Category: Benjamin Murphy – Conversations

A Necessity of Sanity – Benjamin Murphy in conversation with James Tailor

James Tailor’s work is deeply-rooted in theory, but is not bound to it. Rather, his abstract sculptures are to be approached on formalist grounds, open to interpretation. Whilst abstract, they hint at representation; visceral forms suggest the human object, both inside and out. 

James Tailor
Title: Chromaphilia ll
Medium: Acrylic paint on canvas and stretcher 

Bulbous folds in the skin of some works speaks of human excess; gluttony almost, but never derogatorily.

His use of colour adds a layer of complexity, by alienating these forms and moving them towards the unknown, where any semblance of representation can only be the representation of something familiar, and yet somehow entirely new.

Why are you an artist?

The answer to ‘why I am an artist’ is rooted in my childhood,  I struggled growing up with dyslexia and found Art to be the most successful way I had of communicating. Similarly, as an adult my constant reevaluating shows me that being an artist is my strongest hand, something that makes me truly happy and a necessity of sanity.

Do you think being an artist is intrinsically linked to who you are?

I don’t believe I’d ever find an alternative that I’m as passionate about, that if not engaged with after a few days, effects my sense of being. So for better or worse, it is intrinsic to who I am now.

What else are you passionate about

Making art is all-encompassing, leading towards many areas of research, personally I’m engrossed in exhibitions, art documentaries, podcasts, books, lectures, fashion, interior design and politics.

How does that research manifest itself in the works?
James Tailor
Title: Untitled 
Medium: Acrylic & varnish paint skin pleated over canvas and stretcher

My research is the undercurrent, at the starting point and also in the contextualisation. Working in this way allows an ambiguity to be present that avoids directing the viewer too a said understanding of a given piece, this is achieved with subtleties like the size or tension in a break and the angles in between things, seemingly small choices  or restraints can have very powerful connotations. People connect more with a piece if they reach their own conclusion but it’s my responsibility as the artist to make sure each piece is able to stand on its own as an intriguing object.

So do you want your work to be approached with formalist readings through which they can interpret the works in their own way?

It’s not important nor a requirement that the viewer understands all the different nuance’s in my work, there are different levels of engagement and this is considered. There used to be a point where I anchored my practice to painting, and although there is an undeniable link to that medium, this is no longer a primary concern of mine. Allowing my works to exist as they are, assemblages, somewhere in between painting and sculpture, allows space for new possibilities.

How do you approach the making of the works, do you have a specific feel in mind at the outset, or is that dictated by the medium?

Mainly working with the possibilities chance and assemblage give, my practice is not tied to a particular medium or style. Taking found objects, usually at the end of their life and re-appropriating their narratives to form new ones, there is an unavoidably autobiographical meaning to be extracted from what I choose. I create assemblages from materials with which I personally connect. 

The discarded items that I use convey an inherent sadness and a sense of anticipation, It is precisely that feeling what I cling to. These items are then sometimes paired with acrylic paint, which I obsessively rework into a self made material. There is something ridiculously excessive in my fixation with acrylic paint which can verge on addiction when reworking it again and again.  Through draping, sculpting, casting or pleating I react to the tensions inherent to the materials and have to be able to judge when to stop.

James Tailor
Title: Consignment F25 
Medium: Acrylic paint skin pleated over canvas and stretcher with wooden crate including gloss paint and found objects 
Where do you source these materials?

The objects used in my assemblages are broken discarded items that can be found anywhere. So it’s important for me to always be alert, never knowing when I may stumble upon the starting point of a potential new work. 

The paint skins are made from paint medium and pigment, which are stocked in most art shops, structural items used are sourced from hardware stores.

Does the history of the medium ever inform the outcome of the work?

During my studies, and through out my career I have been fascinated by movements such as Dada, Art Povera, Suprematism and Conceptual Art but was compelled with the history of painting as a medium and the way it is viewed.  My practice has been preoccupied with the phenomenological aspects of the materiality and reception of the art works and in particular with the way in which, in the present times of viral dematerialisation, I counter the melancholic severance of the discarded objects with which I assemble my sculptural pieces with the unifying quality of an obsessive reworking of those objects through (acrylic) paint. 

Artist I have especially admired are Louise Bourgeois, Jannis Kounellis, Daniel Buren, Steven Parrino, Tony Cragg and Phyllida Barlow. Being aware of whats happened, or happening, undeniably informs me and its something I’m devoted to, its important to keep expanding on a knowledge that aids conversation, without repeating whats already been said.

