Phone Tag: Interview with Tiziana La Melia

smile even when its bad, chalk pastel on paper, 2016

smile even when its bad, chalk pastel on paper, 2016

Following an introduction from Rachelle Sawatsky, I Skyped with Vancouver-based artist Tiziana La Melia for the latest iteration of Phone Tag. Tiziana is active in both the literary and artistic communities in Vancouver, and her visual artwork often playfully blends narrative and imagery. In this interview, Tiziana describes current projects, how a space or location can affect what she makes, and attempting to balance an ideal working style with the demands of reality.


Phone Tag is a generative interview format, where I ask each participating artist five questions (plus others as the discussion meanders). At the end, I ask him or her to introduce me to a working artist whose attitude and work they find interesting and inspiring, who I then interview with the same five questions.


Innocent Oyster, water colour and flashe with collage on water-jet cut aluminum, led strip, 27" x 29"

Innocent Oyster, water colour and flashe with collage on water-jet cut aluminum, led strip, 27″ x 29″

LW: “What are you working on now? You mentioned that you have a studio visit later today. What will you show?”

TL: “I will be uncrating these free-standing paravent paintings that I started making last fall when I was at a residency at Parc Saint Léger, in a town called Pougues-les-Eaux. I recently got them back after exhibiting them at The Rooms in St. Johns, Newfoundland, but they don’t feel finished, so I need to look at them again now that I have more space to walk around them and look. I didn’t have room for that before. These works are called Purple Poses and there are three narrative threads, three sisters who are the three fates tickling the moon, a pond covered in algae blooms, and bodies made out of wine spills.

I’ve also been collaborating on the voice over for a film by Courtney Stephens. She’s a filmmaker who runs this screening series called Veggie Cloud in Los Angeles. The film-essay is based on letters from female travelers focused on illness and virtual and real time. I’m planning on going to L.A. in a week or two so we can be together to finish the script. It’s at a point where it is challenging to collaborate from a distance. It is also an excuse to see some art and connect with friends.

The third thing that I’m been preoccupied by is a manuscript for a long poem. I’m not sure what the title is going to be. Either The Eyelash and the Monochrome, or maybe Staring at the Ceiling Seeing D.O.G. It’s a text that I started in 2014 as part of an exhibition at Mercer Union in Toronto also called The Eyelash and The Monochrome. A version of the text is printed on dye sublimation bed spreads, but when I was invited to submit a manuscript to Talon Books this March it felt like the occasion to return to some of the ideas in this work, and to think about scale in writing and the time-based-ness of it, which are really obvious things… But thinking of books more as a form or space and its material though this space began to consume me. It’s not so unlike the script with Courtney, which has me thinking about similar things in terms of the formal and material conditions of working with language and time, and in this instance I am responding to images already shot for the film, and linking it to our research, but also again struck by the sensation of time. Which, with painting I think about sometimes, but in a very different way. More as a still document of time.”

Staring at the ceiling, performance documentation, Contemporary Art Gallery Vancouver, 2016

Staring at the ceiling, performance documentation, Contemporary Art Gallery Vancouver, 2016

LW: “Since you just moved studios, you can unpack this work in a new space now. Was this super-disruptive, or does having a studio matter less because a lot of your practice is writing?”

TL: “It’s been really disruptive. Before this move, I had just reorganized and expanded the space at Model, which also functioned as a gallery and event space. My studio tends to be messy, with layers of activity, storage, gestures…the incidental collision of different modes of working really influences how I think through my work.

Moving to the current space was unplanned. I wasn’t even looking for a new studio. I was going to try working from my garden, because, as you said, with a writing practice I can be more flexible. So I thought: Maybe I’ll work completely outdoors. I’m really lucky to live in a house with a big back yard and a landlord who I’ve become friends with who encourages us to use the space how we like. I was also fantasizing about setting up in the old fruit stand in my parent’s orchard in the Okanagan Valley; it’s about 4 hours from Vancouver. I was recently out there to work for an artist who has a ranch across the lake from where I was raised. Being there this time made me really feel like there was something unique to not being in the city… to experience things like boredom, but also being in tune to hear your own thoughts without the constant interruptions of the city. The ideal way I would want to work is a place that is quiet so I can tune into how I am actually feeling and to what’s happening in the world. Here, I end up absorbing the stress of the city; it is numbing. The last time I was in New York I felt that so dramatically. If you have the choice it seems crucial to try to be in a space conducive to the work you want to do, even thought I’m not sure I know what that is yet.”

burning herb on the four corners, 22" x 33", gesso, aluminum, mugwort, gaouche, on canvas, 2016

burning herb on the four corners, 22″ x 33″, gesso, aluminum, mugwort, gaouche, on canvas, 2016

LW: “Right, this is a question that I like to ask people: Is it more important as an artist to be in a city like Vancouver or L.A. or New York, where it is expensive, big, busy, distracting, or to be in a quieter place and you can focus, but its like–really quiet…?”

