Lynn Maliszewski: What affects your visual experience??
Shane McAdams: The most inspiring stuff is the nerdy science-y stuff. As I paint more, though, I find myself wandering the new American Wing of the Met when I didn’t used to as much. I look at more John Singer Sargent, more Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Church and Jasper Cropsey than I ever did before. But usually the most inspiring is weird internet stuff. Most of the things I think about are very basic scientific processes like binaries and feedback. Recently I got into these things called sun cups. What happens is the sun hits ice, say 13,000 feet on a glacier, and the ice starts sublimating. If you get a depression that’s more depressed than an elevated area, it’ll keep happening with feedback and get deeper and deeper. It forms mogul patterns. So it forms these really organized patterns that start out flat but once someone creates a groove it’s more likely to continue into a pattern. Then I say how would I recreate something like that on my own with whiteout? I could use a little bit more mechanical engineering education. I think I’m good at the chemistry and physics, I know what things are going to do when they interact. I’m always looking at tools, though, because I’m not a builder so I usually repurpose. I end up using a lot of pasta makers, remodeled funnels, and tape, which is kind of pathetic. Fasteners are a sign of a good engineer, not adhesives. Adhesives are me and my ghetto dad trying to build something using liquid nails. It’s like a nine year old kid trying to build a treehouse.
LM: What pushed you to actually make the plunge into deeming yourself an artist?
SMA: I’m still really uncomfortable saying I’m an artist. I still write and do other things. I have all my feelings out, they’re always out there. The truth about it is that my paintings aren’t me. Me is me, what you’re getting here is it, and this is either going to go into a painting, I’m going to write something about it, or you can talk to me. My paintings are just a removed manifestation, it’s a reflection of me. I don’t want it to become my identity. I think that’s where people go wrong as personal philosophers. I even get embarrassed thinking I dress like an artist. I want to be so religiously sure that I am plugged into the world and feeling and thinking about it and processing it the right way. I’m happy to go make art, I just don’t want to delude myself into thinking that’s more me than me. I’m a thinker first. My brain is a pulsating piece of art… that’s pretentious, that’s terrible. It’s like David Sedaris, who said he used to take methamphetamines and make performance art. He called his dad and asked if he wanted to buy a parcel in his brain, his “visionary’s brain.” He was so self-confident from the meth, and I think that’s just such a resonating image, that the brain itself was the genesis of all things. I like the idea that that’s the piece of art, a cube of my brain.
LM: That’d be a whole other step of branding: owning part of the visual cortex and being assigned work from there, or having stock in the conversation presented.
SMA: Well that also spurs the question what is real and what is the product? We’re all looking. That’s the history of art: we try to look at something that’s written or whatever as some sort of distillation of personality.
LM: Almost like character.
SMA: We want the thing, but we’re still fetishizing something that’s not of the thing. The thing is actually a bunch of chemicals and synaptic connections.
LM: Even more dramatic that sometimes it’s those lucky breaks in connections that actually produce the real genius.
SMA: It’s weird because we’re post-studio-conceptual-art-world. The concept is everything and the concept is mental. Would you have anything made that is four degrees removed from the initial chemical firings of the brain? To say you’re an artist is limiting because it defies the whole idea of being in the conceptual art universe. A visual artist is just some weird attempt or some diarrhea of existing at all. It comes out in different bits and pieces. I think artists, because we read all this crap and Roland Barthes, should know that more than anyone.
LM: Great way to put it.
SMA: A bunch of diarrhea?
LM: Yeah. Even wondering what type of writer I am sometimes makes my head spin. How specific do I need to be for it to mean anything to anyone?
SMA: I had a professor who called it the Law of the Conservation of Meaning, which was her way of saying you can’t footnote the footnotes of the footnotes. You can say, ‘I like Wyoming’ and someone will ask if you’ve been everywhere in the state. Meanwhile, I’m using that statement to summarize the four cities I’ve been to because I don’t have time to tell you that when I was six I went to Casper and vaguely remember eating at a Burger King and it was great. A map of something that’s the same size and detail of the original map is the same thing, it’s not a map. It’s a semantic paradox. To even use a word is to generalize, which is to deceive. There’s an arch to even trying to recount the truth. I let people off the hook if they say they’re an art critic because I know they have to define it somehow. I would say I’m an artist, but I don’t have fucking time to tell them my true philosophy which would consider me a fraud by such a classification.
LM: What was the most recent aesthetic experience you had that either shocked or was memorable in any capacity?
SMA: I have to say what blows my mind anymore is really just quaint sunsets. I’ve kind of gotten really young again, or really old really fast. I’ve been in New York for ten years, pretty much nonstop, but am regularly going to Wisconsin now and it’s really…pejorative. It’s natural, there’s lots of land and that feeling of being outside. Lately it’s been a lot of that, just being outside and being able to see horizon.
When I teach or give lectures about my work, sometimes I’ll say I’m from Kansas City and sometimes I’ll say I’m from the Southwest. The truth is I moved all over, and it depends on how they phrase it. There were two formatives, though, in that whole time/place thing. One is what I call ‘the magical formative,’ and the other is ‘the puberty formative’ or ‘the John Hughes formative.’ Kansas City is the puberty formative, that’s where I became insecure. The magical formative was in the Southwest, and that’s where I learned to collect iron filings and really naively sat there with boogers running down my face. I always thought you imprint or connect it in terms of geography, but what I loved was the lack of self-consciousness at that point. And it could have been switched but I moved when I was thirteen or twelve from El Paso and it remained hermetically sealed as fantastical. It helped that I was in hermetic places and the narrative worked. When I went back to El Paso, I told my wife that it would be really magical and there’s just something about this feeling…I always compared it to sensory deprivation tanks. I don’t know if you’ve been to the Southwest…
LM: I’ve been to Arizona and Nevada, so yes.
SMA: Do you remember dusk? They’re really intense. With such low humidity, it’s like there’s no atmosphere. I always felt that that feeling in the Southwest was the womb, it always felt so comfortable and I wondered if she was going to feel that. She said it was like there was a peace there, with no whipping wind and very few insects. I always thought about it in terms of magic, and this is truth for me, because in a lot of ways you confabulate the past. I’m very keen on personal psychic archeology to make sure I’m not deceiving myself. I wanted to make sure that’s how it was. My wife has this cabin up north in Wisconsin. There’s mosquitos and I’ll see a bloated dead fish in the water every so often. She thinks of it and she just wants to go swim in the lake. I think about it and it’s just disgusting, every animal in the area goes to the bathroom in that lake, and I feel like Woody Allen or the city kid. It’s not ‘true’ for me. I like antiseptic nature. I like the surface of the moon. I like that you can pick up a rock and there’s no slime on it, it’s like everything has been disinfected by the sun. I like everything being sun-bleached and clean. It’s not that it’s clean, it’s safe. It’s where the world is going to be alright for me, and that’s not Albuquerque, that’s eight years old.