Hoodwinked: An Interview with Jonathan Hartshorn
In his recently opened exhibition hoodwinked by brand impersonators, malicious account spoofers and counterfeiters in the Roberts & Tilton Project Room in Culver City, CA, Albuquerque-based artist Jonathan Hartshorn's latest body of work references a variety of subject matter including Susan Rothenberg, Eadweard Muybridge and the boomerang. After a recent studio visit, we had the opportunity to discuss his new work and some of the other many aspects that make up his practice. – Claude Smith, Albuquerque/Santa Fe Contributor
Claude Smith: You recently opened hoodwinked by brand impersonators, malicious account spoofers and counterfeiters at Roberts & Tilton in Culver City. First off, tell me a little about the title–where does it come from?
Jonathan Hartshorn: I lifted the title directly from the subject heading of a spam email I received almost a year ago. For my purpose, the phrase exaggerates the theory of art and artist as brand. The tone/rhythm of the title is indicative of the current rollercoaster silliness surrounding market/brand speculation in abstract painting.
CS: The work in this exhibition seems to incorporate many aspects of your diverse practice, but perhaps most interestingly, your work seems to have undergone a shift towards painting-as-sculpture in the form of combine-type amalgams. How did that evolution happen?
JH: My initial plan was to get 1” x 2” boards to make stretchers/supports for the canvas panels. That same day we were also trying to get rid of a baby crib we never used and which was taking up space. I found out the crib had been recalled. Instead of throwing the crib out, I thought to take and use the material for stretchers rather than buy more wood. The paintings on panels came first. These paintings sat around until I knew how to deal with the baby crib as stretchers. In many ways, the sculptural elements are my instinctual reconfiguration on how I was first shown to make a proper stretcher.
Jonathan Hartshorn | guy 1976 & girl 1979 & girl 1983 & girl 1988 & girl 1989, 2013-2014; mixed media assemblage, 32 x 26.75 inches; Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California
CS: You work in a library at the University of New Mexico and obviously have access to all sorts of amazing books and source materials. To elaborate on what the press release states that the exhibition will, “explore concepts of kitsch and myth” what kinds of sources are you drawing from?
JH: Much of the press release happened with luck. I suggested starting the press release with a story that never made it in. Instead of being upset, I let it go. The resulting document consists of a poem I wrote attached to text compiled by the gallery based on my CV and our email conversations. Press releases can be extremely didactic and misleading. Seemingly problematic, our choosing to use kitsch and myth to describe the conceptual beginnings of the work is grounded. By demographic and stereotype, I am a Southwest artist. With this said I would never show this work in New Mexico. The irony attached would be lost in the mythos and kitsch of Santa Fe.
Part of my practice has always involved frequenting libraries and working in libraries has been tremendously beneficial. Part of my job is to learn more about art! I spend hours with books and looking at numerous online journals and databases. Most of the source material for this show came from online journals and databases the University of New Mexico subscribes to. My recent research has been dealing with the tourist art of indigenous peoples as related to the boomerang. I am interested in drawing comparisons of function between abstract painting (past, present, and future) with the functionality of the boomerang’s iconic form within the context and framework of decoration and market. To discredit the functionality of the boomerang as a hunting tool because of market demand and the decoration applied would be similar to defining the relevance of contemporary abstract painting as signified by current styles and investment trends.
Jonathan Hartshorn | 1928, 1928, guy, guy; 1983 1983, girl, guy; 1976, 1976, girl, girl, 2014, acrylic, pen and pencil on artist board, 15.25 x 11.25 inches; Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California
CS: Having worked in the past with painting, drawing, performance, installation and even poetry, do you tend to focus on a body of work until you feel like its run its course or do you find yourself working on several things at a time?
JH: I tend to employ whatever medium is needed for the moment. I use drawing in my paintings. My initial attempt to paint can later be seen as sculpture. When trying to control access to my work as associated to venue and or city I also explore installation and performance. It is arguable which medium and artistic reasoning best defines the output/outcome but nonetheless my overall practice utilizes aspects of many different mediums.
CS: For anyone who isn’t familiar with your practice, you periodically leave paintings on the street throughout Albuquerque to be overtaken by the elements, thrown away or be picked-up by anyone who finds them. Once you even gave away an entire body of work directly off the gallery wall in during an exhibition. On one hand, these gestures make for some pretty powerful statements about the idea of art–as–currency, but you also talk about them becoming souvenirs of sorts. Can you talk a bit about this aspect of your work? What’s your ideal outcome for these pieces?
