SRO GALLERY, a new exhibition space located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, features works by Ashley Garrett and Zach Seeger, two artists with long ties to Bushwick. AIB interviewed the two artists before the upcoming opening of their exhibition.
AIB: How long have you been working in Bushwick?
Garrett: I joined Bushwick-based artist-run collective Underdonk in 2014, and I’ve been frequenting Bushwick often for shows and studio visits with Bushwick-based artists since 2013. I had a solo show and group shows around the neighborhood.
Seeger: Although I no longer work in Bushwick, the impetus of the current exhibition at SRO began at 117 Grattan, where I started using the eye motif a year ago. I have participated in shows in Bushwick and for BOS in 2013 I set up work on the street, and in my parked van in front of 117 Grattan. I also hung a fifteen foot un-stretched painting off the roof of the Active Space. There is a contagious energy for painting in Bushwick and I feel a kinship to many artists there.
AIB: What drew you to Bushwick?
Garrett: Bushwick was the first community of artists I got to know after I moved back to New York; everyone was welcoming and friendly. After graduating from SVA in 2008 I moved upstate, where I rode and trained horses professionally for three years. Bushwick helped orient me to my new situation. It was great to see and meet so many different kinds of artists with serious practices, from a variety of generations. I met there a lot of the friends I have now, and artists I respect.
Seeger: I was first drawn to Bushwick in 2010 when a friend moved to the neighborhood. I started visiting spaces, studios, and people and spent a lot of time at Wayfarers with the group of artists working there. In 2013 I was thrilled to be introduced to the community of artists at Life on Mars Gallery, where I felt an affinity and closeness to the painterly approaches, attitudes, and images.
AIB: What is the genesis of this two person show?
Garrett: It came out of the studio visits we did and our discussion of the relationship between my ribbon and Zach’s eye series of paintings. Zach was engaged in a practice of investigating eyes as I was in seeing and articulating the ribbons. At RISD, Zach installed this show as pairs of ribbons and eyes with lots of space around them. In SRO, Cecilia Whittaker-Doe and Don Doe’s unique space, we installed a kind of swirling constellation.
Seeger: The affinity to one another’s work was instantaneous. We read each other’s work with an intuitive eye, and understood what each other was trying to do in the work. It was a great pairing and we really didn’t need to talk much over; it was an obvious choice.
AIB: In this show each of you presents a distinct body of work which reads to me like a series with an underlying theme. Did you work on them with a mutual theme in mind?
Garrett: This series of paintings is based on ribbons I won at horse shows from when I was eight years old until recently. The ribbons represent judgments made by the world of a particular performance. However, the actual experience is less literal and more complex than the color of the ribbon: sometimes last place is a great accomplishment, while first place can be a disappointment. The ribbon paintings break down traditional understandings of winning and losing to see into the wealth of complex and often contradictory emotions within the specificities of remembering a particular place, time, and what happened there. Each ribbon may be a synecdoche or metaphor for the physical performance and the skill levels demonstrated through the struggle with and against oneself. They represent anxiety, hope, achievement, recognition, failure, loss, weakness, power, sensitivity, resignation, embarrassment, shame, joy, and love. I am interested in holding the memories of each ride, win and loss, as I make each painting, to see and feel the whole range of experience and being-in-emotion.
Seeger: The series of eyes I have been working on is a formal motif to frame images and forms within a peripheral context. The paintings are intended to be simultaneously read as interior and exterior; of the body and looking out through a body. I think of them as psychic objects clumsily camouflaged with paint.
AIB: What can you tell me about your thought process when you started working on these series?
Garrett: This is a body of work I began in the summer of 2014 in upstate New York. I was working on a previous body of work of small still life paintings based on Christmas ornaments that I had made as a child and I was looking for another form for that kind of personal object, related to individual qualities and emotions. When I saw these ribbons I had won hanging on the wall, I thought of the memories they evoked, an accumulation of years of practice, time and care. I began by painting the ribbons as objects with the experiences in mind. The more paintings I made, the less I looked at the actual ribbon and the more improvisation happened. These paintings are my way of exploring a variety of forms, feeling, intuitions, and situations in connection to both still life and landscape.
Seeger: These paintings are indebted to landscape and place. Many of them literally painted en plein air before applying the eye motif over the image. Painting is how I see; it is how I understand things; it is how I look at the world. I’m not sure if my work is evolving but I am constantly working. It’s like a nightmare where I find myself entering an apartment with bloodstains on the wall and a dead body on the floor. I check to see if the person is ok, but I get blood all over me. In a panic I try to distance myself from the body; I’m not guilty of this crime! But my bloody fingerprints are all over the victim, walls, and surfaces of the apartment. I try to clean up the mess thinking the police will think it is me who did this horror. It is a cycle of staining, smearing, smudging and scrubbing-in the end I make the scene presentable enough.
AIB: How do your paintings relate to each other and how do they differ?
Garrett: They both involve the reversal of inside and outside spaces within a limited range of formal parameters. Also both bodies of work are about different kinds of seeing coming from different points of view: Zach’s eye imagery is specific to his experience, and my ribbon images represent my memory of specific experiences as a young child up until a few years ago.
Seeger: The paintings relate to one another in scale and presence. They are rooted in looking. They are not intuitive expressions or descriptions of things, but rather bleak records of memory embedded in our own baroque sensitivities to paint and form. They are similar but arrive at their distinctive image by different modes of operation and paint application.
AIB: We live in time of transition-social, political, ecological. Do you relate to that in your paintings, and if so, in what way?
Garrett: I don’t think the political has to have a direct effect on work to have had an impact on an artist. I think a lot of artists are making work or are trying to make work with or in spite of their complex feelings about the drastic political changes ahead and that can express itself in a multitude of ways. Because of my focus on the landscape I have been thinking about landscape as it relates to climate change and how the landscape itself can and will become a kind of hostile actor against us pretty soon, and then our relationship to it will change drastically. I’m interested in how that transformation might express itself in my work as well as the work of other artists.
Seeger: I am not a political artist, but there probably isn’t anything more poignant than the real-time collapse of species and witnessing a complete transformation of the earth. I can say that I am not an expressionist; I am not reactionary. I am interested in the formal language of paint: recording and painting a formal reality that is my world. In that sense I am sharing, but my work is not about communicating some sort of emotional current. I think painting is a medium that allows a viewer to see the world on human terms through viewing of the work.
SRO Gallery 1144 Dean Street, Crown Heights, Brooklyn NY 11216
Ashley Garrett and Zach Seeger
Opening Reception: January 12th, 6-9PM
Jan 12 – Feb 19