Lynn Maliszewski: You have an exhibition that just opened at Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia entitled Down and Out the Rabbit Hole. Have there been any particular turning points in your work in relation to this show?
Shane McAdams: It’s so cliche but it’s organic now, I think that’s the biggest change. I used to work as a director at an art gallery. It wasn’t an awesome slacker job, which is what I should have done because I wouldn’t have been as deeply swallowed up by the art world. For the first three years out of grad school I wasn’t as engaged in the studio. I don’t think it was conscious that I made really process-oriented work. It took five minutes to make but thinking about how to present this Rube Goldberg process system to create a piece of art was the challenge. Thinking about the recipe was as important as the time it took to make it. It wasn’t labor intensive. I didn’t switch into painting back into the canvas necessarily as a result of leaving my job but it kind of organically happened. When I got busy in the studio after I left, I completely stopped thinking about what the work was going to be. It didn’t’ have these existential dilemmas.
LM: It must have been pretty overwhelming to regularly try to create work in such a demanding environment right out of graduate school. With an insight into so much work, I can imagine it’d be difficult to find any distinction in your own.
SMA: I think everyone justifies their philosophy according to their place in the world. When people said they didn’t want to engage in the commercial side of the art world, I was like ‘Ha, that’s piffle. You guys are idiots.’ Of course then I got out and I realized they were right, I was probably just defensive because that was my place at that moment. You don’t want to believe you can’t handle whatever is beyond your immediate surroundings. There’s something about being able to be in your own world. There’s also a certain delusion to being an artist: part of that is believing you’re creative and part of that is being stuck in a studio by yourself and indulging in your own mess. It’s this other reality where you allow yourself to live for a while. I think part of my problem when I was in the gallery was that I was hyperconscious of where everything was. I didn’t allow myself to be that kid in the sand box.
LM: That constant over-thinking and analysis must have had you completely cluttered mentally.
SMA: We’re in a pluralistic art world now and there’s no right way to be. There are plenty of people that make a whole career about being hyper-controlled and analytical like Cindy Sherman. That’s not intuitive art but maybe it is. What you ultimately want is to find this place where whatever you’re making is your real voice. That’s the one thing I’ve come down to. So many things are relativized in a post-modern world and there’s really no right or wrong, so what do you say that is right? What is absolute? If you’re a writer, you don’t want to be mediating through some persona. My issue was that I had too much distance from what I thought I was going to make and it wasn’t coming with any type of immediacy from my voice. Now I just do it and I don’t even think about it.
LM: With working in the gallery for three years, did you find you were easily influenced? Were you open to absorbing the visual landscape or did you limit yourself in order to preserve your own practice? What are your tendencies now that you aren’t in that environment any longer?
SMA: There’s two kinds of people in the art world. There are those that like to receive information as much as possible and take full responsibility for everything that’s out there, process it, and distill that into whatever their product as a producer might be. Then there are people who choose to shut that out and live internally. Everyone really is between those two poles, and I think it’s somewhat clear that I like receiving information. I’m not the kind of guy that wants to be in a cave. That being said, I’ve moved toward the middle a little bit because I used to be one of those people that wanted a fire-hose sprayed in his face and there was no friction or problem with that.
When I was in graduate school, I had nine copies of Art in Theory. It’s one of those things that could be a prop in a Woody Allen movie, where the stuffy art history professor has that book. Once when I was reading it this girl walked into the room. She was a really intuitive artist that loved Bill Jensen and was big into Helen Frankenthaler paintings. She loved just letting paint drip and ooze and pour. It wasn’t so different for me but I had an entirely different conceit with my work. So she walks in and I was reading this book and I think I was bitching about a test I had just taken in an art theory class and she goes, ‘Shane you know what your problem is? You really think about it too much.’ The first issue was you should never walk in and say ‘you know what your problem is.’ It’s just kind of tactless, so of course I took offense to it. She had hit at something, though. She goes, ‘I just make paintings that I want to make.’ She was making paintings on rectilinear substrates, dripping acrylic paint on raw canvas in 2012. It’s not like she was some kind of primitive or naif. The only difference between her and me is that she put a firewall into her subconscious and I recognized what I was doing. So I say if I’m gonna get information indirectly, I’m just going to accept it all and fucking turn it on. I think that’s the difference. I don’t ever want to be one of these people that fool themselves into thinking that in 2012, living in New York City, making a very voluntary decision to pay some $30,000 for grad school that I’m going to come pay for my studio, buy these supplies, get a subscription to Artforum, and suddenly pretend that I’m living on an island somewhere. I think that’s just self-deceptive, and it’s a level of self-deception I can’t deal with.
LM: Point taken.
SMA: That’s what I think but many people disagree with that. I think I do a good job of separating philosophy and ideology from aesthetics. What most people do is they forget that a forearm tattoo doesn’t make you a rugged individualist, it makes you a person with an awesome forearm tattoo. It’s detached from the proposed philosophy. A leather jacket, for example, meant you rode a motorcycle and were kind of a free spirit or something, now it’s aesthetics.
LM: Look what’s happened to face tattoos.
SMA: I like it aesthetically but I don’t believe that that stuff relates to the original symbolic philosophy that it had. The same thing is true of many people who claim they don’t like to engage with the commercial art world. It’s a philosophy that’s really closer to an aesthetic way of handling yourself than it is a real philosophy. I know people, though, that are really like that and I love them for it. Everyone should be in their real house. I like a lot of information, but when I was at the gallery it was kind of tough to see that much and it probably did have an adverse effect. I’m not going to pretend to be some sort of hermit who gets everything intuitively. I think back to 2005 when everyone was painting grizzly bears on everything. If you asked any one of those people why they were painting grizzly bears they would say, ‘Oh yeah, I just love painting grizzly bears.’ Obviously you’re plugged into something because every one of you is painting a fucking grizzly bear. So you’re the one naive person who just loves grizzly bears and this specific set of imagery? That’s just what I never got. I think that person who puts their firewall up is in danger of getting grizzly bear-ed. It jumps over the wall and you’re like, ‘Oh, it just plopped in my lap,’ but you’re just not recognizing its journey there. At least I have a sentinel at the gate watching what’s coming in, going ‘Oh that’s a popular name, that’s a popular thing. That’s big right now, don’t just jump on it because you’re deceiving yourself into thinking that’s you.’ It’s really the ether.