The School of the Art Institute of Chicago's year-end Graduate Thesis Exhibition, featuring work by more than 130 students, represents SAIC's largest graduating class to date. New this year, guest curators Steven Bridges, Tumelo Mosaka, Pablo Helguera, Julian Myers and Joanna Szupinska transformed the Sullivan and Wabash Galleries into a series of shows-within-a-show. These thematic sections unfold throughout the spaces in a sequence of visual encounters and unconventional experiences.
ArtSlant's Courtney Thompson was there to see it unfold. As part of the celebration, Courtney had a conversation with Mario Romano, about his work, collaborating with fellow grads, and compulsivity.
(L) Mario Romano,The mighty upsetter, 2012, Oil on canvas on panel, 22x17.5 inches. (R) Leif Sandberg, Flax Piece, 2012, Flax fibers and mixed media, Dimensions variable. Images courtesy of the artists)
Courtney R. Thompson: The 2012 MFA graduate exhibition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has 130 artists competing for attention in the 32000 square foot Sullivan Galleries space. Can you tell me what your decision process was in choosing what to show?
Mario Romano: Well first of all I originally proposed to show only HUGE paintings and later made the decision to put just three very small scale paintings in the exhibition. They needed the space. The artists’ map at the MFA show, when you walked into the Sullivan Galleries, said it all. It reminded me of a sheet of pizza. And "I" didn't even represent one slice of it. Our group, which we self-curated, represented one slice. So it wasn’t so much a calculated strategy, but more of a need to control as much of our space as possible. We were lucky enough and grateful to get what we proposed: a large room with two entrances. I also think that a situation such as an MFA show is not the time or place to even attempt to stand alone so I looked at the exhibition as an opportunity to collaborate with others and allow my work to be influenced by artists whose work I find to be interesting. But ultimately everyone in my group had to compromise in order for something to happen.
CRT: That’s a significant transition from the control you have in your studio. How was this compromise productive for you?
MR: The function of the studio is totally different than the function of the exhibition space. The paintings are sensitive. I couldn’t just put them anywhere. Quiet, small-scale paintings in this context are more demanding of space and attention than loud, large-scale paintings. This is an instance where I think my work does open up. Where my sensibilities can be revealed to other artworks, like Leif Sanberg’s flax seed sculpture. I liked the comparison of the materiality of flax seed to the materiality of painting. I am interested when objects and non-painting materials can become part of a painting language.
Mario Romano, Two touches, 2012, Pen on inkjet. Courtesy of the artist.
CRT: Can you give me a specific example of this in your work?
MR: I just recently cut the bottom of my shoe off and placed it in a painting. It just barely fit within the frame. I wear Saucony shoes because I get a lot of miles out of them. But there are also triangles on the soles. I like triangles. It leads me to think about triangles that have had some miles on them. I think of geometric triangle painting and I think of myself. But ultimately I like the materiality of paint and when it butts up with the materiality of other objects.
CRT: Speaking of materiality, I am curious about those computer drawings I saw in your studio earlier this year that you did not include. How do they operate in relation to the paintings?
MR: For one, the drawings hold a different purpose than the paintings. I have always had a dual practice in drawing and painting. The drawings are a way for me to stand up against another language or system. I make computer drawings with a simple text edit software. Patterns are formed by holding down the comma key and throwing in the letter "M"; essentially like writing a drawing. I usually do this in bed, when I can’t sleep, or when I can’t stop thinking about my relationship to technology, or when I start to think about taped edges in painting…which makes me grind my teeth. I think about expression, and about why am I doing what I am doing. The drawings sit as an ongoing pdf folder on my laptop until they are printed out. After printing I draw on them. I have hundreds of these. I sometimes try to mimic the printed patterns or draw the most expressive lines I can. It is another form of touch that I am very interested in. I think about my desktop as a container and my studio as a container as well.
CRT: Hundreds? So it’s also about quantity and the sheer repetition of the process?
MR: Yes. I can’t stop!
ArtSlant would like to thank the artist for making this interview possible.
Image at top: Mario Romano, Open and closed, 2012, Oil and shoe sole on panel, 14 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the artist.