(originally published at, 4-4-16)

Tracy DiTolla: When did you first decide that you wanted to be an artist?  Was there a specific clarifying moment for you?
Ken Weathersby: In high school I was hanging around with people in rock bands. I was interested in drawing, writing and music, most excited by doing creative things. By my first year of college I was depressed and desperate because I didn’t have a sense of what to do with myself in the future. Becoming an artist wasn’t particularly visible as a path. I couldn’t see any path that interested me. In retrospect I understand that growing up in the south, in Mississippi, gave me limited exposure to cultural possibilities. At the University of Southern Mississippi I eventually took some studio classes from a professor who told me I had a “damn gift” for art. He also challenged me with an ultimatum: that I should either get serious about art (I was just drifting) or get the hell out of his class. That was a turning point. I didn’t get the hell out. Instead I got really involved with painting. After college I went on to graduate school for painting at Cranbrook in Detroit. After completing my MFA I moved back to Mississippi briefly, but after a couple of months I packed up and moved straight to New York City.
243 2015 acrylic & graphite on denim, collage 26 x 28 inches
TD: You often cut out or cover certain parts of images or of the canvas.  What leads to your decision to take things away and replace them with other images or materials or geometric designs?
KW: I want to make a thing that does something particular and specific in relation to your act of looking at it. The way the parts of the painting are arranged might deny you full access to what one would assume is made to be seen, like when the painted face of the canvas is hidden. Maybe a painting is foregrounding something that is normally just a non-visual support, like the wooden stretcher or staples. It could be transposing its parts in a way that presents like a puzzle, or messing up your perception of a pattern with slight displacements, like a grain of sand in an oyster. Generally each painting is doing something different. For a number of years, I was doing this in a visual language that was geometrical, abstract and material, but excluded representation. Occasionally I borrowed human shapes from sculptures or paintings from art history, but they would be barely recognizable as figures the way I used them, just contours filled in with painted pattern. More recently, though, I’ve been introducing collaged images into that situation. Usually they are photos of heads or figures from ancient sculpture. The presence of these entities speaks to the act of looking in different ways. They can become a kind of proxy for the viewer, reacting to some abstract thing within the painting which they connect to with their gaze. So they model or re-enact our encounter with the painting itself. Or sometimes they are bursting into the middle of an abstract painting, as if they had opened the wrong door by mistake. It’s another angle on the idea of an encounter. The through-line in all of it is looking at an unknown thing or situation and pointing to the space of not knowing.
256 (girl swimmer) 2016 acrylic & graphite on linen, collage 38 x 30 inches
TD: The painting, 256 (girl swimmer), seems to be a good example of your recent practice.  Can you talk a little about this piece?
KW: The two collage elements are photo illustrations that I found in old books. The one on the right is the image of a girl resting near the water and looking off toward the center of the painting, where there is an oval of abstract pattern painted in contrasting colors. Below the photo you can read part of the caption, which identifies her as a “girl diver”. I changed the description a little to “girl swimmer” in my title. On the opposite side of the painting, mirroring her position is a photo of a classical sculpture. Its head is missing, but the body is at the exact same scale and in the exact same posture as the girl. It is a mirror image of the girl, but it is a boy. It too would be looking toward the abstract form in the middle of the painting, but it lacks a head, and therefore can’t look.
255 2015 acrylic & graphite on linen, collage 21 x 27.5 inches
TD: What is the reason for the titles of all your works being numbered?
KW: I title them with numbers as a practical way of keeping track of them. It distinguishes them from one another and the numbers represent the order in which they were made, so I can know chronology.  I tend to avoid more evocative titles because I want to leave people’s responses more open-ended. I don’t want to over-direct interpretation, which, for better or worse, is up to the viewer. I sometimes add in a parenthetical title, if one emerges organically while I’m working. If I want to add one of these titles to the number on a piece, but think it would be too much, I will compromise by reducing that part to just initials, a kind of code.
TD: You have said your work is very concrete and is all about the physical aspect of it, but you often incorporate images from ancient and medieval art history into your pieces – are the choices of collaged images you include in your work based solely on aesthetics or does their original meaning and context play a role as well?
