Interviewed by Luca Nino Antonucci
This interview has been pulled from SFAQ Print Issue 16.
I sat down with friend and studio mate David Bayus to talk to him about his new body of work and our recent collaboration Stroke. I guess you could call David a painter, but he is so much more than that. I would call him an esoteric cowboy with the excited demeanor of a schoolboy.
I think there is this tendency with your work to immediately ask you about process. So I wanted to ask you about the ideas behind your current body of work and sort of skate our way back to process from there. What are you doing right now?
I guess I should start out by saying that my previous work had been dealing with oil painting and photography in a very specific and deliberate way. In this new series, I am not only incorporating my drawing practice, but trying to find a way to de-territorialize and de-contextualize the medium I am using, the materials, and I am trying to play with the idea of a drawing being a still life in itself. Or better yet, how can the idea of a drawing as a poetic form become an object. And I don’t mean that in a literal sense. I mean it in a sense of space. In a sense of architecture. I find those too often be at great distances from one another. I want to speak in a poetic language that I feel is within mediums that I find relevant.
Do you think the way in which you are producing these images and what these images represent are inextricably tied together?
Absolutely. It started out with a very Zen idea, right? I decided I am going to make drawings and I am going to make paintings. They are going to be within the realms of portraiture, landscape, and still life. These are all very basic, broad ideas. I was trying to be more poetic with my language. These concepts I had developed in grad school, those ideas were coming to fulfillment, but these other ends of my practice I felt weren’t getting investigated enough. Instead I had this specificity in the process and materials, a certain set list that I had come to rely on, like so okay, I have these photo collages and I paint on top of them with oil paint and it’s this very specific process that becomes a ritual.
And people seem to fetishize that specific process and it could distance them from the work?
Yeah. And in a lot of ways that is what I was interested in. I really like to put painting in awkward positions. For this idea, I really wanted to wipe clean the slate of what is painting, what is drawing. I really wanted to reduce them down to just the word. Not the material, not the object, just the word. So I started out looking at how I could approach these subjects in multiple ways but have them operate in the same poetic space. So I developed two ideas of work. One of which I was going to be working specifically in a 3D virtual format and the other in a photographic still life format, really similar to ideas of stage production and film production. So basically, I wanted to create these two separate spaces that are trying to accomplish the same goals and have the inabilities of one inform the abilities of the other.
When I am working in a 3D format, I am building an architecture and I am building space, it’s like I’m taking a drawing and turning it into a structure. When I’m working in a photographic space, I’m thinking, how can I light and shape these things, and create these drawings and images? So everything that I can’t do in a 3D rendering I end up wanting to do in the physical photographic space and that’s how I come to my compositional decisions. Whatever I can’t do in one space, I end up wanting to do in the other. So there is a direct dialogue there.
So, would you say that the pieces end up being exemplary of both the faults and the merits of each medium?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s what I’m interested in, because that’s what we see. It’s all still paintings and drawings. The contents and the mediums change, but if anything it’s just becoming decontextualized. You never know what anything is anymore.
I think that’s a better way of saying it. And its importance is questioned too. Those areas are important for investigation because they are always the kind of awkward spaces. I was interested in the documentation of art objects as a medium for deploying paintings and drawings. That’s kind of odd. I make mock paintings and sculptures in order to make paintings and drawings. It’s weird. It’s like the art object as prop. As gesture.
Does it end up being more about the hierarchy of those things? For example with a still life, do you think historically there was a naiveté that the simple fact of arranging the fruit on the table wasn’t already a drawing, painting, or artwork?
That’s why this sort of work is in opposition to the work I was previously doing. I was investigating that sort of fetishizing thing. That is the subject. It’s like in documenting you are destroying it. What’s that story, the cartographer and the magic map, he’s trying to have a more defined map and it keeps spreading and spreading and it destroys itself because it rips and tears. In the end that energy of copying the subject ends up destroying it—because the subject is no longer relevant, because we have the painting of the object.
What do you think is left after that? How do you see this work you have made? Is it a document of the destruction?
