Guest blogger, Karanina Leigh, recently conducted a fabulous interview with New York based artist, Langdon Graves. After receiving three large graphite drawings for the upcoming group exhibition Highly Contagious at Gallery Hijinks, we were all very curious to understand the concepts and motivation behind these amazing works of art.
Karanina Leigh: I find myself having a closer, more personalized relationship with the subjects in your latest drawings. What has been your primary consideration in the creation of these new works?
Langdon Graves: My work is always about the body and transformation – aging, degeneration, healing – and the role of belief in these processes. I research a lot for my work in the areas of scientific medicine and religion – two systems we’ve developed to try to understand ourselves – and it leads me down some interesting paths. For this work, I found myself seeking out origin myths and became particularly interested in superstitions & folklore, which is where much of the imagery in these drawings came from.
KL: Explain to me the involvement of animalistic imagery in these recent drawings.
LG: It started with hares. I read a North American Indian myth about a hare who tricked a woman into becoming pregnant with twins, and in anger she struck his lip and split it. There are many versions of the story, but in all of them the hare represents duality. I was already making some drawings with twins and doubled imagery, so I was attracted to these stories. The hare shows up often throughout folkloric and religious art and literature from all around the world, symbolizing fertility, lunar cycles, even the Virgin Mary. The use of animal symbolism is logical – animals are close to us in that they think and feel, but lack the consciousness to process those experiences, which puts us at a safe distance from which we can blame or worship them for our actions, appreciating them as an imperfect reflection. I started a birds series this summer, which has been fun to research.
KL: I’ve read in a recent interview that you have an interest in epigenetics and quantum physics. Can you explain to me what your relationship with these fields of study has been/is?
LG: Well, I mostly relate through endless fascination with what little I can get my head around. What these sciences represent for me is the ongoing search for truths – or the dismantling of what we thought was true – that continues to generate theories about energy, matter, higher consciousness, and how we make meaning.
I listen to the radio a lot while I draw and one of my favorite programs is To the Best of Our Knowledge, which is like a bibliography for more reading and listening. Through this program I came across the research of Bruce Lipton in the field of Epigenetics, which proposes that our genetic code is not as static as we thought, but that it’s susceptible to its environment – like we are – and that our bodies can be altered at the cellular level in reaction to changes made at other levels. What I enjoy so much about Lipton’s research is the parallel he draws between the affects on cells by their surroundings and how our bodies are affected by our day-to-day surroundings, which we create and control. One of his suppositions is that there is a measurable correlation between mind and body, which is a step into murky territory science shares with philosophy and religion. Honestly, I don’t have the right kind of brain for this stuff – it wanders too quickly. Luckily I’m in a profession that permits me to make poetry from it.
KL: How do you portray your interest in these subjects through your works, specifically in your drawings?
LG: Big ideas are fed from smaller streams and within those are the personal accounts and human factor. Though I want to communicate universal ideas, it’s the individual narratives that make them real. In order to relate to anything we need to be able to empathize, and I want the subjects in my drawings to deliver empathy. Art has always served as a cultural illustration, so in a way I’m contributing to the tradition of using it to externalize and objectify our beliefs and values. But beyond presenting ideas and symbols, I’m interested in applying them directly and perversely to the human body to signify the power of belief to create and alter reality.
KL: How long does it normally take you to execute a new work?
LG: Depending on the size and complexity of a drawing, it could take a week, two weeks, three… Sculpture is all over the place – I might make a piece in a week but sit on it for two months before deciding it’s done. I like to work in series, so the pieces feel more complete when they are surrounded by one another.
KL: What is the reasoning for keeping so much negative space in your drawings?
LG: The white space around the subjects in the drawings is meant to isolate them. It also creates a clinical environment for the imagery, since I often think of the subjects as patients.
KL: Have you been working with any new materials or colors lately with either your sculptures or drawings?
LG: A lot of the new work features a faded aqua green, which is a departure from my usual palette of more bodily hues – pinks, reds, beiges, yellows, whites. It’s a nice contrast. Color is powerful and conjures immediate associations, which can steer a viewer into the wrong direction. My sculptures tend to be more colorful than my drawings because there’s a good relationship between the textures and colors of the materials I work with. I use color with a lot of restraint in my drawings because it feels like a different language than the graphite. I use it when the graphite can’t communicate what I want to say.
KL: Are there any upcoming projects you are involved in that we should keep an eye out for?
LG: I’m going to be collaborating with a friend who is a product designer on a project in Sweden early next year. I like the thought of blending our two practices and playing with definitions of art, design and function. And I like Swedish meatballs.
To see more of Langdon Graves work please join us for the opening reception of Highly Contagious at Gallery Hijinks this Saturday, September 18th 2010 from 6-10pm.