Art Seen: National

David Scanavino // Profile of the Artist

In Conversation with Tara Plath

David Scanavino‘s most recent exhibition is Imperial Texture at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut. He was exhibited in the group exhibition Walk-Ins Welcome at Marlborough on the Lower East Side. Originally a painter, Scanavino’s work has been moving increasingly towards installation and sculpture that overlays a formal painting vocabulary onto site-specific works created from familiar materials that reference social spaces and institutional spaces.

Scanavino and I sat down in his studio to discuss his recent exhibitions, influences, and process.

David Scanavino: Imperial Texture (partial installation view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield), 2014; Courtesy of the artist and Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, New York; Photo: Chad Kleitsch

David Scanavino: Imperial Texture (partial installation view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield), 2014; Courtesy of the artist and Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, New York; Photo: Chad Kleitsch

Tara Plath: Considering the work you made for your most recent exhibition, Imperial Texture, and your previous work, makes me think about how you translate space. Is there a consistent question or concern that connects all your practice? the rope pieces, the paper pulp and the tile floor works?

David Scanavino: I think what connects all three bodies of works is this relationship of your human body to a kind of now or industrial material: floor tiles, ropes, and the paper pulp which first started with newspaper. There is an immediate physical human scale/ human relationship­–walking with your feet, the rope you hold in your hand, or the fingerprint in the paper pulp, which is the most direct gesture.

TP: Has each body of work evolved over time, from one to the next?

DS: They have all worked at the same time, and they’ve all slowly developed over time. The tiles came first because I was coming out of painting, and they dealt with color and mark in a way. It was a more obvious connection to the paintings I was doing at the time. The early tile work also included tile sculptures that sat on the floor, so you have a plane and something pushing out from that plane. I became interested in the idea of absence and presence, which lead to the casting of ropes, because that’s really what casting is- the solidifying of negative space. The rope came later. The rope was another material that I felt was similar to the tile: it was a tool. The tiles are not exactly a tool, but they are things that related directly to your body and they’re banal non-objects. The rope really related to your hand in a very visceral way. When you cast the rope and you ripped it out, it still had the presence of a rope, and I was trying to make this absence have form. I also got a lot of joy out of casting these things and then ripping the rope out, this gesture of unzipping in a way.

Photograph of Installation at the Adlrich Museum. Photo courtesy of Pamela Ruggio.

Photograph of Installation of Imperial Texture at the Aldrich Museum. Photo courtesy of Pamela Ruggio.

TP: They look incredibly satisfying to make- especially the rope column you created for your installation at Michael Benevento a few years ago.

DS: Yeah it’s exciting. That piece in particular, the coil cast, is a little different from the rest of them because the rope is the mold. Before the rope is running through the mold, where as that one the rope is the mold and it’s everything. When you cast that, it looks just like a rope column, and then you rip it out and you see how everything was held together by this form.

TP: How do you approach a space when creating your works?

DS: I go to the site for a while and I walk around and try to understand the character of the space and how it unfolds. Time is an important concept, which is present in a lot of my work. How long does it take to walk across a space? Is it ten seconds or forty seconds? That means you have forty seconds to work with in a way. How much of the room do you see at first? Does it unfold all at once or is it in parts. How high the ceilings are, how do you see it from rooms that are connected to it. Then I do a lot of drawings and I start drawing out different situations and try to change the awareness of that room somehow. That goes to computer models, and then to fabrication.

TP: I loved seeing the image of the model of the installation in the Aldrich brochure. Seeing the small model really opened up the actual piece for me. When it is little like that, it is not so epic. You see the shift, and then when you are in the space the scale of it is pretty overwhelming.

DS: It’s kind of a funny thing about the tile pieces. They are big productions. They go up the wall and there is a lot of engineering in it. But the actual piece, and the model itself, is really just a one-wrist twist. It is very simple. But that little gesture changes everything.

TP: Is there logic to your color schemes? I’m not a painter, which I feel like affects my ability to read the composition. It is very disorienting. Can you talk a bit about how you compose the tile works?