KW: Before, I was playing the physical against the optical. It was the material structure of the thing played against the abstract painted image. Now I’ve added in the images of human beings by way of these photographic reproductions of historical sculpture, taken from art history books. It’s a convention of the medium of painting historically to draw upon classical figures in composing a painting, as, for example, Manet did in composing “Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe”. I am using that convention but in a more blunt and contemporary way. Usually I pick these images based on what they are doing, their gestures or movements, and especially on how they seem to be casting their glance in a particular direction, and the nature of that glance. In cinema there is the basic mechanism of the eye-line match. A figure looking in a certain direction relative to the frame of the screen will make a strong connection in the viewer’s mind to the thing shown in the next shot, after a cut. I am working with cuts too. Cutting into the canvas surface literally, and also in the sense of putting things side by side that might seem to exist in different spaces and times. But the eye-line makes a connection. Since the particulars of the situation differ (each figure is different, each painted pattern is different and their placement in relation to each other is different) different implications emerge.
221 (derrière le miroir) 2014 acrylic & graphite on linen, wood, reversed mirror 30 x 24 inches
TD: The figurative, collaged elements in your work are, in part, to direct the gaze of the viewer – is it important to you to have some control over the viewer and how they look at your work?
KW: It’s not about controlling how they look at my work, but about going into something that isn’t always explicit in art. This is the situation and space of looking. When I first started painting, I was interested in op art, and my first paintings that worked were about optical effects, grids of calibrated color that were retinally active. That kind of painting throws the viewer back on their own acts of looking. They can become aware that what they see is tied to their own eye movements and other visual apparatus. That is stuff we are usually free to ignore when looking at other types of painting. It implicates us in the experience and ties us to the object in a conscious way. In addition to that, in my work now, I am placing different spatial dynamics side by side with the abstract and optical, and giving you the dissonance between them as something to experience. On one hand, there is a frontal space, where the grid or abstract geometric image is projecting out at you, and generally doing some of the stuff I mentioned above. That is happening in a perpendicular axis, between you and the painting. Opposing that is what I call a diagetic space, where the eye-line (or sometimes other elements) promotes a lateral reading within the space. That tends to create a slightly fictive or even narrative space while the other type of space is more iconic. In historic art there are precedents for this. For example, in a Duccio altarpiece, you have an iconic Madonna or whatever in the center staring out at you, confronting you as you confront her, while around the rest of the painting you have angels or other figures looking at each other or moving laterally through a depicted space. The two things co-exist but are contradictory and it provides a certain energy to the painting.
232 2014 canvas, wood, collage 30 x 24 inches
TD: You seem to have an interest in texture, what brought the change in your recent work – stark, white canvases from the black canvases with random brushstrokes, and the backward canvases and pieces with wood?
KW: I do like texture. I think of that now mostly in relation to how something is made, and that it is made by hand. I don’t go out of my way to produce a certain texture, but I allow my methods of putting things together, using wood, paint, linen, graphite, old photos on paper, etc. to show, and to have a level of roughness as well as a level of precision. The relationship of those two things co-existing (looseness and an idea of perfection) can be interesting. It’s not my main concern but it is part of how I work now. On a certain level, having little runs in the paint or visible layout lines of graphite, or spots of glue just gives the viewer something to see when looking at the work closely, a reason to zoom in. It gives clues to how things were made, but I’m not committed to an earnest idea of truth to my materials and processes either—sometimes I play with that situation to “lie” with the material structure, to let it look like it is put together in ways that it is not. That’s just more of what is happening in my work generally: playing around in various ways with the ambiguities of looking at a thing or situation.



Nathan Mullins at MS Modern interviewed me. "My subject matter is a poetry that uses the given parts of the language of painting, both with and against itself." 
Read the whole interview here.



Mike Rutherford at Painter's Bread interviewed me about my work.
"I have claimed that if there was an easier way I'd take it, but apparently the difficulty is connected with what the work is about, and maybe I'm less interested in the easier way."
Read the whole interview here.



