Austin Eddy

Austin Eddy in dialogue with Steven Cox

Steven Cox: Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background, and how/when you first started working full-time as an artist?

Austin Eddy: I was born in Boston Mass December 5th 1986, I went to high school at the Cambridge School of Weston in Weston Mass. After graduating from CSW I moved to Chicago Il to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005. After 4 years and some change I graduated in December of 2009, and walked in the spring of 2010.

After graduation I floated around Chicago for a few years trying to make paintings, walking dogs, and working as a studio assistant to a few different artist in the city. In 2012 with few opportunities presenting themselves there I moved to NYC. I was lucky enough to have friends who recently moved there as well who let me crash on their floors or couches while I looked for work. Finally I found work as a freelance art handler at a few different galleries in the city, since then I have worked in a whole slew of galleries around the city. Most recently I have transitioned into freelancing once and a while at the New York Historical Society.

I am not working full time as an artist, I still like working with objects and artifacts that aren't contemporary art.

SC: Can you tell me about your current studio and working routine? Do you have any morning rituals or habits that contribute towards a productive day within the studio?

AE: My current studio is an all white 250 sq ft box with windows on the wall opposite the door. It is tucked away in the back corner of the 3rd floor of a 4 story building, there are furniture makers / wood shops above so there tends to be a bit of white noise though out the day. It is really hot in the summer, and rather cold in the winter but its been working out well for the past few years.

I tend to try and wake up around 5 / 5:30 am,  I drink green tea while watching t.v (most recently I have been watching Paranormal Lockdown) while doing emails in the morning. Around 6 / 6:30am I go for around a 3 mile run, after getting back and getting changed for going out into the real world I pack lunch and head to the studio at around 7:30 / 8am.  I prefer to work in the mornings, my thoughts seem clearer and I tend to be more productive.

SC: To what extent do you consider your city as being an influential factor in the shaping of your work? Do you feel that your surroundings have influenced you in one way or another?

AE: I think living anywhere can really influence the work. Living is about absorbing the energy, relationships, and excitement of being where you are. Through out the years things having to do with living in NY have had more physical changes the work. Be it having to use materials that are ultra durable, or dry quickly to withhold the constant moving, or having to do with the subject matter being the people I have met, or the crowd of folks from the transfer tunnel between the 5th Ave stop on the 7 to the B D F M trains. Most recently I feel like the changing light and night-lights of the city and cities I have visited are starting to find their way into the paintings. To some degree the flatness of space and closeness of objects could be due to the abundance of people and things passed on a daily bases.

SC: What future exhibitions/projects are you working towards at the moment?

AE: I feel like I have had quite a busy year in 2017, so as of right now, I am trying to take a breath and get back in the studio and try making new work. I have been thinking about some unexpected moves with the newer works on paper.

There is a summer group show opening in late July at a space in Chicago (Green Door S. Halsted) that I am trying to finish a few things for. There is a solo show on the books for 2018 in Italy but I think it is too far off to really be working towards it…

I have also been running a small gallery space out of my apt called EDDYSROOM, We have been doing shows for the past year and a little bit since winter I have been taking a break, I have recently started programming in there. So this summer I am working on getting the future program in order as well as getting the summer shows off the ground.

SC: Can you please tell me about your studio set up? Would you say that your current studio is ideal, or are you seeking a new/better space? 

AE: The studio is pretty efficient at this point, it’s the first space I have been in for more than a year. I used to move around a lot, and at the time I thought that was important to keeping things uncomfortable and unexpected in the studio. But now that I have been in this space for more than 11 months, I have sort of been able to work out the kinks of the lay out, and force myself into uncomfortable situations in various other ways in the studio.

