Dave Young, Eddie Colla and Hugh Leeman are at it again, they currently have a show at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco! Though they have been working together for a while, this show is meant to be less a collaborative effort and group show. Nonetheless, it’s interesting see how their work and thought processes have evolved, both individually and thanks to their collaborations. Check out the interview and if you’re in The City check out the show!
Thematically what is going on with the collaborative work you’ve been doing for the show at Minna?
EC: D Young V and I did a few large scale outdoor pieces over the summer and we started combining a lot of his text, symbols and design elements with some of my more photographic images. I think our work intersects at the idea that this much realized civilization that we have will at some point either collapse or at very least crack. We are interested in different aspects of this, but both of our work addresses the resulting shift in focus and priorities
DY: The 111 Minna Gallery exhibition will be much less of a collaborative effort, and much more of a display of the individual progressions of our work. I will be doing some 3D collaboration pieces with Eddie Colla and Benjamin Clarke. Included will be a collaborative painting with Sam Grant. however, the bulk of my work will have less of a relation with Eddie Colla and Hugh Leeman’s work this time around.
You three have had a couple of collaborative shows together now, what benefits do you see working together? In what ways have you influenced each other’s work? Can any of you point to a specific piece or a theme and say, oh he helped me get there?
EC: Working with Hugh and Dave is always a win win situation. Every successful project we’ve done has created a special bond between us. When other projects have failed we always have the comfort of blaming the other 2 guys.
DY: For me personally the body of my work in this show will be a series of 40 ink drawings displayed as a single wall installation. The drawings were all done with Micron 08 pens on bristol paper (19x24in.). I wanted to go back to the basics for this show, I started my art career doing simple pen work. For me, going back to this was a way of stepping away from much of what I’ve been doing for the last five years artistically. Working with the Micron 08 pen is therapeutic. Its takes hours upon hours to do my fill ins, when you look closely to the paper you can see every single individual pen mark. I like this textured effect, but more importantly I enjoy the zen of its creation. Everything for me these last few years has been about going bigger, more colorful, more complicated compositions, etc. I wanted to step away from all that for this show.
I doubt our work will clash for this show. Much of our work is very different from one another’s, but the show is meant to exhibit our newest work (hence the show title). As I said earlier, its less about collaborating and more about individual progression.
I think the hardest part for me in creating this body of work was simply getting it done. Throughout the last few years I’ve worked tirelessly putting on solo shows, installations, group projects, murals, etc. I will say that I have become burnt out on it all. On the other hand I’ve never been much good at taking breaks, so one challenge for me was finding a way to simplify. Simplifying was a way of not only meeting this deadline but also a way to mentally relax and recharge my batteries. I’m happy with the result.
HL: Sometimes I feel frustrated by this and at others exhilarated. Frustrated in the sense of feeling held bound to another or having to in some way externalize what otherwise is very private and discuss in words what is even challenging to discuss in metaphor with imagery and imagination. Exhilarated to be a part of the process of observing others processes and them as a person especially when the collaboration is not with you or another artist but to be aside someone engaged in the intimate act of expression of the self. Their is a respect I have for them, Dave and Eddie, and creators in general because I feel their is a common consciousness in that they want what I want and fear what I fear in regards to the external rewards offered by life and we are also challenged by the internal need to express, to give outlet to the internal.
Hugh commented on how he’s focusing on putting a greater emphasis on work than the final product, as artists, you spend numerous hours that most likely few or no people will see, those hours are what make a piece of art more than anything anyone can behold in a viewing. But how can you convey all that meaning to a viewer? How can you show them that on the day you did this part of the piece you were angry, and on another day you were happy? And are those moments, the moments in between buying the materials and hanging the piece in a gallery, meaningful to you as artists?
EC: Trying to convey all of that to the viewer isn’t something I try to do. It’s like notes. You might write pages and pages of something, all pushing towards an idea most of which will get thrown out. In the end I am trying to hone it down to that one good sentence or phrase or even one word. That’s the finished piece. I don’t know that those moments are meaningful to me as an artist as much as they are meaningful to me as a person.
