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Artist Interview: Wonderpuss Octopus

September 10, 2014

ThePineConeGentleman: Let’s start off with telling the reader a little more about yourself and your work.

Wonderpuss Octopus: I grew up in Canadensis, Pennsylvania, which is heavily wooded, it felt like the middle of nowhere. But I was lucky to visit New York City often at a young age, since my parents are both artists who had lived on the Bowery and still had  PJ Lindenfriends and exhibitions there. They were always bringing me to galleries and museums and teaching me about art – as a child it felt like torture but I really appreciate it now. They encouraged me to make art yet they were actually highly critical, it was not the normal parental encouragement of “Oh this is so wonderful my kid is a genius.” It was more like, “this is interesting, I like what you did here, but your technique could be better, these brush strokes, the shading, the composition, etc.” It was like having two art professors as parents! Having such talented, critical parents shaped my artistic foundation – but it also taught me how to rebel! In a professional sense I am ‘self taught’ because I walked out of my first class my first day of college at The School of Visual Arts. It was within the first fifteen minutes – the instructor was teaching us to sketch fruit, and I thought – “F*** this! I don’t want to sketch fruit I already know how to sketch fruit!” I realized suddenly that I already had my art education – my parents already gave me all the tools I needed, and I was not going to take out thousands of dollars in student loan debt to get that fancy piece of paper that says MFA.

I wanted to find my voice as an artist. I developed my own ‘bubbling’  painting technique or ‘puff’ as I call it, with 3D fabric paint aka ‘puffy’ paint. It is marketed as this craft store commodity when in actuality it is more of a glue or resin because it is polymer based, essentially it is liquid plastic. Thus it has a much greater lifespan then oil paint, it can even be submerged in water and heated to very high temperatures. I became fascinated with the preservation possibilities. I began encasing not only canvas and wood panels but readymades of our time: technology, luxury goods, and modern tools. In a way my work becomes this sarcophagus, this plastic shield. Around 2005, I began these ‘bubbling’ barbing gestures into strata with precise detail, and I have been evolving the process ever since, refining and pushing the medium from a sculptural perspective. Because of my obsessive perfectionism people often assume my work is machine made. I like the contrast of making something very modern and clean yet also primal: My work is a guttural textural compulsion. I pull from beading traditions and patterns found in nature, especially aquatic life…. and I like to juxtapose that with pop culture items like candy sprinkles.

TPG: Is this your first solo show in this area?

WO: This is my first solo exhibition in Pennsylvania, so their is a lot of heart in this show since it’s in my home state. The piece Sundae Stag reflects my childhood, my Pop Pop shot and mounted the deer which I have re-appropriated with a technicolor pelt. The piece is really about celebration, honoring my  great grandfather and the stag. Scranton is a great city, and I think the creative community here is really growing and under the radar. Many of the people I have met here are Brooklyn artists who got fed up with the inflated cost of living in NYC. Perhaps Scranton will become the new Detroit in terms of artist desirability and street cred?

TPG: Now your from northeastern Pa,  what took you to Brooklyn, NY?

WO:What took me to Brooklyn was after a year in California I missed the energy of New York, and a friend called me up and had found a really affordable spot in the heart of Williamsburg, this was 2006. Imagine Williamsburg, affordable! My parents had lived there and I couldn’t believe how much the area had changed, and it was changing faster and faster when I moved there. But for a moment it was wonderful to walk down the street and run into all these fantastic artists, performers, fashion designers, dancers, writers, and musicians all doing interesting work.  It was a bubble that popped and became commodified to the point that most of my friends and I got priced out. Many of us moved to Bushwick around 2009 (many were already living or working there too). Now the same thing is happening to Bushwick, to all of Brooklyn actually. It will be interesting to see what happens, where artists will go next – maybe it really is Scranton! For now I am still in Brooklyn because of the art community I am tied to, that I love and owe a lot to in many ways.  NYC is still an undeniable epicenter for the art world, and the Brooklyn scene is even more important then Manhattan itself to many people. Being a part of that world and being available when it calls is just as important as the work itself. So much of my career has been about being at the right place at the right time. But I think of New York as my central hub, Pennsylvania will always be my home.

TPG:  Coffee or tea?

WO: Yes please! Both. Coffee in the morning, tea when it’s tea time.

TPG:  What do you like and dislike about the art world?

WO: What I dislike most about the art world is the elitism and pretentiousness. It could be argued that academic pedigrees, credentials, artists bios and statements have become more important to the art world then the actual art itself. I also find that curators seem to have changed a lot since my parents’ time, when curators would devote a lot of time to searching for new artists, analyzing the work and promoting the artist, and caring about their artists almost as family members. Many curators now need to be told by the artist what to think about the work rather then spending time with the work and drawing their own analysis and conclusions. This isn’t always the case, I have worked with many wonderful curators who really work hard for artists they deeply care about, and many have become great friends of mine in the process. That is what I love about the art world – the relationships that form unexpectedly and build overtime. And that you never know what is going to happen!

TPG:  When not busy in the studio, what do you like to do?

WO: I’m always busy in the studio, and when I’m not in the studio – I take the studio with me! I do a lot of small works, my work set up is very portable, so I take my supplies with me everywhere. I’m somewhat addicted, I bring paint with me even on vacation! I really cannot help but work on my art everyday, but when I do get a few hours away I enjoy being on a mountain somewhere – Pennsylvania has so many amazing outdoor spots. I like exploring, I get inspired by details in nature, whether it’s a reptile skin or algae, I’ll take pictures as references my ‘pelts’.

TPG: Anything you would like to close with?


WO: Don’t ever give up…ever.  Buy local.

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