Kristin Skees interviews Alan Skees
KS: Alan, tell me about your series American Glitch: Neo-Regionalism. How did you get the idea for this series?
AS: I was playing around with some camera apps and I found a slit scan camera that was doing something similar to an idea I was playing around with PROCESSING code. I started making and testing what I could do with, and it just so happened that I was riding in the car with you one day and I slit scanned the neighborhood going by, and it looked pretty great. The images that I made reminded me of the undulating landscapes of Regionalist painting from the 1920’s, but filtered through technology, which is the antithesis of the Regionalist ideals.
KS: You’ve been working on this series for several years now. I know you come from a printmaking background. How do you see this work evolving from that?
AS: I actually have some strong opinions on this. I strongly feel that digital art is in the canon of printmaking. There’s debate over the nature of this amongst printmakers and art historians and boils down how does one define the fixed matrix. Basically, there are people, like me, who think digital art is just an evolution of printmaking because the code is the fixed matrix that imagery is derived from. It is the plate or stone in the digital age.
KS: Interesting. I know you always say printmakers have historically been on the cutting edge of technology throughout history. So this is just the continuation of printmaking.
AS: Yes. I still do a lot of relief printmaking in addition to the digital series. I use contemporary and digital techniques to make plates and I like trying new technologies, but the ultimately the processes I do are very much rooted in traditional printmaking.
KS: I know you grew up working with Photoshop from a very early age. Essentially, you taught yourself?
AS: Yeah, I started working with digital art using Semantic Great Works, which was a program that existed before Photoshop in the late 1980’s. I was in an accelerated learning class in elementary school and used the computers there. But then in college, I started doing printmaking, and that’s where I learned everything about traditional printmaking and also how to finish and present work.
KS: I know referenced Regionalism being an influence on this work. Did anything else influence you?
AS: This was the first body of work that I developed the concept after I developed the process. I recognized that the pieces resembled something I had seen from art history, but it took me awhile to connect the dots to regionalism. Once I researched their work, I saw how my work was similar in style but completely opposite in intent, so that becomes an interesting point of convergence.
KS: How do think this work will evolve?
AS: It is already evolving. What I’m showing at Current Art Fair is mostly my newest work. There’s much more abstraction in the work. It’s almost pulling away from the Regionalism and morphing into something more abstract than the rendered landscape, which already abstract to begin with.
KS: Nice. It also seems to cross over with you love of political artwork too.
AS: Yes, it does comment on the politics of the land and man’s mark left on the land. Even in the most abstract works of the series, the images are made out of electricity, and lights, and I’m travelling on planes and in cars. So there is that layer there, which is why it’s an interesting contrast with the Regionalist painters, who wanted to get back to the land and simpler, agrarian societies.
Alan Skees interviews Kristin Skees
AS: I’ve been with you on this Cozy journey since grad school. I was your first human subject. I remember one time I was looking for the drill in the house, and you had cozied it and shipped it to a gallery. Can you tell me how you made the transition from objects to people?
KS: Good question. I think I was looking for the most absurd thing I could think of to put a cozy over it. I did my pick up truck, and all my welding equipment. With the cozy on the tools, it was interesting because it rendered them useless. And we had just gotten married. I think I just thought it was funny to put a cozy over you, as if you were an object that I could put away when you were done being useful. Basically, it made me laugh.
AS: Initially, I had to stand in the gallery in the cozy. How did you decide to move from the person in a gallery to a styled photograph?
KS: At first I took photos documenting you standing in the gallery. But the photos were pure documentation. I realized that if most people would encounter the work as a photograph, then I should think of them in terms of photography from the beginning. And then the work became more exciting to make and conceive of because I could add a layer of narrative, or an interesting environment. It wasn’t only about the cozy covering a person, but where that person was, what else was in the photograph, and the composition and light and everything that makes photography what it is.
AS: I’ve seen you buy shopping carts full of yarn. So much yarn. The early cozies were hand knit. How does that compare to your process now?
KS: Yeah, I taught myself to knit from a book I got from a thrift store. This was before Youtube. It’s so easy to learn stuff now!! But I was quickly frustrated with the amount of time it was taking to make them. It just seemed like there could be a faster way to do it, so I bought an old knitting machine that was made in the 1980’s. And when I say knitting machine, people usually think of some push-button automatic machine that does everything for me, but it’s a pretty complicated and very analog machine. I still have to do a lot of math to work out designs, and manipulate the yarn tension and set the needles exactly right. I’ve figured out most of the quirks of my machine, now that I’ve been using it for over a decade, but I’m still trying new techniques and designs. That keeps it challenging and fun.
AS: I remember you quickly moved on from me as your subject to other people. How did you get other people to agree to do this? It’s not exactly a comfortable situation to be in.
KS: Surprisingly, people would ask me to be in one. But it took me a year or so to come around to the idea of involving other people (besides you). I never considered myself as a collaborative artist. I kind of worked alone in my studio. I decided to test the waters I guess by making my parents pose for me. I think they were my safety net. I knew they would do it but if my idea didn’t work, I wouldn’t be beholden to anyone to put it out there. So Mom and Dad #1 became the first image in the Cozy Portrait series. And looking back at it, I see how much I’ve improved as a photographer in many ways, but I also see how my vision of the series, both aesthetically and conceptually, was very clear in that first photo.
AS: I totally agree. The frontality of the portraits, and how the scenery really describes who the people are in the photographs, you’ve never lost that in the series. I know your photography is rooted in traditional painting portraiture. You’ve really stuck to the essence of the project, do you see any changes for the future?
KS: Yes, and no. Yes, in that I’m starting to do more adventurous environments. I recently cozied my brother and photographed him while we were backpacking in Yosemite. I want to do more landscapes in that vein, which are slightly different than what I’ve been doing so far with mostly indoor environments and people’s homes. I still really look to the history of art and photography. I always am referencing it or responding to it in some way.
Additional Questions from Curator, John Lee Matney
JLM: Discuss the other work we are presenting in the fair. What would be necessary for collectors to know about the work/
Discuss your current body of work in general, including larger-scale piece our collectors might consider.
KS: Did you know that there was a medieval superstition that you could lose your soul through yawning? The Yawning Beagles photographs are part of my larger Mother/Artist series. These were made before I had children, but a series of miscarriages left me reeling with uncertainty and questioning everything I thought I knew about myself. I found these beagles coincidentally (or not) around this time and they became totems for me during this year-long existential crisis.
JLM: Who and what has influenced you?
KS: I love art history and could name a hundred artists that have influenced my work, but I think it's my relationship with people that have had the most important influence on me. My art professors in undergraduate and graduate school had a huge impact on not only my artwork, but the entire direction of my life. I'm a big believer in education and mentorship, and they gave me the right encouragement and environment for growth that made me an artist. At this stage in my life, my relationship with my children is my creative inspiration, and I find my friendships with other artists, moms, and colleagues to be the most cherished and needed.
JLM: Where you do see your work going in 2020 and beyond?
KS: Both of my main projects (Cozy Portraits and Mother/Artist) are expansive enough that I will probably still be working within their frameworks. I hope to do more intriguing and adventurous environments for my Cozy Portraits. As my kids grow and change, so will the Mother/Artist series. They are just now old enough to understand and be more actively involved in my work, and if they choose to be, then I hope they will continue to be a part of it.