Interview with Curtis Gannon
January 5, 2016
BY CAROLINE STEARNS
January 15 – February 27, 2016
CS: In the works in Formulate Infinity, and in your artistic practice as a whole, you use comic books as a source of imagery. When did your interest in comic books begin and when did you start incorporating comics into your art making? Has your interest evolved during the course of your career as an artist?
CG: My interest in comic books began when I was about 8 years old. It grew significantly while I was at summer camp, where we read them avidly between activities. I first started to incorporate them into my artwork when I was in graduate school. One of my professors said that I needed to reference a language that I knew better than anybody else. The language and history of comics was something I knew intimately. Over time, my interests have shifted from different time periods in comic book history, to different artists and styles, and sometimes focusing on details like color scheme and use of line.
CS: How do you acquire the comic books that you use in your collages?
CG: All of the comic material I use in my work is composed of modern reprints. These have been digitally re-mastered with higher quality materials than found in the originals. This is especially true because much of my source material is from the 60’s – the 80’s. I also like the idea that the same material that the pieces are created with, are readily available to anyone at their local bookstore or comic book shop. This accessibility is one of the pillars of the mass media medium.
CS: You cut and layer selected portions of comic book pages to create grid-like compositions. What do you cut from the sourced imagery and what do you select to include in your compositions? There does not appear to be any reference to particular characters or story lines; however, are there particular segments of comics that you often include in your work?
CG: I try to edit out the storylines and signifiers. I don't want my work to be about certain characters or their adventures, but to reference comic books as a medium, boiling them down to their most basic and distinctive characteristics.
My work incorporates many of the signature elements of the comic book medium. Bright color, dramatic line, thought and voice bubbles, and elements from the covers or the splash pages. I also enjoy referencing distinctive comic-book iconography like capes, outlandish machinery, monsters, and science fiction elements.
CS: Do you create individual works that begin and end within the frame or do you see the works in Formulate Infinity as part of a larger narrative, analogous to the serial nature of comics?
CG: The work is based less on trying to create a certain kind of narrative, and more an effort to create a certain kind of look and overall uniformity. Where a narrative focuses on specific characters and settings, I choose to focus more on a general appearance. Having more in common with Jackson Pollock's flatbed picture plane or a Jasper Johns' alphabet painting, then a Rembrandt or a Titian.
CS: You mentioned that your work has more in common to 'flatbed picture plan,' a term coined by Leo Steinberg. Your works are not a vertical window created to view another world; rather, they are assemblages created from superimposing hand cut geometric forms. In a sense, do these works provide a window to your workbench? They are not narrative and not figurative, but a picture plane of nonrepresentational "making".
CG: These works are absolutely assemblages created from superimposing hand cut geometric forms. They are not narrative or figurative, but their design and silhouettes are influenced by patterns, motifs, and shapes found in comic book and science fiction illustration. The majority of my work begins with a small drawing or collage, which then develops during the making process. Working small initially, allows me to better understand the piece as a whole, and focus on its silhouette and color arrangements. I spin the works, approaching them from multiple sides during this process. This is augmented by the fact that I usually work in series; creating several pieces at the same time. Each work informs the one next to it, and is a product of those finished earlier in the process.
CS: As your process has a similar approach to works made by Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, your use of repetitious grid structures reference Modernist Art and geometric abstraction. Do you find this to be true? Which artists do you think have influenced this aspect of your work?
CG: My work does reference the repetitious grid structures of Modern Art and Geometric Abstraction. The idea of the flatbed picture plane, seen in work of Rauschenberg and Pollack, has been an influence on my approach for years. The composition is created on a flat surface, where the orientation of the work is often determined after it is completed. Over the past several years, I have found the compartmentalized imagery of Jasper Johns and Joaquin Torres Garcia to be an interesting correlation to comic book structure. The more geometric works by artists like Gunther Gerzso, Kandinsky, Chillida, and Soto have also had significant influence on my approach to layering and composition.
CS: By employing pages found in comic books, your work also has iterations of Pop Art. In particular, Tales of Suspense #1 and Tales of Suspense #3, have a strong reference to Pop Art. A small inclusion of what appears to be Ben-Day dots in #3, appears as if you've placed a magnifying glass to the comic book page. Is the inclusion of circles and dots in Power Signature #1 and Ripple Effect #2 inspired by this printing technique?
CG: The circles and dots in my paintings and collage works, like the Ripple Effect series, reference the ben-day dot printing technique of newspapers and early comic books. I am fascinated with the use of the ben-day dot technique ever since discovering them through the work of Roy Lichtenstein. Not only does it reference the pre-digital comics I utilize most, but it has strong ties to the color theory employed in Impressionism and the work of artists like Carlos Cruz Diaz and Joseph Albers.
CS: Can you describe the installation pieces that will be included in the exhibition? How will they be installed in the gallery? I'm particularly excited to see how you create a three-dimensional experience from a typically two-dimensional medium.
CG: The installation pieces in the exhibition will be installed in ways that suggest fragmentation and the redefining of physics. Suspended from the ceiling and away from the wall, these works create the illusion of weightlessness. The resulting visual experience shifts with the vantage point of the viewer. Defying the rules of gravity is a defining characteristic of both comic books and science fiction. By fragmenting the images into smaller, abstract components, the mind automatically searches for pattern and image to make sense of the condensed pieces of information. The installation works allude to an object that is greater than the sum of its parts.
CS: You received your MFA in painting. When did you begin creating collages? Your most recent works that are included in Formulate Infinity are acrylic on panel, or acrylic on canvas. Is your medium shifting most recently back toward painting?
CG: I began making paintings based on comic book iconography while in graduate school, and continued until moving into downtown Houston. I didn’t begin creating collages until I’d been out of Graduate school for about 3 years. I then made collages very similar to my paintings that were composed of colored paper and matte board. Around the same time, I realized the best way to dialog about the history of comic books and how they communicate, was to actually use comic book pages as the medium. I always work with reprints for quality reproductions and archival reasons. Creating new paintings that mimicked the collage process seemed to be the next logical step that was filled with interesting technical challenges. I intend to continue making paintings because it takes my work in a unique direction for exploring my subject matter, and, painting has always been my preferred form of expression.
CS: Many films have been based on comic books in the past; and recently there has been a continuation to transfer and popularize comics into a different medium: film. This change in medium has re-popularized Marvel comic's plots and characters for a new generation of fans. Both old and new mediums are results from mass-production, do you feel that the quality of the printed comic book page provides a different kind of experience for the viewer; and has this experience been lost in more contemporary modes of recreation (film)?
CG: The printed version of comic books will always be unique. Digital comics have become very popular in the last decade, and the recent success of movies based on comic books has rejuvenated the genre as a whole. I have always been drawn to the intimate experience of the printed comics. There is nothing like turning each page to continue the experience; enhanced by the smell and texture of the paper and inks. Comic books also incorporate the idea of collecting a run or series of certain titles, which I feel is lost outside of the printed edition. I don’t think anything has been lost on the new modes of recreation. The new formats now provide a greater variety for different tastes, updating the medium for new generations.