Upon entry there is shelving to the right of the door where I keep my oil sticks and various other drawing materials, further to the right down below the elevated table top is storage for smaller paintings and some pedestals for the sculptures. Above the storage is a table top with more oil sticks, above that there are usually various drawings hanging on the wall below homemade book shelves that hold smaller sculptures and extra paper towels. I also keep a SAD light over in the corner. I like to think it helps with keeping a positive vibe in there. Next to that area there is a 5 shelf unit that holds sculptures (both finished and in progress) on its top shelf, below that is a mix of finished drawings and prints in boxes stacked next to pre stretched small paintings that never seemed to get worked on. I haven't figured my way into making paintings that are 14x11” quite yet. Below that shelf is all the extra paper, polka dot painted, or plain color painted, cut out magazine / book images, construction paper, and pre cut empty sheets ready for drawings. The next two levels are filled with finished framed drawings (the ones with the artist frames) and older finished paintings I like to keep around to remind me of where the work has come from.  Next to that shelf is the stack of larger paintings that are typically stacked with the most finished paintings at the rear and the newest ones at the front. There are often 4 paintings on the opposite wall that are in various stages of progress, but that changes depending on if I am working on paintings, drawings, sculptures, collages, etc. Next to the stack of larger paintings is the work table which houses all the odds and ends for the collages and works on paper, and it also houses the mini fridge. Then there is the wall of windows opposite the door and next to the table and shelves, which over looks the water treatment plant and corner deli, but further off in the distance you can make out the Empire State building as Chrysler building. Below those windows (which are often covered with curtains to help diffuse the natural light) are two rolling carts with various tools, brushes, paints, trash, and general studio stuff. To the left of the windows is the wall where I work. In the center of the studio there is a smaller work table made from off cut composite board and saw horses that I have been using in the past year to make the sculptures on and most recently the new collage / drawings.

The studio space is working for me now, and it will eventually stop working. When it stops working, I will either have to figure out how to make it work, or find a new space. But aren't we all always looking for some kind of new and better space?

SC: Can you discuss some of the works that are currently in progress within your studio? 

AE: I have recently put the sculptures, transfer drawings, and paintings (for the most part) on hold since the last show. Since the break I have been focusing on these new collage / painting / drawing works on paper in the studio. The goal is to make 100 of them, and then stop. 

I felt like it had gotten too comfortable and in the groove of making the paintings and other types of work, so to sort of upend the process and comfort it seemed crucial to do something totally different, make things fresh again. These newer works are a challenge, there is a lot of letting go and loosing up, they are lost to the previous rules I had put in place for myself. They are far more intuitive and free, just grabbing at things and ideas, just trying them. Thinking less, explaining less, just patiently moving forward waiting for the drawings to unfold on their own. I guess there is also this desire in them to take recognizable imagery and twist it into abstraction; the image becomes just a shape or color.

SC: Do you consider your work autobiographical? 

AE: Yes, the work has always been about things I have seen, felt, or thought. But letting go of that personal narrative part and allowing a larger interpretation to take place is the end goal I guess, Letting go of your self so others can find you.

SC: Your works straddle the line between figuration and abstraction, with your most recent works appearing fully abstract in comparison to your past works that owned more representational and figurative elements. Can you tell me about this transition you have made over the years?

AE: I think its really hard to let go of the real world, or atlas I have had a hard time with letting go, and to truly find freedom in expression without it relating to representation is even harder. Its almost like a drip is a representation of the action. But I'm not an intellectual painter, nor am I really an abstract painter. I think of myself as a figure painter even still, I think of the work as representational images. Mostly of people, places, things, and events, “Life” I guess. The transition has not really been in subject matter, but rather in omission of information. I am looking to simplify things almost past a point of recognition. Not to say that I won’t turn right back around and start painting birds in flight. We will see what happens.

SC: I am interested to know how you plan your works. Do you begin with preparatory sketches of some form, or do you prefer to work in an improvised manner?

AE: For the most part none of the work has a pre-devised plan. Though there are usually a series of set parameters that help guide the progress of the paintings, like “I will only use these colors, or these colors” or there are structural or compositional standards. More often than not, those decisions, rules, or structures are made to be broken or contradicted. If it does not happen at first, then it comes through revision and time. I feel like there is a lot of contradiction in the work, I am always looking to make things seem a little bit unsettled or maybe simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable.