TL: “I grew up in a really tiny town, so the city always held this fascination and mystery for me, and also this possibility of reinventing yourself—of forming an identity outside the sort of conservatism of smaller places. For me, that felt like what I wanted to do. It felt more free…. I think I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Just being in a ranch, where there were other artists and encountering other sorts of livelihoods and animals and plants and flowers and, like, silence… It’s just a total different thing. But also I just had more time; one day felt like four days.”

LW: “It sounds like being outside of a city is your ideal.”

TL: “I mean, I love cities—the access to libraries and museums and public institutions and friends. I used to embrace the constant distraction, as a kind of resource. But I don’t feel like it’s necessarily a good life. I don’t want to submit to that kind of resourcefulness.”

LW: “Do you think you would have had the same opportunities, the same people asking you to submit writings to things, those kinds of connections, if you were in the middle of nowhere?”

TL: “Not if I hadn’t come to the city. They would have been different opportunities and a different life. I wouldn’t have the gained access to certain opportunities or had the same jobs and encounters that lead to things. I was talking to the writer Steffanie Ling yesterday, who had brought up the luxury of staying home if you don’t want to go out. The social aspect of art is a significant aspect to participating as an artist in the city.  But it’s not the only way to be.

When I’m working on a project, I like to work in a continuous way. I don’t like to like socialize much when I’m working on creative projects, so that’s when I was thinking I could go to the Okanagan for stints of time where I have a deadline, and then I could live in the city when I’m doing research or working on things that don’t rely on a studio space. The reality in the city is that it’s hard to be fluid. A day in the studio has so many interruptions. I do contract work, and otherwise have my own schedule, which can be in conflict with the 9 to 5 of the world.”

Who is the boss of my dreams? Dye sublimation on silk, powder coated medical screen 2016

Who is the boss of my dreams?, Dye sublimation on silk, powder coated medical screen, 2016

LW: “Would an ideal day in the studio be working for 8 hours at a time? Do you need that long of a period?”

TL: “Totally, I love having a full 10 hours to lead up to like an hour of something—extraordinarily inefficient. But this doesn’t necessarily mean always working on the thing. When I used to have a studio in my apartment, I’d be tending to things around the house. I like just to be around the materials that I’m working with, but doing other things like reading and writing, making a meal…gardening. Ideally it would be all those things and kind of moving in between them. Ideally the art part is just one of the many things to care for in a day.

I don’t work in the mornings, so that’s why when I’m working on a project I become anti-social. Most people work a 9 to 5, and I tend to start at 5 pm and work until whenever. I start when I do and then I like to keep working as long as I can. I don’t get to do that very often, but that’s how I would like to work.”

LW: “When did you first think of yourself as an artist? And is that a different timeline than when you first thought of yourself as a writer?”

TL: “I don’t remember exactly when I thought of myself as an artist. But I do remember being interested in art at a young age. I must have been 4 or 5 when I became really fascinated by the mimetic aspect of art. I loved… just the sensation of seeing something reproduced. I used to draw a lot when I was a kid, but I never drew particularly well. People would be like “you’re a great drawer” but it was more like because I was drawing all the time. So I was always making things, making videos. I didn’t think of myself as an artist at this time. Because I was so shy, I really had trouble speaking, being ESL might have been part of it, but I remember being this way in Italy too. Making art was a survival strategy, and in school, for example, it was a way to avoid doing a typical report. I would make a video instead. I waited until after high school to pursue it seriously.

When I went Capilano College for studio art, I had the option to take creative writing as my English elective. The course was stimulating but also confused me—in the sense that it made me wonder if I wanted to pursue writing instead. Cap had a strong connection to Simon Fraser University, which is the school I transferred to a few years later. I ended up taking a class with a Canadian poet and critic whose books I had read. He encouraged me to write and this eventually connected me to the Kootenay School of Writing, to writers and publishing.”

