William Crump, Rise After Rise Bow the Phantoms Behind Me
linen, brass, glass, gouache, flashe, wood frame, various dimensions, 2012
Leah Oates: How did you become an artist and did you know early on that you would be in the arts or did you begin as something else? Where there other artists in your family?
William Crump: Growing up I always knew that I wanted be an artist. I went to school for painting. My uncle, Walter Crump, is an amazing artist living and working in Boston. He was more or less my example for leading the artists’ life. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know that I would have had the same outlook as I do today. That same thing can be said about the friends and artists I surround myself with. It took me a long time to find my way in NY, but once I did, I realized I wasn’t alone. After I received my B.F.A. I went to Boston thinking I would continue on with a Master’s, but I was so poor and miserable I seriously considered doing something else. It was during this time I had begun to visit NY, where a few friends were living and making work. I quickly realized there was nothing for me in Boston, and so I moved to Williamsburg in 1998. It was there that I met a couple of friends that I’m still close to today. We’ve clawed our way up as artists ever since. I would say I’ve been “all in” since day one, despite the many rejections, epic failures, and burned bridges along the way. I keep working. There is nothing that can prepare you when you are young for just how hard it is and how committed you have to be from the start.
LO: What are the themes of your work and what inspires your work?
WC: The images I’ve presented here represent something of a new direction for me. My work and my themes began evolving over the last year. I’ve made a commitment to liberate ideas about painting from my sketchbook. I don’t feel like I could have made the work I am making now without having spent time working with other mediums. All of it has led me to this point. More than anything else, my goal with painting is to start fresh and to look at this next decade as wide open. The starting point here, with the work I’m currently making, is to rebuild things. By that I mean using all that I’ve done before as the foundation for building off of new ideas, making something new from what has come before.
This series of paintings, drawings, and mixed media works, titled; Gathering Ground mines themes of spiritual rebirth, reconstruction, and longing. In reexamining my work and reasons for becoming an artist, I began with the idea of literal reconstruction of materials, and the suggested reconstruction of nature and the human spirit.
As far as inspiration, I had a moment while viewing Monet’s Cathedral paintings, at the Musée d’Orsay over the summer. Those few paintings, grouped together, under glass, clicked with me in a way that I didn’t expect. It wasn’t just that they were beautiful, but they reminded me of what a radical shift that time period was in art history, and how artists can define themselves by breaking away from what’s going on around them.
I try to keep a critical eye on what is going on around me, and whether or not it’s a passing phase or someone breaking new ground by pushing things forward. It’s still early in this decade, and the century for that matter. We’ll see where things go and who is taking the risks. In that regard, I’m always influenced and inspired by my artist friends and the exchange of ideas that we share in critique. There is a motivation that comes from having an honest dialogue with other artists who I respect, and that keeps me pushing myself to make better work.
LO: What is your working process? Do you plan things out or play in the studio?
WC: At this moment I’m doing all I can to keep things as unplanned as possible. That is not to say that I don’t work off of ideas in my sketchbook, I do. It’s just that the execution of my current work allows for play and experimentation. The work I’ve made previously has been planned down to the last detail. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve been open to letting the process guide me. I have a long way to go, but I’m happy with this approach. If anything it’s sped up my thought process, and opened up new possibilities in my studio. The biggest change in the way I’ve been working has been in my drawings. I’ve begun to draw from pure mark making. No planning. It’s been challenging to keep these pieces purely spontaneous and undefined. I’ve wanted to move as far away from a figure or a narrative as possible with this series. Each time I sit down to begin one of these drawings I have to remember to ignore all my impulses regarding defining space, composition, line, color, etc. A friend recently mentioned that I’m finally moving towards abstraction … Not sure about that, but I’m certainly moving away from everything else.
LO: Each artist is so different in how they approach their work. How do you approach the creation of your work?
WC: The first thing I do when approaching these paintings, is to try and leave all distraction outside of the studio. It’s about keeping my focus and discipline. There are times when I want to dive in head first, but that can lead to not seeing your work with a critical eye. I spend a lot of time arranging and rearranging the materials I work with until something new happens. Experimenting with new materials has been key for me lately. Cut glass or wrapped linen. The older I get, the more time I spend with my work, I realize I’m not as interested in what the viewer thinks. I remember reading about Albert Oehlen wanting to be taken seriously as the decade changed and his work shifted. That struck a chord with me. If anything is brought into the studio with me it’s just that, “Take your work seriously, think about the long road.” This approach has been more rewarding and has led to a broader exploration in my practice. I just keep trying to push myself, and my ideas into a new place.
LO: Why do you think art is important for the world and why is it important for you as an individual artist?
WC: That is an extremely broad question and could be answered a million ways. I’m sure that artists in any part of the world would relate their answers to their own experiences. I feel that having the drive and the will to be an artist is something I was born with. It has been the force that has given me purpose and direction. It’s either just in you, or it isn’t. I won’t try say that I have a definitive answer as to why art is important to the world. I suppose in some sense, it’s about giving perspective to the times we live in. We look at the artists of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s through some great historical lens, but that time wasn’t very long ago. I only hope artists right now will think about the decade they are in, and how they will be remembered. Are you part of something important? Are you really doing something groundbreaking or original? You had better get busy. This goes not only for the work being made around us, but also for the words and actions the artists too. It’s about shifting ideas in our culture and being in the forefront of influence and social change. I think the artists, when we are at our best, our most playful, our most ironic or spiritual, truthful, bitter, etc., are reshaping the times we live in while also knocking down walls. The next generation can then build on those new ideas and move things forward.
LO: Has being a dad changed your work if at all?
WC: It has, but I don’t talk about that anymore. I’m keeping my personal life is just that, personal.
LO: What advice would you give other artists who are emerging?
WC: I did it all wrong from the beginning, so what can I say? I mentioned some things related to this in the previous question, but if I know anything at all it’s this: Stay hungry. Just don’t ever stop working, no matter how successful you do or don’t become. Time is your best friend.