Conversation on Another Ground

March 31st, 2018  |  Published in March 2018

Not Gallery  is an artist-run space in East Austin presided over by Alex Diamond. since 2014. The gallery is located in a warehouse industrial garage, part of a row of segmented spaces all outfitted with large garage bay doors. The complex is home to several other galleries and artist studios including ATM Gallery and February Today. Due to raising rents, this is likely the last year of operation for all of these spaces.

I made the drive to Austin on the morning of February 21st to begin installing a show of collaborative works that had been mailed back and forth with Brooklyn-based artist Jessica Cannon for almost two years. The installation process was mired by the unseasonably cold weather but couldn’t sully the satisfaction of seeing a two-yearlong collaborative effort successfully culminate in a space of sharing.

On the 22nd, having nearly completed the installation of our exhibition, Jes and I sat down with Alex to reflect on our collaboration, the show, and why we do anything.

Jack Arthur Wood and Jessica Cannon, Another Ground, Installation View

Alex: So Jes, you took out of your statement the thing about the Jungian Archetypes.

Jes: Haha. Yeah.

Alex: Yeah, well how do you relate to all that?

Jes: I studied psychology in undergrad and originally learned about Carl Jung that way. Later on when I was pursuing art I was interested in ways of depicting the natural world as a projection of human consciousness. I remembered that Jung thought that we looked to the natural world for an understanding of our internal states, and that made sense to me. More recently I’ve been interested in his idea of a symbolic language that appears in dreams, and to some extent in art history. There’s so much, everything from actual things like the ocean, to moments in time like a sunset, or even more abstract shapes.

 Alex: And there’s this clear horizon fascination, for both of you.

Jes: For me I feel like that goes back to growing up near the ocean but also living in New York City, where the horizon isn’t always visible. There’s a desire for that openness but also constant obstructions to it or weird architectural substitutes for it. Outside my studio is a bus parking lot, and when they return at night there is this tiling of white bus roofs that reads like a field.

Jack: I feel like as humans art is generally a means of relation. And It’s also what you were just saying before, it’s really about alchemy. Manifesting physical and emotional realities as this corporeality where we’re dying all the time. Putting that onto a page, visualizing that. I sort of tether my ideas and my anxiety to the horizon because it’s the most unintelligible portion of a landscape. Generally speaking sunrise and sunset are the most active points of change on that clock. The clock of light. I mean they are sort of naturally beautiful, but they are also extremely evocative of impermanence, which is something I think we all struggle with. I think anytime you’re in a pickle, it’s because something is changing. “Oh no! My reality! It’s crumbling! Shit! I don’t like this.”

Alex: So there’s the hope and unattainability of the horizon along with all these archetypes, what they do to us is important, yet they don’t really exist. It’s like platonic solids or any geometric form; a circle doesn’t actually exist anywhere in the universe but, it’s an important concept that we base everything on. The horizon is such an essential part of human experience, yet nobody has ever been there, because the place doesn’t exist. Is that something that you guys connected on before working together? Or was it just more of a visual thing.

Jes: I think initially it was visual. There was a sense of searching through landscape imagery in Jack’s work at the time. When we started talking we realized there were some similarities in our interests but also some differences. I like what you said about the artificial nature of a horizon – it’s an artifical thing based on our perceptual limitations, but it constantly echoes in how we construct and depict the natural world.

Jack: I didn’t know that I was making horizon paintings really. Well, I knew and I wrote about it at the time but I also hadn’t cut into the theoretical trappings of that at all. You know I just started painting one day, about two and a half years ago, and before I started painting I thought painting was really stupid. I thought it was lame, I thought that printmaking was the only cool thing.

Jack Arthur Wood, “Recessor Septagon and Heatwave Huddle”, acrylic, print collage, spray paint on canvas, 9” x 12”

Alex: Wow classic.

Jack: Printmaking is survived by the practice of artistic community right? It’s an archaic method of making and so printmakers I feel have to share ideas, and help each other out. Print shops are a weird space to create. They are usually co-operative for the sake of survival, shared responsibility, and cost. My experience of art up until the point that I started painting had been so informed by the practice of community. And I think that reaching out to Jess was just me trying to… I mean partly I just love Jes’s work. But I was also just trying to socially articulate my taste and discover camaraderie.

Alex: Which is also how we met.

Jack: These connections, that’s why I do this. You know, it’s about friendship! I put that on my CV under skills.

Alex: That’s an interesting way to look at art making.

Jack: I don’t know. There’s not a whole lot of money in it.