So, yes, more often than not, I work in a very intuitive and improvised manner once I have moved through the initial steps of the beginning, like priming the surface (news paper mounted to canvas then painted a solid color with Flashé paint) or building the armature for the sculptural forms (pink foam, glue, plaster, resin) or painting the paper of the drawings, etc. On the other hand, I do tend to do lots of drawings in notebooks that usually exist independently, but lately they have become more integrated into the process, and occasionally have been used as the starting sketch for some of the collage based works. I guess there is never really one way of doing things that sticks, it’s often all over the place.

SC: Focusing on the titling of your works, how do you choose your titles? For you, what is the role of an artworks title? Do you feel that titles can alter a works interpretation? And more specifically, can you discuss the meaning behind the title ‘Flying-Fingers City-Face’?

AE: In the past, titles were more important and somewhat extensions of the content of the paintings. Like blurbs in a funny. But as time has progressed, individual titles proved to be less significant than the actual painting. They almost felt like a crutch, the painting leaning on language and not speaking for itself. Now, the paintings are all titled the same thing, with small changes, usually having to do with color choices, or time. Those small changes are to help differentiate each one from one another. Like a room full of various small children with the same name, you say that name, they will all call out. you have to figure out a reasonable way to identify them all. “Flying-Fingers, City-Face” addresses the idea of both figuration and landscape in the paintings. The fingers often functioning like clouds above buildings, and the faces making up those buildings thus forming a city.

SC: Your paintings and sculptures consist of a variety of materials: wood, gravel, beads, glitter, rope, Popsicle sticks, newspaper, cardboard, images cut from brochures, oil stick and a variety of paints.  It is evident that you do not limit yourself to one particular material, but instead choose to explore the qualities and complexities of multiple materials. Alternatively, it is common for many artists to limit themselves to a select few materials; perhaps you can discuss why you choose to be open to almost any material? Are the materials you use found or specifically sourced? What is it about your exploration of materiality that continues to intrigue you?

AE: For the most part, the materials are purchased, but a lot of them are recycled from other parts of the work. So initially the sticks on things were used as the spacers in the frames, and there was lots of excess, and it seemed like a good idea to start gluing them to other surfaces, The popsicle sticks are included in the resin boxes, and after a period of time they no longer work for mixing, and the layers of color and material seemed interesting and worth holding on to. I have never really liked just applying paint with a brush, it seems so limiting.

To some degree I found myself being more concerned with what kind of brush mark was filling the space, rather than the form being filled. Freeing myself from the idea of filling, it also freed up the possibilities of what could be used. I think they are all functioning as marks, and gestures, and the possibilities are endless. I think that is what continues to gas my engine.

SC: Your exploration of materiality has resulted in the creation of paintings that simultaneously relate to your sculptural works. Sculptures such as "City Face (Snake Oil Snake)", and "City Face (Lost Natick Mall)" seem to give you the opportunity to incorporate and explore additional materials that would be not so easy to use in 2-Dimensional works. When did you begin to explore sculpture in this manner? Do you wish for the viewer to interpret your sculptures as 3-Dimensional paintings? 

AE: It’s is always a game of catch up it seems. The sculptures will progress, and then be incorporated into the paintings and drawings, and vice versa. Though it is hard to hang fringe on a 2d surface, but I also don’t think I want to do that. I have always approached the sculptures as paintings; this is the first time that all sides of them have been addressed. Previously the objects have been one sided, or having a front and back, with those works, I was leaving the back unfinished and open to the viewer to see the construction of the sculpture. Hiding less.  Doing the full 3d is rather new, maybe the past year and a little bit. I have sort of always made sculptures, ever since undergrad. The idea of building in space has interested me for a while now, its almost childish. It also makes me feel rather uncomfortable. I am not sure how I would like the viewer to address the works; I am not totally sure how I think about them to some degree. But yeah, I like the sound of them being seen as 3d paintings.