JH: I see the installations in Albuquerque as performance and installation based. My concept is to give the work a power outside of the fog and pretention of what I show in a gallery. Once the work is shown in a gallery, so much seems to be out of the artist’s hand. There is not an ideal outcome with these works. The documentation and experience of the moment are all I expect. Involving myself in such a process allows for more courage in the studio. I like playing second fiddle to the epic history of land art in the Southwest. Sometimes the work is there for days or months. The concept of my work as souvenir I feel would be more applicable to my continual showing in a commercial gallery setting, not so much with the installations made around Albuquerque. Occasionally similar work is installed at the same time but in different states of status. For example, I made four #3 dad paintings. Right now I have two #3 dad paintings in the road in Albuquerque and the other two are installed in my current show at Roberts & Tilton. Giving away an entire show in a commercial gallery gives further weight to the process. Having works installed at Feature Inc. for free when similar work was for sale at other galleries in Chelsea was curious and vital to me. This was my first exhibit in NY and it was free and without stipulation. I am not the first artist to do such exhibits but such gestures made by an emerging artist with the aid of an established gallery were very infrequent.
CS: You’ve also made a practice of showing your work (and others) in a variety of unexpected places that don’t function in the traditional sense as a gallery–like the public library or your backyard gazebo space. How do these spaces inform the ways in which you make work and approach showing it, and what happens to people’s understanding of it as the context changes?
JH: I started showing work in my gazebo two years ago. The gazebo space doesn’t have a schedule and I don’t show my work. The first gazebo show I had was with Jesse Bercowetz and the upcoming show is with my five-year-old son Liam. The shows in the gazebo and the Albuquerque public library are some of my most memorable experiences. I worked at the main branch in downtown Albuquerque for almost 2 years and being there gave me proper time to examine the exhibit space. No lie, some of the best art I have ever seen has been exhibited at the main branch of the Albuquerque public library. My thought to have exhibits at the public library was because there weren’t any dealers or curators watching or advising. There wasn’t a jury or drawn out proposal process. The viewer demographic at the public library was pretty raw and unpredictable-viewer comments for the shows were amazing! In total I had two solo shows and curated one group show at the downtown library branch. The last library show I did was Gela Patashuri in 2012. We split the month up into 2-week solo shows, allowing each of us to have the full space. This was a great opportunity for two artists to work together without any pretense of who is headlining, who is going to sell what, and what big names are going to attend the opening. From my experiences in NY and CA, the shows at the library were flops because nobody seemed to care or show up to the opening but then last year Gela was included in the 2013 Venice Biennale. Knowing that the Albuquerque public library was the first place Gela’s work was shown in New Mexico made me happy.
CS: Knowing that you’re a parent of small children what sort of impact has being a father had on your work?
JH: The impact of parenthood upon artistic practice is potentially disastrous so I try and adapt. We don’t use daycare. We both have full-time jobs. Sarah works during the morning and I work evenings. The kids are priority. Before becoming a parent, I had the luxury of working in my studio whenever I wanted. I have always had a day job but adding fatherhood has made it more difficult. There are times I just collapse in bed. Before I usually went to the studio after work, but now I am not in my studio until at least 11pm, when the kids are sleeping. I have learned to manage my time in the studio--if I am unsure of how to proceed with certain works, I just do what I already know needs to happen-- I prepare the supports/stretchers, I stretch canvas. Some nights I just work on the under painting. If I am still lost as to what to do, I might clean, read, or look at art online.
CS: As a student at SVA you became close with Hudson at Feature Inc. who became one of the first people to show your work. What sort of influence did he have on you?
JH: This is a hard question and maybe impossible to really answer. There are so many who love and will miss Hudson. My stories of Hudson are no different than the others. I started emailing Feature Inc. in 2006. Hudson replied with more love than I could handle. I felt overwhelmed by the love, guidance, and wisdom from Hudson. The first week I arrived in NY, Hudson fed me, helped me find a place to live, and gave me my first show outside of Albuquerque. Nothing I have as an artist today would be if it weren’t for Hudson. When he died, I felt this amazing energy continually pass through me. The previous sentence sounds cheesy but Hudson was like no other and I feel he was not human so words really won’t apply here anyway.
CS: After graduating, you left New York and moved back to New Mexico. How has living in Albuquerque informed your practice?
JH: Every artist has to find a place that is best for them and their work. I found out early on that it wouldn’t be possible for me to make the work I needed to make while living in NY. Making and showing work in NY seems rather boring to me. I love visiting family in Brooklyn or Manhattan. I love seeing and showing work there but I couldn’t live and make art there. There is a certain currency associated with being a NY artist that I find distracting and disruptive.
Jonathan Hartshorn is a graduate of both The University of New Mexico (BFA), and The School of Visual Arts, New York (MFA). Solo exhibitions include: Galerie Sébastien Bertrand, Geneva, Switzerland, 2013; “Big Toe” Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA, 2012; Wall installation, in foyer, Feature Inc., New York, NY, 2010; “WITH backs towards the END” Samson Projects, Boston, MA, 2009; “Eating at the Elbows, Our Teeth Will Be More Quiet” Gallerie Bertand & Bruner, Geneva, Switzerland, 2009; “Los in Space, Grow a Horse’s Tail” Hamish Morrison Galerie, Berlin, Germany, 2008; “May We All Rest In Peace” Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, CA, 2007; “When Skies Are Grey” Curated by Alanna Heiss, P.S.1 MoMA, New York, NY, 2007.
Claude Smith is an arts administrator and educator living and working in Albuquerque, NM.