Sterling Allen: So I guess I’ll ask you some questions and let you answer. I won’t really be asking these long beautifully worded things. I’m just interested in some of the moments I see reoccurring in your work and I guess also the general unease I feel when I look at most of it. For me, it (your work in general) has this really repulsive sort of confrontational aspect of bad taste and ugliness that actually is able to win me over almost every time. This feeling that I can’t even really describe runs throughout the work and includes the surfaces, the marks, the materials and the installation of the works.
There’s an excess happening in terms of mark making and touch. It’s also present in the variety of materials you use within a piece (save the newer mostly pen and ink drawings). The DVDs and cut digital prints (at least they appear digital) on the surfaces of the paintings for example are totally puzzling. There’s a fragility and disregard for the sort of archival obsession that some artists let run their practices in those choices.
I am totally grossed out by the super sculptural parts of some of your paintings, especially those that contain a figure, but again feel like they are so memorable and captivating. Can you talk a little about texture, mark making, and materials?
Cody Ledvina: I’m honored in regards to what you are seeing in the work. My experience with “realness” not just in object making but in life always have elements of disgust. When I see complete control in anything non-practical I might admire it for a second, but quickly loose interest. The issue of basic formal issues in the textures, mark making, and materials comes from the same place. If I feel content with the initial decision to use a particular strategy, I immediately abandon it for something that doesn’t quite sit right. It takes time for it to settle in and in some cases I’ll look back and think the decision I made in a particular object is too quiet. If I’m feeling awkward about it, I know others will too as I’m incredibly self conscious.
SA: I’d also like to better understand your relationship to Alex Grey. Beyond recognizing his “style” for lack of a better word in some of your work, I can’t say I know much about him. He seems like someone that most people write off as a serious artist (and maybe you too) but I could almost guess that you might sincerely be really into him. I’m not sure what to think. Maybe it also has to do with your relationship to folk or outsider art?
CL: I’m more interested in the world that Alex Grey inhabits. The one of ultimate answers. I’m really into the way he uses the entire picture plane to illustrate how important EVERYTHING is. It may feel at times I’m making fun of it, but I like it in a theatrical way. His work and other psychedelic/universal truth imagery are just fun to look at in the end.
SA: I’ve focused mostly so far on paintings and drawings, but I know that you make video and performance as well. Would you care to discuss how and if those ways of working cross over and vice versa to your paintings/drawings/sculpture?
CL: I learned five functions in Final Cut Pro and decided to use those to work out ideas that wouldn’t work in any other way. It started with just turning on the camera and realizing what most people feel, as soon as you press record you forget who you are. This doesn’t happen in my studio when making a drawing. So I went through some time figuring out how to make anything interesting through video. Hell, I’m not quite sure I have yet. The format is too big for me to understand completely. I don’t really watch art films or any films for that matter. I guess I could just summarize this whole paragraph and interview with ‘I have no clue what I’m doing, I just hope I can look at it in 5 years and not be embarrassed’
SA: Finally, I can’t really feel satisfied until I ask you about how spirituality plays a role in what you do. Even formally, there’s something about the symmetrical and radial compositional devices in your work that feels sacred or holy. Maybe it’s just a sense of energy?
CL: As aloof as I may have come across about the underlying and surface meaning of what I do, there is a real struggle with my connection to living. I’m pretty sure this is the feeling for anyone who hasn’t accepted a universal truth about life. But what the recent work especially is attempting to capture is just how present and lost I am. That complete confusion always packs energy. It also leads me to almost every decision I make as an artist.
SA: Lastly, I wanted to see if you had anything to say about being an artist in Houston and how that has shaped your practice. You’ve been super active in Houston for as long as I’ve known you as an artist and as an organizer. I know you just recently re-located to London (UK) and I wonder how it’s been so far?
CL: I’ve been in London for nearly three weeks so I can’t say too much about the community here, except everyone so far has been very kind and accommodating. There is definitely a lot of activity here, I just hope it’ll be the right kind. The more I think about Houston the more I realize just how powerful a place it is. Artists thrive in the cradle of blue/brown collar communities. Houston has a shit ton of those, and this leads to tremendous amount of opportunities. I was able to work with so many people, and it took so little money to make such an immediate impact. The kinds of work that is happening there is equally as interesting as anything I’ve seen on the INTERNET. I love that city. Yao Ming.
SA: Thanks Cody!
CL: Thank you man!
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Sterling Allen: Allen received his BFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003. In 2006, together with eight other Austin artists he founded and currently co-directs Okay Mountain. As a solo artist and in collaboration with Okay Mountain, he has exhibited and created numerous projects at venues throughout the United States and received several residencies including the Artpace International Artist-In-Residence Program in San Antonio, Texas. He recently completed an MFA in Sculpture at the Milton Avery Graduate School of Arts at Bard College.
Cody Ledvina: Ledvina received his Masters of Fine Art from the University of Houston in 2009. He has shown his paintings in Houston, Austin, New Orleans, Baltimore, and New York. He currently lives and works in London, UK.