With the opening of his current exhibition and second solo show with partner gallery Invisble-Exports, Paddle8 asked artist Michael Bilsborough a few questions about his latest drawings and newest artworks. Entitled Austerity Measures, the Californian raised, New York based artist chatted with us about his process, the relevance and importance of repetition, the references he makes to the Raft of Medusa, and his particular insights on “drawing as thinking.” Diverging away from his previous works with orgiastic scenes and rituals, Measures is a highly technical study of multi-layered cube motifs, with the resulting work moving beyond conventional means of linear perspectives.
Paddle8: I’m guessing that your austerity measures involve removing the orgiastic scenes previously seen in your work from these recent drawings. What are some of the austerity measures you think the art world could benefit from?
Michael Bilsborough: I read the recent W.A.G.E. report. Its existence reveals how artists are finding new ways to claim their share – out of necessity. So artists wouldn’t benefit from any austerity measures.
That title refers beyond the art world. Here and abroad, doomsday has been clad in economic fears. You find “crisis,” “contagion,” “collapse,” in every headline. Responding to this impending doom pits “should be” ideologues against “actually is” realists.
While drawing, I constantly juggle those opposing ways of thinking. I don’t mean the content. I mean posing the Ideal against the Material. The geometric, perspective, and spatial processes “should” work perfectly – sometimes even without my hand – but often, they don’t. That is a problem I investigate in the drawings, at my table, in my head, from my studio, behind closed doors, splitting hairs. But it’s with a literal nod to external forces that roil everyone. (I was going to say “greater” forces, but is macroeconomics truly “greater” than geometry? Than solipsism?)
P8: Can you elaborate on the idea that “drawing is thinking” What were some of the thoughts and decisions that occurred through the act of drawing?
MB: Drawing and thinking accelerate together. While working on these drawings, my brain hums and my hands feel agile. I’m navigating scrums of three-dimensional connections, undressing them with logic, devising strategies, and digging for the most credible line. When it goes well, I forget about myself. Then I remember again, and the marks left behind show me traces of my own presence. It’s like hearing yourself breathe!
But it’s common to look for immediacy or invention in drawing. That can be enlightening, but there’s another dimension. For that, we can universalize something Julian Barnes wrote about Gerícault’s studies for the Raft of the Medusa:
“We start with the masterpiece and work backwards through the discarded ideas and near-misses; but for [the artist], the discarded ideas began as excitements, and he saw only at the very end what we take for granted at the beginning. For us, the conclusion was inevitable; not for him. We must try to allow hazard, for lucky discovery, even for bluff…. We must remember nerves and emotions.”
He’s describing the emotion-laden, Sisyphian processes of drawing. Trying to find peace with that is part of the content of these drawings. Still, that quote applies to drawings as preliminary prep work for something later. I do my drawings for their own sake, e.g. for the sake of conceiving, processing, and resolving them.
P8: Can you discuss the role of repetition in your work?
MB: Repetition is more than itself. In any drawing, repetition brings formal compression, impression, accumulation, or regularity; or it signals motives like persistence, obsession, or control. Physical repetition turns on a special type of memory: of automation, for multi-tasking. Efficient. For every shower, I perform the same automatic routine, covering the same body parts in the same order, at the same pace. And I do my best thinking during that shower. For these drawings, repeating the same process is like warming up, part of my ritual, like my shower. It gets me to a higher level of concentration, and that’s where everything changes.
Austerity Measures is currently on view at Invisible-Exports through June 17th in New York. Be sure to check out the artist’s website and more works available on the gallery’s Paddle8 page. See more images from Invisible-Exports on Paddle8′s Tumblr!