Tag Archives: Sterling Allen

CODY LEDVINA [on] BILL WILLIS

Cody Ledvina: I want to look at your Instagram presence first. The content you display is through a program that allows you to superimpose imagery on top of each other. You have a history of combining images through different formats–Instagram seems to be a natural fit for that branch of your practice.

Bill Willis: There are several bodies of work represented by the web collages, each commenting on some role I play out during the day. They all have evolved as a way for me to communicate in a daily or topical way, usually through absurdity and over-simplification about my thoughts and mood. I used to have a couple of selfies for faces, but have settled in to the one with the horse laugh or mule-eating-briars smile.

Image 1

Courtesy of Bill Willis.

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Courtesy of Bill Willis.

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Courtesy of Bill Willis.

CL: Got any of those early collages we can see?

BW: Yep, these collages are from 2009. I’ve made collages, either by hand, chemical photography, xerography or digital means for years.  I had journals of collages, notes, lists and drawings with me all the time, along with retail catalogs, pornography and Japanese haircut magazines as materials, working wherever I was with scissors and glue stick. Now that there are so many online sources for imagery, decent phone cameras, multiple editing apps and cloud storage, I can travel light and make things on the fly, saving the studio for painting.

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Courtesy of Bill Willis.

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Courtesy of Bill Willis.

CL: Your paintings focus on objects in such a casual way, in that your framing seems to degrade the aspects that people normally aesthetically develop within a calculated portrait of food. You meticulously craft the paintings while actively downplaying the significance of the object. Artists or Instagramers who post images of food in their pictures consider it’s presence. What do you have to say in response to the statements I have just made?

BW: The subject seems dead or free at the moment, ready to be recharged. It’s not like I’m a very conceptual guy. The food images are ubiquitous: it’s like genre painting. I’m always shopping lifestyle catalogues, Instagram and feeds looking for subjects to transform and inhabit. I’m drawn to all the window dressing, theatricality and seduction of product photography. Sometimes it has to do with nostalgia, but I don’t want the products–most I can’t afford or never existed anyway. I collect the images instead, choosing, editing and distorting compositions of meat and other food like stand-ins for bodies. It is an excuse for me to paint and view, which are both very sensual activities. I do the whole thing for kicks.

CL: I asked 4chan about your Meat and Vessel paintings. Would you like to see what they said?

BW: Yes, Outsourcing the feedback for the paintings is interesting and hilarious considering many of the images where sourced from the web.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 24 x 36 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 20 x 30 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Untitled. oil on linen, 18 x 24 in { 2014} Bill Willis.

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Self Portrait Playing Guitar. oil on linen, 24 x 36 in {2014} Bill Willis.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Bill Willis: is an Artist and educator living in Houston, Texas.

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.

STERLING ALLEN [on] CODY LEDVINA

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.

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Studio Shot {Early 2014} Cody Ledvina.

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Drawings. shitty ink pens, 11″ x 14” {2014} Cody Ledvina.

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.

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Pregnant Dog Painting (detail). paper and DVD cover, 8ft long {2013} Cody Ledvina.

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?

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Pregnant Woman Painting. wood, cloth, latex paint, 24″ x 84” {2013} Cody Ledvina.

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.

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Bird Painting. paper, acrylic, DVD covers, 45″ x 60” {2013} Cody Ledvina.

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?

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Broken Arm Babe. graphite on paper, 38″ x 50” {2010} Cody Ledvina.

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.

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Drawing Series Drawing. pen on paper, 11″ x 14” {2014} Cody Ledvina.

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?

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Dr. Kavorkian Painting. acrylic, clay, mate tea, 20″ x 26” {2014} Cody Ledvina.

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?

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Crawdad Ledvina (Installation Shot, Okay Mountain, Austin) {2010} Cody Ledvina.

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Drawing Series Drawing. ink on paper, 11″ x 14” {2014} Cody Ledvina.

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?

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Me as a Woman Giving Birth Under and Awning. paper, acrylic, oil pastel on plastic liner {2013} Cody Ledvina.

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.

JANAE CONTAG [on] STERLING ALLEN

“We’re Calling It a Freeway!”

JaNae Contag: As we begin, I’d like to set up a few parameters to help us more narrowly frame our conversation. First, let’s acknowledge materiality as content. I am not fond of the circulating and somehow popular discussion of re-use, trash, and found materials as a basis for the bricolage genre in art. To me, that discussion hinges on high culture / low culture binaries that I would like to avoid, especially because your work sits so squarely, if not ambiguously, amongst those classifications. I also would like to avoid conversations based purely on “process” evident in the work – let’s take this for granted.

