|TS: I wonder if it will be useful to frame our conversation around a trajectory?SLW: Yes—like what’s the story? Truthfully, I have trouble speaking about that, in part because I have a resistance to talking about my work and I‘m still figuring out what it is actually about.
TS: I don’t think it’s necessary that you have all the answers now.
Stacy Lynn-Waddell, Aarkaydea, installation view, Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA, 2011. Mixed media wall installation, 8.5 X 41.5 ft. Courtesy of the artist.
Teka Selman: I wonder if it will be useful to frame our conversation around a trajectory?
Stacy Lynn-Waddell: Yes—like what’s the story? Truthfully, I have trouble speaking about that, in part because I have a resistance to talking about my work and I‘m still figuring out what it is actually about.
TS: I don’t think it’s necessary that you have all the answers now.
SLW: Well—it is time for me to slow down and have a clarifying discussion about a few things.
TS: I think that it would surprise people to learn how vast your influences are. How would you contextualize yourself in those terms?
SLW: At one time, I was looking hard at artists like Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson and Kara Walker. Although they were described mostly as identity artists, these artists have developed unique languages centered on narratives about beauty, elegance and classical representation. Their practices have been important to me. But, as it always goes, you hold onto some influences for a while and then you shift towards others.
TS: The identity description is often used to justify who made the work, but it’s never that straightforward.
SLW: You’re right. Race, and by association history, is slippery. However, what’s great about history is that it exists as fact and as fiction. A fictional account of history is always more interesting, though. I am trying to create a language of symbols that are not entirely clear—despite their universal reputations. I’m not sure that identity in certain forms can sustain itself.
TS: So, whose work are you looking at now?
SLW: David Hockney, mostly. I have been reading and in some cases re-reading his books and essays. Hockney is a master observer and represents what it means to stay with something and really look. His books Paper Pools and Cameraworks are favorites right now. At present, materials and processes are more provocative to me than what a work is about.
TS: I remember first coming to your studio while you were in graduate school and thinking, this work is not like anything I have ever seen before. I feel like there are two sides to your work. There’s the installation-based work and then there are the smaller works—individual works that are the eye candy and are more easily latched onto. The installation work is becoming more and more about travel—especially Aarkaydea, the installation you created for the exhibition recently on view at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. And yet, what’s interesting to me is that you are someone who has not necessarily traveled a lot.
SLW: No, I have not traveled widely. These spaces are a kind of escape.
TS: Also, there are rarely people in your spaces and when you engage in portraiture, people are rarely seen in context with anything else.
SLW: I love space. It comes from looking at 19th-century landscape paintings. They make me think of beauty, space and otherness. The figure complicates that relationship a little.
TS: What landscape painters?
SLW: Mostly Thomas Cole and Robert Scott Duncanson. They painted incredibly beautiful, dark and prophetic images that are both documentation and sites for the imagination.
TS: All this makes me think of PJ Harvey’s latest album, Let England Shake. It’s composed of cantos of sorts about the history of Great Britain through war. She touches on the traces left behind in landscapes. This type of painting requires a great deal of work to engage with. It’s not easy. There are no easy answers. It’s interesting that you are so fascinated by it.
SW: It’s super fascinating! It has an important link to photography and it creates a sense of wonder in me.
TS: I recently created a pinboard on Pinterest that I call Travel Porn. These images are all touristic images from the Internet that are not real, but I imagine traveling to these sites at some point.
SLW: There seem to be sites like this created everyday.
TS: It’s a function of living in a multimedia world. The accessibility of media means that anyone can create images (whether good or not) and put them out in the world for an ever-growing, readymade audience.
SLW: As I try and wrap my head around the mechanics of the art world, I keep circling around ideas like what it means to make images and how those images get launched out into the world. There is something attractive about a vehicle like YouTube and its quick, popularity-driven vetting process.
TS: So, does this mean you are going to start posting to YouTube…?
SLW: Probably not, but I find those types of outlets fascinating. I still prefer to go to an exhibition or studio to see work.
TS: I feel the same way. Studying art history in college involves looking at a lot of images in books or as projected images. Supporting this with going to the museum to see the actual work builds an excitement and passion for looking. Your work is about a physical relationship to space because of its scale and the way that it is installed. It’s important to interact with your work in person. In fact, your work does not photograph well—does it?
SLW: You’re right. It doesn’t. Everything flattens out and the nuances and bits across the surface are less effective. It’s all about desire.
TS: Yes, but this flattening out does create a relationship between your work and the generic touristic image. Those types of images are manipulated and organized flat space. Your work is bigger than that. It presents a literal one-to-one relationship. You have to be present to experience it.
SW: Yea, that’s why I like to work across media so that I present varying opportunities to engage with my work. Sometimes the large-scale works feel limiting.
TS: I don’t think so. There is a thread that holds your work together as it relates to space, place and the figure. The smaller works are that thread. They are concentrated and powerful, yet ephemeral. Drawing seems to be at the core here, but my thoughts drift to painting and decoupage as well.
SLW: My practice is mostly drawing and that has a structure of its own; yet, like most artists, I welcome a painter’s discussion in connection to my work. It’s where it all begins for me.
TS: How so?
SLW: Paintings were the first pictures I was exposed to as a kid taking Saturday classes at the museum. These were images of far-and-away places that I wrestled with to make sense of—still do. Painting—as a discipline—is based on a composition of structural elements.
TS: There again, you are speaking to process and its relationship to meaning.
SLW: Yes, but in the broadest sense.
TS: Well, painting certainly has a broad language that partly explains its domination of art history. This is interesting. I never thought of your work in relation to painting. How does scale factor into this? I feel like you work on a variety of scales.
SLW: I do, but mostly I want to make works bigger than me. I want the viewer to engage with the work physically. When I make installations and such, I am up on a ladder, stretching and crouching. I want the viewer to have a similar experience.
TS: So, the viewer becomes part of the piece?
SLW: Yes. I lived in the Midwest. There, I engaged with space in a very different kind of way. There is nothing more expansive than a far away horizon line at the edge of open air and flat land. There’s simplicity to those elements. That’s why I like using photographic backdrops. Scale, flatness and the reality of photographic space converge in a charged fashion.
TS: How do you go from the Midwest to tropical islands?
SLW: Islands are analog. There is no technology.
TS: Well, in our imaginations there is no technology.
SLW: True, but they do signal a slowing down. In their purest form, they are distilled other worlds populated with unusual flora and fauna—namely palm trees. I love palm trees! Part of my work also involves being a fake explorer. I do not actually travel to these sites. The images represent fantastic journeys.
TS: And yet there is so much more at work here. Islands are open spaces of possibility, but you wouldn’t want to get marooned on one. All this makes me think about Homer’s Odyssey.
SLW: Exactly! I am definitely on some kind of journey where I am trying to follow my impulses and figure things out.
TS: As I see it, part of having a career (hopefully) as an artist is dealing with figuring things out—isn’t it?
SLW: Yep, that’s real.