In Conversation: Kelli Craig and Brian Porray

Kelli Craig and Brian Porray; Detail of Brian Porray's, "Strawberry Quick"

Kelli Craig and Brian Porray; Detail of Brian Porray's, "Strawberry Quick"

Artists Kelli Craig and Brian Porray engage each other in deep conversation regarding their work, science, manners, and channeling your inner tweaker. Brian Porray’s work was recently seen at WESTERN PROJECT from May 7, 2011-June 11th, 2011. You can see the exhibition page for his recent show, here . Kelli Craig’s show, “Umbra and Penumbra,” is on view at WEEKEND until June 26th, 2011.

BP One of the things I was thinking about when I first looked at your images was that the painted parts and the photographed parts remain separate. They’re on the same surface but they don’t actually live together, sort of like people occupying the same room but maybe they’re in an argument. So it’s a psychologically tense situation where they can see each other but they never coalesce. They remain autonomous in a way and they negate each other.

KC When doing them I definitely am responding to the shapes and the colors that I’m seeing so there’s a relationship and then they are also separate.

BP So you identify parts that are formally attractive and then heighten those or negate them?

KC Yeah, instinctively I’ll see shapes in making the composition so I’ll start with blocking out one shape and then seeing another shape to block out and going from there till the piece is finished. But I don’t know, it’s not thought out necessarily.

BP It feels like that, like you have your finger in the wind.  The idea of them being finished is something that I was curious about. That’s always the question, when are things done? I find it fascinating that they don’t answer any questions for you. In fact, they really just raise a bunch more, and that’s sort of the point. You know, we find art because we are looking for a way to be displaced. If it answered our questions the whole thing would just collapse.

KC For me when doing them I first took the pictures and had them printed out, trying to capture this experience I was having with the film, tracking them for flaws. I was being really seduced by the colors and the shapes and everything about this film. But when they were developed it was disappointing. It wasn’t capturing the experience that I was having with it. So, having a painting background, I responded to them with the paint with the intent to recapture that experience that I was initially having with it, and also to remove it from being just a beautiful photograph, to make it more challenging.  And for me, I feel like it’s done when I have a little bit of that exciting experience again.

BP A tactile experience with this new thing you’ve made.

KC Yes, exactly.

BP It’s a hybrid of your material fascination. You’ve mitigated it in a way. You’re not allowing us to share the same experience of that film. You know, I want to crumple it further and see what that stuff actually feels like, and of course it’s drop-dead gorgeous to boot. So it’s suddenly denying us the kind of experience that you’re having with it, but then giving us something new in lieu of that.

KC For me, yeah, I’m definitely creating a new experience, and continuing to push it further through the different processes.

BP With the ones that are photocopied, what’s that further remove about for you?

KC So with the acrylic and photograph pieces I was really seduced by the color, the electric vibrancy of the film. I wanted to deny the colors and focus more on the shapes and the shading, the light and dark, so I started Xeroxing and then cutting out the Xeroxes and collaging them. And my first response was with an oil stick and then responding to the movement and shape.

BP I like the photocopied pieces in contrast, and it’s funny that they’re framed because these seem to be so uninterested with manners in any sense. They’re the least polite of the batch. I really respond to them because they look like they happened very naturally, very in the moment. One thing I see happening now is that artists are re-visiting what manners mean to the art world, although that is such a strange term.  But, you know, the idea of being polite or mannered is a hangover from decades of artists attending graduate school. So when I see work that is uninterested in what it means to be mannered, it wakes me up…it causes me to become aware of the extraordinary capacity artwork has for that displacement we were talking about earlier.

WE Can you define what you mean by manners?

BP There exists a kind of a deeply coded sense of what it means to make artwork. I’m talking about methods of production, mannered methods of production. The idea here is that there is sort of a right “way” or a right “thing”. We are often expected to be accountable for the things we do and the things we make. That we have produced in a way that we can be accountable for, so that we might answer the questions that come up. So if someone asks, “Why did you do this or that?” then we might develop some preprogrammed phrase to explain what we have done. Which is a manner. It’s a type of…it’s a way of being polite, but manners are actually antithetical to the reasons we get into making art in the first place. I never fully understand what I’m going to do. When I’m in the moment I don’t really know what’s happening, I only know six months down the road what I’ve done previously. I’m always thinking ahead of, or behind myself. In the present moment I’m completely on a life raft, and that’s what I prefer, that’s what all of my decisions have been toward.

KC And that’s exactly how I feel in terms of making my work, and with this work, you know, I was doing the photographs and the oil stick and the Xerox. And I never saw how they combined, related to each other, necessarily.  I was doing each thing in the moment. And only 2-3 years later I’m starting to attach meaning and see how they come together.

WE So how does that work in your (Brian) own work?  I feel like it’s in a similar fashion, quite a bit, especially with your application of paint.

BP Um, you mean like when I’m actually in the studio?

WE The displacement that occurs, the lack of manners. On one hand I see manners in your work and then I see disrespect, a lack of manners.

BP I think what can be described as structure can be complicated and misunderstood as manners. One of the conditions that I’ll set up is that I’m going to try to break down any system that starts to surface. So you know, I’ll set up this sort of well, like, I’ll make a checkerboard grid and decide that it will pucker up in the middle, and I immediately look for the ways in which that system can become corrupted and start collapsing in on itself. That’s ultimately what I find most interesting about the work. Things have to just happen, as I was talking about with Kelli’s work.  It has that sense of urgency, that sense of not being labored or over-thought in the studio. I talk about it as channeling my “inner tweaker” and just lettings things go all MacGyver, like, ‘oh fuck, everything’s starting to fall apart, how do I stitch it back together real quick?’ But it’s always with duct tape and never quite a solid fix. So everything remains suspect and starts to fall apart again. The images are constantly unfolding and breaking down as you’re looking at them.