James’ Instagram

More artist conversations:

Richie Culver – Making Bad Decisions

Dirtier Over Time – a conversation between Paul Weiner and Benjamin Murphy

Dirtier Over Time

Benjamin Murphy – First question: why are you an artist?

Paul Weiner – I don’t see much of a barrier between art and life. My work is the filter through which I understand what’s going on around me. I’m sorting through what I see in the world and tying the abstract to the concrete, so the works can be dramatic and painterly while also loaded with information and symbols that I’m recording from the world and spitting back out in my work. I end up with shows that are amalgamations of abstraction with the political and personal seeping in. At some point, the work takes on a life of its own through interpretations I setup or accidentally illicit. I live for those moments.

BM – Is that because you’re an artist, or do you not see a distinction between art and life in general?

PW – I do see a distinction, but I see art as a way of processing what we see in our lives. We each have mechanisms we use for making sense of the incredibly complex surroundings we inhabit. What’s so exciting about making art as opposed to, for instance, taking a long walk, is that the result can be a physical object and a relic of the time we live in for others to use later to make sense of their own lives.

BM – That’s a great way to look at it. Art is both a way for you to make sense of your life, but it can also perform the same function for others.

PW – Exactly. I want the viewer to see a broad range of objects from my most personal and emotional works to historical references and political information so they can find their own meaning and load the paintings with that meaning. There’s a level of abstraction in that most people don’t know exactly what my objects are when they first see them even though these are very politically and ideologically-loaded objects. Some of my favorite works hide in plain sight. You might be looking at shells collected from Tulelake internment camp, a mass shooter’s receipts, or toy guns soaking in a vat of Yemeni sidr honey without even realizing it. Those are subversive works almost hidden by their physical abstraction. Other works are more bombastic with pop art references that are more easily read – like my American flag paintings, so there is an energy in those works that informs the others. It’s hard to miss a 20 foot tall flagpole covered in advertisements for military weapons manufacturers hanging from the ceiling.

BM – So you you think artists have a responsibility to take a stand politically?

PW – No. Each artist is different, and we should all have the freedom to make whatever the hell we want to make. My works can be violent, beautiful, sexy, destructive, and ideological all at once. It’s a chaotic and maximal practice where I fit everything in under a big umbrella. Only a small sliver of my work ends up in the gallery and even less  is on social media. I have a lot of surprises up my sleeve that I’m waiting for the right time to put out.

BM – Do you ever destroy works?

PW – It’s usually an accident, but shit falls all over the place in the studio and I break things on the floor all the time. It’s messy and charcoal or graphite gets on everything. The fire department complained about my studio last month, so I’m cleaning it up. Sometimes I still use works that I’ve destroyed. There’s something I like about evidence of my studio’s cannibalistic energy in the work.

BM – Hahaha yeah all that charcoal and oil your studio must be a fire hazard

PW – Yeah. I’m trying to clean up my act in 2020!

BM – Why do you do when a piece isn’t working, do you ever abandon them?

PW – Yes. The poured charcoal pieces are especially fickle. Sometimes I abandon them if I don’t immediately respond to the composition, but they age nicely as they get dirtier over time. Occasionally I overwork a piece and do just throw it away.

BM – Yeah that’s something interesting that I’d like you to elucidate, tell me about how your works alter over time, and why you choose not to fix them once you’ve finished painting?

PW – Some of the works do get fixed, but I like the idea of a drawing as less of a stable object and more of an image that evolves over its lifecycle. The unfixed works seem less commercial and less decorative in that way, which lends some authenticity to abstraction.

BM – Some of your works are quite expressive and almost chaotic, your charcoal works especially, do they come from that kind of place?

PW – They do. I also think of those works as being violent. I tend to use them to create drama within an exhibition, as is the case with my recent show at Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art in Houston. They soak up all the information from surrounding sculptures and become filled with those ideas even as they remain expressive. I’ve also thought of those works as a sort of reference to post-war abstract expressionism and the specifically Jewish nature of that movement. You arguably have some of the greatest Jewish art and criticism ever in that movement between the Rothkos, Greenbergs, Krasners, Frankenthalers, Gustons, Newmans, Rosenbergs, and others of that movement. At a time when Jewishness is back in the news, this work seems very pertinent. As much as those charcoal works are my own expression, they are almost sculptural references to a time wrought with war and the realignment of power dynamics on the world stage, somewhat mirroring what we see again today.

BM – Ah nice, a lot of Anselm Kiefer’s work is about the secondary guilt he feels as a German about the Holocaust. It isn’t necessarily directly referenced in most of his work, but it provides a context that affects the reading of his oppressive, gestural pieces.

So what would you say is the purpose of art?

