A selection of paintings by Scott Schultheis and Avdo Babić about the colors we ingest and the symbols we suggest
Sunday, December 13, 5:00pm – 7:00pm, HydroPose 1903 s Broad Street
Interview with Scott Schultheis and Avdo Babic, for Home Is Where Philly:
HIWP: What was the initial idea for this exhibition?
SS: I was thinking about the transitions in between projects, these potentially fertile periods that are psychologically weighty, and sometimes a little numbing. This sounds awfully serious but the show reacts to this in a funny way. It came from thinking about the anxiety that comes along when you identify as an artist, as someone who makes things in a very self critical way. You’re always thinking you should produce things – many more of them and much faster than you do already. Stalling is just part of the process of making something, and sometimes you do things to put something off because there’s a feeling that you’ve got to be in a vice, so to speak, to make that bigger thing really good and really matter. For the purposes of our event, the title Buying Time seemed appropriately cheeky: an event that suggests that what you’re going to see is just the warm up or the slack and that the real show will come later, after you’ve attended this one. I like that the title also implies a life before the show- a kind of ‘in the meantime’ experience- which Avdo and I run with a little as these smug personas. We wanted to build off of our Summer event – The Moore Street Salon – and do another art event to feature a more succinct and thematically focused group of works. Like the previous one, it features traditional works of art, mostly paintings, but the event itself is its own world too, and we’re interested in parodies of some of the conventions of the making and the reception of art. It also simply felt meant to be when Avdo and I agreed that turtleneck shirts would be the project uniform.
AB: “Buying time” for me is actually a skill I have honed, but not quite perfected. I also start to think about post MFA, post desperation, post realization of what we artists aspire to, having exhibitions is a way of buying time until your time comes. For me, it’s just a way to say “Hey, look at this! I can still paint! i still got that Art in me!” It was twofold. First, after our first “group” shop/auction, we agreed that a second event should take place around the winter months, so, here we are. Scott and I wanted to be cheeky in presenting this show for what it was the first time we did it, a chance to show and sell. The deliberate timing and theme has to do with anything else one does deliberately when agreeing to be in a show; whether it is the curator, gallerist or the artist, we all have certain tasks to carry out to make “Art” happen. Secondly, and more personally, I haven’t been making shit for a long time (or not anything that i’ve wanted to show at least). I realize I have to keep doing these things up until August 8th, 2036. (wink, wink!)
SS: Hahaha, love that!
HIWP: Please describe the creative process for this project. Guide: What is the relationship between the photographic exercise, the costumes, the improv performance (would you call it that?) and the “final” work: the exhibited paintings?
AB: I thought it would be interesting to invest a lot more time and effort into the photographs, promotions, planning and words rather than the works.
SS: Avdo and I had a couple conversations about what kinds of paintings we were interested in making and how we’d make them. At the moment, everything is conspiring in ways yet unknown. Well, that sounds sort of ‘cool’, but maybe things are oblivious to each other now, in their nice, correct cubbies, and the mingling will only really begin once this process is seen through.
HIWP: What is the reason for the choice of venue?
SS: It seemed like an unusual and exciting environment. The Hydro+Pose hydroponic yoga studio is a really beautiful, suggestive space. It’s a place of business that is aesthetically very compelling, where the items for sale are presented in a way that makes them look like sculptures. So you go into this place and on the one hand you’re seduced by the display, and then you can purchase these edible plants and produce and (obviously) consume them (but later, in your home, or wherever I guess). I like the full circle. And it’s a sort of perplexing backdrop for paintings since paintings are suspended within the balance of decoration and meaningful content. I also think that most exhibition spaces try to make themselves disappear during openings- like they’re there but they’re not-they’re just being hanging devices so that you can focus on the art and on socializing with people. I sometimes find this two-pronged situation to be psychologically mortifying; maybe that says more about me than the situations themselves, but if you’ve been to art shows with any frequency, you probably get it. The space for Buying Time is an active system. There are synchronic things going on and that’s cool!
AB: Nicely put, Schultheis! For quite some time now, I’ve had a bit of angst or dislike for traditional galleries (probably because I can’t get into many) so the idea of an alternative space is just a solution for that problem. Also, referring to anything that is not a gallery or a museum as “alternate space” is a problem. These spaces always end up being consumed and commercialized. Like how Instagram used to be this space or whatever, which is great, because now that is has blown up into what it is, both Jerry Saltz and myself (and probably you reading this) exist in the same space where we get to show and share our ideas. I don’t know if that makes sense. (By the way, my Insta page is way more curated than his – just saying!!) All that aside, I’ve spent a lot of time @ hydro+pose and it is a very inspiring place for me. I’ve seen it develop from nothing into something that is beautiful and still growing, literally. The plants in the studio also tie into the main subject of my paintings, and I also want the paintings to look like the fruits, or, predictable decorations for the space.
HIWP: Why did you choose to dress in costume and use your bodies as interactive pieces for the photo shoot?
SS: Making art is very cerebral and it’s pretty quiet (for me at least, as I mostly paint). It’s also solitary. All these traits have a beauty to them. But contrast necessarily shocks the making process. So being a ham, dressing in loud colors, engaging a familiar space in an unfamiliar and outrageous way, and engaging people as a cartooned-up version of myself presents another way of operating. Of being. I guess it’s about acting out a fantasy of making the world literally part of the creative process (this is so much like normal life because all the recognizable cues of my daily experience are there but I feel strange and different because I’m not just regular me). We all have an understanding that the person we are when we’re alone, trying to fall asleep or having just woken up, goes through some subtle contortions in order to be a person with others. I like to move my body around too (we could call it dance, but I wouldn’t want to give you the idea that there’s anything remotely graceful about it), so using my body to think about form and meaning is exciting. All this said, every little decision is honestly difficult to rationalize. I think there comes a point when you have to embrace the fact that you can do things because you want to do them, because…it might be fun to. Making art can be deadly serious.