Who is the boss of my dreams? (detail) Dye sublimation on silk, powder coated medical screen 2016

Who is the boss of my dreams? (detail), Dye sublimation on silk, powder coated medical screen, 2016

LW: “So this is related to my next question, which is, who has influenced your practice? Presumably writers as well as artists are influences.”

TL: “Ada Smailbegovic is a writer who has influenced my practice. She’s a friend and has a biology and literature background. Conversations with her have probably been the most influential. We met at a coffee shop that I used to work at. Her way of thinking has influenced me.”

LW: “When you say her way of thinking, is there something in particular?”

TL: “Her commitment to constantly trying to describe what you’re feeling. The experience of proprioception and the links between things, of autopoiesis. Her sensitivity to animals and plants was and still is beautiful. She studied moths and fungus and counted seals. Always thinking about how constellations of encounters are forming and transforming you, at a molecular level. And by extension, thinking about how forms produce thoughts and how thoughts produce form.”

LW: “Great. Thank you so much for participating.”

TL: “Thank you.”


No. 5 Orange, oil on linen, 77" x 55", 2016

No. 5 Orange, oil on linen, 77″ x 55″, 2016

Phone Tag: Interview with Monique Mouton

Untitled (a door? a door?), 2014, oil on panel, 28 5/8 x 17 1/4 inches

Untitled (a door? a door?), 2014, oil on panel, 28 5/8 x 17 1/4 inches

In May, I Skyped with New York-based painter Monique Mouton for the fifth Phone Tag interview. Monique makes abstract shaped panels and drawings whose tactile, uneven surfaces feel deliberate and off-the-cuff at the same time. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver and a Master of Fine Arts from Bard College–the same graduate school as the previous Phone Tag participant Ezra Tessler, who introduced us. Monique and I talk about making, introspection, and the usefulness of boredom, among other things, in this Phone Tag interview.


Phone Tag is a generative interview format, where I ask each participating artist five questions (plus others as the discussion meanders). At the end, I ask him or her to introduce me to a working artist whose attitude and work they find interesting and inspiring, who I then interview with the same five questions.


Installation view, More Near, Bridget Donahue Gallery 2016

Installation view, More Near, Bridget Donahue Gallery 2016

LW: What are you working on now?

MM: Right now, I am working on a piece that I hadn’t finished before a show I had recently at Bridget Donahue Gallery. After a show I feel like it always takes a little while to get started again in the studio. There’s so much build up and so much mental, physical, emotional energy that goes into making it that there’s always this lag time. But I had a piece that I hadn’t finished, so I’ve been working on that, very slowly. It’s a big watercolor. So far it’s watercolor, ink, and chalk pastel on paper.

LW: Is it something that originally you thought you would include in the show, or is it different from that body of work?

MM: I was thinking about including it in the show, but I felt like it needed more work and more time in the studio. So I just kind of dropped it and kept it around, which has been a nice way to have a thread to pick up on.


More Near (I), 2015, Watercolor, chalk pastel, charcoal, gesso, tempera paint mounted on sintra, 56 x 55 inches

More Near (I), 2015, Watercolor, chalk pastel, charcoal, gesso, tempera paint mounted on sintra, 56 x 55 inches

LW: Who has influenced your practice?

MM: That is a question that I always find difficult because for me it’s a wide net. Everybody influences it in one way or another, whether it’s subtle or more obvious. But I think I’ve resisted answering that question to myself. Maybe part of my resistance to having a list of artists who have been influences is that it is a particular way of constructing a narrative around the work, and a lineage. That is something that, when I first felt like I was onto my long-term project – however long I am making art, I see it as a continuous practice – and when I was first discovering what that was, I was consciously avoiding narrative in the work. It was really important for me to remove any obvious clues to a story, because I wanted it to have a less linear effect in the way that a person viewing it would be able to take it in. So, unconsciously, that got into the part of me that thinks about influences.

That said, a way I’ve come to think about it relates to something that Charline von Heyl said in a talk she gave out in LA. She was talking about how when she’s making paintings, she has a cloud of images that she might draw from. Rather than there being this linear structure, it’s more like there’s this field of things floating around that she then picks from and pulls into her painting. For her I think she has actual folders of things that she’ll group together and then might destroy after completing a particular project (if my memory serves me). All the teachers that I’ve had, and the places that I’ve lived, and my family even, could be in my version of the cloud. They come forward and recede.