DY: I see a lot of benefits to the three of us working together. Each of us brings new ideas to the table. Its also good that we are able to share resources and explore new techniques. I would say that working with each other has definitely evolved our individual works as artists. However, working collaboratively always bring new things to the table and causes the individual to rethink their strategies, methods and vision in order to meld their work with someone else’s.
I think that working with Eddie has evolved my techniques in several ways. Much of these new techniques were explored on collaborative works then eventually brought into my individual works. Simultaneously due to the fact that Eddie and I collaborate so often, we are able to share projects. For instance we can tackle more wall projects together then on our own. Our styles and ideas blend easily, so the collaboration process generally requires minimal effort in that respect.
I think working with Hugh has definitely broadened my horizons philosophically. When I first met Hugh, he had a near obsessive work ethic when it came to be seen throughout the streets of San Francisco. The approach definitely inspired me to start having a stronger presence as well. I feel that watching Hugh’s more recent progress as he has become more self aware through his art this last year or so has caused me to rethink some of my patterns when it comes to my approach on life.
As after recalling a specific theme or piece where Hugh or Eddie helped me get to where I wanted to go was probably ‘Epilogue’. This was a massive collaboration installation/show we did together in Los Angeles in 2012. This project forces me to rethink my approach, techniques and concepts. In many ways it was experimental, a departure from my individual direction. So yes, many of the ideas and techniques in that project were inspired by working with Hugh and Eddie. Most of the techniques I explored in Epilogue I am still using and evolving today in my individual work.
HL: I don’t know that I can convey everything or perhaps at times Im not even sure what exactly Im trying to convey. Potentially there is profundity it that idea as a whole. That idea of “I don’t know what Im trying to convey”, seems to be thematically present or constant in its many manifestations within human condition, the struggle to evolve and express ourselves and express what the evolution was like to experience and share it with others, in the idea that they can feel it as well to communicate and connect with it. It could be best to be vulnerable and communicate the lack of knowing the ambient shimmering landscape that is always on the horizon that will continue to distance itself from us not matter how far we walk. The greatest potential of art may be, to be made solely to allow the artist an outlet of expression and the viewing, receiving and consumption of this art is quite separate, in that, regardless of what had been going on in the private, intimate moments with the artist and canvas, the viewers dialogue with the work is private and intimate and it is unnecessary for the feeling put into the creation to be parallel to the feeling projected or deduced from the creation.
It could be argued that street art contradicts at it’s very core the idea gallery art, and by gallery art I am specifically referring to art that is created, framed and hung to be sold. Gallery art, and specifically the prints and reproductions, have to be limited, to make too many copies would dilute the supply and devalue the art. Street art is the opposite, mass quantities of stencils are printed at kinkos in the hopes of pasting as many as you can wherever you can and all at the expense of the artist. What then, is the motive of the street artist?
EC: They are 2 different processes. The business of them is quite different but business is rarely at the core of the impulse to create. You’re right that galleries operate on a principle of scarcity and street art often mimics more of an advertising model in it’s repetition and distribution. I don’t feel like they are mutually exclusive things though. They are just 2 different ways of working. Different projects have different goals. For example, I might do a street piece that responds to some current affair. That piece needs to be out, in public as soon as possible to be effective. What I mean by effective is to be part of a greater conversation or interrupt that conversation. That’s the goal of that piece. There’s nothing to buy it’s just and idea and you’re trying to disseminate it. Other projects are more elaborate and doing them on the street would be almost impossible. Large scale installations, things that require controlled environments, certain types of materials etc. There are a lot of different ways to get work out there and depending on the goal or motivation of the work some avenues are more appropriate than others. At the end of the day the goal is not to say art belongs in one place or another but to say art belongs in as many places as possible, reaching as many people as possible.
DY: As I mentioned earlier in this interview, I had spent countless hours simply doing fill ins with a small Micron 08 pen. Every single pen stroke is visible in my pieces. I suppose once can even determine my emotional state by the varying pattern of pen marks in the pieces. Much of this process was therapy for me. I just needed a reason to sit down an focus on one thing, in one spot for hours. I think this is very much reflected in this body of work.
As far this being meaningful or not, I’m not sure. I suppose it is to me, I think the whole process from buying materials, creating, promoting and displaying give me purpose and direction in my daily life. I generally need a reason to go somewhere, walk around the city to different locations and get materials. Then I need a reason to sit home and work. Art provides that for me and gives my life some direction. Even when I travel and paste my work up in different cities, I’m adding in a slight purpose to my traveling. I’m giving myself a reason to be there, or a goal to accomplish while I’m there.