Alex: Well yeah but there are other things besides money and friendship.

Jack: I don’t know…

Alex: It’s either money or friendship. Fuck everything else?

Jack: Sort of, I mean that’s like a pretty, pretty apt description of good and evil right there.

Alex: Yeah good point. I mean collaboration has always been interesting to me because I don’t really do it. I’ve done it within the design and architecture realm, where it’s more necessary. You have to do it. But with art… from childhood I would work on stuff with my dad, but usually it was something private, or just an independent activity, I never had a big desire to bring other people into that. So for me I don’t connect the two. I just think it’s interesting that you consider art so social.

Jes: Yeah me too, although I was really into the idea. I thought it would be fun to mail things back and forth, and get works from Jack where he went about them in a totally different way. Until this project I’d always worked independently, and it turned out to be harder than I thought to pick up where Jack left off. But that’s what made it interesting.

Alex: Picking up where he left off… Did you think that was really important? Did you feel like… well it sounds like you did, like you had to kind of backtrack and figure out what he was thinking. You know, because you could have just not even thought about that.

Jes: Totally yeah. I didn’t feel any pressure to think of what his intention was, but I did want to give his choices a chance to act on me in some way.

Jack: Those first few. Yeah I made those so fast. I definitely looked at your work (Jes) while I was doing them.

Alex: Which were the first few collaborative pieces?

Jack: Three of them are in that weird totem. The other one is that big one outside the door.

Jack Arthur Wood and Jessica Cannon, 2018,  (works listed from top to bottom) “Gleaming The Checkered Frapazoid”, “Golden Gazing Future”, “Palmetto Zebratto Tomato”, acrylic, print collage, brass tape, and spray paint on paper, 12” x 22.5”, 14.75” x 22.5”, 13” x 22.5”

Jes: I think we both were committed to giving the works on paper whatever they needed, regardless of who did what. I didn’t feel the need to tiptoe around what Jack has done and hopefully you (Jack) felt the same.

Jack: Well I think I look up to you.

Jes: Awww.

Jack: You Know. So with some of the grounds that I was handling them with trepidation, being too careful, but after I finished my thesis I was like fuck it I’m just going to do. I’m just going to jump in.

Jes: That’s good though because there are some things I sent that feel like they’re entirely yours, in a great way.

Jack: Well, some of the initial grounds you sent were more articulate that they established some point of Horizon, right? Or they made some interior space, whereas some of them were just like amoeba washes. I mean they were loose arrangements. I had to divine them. I felt like I was really grappling for some sense of space or just  landscape architecture. And so there were decisions for me in the process of making those that were very memorable because they were dumbfounding. That was kind of how I finally let go. I figured if where I’m putting this line  or this hill, or whatever, is directly traced by formations of Jes’s hand, then it’s all right. Regardless of how much I paint over these washes it doesn’t matter. You know? I thought your hand would still have that trace.

Alex: Yeah it doesn’t have to look like the perfect synthesis of both of you. But out of the collaborative ones there are a couple pieces that look at first glance like just yours (Jack) and then ones that are pretty obviously collaborations but then there aren’t any that look like just yours (Jes). What’s that about?

Jack: That’s not true.

Alex: That’s just my opinion. But I don’t think any of the collaborative works look like they’re just Jes.

Jes: I didn’t feel like I had to preserve Jack’s marks but I usually wanted to, more out of curiosity than politeness. The works Jack sent me had these really colorful striations, it was so much more color than I’m used to working with, and that felt like a good challenge, like: how can I keep this? Because my reflex would be to somehow obliterate it and default to what I know how to do most naturally, which is less saturated, more subtractive.

Jack: I think I also have a harder time showing restraint. My tendency is to get like crazy tenacious. I feel like I’ll put marks everywhere. I really like to activate surface texturally. I’m also really compulsive so for me to… That and I don’t know there’s something… It’s a compulsion of visual satisfaction for me.

Jes: Yeah, I think the way you use them goes both ways where sometimes your marks have an additive feel and sometimes they reduce things.

Jack: Yeah, a mediation, it’s either a bringing forth or a knocking back. Which is, I think really it comes in many ways from printmaking, specifically etching. That’s a big part of working with copper is burnishing, and then re-etching, and aquatinting, and burnishing back your aquatint, trying to get different values. And that’s why I love texture so much.

Jes: Can I ask you Alex what made you think about considering our collaborative work for a show at the gallery?

