the ‘singularity’ of painting led to the mirrored and repeated paintings I have made in the past. You could say the mirrored and repeating paintings had certain implications on the value of the object by undermining their own uniqueness but that wasn’t really what I was focusing on.
The artwork as a commodity was definitely a focal point of the work in Easy Come, Easy Go, but those works were the first that were dealing with that idea in such a straightforward manner. But a lot of that had to do both with the intent of the original works by Kippenberger and the text from the Monopoly cards I chose to superimpose.
Initially I was appropriating other artists’ work for the symbolic or iconic quality of what or who was represented within the original painting and seeing how the change in context affects both the reading of that work but also the reading of the work that is shown with it. However, something funny happened when I recreated the portrait of the American Revolutionary figure Thomas Paine that was painted by Auguste Millière. I later found out that Millière based his portrait on an etching by William Sharp who had based his etching on a painting of George Romney so my painting was the 4th reiteration of one portrait. That really got me thinking more and more about appropriation, studies, copies etc. A lot of time this kind of thing is bordering more on interpretation or symbolic representation rather than straight up appropriation.
I don’t really see myself working within the vein of someone like Sturtevant or Sherry Levine–I don’t have the conceptual fortitude to be that strict within my practice. I think of it more like when a singer or a band comes up with a really good cover of a song or brings a new interpretation to a traditional form. Coming from the South with it’s history of blues, bluegrass and country music, those genres of music have always been as much about reinterpreting traditional tunes as they are about creating new material. One of my favorite albums is Cat Power’s The Covers Record and I remember very clearly the first time I heard it and how impressed I was with how she brought such a particular voice to the songs she chose.
KKG: Have your experiences working in a commercial gallery affected your understanding of what works of art are and how they function?
GE: That’s a tough one…the works from Easy Come, Easy Go and Une Serpent Dans La Pelouse, definitely were influenced by my working in a commercial gallery to some degree but I don’t think I can say it has affected my understanding of what works of art are or how they function…or maybe I just down know how it has affected me. I can say that my working in commercial galleries has shown me the best and worst of the art world. I have met gallery owners who really believe in their artists and what they are doing, put no limitations or expectations on them in terms of what they are making or how marketable it is and find a way to help them realize the ideas that they have. But then there is the side that sees all of the money and politics and how much influence that can have on a lot of the art world; how it can influence galleries, museums, collectors and artists and the choices they all make. Its a weird feeling when you see a collector buy something solely because someone told them it would be a good investment and not out of any personal attachment to the work. As an artist you want to think that your work means something or speaks to someone and some of these big collectors buy stuff and file it away in storage until it appreciates enough in value to sell it off. With all that in mind, I don’t necessarily recommend to most artists that they work in a commercial gallery. It can be an eye-opening experience and you learn a lot about the machinations behind the art world. But it can also leave you feeling a bit cold and jaded about it all.
KKG: I’m interested in your appropriation of Kippenberger’s work in the last exhibition. It seems to me that this move really points to an explicit tension between the “use value” and “exchange value” of works of art. To me, Kippenberger was an artist whose work very much foregrounded the use-value of art as the event of lived experience. However, since his death his work more or less transacts purely at the level of exchange value. His work seemed to attain a much more explicit function as a commodity, both in terms of being a literal financial asset, but also as a reference used by art world types to acquire coolness capital by association.
Why did you choose Kippenberger’s work in particular?
GE: I guess the shift to ‘exchange value’ took place after his death because there is now a finite amount of the work, no? I agree with you about the cool capital that comes along with Kippenberger but I guess that’s just the residual effect of the whole mythology he built up while he was alive.
As for why I chose Kippenberger, it had more to do with the specific body of work, the ‘Preis’ paintings, than anything about his practice as a whole. I saw the ‘Preis’ paintings at the Tate Modern retrospective in 2006 and I remember immediately thinking they were so right on. With that said, I am a fan of Kippenberger’s work and there are a lot of things about his practice that I find fascinating but he’s not necessarily the first person I would gravitate towards when I think about artists that influence my own practice. When I started thinking about making these Monopoly paintings I started thinking about the overlap between the Monopoly cards as a readymade and Kippenberger’s work and how they both so implicitly dealt with artwork as a commodity. I just decided to double down and mash the two together and, in a way, give Kippenberger a sort of Kippenberger treatment. It’s a slightly absurd project, trying to painstakingly recreate this series of ‘bad’ paintings only to then paint this foreign text overtop.
KKG: In the last exhibition you superimposed the Monopoly typography on to appropriated works, but in Un Serpent Dans La Pelouse, there is just the text on white paintings. What precipitated this shift?
GE: Actually the shift would be when the Monopoly text was superimposed on the Kippenberger background. Even though the Complex Economic paintings for Easy Come, Easy Go were made first, it came out of thinking about the monopoly game property cards as being these perfect ready-mades. I had already come up with the idea behind the installation for Un Serpent Dans La Pelouse, which included the monopoly paintings on the white background and had planned to show it in Montreal at Clark in the fall. But before I could get to that I had this show in Glasgow that I had to tackle. So I put the first idea of making the paintings to the side and started with Kippenbereger series. It worked out well because I really wanted the show in Glasgow to be just paintings, no sculpture, no wallpaper, no found objects, just paintings…and the Kippenberger paintings are so crazy that it would have been too much to have anything else in the space with them. The funny thing was that it had been so long since I had put together an exhibition of just paintings that it felt like I was doing something really radical!
