Thursday, January 3, 2013

John Phillip Abbott: Interview & Exhibition Opening

With the onset of the new year, we are excited to announce a new partnership and collaborative effort between 516 ARTS and the Inpost Artspace, so be sure to stay up to date with the exhibitions at Inpost throughout the year!

John Phillip Abbott will open The Happiness Project this Friday, January 4th (5-8p) at the Inpost Artspace (located in the Outpost Performance Space). This will be John's first solo exhibition in Albuquerque and I couldn't think of a better way to ring in the new year than with his not-to-be-missed contribution to Inpost's 2013 exhibition programming schedule. 

In advance of John's exhibition, I had the chance to interview him and ask him about his process.

The Happiness Project

Where are you from? Where did you go to school?

I was born in Wausau, WI but grew up in and around Houston, Texas for the most part. I received a BFA from Western New Mexico University in Silver City, New Mexico and a MFA from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin.

Are you a full time artist or do you have a day job(s)?

In addition to my studio practice, I teach part-time in the painting and drawing area at the University of New Mexico and work full-time as the Life Skills Academy Coordinator and Transitional Living Specialist for A New Day Youth and Family Services. New Day is wonderful agency that provides assistance to homeless youth in Albuquerque.
Salad Days
Your new work (works especially from The Happiness Project) is quite a departure from your last body of work. What prompted that shift? 

It’s hard to say really. Moving back to New Mexico was significant to me. It many ways it felt like a homecoming. My wife, Stacey Heim, and I were married ten years ago in Silver City. I would like to think there are traces of New Mexico indexed in the new work.

Was there a specific piece that was significant in terms of facilitating that breakthrough into your current body of work?

It’s been a slow process. There are insights along the way, or breakthroughs, but I saw this work unfold over a year of making more or less transitional work, research.

That'll Be The Day
People tend to think that artists are generally in control of the creation process, yet with your approach, you appear to embrace the unexpected/accidental/spontaneous and let the media and process do it's part. This suggests that your process is more of an active collaboration between you and the materials; in many ways it's got a call and response vibe going on. Would you agree?

Yes, well said.

Do you set out with a plan or idea of what you want a finished piece to look like? If so, do you ever feel like a finished piece ends up being completely different than what you had planned? Or, do feel that your process is resistant to you making precise decisions? How do you decide when a piece is finished?

This used to be something I really fought against. There is a romance associated with looking at a blank canvas, staring at it, letting it inform you of what should happen. I’ve learned that this can still happen but under more controlled settings. I can set out with a plan and often it works with a few surprises, and other times it is reworked and becomes something completely different than what was intended. There must be an element of surprise in each work for it to be successful. Sometimes this can be arrived at through very minimal means, while other times, not. It’s hard to say when a painting is finished. The painting dictates it.

Super Fun Good Times 
You primarily use spray paint; would you say that it lends itself particularly well for your process or do you/have you achieved similar results with acrylic/oil paint? 

The mark arrived through spray paint still really intrigues me. It’s really quite magical and has a history dating back to prehistoric cave painters. They would blow paint through hollow bones to  arrivie at a finely grained distribution of pigment, much like spray paint. I say it’s magical because I can’t control it and am not a skilled spray paint artist yet it yields beautiful results despite this. I’ve had similar results with paint and brush.

We particularly like the idea of painting on stretched t-shirts, what's the story behind that? 

I began thinking of canvas as a found material, leaving large sections in paintings raw. The t-shirts grew out of this idea and also became a formal way to introduce a new element in the painting that comes out of a personal context. And it’s a way of recycling old t-shirts.

Talk a little about your use of text and word. There are certain words that make repeat appearances in several paintings. Would you say that some words have a more significant meaning others? Does the "value" you give these words change over time or find that some words simply don't work as compositional material?

This comes from the same idea as the t-shirts, to arrive at formal decisions referencing personal experiences. Text acts as a grid, breaking up the picture plane and organizing space. If the words chosen have a personal significance, I find the making of the piece to be more meaningful. If I’m pulling from the memory of my first car, a Pontiac, for example, there are colors, shapes, and lines associated with the experience of this car. The word acts as an economical or direct means of capturing a memory, thought or idea. 

Black Pontiac (left) Red Pontiac (right)
The work specifically in The Happiness Project is either quite large or small. Would you say there is an optimum size that you feel your work translates itself to? 

I’m interested in the relationship between the two, big and small, and the dialogue it creates in an exhibition. Having both going on in the studio has always seemed like a healthy practice, playing with such different scales keeps me on my toes. One informs the other.

You teach painting and drawing at UNM. Is there a certain philosophy that you've found helpful that you pass on to your students? 

Yes, to maintain an openness to the possibility of what painting and drawing can be and what they, the student, are capable of producing. Keep experimenting. Be grateful for failure. Maintain a critical evaluation of your own work. Rather than providing answers, I encourage students to think critically by widening the scope of possible solutions, teaching options and nurturing individuality. The student must ultimately formulate his or her own ideas in an effort to generate imagery and working methodologies that are meaningful to them.
Grey Faded
Anything coming up exhibition-wise?  

I’ll be included in a group show in Brooklyn this summer in conjunction with Bushwick Open Studios at Parallel Art Space as well as an abstract painting show in Belgium.

From the press release:

The Inpost Artspace presents The Happiness Project, in partnership with 516 ARTS and the Harwood Art Center. Marking the first exhibition for the Inpost Artspace’s 2013 visual arts programming schedule, The Happiness Project features new work from the Albuquerque-based artist John Phillip Abbott. As an abstract painter, Abbott explores the associations that arise with text and language as a narrative building device through the spontaneous process of additive and subtractive mark making. By embracing the unexpected, his typographic meditations are at once cryptic, and yet all together familiar; His process centers on developing a visual language that operates between the space of what is read and seen. 

John Phillip Abbott lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife and two dogs. He graduated with an MFA from the University of Wisconsin in 2007. He has shown his work internationally and currently teaches painting and drawing part-time at the University of New Mexico. 

1 comment:

  1. John was recently interviewed by artist Cary Smith in NY ARTS MAGAZINE,

    Check it out:


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