I’m sure to the people viewing my work in this upcoming exhibition, seeing all the work put into these simple ink drawings will be just as important to them as the image itself. the process to them will be as significant as the final product. I’m only basing that theory off of what others have said of my pen work in the past.
How well do you think viewers can understand the meaning in your work? The gallery space allows direct access to viewers to foster discussion, after all you can’t very well walk up to someone looking at a piece of illegal graffiti and say ‘I did that, what do you think it means? Would you like to know what it meant to me?’ Ironically the gallery may provide a better venue for discussion of the subject matter of a piece than the venue of the street. Would you agree with this? Do you think the pieces that you put on the street generate discussion?
EC: I think social media has allowed more access to artists who put work on the street and those conversations can now be had to some degree. I get messages from people about street stuff and we get to have that exchange much more often now. Some of those discussions provide just as much insight as a discussion in a gallery. I think the street pieces, when they are successful generate discussions, if they didn’t there would be hardly any purpose in doing them. While I may not be a part of a lot of those discussions I think they are an important part of the whole process.
DY: I never put much stock in the idea of street art vs. gallery art. I’ve never heard of a street artist that does not show in galleries. Its a question interviewers frequently ask for some reason. There is absolutely no reason the two would ever contradict each other. Why would they? The reason people do street art to get their work out there, advertise their work, convey a message and/or get an adrenaline rush. People sell limited edition prints to make money. People show at galleries to make money, get exposure or do mass installations they would not otherwise be able to do. Its all pretty simple.
HL: I don’t put anything on the street and I haven’t in a year now. I have in the past identified myself or been identified as being a very prolific street artist. I did this because I felt what I was communicating was something I felt intensely passionate about and that it was well to be voiced on the street and any burden I faced or perceived burden faced by society because of my vandalism was well worth the cost. However with my current work, I just don’t currently believe that or feel that it would be anything more than self promotion of my artwork as a means of personal, external gain. Perhaps it is something I will reconvene with further down the river of life but I feel my current state of expression is in its infancy and I feel uncomfortable pressing it not only on anyone but forcing it at all. Instead allowing the language to arrive however it might and frighteningly sometimes, recently, nothing arrives, so I create nothing at times. This is scary to me but it is perhaps the growing pains of a new process. I love what I am doing but or because of this, it is very trying of not necessarily my art or career but my life and my mental state. In the past I felt a manic passion to constantly create maybe neurotically to deal with and cope with myself. On the street I would find my drive manic at times and overwhelming but not at the time, it would often be later and I would ache physically from climbing, jumping, and repetitiously putting up posters. In the end I thought my ideas on social awareness, homelessness, and community where worth this all and that the street was the most wonderful place and opportunity to express this. Right now Im not sure Im telling anyone much of anything, it is more meditative and needs silence and time and patience. These are things I’ve not practiced or been a big part of my life in the past, with this artwork they are. Those feelings being what they are, are currently unsuited for the streets.
Tell us what we will be seeing at the show? How long did it take you to put the show together? Where did you work on the pieces? How much does your environment influence your work? Do you like to work with background noise?
EC: You’ll be seeing a continuation of what I started doing in “Epilogue” the post-apocalyptic stuff. Although, the narrative has been somewhat removed and the work is becoming less about any particular scenario and more about endurance and ideas about strength and beauty. It took a couple months. I worked in my studio in Oakland. As far as the background noise, I’ve been playing this old reel to reel machine through this whole project. No ipod no pandora. Just this old reel to reel with boxes of tapes. Stuff like Lee Morgan, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sinatra. It was a weird soundtrack for the work I was making and It definitely affected how I did things.
DY: Ok, this appears to be a question consisting of several questions, so here goes:
How well do you think viewers can understand the meaning in your work?
Some people get it entirely. Some people come up with their own interesting theories which generally add to the work and its process. Most people do not get it at all, generally because there is no overtly literal reference or pop culture reference for them to latch onto (this is a common critique I’ve heard). Another critique I’ve heard is that it causes people to think for longer then a minute, this critique is often meant to be negative.
