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Kelly Worman with Will Hutnick
Kelly Worman: I always describe you to friends as a bit of a renaissance man. (Painting, playing cello in the Brooklyn Symphony, bar tending, occasionally curating shows with studio mate Polly Shindler) Can you tell us a bit about what a typical day for you consists of?
Will Hutnick: Thanks for that description! That is very kind of you to say. Well, you pretty much summed it up, I’m busy. I tend bar at The Pines in Gowanus and at The Narrows in Bushwick a few nights a week, and then rehearse with the Brooklyn Symphony on Monday evenings. I usually head to the studio maybe four to five times a week and, depending if I have to work at night or not, spend most of the day there, or at a nearby coffee-shop working on applications and proposals and what not. I try to get up early each morning to take my dog Sammy to the dog park so he can pee on every tree and not play with any dogs, and then go for a run in Prospect Park before embarking to the studio.
KW: Who are some artists whose work you feel is exciting right now? Who is on your watch list so to speak from a curatorial point of view?
Will Hutnick in his studio
Photo: Scott Robinson
WH: I’ve had the good fortune of visiting some artist’s studios recently, some of whom whose work I’ve admired for a while and then just decided to email out of the blue. I like your work and want to come to your studio…. People have been very nice and generous with me. Reed Anderson immediately comes to mind; his studio is only a few blocks away from mine in Bushwick and, because his space is on the ground floor and a previous storefront, I’ve been watching him work the past few years (I hope that doesn’t sound too creepy). His work is exciting and raw, composed of thousands of hand cut circles on paper in geometric and quasi-biological arrangements; and after color is added the forms take on different and unexpected shapes. It also helps that he is one of the friendliest people around. Mark Joshua Epstein is another artist making great work. His fun, highly patterned abstract paintings are dizzying and absurd in their spatial configurations (absurd in the best possible way) and are like little treats revealing gems and treasures, lines that jut out at you and shapes that float into your space.
KW: Do you feel like these artists, like Reed and Mark, speak to your work?
WH: Definitely - it’s hard not to look at other artists’ work, especially because I see a lot of art each week, and not draw connections to my own. I’ve always been attracted to and inspired by work with bright colors, unexpected passages, lines that form networks, puzzles, games, etc. I think that when an artist is having fun in their work it really translates and is contagious.
KW: Your work has changed since you left Pratt in 2011, where you received your MFA. You were even making sculptures for a bit. I remember that you used to make these really fun, massive sculptures with found objects around the studio, balancing in place, connected to the playfulness present in your works on paper. How has your process evolved?
Wall in studio of Will Hutnick
Photo: Scott Robinson
WH: I still make my balancing sculptures/installations every once in a while, but to be honest the last one I constructed in my current studio was most likely over a year ago. Yikes! I think that one of the fundamental pursuits in my work is experimentation and play. I know that my work changes a lot, different forms and materials, incorporating tape, collage, paper, dipping into sculpture and installation work, but I get frustrated when I’m in a zone and then realize I’ve been making the same work over and over again – maybe not the same work per se, but the outcomes are less unpredictable. I constantly want to be challenging myself and finding unexpected results. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want a painting to look like, but the investigation that I’m after is letting the work come to me, speak to me, letting it evolve and form what it wants to be. If I am too direct or too purposeful or self-conscious or what not, that spark, that immediacy, is lost. Maybe that’s why I haven’t created one of my balancing sculptures in a while; I knew what was exactly going to happen. I would build it really tall to the ceiling, maybe have time to snap a photo or two, and it would collapse.
KW: You are really inventive with media in the studio. I feel like the introduction of tape as a material was an important addition to the way you work. Did tape first enter your process when you were making the tape sculptures at Pratt?
WH: I started experimenting with tape during a class at Pratt called “Drawing into Sculpture” led by Cyrilla Mozenter. I forget the actual assignment, or why I chose tape, to be completely honest, other than using a nontraditional material, but one of the first things I made for that class was a drawing on panel using only black electrical tape, by wrapping the panel over and over until it was completely covered and functioned more as an object than as a surface for drawing. That got me thinking that I didn’t need the panel at all, that the mound of tape could exist as its own entity and body. So I then decided to create mounds of these blobs, which eventually found their way to the wall, and would hang them on the wall and watch them slowly move and melt and lose form.
KW: I felt like they were alive…
Photo: Erin Przekop
WH: They were alive! Sometimes I would just sit in my studio and watch them for hours on end. It was always funny to me to be in the middle of a studio visit and then BAM! a chunk of tape falls onto the floor. Everyone was always so paranoid, it was great.
Eventually I moved on from my “tape monsters” as I was calling them (they were mostly thrown out by a custodian after an exhibition, allegedly by accident because he thought they were trash, but that’s another story), and focused back to painting. It wasn’t until after Pratt in 2012 or so that I began to think more about the tape monsters, their “organic” forms and movements, their spontaneous and playful combinations, their ability to shift and stretch time, that tape as a physical object made an appearance back into my work. I was making these acrylic abstractions on paper that were very topographical in nature (they still pop into my work these days as well) and the tape acted as a point of stability: a graphic line, a geometric delineation.