Alex: Well Jack was here visiting me, I think it was the first time we met. And he was like “Oh yeah I’m involved in this collaboration, we should show it here.” I was like “OK maybe.” So I would occasionally check up on it and It became more and more likely as time went on.

Jes: To now where it’s extremely likely.

Alex: But also because as I said my feeling of collaboration is that I’m not really comfortable with it and don’t do it. And a lot of times I think it is lame. Actually most of the time, and the result is not good, so I wanted to watch that play out. Not that I thought it would suck though…

Jack Arthur Wood and Jessica Cannon, “Another Ground”, Installation View

Jack: I think that you have to, when you collaborate you kind of have to deny expectation. Which was really hard for me because I think too much about anything. That’s the nature of anxiety. That’s my anxiety, it’s over thinking things. It’s also just irrational fear. And I think for me that’s a big part of why I like it. And I think that’s why I also write about other people’s art to try to understand other people’s art. It is freeing for me. Because you can’t do it alone. Even if you think you can you’re wrong.

Jes: That connection is the truth.

Jack: Well yeah! And I would lose my damn mind without it! You know society doesn’t require anyone to make art, I feel like in many ways society is not really asking for us.

Alex: Nope it’s not. One thing I wanted to do was maybe walk through one of the pieces. What were each of the steps that each person did to arrive at what the thing is currently. Maybe we just talk about the postcard piece. Do you guys remember it all? Or is there one that either of you remember more?

Jack: That was one that Jes sent to me, and it was a gradient, it was blue at the top, yellow in the middle, and then red at the bottom. And the first thing I did to it was augmented the gradient with transparent Montana spray paint. I used Orange to fuck with the blue at the top. It’s just a compliment, it’s a good way to go. And then I took some trans yellow and I just sprayed that onto the yellow just to change it a little bit and then I took some black and went over the top because I had drawn in magic marker on it. And Drew like three circles. I was going to do some weird sun stuff because I’ve always wanted to just straight up copy one of Jes’ paintings, the venn diagrams. I did it. I didn’t bring that one. I named it after you. It’s called Neopolitan J.C..

Jes: Why didn’t you bring it?

Jack: I don’t know. It’s an embarrassing painting.

Jes: I’m flattered.

Jack: I name paintings after people I know a lot, I haven’t named one for you yet (Alex), but it’ll happen.

Alex: I hope so.

Jack: And then I really didn’t know what to do. I think I hit a few of them spray paint. I went through like all of these phases of feeling really guilty about not giving our collaboration any attention because I was doing thesis stuff. So there would be these moments usually right after I’ve talked to Jes. I’d have a sense of responsibility about it and I’m going to do it. It’s going to happen like tomorrow. I want to hit those so hard. And then I would just not. I would just lie to myself. I felt really horrible about it for a long time. And then eventually I was down my thesis. All through the new paintings for this show, and the one that we’re talking about, were informed by a style of drawing that is more or less inspired by Ken Price.

 

IMAGE: DuneGazingThroughFineEthers.jpeg

Caption: Jack Arthur Wood and Jessica Cannon, Dune Gazing Through Fine Ethers, 2018, acrylic, spray paint, and print collage on paper, 24” x 18”

 

Alex: Yeah I saw that.

Jack: That’s like what I think when I look at them. Sort of a simple geometry landscape. Drop shadows suggesting hills and other geological stuff. I think that actually working on that piece was why I sort of, I mean I was doing prints like that I was making woodcuts that were informed by that I would just sit down and make a marker drawing really fast and carve it. But I hadn’t ever throughout my whole thesis, never thought to do it in a painting with that style of drawing. So I felt really stagnant after that thesis and immediately jumped into the collaborative work which was immediately very freeing. So, I made a Ken Pricey red drawing, silhouetted stuff, doorways at the bottom. I started thinking about Jes’ work, Agnes Pelton and Sharona Eliassaf. I was just kind of trying to create these really supernal, ethereal, dreamy spaces of light.

Alex: So the large prints or rather print paintings are definitely distinct from everything else. I’m seeing that they’re kind of more object oriented. Is there anything that you have to say about those generally?

Jack: I made those gradients after Jes sent me her grounds and it dawned on me that “Oh, these don’t have to be so complicated.” Seeing Jes’ decision to keep them simple sort of took some of the pressure off. In many ways I feel led by Jes throughout this whole thing.

Jes: Really!?

Jack: Yeah.

Jes: I could definitely say the same.

