New & Noteworthy: Devin Troy Strother

Boom for Real, 2010 | Enamel, acrylic, gouache, ink, graphite, silkscreen, collage on paper, 21.75 x 37 inches. Courtesy Richard Heller Gallery.

To say that the work of Los Angeles-based artist Devin Troy Strother is loud is an enormous understatement. In every work, with every color and each piece of cut paper, Strother constructs rich narratives that, quite literally, cannot be contained by the panels they're made on. Featured as a Noteworthy artist in edition #85 of New American Paintings, Strother makes paintings that are highly confrontational, not only for their brilliant visual qualities but for the subject matter at hand. I caught up with the artist this week by phone to talk about his work.  —Evan J. Garza

EJG: You just finished up a residency at Skowhegan. How was that?
I've been working this past year on my solo show opening on Saturday, so I went [to Skowhegan] June to August. Skowhegan’s kind of a place to go and open up and experiment and try different things. Going there having to make work for a show, going there with a preset list of things that you need to accomplish [was] kind of a different thing than going there to make some shit and see what happens.

Big Hustle, Little Hustle, You Know Them Girls Be Puttin' in Work, 2010 | Enamel, acrylic, gouache, ink, graphite, silkscreen, collage on panel, 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy Richard Heller Gallery.

EJG: Was the work you made at Skowhegan different than the work you'd been making previously?
I would say yes because the work is on this perpetual growth almost, where every piece I do is really different from the last one… All the studio visits really informed the work; a lot of feedback from a lot of people, as opposed to making work in the studio where it’s just mild feedback or just one person seeing it.

EJG: The titles are pretty great. Where do they come from?
The titles come before the work is made. I have a book that I keep of funny shit I hear or comments that I hear that are kind of interesting. It starts with a phrase or a title, and I try to genrate an image that relates to the whole narrative, this world that I’m trying to make. The titles come from things I hear in rap songs or things I hear family members say, things friends say.

California Dreaming/Love, 2010 | Enamel, acrylic, gouache, ink, graphite, silkscreen, collage on paper, 16 x 10 inches. Courtesy Richard Heller Gallery.

EJG: Tell me about your process.
Everything’s painted on paper; I draw it on a piece of paper; the people are drawn and then cut out. The composition’s composed and then I kind of do it all in my head, I don’t really do anything on the piece of paper or any type of preliminary sketch or anything. A lot of the colors are silkscreen flats. I work as a printmaker and I do a lot of silkscreening for my job, so for a lot of the colors, instead of using construction color paper, I print color flats using silkscreen ink.

EJG: You're quite interested in dimensional qualities as well, it seems.
Definitely. I think it’s something that kind of started happening because I was never too confident in painting too flatly, just painting on top of paint. I always wanted a little bit more something. So, I would paint the background and then I started painting the people on a separate piece of paper and then glued them down, and that started to snowball into painting on thicker sheets of cardstock or museum board. The dimensionality comes from not being content with just regular painting, just always wanting more dimensionality.

The Get Down on Your Knees and Tell Me You Love Me Love Me, 2010 | Enamel, acrylic, gouache, ink, graphite, silkscreen, collage on paper, 12 x 17 inches. Courtesy Richard Heller Gallery.

EJG: The construction of your work mixes several materials and styles together, like a compositional melting pot that addresses race through formal decisions.
I guess the most formal decision about my work is the idea of blackface and how that’s used within the work. Obviously I was clearly aware that when I started painting black people with red lips and big white smiles that there was a certain association with minstrel shows and blackface and all that. T
hose are ideas that I welcome into the work, but they weren’t necessarily the driving force. I’m not really commenting on blackface or African Americans being performers—these are all ideas that inform the work... I feel it’s interesting that people are going to come to my work with all their associations of how they see African Americans.

It's Just Us Versus Them, 2010 | Enamel, acrylic, gouache, ink, graphite, silkscreen, collage on paper, 26 x 35 inches. Courtesy Richard Heller Gallery.

Devin Troy Strother will be featured in a solo exhibition of his work, Please Don’t Act a Fool in the Club: A Memory of the Sugar Shack & Stuntin’ Like My Daddy, from September 11 - October 9 at Richard Heller Gallery in Santa Monica, California.

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