Lover’s Lane, 2013, oil and enamel on canvas, 95″x70″
Once again, I am late getting this interview up. Russell Shoemaker’s exhibit, “Cosmic Joke” just closed at the Late Show Gallery in Kansas City. It was a really, truly exciting exhibit, and I think, even though not on view any more, worth sharing with the world. So here is a short Q & A that Russell was kind enough to do for us. For those wanting more, here are links to Russell Shoemaker‘s website and some words on and by Russell from Two Coats of Paint.
Please give our readers a little bit of information about yourself (upbringing, education, location, news, etc.):
I grew up all over the Midwest, started out interested in biology and on a whim made the switch to art. I did my BFA at the Kansas City Art Institute, then immediately went to California College of the Arts for my MFA. CCA was a fantastic program – but art school costs a small fortune – so I dropped out to save some money and recently finished my MFA at University of Connecticut.
Right now I’m in the process of relocating to California – somewhere outside the Los Angeles gravitational pull.
Many of us don’t grow up with painting and art as part of our daily life, our routes into the fine arts are circuitous. Was that your experience? How and when did you say, ‘I’m going to do this’?
My path wasn’t direct at all. I didn’t grow up with art in my home, I was always drawing as a kid but was never introduced to fine art. I went to community college when I realized I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into biology – I had a couple of great professors there and they really stimulated my interest in contemporary art. At first I naively thought I could just be an art professor and easily support myself on that. It kind of hijacked my life immediately.
Rock Game, 2013, oil, acrylic and enamel on canvas, 60″x42″
What is a day in the studio like for you?
I like to arrive early, usually make myself a juice and a coffee in the morning put on some podcast or audio books and get to cleaning the studio up. I’ll take some time to just sit and look at the work, then as the day progresses I switch to music and start painting. Usually the last few hours are the most productive. Then I leave the mess to clean up in the morning.
Are you an improviser?
I’m half improviser half control freak. To start I’m very loose, I like to throw paint around, spill it, spray it, etc. Then after I come across something barebones that I like I’ll take photos and start to structure a composition on the canvas from videos and photographs on photoshop and begin to paint from that. Then ultimately that changes through improvising. I use a lot of paper cut outs and drawing while painting when I make changes as well – so it feels like my process is always oscillating between control, accidents, and momentary decisions.
Tell us about one useful thing you were taught or told.
Always look for quality, define it for yourself, seek it out, and hone in on it.
What is the fun part?
That gnawing question that can keep you up at night – what’s next? But also my art is very reliant on outside experience, so really just living – experiencing places with friends. I love to explore, and luckily right now thats linked to my work. All that and painting gradations, I love color.
Dead, 2012, oil on canvas, 22″x29″
What are you getting better at?
Knowing when to have restraint, when to be lax, and when to be controlling.
How important is accuracy in painting? What does the phrase ‘get it right’ mean for you?
I had a professor tell me once that I just needed to make fifty of the same painting so that I could get it right, and every time I hear the phrase ‘get it right’ I think of that. I disagree entirely, while I’m bound to repeat myself, especially since art making is an excavation process, I like to have works with slight variety that can have a conversation with one another.
Getting something ‘Right’ to me is treating each painting from an individual standpoint. Sometimes I think that treating the painting like it has a genetic code and I’m just trying there to push it where it needs to go. That may sound overwrought, but my worst paintings are the paintings I force my will onto, instead of listening, looking, and guiding it. Clearly that doesn’t mean I have no control over where the painting goes – I do -it’s what I’m creating. But it’s hard enough to even know myself fully let alone what I create, thats getting it right to me.
House, 2012, oil and spraypaint on canvas, 47″x72″
What are you looking at lately? What are you listening to? What are you reading?
I’ve been pacing myself when I look at nature lately, as a resistance to the visually consuming individual I’ve become. It’s so easy to just look at art, look at pictures and places on google and just flip through images so quickly. I worked for a curator and in New York we would just run through galleries seeking something that would hold our attention longer than a few seconds. I’ve been focusing on holding my attention longer, even if that means just sixty seconds. What I’ve found is that there is a second wind where what you’re looking at becomes interesting again.
Podcasts have become more a part of my daily routine. Interview Podcasts like You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes are strangely relatable to art making, they are all interviews with creative types talking about their lives, beliefs, their creative pursuits. Weird is very hilarious and entertaining.
As far as music it’s all over the map, It’s important for me to have my music match my studio mood, if I’m getting careless I need to listen to something smoother, if I’m in a lull I need to switch it up to something loud or energetic.
Usually I’m big on popular science books. Right now I’m reading a great thrift store find – a 1970s Readers Digest guidebook Scenic Wonders of America. I’m finally getting around to The Shape of Content and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, both have been stellar. Before that I was making my way through some James Elkins books and articles.
We always ask artists about these three things–reading, listening, looking at. I wonder is there anything else we should be asking about that would talk more about your creative activity: What are you eating? Where’s the best place for coffee around there? Do you ever see deer in your yard? etc. etc.—-Is there anything else we ought to be asking you about?
It sounds kind of cliche but being in nature has been the biggest and most important change in my practice. Hiking has become very important to me lately. Last summer I took a travel grant and used it to tour the national park circuit. And a bunch of national forests and state parks, as well as road less traveled type places.
For coffee in Connecticut I would go to Middle Ground Cafe in Stafford Springs, if you ever find yourself in eastern Connecticut it’s one of the few safe havens from Dunkin Donuts. In Kansas City I go to the Filling Station, mostly for the juice. I like a dark dark chocolate. That Mast Brothers chocolate is pretty great.
While I lived in Connecticut I would see deer pretty much every day, as well as Coyotes, Foxes, Owls, wild turkeys, barn cats, I’ve never lived so rurally – it was pretty great.
Thank you, Russell.