Jack: Cool, I think that’s how this has to work. You’re kind of always looking for a pivot point from the other person because. I feel like it’s contingent upon like a mutual respect that’s authentic. But yeah if that’s there you kind of ask the other person “excuse me, how might I proceed.” There’s a question there and so you’re both asking and I think there’s a natural answer which is just eventually that you kind of have to jump into something. It becomes evident through your regard of what the other person’s provided. Anyway, with the grounds that I sent Jess I did my pretty printmaking rainbow roll, selective inking thing and got into some mono-printing with some of them. I wrote on one of them, something like “Hey Jes, did you get my message?” and she completely erased it. Which is funny.

Jes: That’s how you know I got it.

Jack: There were a lot of funny moments like when we went to Robert Blackburn printmaking workshop and we both had Bronchitis.

Jes: Oh yeah, we were so sick. We had Two sessions to work together and we were really looking forward to it and planning it for a while and we were both just so sick, and the fumes!

Jack: Yeah that made it so much worse, we might as well have been huffing kerosene. Blackburn is a great shop to work in and I remember we were kind of just working with plexiglass, qtips, paintbrushes and kind of just doing a pretty straightforward monotype thing. Suddenly Jes started painting this sort of checkerboard thing. I was like “Oh, Woooooow.” For some reason I was like “whooooaaaa dude. That’s awesome. Did you just come up with that?”

Jes: I can’t take credit for checkerboard squares.

Jack: For some reason it just blew my mind and I don’t know why because like a bunch of my favorite painters use Checkerboard. Howard Hodgkin is probably one of the best examples. He used a lot checkerboard and checkerboard dot arrangements, especially in his earlier interior scenes. I’d never thought to like steal them though. Then Jes just very nonchalantly started painting them “doo da doo da doo.”

 

Jessica Cannon and Jack Arthur Wood, “Mesh Crossing”, 2018, acrylic on paper, 37” x 24”

Jes: That’s how I paint, I always make those sounds. It can be really frustrating for someone I’m collaborating with. I had a thought about the mono prints, which were formally challenging because Jack’s rainbow rolls created horizontal lines within a long, vertical composition. At first I wasn’t really sure what to do with that because the saturated horizontals suggested expansiveness but the vertical composition felt very contained. I looked at them for a few weeks and then started building up vertical forms to cut through the stripes and either bring out or obstruct the mono prints.

Jack: Yeah. You do like these really kind of simple but really keenly reductive things. To me they seemed really uncanny. I was like “holy shit.” Because I’ve been working with printmaking and like this sort of process of working throughout my thesis for three years and I don’t know, people encouraged me to do what Jes did, and I just never did it because I think that I really like to not listen to people who have good things to say to me sometimes. I’m stubborn. And then Jes did that, and I remember she sent me a text with some pictures and I was just amazed because I thought they were so good. I have a tendency to complicate things. I think Jess is more patient than I am. I think she’s better at showing restraint and letting the work breathe.

Alex: Jack would hate it if his work could breathe.

Jessica Cannon, “Lone Stellar Venn”, 2018, acrylic on paper adhered to panel, 12” x 12”

Jes: I think it depends on the person and the work though, right? For some artists it might take even more patience and restraint to hang with works in a place of uncertainty, which is something Jack seems very willing to do. Maybe being impatient is good too sometimes?

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about the “quiet, restrained, patient” thing… I get why people might say that, especially in relation to Jack’s work, but the structure I’m working with refers to things that aren’t quiet and restrained. I like that contrast, between the structure and something wild or unknowable behind it.

The wave forms I’ve been working with came from more conventional landscapes but then evolved into something I didn’t really recognize. They’d become more figurative and also felt more tied to a cosmic territory than an actual place. Something about the waves, spheres, and vessels of water allowed for different arrangements that felt like bodies in space. Depending on the way these different elements interact they might refer to physical pleasure, anxiety, attraction, or death. These aren’t quiet things but when depicted through a rational structure, they feel more connected to my experience of them.

Jack: And desire, don’t forget that. But it’s also sort of about acknowledging that desire is fruitless. At least a hope of transcendence is always there. For me this is an endless source of worry.

Alex: Why is desire fruitless?

Jack: Because I don’t think anyone really ever gets exactly what they want. I think that’s the human condition.

Alex: But that doesn’t make it fruitless.

Jack: I guess what I mean is that it’s fruitless in the sense that there’s a lot of joy to be had in failure. That’s where we’re all playing at, just being alive, but we’re all going to die, and that’s sort of a failure.

Alex: Really?

Jes: Are you guys hungry?

Jack: I don’t know, but let’s turn the recording off.

–Jack Wood

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