Can't get over these paintings by Paul Simmons! I love what he calls the "studio patina," which adds depth to each one as it gets worked and revisited over time. We chat about his process, exercises for getting into the mode to create, and an upcoming show this month! More at the links below!
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I'd love to know a bit about you! You're currently in Brooklyn; are you from New York originally?
I'm originally from the south side of Chicago-my parents moved to south Chicagoland aka the suburbs when I was little. I grew up in what was then a very small town and my father-a consummate lover of all animals-turned our large backyard into a sort of barnyard sanctuary-horses, chickens, goats, turkeys-you name it. These were our pets. This backyard helped create a world for me-a lot of building objects to see how the goats would take to it or trying to create obstacle courses for the chickens to navigate. And the flip side of this country living was that I could hop on a train and be in downtown Chicago in an hour. I feel very lucky to have had a good balance of these environments.
What first interested you in art, or influenced you to begin making it?
My grandfather designed and built furniture and I remember being fascinated with the humble magic and seriousness of his wood shop as a child. And my mother is a gifted craftsperson who also painted. She was always at the kitchen table building/painting something and it just seemed to me like that was the natural thing one does: to make things. When I got a little older I found punk rock and skateboarding so I made zines reflecting these interests, without ever declaring it as art. It was just a good way to keep things organized. I learned very early on that in a painting the equation of two plus two could equal pretty much anything i wanted.
Your practice goes between painting and object-making, but there seems to be an emphasis on the painted surface. Can you tell me some more about your practice?
It starts with the architecture of the space. Like a room that gets framed out, drywall is put up then spackled, sanded and painted: this system is effective at hiding or revealing what is seen and in turn what is seen in it. It also allows for slippage and happy accidents to occur along the way. I think of myself as a handyman working on a variety of tasks which require different skill sets simultaneously. There are always many paintings and objects being worked on and the labor involved in one will bleed in to others. I have learned over time how to layer these different strategies and understand what I want from them as well as what is best left open. Painting an object often isn't the final touch but it is the one consistent approach I make at communicating a history within the process.
I really love the "rough" quality to both your sculptural objects and your paintings, in either the edges or the texture of the paint. How is this important?
I think of it as studio patina. I tend to work on the objects for a very long time before they get interesting to me, which means they are kicking around the studio or the back of my car before coming together as an sculptural object. The rough quality is about immediacy. I tend to use the things I find in my surroundings, like cardboard and drywall. These are things full of unfulfilled use. Their vulnerabilities as materials can yield all sorts of unexpected qualities and this kind of exploration is endlessly interesting to me.
What is your favorite thing about your medium?
Building something out of mistakes inevitably, over and over again
What is your process like? Do you plan ahead much at all, or work more intuitively?
I plan out the formal characteristics-color, scale, material, etc. beforehand. I have always worked intuitively as that feels the most flexible and interesting but I want to know the tools I'm going to work with. My process of making anything is layered over time-there is a lot of space in the process that allows me to move about many works simultaneously. And working intuitively can be liberating in that I'm not tethered to an idea or concept, just the act of looking. It keeps it playful and interesting to work that way even though some elements of the process are more tedious or require more patience-I can always work on something else when I'm done. With the different bodies of work, I tend to keep these organized by season. Paintings and sculpture happen in the summer while winter is when I do more drawing and ephemeral work.
How would you describe your studio or workspace?
It is constantly subject to change. I build things up and then I take them apart and rearrange them. Piles have to beorganized neatly because I work on so many things simultaneously.
Do you have a favorite method for getting out of a creative rut?
I have a regular studio exercise which I call "two minute sculpture"-from the moment I walk in my studio I give myself two minutes to choose from a pile of half-worked objects or otherwise fragmentary elements to arrange somehow into an object, then photograph it in its place. I keep an ever growing pile of these fragments over in a corner for this particular exercise. While the end result may not always be successful or interesting, I find this is a great way to turn off my thinking and get down to the business of finding how things might occur (un)naturally. Some of my weirdest and most favorite work has emerged out of this exercise.
How would you define "success?"
Finding a way to connect with people that contributes to a community built out of shared respect and dedicated work.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished the work for a show at Left Field Gallery in San Luis Obispo with Jessica Simorte and Brad Tucker that opens in early April so I'm getting ready for a little west coast vacation. Looking forward to making some larger paintings when I get back and finally casting these sculptures I've been working on.
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