Kevin Townsend Art

The Full Kevin Townsend Interview : The Transcripts

Q: Your work often takes on many forms, would you describe yourself as a multi-disciplined artist or do you consider your practice more specific and specialized?

A:  I don’t often think about how to categorize my work, but if I have to describe it, I guess I am equal parts process and concept driven— my work begins with an idea or concept and evolves organically through process, the materials aren’t the driving factor in the work any longer. (Earlier in my carrier I would call myself a printmaker, but that no longer feels accurate)

Q: On your website I read that you are a teacher as well as an artist, if there was one thing you could teach people through the work that you create what would it be? What would be the most important thing a viewer could walk away from your work with?

A:  It’s funny, while my work isn’t meant to be didactic or instructional— I want both my students and viewers of my work to dig deeper, to look beyond the surface, to ask questions, to really read the work through their own eyes. As an artist and an educator I am interested in engaging in a dialog— the ideal scenario (in each case) results in some degree of questioning, introspection, synthesis, searching or personalization of what is offered.

Q: You have said that your current work encapsulates “issues of temporality and permanence” does this underlying concept have anything to do with the materials/mediums you chose to use to create this work – e.g., is the temporality you speak of represented by the temporality of the chalk that you often use?

A: Yes. As this series of work has progressed the idea of the work becoming a more direct metaphor for memory, ultimately lead to the work taking on some of the characteristics of being more fragile, malleable, temporary became increasingly important. As the drawings became more temporal, they also became more performative and public— I needed an element of risk and a way to further give up control and drawing with chalk in awkward and intimate places evolved very organically. Once the works shifted to the point where these repeated lines began being deposited on blackboards in public restroom walls, both the act of making/drawing and the drawing itself were exposed, the work became incredibly vulnerable. Protected by the privacy of the bathroom any visitor could anonymously wipe the drawing away or draw into it at anytime and yet they don’t. The custodians of these spaces have to make a determinations at the end of the evening or the following day about wether or not to erase the marks I’ve left. I also quite enjoy the added associations with chalk as a child’s mark-making tool or the instructional tool of the teacher.

Q: So, Memory is the foundational concept for all of your work when, how and why did the issue of Memory become so important to you and your work? (If this question is too personal please feel free to disregard it)

A: Put simply, a series of events in my life left me with intense, vivid memories that shaped my life in dramatic ways—becoming the architecture of my identity. I shared these experiences with others, who remember them differently and who were equally and oppositely affected by these events. I first became fascinated with the idea of ‘truth’ as it relates to memory as a way to help me accept our divergences. The more I read the more fascinating it became to me— The reality that our memories can be encoded with bias (written in our brains as a hybrid between the actual events and the version of the events that we need in order to maintain our own self concept) was revolutionary to me. The science of memory gave me some peace and the mechanics and physiology  of memory gave me inspiration.
Q: Your drawings (particularly your recently completed work) are beautifully fluid and organic, does this represent the way in which you create them in an instinctual and of the moment manner, or are you the kind of artist who prepares, practices, and plans everything first to then copy onto a larger scale?

A:  Yeah, I like to think that the drawings reflect the fluid nature of their creation— the follow of time arrested and rendered as a landscape without any pre-cognition or visualization. Each drawing literally starts with a single line, made entirely in the moment, the drawings end in one of two ways: either I run out of available space and the drawing stops or If I hesitate for longer than a minute or catch myself plotting the next move the drawing ends. I want to keep these drawings as documents of the moments spent making them, records of the present and presence, too much pre planning would kill that for me.

Q: For your site specific work, such as “Waiting For Rain”, “We Run Ourselves Aground” and even “Drawing Room” to a certain extent, how are the display spaces selected – do they all hold a specific relevance to you, is it just a matter of where the work can look its best, or are the spaces you choose to use completely random and instinctual?

A: Often in the early iterations of the work, the locations emerge out of familiarity and proximity. In the pieces you mentioned, the locations are all easy walking distance from my home/studio and are areas where I know intimately the traffic patterns and lighting conditions. I’m interested in people encountering or engaging the work in a way that is surprising or unexpected, but also in a way where it doesn’t feel oppressive or ego driven— I guess most often, I’m looking for a bit of subtlety and intimacy

Q: This is purely a question formed around my own curiosity more than anything else, but, when creating site specific work, or even when you photograph your work displayed in the urban environment (“In Transit (Dream to Dream)”) do you always receive permission to use these spaces as part of your work or do you wholly play the role of the Rebellious Artist using what’s around and hoping you don’t get caught/asked to move along?

