On the occasion of Cole Case's second solo show at Western Project titled "When We Did Believe In Magic And We Didn't Die", I interviewed Cole about his new work and life in SoCal. Enjoy!
(Kris Chatterson) What changes occurred in your work moving from your first show to your second?
(Cole Case) I added some new moves, dropped some old ones, played with different scales a lot more, tried new ways of addressing my subject matter and used more photo references. What all these things have in common was, basically, I loosened the fuck up from the more restrictive and tight practice that you saw in the first show.
(K.C.) How did you come up with the title for your new show at Western Project?
(C.C.) It’s a line from “Peacebone”, a song by Animal Collective. I thought it was a beautiful line and reflected what I am trying to do with the paintings.
(K.C.) How do you choose your subject matter?
(C.C.) All the paintings are either OF a specific personal memory or ABOUT a specific personal memory. WHY personal memories are my subject matter is a 3-hour-3-bottles-of-wine dinner conversation, so we’ll keep it simple for now. One of the issues I have living in Los Angeles is that some of my personal memories intersect with the memories of Angelinos as a group, so I have to be careful in how I handle certain iconic imagery like Tail O’ The Pup, the Hollywood sign, or El Coyote. Some of those places are so familiar that the viewer can’t get past their own recognition of the place and get into my painting. It’s a block for them. Like, “Oh yeah, Tail O’ The Pup, I loved that place!” and then they just walk away. But there is definitely a back-story to every painting. My friends and family know them, but I try to keep that information away from most viewers so they can have their own experience of the painting without telling them how they should think about it.
(K.C.) Do you paint from life or from photos, and why?
(C.C.) From memory and photos, never from life. Since the paintings are always about the past, unaided memory or aided memory (photos) are pretty much the way to go. However, sometimes I will refer to something that is physically present in the studio or outside of it (like the sky), but it’s not like I’m painting a still life by looking directly at the objects. I’ll just look at the things briefly for a color check or how light reacts to their surfaces.
(K.C.) Your surfaces are very complex, running the gamut of painterly techniques. How do you determine the surface, do you know in advance or does it occur within the making of the painting?
(C.C.) Both. Sometimes I go in with a very specific predetermined idea of what move to make for what area of the painting. Sometimes I decide while the painting is coming together and I’ll change things. Lately, every painting starts with a rubbing of asphaltum oil paint on the panel and a rough underpainting on top of that, also with asphaltum—very old school. I just started doing the dripping/pouring move in the last year. I like to have a variety of moves in every single painting and they usually tend to be binary opposites: thick/thin, matte/shiny, transparent/opaque, poured/brushed, stenciled/rubbed. I love alternating the precision of a 21st century computer-generated stencil with the 19th century mess of rubbing the paint with a rag. I stole that one from Manet. Thanks Ed!
(K.C.) A large part of your life was spent in So Cal. You were in a punk band as a youth. Do those kinds of experiences play into the work?
(C.C.) Yeah I was Geza X’s bass player in the early ‘80s when I thought I wanted to be a rock star. It was the BEST! So many great stories, oh man. It ended badly, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Geza was better known as a producer, he worked with the Germs and the Dead Kennedys among others. He’s still around. You can find video of him on YouTube. Music is hugely important to me and always has been ever since I was a little kid, which is why so many of the paintings are titled after bands and song titles. My memories usually have some “soundtrack” associated with them, so when it’s appropriate I’ll title the painting after the band and song that I associate with that place and time. The first thing I do with a painting is write the title and dimensions with a tagger Sharpie on the back — before I even do the underpainting. This is because I usually know exactly what I’m painting before I start painting it… It’s HOW I paint it that changes during the course of its becoming. I told two painters that I do this (Tom LaDuke and Samantha Fields) and they told me I was NUTS! Is that so weird? It makes sense to me!
(K.C.) You have an English degree from Stanford. Does that part of your life experiences weigh in on your paintings?
(C.C.) Only insofar as the whole Stanford experience was part of my past. I have made four paintings about Stanford so far. Two were in my first solo show at Western Project in 2006, but neither of the other two has been exhibited. The BA in English Lit doesn’t really inform the work directly, it’s really more the whole experience of going to college and learning all these wonderful new things about art, philosophy, science and literature. And taking lots of drugs. I had a similar experience when I went back to Art Center twelve years ago (without the drug part), but making paintings about a specific art school, especially a very well-known one here in LA. It’s problematic to say the least, so I haven’t addressed that part of my life adequately yet.
(K.C.) In a review of your recent show, David Pagel of the LA Times observes that there are never any people in the paintings. It's always places. Is that because you are inviting us along to pull up a chair or get in the boat with you?
(C.C.) I’m putting you inside my head. There aren’t any people in the paintings because people always go away for one reason or another (death, etc.), and only the places and things remain.
(K.C.) There are two paintings in the show that I would like to ask questions about. Living on opposite coasts of each other I have not yet looked at these paintings in real, so I will ask questions with regard to them as images.
"The Arcade Fire; Wake Up" 2008 seems like a new idea in that the painting is of a space where masses of people come together. Most of your work deals with more intimate spaces or wide open vistas. What led you to this painting?
"The Ramones; Judy is a Punk" 2008 is the biggest painting I have seen you make. How did the idea come about for this painting and what determined its size?
(C.C.) The Arcade Fire have had a HUGE impact on me, I saw them live twice in 2007. Best shows I’ve ever seen. The Hollywood Bowl show in particular was transcendent. I think that they are a really important band and they totally restored my faith in rock music. I thought hard about including the cell phone lights because that implies presence – a mass presence, even - and my paintings are really about absence. It was too beautiful an element to exclude. I was a little worried about using the Bowl because it is such an iconic structure (remember Tail O’ The Pup), so I minimized it as much as possible.
"The Ramones; Judy is a Punk" 2008 is the biggest painting I have seen you make. How did the idea come about for this painting and what determined its size? I wanted to make one painting for the show that really ramped things up scale-wise and tackle something that would take me out of my comfort zone. I also wanted to make a painting that was a tribute to my memory of the Ramones, and Johnny is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (You can just see his statue in the lower right. Dee Dee is buried there, too.). When I visited the cemetery to see Johnny’s grave, it turned out to be a really beautiful place and I took a bunch of pictures. When Cliff saw it under construction he said, “You do realize that because this is the biggest painting in the show it also has to be the best.” Nothing motivates me like a little pressure! I really had fun making that one.
(K.C.) Who are some of your all time artist heroes, people that have really had an impact on how you work and the way you think about your work?
(C.C.) Philip Guston, because he shows that you can completely change course and that that’s OK, and that cartoons are OK too. And he loves the sexy goopy materiality of oil paint as much as I do.
Robert Smithson, because we both think about dialectics, materiality, time, eternity and memory. If seeing the Spiral Jetty (in person) doesn’t move you profoundly, I don’t know what will.
Edouard Manet, especially because of “A Bar At The Folies Bergeres,” which like all his best paintings is about memory and ambition and sex and food and drink and fun and music and everything that makes life so sweet — while still being profoundly sad.