Cultured Magazine

April/May 2016

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120 CURB APPEAL On the heels of his debut solo show in L.A., artist Awol Erizku opens up to Marlene Zwirner about freedom in painting, mix-tapes and the newly inaugurated Duchamp Detox Clinic. PORTRAIT BY MARK WRICE The first thing that strikes me about your new work is how free it feels—particularly when set against your photographs, which for me exist as meticulous studies in composition. Do they feel free to you? That's a really generous read, Marlene. I appreciate that. I think I've always strived to find the medium that allows me to be the most free in the studio. I love making images, both moving and still. I've been playing with the colors of my frames. I've even designed my own frames that I'll use in future exhibitions. Painting for me allows for complete freedom, unlike using a camera. I can always go back to my paintings and add or take away from them, right up until the very last moment before they leave the studio. Sometimes I find it crippling as I have a hard time letting the new paintings leave the studio at all. There is so much variety in your work, particularly with regard to format. How do you feel this dynamism has influenced your practice? If there's one thing someone will notice in all my works, it's my investment in color and composition, on top of the content and the conceptual layer, of course. We live in a time when images last a few seconds. We absorb information so fast, it scares me to think where visual culture will be in 10 or 20 years. When I make an image I think past the gallery walls. I think about how it will live on Tumblr or on Instagram. Yes, I consider them in the context of the white cube, but I also think about how they exist in the digital graveyard. If you're not thinking about these issues in 2016, in the great words of DJ Khaled, 'Congratulations, you've played yourself!' You've referred to the work in your debut L.A. solo show, 'Bad II the Bone,' as paintings, but they seem to project a certain 'objectness.' I can agree with that. The beauty of working seamlessly through all these mediums is that I can wake up one day, make a painting, use the dominant color to paint a sculpture in progress, then photograph the sculpture, or even throw that readymade object into a film I'm working on. I intentionally create what we're calling 'objects' because I feel most of my paintings are not just 'paintings.' Before, I was making these objects that some people called 'paintings,' others 'sculptures,' depending on their training. They hang on the wall, but they also incorporate neon signage with letters such as #TRILL or #WAVY. One of them has a Barack Obama tee hanging on it with a long cord that's connected to the wall. I like putting images on top of paintings to add yet another layer to the work. I'm trying to find my place in history. I've learned a lot from my professors at Yale; Richard Prince once told me that it will take another 10 to 15 years before the art world catches on to what I'm creating. I can see that, and quite honestly, I think I can achieve it in less time. But he's an OG so I just shut up and listen. I mean, look how long it took the art world to start sweating David Hammons. As a trained photographer and formalist, you're constantly deciding when something is worth stopping to capture. How would you say this resolve translates across media? My images are often constructed after I observe something in my day-to-day life. I wouldn't be reaching if I said it's similar when I paint. I find inspiration in my neighborhood, my friends' neighborhoods, just driving in different places in L.A. Gang markings are everywhere in L.A., especially where I live now. I also find inspiration in the lifestyle of the people who have made Skid Row a home. The way they use tarp and plastic is really interesting. If I see a mark on the wall that I like, I might snap a photo, bring it to the studio and use it for a painting. If I find materials that I like for sculpture, I'd bring that along, as well. Given your experiences curating, I imagine you're invariably considering the ways in which your work activates surrounding spaces and environments. I've been lucky to have curated a handful of great shows that inevitably allowed me to become a harsh curator of my own work. I'm very honest with myself in that way. I usually curate two-dimensional works that go on the wall. The Yale MFA thesis show that I curated in L.A. had a lot of challenges for that reason. One body of work can be installed in several different ways, in several different spaces. So, it's not about where, but about how the curator uses the space. With 'Bad II the Bone,' I was working with 8,500 square feet of space that was once a book bag factory in downtown L.A., now called Duchamp Detox Clinic. It was important to me that this exhibition was shown in the area where the inspiration for the work hit. Since I had large-scale paintings and mid-sized sculptures (as well as a Porsche 914) to exhibit, it was a particularly fun exercise activating the space. You've now dropped multiple conceptual mix-tapes as phonic accompaniments to various bodies of work you've exhibited over the past year. How do you see the mix-tapes as supplementing, even enhancing your practice? The mix-tapes have now become one of the ways I engage with the viewer, both before and after they've seen the show. I usually collaborate with my DJ friends who generally have a larger reach in the music world. I act as the impresario in finding the sound bites for the mixes, like a Kerry James Marshall lecture—'The lack of black figures in the institutional spaces, i.e. galleries and museums'—which I used in my mix-tape for 'New Flower | Images of the Reclining Venus,' or Stanley 'Tookie' Williams in a radio phone interview about why he founded the Crips, which I used in 'Bad II the Bone.' Each mix allows me to set the tone for the show, and the mixes are released online a week or so ahead of the opening. The songs are often ones I would listen to while working in the studio and, naturally, some works get their titles directly from the songs. And what's next for you following your L.A debut? I'll be working on a feature film with Michael Sherman of Bow + Arrow for the rest of the year. I'll be doing more programing for Duchamp Detox Clinic; the second show will be with artist Fumi Ishino, who was a classmate of mine at Yale.

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