Lynn Maliszewski: Where do you think the adult practicality you’ve attained interacts with your creativity now?
Shane McAdams: I was trying to figure out what creativity is and why a while ago. You know all these people that are clever or smart and manage to get by. Sometimes it’s like a lazy dog that doesn’t do anything and has a brain the size of a racquetball will know immediately if you open a can of food. It won’t come for a can of peas because its functioning brain is completely concentrated. It’s the hypothetical mind versus the non-hypothetical mind. The difference is that if you’re going to be creative or tell a joke, you have to ask, ‘what if something happened?’ Predictions about the future will always be conditional. I imagine a world that’s not there and ask what would be in that world. I don’t think I’m a visionary, I just think there’s two types of people. Jerry Seinfeld and ethicists do it, too.
LM: I also wanted to touch on the space with you here. How long have you been in the studio and how do you get into it here? Are you particularly inspired here?
SMA: I have a studio in Wisconsin, which is my wife’s parents’ carriage house in the back of their home. My space is very important to me. It’s nice but I moved all over the place when I was a kid. Permanence has been irrationally important to me, and having ownership of a place has made me more proud than I think it does other people because I never thought I’d be in one place. I’ve been here for a little over five years. I came in as a share and then someone left and I got this bigger space then I took over the lease and I feel so much pride. I’m not territorial but I just have a sense of ownership that gives me a dopamine release that’s got to contribute to making better art. I just love having my key. It’s very much my man cave. I come here and I have a TV, which most artists don’t have. If I had a place where I could watch a very important sports event it would be here. My bliss would be for the Super Bowl to be on and then also to be doing material experiments, which is how I start doing any process work. I say, ‘let’s dump some kerosene on styrofoam and see what happens.’ It’s like in Seinfeld where George Costanza is trying to combine sex with eating a sandwich because he wants this synergy of the two greatest experiences. That’s how I feel. The space is crucial. It’s scary because you realize that because you don’t own it, it’s a rug that could always be yanked out from under you. I thought about buying a place just because. If we ever move I’m always going to stay in New York because I’d feel much more comfortable going back and forth to not have to deal with something that is always impermanent. The whole thing with not liking uncertainty comes from moving around so much. I never had toys that stayed, that were on their dressers their whole life. My parents were just like bedouins, and you don’t accumulate anything. Everything we had was brand new, cheap shit, from wherever we were because we just started over every six months. I have to take the good with the bad, though, because when you divest yourself of materials you become very mental. That’s where I lived because I didn’t ever have Han Solo figures to worry about.
LM: Seems like a truly enforced meta existence.
SMA: I almost have a superhuman ability from the way we lived not to acquire an attachment to material goods. I had a guitar when I came to grad school and my friend was helping me move and he dropped it and it broke and I didn’t care. How many guys, if they had a guitar for fifteen years and dropped it, wouldn’t care? For me it was just a hammer, it was always just a hammer and that’s how I saw everything. It was a blessing and a curse. It’s a great drug not to be on. I don’t feel any ownership of anything…maybe my art, but it’s more so of a concept than the object. It might be more of a classification thing.
LM: Do you find form or function of the space within which you work more important or necessary?
SMA: It’s all psychological for me. For productivity I could use a better space, or different space, but I like this space because it’s my little nest and the only permanence I’ve known. There’s no secret organization in this particular space that does anything better for me, but it’s just my comfort zone. It very much relates full circle with my paintings. What does this place, as a functional piece of urban geography, mean to me? The spiritual versus the practical emerges. Practically, it’s nothing. Part of me believes in nothing about this, that you could erase it and give me another space of the same square footage and I’d make the same stuff. But part of me is recuperating from a wayward past and wants to hold this because I never had it. I think that’s a contradiction in me that probably prevails in everything. No one has that all worked out because the world is organized on binaries that don’t work together. Every arrogance is also a confidence. There is no resolution of those things because they’re by nature antithetical.
LM: The balance in important. You wouldn’t want to perfect one aspect and thus be rid of the other. The negotiation between these extremes is also ripe for new conclusions in your own practice.
SMA: I really don’t practically feel like this gives me anything. I always think I should get a better studio but then I’m like, ‘Aw, but that’s my special friend!’ If you’re an artist who isn’t from New York, you’re used to having space. Until I was like thirty and went to grad school late, I was a slacker kid who bartended and slept around and couch surfed. In Kansas City you would have had to be really antisocial and irresponsible not to have a place to go. If you had friends or worked at all, you were going to find a place to go because the space is so abundant. There’s always a basement to be had so you could always make work somewhere and sleep somewhere. So maybe part of my claiming this space was the lack of basements, the feeling of imposition after sleeping a day and a half on somebody’s couch in their living room. That’s the thing with any New York studio: once you’re there and start getting your system down, you get a learning curve. It’s like you’ve built a ship in a bottle, you can’t take it apart and move somewhere else.