Monday, December 1, 2008
PDX Art: interview with JT Kirkland
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Q: Do you consider yourself a minimalist and what does that mean anyway?
A: I believe my work certainly has minimalist tendencies, but I am reluctant to classify myself in any one category. To be perfectly honest, when I first began working with wood, it was suggested by an artist friend that I label my practice so as to create a genre for my work. I followed this advice and termed my work “Organic Minimalism” and even mounted a solo exhibition titled, “Studies in Organic Minimalism.” As my life as an artist evolved, I became hesitant to put labels or titles on any of my work. I feel a label or title limits the interpretation of my work. It sets in motion a particular reading. Therefore, I have sought to not title my work or use the most basic descriptive title possible for easy identification. What I enjoy about minimalist art is that through its seemingly simple appearance it allows for a vast array of readings. It can be anything and everything.
Minimalism, to me, is an approach to art making that values visual simplicity. Underneath that simplicity is often a conceptual angle that reveals itself through close viewing. It’s the interplay between the visual simplicity and conceptual complexity that I find most interesting and pursue in my own practice.
Q: Wood & grain elicit a response; what is stimulated in your mental landscape by it?
A: I hope your presumption that wood and grain elicit a response is correct! Unfortunately, often times I find that this is not the case. My own experience is that people are quick to overlook the natural beauty around them. Sure, they can recognize the beauty in a flower garden. They are awed by a magnificent sunset. But – and this is where my work relates – do people have an appreciation for the wood floors in their house? Do they recognize the beauty in their wooden dining table? I’m not so sure. It’s often a subtle beauty that requires close examination. And how much time do we spend closely examining the things around us?
I think wood is one of the most remarkable materials in nature. It is inherently beautiful. Beauty can be found in the plywood at Home Depot or in an exotic wood from Africa. My work seeks to bring the viewer’s attention to the beauty of my chosen material. Whatever artistic gesture I employ is to focus one’s attention on the wood. My work serves the wood.
Q: Many of your pieces seem to be offering an entry into another space. Is there a spiritual aspect to your work or is it purely referencing to illusion?
A: Many critics and curators have discussed the spiritual aspect of my work. Unfortunately, I cannot claim any significant responsibility for this connection as I am not an overtly spiritual person. However, as discussed in the first question, I am not at all opposed to this reading. I do not wish to limit any interpretation of the work. Due to the frequency with which spirituality is raised in regards to my work, I must accept its presence, though I am not conscious of it. I accept its presence with open arms.
The illusion you mention is a much greater conscious decision. My work is by definition reductive. Through the removal of wood (i.e. a drilled hole) I feel that I actually add to the piece. I am able to create both real and implied depth. I am able to create illusionary space. Through simple gestures I seek to elevate the wood from its origins in places like Home Depot to something much more. Perhaps my work is more spiritual than I acknowledge!
Q: Is there a place for religion in our world and what do you think of sacred symbolism?
A: I regret that I do not know enough about religion or sacred symbolism to answer this question intelligently.
Q: You use geometric form almost like a mirror or a void; is it so the viewer can project its own reality onto it?
A: Yes, I think so. Geometric form is usually quite simple, whether it’s a line, a square, a circle, etc. At once these forms have no baggage that comes with them. But at times, they can be loaded with symbolic meaning. The simplicity of these geometric forms allow for an open interpretation. They do not block off any viewers because we can all relate to the square or circle. The use of more complex or less well-known symbols immediately limits the audience for the work. I strive to allow for the largest audience possible and again, as you note, allow for the greater number of interactions between my work and the viewer’s reality.
Q: Lots of your colors are signal colors, what motivates your choice?
A: Color choices for me are most often intuitive. Because my work operates visually, I am concerned with beauty. My choices reflect color combinations that I feel are beautiful. Beyond that, any symbolic associations brought about by my colors are done so by chance or, perhaps, the subconscious.
Q: There is a strong sculptural tendency in your work; is this practice going to lead towards free standing objects and is there a hidden struggle incorporated, a rebellion against the limitation of Dimensions?
A: My first explorations with wood were intentionally limited in terms of how sculptural they became. Of course, it is a 3D material in which I drilled holes, but by maintaining a flat presentation and mounting them onto the wall, I was able to draw connections between my work and traditional painting. This was an important distinction because of my concern with the beauty of wood. By presenting it like a painting I was able to draw attention to the beauty of the surface. I felt that to present the work as a free-standing sculpture would run the risk of having viewers see only wood and not the grain/texture/color of the wood.
Presently my work is evolving to be more free-standing. I feel that I have established the beauty of wood and I can now begin to open up my practice. I must be careful to not let the physical presence of wood out shine the appearance of the wood. That is my current struggle.
Q: Is art a tool for human evolution?
A: The use of the term “tool” implies for me that art is used to create human evolution. That suggests to me that art precedes human evolution. I think I am more inclined to believe that art is a record of human evolution. That by studying the art we make, one can gain an understanding of how we have evolved.
Q: What motivated you to create "Thinking About Art" and has it full filled its purpose and your expectations?
A: “Thinking About Art” (TAA) was created as a solution to a problem that I thought was not being addressed at the time. In 2004 there were few art blogs. Media coverage on the visual arts was lacking as well. I was hungry for information and left to starve. So, I decided to become the solution to the problem. I started TAA in June 2004 and began writing reviews of art shows in the Washington, D.C. area. I wrote about my own work and I initiated online projects to give a voice and exposure to other young artists. Apparently others were hungry for information as well because my audience grew very rapidly. People wanted to see pictures of shows and they wanted to hear opinions. For four-and-a-half years this is what I’ve done. I am beyond thrilled with its success and I feel that I have learned an enormous amount about the art world and my place in it. Starting TAA was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Q: What's your next adventure in art and about your mission as an artist?
A: Although TAA has provided me with a great do-it-yourself art education, I wonder if it has taken me as far as it can. I have no formal art training and I have networked extensively in my city and beyond. I think it is time to push myself and my work farther and harder. As such, I am applying for MFA programs to begin in Fall 2009. In 2011 I will re-evaluate my practice and see what next path I want to take.
Q: What's your vision for Art in general?
A: I’m not sure it is possible to have a vision for Art in general. Art-making is so personal that to expand one’s vision from the individual to the general runs the risk of leaving out a lot of important ideas, approaches and work. Perhaps related, I am currently questioning the relevance of relevance. I hear it a lot today, “This work isn’t relevant to today.” I think that attitude is bunk. By definition, art made today is relevant to today. In terms of stylistic approach, the work might not be connected to the scene in Chelsea, but the artist felt it was important to create that work today. They had a reason for doing so. Personally, in a time of such political and economic chaos, I want my work to be an escape from reality. I see enough chaos on TV and in the news that I don’t need it in my own studio. I want simplicity and beauty. I don’t want more of the same.