ABG ArtBookGuy
  Art For All PeopleŽ    We Talk Contemporary Art    April 2017
WILLIAM WOOD: WHAT MAKES A PAINTING

William Wood is an artist who lives in New York City.  I stumbled upon his website http://williamwood.net/ and was intrigued by his paintings.  I wanted to find out what inspires his work so I contacted him and here’s the result …

“… I think the marriage of fashion, celebrity and art doesn't really work ... I think it just lessens the unique quality of what art is - which should be a personal and interior experience.  I don't think art's main purpose should be to entertain, which is what celebrities do ...” 

MICHAEL: Hello Bill, A quick look at your great paintings gives me the feeling that you're exploring the possibilities of materials ... you know? Seeing what you can do with paint and other media and how it responds to your direction.  Am I right?

WILLIAM: Definitely. I'm really interested in what makes a painting. For some reason, I was really bored with what was available at the art supply store, so I started looking in the hardware store.  I began blowing up iPhone photos digitally on canvas and buying remnants in fabric shops, etc., even though I always come around to paint in the end. I really want to keep the territory wide open, experiment, have fun, but keep it simple at the same time . I really like cheap materials too: newsprint, cotton duck, house paint, gesso, etc…

MICHAEL: Expensive materials mean a lot in luxury hotels, but do they matter in art?  I mean, I highly doubt that even seasoned art collectors or curators even care.

WILLIAM:  The use of unexpected materials was more about keeping it interesting for myself.  I think collectors and curators are just looking for good work.

MICHAEL: There are obvious influences of great artists in your work and I love that some of your works are monastically minimal while others are busy, drip paintings and still, some seem to reference geometrical shapes. Thoughts?

WILLIAM: I hope not too obvious.  That's not a good thing.  I mean, I’m hyper-aware of the history of art and painting and really believe in a continuum and trying to contribute to that history.  Of course, the goal is to make work that pushes the medium forward, easier said than done. 

I will say I've been pretty much obsessed with Rauschenberg combines up to 59.  I pretty much think about those every day.  Also, I think Serge Jensen is totally underrated and super-influential on all the young artists coming up which for some reason nobody mentions? 

MICHAEL: Interesting.  I like the way you've set up your website.  Very simple and elegant like your work.  Why did you do it that way?

WILLIAM: Thanks for the compliments.  I actually can't figure out the template so it just ended up that way for now.

MICHAEL: Haha.  I understand.

WILLIAM: I would like to keep it clean and simple and maybe upgrade the photos in terms of quality going forward as they are all iPhone photos for now.  I’m totally unaware of how to do it, but I'll try to set up a page of my work on Facebook and a link to the website too. I now have an Instagram account which I just started posting to last week.  I’m not sure where Twitter falls into that.  I find the self-posting thing a bit self-indulgent and needy, but a friend said I should start getting people to see what I've been doing the past couple of years.

MICHAEL: I could not agree more.  I know numerous artists who use their cellphones exclusively for their work. It's amazing how technology has changed things.  How much of a role would you say it's playing for you? 

WILLIAM: The last body of photos that I had digitally-printed on canvas were 95% iPhone photos.  I even used the photoshop app for a dollar to crop them and increase the dpi on the phone.  All the photos I have on my website are iPhone photos.  I also use a desktop printer and print images for use as collage material for the paintings. The phone is my primary connection with art articles through various websites including what is posted in the newsfeed on Facebook and peoples’ Instagram accounts.

MICHAEL: What do you think this is doing to painting?  Is painting headed for the endangered genres list?

WILLIAM: I think it makes painting more attractive.  From my own experience, I've been experimenting with printing digitally etc., and using the images as grounds for paintings which is fine, but it isn't until I actually start throwing the paint around that I became 100% engaged.  All of the digital photos and printed stuff looks great, but when you stand it up against something handmade and painted it falls pretty flat.

There's just some basic weird thing about a painted image that is so much more engaging.  Even when you are in a pizza shop and some guy had painted some really odd mural of Venice or something on the wall, it's still really great to look at all of the decisions he made with his hand and head to arrive at the final product.

I think that's why painting always leads in terms of auction prices for good or bad.  It's just this stuff that becomes alive and caught in time when it is used.  There's a magic quality to it that really can't be defined and no technology will ever truly replicate.  It's like seeing the human brain and hand caught in time with all of the imperfections right there too.  It's the human touch … to be simple and non “art speak” about it. 

MICHAEL: What's your routine like?  When do you mainly work?  Do you listen to music while you paint?  What kind?  What goes through your mind when you work?  What are you thinking?  Is the process meditative or more emotional or even spiritual?  WHY do you paint?

