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An encounter with Wade Guyton, the artist painting with printers

 

Using inkjet printers to make works that resemble authentic paintings, American artist Wade Guyton plays with the notions of originals, copies and series. Numéro spoke to him on the occasion of his first big solo show in France, at Le Consortium.

Photos : Van Sarki.

 

The different computer-generated abstract signs that Wade Guyton uses as a matrix, whether Xs, Us or the image of a flame scanned from a book, have become part of today’s contemporary icons. Born in 1972 in Hammond, Indiana, Guyton, who lives and works in New York, is one of the most influential representatives of a generation of artists that think up and produce images in the digital age. For his first big solo exhibition in a French institution, he has put together a series of over 40 previously unseen works that were specially made for the spaces at Dijon’s Le Consortium and the Académie Conti in Vosne-Romanée.

 

While some of his pieces take on the structure and appearance of paintings in the traditional sense of the term, they nonetheless modify the codes of painting, since they’re made using inkjet printers. Guyton runs his canvasses through the printers several times to transfer his motifs to the pictorial plane, where errors, runs and printing faults are an integral part of the final composition.

 

With his new works, all made in the past six months, Guyton is beginning a new chapter. The central image of the exhibition, repeated in different formats, is a photograph that he took in his studio which shows one of his sculptures as well as one of his pictures in the background. The sudden appearance of biographical elements linked to real life disrupt his usual iconography and open up a new creative and historic vein in Guyton’s production. Numéro went to see him in his Brooklyn studio to talk about his beginnings, his inspirations, and this recent change of direction.

 

Numéro: What’s your background and where did you study?

Wade Guyton: My childhood was in the Midwest, in northwest Indiana: my family worked in the steel mills in East Chicago. My teenage years were spent in rural East Tennessee in the mountains. And I went to college in Tennessee. I had no focus really. A lot of wandering.

 

How would you say your background shaped your identity and taste?

The towns where I lived were industrial and rural, and my family was working class. I changed schools a number of times growing up, and there wasn’t much access to art, although when I was in elementary school we made a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. Later on, when I was older – remember this was still well before the internet – to gain access to art one had to rely on rumour, random books and magazines found in the library and the occasional radical teacher.

 

Who inspired you? What are your references in art?

This is an impossible question.

 

Besides your printed paintings, you also produce sculptures, installations and drawings. Would you consider yourself primarily a painter? And if so why?

I do all of these things, yes. I don’t consider myself a painter, but many people say I am, so maybe they are right.

 

You’re famous for printing abstract computer-generated signs like an X or a U or black geometric forms onto the canvas. How did you choose those forms and what is their significance?

Famous is a stretch, but the first works I made with the computer were like writing, replacing the pen with a keyboard. Instead of drawing an X, I decided to type it.

 

You also use a more figurative iconography, like your flames, which are found images scanned from a book. In their serial repetition, they become reduced to a logo, and also become abstract, detached from their origins.

A lot of the other works I was making at the time were being mistaken for abstractions. So I thought I needed a more “picturely” picture. And the good thing about fire is that it is generative as well as destructive. It holds your attention too.

 

Recently you’ve been using photographs you took that show images of your own works in the studio. Do you consider this to be a shift in your practice, or is it a logical continuation of what you were doing before?

I’ve always taken pictures. For me it’s a way of looking. To understand my work differently I started photographing it in the studio and using these images to produce paintings. And it seems to me perfectly logical to use a photographic image with the tools I’m using. The printers I use were designed to replace darkroom photography; a kind of hostile business advancement masked as technological progress and image improvement.

 

You produce your work in series, re-using the same “original” images in different works, and sometimes showing them together. What’s important to you in this seriality?

One could call it a question of “series” or “seriality,” but I don’t often use those words. There’s repetition and possibly compulsion. The files can be opened and closed and re-opened endlessly. We think the file is the same, that there is an “original” – I don’t know enough about the science to know if that’s true. I like the idea of re-reading the file, executing it again.

 

You also propose different formats with the same pattern, sometimes in very large dimensions. What’s behind this change in scale?

The formats are mostly responses to limits: the limits of the material, the software, the printer, the screen, and at times the architectural limits, the rooms, the doorways, the size of my elevator.

 

You use a digital printer which is culturally and technologically associated with mechanical reproducibility, infinite copies, abolition of originals, and so on. But, you’re not able to reproduce the same painting twice, they’re all “unique.” Can you explain this dichotomy? Is it part of your artistic project?

For me the abolition of an original is not a goal. My works are the originals, so while I do have a self-destructive nature, and I can be disrespectful of my own work, I’m not seeking out this kind of end-game. Lots of machines are designed to repeat themselves while at the same time offering productive possibilities. Furthermore, repetition doesn’t ensure reproducibility nor does it always result in a copy.

 

Recently you’ve been producing a lot of works that use new patterns. How do you decide which of your patterns are good to continue with and which should be discarded?

Sometimes you just know. And sometimes you’re wrong.

 

What importance does the display of your work have for you? How do approach your work when producing an exhibition?

The physical interaction of the works with a space and with a body usually is important to me. This is possibly the first step.

 

Are there any particular challenges with respect to your upcoming show at Le Consortium?

I haven’t made any new exhibitions in a couple of years and I’ll be showing all new works. So the challenge is clear!

 

Who would you say your audience is? Is there anything in particular you’re trying to say through your work?  

Usually I’m talking to myself or people in the studio. More people may see my work now, but I still think of myself as having an audience of maybe 20. For me it’s a small conversation that other people listen in on. 

 

Wade Guyton,

at Le Consortium, Dijon, France,

until September 24th 2016. 

 

Interview by Nicolas Trembley

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