Liam Everett

Liam Everett Interview - By Steven Cox

Liam Everett’s paintings are survivors of bleaching, fading and erasing, the surfaces bear the marks of intense labour where Everett has evidently beat and punished his works to within an inch of their lives.  What remains are the ghosts of his movements, the silhouettes of marks once applied, and salt crystal tidelines of past evaporations.  Each of Everett’s works own historical traces, it is evident to see where Everett has rubbed, scrubbed and sanded his surfaces with cumbersome and primitive tools such as rags, steel wool, sticks and sanding blocks.

Everett’s works may appear natural, as if the surfaces have formed naturally on their own, though upon closer inspection, it is visibly noticeable where such marks could not have possibly formed unaided.  The artists hand is simultaneously not visible within the works, for Everett has consciously chosen to focus on his processes of painting as an act of labour.  It is only once his battered pieces of silk, wool or linen escape the studio, do they enter the foreign context of being artworks.

Liam Everett (b.1973) lives and works in San Francisco, USA.  His next exhibition opens at Eleni Koroneou Gallery, Athens later this month. 

Steven Cox:  Can you tell HUNTED PROJECTS about yourself and your creative background?

Liam Everett:  At an early age the arts made sense to me. A good way to rearrange things, physically and of course metaphorically. Music, theatre, dance - all attracted me, although when I was 19 I began to paint and just never stopped.

SC:  When did your interest within the arts begin?

LE:  Probably when I was 12. I got hired to play the boy in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. Being on stage did not interest me. What I found deeply satisfying were the rehearsals, the intense engagement of practice and process.

SC: It is not mentioned anywhere whether or not you have any formal training within the arts?

LE:  I studied cultural anthropology and philosophy as an undergraduate student and then later received an MFA with a concentration in painting. 

SC:  To what extent has your education within cultural anthropology and philosophy played within your approach to creating your work?

LE:  Both of the these areas of study tend to take root out of series of  carefully composed questions and/or problems, whether they are cultural, physical or phenomonological. With painting, I continue to work this way, although I allow the research to venture without end, avoiding any fixed truths.

SC: You have created multiple performance works, for instance Tarnan 2005, On The Wall at Art Basel 2009, and more recently The Daft Report 2012.  There seems to be no available documentation in regards to these performances.  Can you discuss these performances?

LE:  I have made an effort not to overly document or distribute documentation of the performance work, especially online. I have done this in order to insist that the work remain within the present, and therefore avoid becoming a subject that might be analyzed and/or experienced in retrospect. Since 2000/01 the bulk of my performances have been under the working title of, `Performance without audience` as my intention with this way of working has always been to excersise and stimulate a part of my painting practice which had felt stifled or limited within the constraints of the studio. Since 2009 I have begun to show short videos of these works, such as The Draft Report (2011/12), On the Wall (2009), The dissapearance of Tal Ben-Yqccov (2009/10) and Son of Crete (2013), that have been edited specifically to accompany me during public speaking engagements.  The performances are always based on a formal script that I write although are completely devoid of narrative or representation.

SC:  It appears that you have a love-hate relationship with your choice of materials due to the implementation of a reductive process; would it be fair to suggest that an underlying obligatory friendship with paint exists within your work?

LE:  I don't think I have a love of paint per se, I consider paint as a medium for movement.  I add and subtract and then add and subtract.  I like to repeat myself, running around the same ground.  Eventually a spark flies out of this constant return and I try to catch it.  Painting for me is a primitive method in which to catch sparks.

SC:  Can you discuss which work of yours acted as a turning point for you?

LE:  Turning points tend to show up every 5 or 6 months in my studio, they act as tide shifts and materialize wholly from the practice itself rather than the idea.  It is not so much a specific work or set of paintings that signal the shift, but more so a change in emotion/mood.  I welcome these phases and allow them to be overwhelming, destabilising. 

SC:  I am intrigued by the phantasmatic surfaces of your masonite panel works, for they appear as ever-present afterimages of what may have partly existed before.  Can you discuss the labor-intensive processes that you explore in order to achieve such surfaces that seem as much found as they are made?

LE:  The surfaces are a result of a relentless process of addition and subtraction. The finished paintings are in fact an accumulation of debris, working drafts whose original reality is founded in practice.  I stop working a painting when it appears foreign to me, otherly. I work on the floor or on tables with cumbersome tools.  Rarely do I put a painting up on the wall in front of me.  Instead I want to be confronted with the work physically, to see it with my hands and body.  I use rags, steel wool, sticks and sanding blocks to paint.  In this way of discomfort I am also creating obstacles and/or limitations for myself to work around.  Contact and resistance are critical for me, invoking a sense of urgency.

SC:  Can you discuss your progression and exploration of paint, for it is evident when comparing works from 2007 to now, that there has been a steady advancement to abstraction. What have been the underlying curiosities within the material that has spawned an interest to physically push the materiality of the medium?

LE:  All my decisions are guided by the practice.  I stopped working from ideas all together a few years ago.  I work on several paintings at the same time and allow them to direct each other.

The figurative elements of my earlier work are still present, although they are buried in the practice.  I don’t think of my paintings as abstraction.  Inside the studio they are only work to me.  I mean that literally, work as labor.  They are work ‘in the working’.  When they leave the studio, they begin to have a different reality, one that has nothing do with work.

