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Gavin's Underground

December Gallery Stroll: Marc Bradley Johnson & Chris Purdie

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2009-12-07 -

Back out onto the stroll we go, a couple weeks early for the holidays and just a few hours before the snow hit. You wanna reference perfect timing, that's about as best as it could get. With most every gallery showing something the focus came about on a number of topics to close out the year. The Christmas displays and sales, crafts galore, not to mention the last showing for Signed & Numbered on Broadway, but we'll discuss that more next month.

The month we head over to the Rio Gallery for a unique dual showing of single pieces from two of Utah County's finest entitled "Admission." Featuring the ever interactive designs of Marc Bradley Johnson, and the experimental sensory works of Chris Purdie. I got a chance to chat with both men about their work and the night's displays, as well as thoughts on the local art scene. Plus pictures of the show for you to view over here.

Marc Bradley Johnson

http://marcbradleyjohnson.blogspot.com/

Gavin: Hey Marc! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Marc: I'm a BFA student on the verge of graduating from BYU, and I frankly like making stuff. I love Utah--the rocks, the mountains, the hotsprings, the snow, it's grand.

Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Marc: Art was my first true love, specifically clay. The idea of being able to get filthy with it for a living was so enticing. I still hold that sticking your entire arm into a bucket of clay slurry is one of the sexiest experiences ever. My mentors and teachers all the way from high school through BYU, provided space and tools and means for me to make what I want. And I have supportive, if not exactly thrilled parents.

Gavin: Did you seek out any education in art, either occasional or college?

Marc: After my first ceramics class in high school, it was all over, I took as many art classes as possible. I attended a community college in Washington and lived in the ceramic studio. I'm graduating from Brigham Young University with a BFA. It has been a really complicated, but very positive experience. BYU provides amazing opportunities for it's students. Part of my art education included living in India for four month periods. Amazing! Being a church school, there are definitely restrictions that happen in art--but I think learning to operate under regulations has helped me grow as an artist, and I'm excited for what my art will be like without those restrictions.

Gavin: What brought about the idea to do more interactive pieces?

Marc: It's what I think art should be about. Every time I encounter a big Richard Serra piece, where you're walking in slot canyons made from three inch thick steel held at precarious angles, it's a spiritual experience. I'm more interested in art that is about more than looking, where the relationship between the piece and the viewer is significant.

Gavin: What's the thought process for you when coming up with an idea for a piece?

Marc: I like to think being an artist is a lifestyle, not just a profession. What I'm reading, where I'm working, what I'm watching, who I'm talking to, the places I'm in, these are all factors into coming up with pieces. This particular piece stems from Antonio Gramsci's thoughts on Hegemony, and discussions about ideas of limitless possibilities.

Gavin: Is there ever a set plan as to how it will come out, or is it more spontaneous until the very end?

Marc: There's lots of planning, but there is a lot that doesn't work out. I think successful pieces require both. I'm not a carpenter, nor a woodworker, so I need to be able to improvise when trying to be both, like in this piece.

Gavin: A bit on some of your pieces, what was the idea behind the “Fungus” piece you had shown in places around Provo?

Marc: That installation was about creating unnatural naturalness. BYU is like a Disneyland campus--it's beautiful and enticing because of it's ridiculous amount of trees, grass, and flowers which bloom all year long, but come to find out, we live in a dessert. Organic material isn't necessarily natural. So this was about making forms which mimic that process--hundreds of fleeting fungus forms which are made out of an incredibly permanent material-ceramic.

Gavin: For the "Walk" display, what was the inspiration to that one and how did you go about choosing photographs for it?

Marc: "Walk" was about questioning original experiences. I spent four months in India living in Tibetan settlements, and every day I collected ten photographs, sketches, and a journal of my experiences. When I got back, I put them in a gallery so others could experience my experience--but they had to walk on them to do it. When we experience something that another person has experienced, it goes through a summary process--and therefore our experience is the summary, the copy. It's interesting to me to think about only ever experiencing copies, and how that affects the idea of an individual or original experience.

Gavin: Tell us about the piece you have on display for Stroll, and why choose to show along side Chris at the Rio Gallery?