LW: And them as much as any particular artists or works that you’ve seen?

MM: Yes. Sometimes it surprises me when an influence comes to the forefront that I didn’t know that I was thinking about. One example is my dad’s side of the family. They’re Cajun. He has 15 siblings. He was born in New Orleans. When I was young and throughout my life I would go to these giant parties down in Texas, in Galveston, that were just kind of whatever in terms of sleeping arrangements. Like pieces of foam on the floor and random sheets and people just sleeping wherever. Everything was sort of cobbled together. After I had been working on my art for a while, I went back to this beach house in Galveston, which my dad built with his siblings and my grandpa out of a lot of salvaged materials. There was this aesthetic of things that just did the job—that maybe was not the first or most obvious choice. Like a piece of cloth covering the card table with a corner that didn’t quite make it that was fine because it worked well enough. These odd little edges to things. Everything functioned, but in this way that was precarious. I think my art is sometimes like this. It’s like it’s almost a painting and you’re not sure if it’s doing it or not, or where it came from, but it stays and it works.

artist's friend looking at Moon Room, 2016, oil on panel, 5 x 9 inches

Friend of artist looking at Moon Room, 2016, oil on panel, 5 x 9 inches

LW: For you, is art making a very introspective process?

MM: Yes, I think that is true for me. I’m interested in how something that is very internal or introspective materializes for an unknown audience and what that action could possibly affect or mean in our present culture. That’s the most broad way of thinking about it.

LW: There is something about your work that seems kind of removed from present culture as such, like they are separate things.

MM: That’s interesting. What do you mean?

LW: Well, that they don’t seem to have a specific referent, certainly. But not just because they are abstract—abstract paintings can certainly evoke very particular places and times and styles. There is something essentialist about them. They seem very much themselves.

MM: Maybe that is part of what a very introspective process produces. …You know, sometimes there will be something in my paintings that is not abstract. There is one that I think of—the first one after many years of only totally abstract paintings—a painting with a fish in it. Sort of a memory of a fish, that is, I didn’t base it off of a picture of a fish. For me, occasionally, putting these things in like a fish, which is so generic but could also relate to so many things, where there’s a lot of symbolism that could be attached to it or it could be just a very common animal in the world… I think I’m making these paintings that feel very stripped down, yet somehow there’s an accumulation of time in them or maybe there’s a mark or a color that reminds you of something from somewhere but doesn’t quite reference it. You’re right—there are no particular reference points.

What I’m thinking about in terms of all of that in relation to it being viewed in the present moment is that removal, where it doesn’t feel like it is quite present, actually causes friction. Because then you’re thinking about ‘OK, what is going on here? Because it’s not directing me in the usual ways in terms of how to look at it.’ But it’s also not totally hermetic. I do think that there are cues in the work that help place it in relation to other things that are happening now. I think I try to twist it or put things in sort of an awkward balance where it doesn’t quite hit you in the same way.

All of that is to say: I want to make art that works on you in that way because looking at art is a very specific activity. It’s somewhat odd and specific, especially if you pull out the whole commercial consumer aspect of it, which I like to do when I’m in my studio and when I’m looking at art. Outside of that, what does art do for us as a society? Painting especially, which has gone through various periods of death and irrelevance without every truly becoming irrelevant. There’s something about it that is special. I think it’s mysterious. It’s mysterious to me even as a painter. I’m kind of interested in that idea: That something that doesn’t really make sense manages to live on and change and hold our attention even despite everything that’s going on in the world, you know?

In the studio

In the artist’s studio

LW: Speaking as a painter, maybe you could walk me through your process. An ideal day in the studio—what does that look like? Do you ever have one?

MM: An ideal day is probably rare. Days in the studio tend to always have their ups and downs. I’m a morning person and I like being in the studio early in the morning, just because it’s quieter and I have fewer distractions at that time. So, in an ideal day, I’d probably come to my studio early and do some reading or just look around, at whatever I’m working on and then go from there.

I often nap in my studio, which I’ve decided is ideal. I think the best naps are not too long and maybe have some dreams, whether I remember them or not. It’s like an altered state. Just waking up from a nap is a shift that is useful. Definitely lunch and lots of snacks. Spending a lot of time.

