Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Joseph Hart: Interview
Joseph Hart is a Brooklyn-based visual artist, whose work is currently on show at David Krut Projects in NYC. Above are enlarged slices of some of the pictures at Krut-- the lobster wanted you to feel the stroke of Hart's hand, and the canary wanted you to fall into the shades and hues. We urge you to view the entire pictures, and more of Hart's work, by clicking here and here.
Joseph kindly took some time for us between his Krut show "Stagecraft" and the show he is preparing for in Paris.
Lobster & Canary: Time, memory and forgetting play big roles in your work. You are probably best known for your interpretations of museum display cases, usually with an odd and oddly placed collection of objects. One of Walter Benjamin's best known quotes is germane here: "Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories" (from "Unpacking My Library"). Is this what you are wrestling with, the chaos of memory?
Joseph Hart: I think about history, which is a type of memory. Taking blurry snapshots (which I sometimes use as reference) while visiting museums and drawing (literally) from reproductions in art history books have become important components of my practice. Through this, I suppose I am trying to better understand my own art iconography, where my work may or may not fit within the arc of art history, if it’s relevant, or if I should even care.
L & C: Continuing this line of musing: I see your work as thematically descended from the paintings by 17th-century Dutch artists of their own or their patrons' cabinets of curiosities. Your floral portraits as well, come to think of it. A valid comparison in your view?
JH: A few years ago, I came across a small floral still life by Jan Van Huysum at Musee du Louvre. It was installed low, just off the floor, in a dark and seemingly forgotten gallery. The painting struck me as powerful in an odd way. I admired its underdog status amongst the other works within the gallery, its modest subject, and creepy color palette. The imagery is an illustration of cliché, beauty and peacefulness, yet conceptually it is dealing with ideas of emptiness, fleeting beauty, death and decay, etc. I like the duality in that. Vanitas painting is sort of subversive and punk and funny.
L & C: Thinking about your work reminded me of something the abstract painter Jacqueline Humphries says in BOMB # 107 (Spring, 2009): "...you're working away in your 21st-century way, and suddenly you're thinking about a 17th-century artist you never gave much notice to or didn't like and then you see this whole dimension opening up. I used to hate Caravaggio, and then one day I had an almost revelatory experience in front of his work in a church in Rome..." Does this resonate for you? One day you are looking at a krater in the Brooklyn Museum, and *pow* there's the insight that yields one of your works?
JH: It’s funny how our interests and goals evolve. I grew up looking at comic books, record covers and skateboard graphics. Now I’m wandering around museums, looking at dusty antiquities, paintings by dead Europeans, decrepit figurative sculpture, pottery fragments, and other museum objects. When I was a frustrated student, I used to sit in front of a Cy Twombly painting that was in my school’s museum and completely space out. I would stop worrying about things, and simply relax. I can remember listening to the first Wu-Tang album on my headphones, and staring at that Twombly for what seemed like hours. Twombly and Wu-Tang. How’s that for a paradox?
L & C: You not seldom put bodies or giant heads upon spikes, mounting them like mannequins, or like the fractured statuary in a gallery of Greek/Roman art. Layers on layers of contested history (if I read this right), with echoes of Dali, Magritte, De Chirico-- the 21st century revising the 20th century's revision of Antiquity--?
JH: Perhaps a little revision is going on, or updating, or highlighting. I like the combination of organic figurative forms mixed with the sharp architecture of pedestals and plinths, too. Decapitated bodies, severed limbs, knocked off penises; it’s a bizarre balance of violence and beauty.
L & C: Hmmm, one clutch of surrealists brings to mind another: your "Dying Warrior," "OHMUMSHEEBAH," and especially "Le Radeau (Backwards B)" evoke for me Miro, Arp, Picabia. Do you spend much time with these artists? Maybe with Saul Steinberg?
JH: Today it’s Miro, Gericault, Phillip Guston, Ben Shahan, Kandinsky, early Hockney, Fred Wilson, Twombly, Duchamp, Kitaj, Richard Tuttle, just to name a few. Tomorrow, this will probably change. My wife’s hand stitched quilts have been an influence as well.
L & C: If I were asked to highlight one of your pieces, I think it would be "Untitled (Hoard)" because you've so artfully abstracted to their essence the collected items, reducing and transmuting them into a disjointed musical notation or calligraphy from Atlantis. Several of your pieces in Fragments achieve the same thing. Where do you go from here?
JH: I’m currently working on a new body of work for my next exhibition, which will be this spring at Galerie Vidal St-Phalle, in Paris. I’m hoping the new works will be a provocative balance of tight and loose, light and dark, delicate and harsh, etc. Breaking things down, unraveling and simplifying imagery, then building it all back up seems to be an ongoing theme in studio these days, and one work usually informs the next, so we shall see where things end up.