I know that this painting in particular has its compositional roots in a Delacroix painting. Can you describe the process you went through by starting with the Delacroix and working through your own painting to produce So Domestic?
There are painters throughout art history that I am in love with, whose paintings I want draped around me at every turn. These are the people who made me want to make paintings in the first place, and whose work I disappointingly measure my own against. The work of romantic painters like Gericault and Delacroix, or Caspar David Friederich, are enthralling to me because of the compositional drama they play in. Structurally, there is so much movement in those pieces. They are built around triangles and diagonals, so the eye jumps around lustily, landing on clumps of action and building the image piece by piece. Then you’ve also got the imagery itself, which is both real and fantastical. Night skies and fire, lustrous objects and satin cloth, huge clouds and rich surfaces everywhere. What’s not to love?
So for some paintings in this series, I began with a compositional structure based on a painting by a romantic painter as an attempt to come to terms with my passion for their work, to understand it better, and maybe to steal a little of their magic for my own. So Domestic borrows in this way from Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanapalus. I knew I wanted to paint a bedroom scene and I wanted it to be sexy, covered in surfaces that shined and radiated some of the tension between sex and violence, so I borrowed motifs from Delacroix. The basic idea of a bed high above the viewer, on a perspectival plane that couldn’t really exist, and then filling the space with objects to jump between came from that. I did a charcoal study of the painting first, very quick, very blocky – just letting solid shapes stand in for the figures I knew I wouldn’t keep for my painting. This study is really different from a copy of the painting and bears little resemblance except in its composition and key values. Then I referenced the study while laying out the underpainting for So Domestic. I wanted direct influence, twice removed, from Saradanapalus, and the result was that where there was a white horse, there’s a round chair. A prone figure became a satin cloth draped across the bed, and so on.
The push and pull between appropriate perspective and a flatness in this work seems to represent that aspect of home that is no longer fixed or even a given. But at the same time even the size of this painting is cumbersome and not mobile, implying that it needs a permanent residence. Can you talk about your use of formal aspects of the work to represent the underlying concept of both embracing and railing against the domestication of home life?
Well, I think you hit on one directly. The shifting perspective, especially in a painting big enough to inhabit physically, tugs on the ground beneath your feet. The room is relatively comfortable except for those variable directions implied through perspective. I wanted there to be a sense of time passing, of multiple points of time rolled into one, and shifts in perspective imply that sense of movement. Because of our relationship to perspective through photography, we tend to think of perspective as instant and real, and I like playing with that sensibility by breaking its rules frequently. Of course, that has its roots in Cezanne and the beginnings of modern abstraction, but Delacroix played a similar game as well.
When I give in to my decorative impulses, and render a baroque, shiny, wallpaper pattern, I can’t help but chuckle a bit. It feels funny because it’s such a bourgeois material throughout history, like in a Boucher painting or something, but now you can buy cheap damask wallpaper at Home Depot. That kind of pseudo, upwardly mobile decor is something I’m attracted to at the same time I can’t even really afford the cheap stuff. And it finds its way into my work, into my home, into my head. Satin sheets and red and gold wallpaper is sexy stuff, but it’s so damned tacky.
Are you not also using traditional painting motifs of including objects that are representational of certain ideas or themes, such as the Vanitas painting done by Northern European still life painters in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries? (something about the pearls on the dresser is begging for interpretation for me)
Sure, and there’s a painterly conceit going on in some of these objects as well. The surfaces and textures of each thing are challenging and fun to paint. I don’t think I’m moralizing like the vanitas work, but I am aping it a bit. I mean, when I’m talking about tongue in cheek decorating, a pearl necklace definitely fits into that discussion, right?
Do you fore see the American Dream of owning a home becoming old fashioned or out of date? Will the trajectory of our society begin to lean toward mobility or impermanence?
What will that mean for art, and the collection of that requires such a security of place or home?
I think its becoming impractical. If you want to live in a metropolitan area, owning is outrageously expensive and if you lose your job you are completely screwed. Job security is really different for me than it was for my father, who is retired Oklahoma City fire fighter. For my dad, stay on the department long enough and earn a pension. For me, be willing to move to where the job is and hope for the best. So owning a home just isn’t a milestone for growing up the way it has been for previous generations. I hope that the work doesn’t just lament this, but also posits some hope in there. And on that note, I may never own a home, but you can bet I’ll own art my whole life. In all the moves I’ve made in the past decade the art I’ve collected is what remains constant. Its what makes an apartment a home.
Interview by Nelleke Mack