The following is an excerpted interview with Chad Wys by Jack Smylie. This is the first in series of posts that CFile is doing about Wys that illustrates his ceramic-themed work, an important and extensive part of his oeuvre. He makes prints, collages, and, to use the ceramic term, clobbers found objects. In a crowded field of appropriation, Wys stands out because his work is inventive with using novelty, eye-catching without pandering, and at the end of the day, his refined conceptualism subsumes that which he appropriates.
The images of ceramics in this post come from his American Tapestry series, which takes on subjects that range from painting to figurines. The vases are particularly riveting, as though they are melting elegantly in an overfired kiln. Gold enamel drips into pools, a Parian ware figure sweats porcelain.
Jack Smylie: Chad’s touch and current style – which adds something of beauty and/or elements of the grotesque to what might otherwise seem slightly banal and outdated – is effective in that it possesses an apparent understanding of its own potential ephemerality; again, speaking to the intellectual and academic aspects of his approach to art.
Can you explain where your interest in altering and appropriating found art stems from?
Chad Wys: I’ve never been much of an artist, but images I understand. I’ve often been impatient with art as a process, personally preferring acrylics to oils because the former dries faster. But as a student of art history and critical theory I’ve come to have more patience for the craft of art making than ever before; chiefly because the bulk of my process is in the conceptual arena versus the formal (or the tangible aesthetic). I’m more of an ideas man. Truth be told, I never set out to be an artist, and in many respects I still haven’t, but I’ve grown comfortable with the practice of sharing my creative visions by constructing visual puzzles from my interactions (both physical and ideological) with our visual cultures. I’m informed not by the formal techniques of art making, per se, but by the visual environment that is already made. Throughout my life I’ve learned not only to interpret the meanings of art, objects, and images, but also to challenge and subvert them in order to reveal a labyrinth of implications that perhaps aren’t initially obvious. Altering appropriated images and objects in the context of art making is my way of critiquing various systems at play within our cultures – by more or less going directly to a source.
JS: Does your digital work exist in a physical setting as well?
CW: It does when it’s printed. I spent the better part of a year testing various printing methods in order to determine which method best suites my digital work. I settled on a photographic technique – a digital chromogenic color printing process. It’s different than a lot of the additive printing processes that most of us are used to; light sensitive paper is exposed rather than ink added to the paper’s surface. I can’t provide a litany of technical reason why it’s a “better” process, and it’s all very subjective anyway, but I’ve found that this chromogenic process draws out the colors and details a bit better to my eyes. So, when I create a limited edition print, my digital work becomes a physical object. Not that having a physical presence is all that important – the ideas are what really count.
JS: Tell us about your recent series, American Tapestry.
CW: It can mean different things to different people, but I tend to think of it as my ode to America. As with many things I respect and adore, I’m deeply critical of my nation and its history. Within American Tapestry I used representations of fairly banal historical objects – paintings of American subjects and decorative American porcelain vessels and busts of noted American political figures – to embody the dichotomy of the nation: which is capable of producing beauty and also capable of engaging in brutality. I want to see both qualities existing in one unlikely place. But the works can mean a great deal more than this as well. The meaning(s) are up to the viewer to decided for him- or herself.
JS: Are there any specific artists or movements that inspire or influence your work?
CW: Just about all art is inspiration. Even the art I don’t particularly enjoy since it inspires me to create something completely different. I honestly can’t think of a period of art history that I don’t thoroughly enjoy. In the interest of specificity though, I feel more or less confident in distinguishing James McNeil Whistler as my one true favorite. His painting Nocturne in Black and Gold is the one artwork I hold above all others.
JS: Have you come from a traditional (educational) art background?
CW: I’ve only ever been involved with few studio art classes – the ones where they teach students the traditions of formal technique. I come to art mainly from the historical side. Sadly, it has been my experience that when a student is involved with a college-level art history program, studio art classes are not only not fostered, but seem to be frowned upon. I’m sure it has more to do with the limited scope of a student’s course load than it has to do with simply admonishing creativity, but I find it utterly ridiculous.
There were at least a couple history classes that I was required to take that were utterly unfulfilling and only marginally informative – they could have easily been traded for an introduction to printmaking or ceramics and I would have come away a more informed historian.
JS: Where are you based? Do you think location has a direct impact on your work?
CW: I live in a rural area of Illinois, several hours south of Chicago. On an ideological level I don’t think living here has impacted my work much. On a formalistic level, in some ways I’m restricted by my locality regarding which objects I come across at thrift stores and garage sales. Those objects comprise the found materials in many of my works. But I think I’m likely to find kitschy trinkets in just about any community, large or small. I think that’s another universal quality of my work… there’s visual “garbage” all around us no matter where we hail from.
JS: By cropping out backgrounds and surrounding environments in both your photography and mixed media portfolios you seem to hint at a preoccupation with the bigger picture. Can you expand on this?
CW: You’re spot-on. I think a lot of my work deals with what is or isn’t present (chiefly the latter). Broadly speaking, it’s an effort on my part to insist that viewers acknowledge that information is both subjective and often unknown/unknowable. In my work I acknowledge that information is often hidden and unreliable, and the world is what we do or don’t make of it. My biggest concern as a person is to challenge others to consider what they know from different perspectives, and to practice what I preach. As it happens, I create artworks that endeavor to spur that challenge on.
Above image: Chad Wys, Dirge, 2012. C-Print 24″ x 24″.