NY Arts Magazine Interview - Ken Weathersby
(John O’Connor interviews Ken Weathersby)
Can you talk about a new piece you’re working on?
Right now there’s something I’m calling ZTE (zombie tableau ensemble).  It’s from an image that appeared in my head a couple of months ago: a group of paintings, a specific tableau. I saw this arrangement, with paintings hanging on the wall and some that were freestanding. They seemed to come toward me across the room. Individually, they resembled paintings I’d already been making, structural stacked wooden grids overlaid with bits of linen, and patches of grid-patterned paint films—the parts of painting all present, but also dismantled, separated.  My first association after drawing this image was the shot that’s in every zombie movie, like in George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”, where there’s a crowd of zombies slowly staggering toward you, facing you with glazed eyes, decayed bodies with rags of clothing hanging off…
Hmmm, some are going to be free-standing: do you still call them paintings?
Yeah, they’re paintings.  Sometimes people want to know if it’s becoming sculpture-- the answer is no.  It’s important to me that they remain paintings. Responding to the conditions of painting gives me a context, something to mess with.  
What are those conditions, for you?
I mean the given, physical terms of painting, like paint, linen, wood, but in my own way of understanding what they could be.  For example, simple patterns fulfill my requirements for painted image.  In my paintings those various given terms tend to get outside their usual roles, do different things. Sometimes the linen support and the painted front switch places.  Sometimes the wood gets itself in between the paint and the linen. Paintings seem to be undoing something about how they would normally work.  The undoing can be a blunt confrontation or an almost invisible cut or substitution.
But back to the patterns you’re using to stand in for an image-- they do more than just that.  They shimmer, they change when you look at them from different distances…
Well, the optical effects suggest spatial illusion or movement, but without depicting anything.  And because the scale of the patterns is tiny, there’s a sense of compression. The strongly contrasting colors that you see from close to the surface cancel each other out from a distance and can begin to turn gray from across the room.
What's been the effect of making miniatures for your shows?  Do you see them now as works on their own? I’m thinking about the ones you recently showed in California.
I started making very small pieces a few years ago, as a way of thinking through paintings, and to see what they might look like before making them on a larger scale.  I also made a tiny scale model of the gallery at Pierogi before my show there in 2010.  So it started as just a pragmatic process. But the feeling of seeing things reduced very small or, when next to full-sized pieces, seeing the huge leap in scale, became interesting, trippy, like Alice in Wonderland. It becomes uncanny and gets the imagination going.  I showed twenty-two very small works, most just two or three inches tall, at “Some Walls” in Oakland in 2011.  So that moved the small paintings into the realm of “works on their own”.  I’m now creating new groups of small paintings around the ZTE (zombie tableau ensemble) idea.  The miniature version has additional interest for me in this case, since to establish the tableau feel, I’m positioning them inside little room-like boxes that I also make.  The box itself is something I think of as a kind of folded-up painting. This lets me think about more physical conditions of painting that join the list of given elements (like linen, wood, paint) that I’m already using.  The tableau allows me to bring in these other terms: the walls, the floor, the actual space between and around the paintings.  In these newer works, I’m bringing those things inside of painting in a way.
I find your paintings very human - they do things we do.  They show a particular side or face, hide things, reveal their personalities over time.  Do you think about these relationships?  
There is an anthropomorphic element that I can’t deny.  One thing that started me doing this kind of work was another dream or daydream I had about ten years ago.  I saw (in my mind) a painting come out from the wall and then slowly turn away, turning its face to the wall, refusing to be seen.  It was a gesture on the part of the painting, suggesting that the thing had a life and a will.  Yet I don’t look for that kind of life in the work too much. If it’s there it emerges on its own. What I feel I’m after, when I’m making the work, is playing out certain situations. Ideas about situations come to me: a painting with two backs and no front, or one with a cut-out area in the paint surface, through which we see another layer identical to what has been removed, or a painting overtaken by a wooden lattice, to the point that it’s almost obscured. I’m inundated with these kinds of thoughts. I’m not thinking about these things in psychological terms. But somehow the paintings themselves do these things that might have human parallels.
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