KKG: How do you see this difference in approach working in the paintings?
GE: Well the paintings for Un Serpent Dans La Pelouse, are definitely easier on so many levels. Those monopoly property cards have such a clean and simple design; it’s really what drew me to think about working with them in the first place. The Easy Come, Easy Go works are more precarious. The whole idea of appropriating this series of Kippenberger’s paintings that were initially made, I have to assume, to be as bad as they possibly could be only to paint this somewhat arbitrary text over them felt/feels absurd in a lot of ways. For all I know Kippenberger and some assistants cranked the 13 paintings out in a week and it took me hours upon hours of guesswork to deconstruct and reconstruct each one. It’s hard for the paintings not to come across as being flippant, though I guess in a lot of ways they are, but it’s not really the intention.
KKG: The new show also features various objects throughout the space. Most notably you have the plaster boxes that make a sideways reference to Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, but there are various other objects throughout the space: a boot, some Cheerios, a couple of figurines, etc. Could you talk about how these are elements operate within the exhibition?
GE: For this exhibition those objects came from a couple of different places. The first was thinking about the game pieces from Monopoly: the thimble, the shoe, the car etc. and having this desire to create my own set. So I started looking around at things that I thought might work as game pieces. Slowly through the selection process it became a way for me to introduce more of a biographical element into the exhibition which I thought was quite important because for me all of the work has this personal narrative aspect though its not readily apparent in the paintings and sculpture.
Another line of thinking was when I first thought about making these Brillo box works a couple of years ago, I had this idea of using them both as sculptures and as display devices. By introducing these found objects a lot of things happen in the space. The boxes suddenly take on multiple roles: they’re sculptures, plinths, designer side tables… and the viewer is then suddenly forced to question what is what. Is the paper coffee cup supposed to be there? Is it really an old coffee cup or something that was made just to look like one? I guess it kind of just jars the viewer out of walking into the space and thinking “I am in a gallery, there’s the painting on the wall, there are the sculptures on the floor, this is an art exhibition” without completely banging them over the head with it.
KKG: Throughout your practice you have made much use of wallpaper. In this exhibition you’ve made a wallpaper pattern using the motif of Mr.Monopoly with empty pockets. What led you to using wallpaper in your work? How do you see it working in this exhibition?
GE: The original thinking behind the wallpaper was mostly about introducing content into a material that is normally a backdrop and is traditionally seen as a decorative element. I thought it was an interesting way to flip the script and take the content out of the paintings and inject it into the decorative. Another thing that happens is it tends to move the space away from the neutrality of the white cube. In a strange way, even though the patterns are often quite loaded in terms of the content found in the imagery, the wallpaper pushes the galleries towards a more domestic feel. I am really interested in that effect, it’s really similar to my interest in the role of the Brillo boxes and how they can so easily transform from sculptural to a design element. In this exhibition the wallpaper only covers one wall so its not as full on as some installations but the pattern is also one of the more optically aggressive patterns I have made so covering the whole space would have been pretty intense.
KKG: I’m also quite interested in the fact that you made the pattern available for download on your website. What was your thinking there?
GE: So much of the show came from me pondering these ideas of value and how value can be somewhat arbitrarily projected onto these things, that it only made sense to give something away and just negate its value. I’ve always made the wallpaper out of pretty cheap material, its usually screen printed onto newsprint but that still requires access to specialized equipment and such, which requires money. These were just made using a laser printer and basic white paper. I put the pattern up on the website with the idea that anyone could download the pattern and do what they want with it.
KKG: Your work repeatedly touches on the question of how value is inherent in, or is produced by, works of art. Within your practice you seem to repeatedly approach this topic from a variety of angles. Could you talk about how you came to take this on as a concern in your work and maybe talk a bit more about you’re approach to the subject of value in these recent shows?
GE: I don’t know that “value” has always been a concern of mine…I would almost say its only with this last body of work or two that its come into the conversation or at least been a focus of the conversation. Some of that has to do with what you touched on earlier when asking about the influence of having worked in a commercial gallery but I think a lot of it has to do with being at a point where my priorities or concerns in life are shifting. With that shift I started taking a closer look at the mechanics that affect those priorities and questions began to evolve. Fresh out of art school money is not (usually) an issue in the same way that it is as when you start getting older, having a family and looking a little further down the road. Going back to the personal narrative aspect that is not always evident in my work: six years ago my first exhibition in Montreal was mainly focused on ideas of progress, revolution, change and all of that work was made just after moving from Glasgow to Montreal and having just found out my wife was pregnant with our first child. So the work now, just as it was then, is mostly about me working through things that are weighing on my mind.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
GRIER EDMUNDSON: Born in Memphis, TN, Grier Edmundson holds a BA in Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and a MA in Fine Arts from the Glasgow School of Art. He has had recent solo exhibitions at Kendall Koppe Gallery(Glasgow), Fourteen30 Contemporary(Portland), Battat Contemporary(Montreal) and PowerHouse(Memphis). His work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions including the 2011 Quebec Triennial(Montreal), I’m Not Here:An Exhibition without Francis Alÿs at the de Appel Arts Centre(Amsterdam), Samedi, Samedi at Galerie Art Concept(Paris), and The State with A. Vermin at Glasgow International 2008. He lives and works in Montreal.