Really stunning, bright paintings by Spencer Carmona today -- I'm totally hooked on the otherworldly orbs and spines in his abstract compositions. We chat about affinities with modern art history and the distinct sub-practices that exist within his overall painting practice. More info at the links below!
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You're currently based in Los Angeles? Are you from there originally?
I am currently living and working in LA but not from here originally. I grew up in a small town in the middle of the central valley of California, have moved around the country since and have finally landed here. Been a strange five years.
What first interested you in making art?
I am sure I am like a lot of other artists in that I had a natural knack for drawing and building as a child. My mother always encouraged my fascination with recreating the world around me. In my earliest memories, I took apart the values and expectations around me in order to try and understand them, always trying to relate what I find to a greater more elastic and changing whole. It wasn't until I was in graduate school that I realized art was the only thing I could do that could sustained this part of me. Constantly questioning everything all the time.
Can you tell me about your practice? What interests or influences you?
Generally I have at least four different painting practices running tangent with each other within my larger, singular practice. Each of the four different painting practices or styles, each with their own demands and systems, serve as a kind of emotional/psychic/expressive space that allows me to fulfill my individual needs of focused material and formal manipulation of the medium and my greater attempts at questioning and reflecting on historical painting and how it can be experienced as something new or different through changing the context in which it is shown, arranged or seen.
I have many influences when it comes to my practice, namely a love affair with the history of Modernism and Contemporary Art. Constantly seeking for the new. the old, the underappreciated, the good and the bad and figuring out where I stand within all that, questioning all of it and coming to provisional conclusions. Bringing back those thoughts and feelings into my studio then allows me to process them intuitively. Those thoughts and affinities become unconsciously actualized in the work.
Interests outside of art and art history also find their way into the work as well. For the last year and a half for instance, I have had a growing interest in outer space, the physical and psychic abilities of the mind, the paranormal and the metaphysical. All kind of spawning from past experiences with psychedelic drugs I used to frequent in my younger years and an experience I had a few years back where I was able to witness a partial solar eclipse. Seeing this event had a profound influence on me that I am just starting to figure out using my practice as an avenue to do so. It is something like your mind telling you one thing rationally yet your experience of the event telling you something undeniably different. Science telling you it is just the moon passing in front of the sun's alignment with the earth while our emotional experience of the event conjures up a sense of dread or impending doom mixed with a kind of still and melancholic beauty. To this day I have never felt such mix of emotions by a physical and material event.
What is your process like? How do you plan a piece (if it at all), or how long does it take to complete a painting?
As stated in the previous question, I have four distinct painting practices that each demand a specific attention to their respective parameters:
There are the landscape paintings that are all painted with a very specific process (stained, dry, flat, reductive application of paint and mostly painted with rags) relating to a certain affect I'd like each to have (desolate, impending, foreboding). They generally share a variation of the same image where there is a horizon line down the horizontal center of the painting and two cypress trees flanking a celestial object(s) of some sort.
Secondly, there are the more staunch monochromatic/abstract works which usually are circles or shaped (these paintings usually have a little more experimentation within their paint application and ideally within an installation of all the different types of paintings together can act as many things like signs, symbols, historical signifiers, etc. within that context).
The third group are more experimental abstractions which generally start with out any planning at all and change drastically through out the duration of their completion.
Finally, the fourth group of works are portraits. The portraits take a slower pace than that of the other three but in my mind hold more of an emotional weight because of that. They are not a means of direct expression as the others feel to me and have a more of singular nature to them. Something like individuals rather than a group mentality. Personally, they seem to illustrate a kind of feeling I'd like the others to achieve through their respective avenues of methods.
What is your studio space or workspace like?
Currently I have a work/live situation. My partner and I share a split level and have the downstairs as our living space and the upstairs as our two studios. This has been working out well considering neither of us drive and time/ distance is of the essence in LA.
Do you have a favorite tool or object that you couldn't live without?
I could not do without rags, sponges or q-tips. They're more domestic tools used for cleaning or hygiene yet I found they are the best tools for the effects I want in my paintings (softness, low relief of the surfaces, etc). Guess it makes sense they've found their way into my studio given my studio is above my own domestic space.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
While I was in graduate school, I had an adviser who told me to write down ideas of individual paintings on a little piece of paper and put them in a bag for later use. He told me if I was ever in need of material or had painter's block that I should reach in and grab one of these ideas at random and make that painting. The ideas I wrote down could be as mundane or simple as "make a red painting" or "make a portrait" or as explicit as "make a painting that reacts to how you felt during our last conversation." I thought this was such a great idea because it allowed an openness within someone's practice. It allowed you to have a practice that could account for many different types of work and that each thing could stand on its own as a singular idea yet still fit within a larger practice. I do not use a bag to do this in my own practice but the idea has followed me since then. The openness or willingness to stray away from who you think you are as an artist in order to make something you feel is pressing or urgent no matter how off it may seem. It will always be you and you have many visions that need to be seen.
What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut?
I think it is okay to let yourself take a break while in a creative rut. We are complicated creatures and sometimes I can get in a creative rut by neglecting some other part of myself. I try to get to the route of the rut by looking within and questioning what I want and why I want it. Creating an environment around you that inspires action and creativity also helps. My partner inspires me a lot too. They are constantly pushing their own practice in a way that is hard to not feel inspired.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally--or both, especially as an MFA graduate who is recently out of the university setting?
The summer following receiving of my MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago my partner and I decided to move to LA. This was a mutual decision predicated on defining our own path on our own terms and getting out of the shadow of the institution we had just attended. We are a little more anonymous in LA. It feels good to not know everyone you see at an opening and to be a little more ignorant of the social ladders that are ever-present. I feel that ladder might be the most challenging thing for me pursuing art because I very much identify as an introvert. It has been my goal since moving to LA to network more in a way that feels authentic and sincere and without compromise.
How would you define "success?"
Success is so relative and potentially damning that I would say it is best to put it out of your mind. Let it find you instead of having it as a preoccupation, and if it does not find you do not let yourself waver from your own voice, truth, or ethics.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects you're currently working on?
I just took part in a group drawing show at the Dalton Warehouse in South Central LA. The show was in response to our new president and appropriately named Animal Farm. Each artist's work served as a form of protest and resistance to our current administration. It was great to be with so many other artists showing their solidarity with each other and those who will be directly and indirectly affected by the policies of Trump.
This coming Thursday (19 February 2017), I have an opening for a solo show at Galerie La Croix in Pasadena called Specter's Jubilee. The show contains four paintings installed in a way that reacts to the architecture of the gallery and to each other.
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