DS: The two things I consider are ideas around 1950s abstraction and color field painting, and the social connotations of certain colors. If you work more in the browns and grays with open larger fields, you begin to mimic how the material is used in the outside world. In a room that is 15’ x 15’ of gray tile, you have made a class room or a foot print of an interior space that is true to how the material acts in the world.

In terms of form you’re playing with how much it goes up on the wall, and how much of a painting it is versus how much is it on the floor and how much of a sculpture it is. So you calibrate the difference between the two. In general the pieces on the wall are more optical and colorful. And if it slides into the floor, the scales change and shift. On the wall the colors change tile to tile, on the floor it shifts to huge blocks of similar colors. A lot of those similar colors mimic patterns up on the wall, but they are blown up on in scale. This is all reflected in the paper pulp pieces on the wall.

TP: Is the paper pulp a direct response to what you’ve done on the floor?

DS: A little bit. Even though the floor piece has a lot of provision in its planning, it is still pretty hard edged, whereas the paper pulps are much more organic and intuitive. They are completely improvisational and relate to your hand much more. It is a different kind of tactility than your feet. That paper pulp is all made out of red, yellow, blue­– all different combinations of primary colors. The paper pulp doesn’t really ever mix. It becomes a pointillist mix because the grains don’t actually blend. There is a place where you will have an atom of green and ten feet away you will have a big circle of that same green. A lot of the work comes out of optical mixing, and from pointillism.

David Scanavino: Imperial Texture (partial installation view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield), 2014; Courtesy of the artist and Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, New York; Photo: Chad Kleitsch

David Scanavino: Imperial Texture (partial installation view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield), 2014; Courtesy of the artist and Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, New York; Photo: Chad Kleitsch

TP: As I was standing on Imperial Texture and watching children interact with it, I overheard a gallery attendant speak about your relationship to Columbine. I was having such a specific experience that was playful, and then when I heard that, the entire piece really shifted. Can you speak a bit about that history?

DS: I went to school there from ’95-’97, when I graduated. In ’99 I went back, after they had remodeled the school after the shooting. They gave alumni a tour. I was walking around noticing how they had changed the floor, the walls, to try and create a different tone and energy in the space. I had my own personal memories from the space, and what had happened there made it such a charged place. I became incredibly aware of these changes, and I became aware of how I hadn’t noticed any of those materials before. I had been using them everyday but had not been paying attention to their actual quality. They were just visible in my field of vision. I was drawn to that, to the reasons why I hadn’t noticed these things before. I thought that was a good place to start making sculpture from. That place between it existing in the real world, and being something that changes your perception of the real world was a place that was very interesting and fertile.

TP: There is this interesting back and forth between these playful colors, the interactive qualities of the space, which makes it fun, but then the colors connote some lunacy. It is a little crazy feeling, and the strict institutional spaces they refer to can references insanity as well.

DS: The material on one hand is very social material, that people feel very comfortable walking across. They know it, and have muscle memory attached to it but its also material that is institutional, in high schools and DMV’s and courthouses, and that has a power psychology to it that is not neutral. When you put that on the wall and it starts to be something that is looming over you a little bit, you start to play with the memory of those spaces. This starts to infiltrate the idea that it’s playful. I still think its social, but it is definitely not a neutral surface.

TP: Do you see yourself in conversation with any one artist or any one school?

DS: I have my favorites, which have stayed favorites: Jasper Johns, Bruce Nauman– the cast underneath the chair is very similar to the space beneath the rope. The cross-hatch paintings of Jasper Johns are very similar to the fingerprint index of the paper pulps. That goes back to Cézanne. Ellsworth Kelly is coming in a lot now. Those are historical precedents that I do go back to a lot.

To have Imperial Texture be placed between Artschwager and Serra from the Aldrich collection is amazing. I couldn’t have asked for better sculptures to be placed on either side of my work.


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Tara Plath is an artist and writer based in New York City. She currently works at Whitebox Art Center. She holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts with an emphasis in sculpture and a Bachelors of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Imperial Texture will be on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum until April 5, 2015.

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