A:  I have never sought permission to install my work in the public space, this is not to say that I won’t in the future, but at present I’m interested in a quieter dialog with public space rather than a shocking visual collision. For ‘in transit (dream to dream)’ I showed up at the train station during morning rush hour, with a crowd of people waiting for the train, took out my staple gun and proceeded to install the tar paper over the advertising posters and then spent the next 3 hours drawing in chalk on the piece. No one said a single word to me and the police drive through that station every 20 minutes like clock work— I could feel them watching me, but no one ever engaged me, stopped me or interrupted me in any way.

Q: Your work has primarily been black and white, however, there are some pieces (especially within your recently completed work) that involve colour, when you use colour are you using it on a purely aesthetic level, or does it add to the concept, helping to create another meaning and message through the pieces themselves?

A:  In dealing with memory I often think of things in terms of binary oppositions: black and white, presence and absence, etc… the choice to work in black and white resonates the most strongly for me, it feels the most universal. Where as color is intimate to me, its more personal— I think the use of color in many of these pieces is indulgent but it isn’t calculated. I’ve come to recognize it as a transition marker in the work, the need to insert color often signifies some shift in my thoughts regarding the work or perceived deficiency. I’d like to think that I will play more with the juxtaposition between color and black and white as the work moves forward, but only time will tell— I thought I was done with the line drawings 3 months ago…

Q: What’s next for you and your work, and more importantly how does the natural transition between ideas and pieces work specifically for you – is it all planned and sketched out before you start, or do you let it evolve and form into new work freely?

A:  For a long time in my practice, I had my next works planned and on deck, waiting to be made. Currently the work is driving the work. Concepts lead, process creates and aesthetic concerns follow (often in the editing). I make hundreds of line drawings but only show a handful, many don’t make the cut.
I keep running thoughts, reactions and ideas in a journal/sketchbook, but show up each day to the studio with only one plan: work. 
That said, the work is moving more towards focusing on the act of drawing, the performance, the ephemeral— existing somewhere between drawing, sculpture, installation and performance.

Q: Have you ever worked collaboratively with another artist/Would you ever be interested in working collaboratively with another artist?

A: I worked for a while as a master printer, collaboration is something that is in my artistic DNA and I would love to collaborate in the future. Currently, I am interested in engaging the public as collaborators in new work, but I am always open to other potential opportunities.

Q: Has your work ever taken any dramatic turns either conceptually or in the way that you use materials and processes?

A: Yes. I was trained as a printmaker. I made somewhat narrative, dream-like figurative vignettes for a long time as a means of dealing with issues of memory. They were deeply personal, technically interesting but unsatisfying to me. I began reading about the mechanics and physiology of memory and it changed my world… for 2 years I made shitty hybrid works that tried to bridge the gap between representation and concept, trying to resolve where I had come from with where I wanted to be. I ultimately abandoned all representation in my work as it felt like a crutch— I let the concepts lead. I am always trying (struggling) to simplify, remove the excesses and distill the concepts down to their essence… In many ways, I think I am still in transition, midway through a rather large dramatic turn.

Q: Had you always wanted to become an artist?

A: Looking back it was a toss up between architect, artist and archeologist— I seemed to have something with careers that began with ‘A’…

Q: What has been the most difficult part of reaching the point you are at today with your work and career?

A: Wow. This is a loaded question… Are you a therapist?
I guess it can be boiled down to one thought: balance. balancing my two passions: teaching and making, balancing heart, head and hand, balancing my needs with the needs of my family.

Q: Any advice for any wannabe practicing artists (the kind who are just about to graduate from University, for example)?

A: Hmm… Keep your eyes on the horizon and hands on the wheel, don’t try to plan a specific route to your desired destination— explore many paths to your goal and be willing and open to taking a path you may not have considered. Say “yes” a lot early on when presented with new opportunities. Be humble, no one likes an ego centric, overly self involved artist. Realize that this choice to be an artist is less about career and more about a worldview— you are a synthesizer. Your skill set and creative problem solving abilities are valuable in many contexts, the trick is finding the contexts that are meaningful to you. And finally: don’t pursue teaching as a profession unless you genuinely love it— teaching, being an educator is not a 9-5 job to be used as a fall back means of support. Our students deserve passionate, driven and dedicated teachers.

Q: And finally, do you think as artists we can use art to change the World?

A: Yes. Art has already changed the world several times – Artists gave a face to Christianity and these images were used to convert millions of illiterate people to a new worldview. America used art to support ideas about westward expansion. The final scene of George Lucas’s ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ revolutionised the prosthetic limbs industry, Kubrick’s ‘2001’ planted seeds for the iPad. I believe that the arts can show us what is possible. 
to quote  Arthur O’Shaughnessy (and Willy Wonka),

“We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.”


Written By Daniel Coleborn

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