Was that what you had brought up before, you had a comment before we got rolling?

WE I was talking about the materials and how they inspire you to create what you do, but I think what you said is quite evident in the work…So a question to you both is how do the initial materials come to be, for you, Kelli, it’s the holographic film, and Brian, for you it would be magazines?

BP My work tends to start online, you know, I farm images. I’ve got my haunts, the places I hang out looking for interesting images…it’s pretty formal, I’m predominantly searching for compositions. CERN has an amazing online data bank full of beautiful images of proton collisions.  So I go through and mine those things and get, like, a feel for a piece.

KC You mentioned proton stuff so you’re very interested in science and technology?

BP I’d like to think that I am. Although I bastardize it, and I sample from it but I don’t ever really know what the fuck I’m talking about…but I like it that way. My work can be like looking at a car crash.  None of the parts make any sense in terms of function but you can stare at their complexity.  So when I look at images of the Large Hadron Collider I’m just in awe of its vast size, but for no other reason than it is so fucking complex that I have no way to tackle the scale. In terms of your work, Kelli, when I look at these sort of crumpled foil bits, I see the light refracting certain chemical structures, like spectral analysis. But that is so fucked up, you know? That’s actually the way scientists, astrophysicists, can observe the chemical composition of distant planets, by measuring the spectral lines and measuring the refraction…

KC I’m fascinated by all that stuff, too. Another element of this film is my interest in how rainbows are made, and the electromagnetic spectrum, and just light in general.  I love learning about all of that, but I’m not a scientist…it’s just like a general fascination.

BP Yeah, again that kind of funnels back.  You don’t have to be accountable for exactly what the spectral consequences are for these things.  You don’t have to know the chemical structures. I often say, ‘I’m a dude who likes some shit, and I’m a dude who makes some shit’, and if you look at the things I like and the things that I make, you can see correlatives…but it’s not a formula.  It doesn’t answer…I don’t answer for those things, necessarily.  And if anything, it usually complicates things further.

KC And speaking of making stuff, the materials you use, are they materials that you’re attracted to because of their color or things lying around your studio usually, accessibility, besides the materials you find on the computer?

BP Everything is really accessible and found. I keep a ton of books around with the kind of op-art-ish pattern stuff. When I first started using them, I was like, “you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me, I’m making op art, oh my god”, especially the drawings, I was like, “am I really doing this?” So I followed the rabbit hole. The spray paint and synthetic polymer paint that I use are all about immediacy and saturation, or density. I’m not into color mixing. It seems to be something that I’m just never interested in.  I’m not actually convinced that I’m a “painter”.  I render these two dimensional images but I’m not totally convinced that I’m painting and drawing. I like spray paint because it’s bottled; a computer already mixed it for me. I don’t have to worry about anything, it’s all instinct. I hit the button and it comes out. So it doesn’t feel bogged down with the traditional association of what it means to paint. It’s free from the tyranny of the history of painting, a history that I find to be really complicated and oppressive.

KC In terms of painting I see what you mean. In a way, with my practice I both react to the images and mix paint to respond to the colors I’m seeing in the developed photograph, and then negate that process altogether by using a pre-made colored oilstick and Xerox. There is definitely an immediacy that I have with all the pieces, and when you were talking about the immediacy of working that also reminded me of the digital era and society and how we’re always moving on to the next thing.

BP We are all coping with that scale shift. I can write something on a blog, Facebook, or Twitter, and these broken fragments of my experience have nothing to do with what you would typically associate with, like, Marxist ideas of production.  The hangover of Marxist theory is that we complicate something like writing with something like welding, which has temporal distinction and can be revised.  You can go back and shift the medium and the material.  But I think one of the biggest freedoms that we have now is to be able to ignore that. A tweet is a corrupted version…well like, it’s its own form of writing. It’s just a new thing and it’s immediate, and no one goes back to revise their tweets. I get excited when I see work that reflects these tendencies because it feels very real and very quick. You know, our attention spans shift, and that’s great, I embrace that. Especially when making things.

KC I agree with that statement for myself as well, that you’re doing the work and feel like you have to catch up with it.

BP Do you feel like if you found yourself caught up with it in the moment that it would fall apart.

KC Yeah, you don’t want to catch up with it.

BP In the moment?

KC Right. The implications of one decision over another are always there, but you don’t want to over think it.  I’m not necessarily interested in answering questions with my work.  In working with different mediums, thinking about different ways of framing and materials, it’s the asking of questions that’s exciting for me.

BP The nice thing about having a show is that it tends to function as punctuation. Shows go up and come down and while things are out of the studio we have the opportunity to reassess and change and shift.  It’s important for me to feel like I’m in a state of flux. I think one of the amazing things about the environment that WEEKEND have set up here is that you have a laboratory in which you can present things and then ask yourself those questions.

I want to say thanks to both Jay and John, and to you Kelli, as well, for giving me the opportunity to wrap my head around some of these things.  Spaces like these are really important.

KC It was very nice to meet you, Brian.

BP Likewise!

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