In other words, let’s make content and context our main focus.

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Floater. digital inkjet print {2012} Sterling Allen.

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Untitled. digital inkjet print {2012} Sterling Allen.

First, I’d like to talk about the way in which you flatten and frame your sculptural work by photographing it. Your past work has been interpreted as having a sense of optical illusion, in that the photographs (like all photographs) are bound by their frames, subject to manipulation, and are static. What do you accomplish by fixing the vantage point of a 3D object? I am looking specifically at the chartreuse block on a white pedestal that seems to be engaging a demi-point pose in ballet (10,11,12) and the piece of plywood suspended in air (06). Furthermore, in what ways do the contexts of photographic representation and their actual presentation in the world lend meaning to your sculptures?

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Untitled. collage in found frame {2013} Sterling Allen.

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Untitled. wood, paint {2013} Sterling Allen.

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Untitled. wood, paint {2013} Sterling Allen.

Sterling Allen: Good first question!  I suppose that line of questioning really gets to the heart of what I’m really after as well.  I realized some time ago that my ideas about sculpture were really polluted by the camera/screen as opposed to a corporeal understanding.  I had been making sculpture from photographs and began to see how tricky this relationship can be for the reasons you mention (frame, flattening of space, singular viewpoint) all of which are the opposites of what most sculpture tries to be.  I guess I got interested in the limitations of the photographic representation of objects and where that can be exploited or toyed with.  It’s no accident that most of the sculpture I have seen has been in magazines, books or on a computer screen.  I have lived in Texas nearly my whole life and the vast majority of what I’m looking at is not taking place in my backyard.  For this reason among others, I also know that most of my sculpture will be seen in a similar way.  This isn’t a new development, but something that I feel is becoming more and more pressing for artists right now.  It’s actually part of the reason I feel like sculpture is so exciting.  It’s really hard to get a sense of it from a picture and that’s a fascinating problem to think about.

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Untitled. mixed media {2011} Sterling Allen.

JC: The use of flat paint in your work also seems to add another layer of flattening to your sculptures, especially in photographs. In what ways do you think flattening both limits and extends our perception of depth in space?

SA: I’ve always had an attraction to flat paint.  I think it goes back to a few things but off the top of my head two of them would be cartoons and screenprinting, neither of which have always been a part of the fine art world.  In terms of sculpture, I love the kind of clarity that can be gained from coating an object in one tone and letting light fall over the form, producing shadows/highlights and separating planes.  I think about artists like Anne Truitt, George Sugarman, Vincent Fectau and Anthony Caro in this regard.  Lately I’ve also been thinking about the illusion of flat paint over forms.  In other words, using different tones of a single color on an object to mimic the effect of light – creating edges or cast light where there might not really be any through the use of color shifts.  It’s like volume suggested through color rather than form.

JC: Most of your color choices are garish – like a child’s bedroom (I’ve always wondered why on earth parents paint their kids’ rooms orange, pink, and lime green), or a cartoon. There definitely seems to be a sinister, caricature of play in some of the work. I’m looking at the blue painted plywood train tunnel. I’m thinking about the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and the tunnel entry into Toon Town. Toons are out of place in the real world, and humans are aloof in Toon Town. How does this resonate with the experience of viewing your work?

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Untitled. plywood, paint {2012} Sterling Allen.

SA: In terms of color, I think bold, bright but also specific.  I think that it’s the specificity of some of the color relationships that actually make them sing rather than how bright or punchy they are.  Sometimes the intrinsic color of an object or space is already set up and it’s just a matter of isolating it or keeping record.  I rarely choose color randomly and most of the time it is based on something I’ve photographed which tends to come from advertising, construction, debris, or some other pre-existing source.  It’s more of an editing process than an intuitive one.  I think the garish choices add levity to the work; they’re approachable and recognizable but not necessarily as art first, which I like.

JC: The blue painted zigzag sculpture in the first and ninth image has a similar affect, but is even more deadpan in presentation. Would you discuss the relationship between color, paint and play in your sculptures?

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studio view {2011} Sterling Allen.

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Untitled. digital inkjet print {2013} Sterling Allen.

