Lynn Maliszewski: The abstraction in your imagery integrates lots of circles and amoeba-like shapes. They consume the landscape, in my opinion, or exist without the mention of landscape at all. Are the particles aggressive? What is the macro/micro connection?
Shane McAdams: Yes. I’m dealing with abstraction and representation, this very basic art historical binary. When you get to the landscape, you have another binary opening up too: is this image as image or is it image as representation of place? What does it mean? Is this a mountain, or a mountain we know? Is it purely pictorial? I was always wrestling with the latter issues. I had to choose what the landscape meant. As I was doing that, this idea about the representation/abstraction as a macro/micro thing opened up. I stopped dealing so succinctly with the nature of the image and was more interested in the phenomenological thing, to have this really expansive picture of a landscape closed off by something else. The abstraction, which we think of as small, and the representation, which is big and real, were inverted and allowed for a pleasant tension the whole time.
LM: In many of these canvases the abstraction is more all-encompassing, taking up a majority of the canvas and challenging the physical space.
SMA: It belittles what we think of as the expansive. That became important as I was dealing with what Yosemite meant. How is it personal and how is it universal? I was also dealing with it on a much more basic level, wondering how a landscape becomes the Real and envelops reality around us. Landscape, in terms of the history of painting, has always been cropped. Reality is 360 and 24/7, but when we take a picture of it we crop it. What is more real, a Frederic Church landscape or a Piet Mondrian? Which one is more objective? We can call a Mondrian a non-objective painting but then Piet would say his image is the most real of anything. The landscape is actually a fake and his is pure geometry in this platonic sense. I felt like I got at that en-route to figuring out what the hell Yosemite meant to me.
LM: There is also a balance between memory and the more imaginative pulse of the unknown in your work.
SMA: You mean memory versus newness?
LM: Yeah, but because the audience is left to determine the worth of the landscapes there’s potential to interpret it fantastically, like a daydream or myth. With personal imagery being thrown into the mix, do you consider memory at all in creating these works?
SMA: I think my artwork is maximal. I wouldn’t be a very good Minimalist because it’s just not how I am. Working with materials emerged when I was at a standstill. It was like reading your 15-year-old sentimental poetry. It’s not bad because it’s sincere, it’s you, and if you’re not self-loathing you appreciate that. But it’s not original because I was channeling so many things that were from other people. It’s like the tears you had were even unoriginal. It’s not like you were the first person that ever had those feelings.
LM: Everything feels momentous in those pure moments.
SMA: It’s so pure to be 15 and think you invented sex. But it’s almost better because we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and we weren’t self-conscious at all. I always thought that what I was doing was exactly what I wanted to do until it was deemed unoriginal and thrown back in my face. There was nothing invalid about what I was doing, but it was channeled through a shared consciousness. Art is not supposed to be shared consciousness, it’s supposed to be your consciousness. To break the cycle I channeled what it was that I did when I was 10 years old, which was taking my dad’s chewing tobacco containers, cleaning them out, and going and collecting iron filings all day then pouring water on them and watching them rust. I went back to breaking rocks open and playing in dirt, which spurred this material thing and that’s where the abstraction started. The memory is more in the abstraction, oddly enough, than the image of place. That’s why when I went back to take pictures of where I’d grown up, those two things came together in a funny way because the memory is more in the stuff that doesn’t’ look like memory. I lived on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and when I went back I thought it would be this aching emotional recalling of memory and nostalgia, and it wasn’t. It made me think about this John Irving quote: “Memory is a time not a place.” Wherever I was when I was nine was going to be emotional. It wasn’t going back to that place as much as it was being nine. You have to go back to the verb not the noun, and the abstraction is the verb.
LM: What’s more inspiring for you, the long lasting or the transitional?
SMA: My OCD likes the long lasting. I like things to be preserved, but not conceptually. It’s neurotic. I don’t like when things are not catalogued and discreet. I like things wrapped and put away. I have a piece here, for example, that I love but I don’t know what it is and it drives me crazy. It was part of a portrait series I started of people’s sweaters. I would put resin on canvas, place the canvas on the sweater then rip it away. I thought about it in terms of art history: it would be their geometric pattern so there’s some Piet Mondrian in there but there’s also a portrait and a process, because it’s about a trace of their life going on my canvas but their sweater lives on. The problem is I don’t know what it means and it drives me crazy. If I were probably more pure in a certain way, I’d accept it for what it is. I’m like that kid that collected butterflies and had to put a pin through them with a label. That’s something I’m trying to get over because it’s just best to accept it as a great thought. I do wrestle with it. I like the transitional better conceptually.
LM: You work regularly with industrial, less trafficked materials. Anything new catching your eye?
SMA: There are so many. If I had $3 million I would hire an assistant to take all the ideas that are lined up that I can’t get to, material wise, and see what happens. That’s the thing I have a problem with. My show’s called Down and Out the Rabbit Hole because I start doing something, I get hooked on it, and I can’t get to other things. I have drip experiments here, for example, where I dripped things in paint until stalagmites started to form. I want to do a whole three year exploration of them eventually. As far as material, yeah, there’s tons of things, too countless to name…bubbles, electromagnets, and a bunch of weird procedures. It’s more verb than the noun: whatever material will make the verb do something is what I choose. I hate resin, I use it because it works. It does what I want it to with gravity and pen ink. I have all these projections in a book. I kind of work with them until they stop working for me but I would like to have another arm, another me doing more material experiments. It’s a big part I find lacking that I wish I could get to more.