I like to leave my studio before dark. I don’t all the time—I will spend late nights. But for me I like to end my day earlier so that I have a timeframe to work within, which makes me more productive, and it gives me some space before coming back the next day.

LW: Are you in your studio now? Can I see?

MM: I’ve been rearranging it since my show so it’s kind of messy. That’s the door.

LW: Cool. Do you work on the wall?

MM: On the floor.

LW: Oh, on the floor. I see now. That’s awesome. Have you always had a studio since you’ve been living in New York?

MM: Yeah, I got this studio about 6 months after I moved to New York, so since late 2012. I’ve left town during that time and sublet it. Like when I was teaching in Richmond, Virginia for 9 months I was able to sublet. So I’ve had this space for a while.

Blue Margin, 2014, oil on panel, 47 x 36 inches

Blue Margin, 2014, oil on panel, 47 x 36 inches

LW: Final question: Is it better, do you think, as an artist, to be in a place like New York where it has a big art scene but it’s crazy, or to be in a smaller place, like Richmond, where there’s a slower pace of life and you can focus on making?

MM: I don’t know. That question is one that I think about because I have a tendency to want to do both things. For me the ideal is maybe to do both. Because it’s definitely helpful to live in a community where there’s enough happening to see other people’s work and show your work and talk about it.  

New York is so hard. It’s hard physically. There’s so much coming at you all the time; there’s no personal space. That can be energizing and it can also wear me out. Sometimes it’s hard to even know where I’m coming from in the city, because there’s so much going on. I feel like it can be really helpful to be outside of that, because then you can be not as distracted. I find getting bored helpful to working sometimes. I feel like boredom is really useful for creativity. Because you get to a point where you’re so exasperated that you have to do something of your own initiative; it can be a real spark. The most breakthroughs that I’ve had in my work is when I’ve have that kind of space, of boredom. Where I just had to figure it out. It’s really hard to have that in the city.

One thing I do want to say about New York: it is like no other place. But I also find it problematic that New York thinks that it is the only place. I’m sure people would say, ‘No, that’s not true.’ But I think it does, there’s a feeling here. It’s a bubble. It is its own world. I think that other places in the world, big and small, are really important to everything, including art.

LW: Everyone has a different answer to that question.

MM: It’s very individual. It depends what kind of artist you are. I feel like being here has definitely helped me grow a lot as an artist in ways that I wouldn’t elsewhere. That’s true of everywhere I’ve lived though. 

LW: Well, thank you so much for participating. Those are all my questions.

MM: OK, great. It was nice meeting you!

LW: Likewise!

Phone Tag: Interview with Chase Westfall

Small Offering, Chase Westfall

Small Offering, Chase Westfall

For the third interview of Phone Tag, I spoke with Chase Westfall from his office at Gallery Protocol in Gainesville, Florida, where he is the director. As an artist, Chase draws on a broad range of philosophical, theological, and artistic influences to consider the cultural meaning and societal function of violence. His practice encompasses a broad range of media including sculpture, installation, video, and performance in addition to painting. I worked with Chase on a text for a solo exhibition, Terror Function, that he had this past winter at 101/exhibit gallery in Los Angeles. In addition to his artistic practice and Gallery Protocol, Chase is a part of Imperfect Articles, a Chicago-based t-shirt company that seeks to challenge the relationship between image, audience, and “exhibition” space by working with artists to create t-shirts. I caught up with Chase after he was recovering from a busy period of teaching, preparing for his most recent exhibition, gallery projects, travel, and the holidays.


Phone Tag is a generative interview format, where I ask each participating artist five questions (plus others as the discussion meanders). At the end, I ask him or her to introduce me to a working artist whose attitude and work they find interesting and inspiring, who I then interview with the same five questions.


LW: “What are you working on now?”

CW: “Right now I’m pursuing something I haven’t done in a number of years: a couple of local exhibition opportunities. I grew up in this area, but then moved away when I was about 19. Since then, for the past 15 years, I’ve had that stereotypical nomadic lifestyle–two years here, two years there. And there was actually a brief period when I was back here finishing my BFA (I graduated in 2008), but then it was off again to the next thing. About two and a half years ago we–my wife and kids and I–moved back here when I accepted the position as the director of Gallery Protocol. With all of that coming and going, it had been almost 9 years since I had exhibited any work in Gainesville. Then a friend of mine approached me about doing a show in a space here in town. It shifts my set of personal criteria for the exhibition. Not in the sense that I don’t take it seriously, but for whatever reason doing a show in my hometown after so long is a way of like, snuggling in. All the people and reasons integral to my start are here, so it becomes a chance to celebrate them. I’m going to focus on making a set of paintings. The 101/exhibit show was very interdisciplinary, more so than I’ve worked historically. I had a lot of fun with that, but it also felt raw and vulnerable. All my current efforts are about rediscovering my comfort zone. I’m just going to make some paintings, which is my metaphorical artistic home.”