SA: The first image shows the entire lifecycle of that work (which has turned out to be a very important work for me.) The small bit of blue tape on the window was the first part.  It was put there simply to hold that sheet of plywood up against the window to block the sun from my studio at the time.  Once light shone through the tape, it created two tones because in some places the tape was doubled up.  I took a picture of this and then made a sculpture based roughly on the photograph.  Once the sculpture was made, I documented it on the floor in a different space.  The image you see shows the original, the photo of the original, the sculpture itself and the documentation of the sculpture.  This whole process is play for me.  I like what happens when I force myself to translate an image across  different media, seeing what is gained and lost in the translation.  When working from photographs I have one vantage point from which to base something. And of course there is also my memory of the event that is documented in the photograph, should I choose to access that. So when moving into three dimensions, decisions must be made that go beyond the two dimensional source material.  Conversely, when photographing an object that you can walk around or pick up and rotate, you are making very violent decisions about how it will be fronted or flattened into two dimensions.  The camera can be generative though and not always limiting during this process.  I’m also interested in relinquishing control when I can.  I try to photograph things while I’m making them as a way to slow down and re-evaluate my original intentions.  I often make u-turns or left turns on my way somewhere based on these moments.  This sort of meandering is really important to me.

JC: I want to discuss the theme of plasticity in your work as well–plasticity being defined as flexible, cheap, tangible, reproducible, and economical. To you, is plasticity a desirable thing in the world? There is an old saying among engineers that given the choice between creating an object (or purchasing one) that is cheap, fast, and good, you can only ever fulfill two out of the three characteristics. For instance, if I want to purchase a pair shoes to wear to an event, I could go online and rush-order Jeremy Campbell boots and they will be good and fast, but certainly not cheap. There is a tension in your work that suggests this sort of desirable plasticity, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Anything you can explain here, especially in terms of your choices of materials and colors?

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Untitled. mixed media {2011} Sterling Allen.

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temporary outdoor installation {2012} Sterling Allen.

SA: I’ve heard the same thing when talking about a contractor.  You can be cheap and fast but do a shitty job, or you can do a good job, be fast but expensive etc.  I suppose this has to do with limitations, which I think are the most important things for artists.  I have noticed that most of the time when artists begin to expand their studios too quickly to include dozens of assistants and huge production budgets and an array of processes, the work  decidedly lacks something in the end.  Those artworks are certainly huge, well made, plentiful and shiny, but they can feel cold or dishonest at times.  I thrive on rules though I have learned it’s ok to break them as well.  I use a lot of wood in my work.  I prefer big box hardware store grade over high grade hardwoods.  I like working by myself and spending time with a project.  I think I’m just trying to problem solve all the time and wood has proven to be a good material for trying things out.  This type of material surrounds us and one can mold it without too many fancy tools.  I really hate waste so it’s hard for me to throw anything out.  I will often repurpose materials even if they bear the history of previous efforts.  I’m also happy using found materials for this reason.  For these reasons, I would say that I am definitely into plasticity as you’ve defined it, much more so than it’s opposite (rigid, expensive, inaccessible, one-of-a-kind etc).  I am more engaged with what the work is doing rather than the sum of the materials themselves.  Some artists rely heavily on materials with certain connotations or meanings and that’s cool, but not me so much.

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digital photograph (iphone). Sterling Allen.

JC: Your sculptures don’t have eyes or faces, but in many ways they have anthropomorphic qualities. They seem to indicate, through the context lent by the photographs, a sense of singularity, loneliness, deflated-ness, and some are even derelict lying on the pavement outside of the studio, apt to get run over by a car (04). Some objects, like the concrete staircase with the red x’s have been marked for demolition. What are the codes to look for, if you can say, and how do you mean these sculptures to feel?

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digital photograph (iphone). Sterling Allen.

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digital photograph (iphone). Sterling Allen.

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digital photograph (iphone). Sterling Allen.

SA: I suppose most of the photographic documentation of my work singles out individual pieces so maybe the loneliness can be attributed to that?  In the objects that I photograph with my phone (an obsessive index that is ongoing) I think there are certain strategies and themes that I keep coming back to.  With the street photography, as you might call it, I have the power to isolate the subject of the photograph and frame it in any way.  I almost always take one picture and move on.  I guess I am drawn to instances and objects that appear out of place somewhat.  This might explain their singularity and sense of deflated-ness.  Rarely will I make a picture of something brand new, looking super good.  Most of the time the flaws, folds, stains and holes are the things that give us our character and these objects are no different.

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digital photograph (iphone). Sterling Allen.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

JaNae Contag: A St. Louis-based artist, writer, and educator. She received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis and her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio. Her films, photographs, and drawings deal with uncanny aspects of desire in suburban retail and residential developments. She has exhibited in the Midwest and Texas, most notably at The Luminary Center for the Arts and the Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis, and Co-Lab Project Space in Austin, Texas. Contag currently teaches in the Photography Program at The Art Institute of St. Louis.

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.