SC: I am curious about the documentation of an artworks creation. Within my own studio I regularly take images of paintings in progress so I can note specific points in the works creation. How regularly do you document the progression of your works? Is it important for you to take note of a works evolution? 

AE: In the past I was much more interested in taking photos of the paintings in progress, and I would then look at them out of the studio, on the train, at work, in bed, feverishly trying to figure out what to do. By the time I got back into the studio, I had either forgotten what plans I had previously made, or upon seeing it in real life was disinterested in going in that direction altogether. I find now, forgetting what the painting is and coming back with a foggy idea of it makes moving through that fog more interesting. Less clear with more intent.

SC: I am also interested in the notion of preciousness and at what stage a painting or work becomes discarded in the studio. Do you have a tendency to destroy failed paintings/works? Or, do you aim to be as efficient as possible when planning a work so to avoid destroying anything? 

AE: Preciousness, it’s a tricky one. I try to avoid it. Once things become precious, progress somewhat freezes. I try not to discard paintings any more. For the longest time, when I first started working, I really tried to make images in one or two shots. The paintings then were on raw canvas and were treated much more like drawings. There was no going back, so if things didn't sit right, or were too funky they would be taken off the bars and cut up. And I worked like that for years. But in the past year or two I have been really trying to work through, around, or accept the problems and awkwardness that arises in the creation of the images. Though there are times the paintings have been worked on for extended periods of time and the surfaces become really too nobby and gross or the shapes get too locked down and suffocated, with no freedom, that is when things get are discarded. When the life gets sucked out of them. Similarly in the drawings I try not to throw them away, rather just scrape them down and start over leaving the mistakes and history on the page. I'm not sure its efficient, maybe a tad wasteful, but it’s uncomfortable and working for the time being.

SC: In relation to social media and more specifically Instagram, what are your thoughts on this as a platform to engage with new audiences? Do you have love/hate relationship with Instagram or other online social media platforms?

AE: Instagram is a tricky one; I think everyone has a love hate relationship with it. It is pretty helpful to some degree, I mean its a huge database of images and source material all in one place. You can find out about things so far removed from your life. But its also kind of a drag for the same reason, depending on who or what you follow sometimes you can get over saturated with art and art related things. But that also may have to do with the climate and pace of the art world too. I don’t know if it’s important, but it is out there and I use it… some times too much.

SC: Do you have any dream projects in mind that you would like to do in the future? 

AE: Oh there are tons of dream projects that I have cooking in the back of my mind. Most recently I have been really into the idea of large-scale public sculptures. Nothing too large, but large enough. Similarly I have been thinking about doing smaller scale bronze works, there is something I really like about the history in the material but the two may or may not be linked. I have also been thinking about making some more artist books, both for myself and compiled kind of like a group show in a book.

SC: Generally, can you tell me your views on painting today? 

AE: I am not always sure what I think about contemporary painting, but I try and stay optimistic.

SC: Can you highlight some of your influences and discuss how your influences have made an impact on you and your practice?

AE: Lately I have been really interested in Gees Bend quilts, and Tramp art. I have also been looking at a lot of Kuba cloth, Moroccan rugs, and Kanban, I find the way they simplify abstract and put things together endlessly interesting.

The list of people who's work I like is very long, and they have all influenced me in various ways, but I think what I take the most from all of them, is their enjoyment of making. It’s hard to look at work that seems too much like “work”. But there are always the giants in the room Matisse, Picasso, Arp, Guston, Brancusi, and Miro to name a few that seem to always be around the back of my mind. But it’s important to forget about them as well.

SC: Any last points or thoughts you would like to share?

AE: No, I think that about covers it all, but thank you for your time.

Austin Eddy

Images courtesy of Austin Eddy, David Shelton Gallery & Taymour Grahne Gallery