PW – Art can serve so many purposes from person to person that I’m hesitant to define the purpose aside from the idea that it should illicit thought or emotion in some way. I don’t even think I know what my art’s own purpose will be 5, 10, or 100 years from now. I hope it will still be relevant. 

What you said about Kiefer is interesting. I have always admired his work, especially the way he infuses history into his paintings to build these contemporary artifacts that merge our time with what came before. Kiefer takes on such a variety of incredibly powerful and controversial topics at once and marries them together in grandly emotional constructions of paint and materials.

BM – The febrile political climate that we find ourselves in at the moment is serving to inspire a lot of great art. 

PW – Yeah. This climate of international power realignment leaves us in a constant state of flux, and the art we see today is reflective of these times whether it’s consciously made that way or not. It’s conscious for me, as is clear in my exhibition at Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, which includes a variety of objects that are critical of war profiteering particularly targeting Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Halliburton. Even as trillions of dollars are siphoned away from domestic American interests, there is a great deal of money to be made on American wars. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a former lobbyist for Raytheon, is a walking conflict of interests.

We’ve just learned of the American drone strike that killed Iran’s Qasem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian General. This is an act of war. Today, we are at an impasse where we will learn if any true opposition party exists that could force our president to deescalate American conflicts nearing war with Iran and elsewhere throughout the world. As abrupt as this massive military escalation feels, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Just a few weeks ago, Congress agreed to a bipartisan reauthorization of the National Defense Authorization Act that granted widespread executive authority to the president and rejected an amendment that would have forced the president to seek congressional approval before this strike.

Crippling bipartisan sanctions on Iran were passed in a 98-2 US Senate vote in 2017, causing economic havoc that is particularly harsh for poor and vulnerable people. The sanctions have had the effect of limiting the import of medicines and causing cruel and needless trouble for sick people, especially pediatric cancer patients. In combination with a bipartisan $738 billion defense spending bill, the complicity of those who claim to resist Trump is palpable.

BM – Do you ever wonder what you would make your work about if you lived in a socialist utopia and had nothing to critique?

PW – I would be working hard to keep it that way, and my art would reflect that. I suppose important themes in my work would be solidarity, protection, and emancipation all still filtered through abstraction in some way. Any time a leftist reform is implemented, it’s vital to defend those reforms by creating a culture around them and organizing to quash the inevitable opposition from capital by limiting the resources available to that opposition.

I’m not fighting for a fantasy world or nitpicking about what constitutes perfect socialism, though. I’m just tired of a system that has presided over the unprecedented transfer of wealth to a few ultra-wealthy oligarchs at the same time as it filters trillions of tax dollars through endless wars that force unnecessary cruelty on people all over the world when that money could be used to improve domestic living conditions instead. I want a system where we don’t have to hopelessly watch as Australia and Jakarta burn while living in constant state of fear that there might be a school shooting down the street, we can’t pay our debts, or afford our medications and where we don’t have to hear about elites going galavanting around the world on Jeffrey Epstein’s pedophile airplane.

I want a system where people can go to the doctor when they’re sick without worrying about going bankrupt, go to a public college for free, put a roof over their heads, and earn a respectable wage to support their families without wondering if another pointless war will suck away all the resources tomorrow.

For more by Paul

Make the Worst Possible Joke about Yourself – Benjamin Murphy & Michael Swaney

Benjamin Murphy – Why are you an artist?

Michael Swaney – I have no idea. Except that it probably has to do with being raised in a creative atmosphere by my parents who both had hobbies when I was young.

BM – So both of your parents are artists?

MS – Yes. My mum was always the artist figure in my family and I learned a lot from her. But now in hindsight I see that my dad has always been an artistic figure in the family as well. He’s a retired chemical engineer, but is also a HO scale model railroad fanatic since as long as I remember, he can paint backdrops, make trees out of rope and rivers out of resin, make a house or train look dilapidated. He also pretty creative with his gardens anti-deer arrangements, which I often photographed and admired.

BM – Tell me more about these anti-deer arrangements…

MS – The anti-deer arrangements are these piles of organised crossing sticks that didn’t even work. But they look amazing. My dad gets pretty experimental with the ways of keeping animals away from the garden. He’s sprinkled his own hair around the fruit trees. Hung soap off the branches. Etc.

BM – Hahaha does he have any reason to think these things will work or is it all trial and error?

MS – It’s mostly trial and error based off of common knowledge of wilderness in Canada.

BM – Do you think you have a similar approach to art-making?

MS – Definitely. It’s about jumbling around with everything and utilising it all, as well as the scraps. Like a garden.

BM – Why are you trying to say with your works?

MS – I’m not trying to say anything specifically.