The gallery space allows direct access to viewers to foster discussion, after all you can’t very well walk up to someone looking at a piece of illegal graffiti and say ‘I did that, what do you think it means? Would you like to know what it meant to me?’
You can totally say ‘I did that’ and totally walk up to a person and ask them what it means if you like…I have. Whats the worst that can happen? That is basically what social networking allows, so do art blogs with comments sections. That’s what makes facebook and instagram so popular amungst artists.
As far as gallery shows fostering discussion, the only discussions that occur are: “how many pieces did they sell” and “what are they doing next”. Its extremely rare when a more profound or intellectual discussion occurs at an art show. This is not me being cynical, it’s true.
Ironically the gallery may provide a better venue for discussion of the subject matter of a piece than the venue of the street. Would you agree with this?
There’s nothing ironic about that idea. So… no, I don’t agree with this.
Do you think the pieces that you put on the street generate discussion?
HL: The show was originally scheduled to be last July and was postponed, when I got this news I was actually at the airport on my way to Austin Texas to paint a mural at the music festival that Empty Kingdom flew me there for. I was reading the email and also got the phone call and felt disappointed as well as manic in that “I will talk my way into this or that or…” just a running stream of ideas that added up to very little of any cohesion. However in hindsight this was possibly the best thing that could have happened because, it gave me the opportunity for patience and the work would be far different. I don’t know and will never know how different but I feel strongly about the process now as I answer this so whether the work would have been better or worse its unnecessary in thought because the process was the most enriching one Ive been a part of. The work is foreign even to me. As I seldom look at this artwork, I only look at it when Im painting and if Im not painting it is as if it is not their. Perhaps this is an attempt at presence. I want to paint on feeling as it is when Im at the canvas. Less thought and self correction or self criticism. Examine the fear of being vulnerable and tell the canvas how you’re feeling. After awhile Im not sure I am entirely conscious of what Im telling the canvas just that it is a wonderful listener who asked a phenomenally well worded open ended question.
How much have the three of you matured since your first show together? How has your content evolved? The themes of your show in LA were post-apocalyptic, describing a world, not necessarily to come, but that could be. How will this show be a departure from that?
EC: For me it’s not a departure from that, It’s a continuation of that and where that is leading me. Ultimately, I think the direction will leave behind any traces of that narrative. That LA show changed the way I was thinking about a lot of things. That post-apocalyptic theme has lead to investigating a lot of ideas about memories and legacies and endurance.
Tell us what we will be seeing at the show?
From me you will being seeing a series of 40 pen drawings, three collaborations with Eddie Colla, two collaborations with Benjamin Clarke, and one collaboration with Sam Grant.
How long did it take you to put the show together?
For me, It’s been three months.
Where did you work on the pieces?
In my apartment, in my art studio, Cup of Joe Cafe (San Francisco), at Eddie Colla’s art studio, at my mom’s house in New Jersey.
How much does your environment influence your work?
A lot, maybe way too much in fact
Do you like to work with background noise?
I generally work with movies, shows and movie trailers in the background. Netflix and You tube my sites for this.
Since our last show together ‘Epilogue’ in LA I feel as though the content of my work has undergone some changes. Just after LA my installations became far more elaborate and complex. However,for the upcoming 111 Minna show I will be scaling down a lot. Its a way for me to slow down and rethink what I’m doing before I venture further. This coming show will not necessarily be a departure from the ‘post-apocalyptic’ theme I have been developing, but rather a different take on it.
HL: I feel as though I have become a more patient person, more loving, more honest, and vulnerable. If nothing else I tell myself to practice these ideas, I believe they are ideas I wanted to work on aside from art altogether, but nevertheless they have been a part of the great change that has taken place in my artwork in this past year.
Artists develop an aesthetic, a style if you will (I know some people hate that word but frankly technique, method and even aesthetic are all synonyms so to say anything else would just substitute the same meaning with a different word). This style can be said to mature, but in many ways that maturation can seem little more than variations on a theme. Do you think it necessary for artists to throw everything they’ve learned out at some point and start over, if not forever, but to challenge themselves with new content and techniques?