WILLIAM: I work mostly in the evening and never before 4 pm.  I do my best work between 7 and 11 pm.  I always listen to music; eclectic tastes, mostly indie like dissonant sounding things.  I try not to think of anything and go on automatic pilot and try to be as spontaneous as possible and save the judgments for the next day when I return.  The good stuff usually looks better and the bad stuff is glaringly bad the next day.  The process is more of a cathartic and anxiety releasing process.

MICHAEL: You grew up on Long Island?  Shouldn't you be a doctor, lawyer or at least an accountant?  What happened? When did becoming an artist occur to you?  Do you come from an artistic family?

WILLIAM: LOL.  Funny you should ask.  My mom was an accountant and dad an engineer.  I wasn't allowed to go to art school; they refused to pay for an art degree so I have a degree in business which was useless to me to say the least.  I always liked making things since I was a kid and ended up working in galleries after college to support myself.

MICHAEL: And so, what do you remember most about the New York art scene during the '80s, '90s and beyond? How is it different now?

WILLIAM: It's the same just much, much, much bigger.  Everyone complained about how expensive it was and how hard it was to do your work.  Money was always a part of the conversation although everyone seems to forget that. 

MICHAEL: Given that, what do you think about the art world and how it functions?  What do you think needs changing?

WILLIAM: For all of its ups and downs, the art world seems to function pretty well. I think there should be more opportunities for emerging artists to get their work out there. I think the marriage of fashion, celebrity and art  doesn't really work. The most difficult thing for artists is to try and find affordable work spaces that aren't so far off the grid that they can't get people to come see them. 

MICHAEL: Why doesn't the marriage of art, fashion and celebrity work?  What's wrong there for you?

WILLIAM: I think it just lessens the unique quality of what art is - which should be a personal and interior experience. I don't think art's main purpose should be to entertain, which is what celebrities do.  A good artist’s work certainly isn't about fashion, which is an applied art as opposed to a fine art.  Of course, there are geniuses in entertainment and fashion and one might refer to them as artists, but they are still working in the applied arts whose end product is not the same as a painting, sculpture, drawing or photograph.

MICHAEL: I totally agree.  

WILLIAM: A good work of art hits a nerve in you that makes you feel a connection with the artist, and you say, “Wow, I feel the same way and I thought I was alone in that feeling, but I'm not.”

Art is something you didn't think you needed until you saw it and experienced it, and then you’re a slightly different person after having come into contact with it.  For me, the experience I have when I see a great Rauschenberg combine, early Warhol or Twombly, involves a very cerebral, interior and indescribable feeling than I have compared to seeing “Citizen Kane” or a great Charles James dress. They are all masterpieces, but for me, a work of fine art has this extra ingredient of chaos or energy that I respond to.

The only thing that might hit a more emotional chord would be music and performance as they play upon a different set of emotions, primarily involving memory. I can't say a painting has ever made want to cry, not yet anyway, but I can say that about a great song or a great performance.

MICHAEL: How are you surviving in New York as an artist?  Do you have another, full-time job?  Let me guess, you're also a teacher or you work for a financial services firm or you're a gallery director?

WILLIAM: I am currently working in the studio full time.  I’ve supported myself by working in galleries full-time and part-time over the years in various roles.

MICHAEL: The world is moving faster with mobile technology and most people won't ever even visit an art gallery let alone buy art.  How do you think artists and galleries should try to cope with this?  What can they do?

WILLIAM: I don't think there is too much you can do about sparking a person’s desire to experience a work of art in person. Art is either a part of your life or it isn't.  If the desire to be around it isn't there, no website or app is going to change that. 

I grew up in a family that had no interest in art and for some reason I did and I had a desire to seek it out, first in books at the local library and then museums and galleries when I left home for school.  The same person today would get their first art experiences from the Internet or maybe an art history class in high school.  It's up to them after that to go find the art where it is and see it in person.    

The apps and websites are always going to be primarily sales tools and accessories for galleries and collectors to find each other.  Right now, the model is the art fair; it's not going away, but I think it has reached a saturation point especially in Miami.  If a collector is going to build a serious collection, they are meeting the important dealers at the fairs and establishing relationships and the collection gets built through those initial meetings.

MICHAEL: Finally Bill, what's the point of art?  Why should people even care?  Art isn't solving world problems.

WILLIAM: I think art can enhance a person’s life.  Artists don't really have a choice in making art or not making art.  It's just something you are driven to do.

Check out William Wood at http://williamwood.net/



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