Pussy Fart, detail
Printed canvas, 14k necklace
20" by 30"
OtherPeoplesPixels: Interdisciplinarity is a staple in your work, from photography to painting to sculpture to installation to collage. Many of your wall-hung works, such as Crush, Dead Clay, and Pussy Fart, are hybrids: part photograph/part sculpture. Could you talk a bit about working in so many different media?
Adam Parker Smith: I like the idea of mutual dependency between materials and idea. In my recent work concept seems to always dictate the materials used; however concept is normally reliant on the materials. I like to think of these “hybrid” works as combinations of inert materials that, when combined, have a catalytic reaction. This forms concept that is far removed or contrary to the original materials that make up the work. I spend time mining for ingredients that will lend themselves to this type of conceptual transformation and that blend or polarize ideas.
OPP: Has your practice always been this way or did you ever have an emphasis in one specific medium?
APS: I have my MFA in painting and originally confined myself to painting on canvas with oil or acrylic, but moved quickly away from this my first year of grad school.
OPP: What kinds of subject matter did you paint back then? Anything that is a clear precursor to the work you make now?
APS: Actually, my paintings morphed directly into my sculptures. In grad school I was working figuratively, setting up scenarios that were essentially snapshots from the everyday, transformed and glorified. What began to happen was that I was having a hard time finding models to do the things I wanted to paint. I decided to make my own figures and paint from these, at which point I had full control and no restrictions. The figures were constructed from nylon and cotton filling and were sewn together in a rudimentary way. At a certain point I looked around the studio and realized that the sewn figures were much more interesting than the paintings that were being created from them, and so I abandoned painting and focused on developing my sculptures. So initially my sculptures were informed by my paintings. It took me a while to return to painting. In the last couple years I have started painting again, and now my paintings are informed by my sculptures.
printed canvas, porcupine quills
30" by 30"
OPP: What role does humor play in your work?
APS: Humor in my work is closely related to a more academic definition of comedy with origins in the theater of Ancient Greece: dramatic performances pit two societies against each other in an amusing conflict. I see this agon of comedy as a struggle between the powerless youth and societal conventions. The youth is left with few options other than to take dramatic, unconventional action.
OPP: Is youth in this metaphor the figure of the artist in general? Or is this more a representation of your personal experience? Is the “unconventional action” all art or is it specifically the kinds of unexpected juxtapositions you make it your work?
APS: I like to think that artists, musicians, actors, activists, and writers are a voice for their generation. So when I speak of the youth, I am speaking of a group that includes not only myself and artists in general but also a larger group of individuals who face similar struggles but who may not have a conventional venue to voice their views. With this in mind, "unconventional action" can range from irreverence toward medium specificity in a painting to violent revolution.
Plexiglas, paper, matte board
24" by 12"
OPP: Many of your pieces depend on convincing illusions. Burn Out (2010) and Burn Out (2011) list a smoke machine as one of the materials, leading me to believe that the Lamborghini isn’t even turned on. Disco Ball (2009) turns out to be impressively handmade with small squares of colored matte board instead of mirrors. Is illusion the point or a means to convey something else?
APS: Luckily vision often dominates the other senses, which makes visual illusion a great tool to exploit the audience's assumptions about the physical world. For me these illusions are not the point, but a way for me to skirt the normal restriction of the physical world in an attempt to convey an idea or concept that otherwise may not be possible. These illusions are not meant to be permanently deceptive, only to suspend conventional notions of time and space long enough for viewers to be intellectually transported before they have the chance to peer behind the curtain. I like to think about illusion as something that is not true or false but as an alternative experience that supplements meaning.
Fall Into The Void
Photo collage on paper
126" by 126"
OPP: In Super Fight (2010), Superman, the paragon of wholesome American masculinity, fights only himself. He is frozen in constant battle, becoming both the perpetrator and victim of violent conflict. In Fall into the Void (2011), male heads are placed on female bodies and vice versa. No one looks at all comfortable. It appears that this gender-bending is not a welcome change, but a destabilizing force that leaves all the figures struggling to find any ground to stand on. Is talking about a contemporary experiences of gender your intention with these new collage pieces?
APS: While the complex social spectrum through which sexuality is now viewed is something that I am interested in, I would like to attribute the destabilizing force in both of these works to the mounting uncertainty of our times. Both works deal with ideas of negation and arbitrariness, which can of course be applied to ideas of gender or the absence thereof. But I would like conversation to extend beyond ideas of sexual identity and gender identification to more universal concerns of disorder, entropy and cultural disarray. Fall into the Void runs visually parallel to Rodin’s Gates of Hell, which depicts the falling of the damned into an eternity of brimstone and fire. It also evokes contemporary images of well-documented, man-made catastrophes. Super Fight lends itself to notions of the utter futility of man’s endless courtship with war and conflict and our societies celebration of sensationalized violence.
Installation at Times Museum, Guangzhou, China
Preggers, Fox in Box, Crush, and Cage
OPP: Could you talk a bit about the issue of how individual pieces relate to your body of work as a whole?
APS: Because of my background in painting, I often think about these issues in a more formal sense. One of my teachers once stressed that a work (she was speaking about painting) must operate from three distances and be interesting from each perspective. These distances were from twenty feet away, from six feet away and from inches away. So from across the room a work must have something that draws you near, that compels you to look longer. Its overall composition must be stimulating in some fashion. As you draw closer to the work, details become clear. The work grows and begins to operate on another level; concept and form begin to merge. Directly in front of the painting you should become engaged with the nuances of the work that are only apparent from that perspective. These, too, add depth and understanding to the work so that, through a combination of different perspectives, a very rich appreciation can be drawn from the work. I like to think about my entire body of work in this way: from across the room (my work all together), from a few feet away (my work paired with another work or in a specific location), and from a few inches away (my work standing as an individual piece). For me each one of these hypothetical perspectives is important. If one is lacking, then the overall experience that the viewer has with my work is less rich.
OPP: What are you working on right now in your studio?
APS: Sewing together thousands of colored friendship bracelets from Guatemala. I am working on a series of tapestries. Some of the tapestries are image based while others have text formed from different organizations of colors from the bracelets. One of these texts reads, “will you marry me?”
To view more of Adam Parker Smith’s work visit adamparkersmith.com.