OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews John Espinosa

Resin, foam, brass tubes, plaster, acrylic, birch, mdf32" x 48" x 48"

JOHN ESPINOSA's practice is a balance of object making and conceptual interventions. His sculptures make use of the poetry of physics to investigate the mechanics of how the world works and what it means. John received his MFA from Yale University’s School of Art in 2001 and has mounted solo exhibitions at Sandroni Rey Gallery (Los Angeles), Fredric Snitzer Gallery (Miami), The Museum of Contemporary Art (Miami) and, most recently, Charest-Weinberg Gallery (Miami). His work is in numerous public and private collections including the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art (New York), The Miami Art Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art (Miami) and The New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York). In September of 2013, he will launch Agency, a hybrid artist-run project space/commercial gallery in West Hollywood. John lives and works in Los Angeles.

Can you define some of the consistent conceptual threads that run through the span of your practice?

John Espinosa: The base element or condition in my work is a type of turbulence that occurs in the natural flow of human knowledge. That flow could be related to time or matter. It could be a chronological, vertical circulation through human generations or a horizontal seepage that filters and spreads through the beings and artifacts at a single point in time. The distortion of the flow is often related to human interpretation or misinterpretation, and the turbulence becomes heightened around the abstract or the incomplete.

My projects often harvest and diagram these naturally occurring abstractions. In other instances, they function like a vector or a by-product of cross-contaminated reference points that I find or create myself. Multiple narratives or concepts often overlap or bleed into each other and mutate into something else altogether.

The way the morning broke was quite unusual
Kool Aid, memory foam dyed with UV sensitive acryllics, and black dye, water pump, pipe, fiberglass, wood, polyurethane, acrylic tanks

OPP: Several sculptures involve the seeping of liquid out of a vessel, leaving behind a colored stain or residue. One example is The ones you see and the ones you don’t (2006), in which blue and green paint corresponding to David Bowie’s famously mismatched iris coloration leak out the back of a sphere embedded with the inverted image of his face, leaving a permanent stain on the wood base. Another is The way the morning broke was quite unusual (2010), in which Kool-Aid is pumped up through the center of the sculpture, eventually soaking back down through layers of dyed memory foam, staining them like a sunrise. What else do these pieces have in common?

JE: The staining in both pieces is a kind of residue, and both contain embedded references related to the human impulse to worship.

I used Kool-Aid in The way the morning broke was quite unusual to refer to the Jonestown Massacre, when hundreds of followers of self-proclaimed messiah Jim Jones committed mass suicide by ingesting cyanide via the grape flavored drink. I wanted the fluid to seep through an object that had both chronological (time) and geological (earth) characteristics. The staining maps the circulation of this charged fluid through these terrestrial and chronological formations.

The ones you see and the ones you donʼt conflates David Bowie’s heterochromia with the claimed phenomenon of the miraculous weeping idol—most often it is a statue of the Virgin Mary that cries tears of blood. This piece is an inverted statue of a pop idol that sheds miraculous tears according to the color pigmentation of his eyes. While researching weeping idols, I came across the term “false idols,” which implied a sort of void physicality to me. The ones you see and the ones you don’t inverts the way idols are typically represented as three-dimensional statues. The material presence of the sculpture is embodied in the negative space, in what is normally not there. So the orb is a kind of solidified aura, and the tear stains and gold mark are a residue. It’s like when you peel a sticker off of something and parts of the paper and adhesive stay behind.

Reference images from John's research

Are you thinking about the residue metaphorically or metaphysically?

JE: Residue implies the existence of a previous presence or activity. When it is contextualized in certain ways, its meaning can leap from the physical, matter-of-fact to the metaphysical. In The ones you see and the ones you donʼt and The way the morning broke was quite unusual, the residue is both a literal trace and a symbol for all the extracurricular connotations it drags into the object.

OPP: Your 2009 piece Remote Viewing addresses this idea, too. You describe it as "an object of undisclosed materials and dimensions set in the Florida wilderness," but really the piece is the conceptual framework you set up:

In late 2009, Fountainhead Residency program in South Florida, I acquired a plot of remote undeveloped land deep in the Florida wilderness. Over the following months, I installed a sculpture made specifically for that land. The only visual documentation of that object exists as a video that is similarly placed at an undisclosed location on the internet. Both the real object and its virtual counterpart visible only by chance encounter.
Has anyone ever found the real object or virtual documentation? Do you have a secret hope that someone will find it, or is it truly unimportant to the meaning of the piece?

JE: To my knowledge, no one has seen the object. Honestly, I secretly hope no one ever does because for me the most exciting element of the project is the idea of a visually anarchic condition in which an object can exist with infinite potential visualizations. But, I do love imagining its discovery as it allows me to partially experience what it might be like for others to hear about this project for the first time. That moment, when each person constructs their own unique image in their head, is to me the most interesting sculptural aspect of this project.