AB: Aaammm, why not? A large part of my work has to do with characters, more specifically #BalkanBoy (see #gypsynation title BALKAN BOY), where the costume itself adds meaning to the final product. This time around, we just wanted to have fun and explore our immediate surroundings and we really wanted to get a shot where we look like “serious artists trying to be serious.” I also don’t know how much of it is a costume; I would wear all green all day every day in my day to day.
HIWP: Why have you chosen red and green for the photo shoot, and do certain colors have particular meanings?
SS: Color is loaded with meaning – but it’s also just color after all. There’s a certain holiday that has become synonymous with red and green, so it made sense to turn ourselves, at least our clothes, into advertisements for the signing of color. They’re just more methods to compound the game we’re playing.
AB: Exactly! With this body of work, I realized that color has become just another symbol. I think we need to break this pattern. Color has thousands of differents meanings to thousands of different cultures across the world. I also think when parents dress their kids in either pink or blue at an early age, it pre-disposes them to become either a republican or democrat in their later life. This is especially bad for the American people, especially in a time where the political climate should mix into more of a, purple. (The real reason is because Christmas is like the biggest most important day in the world, and red and green are synonymous with that but I wanted to be green to rep. my Muslims, because that’s also important.)
HIWP: What do you mean by ingesting colors? What do you mean by suggesting symbols? Can you describe the physiological and symbiotic relationship with food in this project?
SS: We love food. I love food! For me, cooking and eating food is a pleasurable, automatic comfort. Thinking hard disintegrates into more intuitive decisions. Painting can be this too, but it’s more touch and go, and I am interested in how painting poses a challenge to straight up pleasure. So using foods as subjects for paintings challenged me to impose some symbiosis between analysis and pleasurable abandon. To the meaning of our show description of “ingesting colors and suggesting symbols,” I think it’s a way to be literal while implying that something is operating beneath. It reads as thoughtfully dumb. We wanted to be dumb and smart at the same time, and you might add the words ‘surfaces’ and ‘insides’ as a comparable distinction. But it’s this bald, overt simplification against the self aware, cool advertising tactics that we are using along the way to market the show which give it suspense and mystery. We like contradiction.
Avdo is making these paintings of fruits and vegetables and I am making paintings that often begin with Emojis, and for this show I’ve been looking mostly at the ones that represent edible things. I like how these digital artifacts can be used as if they were in a play. My paintings sets up an unfamiliar spatial condition for them, in which they might be more like an actor, or more like a prop. There’s something visually seductive about the Emoji: as a hazy, ideal, closed form. They are alluring clichés. So this makes them really susceptible to the kinds of distortion I like to do with painting. In the world, fruit and vegetables are paired with specific colors, inseparable from the language of color (I need to eat more *greens*, purple potatoes, yellow squash, blueberries, etc., etc.) So to put it literally: you’re eating color when you eat these foods. Symbols are trickier, but there’s again this sense of the literal (a cross stands for Christianity, a heart is a symbol for love, a swastika stands for Naziism and antisemitism), a one to one relationship, the symbol is a stand in for the concept. To me, the wording ‘suggesting symbols’ adds some compelling fog to the usually straightforward, iconic function of the symbol. Also, Emojis have made symbols available to our text messaging: the skull, all the facial expressions. But they also have done something funny to the symbol by making it flexible within communication…the flexed bicep Emoji could refer to working out, or the concept of being and feeling strong, and all these things can be used sincerely or ironically depending on the context. I find this very interesting – and very suggestive- that is, signs merely suggest until we contextualize them. Getting back to food, food is pleasure, but there’s commerce and capital that systematizes food. Food experiences all these transformations, and goes through journeys before you eat it. So there are these conditions stretching food pulling it to and away from you. Painting pictures of food, or pictures of pictures of food is by no means a new undertaking, but I’m fascinated in teasing out the absurdity of it. You get into this notion of aesthetic distance from ‘real’ experience. Here, from the experience of preparing or consuming food. Food can just be amazing to look at too, so I’m intrigued by this perfect image of food, but also by the image of foods that have a banal magic, or maybe they’re just magical in a different way (a lollipop, a slice of pizza, a loaf of grocery store bread, a McDonalds Cheesburger). But then you make a painting of this edible thing and you’re dealing with it intellectually and optically, which is not really the food’s point after all. I’ve been painting foods that I rarely eat, and I often paint until I get too hungry to work any more, so there’s something about this that seems almost performative, or just super meta. Anyhow, I could blab on…but I think I need a snack!
AB: I also love food but just like everything else in my life, I am suspicious of it. I had ideas of trying to explore where it comes from, the socio-economic implications of produce, child labor, cocoa farms, etc…. The usual research queries I would go into. But after a moment of clarity while slinging drinks at work with Scott, it dawned on me that I was just going to paint fruit. I never really painted still life and I figured this was as good a time as any to do that. I’ve already said all that I need to say about ISIS, etc., so I want to see if painting a plum has the same weight. Relating is also very important to me, and still life painting is something that I think most people can relate to. As far as symbolism, there might be something in these paintings that looks at surface and the material I am using: paint. The skin of the object is the background color, referencing the skin of the fruit, referencing the color we think of when we think of fruit, but that’s just the outside. All of the paintings portray the insides of these foods, and ultimately, I want people to walk away thinking about that. I’ve also discovered that nature is very deceptive in what it produces. We are lured and believed to think that we ingest the packaging, the color, the symbol, the complexity…but really, it’s much simpler and sweeter than that.
Home Is Where Philly #buyingtimeart #scottymaxim #gypsynation #hydropose