KW: Have any recent events in your life effected the direction of your work?
WH: I’m sure that one way or another, everything that happens in my life, whether miniscule or significant, finds its way into my work. How can you not be inspired and affected by your surroundings, Brooklyn, family and friends, etc.? Although I am not purposefully thinking about an event and then directly putting that into my work, life events, people, they seep in. I would say that probably the biggest thing to happen to me in the past few years was the passing of my Dad in 2010. I can’t really say how much work changed after that, or that I am consciously thinking of him and then painting simultaneously, but for a little while at Pratt I remember my work was being described in a very “Zen-like” and spiritual manner. Abstract forms and blobs were floating in huge expansive field of negative space – they were perceived as being very celestial and peaceful.
KW: Your work has always been very process driven. Describe your process?
WH: I usually work on the floor with paper and canvas spread out everywhere intermixed with cans of spray paint, tubes of paint, pieces of tape and scrapes of paper. Sometimes I feel like a little kid that has a guest over and has to show them every toy I own. Things have to be out in the open and accessible within seconds for me to use them.
I discovered a process similar to the Surrealist’s “decalcomania” (great word) a few years back by applying paint and water to a large sheet of canvas on my studio floor, and then pressing/dipping smaller pieces of canvas onto the floor to capture some of that paint/moment. The results were unpredictable and sparked my interest in mono-printing in relation to impermanence. I expanded that process and began to use sheets of paper, and the pseudo-mirrored images that were created by pulling apart the papers were highly textured, composed of ridges and infinite so-called fractals. Very map-like, mathematical, derivative. It still blows my mind to this day. After that moment, things seemed to make more sense.
KW: Is your work completely chance and intuitively driven? Do you revisit with a critical eye and rework certain pieces?
WH: I try to keep a distance while I work at first, so that shapes and colors can happen naturally. I always think of a John Cage quote where he describes writing music as a “purposeful purposefulness” – I usually just throw acrylic and spray paint and other media together and then have a “let’s see what happens!” mind set. Cage also talked about “facilitating a work to occur”, something that’s always stuck with me, that I’m not creating the work as much as I am discovering it; that maybe all the lines and shapes and passages have always been there, and my role is to uncover the treasure, attempt to figure out the system and network. DeKooning also talked about his work as a “glimpse”, where the work can shift and change depending on the view or time or what have you; that things are in motion and in flux and this work, this painting, and this one shape or line is just the embodiment of a single instance. There are definitely plenty of moments in my work that I have to revisit and areas to
go back into with a critical eye. Some works are created in a matter of minutes, some take weeks, years. I’ll constantly talk to my works – where are you going? How can I help you get there? What are you trying to be?
KW: What do you find frustrating or enjoy about the way you work? I’m guessing there are a lot of happy mistakes and beautiful surprises
WH: Happy mistakes galore! I think I’ve mentioned this before, but when the work gets too safe, or too predictable, I get antsy, nervous. Oh, A + B = C? Got it, time to move on. I’m
Studio of Will Hutnick
Photo: Scott Robinson
always trying to surprise myself, maybe that’s why I’ve moved into the direction of mixed media and collage –unknown territories with what seems to be infinite possibilities. Not that painting doesn’t have that, it’s just my process was a little formulaic for a while that I deliberately now try to fuck up a surface, graffiti my own work, treat the surface and areas less preciously. Before I leave the studio every day, I usually make one or two drastic moves to a work – either a can of spray paint leaves a crazy trail, or I rip a piece of paper in half, or spill water or ink. That’s not to say that I’m not incredibly clumsy and don’t indirectly already spill things every day – just that it’s fun to make a mess and let go of some preconceptions.
KW: Your studio is a very special space. I always feel as if I am being enveloped in a rainbow of tape when I am there. It is a fully immersive experience. Tell us a bit about the space and how it affects your process?
WH: Aww, thank you! I once described my studio to someone as “Jumanji-esque”, because there are thousands of strips and pieces of tape on the wall that are taking over, falling down, reaching out, so that phrase always stuck with me (not to mention that amazing movie). The walls have a life of their own – they are constantly shifting – they’re functional parts of my process and works in and of themselves – both art object and the thing that necessitates and creates that object. I like exploring that boundary between installation and painting, between object and space, studio and work, what’s part of an actual work and what is there as a tool, or why that even matters.
KW: What continues to motivate you and inspire you in the studio?
WH: It’s the unknown that continues to inspire me. I can’t wait to get to the studio each day to see what I’ll uncover, what friends I’ll make (painting friends) and what old friends I’ll revisit and say hello to. The studio becomes a game, a challenge – it’s like a never-ending game of Tetris. Or Shoots and Ladders. Or Marble-works. I could name a few more but I won’t.
