Chow TimeOtherPeoplesPixels: You identify yourself as a "dot painter." Could you explain the history and context of Dot Painting?Casey Vogt: I can offer you my personal history and context of dot painting. It is actually quite simple and rather banal, but here it is anyhoo. I came to art later in life than most, 25, and the first major exhibition I saw was of Australian Aboriginal Tingari “dot paintings.” I was totally blown away. I had always thought of paintings as portraits, landscapes. The use of color and repetition of the same form was mesmerizing. I was hooked then and continue to be today, because to me it is far more compelling to make a line out of dots rather than to simply draw a line. When a painting is comprised of dots there is a sense of obsessiveness that permeates the piece. It is my way of mark-making. Yet, at the same time, my hand is removed from the work. I enjoy the contradiction, as I myself am a living contradiction.
House paint, collage, envirotex/panel
OPP: Could you say more about the obsessiveness you mention? CV: I think that I'm obsessed with making my paintings as over-the-top as I can, yet maintaining an overall balance throughout the piece. In a way, I want to complicate them so much that they appear simple; then the viewer realizes that the work is made up of 80,000 dots.OPP: The motif of the mandala, often with anti-depressants like Wellbutrin at the center, is omnipresent in your work. To quote Wikipedia: "In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space and as an aid to meditation and trance induction." When looking at the focused, repetitive mark-making you use, I think of both of the compulsion and anxiety that can beg to be medicated and about prayer practices like the rosary and meditative tools like the mantra and the mandala. Are prescription drug use and spirituality being equated with one another?
RaptureCV: Let me begin this answer by saying that I am not religious, nor have I ever been prescribed any medication other than for various injuries, Percocets mainly. One of the great things that artists do is choose something they want to explore: an idea, a technique, etc. They contemplate it, figure out how they’d like it to look, and create it. While most of them have a strong opinion about how they want their art interpreted, it hardly ever happens that way. So when you ask if I’m trying to equate prescription meds and spirituality, I understand why you’re asking. The simple answer is yes… partly. While those major topics are always on my mind, there are also really menial, logistical reasons for a lot of elements too. The mandala, for example, has a ton of inherent meanings and associations that I utilize in my conceptual framework, meditation being chief among them. But, truth be told, it is also a wonderful way to get the viewer to look at various places on my painting, because our natural inclination is to look at the center of concentric circles to see what’s in the middle. It is in the middle of these mandalas, or explosions, that I place color copies of prescription pills. In a way, I’m asking the viewer to contemplate a meteoric growth in prescription medication use, specifically, but not limited to, anti-depressants. It is in this vein that Western religions can be brought into the fold as well. In the time before Big Pharma, most people who were having “problems” often sought the assistance and guidance of God, and found solace in that “embrace.” However, it seems more and more that a similar “hug” is being dispensed in a candy-colored dose. I know that anti-depressants help millions of people achieve an equilibrium in their everyday lives, but I also feel that they are being doled out in copious amounts to people who probably would be just fine without them.OPP: I think the comparison of Big Pharma with organized religion is interesting because both have the capacity for negative and positive effects on their users/followers. The same could be said about the obsessive repetition in your paintings. It could be seen as excessive, overwhelming, almost nauseating. But in truth, I find it simply beautiful... and calming. How do viewers generally respond to your work? CV: It's funny because most people do find them calming. I think the cowboys help that a lot, they serve as anchors and access points that allow the viewer a respite from the ever-present dots.
House paint, collage, envirotex/panel
Banal Ideas Can Be Rescued By Beautiful ExecutionOPP: Thanks for bringing up the cowboys. In your series Meaning and Nothingness, appropriated images of cowboys people abstract, decorative, overwhelming landscapes of color. What is your source material? CV: I find images of cowboys everywhere! It’s truly amazing where you can find something when it’s the only thing you’re looking for. I have a bunch of old western movie books, I search the internet for old movie stills, I also used the cover of an ArtForum that had Martin Kippenberger on a horse. This is an image-glutted society, so it’s pretty easy to find source material. I love how the cowboy is perceived in this country. I mean, America’s football team is the Dallas Cowboys! In many ways the cowboy and the mandala are two of the most loaded icons/symbols I can think of, at least in their respective cultures. I think that is one of the reasons some find my work compelling. Not only are there these clashes of form, color, and dots everywhere, but there is also competing cultural iconography. To me, the cowboy represents the rugged loner or gang that lives the land and solves problems, whatever they may be. He is butch beyond butch; he is the real American Man. I read that after Marlboro cigarettes introduced the Marlboro Man sales went up like 2000%! There’s something about the mystique, the adventure that makes men want to be one and women to be with one. Being from Colorado, and having known real cowboys when I was young, it’s really funny to see how romanticized their life is when in actuality it is one of the most physically and mentally challenging occupations there is. Sorry, that was a longer tangent than I planned on. I use the cowboy to serve as a surrogate for the time before Big Pharma, when self-medication meant slugging from the whiskey bottle. OPP: The combination of a complex american cultural symbol like the Cowboy with contemporary use of prescription drugs and spirituality, makes me think about how our collective perceptions of history shift over time. We don't see the Cowboy the same as we did in the past. Nor does religion play the same role in our collective lives. How do you think our collective view of prescription drug use will change? CV: I already think attitudes are shifting. When teenagers take their lives and it gets linked to the anti-depressant they were taking, people take notice. The problem is that everything is so incestuously linked together. First graders are on Ritalin to keep them calm, yet they only get 20 minutes of recess. Teenagers are on Lipitor, yet school cafeterias serve processed shit food for them to eat. It’s all cause and effect. Sadly, Big Pharma controls Washington D.C., and they’re not going anywhere. Everyone should read, “Comfortably Numb” by Charles Barber. It sheds a light on how intertwined everything is, from Big Pharma to doctor to patient. I do still have hope that this culture will return to a more conservative/cautious approach when it comes to prescription medication.
House paint, collage/panel
Semi-Intelligent Design #7OPP: How did you end up painting with house paint? CV: I started using house paint out of convenience. I have been a house painter off and on for 18 years, and it just made sense as a poor undergrad art student to try it. I tried “painting” with it and realized that wasn’t going to work, because it dries too fast and blending with it was nearly impossible for me. However, it works optimally when dotting, precisely because it does dry so fast. We have a store here in lovely Akron, Ohio that sells other peoples mis-tints, and the palette that exists is nearly endless. My wife and I will go there and return home with 15 different shades of blue, 20 browns, etc. And as I said earlier it’s cheap--$1 a quart, $5 a gallon. My process is so low-tech, it’s funny. I use the non-bristle ends of paint brushes, wooden skewers, marker ends, the “bulb” of a turkey baster, and so on. I dip the implement into a can of paint and repeat, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of times. I do utilize a lot of collage elements as well, beyond the images of cowboys. I’m a sucker for wallpaper and scrapbooking patterned paper.OPP: What are you working on in your studio right now? Are you excited about any new ideas, directions, or upcoming exhibitions?CV: I typically have four or five painting going on at the same time. My gallery in NYC, Tria Gallery, has been very good at moving my work, so I need multiples going in various stages of completion. I would love to start working bigger. My work is usually 24” x 24,” but it takes a long time. Maybe a couple of years from now that can happen. I’m also kinda jazzed about a new piece: I literally drilled hundreds of holes through the support and am dotting in the negative spaces. There are the physical dots on the surface, the “void” dots, and then the cast shadow dots on the wall. And of course, cowboys sitting on a fence staring and taking it all in.
House paint, collage/panel
To view more of Casey Vogt’s work, please visit caseyvogt.com