Marc: Antonio Gramsci talked about hegemony, about structures within society, and how these structures allow very rigid, strict adherence to certain choices--how you can educate yourself, what kind of job you can have, what a family can look like, how you can find meaning--all of these things are cultural structures. I feel like the structures in my life have led me to want a life which is limitless. When you walk inside my piece you are presented with only options- there is no ceiling or floor, or even walls, because these are all navigable. But at the same time, these options exist because a structure supports them--you can't go through a door without a doorway. So this is a play between a space of only options-and the restriction associated with a choice. Chris and I have been friends for a while, and our concepts and pieces fit really well together. Both are about the idea of Admission; acknowledging truth, and accessing possibilities. How poetic.

Gavin: Moving to local for a bit, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Marc: I think there's exciting things going on.
Jeff Lambson is going to bring great things to the MOA. I'm a bit of a biased source, but the CUAC is a really exciting space. Big artists, cool art, great curator, great board, what more could you ask for? As for the bad--there's not enough, especially in the contemporary scene. With Park City, with Sundance, with the outdoor Mecca that Utah presents, there are plenty of draws to this place, why not make art another one?

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Marc: Let's keep pushing for contemporary shows and artists to come here. Micol Hebron was just at the CUAC, and she's an artist who's been exhibited in really prominent places in LA. Jeff Lampson is bringing big artists to the MOA--these are the shows that need to be funded and pushed.

Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and how its evolved over the years?

Marc: It's grand. Who doesn't enjoy black shirts, cheese platters, art and Martinellis/Vino? Seeing as this will be my livelihood, I love when people are interacting with art. It's great when art is available and accessible.

Gavin: What can we expect from you going into next year?

Marc: I'll be making stuff. I have a few projects that involve the Salt Flats, some video pieces, and most definitely some more door sculptures.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Marc: The CUAC. It's an excellent space with excellent art. Ephraim is a drive from Salt Lake, but if you're interested in contemporary art in Utah, it's the place to go. And Gouda from Costco. It's great cheese.



Chris Purdie

http://cargocollective.com/chrispurdie

Gavin: Hey Chris, first thing, tell us a bit about yourself.

Chris: I was born in Salt Lake City and I grew up in Pleasant Grove, Utah. I have been creating art as long as I can remember. Before a more serious pursuit of art I was involved in music. The experiences I gained as a musician and live-performer increased my creative capacity. My work seeks to capture the energy found in live musical performance by using light, sound, and performance as a medium. After graduating from Utah Valley University I transferred to Brigham Young University where I will be receiving my BFA. After graduate school I plan to establish a professional studio practice and teach art at the university level. I currently live and work in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Chris: I received encouragement to pursue art when I was younger because I enjoyed doing any creative activity. My father played the drums in high school, so we had them around when I was growing up. He is an actor, so I am constantly in those settings. My mother was a dancer and is still a hair stylist. I feel there was a good creative energy in our home which inspired me toward my current endeavors. Skateboarding and music were the real catalysts solidifying my current course. Skateboard graphics and album artwork are still the strongest influences in my mind. Maybe that is why my early paintings had a strong pop-art feel. The paintings of Mark Rothko captured the feeling of much of the music I was into in the early nineties so I was drawn to that type of color field, abstraction. Later I found a connection with the mediums and power of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Still the largest, constant influence of my work is the energy found in music, especially the work of Rick Froberg of Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, and the Obits; and Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips.

Gavin: You first graduated from Utah Valley University. Why did you choose UVU and how was their program for you there?

Chris: Mainly proximity to family and friends. UVU provided me with a lot of opportunities. There was enough freedom for me to explore mediums and exhibit my work so I could build my portfolio and resume. Perry Stewart and Hyunmee Lee were very encouraging. Hyunmee taught me a lot about creating art and the activities of being a professional artist.

Gavin: You're currently attending BYU, what led you to choose the Y after already having gone to UVU?

Chris: Again proximity, but I had a group of friends attending BYU and I liked their work, so I researched BYU’s professors and was impressed with their work as well. The funny part is that I transferred into sculpture from painting and did not end up working with many of the 2-D professors I had researched. Brian Christensen has been a very good adviser, giving me enough freedom to continue my exploratory ventures.

Gavin: The majority of your pieces follow more of an interactive experience as opposed to just a display. What inspired you to take your art in that direction?