Well, that’s a lot of what Stroke was about. It’s interesting because all the pieces we ended up using for the publication were potentially important knickknacks to a collector because they were the original pieces used in the sculpture. In another context they are garbage and get thrown away. And in another context they can be used by another artist. They can be appropriated sculptures to make new drawings, which is an odd concept for a book.
I think what’s interesting is that before we started the book there was already an exchange of materials between us. For example when I was finishing a book, I would hand you the end paper that I had used and it would turn up in a collage.
Yeah. And that’s sort of how it works. You want it to start with some grand concept but it always kind of boils down to these survival strategies that are implicit in how these methods can result in a collaboration. I think that’s the idea behind the book and it directly ties to the idea of how the brushstroke is not only an art object but a cultural object. Those became the driving questions behind the book. You’ve been playing with ideas of the book as sculpture for a long time.
Yeah, definitely. And well, that hierarchy of art object over document is something we have in common. I think it’s so interesting, having talked about your process, that you make these complex sculptures and photograph them. The objects are sort of disregarded and the image becomes the final artwork. That lends itself easily to the conversation of art object or book because the book ends up being a document to all this artwork that potentially doesn’t exist anymore. In that way, they speak back and forth to each other. Is this a catalog or is this the art object we are looking at?
I find it best in the studio to always be in a point of question and what I liked is that I didn’t know how to answer that question. The fact that the pieces are thrown away or re-used, like if someone wants to collect them like fingernails in jars or whatever, then that’s great. It’s more out of the nature of our space. The nature of production lends itself to this project. These are things that are inherent in all visual dissemination systems. You can’t get away from it, so just the idea of trying to get away from it is interesting. You are immediately in a position to immortalize the objects afterwards.
Historically, they didn’t put a rotting still life on a pedestal and have people come to see it decompose. We will remember you, still life with fruit! And we will hang this painting in memorial of you!
Do you ever feel the need to paint? In a traditional sense?
What I always found funny about previous work was that I would spend all this time painting on top of photographs, so that they became these hybrid forms. No one knew where the painting ended and the photography began, and in the end, it was bought by someone to be tucked away and probably seen by a few. So this leaves the simple fact that the broadest dissemination of the artwork is the photograph of it, not the painting itself. This leaves the conceptual dilemma that is ever increasing based on a million different issues. Developing the work to where I am now, I found liberating because I feel like I am addressing that contextual problem of painting. But in a grand scheme of things, unless you change the entire dynamic of how the capitalist structure works, painting is going to continue to be fetishized merely in terms of the singular object reigning king.
Yeah, that’s why it’s really interesting and funny to bring painting to the edition. Because the edition is like the easily traded bastard of the art world.
Yeah. It’s the baseball card dilemma. With the system we are in as long as you are dealing with the unique object you are dealing with its fetishization. What’s funny is that on the other side, information is infinite. Like with the “Internet.” And I don’t want to say Internet in quotation marks, but I guess I just did. It’s this sort of ever growing echo-chamber of art memes with no territory and you start to see irrelevance as a concept. It’s the complete opposite of a painting show in a gallery. They talk about art going online with art.com, but it’s the same thing as a traditional gallery. I’m talking about the web being in complete defiance of the ability to fetishize art, because there is no standardization for its presence.
You’re saying, creating art to live as an image and not as an object?
I think that’s really interesting, because art in some way has always been about the transfer of capital, but has always been fundamentally in contradiction of it. [Lowers voice]: “Now that you own this object, you own its inherent worth and it will appreciate in your hands instead of mine and that’s an investment.” Just like property. So it’s interesting to think about making something that escapes that system and ideally, from what I can tell from our conversation, is part of it as well. Like for example, you can buy an edition print of this object that I made, but just so you know, this object lives here and it can’t be owned.
Yeah, it’s noble to think you can make art that has no fixed position of value, but you still have to live in a world of commodity because you have to live. I see no difference between a projection of my work and a print of it. And in a way, it is the opposite of what I was doing before. It’s a non-specificity of medium. This is an attempt to work in an in-between medium. And that’s what this new body of work is and the idea of Stroke. It’s an idea that manifests in different ways and can hopefully never be tied to one.
Previous articles from SFAQ print issue 16 include: