Baby Making: February 2013

February 2013 curator Deborah Brown, owner of Brooklyn gallery Storefront Bushwick, interviews February 2013 artist Adam Parker Smith.

Deborah Brown: You grew up in Humboldt County, California, the marijuana-growing capital of the U.S.  Did this backdrop of subversive culture and capitalism influence you as an artist?

Adam Parker Smith: Yes.  The most prominent message in both Humboldt County and the home that I was raised in was; “Think for yourself.”

DB: In your work, you appear to have a love-hate relationship with popular and high culture.  What is your favorite pop culture image or object and, conversely, what is your favorite work of “high art”?  Discuss their relationship to your work and process.

APS: I don’t think I am a true fan of either popular or high culture.  I am a fan of the fans.  There was no television in my family’s house when I was growing up, and living in such a remote location, I didn’t visit my first major museum until I was 19.  I think because of this I have always been more of an observer of other people’s infatuations with pop culture and high art and this is what really informs my work.

DB: Is this the reason you incorporate images of celebrities and their artifacts in your pieces?  What is the relationship of your work to our culture of narcissism, fetishism, and celebrity idolatry?

APS: Exactly.  Celebrities are extensions of us.  They are what we think we want to look like and we think we want to live like.  One approach is this: If you want people to like your work, and you know that they love themselves, then what makes sense is to make work about them.

DB: You started out as a painter, but your current work appears to have little indebtedness to painting. How did you get from there to where you are now?

APS: I love to paint and draw, but I could never find myself as a painter.  It didn’t click for me.  I think about painting all the time, and I will paint again.  Someday I would like to only make paintings and nothing else.  I think the best way to describe my current practice in relation to painting is that I am on a long vision quest with the work I make now, looking for guidance for the paintings I will make someday in the future.

DB: You have been known to purchase ideas from other artists that you have gone on to make into your own artworks. What got you started on this practice?

APS: Artist block.

DB: When you buy an idea from another artist, what makes it your art other than your decision to execute it in your name?

APS: Nothing except that and the piece gets filtered through my creative process.  I went to a lecture ten years ago that Mark Kostabi gave that still resonates with me.  Kostabi is known for openly employing numerous painting assistants and idea people.   At one point somebody from the audience asked him if his employees’ names appeared anywhere or if they were given credit.  He responded; “Yes, on their checks.”  It doesn’t make sense to me that an idea could be intrinsically mine.  That would be impossible.  Most of the time, nobody gets any credit or compensation for the ideas that are appropriated or stolen from them.  Buying ideas is a small amelioration for that.

DB: Your work reflects a fascination with the male organ. Recent “identity-based” art has been critical of the white male perspective and its “privileging of the phallus.” How do you get off the hook in using this imagery in a seemingly flat-footed, uncritical manner? Is your work “post-identity”?

APS: So we are talking about allegedly navigating a post-identity politics landscape in the art world.  This for me is actually pretty terrifying, because a backfire is always possible.  Progress can’t be accomplished without risk, so to gamble with my practice and my career is essential for its development.  This doesn’t make me any less nervous with many of the pieces I make.  I do a lot of crossing fingers and holding breath, and people let you know when you step too far over the line.  With luck those types of conversations will happen before the work leaves the studio.  As far as getting off the hook is concerned, I could say that this “progress” is part of a cathartic discourse to heal our history of gross abuse, neglect and inequality, but I won’t.  I think people are just ready to have a little fun.

DB: How important is it to you to make permanent objects versus installations such as the one in “This Side of Paradise” for the Andrew Freedman House, which are temporary and ephemeral?

APS: I try not to make too many rules for myself in my practice.  There are already so many restrictions in place that I have no control over, like space and time and manpower.  I like to let myself use whatever I feel like using.  So far I feel like I have struck a good balance and for the most part I have been allowing myself as many options as possible.

DB: What’s your dream project and how likely are you to realize it in the near future?

APS: Making a baby.  Due date- May 24th 2013.