Chris: I struggled with the idea of selling paintings and becoming a professional artist. I found that art does not sell very well in Utah. Although that was discouraging, it liberated me and motivated me to move into a new realm of work and exhibiting. I thought, “If my work is not going to sell then I am going to make works that cannot be sold, and just enjoy art!” I then struggled with the idea of making objects. I enjoyed experimenting with materials and techniques, exploring processes and systems, but I was more concerned with concepts and ideas. Static objects generating a passive experience were not generating the type of activity I desired. I returned in a lot of ways to my musical/live performer background to draw on the successes I had in that arena. I found that music contained the type of energy and experience I was trying to capture in the visual realm. I started using lights, performance, and sound as mediums and viewed the gallery more as a stage. My work also started examining and critiquing the gallery viewing experience and traditions within the art world such as artist’s receptions, artist’s lectures/presentations, the sanctity of the gallery, how and where art is displayed, etc. I am aware that other artists in art history have addressed a lot of this, but Utah still holds many traditions and stereotypes that are fun to explore. At this transition point my work took on a more performative element and focused on the audience. I felt my responsibility as the artist was to “set the stage” and let the audience become the performer. This is what the Minimalist’s were exploring, which Michael Fried criticized, and what performance art, video art, sound art (new media) are now perpetuating. These works are interacting with the viewer in the viewer’s space. Some people don’t like it because they are familiar and comfortable with traditional art forms and they appreciate the boundaries. Art has had to become more assertive so as to keep up with all of the other entertaining/distracting influences around us. I do not mean to say that traditional art is dead, it is very much alive, and that is good. I believe there is a place for everything and new forms are carving out new places for art to act.

Gavin: What's the thought process for you when coming up with an idea for a piece?

Chris: I start with a problem, a word, or an object and explore the possibilities. An example of one such piece is "The Speaker’s Suit." During "I Am Chris Purdie" I had the opportunity of presenting at UVU and BYU as part of their visual arts lecture series. The idea of getting up in front of a bunch of people was paralyzing, so this was the problem I was working with. The word “speaker” contains a double meaning, an object or a person. For the UVU presentation I broke down the situation into manageable elements. What was necessary? A speaker and a presentation (i.e. a performance). Since
"I Am Chris Purdie" was about the audience and the performers I brought a panel of five “Chris’s” to speak and interact with the audience and I made and wore a suit of 22 speakers. The microphones were all connected to "The Speaker’s Suit", so when the panel spoke their words were amplified through the suit—the panel spoke but I was the speaker. The current exhibition "Admission" is also about setting the stage with speakers, sound, and a concept and letting the audience enter the stage and interact with the work.

Gavin: Considering how intricate some of your works are, how long does it take to go from planning to finished? And do they ever come out the way you plan or is there a lot of last minute changes that go on?

Chris: On average the execution of the work, or the installation in most cases, takes approximately forty hours. The planning stage is almost impossible to really say. I am thinking of these things all of the time. As far as the piece at the Rio Gallery, "The Speakers (Voice Box)"
started about thirteen years ago. My employers were throwing a bunch of speakers away so I started collecting them with the intent of creating some sound paintings. This piece specifically started a year ago when I applied for a grant from BYU’s Office of Research and Creative Activities, which partially funded the project. It took approximately eighty hours to construct in my studio, then another fifty plus hours to deconstruct, transport, and reconstruct in the gallery (I really hope people will go experience it after all that work). My smaller projects like the lamp installations take approximately forty hours to plan and install. How they turn out depends on how much time I have and if they are built on or off site.
"The Speakers (Voice Box)" was particularly difficult because it went against my nature. I have a tendency to think everything to death. I struggled for a month thinking about how I could get all the speakers to go together correctly to form a six-foot cube. I finally realized it was all about hands on play; I just needed to work it out instead of thinking it out. Every time I entered my studio I experienced the same anxiety and paradigm shift before starting to work. This is what I like about using a fixed medium though; the art is in the object. When a person sees an intricate arrangement of lamps or a uniform stack of speakers they are familiar with the objects and instantly know what was involved in creating the art. Like the work of Allan Kaprow and John Cage I enjoy the randomness of working within a preset system. So no they do not always come out the way I plan, but that is how I plan them.

Gavin: How do people usually react to the pieces when they're fully displayed and working?

Chris: I like to believe they enjoy them on an aesthetic and conceptual level. I try to create things that draw people in then provide more details according to how far in they are willing to go.

Gavin: The most prominent one this year I can think of was “I Am Chris Purdie” at Sego. How did you go about picking the people involved with that, and how was the interaction between the patrons and the other “Chris Purdie's”?

