Grayson Cox Studio Visit
On a beautiful summer day in June I headed to Grayson Cox’s studio in Bushwick. Originally from Indiana, Grayson moved to New York for a summer residency at SVA about seven years ago. In college he studied Japanese woodblock prints and actually moved to Japan for two years. He also traveled to China, Germany, and Italy for a month before coming to New York. During his first year in New York he worked as a carpenter for a company that did Christmas windows for department stores. Next he built art crates and then worked as an art handler for both Gagosian and Christophe van de Weghe. At one point he decided to take a chance and become a full-time artist. He applied to Columbia’s MFA program and got in. He finished two years ago and will teach there this fall. His experience there was wonderful; he developed great relationships with his teachers and it opened many doors for him. He now has works in important collections like Emily Fisher Landau and Candia Fisher and he had his first solo show at Gasser Grunert (who represent him in NY) this past spring.
Initially he made large dot drawings with Sharpie markers. Many were based on Eastern landscapes from Hiroshige prints that he would then plop Midwestern architecture into. He then began to make digital collages and he made dot drawings of them. He collects thousands of photos from online but he also takes his own photographs. The 2005 Greater New York Show at PS1 blew his mind and he increased the size of his dot paintings. However, an unfortunate car accident (he was rear-ended while sitting at a light) prevented him from working on his large scale pieces. He started making small drawings because it was easier for him physically.
Core ideas that run as threads through his work involve an interest in coercive structures within religion and society as an architectural framework for the way we live. I was lucky enough to see his first small drawing which includes a Sears home, a ranch home, and a shrine. The Sears home represents the propaganda of the utopia of suburbs while the ranch home holds special importance to Grayson because his grandparents had one. It is the US “dream home” that everyone was promised upon their return from World War II. He believes that the cell phone is today’s ranch house. It is an extortion device we happily buy into—a necessary evil that will most likely cause brain tumors. His first small drawing is meditative and displayed in a vitrine meant to hang on the wall like a case at the Natural History Museum. It is almost devotional because you move your body down to it.
Another work in Grayson’s studio is a structure made of two seats facing each other. It is a conscious decision on the part of the viewer to sit and once there, they are made to feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable because one armrest is higher than another and a slat jabs into the sitter’s back after awhile. This forces the two sitters to interact. If only one person sits, the selections from the Tao Te Ching can be read. There is also a cell phone charger in the center of the structure—one for each device so if you both have iPhones, a negotiation must occur. Grayson built the structure and sewed the cushions himself. He likes being the novice and the way beginner’s luck looks. The works looks finished, but not perfect. He also makes his own stools and frames and this way his personality works its way into his work without him intentionally meaning for that to happen.
There is a performative element to each object. The person who wants to charge their phone becomes the performer. There is something for the people who take part in the object to discuss. Grayson sees himself as the facilitator of intimacy. He does not view these works as participatory objects but as objects that are charged with the potential for participation. This probably stems from the fact that his teachers at Columbia (Fia Backstrom, Liam Gillick, Rirkrit Tiravajina) were interested in relational aesthetics. Grayson believes that no one can make art in this day and age and not be influenced by politics and cooperations. Art has shifted.
But Grayson does not consider himself a “political” artist. Much of his work is contemplative, meditative and introspective. In a recent group show he created a five-sided desk and invited woodblock artists to carve low-reliefs into the desk. Visitors could take paper from the shelf below the seat and make a rubbing of an artist’s woodblock cut. Bleach paintings are another area Grayson explores. He recently took a photograph of an earlier oil painting he made of five lighthouse (five is always the number of things in his work because if a sixth person enters into a group of five, the topic of discussion shifts from one to multiple topics). Called “Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen” it is made using a silkscreen of a mixture of bleach and something called “Thick-it.” The two blended together become ink-like and Grayson silkscreens it using a squeegee. The bleach eventually eats the “Thick-it” and so there is not trace of the materials used; it is as if the canvas had always had the image in it and Grayson unveiled it. He likes the idea that there is a painting in the surface and not on top of it.
It is his fascination with Robert Moses and his toll roads and suburban sprawl propaganda that influence his decorative, silver framing devices. Moses made the toll booths that collected people’s money for his personal use very decorative and beautiful. Grayson likes the idea that the oppressor can be just that, oppressive and beautiful at the same time.
For a show in Tel Aviv where two artists from three esteemed institutions were selected to exhibit art Grayson made an ergonomic teeter totter lectern. It included a fan that put the speaker at ease, a microphone and a speaker that projected behind the person talking. The two lecterns faced each other.
Grayson is very interested in the space between, the gray area that makes people a little uncomfortable. He often uses gray as a color in his work and also uses yellow. Gray can represent steadiness, structure such as at a loading dock, while yellow is about a heightened sense of awareness. That is also how he views religion vs. spirituality. Religion is structure but spirituality is a heightened sense of awareness.
For more information visit his website: www.graysoncox.com