An Infinite Collapse
Fifty gallons of saltwater harvested from the Bermuda Triangle, hermetically sealed inside a tank made of marine grade aluminum and interior lined with pvc. The exterior of the tank is airbrushed with Wildfire UV sensitive acrylics and Rosco super-saturated flat black scenic paint.
24" x 74" x 36"

OPP: Your 2011 exhibition The Forest (Glass Delusion) at Charest-Weinberg Gallery in Miami grew out of an unexpected discovery in your studio. What did you find and how did it lead to the plexiglass sculptures called Mirage Artifacts?

JE: In 2008, I moved into a new studio space in the Glendale area of Los Angeles. A few months in, I decided to remove a built-in shelf that was eating up useful space. As I removed the shelf, the drywall behind it, which was old and rotting, quickly started to crumble apart, revealing the wall behind it. To my surprise I unearthed this really beautiful, enigmatic drawing. At first, I just thought that it was a plumbing or electrical diagram. But as I pulled down more of the rotting drywall, more drawings appeared and these had figurative elements—an eye and a head—incorporated into the abstract, linear diagram. I knew immediately that this would be source material for a future project. So, I documented the diagrams, and then covered them back up with drywall. Then a few months later, I began a series of projects that were based directly on interpretations of the five diagrams that I discovered. 

The first of these projects was the group of plexiglass sculptures called Mirage Artifacts (2011). The linear pattern of one of the found wall drawings was used as a footprint to determine the translucent plastic’s three-dimensional shape in each sculpture. That found wall drawing had three distinct types of lines, each of which I extracted and isolated from the other two. By layering them in different orders and intuitively building out three dimensionally from those patterns, each of the six Mirage Artifacts has a unique form. But if you look through the form, the translucency of the object allows you to still see the original pattern of the found drawing; only exploded out in three dimensions.

OPP: Have you executed any other of your planned projects based on the other diagrams?

JE: In June 2013 at Carter & Citizen in LA, I presented a new sculpture based on one of the drawings. Recently, I discovered the history of two of the prior tenants of my address. A jewelry maker used the space for 15 years, and an artist used it prior to him. So it is very possible that either of these two people made the marks—or a random worker could just as easily have made the marks during the construction of the structure. This new sculpture takes this history into consideration.

The Forest (Glass Delusion)
Installation shot

OPP: You've recently opened a brand new gallery called Agency in West Hollywood. You are familiar with the site inside the Pacific Design Center, a luxury mall focused on high-end design objects because you co-ran a hybrid artist run project space/commercial gallery called Wharton + Espinosa from 2012-2013. How will Agency be different than Wharton + Espinosa? Tell us about your inaugural exhibition.

JE: The impulse remains the same. Agency is an artist-run contemporary art gallery. The goal is to develop a quality sustainable program and enduring relationships with represented artists, all without giving up my own artistic project and aspirations.

In September, Agency will launch with solo exhibitions by Brendan Threadgill and Nicolau Vergueiro.

Brendan will present a new series of drawings made with layers of powdered uranium ore and graphite. These Uranium Drawings reference atomic diagrams and nuclear blast patterns. They integrate a mixture of Medieval and contemporary concepts of astronomy and physics with allusions to esoteric and spiritualist iconography. These works are largely inspired by the cultural and economic history of Southern California, where abundant yoga studios and ashrams reside in concert with defense contractors, military think tanks and weapons testing ranges. This apparent contradiction has been a part of the fabric of Southern California for over a hundred years and forms what Brendan calls the "military-meditative complex."

Nicolauʼs new works situate charged imagery in an uncomfortable relationship with the decorative. Over the past year, he has been embedding found newspaper images into poured latex to create synthetic, tapestry-like objects that drape and hang off of cast aluminum armatures. The technical process renders the complicated content of the images undecipherable and embeds it deep into the material subconscious of the object. Other works integrate fabrics printed with equally charged images, such as that of a stealth bomber, reduced and repeated so that it disappears into the cloth as pattern. The effect is of an uneasy familiarity or subconscious level form of recognition.

OPP: How did co-running Wharton + Espinosa affect your studio practice over the last year?

JE: I had  to make decisions much more quickly, and I was forced to disengage from the studio for long periods of time. In the past, my decision-making process was methodical and filled with many trial and error stages. I never really disconnected from my work because, with the exception of grad school, I have had a live/work space since I first started to make art. Over the last year, I spent the least amount of time ever in the studio. But simultaneously—other than my two years at Yale—I experienced the largest number of daily interactions with others about ideas and art. At the gallery, I had to engage on a regular basis in those discussions with people who have varying levels of expertise. That was great. It led me naturally to rethink and reconsider things that I had previously been doing on automatic pilot. That change, along with the alteration of decision making speed, were two of the key factors that I wanted to affect my studio practice when I considered my decision to open a gallery. But the ultimate effect on my work? We'll have to wait and see.  

To view more of John's work, please visit john-espinosa.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Right Here, Right Now (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.