Conversation with Wendy White x Pix Vää at Leo Koenig Gallery
September 11th, 2012 by Arthur Peña
Wendy White’s work alludes to the human imprint on the city. Artifacts discovered on her own expeditions are recorded, and transformed. Sculptural references to urban life are seen in the application of store front signage and awnings which frame traces of human inhabitation – White’s painterly marks. Wendy catches up with Curbs & Stoops contributor, Arthur Peña to chat about her new Fotobild series and her relationship with the city. The Fotobilds will be showing at her solo exhibition, Pix Vää at Leo Koenig Gallery in New York.
Wendy White | Pix Vää opens Thursday, September 13, 6-8 PM at 545 West 23rd Street.
Arthur Pena: I know that previously in your work, building the frame or stretchers was important to you. now that some of that process is outsourced, what kind of relationship do you think this brings to the object on your end?
Wendy White: It was a big conceptual hurdle dealing with a fabricated element at first, but they already feel assimilated. I’m still making the canvases that the awnings are paired with, and of course painting them. For a while now I’ve considered a large part of my work to be about speed, and a fabricated element vs. painted element really extenuates that conflict. I’ve carefully orchestrated a balance between digital print and paint on canvas.
The strange thing is, when I first made the 3-stripe paintings, everyone thought I was farming them out because the wooden parts looked machined, but they were all hand constructed by me alone in my studio. With the Fotobilds, I knew that I wanted to integrate photography, and it made sense to use a real sign manufacturer since the subject matter is image and architecture. I took all the photos and manipulated them in Photoshop. They’re digitally printed but the frames themselves are welded and roped by hand, so the end result is still very personal, even if it is more of a collaboration.
AP: I really dig this outlook on the work. With your previous work, I saw your construction of the object, the building of the whole, as your way into work that was made in a hands-off way. Or I should say, presented to appear hands-off. This is in reference to the airbrush and a direct negation of ‘gesture.’ But is there “gesture” in this new work? Or are the photographs/Fotobilds the next step in the removal of your hand? The outsourced aspect could definitely point to this.
WW: A hands-off “look” was never intentional. There’s a fine line between good craftsmanship and slickness. My stuff always has evidence of the work that’s been done, so jpegs never really do me justice. I don’t sit around thinking about gesture, but I will admit that painting as a singular discipline isn’t my thing. I think of the Fotobilds as the logical next step toward a hybrid experience: painting + sculpture smashed together with buildings and streets, how it feels walking around a massive city, urban ghosts, forgotten architecture, new signs. Basically there needed to be another surface, one that I couldn’t make with painting materials, something more rooted in the urban/universal.
AP: I think it’s interesting that you mention how jpegs are functioning with the reading of your (and at this point, most peoples) work and how an audience can experience the viewing of your work. You’re right. Viewing work though jpegs is limiting, in a sense. I think this can relate to how your environment, NYC, operates as a character in your work. I remember watching Goodfellas for the first time as a kid in TX and thinking “Who are these people? Where is this happening?” The detachment of those experiences kept me at a distance from the movie. You mention “massive city, urban ghosts, forgotten architecture, new signs” and of course none of these are NYC specific but as much as this is a silly question to ask, I’m gonna ask it anyway: Could this work have been made if you were in Omaha? Do you think the universal is attainable?
WW: I guess I mean universal as in “of the world” as opposed to “of the art world.” I was spending hours pouring over the NYC municipal photo archives. I felt compelled to look at photos of real places. Art materials by themselves felt fictional. There is something infinitely profound to me about walking down a street that millions walk every day, and have walked every day for hundreds of years, then opening a door (maybe a shitty graffiti covered door, maybe a new door with handprints on the glass, either way everything everywhere in NYC has marks on it) to go into a private residence, or a restaurant – something about street level started to seem utterly important to me. We physically interact with the city’s surfaces – exteriors of buildings, bridges – primarily on street level. Everything above is so clean and intact, but only because we can’t reach it to fuck it up.
There’s no way could I make this work in Omaha (nothing against Omaha. I’ve been there and it’s cool, but I function better in urban spaces). I can’t even work in a studio with a wood floor. I feel like I’m in someone’s living room.
AP: Tell me about it! That “infinitely profound” feeling you describe is what I get when I look at the moon. I think, “That’s the same damn moon the dinosaurs looked at? WTF!” Silly I know but these things (NY streets or the moon) speak to an inherited history, embedded stories within our environment. How is the story of 11 Oliver different from the story of 197 Madison?
WW: 11 Oliver is a residential building on one of the only intact blocks in my neighborhood in Chinatown. Most of the area was torn down in the early 1930s to build my apartment complex, and in the 1960s to build the Arthur E. Smith Houses, which Robert Moses spearheaded. Outside 11 Oliver, someone built a metal wall to hide a row of garbage cans on the street. The wall constantly gets tagged and they constantly repaint it with the wrong color. I have a bunch of photos of different iterations of painting on that wall. I really liked that an unseemly wall built to hide garbage cans became an unlikely surface for painting, both the tagging and the splotchy repairs. 197 Madison is a bodega next to the East Broadway stop on the F train. It has one of those huge food picture signs that every bodega has, but this one is installed right at street level, and right at the top of the subway steps. It gets trashed. It’s dirty, torn, disgusting – but they still sell a lot of sandwiches there and they don’t replace it.