MS – I think my attitude and philosophies in life show through in the art, and I hope that when I’m no longer here it will be fairly evident what I was saying.

BM – Do you see a distinction between what is sometimes called “high art” and “low art”, or highbrow and lowbrow.

MS – Well, right now everyone wants to blur the boundaries of high and low. I didn’t necessarily agree with that. Categories are helpful in distinguishing marginal art forms from the academic ones. I am happy that outsider and folk practices are finally being placed in the same museums as artist who have studied, but to me marginal art forms are far more interesting than academic ones and so, should be categorised as such still. Art Brut is virtually impossible to come across any more and therefore it is a rare prestigious category to be part of.

BM – Do you identify with the Art Brut movement?

MS – I identify way more with ways of working in marginal movements, but would never dare placing myself in one. I’ve been thinking what I do is parallel to them. I didn’t go to art school but have been extremely influenced by popular culture in my life, as well as the notion of an audience and a market. Those things disqualify any artist from any outsider category in my opinion.

BM – Do you feel any affinity with Pop or CoBrA?

MS – Cobra for sure. And Dubuffet is a mentor figure to me.

BM – The juxtaposition of such a traditional medium, ie mosaic, with your contemporary subject matter is interesting, what drew you to this medium and what are you able to say with mosaic that you are unable to articulate with other mediums?

MS – I’ve always lived mosaic work primarily through my admiration for Hunderteasser. Then I moved to Barcelona and discovered Gaudi’s work in person. Niki de Saint Phalle too. I feel like it’s a medium that people are ready to see again. A humble artisanal medium that requires sweat and blood, and contrasts our digital obsession. Brings you back down to earth again.

BM – Aside from artists, what would you say informs your work?

MS – Humour. Nature. Love. Stress. Music. Movies. Food. My child. Conversation.

BM – What are hinderances to your practice, and how do you overcome them?

MS – Usually other people’s opinions. I’m way better off working reclusively than knowing what people think and having them see the process. Also not having a big enough studio to work on many disciplines at once.

Yet. That will soon change.

BM – Do either of these things ever force you to work in ways that provide unexpected benefits?

MS – Well, studios that are small can be helpful in not sitting back and looking at the work from a distance for ages and just committing to them being done. Then it’s a surprise seeing it installed.

BM – Yeah that’s true.

MS – As far as opinions, yes it’s beneficial not knowing what others are doing and for them knowing what you’re doing. All artists know that I guess.

BM – Where did the hand motif come from and what is its significance?

MS – My daughter got hooked On these videos, and I got even more hooked.

BM – Nursery rhymes are an interesting topic for art, I’m not sure I’ve seen that before

MS – I can’t think of anything that stands out to me immediately. I’m sure there is. I love the Mike Kelly stuffed-toy sculptures.

BM – What were you making your work about before your daughter was born?

MS – I suppose they were sort of versions of what I used to do as a kid. Side-profile views of rooms with people. Family settings with bedroom details and dinner tables. It wasn’t a conscious decision to do that though, I realised it after the fact.

BM – What annoys you most about the art world?

MS – Artists ?

I’ve been realising I don’t like to have a lot of artist friends.

BM – Haha – what is it about us that annoys you?

MS – We are so ego based. So much social pretension and elitist bullshit.

BM – How do we counter that?

MS – Hang out with non-artists.

BM – Yeah I think that’s important.

MS – Right?

That was also one of Dubuffet’s things. He liked to hang out with bakers and bricklayers etc.

BM – As did Bacon, he hung out with criminals.

Michael swanky

MS – I recently told a young artist friend, you can never be too cocky Because this shit is so unstable.

BM – You think cockiness is necessary to survive?

MS – Also I’ve learned to be more cautious about who I share my ideas with ?

BM – Yeah it’s necessary for sure in some cases. Confidence. But not when it comes to having a new experience with another human being no matter who they are or what they do. If arrogance gets in the way you won’t have a genuine experience

MS – It’s hard to explain. Do you think it’s necessary?

BM – I definitely see what you mean, it’s essential to display confidence in yourself and your work, as if you don’t believe totally in what you’re doing then how can you expect anyone else to.

But it’s hard to not have this confidence spill over into arrogance.

MS – Exactly. But it bugs me when people are arrogant. In general. A sense of humour about oneself is fundamental in my opinion.

You have to be able to make the worst possible joke about yourself.