LW: “After nine years, there’s a lot of room to reflect on what has happened.”

CW: “Yeah, and it’s actually in the same space that I did my BFA exhibition. As I was getting ready to graduate, I wanted to do something off campus and this space was available for rent back then–it was something like $75 a night? They were just trying to cover their costs. At the time it was called Downhome Gallery, but it closed after we moved away. One of the guys I was in school with when I was here, Micah Daw, also recently moved back to Gainesville and reached out to the owners of the building and got permission to start doing shows there again. This upcoming exhibition feels like it completes the circle since it’s in the same space where I did my first real exhibition–the first time I did a show on my terms and, more importantly than that, was able to pursue my own vision.”

Installation view, Terror Function exhibition at 101exhibit gallery

Installation view, Chase Westfall: Terror Function exhibition at 101/exhibit

LW: “You live in Gainesville, but you just had an exhibition in L.A.. Do you think it’s better for an artist to be in big city like L.A.—with a strong cultural scene but higher cost of living—or to be in a smaller place like Gainesville, where maybe the focus can be more on making?”

CW: “Honestly, because of a number of personal life choices and circumstances, being here in Gainesville is the right thing for me. But I tell any young, genuinely ambitious artists I talk to: go to New York, go to Chicago, go to L.A. You’ll face real challenges but those challenges, over the long term, will help you develop the qualities that you need to have as an artist. Even if you can only take it for a couple of years, have that experience and it will give you a lot of perspective for moving forward.

The nature of access is changing because of the internet. But there is still a visceral energy and phenomenological pressure that you get in the city. For me, there is something about these big cities as places where the talent collects and pools and, in a healthy way, you realize you can’t sit around and wait. You gotta’ hustle and get after it. There is a larger mythology about what it means to be an artist that centers around a fantasy of self-fulfillment and self-expression. While those are really wonderful privileges of being an artist, they aren’t sustainable over the long term unless there’s a real blue-collar work ethic to lay a foundation for that self-indulgence to happen.

So, I still say get to the big cities. You can stay informed and educated in smaller places in a way you couldn’t in the past, but even so, you want to be around the best people. You want to be around the freshest, rawest, toughest, and grittiest ideas, and the areas of critical mass are still the big cities.”

Blue Barricade, Chase Westfall, 2015

Blue Barricade, Chase Westfall

LW: “Speaking about being an artist, when did you first consider yourself an artist?”

CW: “That’s a great question. Well, like a lot of artists, I was the kid who could draw really well. I developed a sense of self-worth around that skill. But that sort of lost its importance for me as I got older –by the time I got to high school I didn’t want to be the kid who could draw really well–I wanted to be the kid who played soccer really well. So I spent four years of high school, despite my lack of natural athletic ability, focusing on that. After high school, I started messing around with BMX but then broke my ankle really badly. I was in a walking boot for 8 months. I was stuck in my house. We lived out in the country and I couldn’t drive, so I stayed at home all day. And my parents are kooky enough people that, one day, when I got the urge to start painting murals on the wall, they said ‘go for it.’ So I started painting murals and had a lot of fun with that. At that time I was also getting ready to serve a religious mission for my church. The timing of the injury was such that just as I was getting out of the boot I left the country for two years to serve as a missionary in Costa Rica. All I had been doing before I left was painting, so I left in that mindset–thinking about art. Maybe not art with a capital “A” but certainly drawing, the rendering of images, etc., had had this sort of stunning rebirth for me. The whole time I was serving my mission, I felt like that was what I wanted to do when I got back. I couldn’t really rationalize it—perhaps it just was a coincidence that that was the flavor I left home with. I would tell people there that when I got back, I was going to be an artist. That was it. I never really questioned it after that.”

LW: “Who has influenced your practice?”