SC:  You say that you stopped working from ideas, though would it be possible to sketch in advance an ideal result due to the semi-unpredictable nature of the materials used ?

LE:  I have worked hard over the years to eliminate any kind of advanced vision of where and how a painting might evolve.  If and when I start to have a preconceived idea of a painting then I will refuse its manifestation and run in the opposite direction.  The ideal result for me is a result I could not or would not have imagined.

SC:  How and when do you decide that a work is completed?  Is there a certain point where you feel like you need to just let go?

LE:  I stop working on a painting when it begins to work on its own.  This happens when the painting appears foreign, contrary, diffused, disstressed, slow and low.

SC:  Your work, titled, The Threshold Question That arises In Connection With The Concept Of Establishing A Language Without The Problem Of Speaking could be interpreted as referencing Hegelian logic, where language is produced through thought, and the notion of universal thought being tied to one singular language.  Though, through my interpretation of this title, you seem to be questioning the complexities surrounding the potential formation of a universal visual language?  I am intrigued to discover your views on the importance of painting, as a complex universal language and the issues tied to this discipline? 

LE:  Language is always speaking.  It’s constant.  We don’t speak, language speaks. My experience with painting is that it has the potential to mute language, to nullify it, maybe even undermine it.  Therefore I do not consider or hope or want painting to function as language.  Paintings are only paintings.  When I stand before a painting I never ask myself what it is ‘saying’.  The threshold question might be the perfect equation in which language finds its return, and thus devours itself.

SC:  There is a lot of historicization occurring within the critique of contemporary abstraction in order to correctly position one’s work within a historical time frame.  Within your work, do you feel that it is a necessary obligation to reference, or generate a discussion with the past?

LE:  I think it’s impossible to make a painting that is not referential to some thing, whether it be the past, present or future.  Everything and everyone is implicated in each mark and nothing is new or authentic or unique or inventive.  We are by nature always together, linked up – silently collaborating, conscious at times but for the most part unconscious.  I understand that I have been thrown into a tradition that is already in motion.  I am therefore one of many repeating themselves, happily and at times perhaps ambitiously.

SC:  The tarpaulin works of Betty Goodwin seem to come to mind when viewing your work Happy Days (in the beginning) 2012, I am curious to know if her work has at all been inspirational to you? 

LE:  I did not know of Betty Goodwin’s work until very recently.  Although her tarpaulin paintings appear to be somewhat related to the early fabric works of Barry Flanagan,  Robert Morris,  Richard Tuttle,  Sam Gilliam and Morris Louis. These are all artists I have thought about in relation to my fabric paintings/sculptures.  The work Happy Days (In the beginning) takes a direct nod to the play Happy Days by Samuel Beckett which is one of many of his works that has and continues to inspire me.

SC:  Your exhibition If I Could Sleep I Might Make Love.  I’d Go Into The Woods.  My Eyes Would See…The Sky, The Earth.  I’d Run, Run, They Wouldn’t Catch Me is titled after the quote by the character named Hamm in Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame.  I am curious to know whether the Hamm’s blindness and inability to stand metaphorically inspired the stretcher like works featured within this exhibition?

LE:  It feels like I have been reading Endgame for the past several years. I pick it up, read a few pages and then put it away.  Sometimes I’ll re-read the same few lines over and over.  More than the content and actual narrative I am drawn to the set and choreography of Endgame, especially when Clov is standing on his ladder in order to see what is ‘outside’. So I think it’s more so the images and moods that Beckett is able to instigate in his work that move me rather than what his characters represent and/or signal as metaphor.

SC:  I am aware that you were recently involved within the exhibition Wassup Painters at ANAT EBGI in LA, which was a painting exhibition curated by Pavan Segal that explored many of the non-traditional approaches to contemporary painting.  Can you discuss some of your thoughts on what is exciting, or becoming cliched within contemporary painting?

LE:  Contemporay painting is subject to the same kind of repetition that can be noted in every aspect of `contemporay’ life. Perhaps what differentiates it from previous periods is that it can now be seen in abundance, therefore engaged in a faster and expodential form of repetition. I tend to get excited when I see painting that is motivated by a more emotional and/or philosophical place of origin. Formally the approaches highlighted in Wassup Painters are very similar in appearance to practices abundant in the 60’s and early 70’s, although surely the content, context and motivations are quite different.

SC:  Can you tell HUNTED PROJECTS what you have planned for 2013?

LE:  I am showing new work at Eleni Koroneou in Athens in September, Gallery Andreas Huber in October and a solo show at On Stellar Rays in NYC in March of 2014.  I am currently an artist-in-residence at the Headlands Arts Center and will be teaching as the Richard Diebenkorn Teaching Fellow at the San Francisco Art Institute in the fall.

SC:  Can you elaborate on what will be presented within your upcoming exhibition at Eleni Koroneou?

LE:  Most likely I will be showing 3 or 4 new stretched paintings on oil primed linen.  These paintings are built up with layers of paint applied in a sequence of patterns and then they are stipped and sanded down with salt, steal wool and sanding blocks until the raw linen and fibers are exposed. They are very much a continuation of my interest in working with threshold points and distressed surfaces, finding the point of potential collapse with a material in order to observe its physical nature/presence.

All images courtesy of Liam Everett