For more of Benjamin’s conversations:

Trying not to Breathe – Benjamin Murphy and Taylor A White

Trying not to Breathe – Benjamin Murphy and Taylor A White

Trying not to Breathe – A Conversation between Artists Benjamin Murphy and Taylor A White

Taylor White is an artist who’s paintings are a visual record of his violently-unique character. Sitting somewhere in between gestural abstraction and hard-edged formalism (with the odd bit of representation), his works are an overload of perfectly-ordered chaos. His online persona feeds into this entropic aura that surrounds his works, and it is impossible not to see the joy he has both in his work and life. I decided to have a little chat with him about his work, because scrolling through his Instagram was such an entertaining, and inspiring experience, that I couldn’t help but try to find out more.

The statement that he has about his work on his website is a perfect example of what I have tried to elucidate above, and for this reason I have decided to include it verbatim.

My work gives form to fleeting memories and the dormant mania crawling beneath the carpet of the western home. These images recount crisis and triumph, momentum and confinement, lust and low-altitude bombing. Finding stillness in the recording of arguments within the process of painting and drawing, I return to my childhood freezer filled with popsicles and secret passageways.

Taylor a white

Fake Zoo

Benjamin Murphy – Firstly, why are you an artist? Taylor A White – I don’t think I could enjoy my life if I wasn’t making art on a near constant basis. It’s something I seriously have to do to be able to sleep at night. I didn’t get really serious with it until I was 35 (I’m 40 now) and it totally took over my life. It was something that I returned to after spending my 20’s in the military, and it sort of transported me to a place I remember from my childhood. Making art kind of re-wired me after the military, and it seriously changed my worldview and how I viewed myself. BM – Was it that you felt like you needed rewiring post-military service, and it was art that did that job, or was the rewiring an unexpected thing that happened because you’d started painting? TAW – The shift in my thinking (or re-wiring) really happened unexpectedly. I started going to college for Psychology (mainly because I didn’t know what to go to college for, and it sounded responsible, lol) and I eventually took an elective art class which was the intro class you had to take before you could take the other classes. I was immediately hooked, as soon as I smelled the inside of the art department, I knew I’d found the place I was supposed to be. BM – Wow. I actually went to art school because I didn’t know what else to do, so it’s funny that you came to the same destination from the opposite direction.  So do you think that painting is something you could have very easily not discovered? TAW – Oh definitely. I actually almost quit the first painting class because I became so annoyed with my inability to do basic things painting things like creating a gradation between two colors. I was frustrated that it did not have the directness and speed of drawing, I was just pushing this hard to control goop around and it wasn’t satisfying. I had a great painting professor that really encouraged me to just draw with paint, and stop thinking about painting in such a rigid conventional way.
taylor a white

Taylor A White in his studio

BM – Do you think you could still quit now, or has painting become a part of who you are? TAW – Hahahaha no I could never quit, it would be like trying not to breathe. BM – That’s interesting, as you almost never found it. TAW – That’s true. I kinda stumbled into it and it immediately transported me back to my childhood. BM – Do you think you needed that? TAW – No, I didn’t realize I needed it at first, it kinda snuck up on me. Taylor A White BM – What is your work about? TAW – I don’t ever intentionally make work about a specific subject, or try to direct viewers to see it in a certain way. Often I can overhear a segment of a conversation or something like that, and it sort of becomes a point of departure in a painting. I’m always interested in letting the work completely become unhinged from that initial prompt, and I never feel any obligation to circle back and force it to make sense, to resolve it BM – So how does it make you feel when you look at it afterwards, and are there any signifiers within the work that you can identify as being related to certain things? TAW – I generally don’t let a painting survive if it makes sense, I find it boring. Sometimes symbols and shapes that I draw are interpreted as specific signifiers for something, but they’re most often based on my immediate interest in drawing them. Sometimes that can result in something that maybe points to things happening in the subconscious l, but I’m comfortable with letting people interpret it however they’d like. I also had a great teacher that once told me “you’re saying more than you might think”. So I just kept going, firing from instinct and impulse.
Taylor A White

Maybe We Should be Kissing

BM – In general, do you think that the most successful artworks are those that are least didactic? JFK once said something along the lines of “Art is not propaganda, art is truth”, and I think it’s really apt. TAW – I’d say I agree with that. I’m definitely most interested in art that I immediately find confusing. BM – If you had unlimited time, money, space, what would be your dream project? TAW – Hmm, ok here’s one thing I’d do immediately: I’d like to tie or affix Matthew McConaughey to objects and only allow him to repeatedly say “Alright, alright, alright”. Like just imagine him doing that, placed sideways at the bottom of a huge painting. I love it. BM – Haha that is wild. I’m going to end this interview there, because there can be no better way to wrap one of these things up than with that image. So thank you. TAW – Thank you.
Taylor A White

It’s Like You Don’t Even Care About Vitamins

For more interviews For more conversations Michael Swaney Richie Culver