Roy Arden has definitely left his footprint in Canadian art. As a notable artist based out of Vancouver, Canada he has exhibited in various galleries including The Vancouver Art Gallery, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham and the Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp. Roy talks to Adam O’Reilly about Loretta Lynn, Rauschenberg, and his creative processes.
(The West is The Best 2009/ SMORGASBORD I/ SMORGASBORD 11/Courtesy Of Monte Clark Gallery)
Adam O’Reilly: In your last show, Vox at Monte Clark Gallery, you showed some large paintings of what looked like posters for a Loretta Lynn concert, can you tell me about these works?
Roy Arden: Those paintings are called Smorgasbord I and Smorgasbord II , they are both derived from an old, tiny newspaper ad for a Loretta Lynn concert that I found online. Lynn is an important artist and I thought it was funny that the word “Smorgasbord” was in a larger text than her name. I am drawn to vernacular illustrations, photos, typography, etc… I like what they tell about the culture. The exhibition was called Vox because it dealt with different ideas of the voice. I made large paintings that used images of Elvis and Lynn to represent male and female voices that were artistic but also had a political dimension. They were/are both working class heroes of a sort. I was especially drawn to the Lynn image because of the almost indecipherable raster image of Lynn’s face. Like many artists who have had a long and broad fascination with the image world and the language of reproductions, I have become a kind of connoisseur of bad quality reproductions. The Smorgasbord paintings are also a partial homage to Sigmar Polke, who died last year, he was a great artist and his passing was tragic. I have always been drawn to the very early forms of what became known as Pop Art, when it was critical rather than affirmative of Capitalism and consumerism, i.e.: pre-silkscreen Warhol and early work by Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Richter, and Polke. I like the idea of taking something from the mass media and translating it by hand into something else. This allows the artist to control the image completely and bring forward or suppress aspects as they desire.
(Tabagisme 2011/ T.V. 2011 / Sweeper 2009-Courtesy of Monte Clark Gallery)
I am curious about your relationship to the internet, do you search Tumblr or Flickr? Or do you mostly use Google image search? You find material for your work on the web, how do you feel when you see your own work on other blogs or sites?
My website is an archive of my work, it is actually a labor saving device for me as it frees me from continually providing people with information, images, CV’s, texts etc…they can just get it themselves from my site. The blog is my working scrapbook, instead of just storing images I collect in a folder on my computer I decided to share them. You can see what my interests are and peruse the images I derive my work from or hear the music I am listening to. I mostly use Google image search but I often wander onto Tumblr blogs and Flickr. I enjoy finding images from my website or blog on other sites and blogs. It is instructive to find one of my images on a blog that is 180 degrees in character from my own sensibility, it makes me less of a snob – reminding me of the importance of communication and intersubjectivity. It is also great to find an argument between people about the value of my art.
I am surprised by how little artists use the internet. For decades I heard how artists wanted to find a democratic medium apart from the elitist art world with it’s market of expensive art objects. These artists were so pure in their social concern, so self righteous in their critique of the art object as luxury commodity. When the internet arrived however, very few engaged with it and instead a new snobbism arose – today it is not seen as cool for an artist to have a website or blog, it has the same stigma that self-publishing did before. The funny thing is that all through the 70’s and 80’s critique of the art object I didn’t have a problem with the art object, every medium is distinct and irreplaceable, nothing can kill painting and nothing can kill the internet ( at least not an opinion – terrorism or disaster could actually kill the internet.) The point is that every medium is the best at doing what it does.
Let’s go back to your show UNDERTHESUN at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver, I am curious about the assemblages, they are cobbled together from largely old objects. Can you tell me a bit about them?
The assemblages I make use objects from the past century for their reference to aspects of that history like Capitalism, industry, technologies and cultural forces. For example, the large work Sun Machine is like a windmill or carousel powered by a tandem bicycle. I have made a few works that use wheels because it occurred to me that we are still largely beholding to two inventions, fire and the wheel. People are being killed for fire and the wheel, largely in the form of the automobile. The cloth panels in this work reference the figure of the rag picker. The white tandem bike refers to a Dutch social initiative of the 70’s that proposed communal bicycles. All together the piece is meant to invoke a social utopianism and ask whether we can still believe in such a thing.
I often use obsolete things because it is when something has become obsolete that it reveals its full meaning. It’s not nostalgia because that is a pining for an imagined ‘good old days’. Instead I am interested in a critical view of the bad old days. I use rusty things because they remind that everything comes from nature, when objects age they lose their commodity spell – I don’t want to induce melancholy but rather an ecological consciousness.
The assemblage called Triumphal is intended as a kind of figure for the 20th Century. I was looking at Durer’s engraving Triumphal Carriage for Emperor Maximillian I (1512), and I thought to make a figural triumphal carriage for the early automobile age. The Sparton triple horn was an after market accessory for the early Ford vehicles like the Model T. It is a comical, cartoonish piece, in the spirit of the early 20thC cartoons like Steamboat Willie that when analyzed seem to be attempting largely to register the effects of industrialization and cities.
Like much of my recent work the assemblages seem fun or funny at first, but if you spend time with them they start unpeeling layers of signification and meaning.
(Life’s Rich Tapestry 2009- Courtesy of Monte Clark Gallery)
I am interested in your creative process; do you work at projects intuitively, piecing things together and experimenting, or are they premeditated and thought about before you approach them?
It can go both or other ways. I am a bricoleur at base, so things usually start when I find some image or object and it starts suggesting things to me. But I do also have an overall sense of what I am doing and where it is going, I have large themes or subjects that continue to hold me. It would be impossible to really give an account of how works come about because it is different every time.
Is there a single work that you have seen in the past that has a had a major impact on the way you thought about art making? For me it was seeing a Cy Twombly painting at the MOCA when I was 16 – the feeling still resonates with me.
So many, hundreds. With the photography it was Wols, his cruel, atomic light. With collage it was Schwitters, the alchemy of taking a few scraps and composing them into gold. Early Warhol for painting – the American vernaculars of advertising and journalistic photography translated in a plain spoken way to canvas – it’s a critical operation but not didactic or propagandistic. But in the end I would have to say Rauschenberg, an early combine, there are many great ones. Rauschenberg’s catholic embrace of everything all at once showed me I didn’t have to narrow down my field of vision.
What would you want people to take away from one of your shows?
I would hope that whatever they take away would be unforeseeable and not easily described.