Chris: That whole project was so involved and difficult—I am still recovering. I started out with the intent of only having actors and actresses in the cast. Partially to meet grant requirements but also to work with people I did not know and who did not know me, to fully illustrate the impact we have on people. Auditions only brought twelve people so I turned to recruiting, which produced a diverse cast and a more rich performance I feel. I felt that the performance was a success. I was not sure from the beginning that we would have enough people attend, the audience being a key element to this performance. I had predicted that each audience member would stay for about 20 minutes and would interact with about five “Chris’s.” I was pleasantly surprised when we had a large turn out and many people stayed for hours. Overall there was a very good mix of responses. They ranged from angry to elated and uncomfortable to assimilated. I am excited to announce that many of the details of this performance will be explained in a ten-minute documentary Judy Simmons and myself are finishing this month.

Gavin: You also dabble a bit in local music. What projects do you have going on at the moment, and how do you relate that to some of the artwork you do?

Chris: I have been playing the drums since I was fourteen and in that time I have played in over twenty-five bands. My experiences with writing, recording, and performing are a large influence and foundation for all that I am currently doing. Music along with my fifteen plus years of skateboarding makes up a lot of my attitude and approach toward art. The speakers projects more than any of my work is tied to my music experience. I am working for a healthy balance of music and art; most of my future projects involve the gallery as well as the music venue. I am currently working with some local musicians (Chad Reynolds, Joscef Castor, Scott Shepard and others) to enhance the live performance experience in clubs. My last music venture was this summer with the Electoral College. Unfortunately I broke my shoulder skateboarding the day before we were going into the studio to record (these songs are featured on the documentary), so I will be finishing the drum tracks in January.

Gavin: Tell us about the piece you have on display for Stroll, and why you choose to show along side Marc at the Rio Gallery?

Chris: It is titled
"The Speakers (Voice Box)". It is a six-foot cube constructed of over two hundred functioning black speakers. I worked with Ned Clayton to design and manufacture a ninety-six-channel amplifier so I could send multiple sounds out of the speakers. I am working with Lance Montgomery to compose the audio portion of the exhibit. The audio is sixteen separate sounds, four coming out of each side and a mixture on the roof. The pieces origins are found in an art historical dialog between Minimalist art and the criticism of Michael Fried. The form comes from Minimalist artist Tony Smith’s sculpture "Die", a six foot, black, steel cube. The dimensions of Smith’s Die and mine correspond to those of the human body as depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's drawing, "Vitruvian Man". Both Smith and myself are interested in the ways physical objects, as well as our spatial proximity to those objects, shape our self-perception. My work contributes to this focus on self-perception by adding a new dimension—sound. I reconstructed Tony Smith’s "Die" out of black speakers and endowed the anthropomorphic cube with a voice, and by so doing seek to fill the “hollowness” of which Die was convicted by critic Michael Fried. It was the famous art critic of the 1960’s, Michael Fried who directed his criticism toward Minimalism or “literalism” as he called it. Fried did not like the “theatricality” or necessity of the viewer and thought that art should stand alone, giving to the viewer rather than taking from them. I considered this criticism and viewed the “hollowness” of "Die" as a vacuum and storehouse of human consciousness. In "The Speakers (Voice Box)" I seek to reverse this process and give back to the viewer the evidence of consciousness collected and stored within "Die". This piece blurs the line between the so-called “non-art” and “art”, “object” and “essence.” Delivering visual and aural elements simultaneously, this piece, then, both literally and theoretically delves into the phenomenological essence of man, which I take to be consciousness. Marc and I are friends attending BYU. I saw Marc’s piece displayed on campus and loved it. I saw similarities in our concepts, mediums, and methods of display and thought he would be the right person to do this show with.

Gavin: Moving to local for a bit, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Chris: It is easy to be pessimistic about the amount of support for and participation in the visual arts in Utah. It could be worse. Utah has many benefits and artists make some sacrifices to receive the benefits of living here.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Chris: I am seeing more coordinated efforts to build the arts. If we can continue to work together and be more supportive and respectful of all the different forms and styles we would see a more stable art scene. More stability will bring growth—a success for one is a success for all.

Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and how its evolved over the years?

Chris: I don’t think I am aware of the evolution enough to comment. I am happy that there is a Gallery Stroll and that people are working so hard to encourage participation and support in the arts. I hope to find a place where I can contribute more.

Gavin: What can we expect from you going into next year?

Chris: My first order of business is to apply to graduate schools. Beyond that I am looking for a gallery to exhibit my next sound installation. The next planned art projects on my agenda are some musical/art collaborations—more information to be announced on my blog.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Chris: I think I have done enough of that. Thanks for this time to talk and thanks for your concern and support for the arts.

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