EC: I think there are times to refine ideas and have them evolve and at some point you get to a place where the idea or method has nothing left in it for you. At that point you walk away. There are certain things though that I find myself returning to again and again. Maybe from a different perspective or approach. They are preoccupations and you don’t choose them they choose you.
DY: Well, I suppose that depends on the artist and what they are trying to achieve. Most artists go through a series of styles and concepts throughout their life. It only seems natural to try new things. In some cases its great to see a single vision mature and develop, or even reinvent itself. As far as taking the extreme step of simply throwing everything away that you’ve learned and starting over, that can be interesting too. Sometimes a theme or style can exhausted, then its time to begin again. However, in most cases like this, something is still brought over from the old style into the new. Its always good to challenge oneself though, whether its trying out new techniques or engaging in new concepts.
HL: My artwork has changed a great deal. I know that I wanted to change what I was doing but felt trapped in that I had developed something that was consistent and stylistic and recognizable as a Hugh Leeman piece. I too began to identify myself as this is who I am or what I do, and this idea while self affirming denies the chaotic reality of life and its plausibility to be anything. I wanted change and was terrified of it because it would destroy my external rewards my relationships within my art career. I would no longer say this is who I am this is what I do but I found more intensely that internally I was no longer able to tell myself this is who I am and what I do. The calming nature was to come back to the idea that art was my dialogue with the internal on how I experienced the external. I am the narrator, I decipher experience. My art was no longer who I am but my life is who I am. I began feeling like man I haven’t lived in a long time. I started living again and my art came second my life came first and the changes took place in my art as the diary will change if everything in the life changes. I suppose I felt trapped because I thought if Im not this look or idea than what am I, i could do this or something like that or or or. In the end I am alive and in art I am telling less you about that and finding I am telling myself that whether I am conscious or not of what exactly Im discovering amidst this internal dialogue. Once the art is shown it does develop a voice with the viewer and perhaps the most beautiful idea is that I have sketched only the outline while vacillating between conscious and subconscious dialogue. Within that outline the viewer can them project their internal self onto the artwork and perhaps find something. Expanding the island of what they are conscious of in the depths of their life amidst the vast ocean of what we are still unconscious of.
In that vein, what is next for all of you? Thematically, stylistically, personally or otherwise?
EC: A period of reassessment.
DY: I have no plans for myself after this show.
HL: I have faint visions of what is coming but they are challenging me because as I see them they fade and I feel lost at times and scared or a bit depressed as this process goes on, this is when it is at its worst, but this is a phenomenal worst to be a part of. At best exhilarated by the chaotic nature of potential in its infinite plausibility. I see the figure at times but also a removal of the figure and a focus of the shimmering landscape that alludes. The ambient emotion that palpably expresses itself in fog. An abstract expression. Experimenting with light and painting with, what is not there. The shadow and the source as opposed to that object that is between the shadow and the light source. Swimming and surfing and painting too, there has been less of that lately,painting,though its coming, these tremors, they tell me. Im feeling them when Im alone, right now as I answer this and at times when Im alone though physically with others and sometimes recently I feel nearly nothing, this is new and it too scares me.
What’s the best place in the city to eat and what do you get when you go there?
EC: Saigon Sandwich on Larkin. Bahn Mi Xiu Mai, Shrimp chips and a can of ice coffee
DY: Angel Cafe on Leavenworth @ Geary, I like the dolmas.
HL: Recently I started going to the farmers market that is next to my place regularly for the first time in my life. There is something beautifully romantic, perhaps the perception of the artists is romanticized the same way I would like to perceive the farmers at these markets, they seem beautifully connected to the water, the photosynthesis, to being alive and what it is to foster creation. Perhaps though I am observing them at the market the same way an artist is observed in the gallery, at worst as a peddler, at best an antenna transmitting profundity that speaks to the essence of what it is to live, to discover, to feel, to find life is filled equally with loss as with gain and either is absurd to keep count of for they all end up equal at the end in the soul’s final release. That at best, it is to be alive, to love and not in the hollywood sense of romance, but in the sense of empathy, care, and thinking that their is a collective conscious, what I fear so too does my neighbor, what I have lost so too has my neighbor. Water that tree, get in the ocean, cleanse your self you dirty fuck, at least thats what I say to myself, often.