Bret Slater's first european solo show will open on September 7th on the occasion of Brussels Art Days.
Excerpts of a discussion with Bret Slater, Brussels, September 2012
At some point of my work, I think I was too literally referring to modern painting. And I was at a point where I was over perfecting it until it became too clean. It just looked like many hard edge abstraction that were already made in the 60’s ; it was not my ambition. So I started to gather found objects, as a support for painting. There was something very honest in these objects, and real. But in the end it’s pretty easy to validate works made out of found material : « This is what it is because I found it that way ». And it’s speaking of its own context. So it works. But it is much more difficult to make something out of scratch, and have it equally as valid. (…)
Objects / Canvases / Sculptures
Nonetheless, a lot of shapes or colors I use are influenced by other objects, like the Domino Pizza Box shape. They’re just more made and less found. But more and more, forms just happen by accident, in the work itself. And even Pizza Box shape, it’s now for me more a reference to a creative process I went through than to the original object. It’s not that I stick to them on purpose, but they just work for me. Also, during the past year they tend to become more and more organic. The one with two little squares on top is becoming something else to me now, like a crown or a castle. This other shape reminds me of a Hebrew character Since they’ve become more visceral and imperfect, the shapes bring more images to mind.(…)
Even more recently, my paintings became a little bit more sculptural. They’re more cut into, sanded… There are different levels of pouring, there’s subtracted and added material. And everything become thus more organic. Yesterday I saw this older painting I’ve made, and if I was doing it now, I’d consider it unfinished because it was too perfect. (…)
I took me a long time to dare to make my own canvas, because there were too many options. I was scared. That’s why maybe I had to pass by found objects first. Tons of artists work with stores bought stretchers; but what the point if the idea is to make objects as original and genuine as it can be. So I finally started to build strange formats… and funnily enough, I’m also making canvas that are close to conventional sizes. But in order to know what is working for me I had to experiment first. (…)
Cracks on a hide
As far as I can remember, the first painter I really like was Mondrian. I learned about his work in class, and on the slides it looked so perfect and pristine. But when I actually saw his paintings in MOMA, I realized that now it is full of cracks and also that all his handwork is very apparent. (…)
Also, I totally stopped making large paintings on stretchers. They became too strong and self-confident. They loose the quality of oddity and awkwardness, that an individual or a living thing has. I started again to make larger works after Elaine came to my studio and compared the texture of a work on paper to an animal hide. So I decided that if I make larger piece again, they should have this quality. I still need to vary the scale, but I don’t want my paintings to be awe inspiring. (…)
That’s why I’m hanging them quite low on the walls. For some time, I tried to hang my works in a scattered way on the wall. But then I tried to find a way that wouldn’t look too decorative, avoiding also a too scarce option. I try to show a relationship, but with without overdesigning the display. I could choose to show only four pieces in a show, but then they’d acquire some sort of importance.
Color wise, everything is related to memory and nostalgia of certain objects like CD covers or action figures. That’s where the glow in the dark paint is coming from. Everybody has associations with the works, including myself. The titles are often coming from music I’m listening to, titles of songs, lyrics… It works for me as a time capsule. (…)
When a painting, hanging on the wall, visually activates the desire to touch, to weigh, to taste, (which are comments that are coming back often about my work), I assume it is because someone feels some kind of connection with it. It may be the same kind of relationship I have with some objects. But if my paintings can be perceived as objects to be held, for me, they’re meant to be hung on a wall like 2D objects. Even though the action figures I was referring to are 3D objects, they all come from comic books and TV shows, so I think of them as flat images. (…)
Lichtenstein was the second ever artist that affected me, when I was five. There’s a huge connection with my work. Lichtenstein was working from comic books too. When I think comic books, I think Marvel and D.C., X-Men, and Batman. But it’s never specifically about the reference. I’m not using imagery, and yet, it’s paradoxical because everything I make is always a representation of something. Of course, at first glance, it’s more obviously related to minimal abstraction, that’s maybe why I never stress upon the pop references so much. There is this painting who looked like Wolverine costume as you told me. It wasn’t my intention, but it just totally did. (…)