KW: I love how you personify each piece. Any tunes on repeat in the studio?
WH: There are a few albums that I consistently put on while I work that I can both thoroughly enjoy and appreciate and just zone out to. The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” is a good go-to, as well as Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”. Sufjan Stevens’ “Come On Feel The Illinoise” is one of the most impressive and audacious albums I’ve ever listened to, so inventive with unique structures and carefully and meticulously constructed yet free and wistful. I’m pretty sure it also features every known musical instrument in the world. Beirut’s “The Rip Tide” is a recent obsession of mine: I’m able to discover parts of songs and instrumentation that I never knew was there. I’ve listened to “Santa Fe” on repeat more times recently than I can remember. You know I throw in some good classical as well – Bach cello suites are a gem, although it can be distracting if I’ve memorized the piece myself and pantomime playing along while I work.
KW: So good, but then again we did share a studio for some time, so I should already know that answer. Are you reading any good books lately?
WH: I just finished reaching Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom”, which was incredible. Polly always makes fun of me because after most of the books I read (and try to get her to) I say they’re “phenomenal” and “the best ever”. “Freedom” was very special though – Franzen is a fantastic writer and has an eye for complex characters that are very real – flawed, confusing, hilarious and honest.
KW: “Freedom” is pretty extraordinary. Seen any great shows lately?
WH: The last show that really inspired me and got me excited was Joanne Greenbaum at Rachel Uffner. She knows how to tear up a surface like no one else. Her work is so direct and visceral and personal. I love how her surfaces are built up with different marks and elements, some of which you wouldn’t think should end up together, but they work, and then it’s as if she just scribbles all over it like a little kid drawing with a crayon on his parents’ walls. I left her show inspired to be bolder and freer in my work, maybe a little more rebellious. I definitely wanted to go home to Long Island and sharpie my Mom’s bedroom. (I didn’t, she would have freaked out).
KW: Your mom would have killed you. Are there any exciting things on the horizon? I know you are headed to a couple of residencies soon.
WH: I am heading upstate to Wassaic in August for a four week residency, which I am very excited about! The studios are apparently in an old, creepy and quasi-dilapidated barn, so I’m excited to see what I’ll make in that space. I recently found out they have a print shop so I am going to get back into screen-printing too. I am also heading to Vermont Studio Center in October for four weeks (whenever I tell anyone, their first response is always “it’s going to be soooooooo beautiful up there!”), and maybe create larger works on canvas? I’m not sure yet – my studio space usually dictates where the work wants to go, so we’ll see. I’m also in the process of curating some upcoming exhibitions, one affiliated with Pratt in the fall called “Drawings Along Myrtle Ave.” where I will be working with some stores and local businesses. Polly and I also are in the early stages of another curatorial show together, and I’m finalizing a proposal of a show on my own featuring the works of Cameron Welch, Henry Samelson and Polly herself, among others.
KW: What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given as an artist?
WH: One of my professors at Pratt, Sheila Pepe, once asked in a critique “Who are your people?”. I know it’s simple and I don’t know why it stuck, but I always go back to that idea of exploring what you’re fundamentally trying to say and do, your common core and beliefs, and finding friends that share a similar drive and passion – people that GET you. I know I’ve already found some of my people, and am continually inspired and impressed by them, and hope I’ll always be open and flexible enough for more people.
Will Hutnick was born on Long Island, NY. He earned his M.F.A. from Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, NY) in 2011 and received his B.A. from Providence College (Providence, RI) in 2007. He has exhibited his work most recently at Do It Yourself, 3rd Ward, during Bushwick Open Studios, the Center for Contemporary Art (Bedminster, NJ, solo exhibition), Trestle Gallery (Brooklyn, two-person exhibition), Brooklyn Wayfarers and City Without Walls (Newark, NJ). Recent curatorial projects include Future Folk: Part 1 (Brooklyn Fire Proof), Future Folk: Part 2 (LaunchPad), Spin? Art., (Loft 594) and ONE and DONE (LaunchPad). Recent publications include New American Paintings #99, Beautiful/Decay and Whitehot Magazine’s “Best Artists List for 2013″. Hutnick was an artist in residence through 4heads on Governors Island (NY, July – October 2013) and with Uprise Art at Uprise Outpost (New York, NY, April – May 2014). He was recently awarded a residency through Wassaic Artists Residency (Wassaic, NY) for this upcoming summer and a residency through Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT) this fall. He lives and works in Brooklyn.
Kelly Worman is a painter and curator based out of New York and London. She holds an MFA from Pratt Institute in New York, and is currently enrolled in the MA in Culture, Criticism, and Curation at Central Saint Martins in London. She exhibits her work internationally. Kelly is also the founder of the Studio Spoken project, interviewing artists about their studio practice and the director of The Art Mint, a curated online gallery selling affordable art from artists whose work she admires.
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