Manuel Rodriguez interviews Alex Chitty
The computer monitor showed a turquoise swatch beside a pink seahorse.
How did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I didn’t know right away, as a child I always drew, as I guess every child does. Coming of age I never saw it as a career in the conventional sense, it was never presented to me as such, but I still kept on drawing and messing around with materials. Now I can say that I always saw the world thru the eyes of the artist, even though my education was in science.
I was always curious about stuff, the inner workings of things. I take science to be perhaps the most pragmatic means to approach true understanding of things; yet, it is such a lonely field, lonely and rigid. I guess I wanted a place of speculation, that why I never made a decision about being an artist until 2004.
What happened in 2004?
While I was stationed in the Pacific, studying sea horse populations, I got a call and was told that one of my best friends died of a cocaine overdose. He was the kind of guy that everyone liked, very popular, charming and friendly. At the moment I had been out of college for three years. I thought that my friend died, he was so young. What about t all he wanted? All he desired? He didn’t get much time, all he was went with him, so I thought maybe I should try this art thing, see where it takes me. At the time I had only three months before most MFA deadlines, so I just applied, and waited.
Are there more artists in your family?
Wow, I had never thought about that…Coming to think about it, yes. You see, my family came from Great Britain, my grandmother was a potter during the arts and crafts movement, and my grandfather was a woodworker. He owned a furniture factory that was pressed into service during the Second World War. He made propellers for military aircraft.
Does your background in science play a role in your work?
Both art and science are similar processes. I would say that science takes more creativity that most scientists would admit to. The both deal with things not readily available, which is that which cannot be seen, grasped. Yet, science is kind of rigid
I probably came to science because I was always curious about the world. As a child, my family and me used to spend a lot of time outside. I was always curious about things, about the phenomena I saw. I wanted to understand it, I wanted to find out why things where the way they are. That’s what brought me to science, until I found out that I could harness art in a similar way.
What is a favorite color?
Right now, I would say it is a sort of faded turquoise, as if it had been sitting on the sun for decades.
Looking at your work, it seems to me that it thrives in contrast / eclecticism, found material and intervention. Would this be the right assumption?
The thing for me is that even if the material choice “found objects” seems arbitrary, once I arrange them they seem to have always belonged together, as if by this point they belonged to greater collective system of signifiers. I get satisfaction from fitting together objects that were not meant to be, and in the process discover that maybe, they do. So, in a way it’s about display and archetypes. I find interesting how things are displayed in stores, museums, etc.And how we come to expect certain objects to be displayed.
How would you describe your creative process?
I start out with an “umbrella” idea, and from the process of making, other ideas unfold. It sort of feels like an essay, it’s a very dynamic process, like placing one sentence after the other. It doesn’t necessarily have to make sense; yet, every part is apiece of the whole.
What role does the image play in the Cutoutseries? Do you have a method for selecting them?
I am constantly collecting images from old books and magazines, as well as pictures from my cellphone and stages images. The picture, in a sort of question-answer relationship, formulates the way I cut these images. I am interested in how much of the image can be taken away without loosing meaning. Yet, the patterns in the cutouts are informed by the image, so in a way I want to create a device for the disclosing of images thru patterns.
In the Plant Drawings you are painting over book images. The way you do this seems very precise, in some of them it even seems as if you were revealing something by covering it. Would you talk more about this?
When you look at the history of photography, for a while the only way you could generate an image was by removing most of the background in such a way as to accentuate the subject. So I would say that disclosure by concealment is not a new device, but it is one I am very interested in.Concealment also acts as a lure, for example, you never seem to noticegraffiti until another artist paints over it, or the city covers it up. So, in a way I am interested in the way we approach images as graphic information, and how we process that information.
Abstraction attempted to remove the representational image, by condensing the subject. Can I condense the subject by hiding it? Can I remove the image from itself? These are the sorts of things going thru my head. I intend to manipulate in such a way as to transform it into something else, into another self.
I am interested in the way we approach images as graphic information, and how we process that information. What are your influences? References?
Photoshop, Google image search, how images are developed and disseminated. The Arts and Crafts Movement and non-fiction literature.
Any plans for the future?
I have a show in January at Level 3 Gallery. I want to keep teaching but not teach too much, Iwant to live in the desert, I want to raise goats. I really don’t have specific plans right now; it is a moment of transition. But as far as the art world is concerned, I have a show in January.
Alexandra Chitty is a Chicago Based artist and faculty member at the Print Media Department in The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.