Interview with Spencer Carmona

 

Could you give us a brief introduction to who you are and what kind of work you make?
Well I recently just moved to Los Angeles from Chicago. The experience has been interesting to say the least. So many differences and lifestyle changes have already taken place based purely out of necessity. Thing is that I am originally a Californian native so you think I’d be used to the big distances between point A and point B, but I have jumped around the country quite a bit in the last few years. I spent a year in Baltimore and then a couple in Chicago which is where I earned my MFA in painting and drawing from SAIC.  I feel these places have played a role in the work I make. Each new place has demanded from me a new body of work, kind of starting new in each studio. This last move to LA has started to make me realize what is still pertinent and what can be thrown out of the work from the previous two years. It’s hard to characterize but to put it as simply as I can, the work I have been making recently is somewhere on the intersection between abstraction and figuration, material flatness and pictorial space.

 

Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your works?
I gather most of the inspiration for my works by looking at art. Works from my peers, works from old and newer masters, anywhere. I keep a Google Drive folder of mostly paintings going that I shuffle through often. I have added some close friends to it so they can add images as well and to my surprise it has turned into a small community sharing what we all are currently looking at. It really is nice to see what my friends across the country are looking at and when.

Instagram has proven to be a great asset as well. I am constantly looking at art on there by people all around the world and within all stages of their careers.  This to me means you can always have your finger on the pulse.

 

What types of obstacles have you run into in your artistic practice and how do you go about navigating around them?
I would say the biggest obstacle that I run into is doubt. Doubting if I am doing the right thing, if the work is even good, if what I am trying to say even needs to be heard or if anyone really even cares, doubting that what I am saying is falling on deaf ears or that maybe I need to be saying something that matters to more people, maybe even something political. We are living in a very critical time and it can be crippling being in that headspace especially if that conversation is happening in your head while you are in your studio. Navigating around it consciously hardly seems possible because the more you harp on it the more anxiety you create. All you can do is just keep on keepin’ on despite the voice in the back of your head telling you all those things. I heard some Philip Guston quote some time back that has always stuck with me and seems quite apt. In so many words, and I’m paraphrasing here, he said he was never free in his studio until all the voices in his head had left, even his own voice. Which to me he was always referring to the wants and wishes of others, their expectations about you and for you and those doubtful questions one has but as of late I have seen it a bit differently and that is when all those voices, all the doubt finally does leave, you are left with freedom, with pure autonomy to just be in your studio and be. To work and make choices without any hesitation as if it was nothing more than instinct. That when those voices leave, even your own, you are a machine of sorts that works purely in your own artistic best interests and without thought. So if navigating around that doubt could be something conscious it would be to go against your own doubt and to persist until you have exhausted it. To go until there are no more voices left in the room, not even your own and to trust yourself in that moment and ride it until the voices come back.

What do you feel are the recurring themes in your visual work? 
There are definite recurring themes in my work such as arches, horizon lines, trees, celestial bodies, orbs, windows, curtains, doors, and hooks but they are not necessarily used to convey a conventional narrative for they are just the image, the things to project onto or into. For me they are just a means to an end and for all intensive purposes they are just pictorial elements with or without a psychology to them.  When I am making a painting it is most always the how and very rarely the what that drives me. Therefore these images become structures for the material play to become active within. I start most paintings with very little restrictions, something like “I want to use these colors with these materials”, and then let the interactions between those guide the work. Mostly improvising until some order takes form. I mean the cliche here is what I really want in a work is for it to look easy or as if it just happened but fully knowing that it was not those things at all that created it. 

Is there a particular artist you feel you relate to? Who are your role models (artists or non-artists)?
I can remember the first time I ever heard Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan. I was a senior in high school and ever since that moment it has remained my favorite album ever. Since then I have grown to have a strange obsession with the man. Highway 61 Revisited is without a doubt a whole and has consistent feeling and yearning throughout. You can not separate the songs into their own without feeling like something was lost in the process. Melancholia, despair, hope, love, broken love, loss of trust, youth, faith, anguish, fear, fun, they are all there. These thoughts have followed me like a ghost since that magical moment long ago and have influenced me to the core. They are in my work if only in spirit.

When it comes to visual artists, I can name a lot of people who I particularly relate to. I guess the biggest of them all would be Philip Guston. The collected writings, lectures, and conversations edited by Clark Coolidge (and with an introduction by Dore Ashton) has proven to be my painting bible. Everything I need to feel okay is in there. Faith, Hope, and Impossibility is the name of the short text in the collection which is an artist statement of sorts. Here Guston lays out everything he wants, needs, and strives for in his studio and his work.  My dear friend and amazing painter, Pete Fagundo, gave me the printed out version and since then it has been tacked to my studio door. It is a firm reminder to stick to my guns when inside and to remember what is at stake. Pete and I have had many great conversations about it but more than anything Pete and I have had great conversations about our work, other’s work, and the state of painting/art. I can relate to him more than anyone I know when it comes to painting. We are after very similar things when it comes to the how and why of painting, not necessarily in how the work looks.

What is the best piece of artistic advice you’ve been given?
Way back when I was in undergrad trying to learn how to paint, my mentor at the time told me to trust my instincts. I guess that has been the best advice I have ever been given. There is no right and there is no wrong. There is only you in relation to the thing you make. If that is honest and direct and you really believe in it, then that’s really what matters. You must have faith that whatever else you want will follow from good intentions.  


Spencer Camona | In Good Company