CW: “That’s a question I really struggle with. It must be like a mental block that I have because I look at a lot of art and I know it influences me, but the influences that I’m the most conscious of, or self-aware about, are more the conceptual or philosophical ones. A lot of it comes from things I read, so a lot of authors have been very influential.

You always take material cues from other artists. But I think the biggest thing I learn from other visual artists–speaking in the broadest terms–is about what is and isn’t effective–what kinds of things can and can’t be reached through the language of visual art. Looking at where their works succeeds, where it fails, developing a sense of what kinds of information it can most effectively communicate. That was something I personally struggled with early on, confusing the communicative potential I wanted my artwork to have with the kind of communication that was better left to other forms of expression. I was very fixated on being able to express specific ideas and being able to communicate in very concrete ways. I’ve learned through engaging with visual art that you have to let go of that to a certain extent.”

Jihadi, Chase Westfall, 2015

Jihadi, Chase Westfall

LW: “Speaking of the difficulty of representing certain things visually, and being inspired by a lot of writers, do you ever write?”

CW: “I have. I’ve written criticism and what I might call art theory, but I’ve never really undertaken writing as a creative practice. I’ve thought a lot about doing it. The first baby step I took in that direction was the poem I included in the Terror Function show. My brother and I composed a poem—my brother’s a writer—and had it displayed in the space as part of the exhibition.

There’s this mythology around artists, which could very well be true, that real makers can’t live without making. And that’s never been me. I like being in the studio and I have certain skills for art making, but I also acknowledge, as we all know, that making a good drawing, for example, is not the same thing as making art. And I don’t have that emotional dependence on art making that I hear other artists talk about. The satisfaction that I derive from writing, even when it’s something as simple as the press releases here at the gallery, is often equivalent to making paintings. So, I have thought about transitioning parts of my practice into writing.”

Installation view, Terror Function exhibition at 101exhibit gallery

Installation view, Chase Westfall: Terror Function exhibition at 101/exhibit

LW: “Regarding making and how you approach making, what does an ideal day look like in the studio for you?”

CW: “An ideal day?…is something I’ve probably never had. I don’t really believe in the value of the ideal or perfect world—the challenges we face are the vital spark that keep things moving forward. That sounds pretty corny really, but I’m embracing it more and more as I get older: it’s the little thorns in your side that keep you moving, progressing. For me, that’s the best way to ensure that what you do has a vitality and edge.

But an ideal day would involve getting up early, so getting into the studio by 5 or 6 am. Read for an hour or two. Then, a combination of prep work and actual execution. The prep work can be as enjoyable as the making itself. Of course, you can’t really separate it out from the making. But if there is a kind of zen state to be achieved in the studio, for me it happens when I’m assembling and stretching canvases. You’re not making complicated value judgements. There is a cleanness that process has that other aspects of your studio practice don’t have. Then you really settle in to work and get some painting knocked out for the rest of the day. When you’re ready to go home you make a few calls to check up on the progress of your other projects–because if this is an ideal day I am farming out my sculptural stuff!”

Untitled (Veronica), Chase Westfall, 2015

Untitled (Veronica), Chase Westfall

LW: “How often do you try to get in the studio?”

CW: “It’s streaky; I’m definitely a studio sprinter. I don’t have—just because of life circumstances—consistent studio time. For instance, I’ve only spent a couple of days in the studio since the Terror Function exhibition, and that work was delivered in late October. There has been a ton going on since then with the Gallery and Imperfect Articles so that’s how it goes sometimes–I’ve only been in there like one day a month. What will happen is that as a deadline gets closer I will switch gears and then I’ll be in there every day for as long as it takes to get the work knocked out. That’s not ideal—I wish it wasn’t that way. But, the frequency of the studio time is really dependent on the immediacy of the deadline.”

LW: “Yeah, but I can only imagine. You do have a full-time job and you do have a family. You fit it in where you can.”

CW: “That’s true, but it still puts you through the emotional wringer. Every few months it’s like: ‘OK, I’ve allowed other things to displace my studio practice as priority. You think, maybe I’m not a real artist, maybe I don’t have the dedication or passion that it takes. Would a real artist go two months without being in the studio?’ You start to ask yourself, should I try to transition into something else, do more writing for example? And then, as soon as you have those doubts, you have a good studio day, and you’re stoked again. It’s a constant back and forth.”

LW: “Certainly for me, the way I approach the writing I do, it’s a balancing act. Those are all my questions. Thank you for participating!”

CW: “Thank you so much.”