New American Paintings/Blog

New & Noteworthy: Devin Troy Strother by openstudiospress
September 8, 2010, 10:00 am
Filed under: Noteworthy, Q&A | Tags: , , , , ,

Boom for Real, 2010 | Enamel, acrylic, gouache, ink, graphite, silkscreen, collage on paper, 21.75 x 37 inches. Courtesy Richard Heller Gallery.

To say that the work of Los Angeles-based artist Devin Troy Strother is loud is an enormous understatement. In every work, with every color and each piece of cut paper, Strother constructs rich narratives that, quite literally, cannot be contained by the panels they’re made on. Featured as a Noteworthy artist in edition #85 of New American Paintings, Strother makes paintings that are highly confrontational, not only for their brilliant visual qualities but for the subject matter at hand. I caught up with the artist this week by phone to talk about his work.  —Evan J. Garza

EJG: You just finished up a residency at Skowhegan. How was that?
I’ve been working this past year on my solo show opening on Saturday, so I went [to Skowhegan] June to August. Skowhegan’s kind of a place to go and open up and experiment and try different things. Going there having to make work for a show, going there with a preset list of things that you need to accomplish [was] kind of a different thing than going there to make some shit and see what happens.

Big Hustle, Little Hustle, You Know Them Girls Be Puttin’ in Work, 2010 | Enamel, acrylic, gouache, ink, graphite, silkscreen, collage on panel, 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy Richard Heller Gallery.

EJG: Was the work you made at Skowhegan different than the work you’d been making previously?
I would say yes because the work is on this perpetual growth almost, where every piece I do is really different from the last one… All the studio visits really informed the work; a lot of feedback from a lot of people, as opposed to making work in the studio where it’s just mild feedback or just one person seeing it.

EJG: The titles are pretty great. Where do they come from?
The titles come before the work is made. I have a book that I keep of funny shit I hear or comments that I hear that are kind of interesting. It starts with a phrase or a title, and I try to genrate an image that relates to the whole narrative, this world that I’m trying to make. The titles come from things I hear in rap songs or things I hear family members say, things friends say.

California Dreaming/Love, 2010 | Enamel, acrylic, gouache, ink, graphite, silkscreen, collage on paper, 16 x 10 inches. Courtesy Richard Heller Gallery.

EJG: Tell me about your process.
Everything’s painted on paper; I draw it on a piece of paper; the people are drawn and then cut out. The composition’s composed and then I kind of do it all in my head, I don’t really do anything on the piece of paper or any type of preliminary sketch or anything. A lot of the colors are silkscreen flats. I work as a printmaker and I do a lot of silkscreening for my job, so for a lot of the colors, instead of using construction color paper, I print color flats using silkscreen ink.

EJG: You’re quite interested in dimensional qualities as well, it seems.
Definitely. I think it’s something that kind of started happening because I was never too confident in painting too flatly, just painting on top of paint. I always wanted a little bit more something. So, I would paint the background and then I started painting the people on a separate piece of paper and then glued them down, and that started to snowball into painting on thicker sheets of cardstock or museum board. The dimensionality comes from not being content with just regular painting, just always wanting more dimensionality.

The Get Down on Your Knees and Tell Me You Love Me Love Me, 2010 | Enamel, acrylic, gouache, ink, graphite, silkscreen, collage on paper, 12 x 17 inches. Courtesy Richard Heller Gallery.

EJG: The construction of your work mixes several materials and styles together, like a compositional melting pot that addresses race through formal decisions.
I guess the most formal decision about my work is the idea of blackface and how that’s used within the work. Obviously I was clearly aware that when I started painting black people with red lips and big white smiles that there was a certain association with minstrel shows and blackface and all that. T
hose are ideas that I welcome into the work, but they weren’t necessarily the driving force. I’m not really commenting on blackface or African Americans being performers—these are all ideas that inform the work… I feel it’s interesting that people are going to come to my work with all their associations of how they see African Americans.

It’s Just Us Versus Them, 2010 | Enamel, acrylic, gouache, ink, graphite, silkscreen, collage on paper, 26 x 35 inches. Courtesy Richard Heller Gallery.

Devin Troy Strother will be featured in a solo exhibition of his work, Please Don’t Act a Fool in the Club: A Memory of the Sugar Shack & Stuntin’ Like My Daddy, from September 11 – October 9 at Richard Heller Gallery in Santa Monica, California.

5 Comments so far
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its just us versus them reminds me of city of god.

Comment by Number Shoo

i LOVE these.

Comment by lisa

love the interview!! i found another one he did i guess before the big show.

Comment by cory

Am fascinated at the way in which images correspond to the climate of our times.
It is true that an image can convey many things and often portrays the same things
about the image-maker or where they come from.

Devin Troy Strothers work makes a statement about parties, concerts, fantasies and other spectacles within an urban setting. What is interesting here is that Strothers work seems driven, at this point, by a “market audience.” His interest in fantasy with Black bodies is not new nor is it rare. Contemporary Artist Tom Sanford likewise fetishises and incorporates Black bodies into his fantasy paintings. His depictions of Black celebrities or people in general denote the gross vilification of the Black body for the sake of entertainment and commercial profit. Otherwise Rob Pruitt and Jack Early would not have collaborated in 1992 or Jason Rhoads would not have made his “Black Pussy” piece and titled a show after it. Also, Johnny Weissmuller would not have made 12 Tarzan films and 13 Jungle Jim films if there weren’t a profit in depicting Black people as raging savages.

Devin Troy Strothers understands this particular history and the psychological effect on American culture and society. He may not be aware of the trauma passed on directly to him from all sides but he like Tom Sanford, Johnny Weissmuller, Jason Rhoads, Kalup Lindsay and Flip Wilson understands that there is an American fascination with stereotyping Black people. The unfortunate side, though there are many, is that it is seen as entertainment by many but at a very high cost. Strothers may be providing a service to his audience and it may profit him but he’s also destroying hundreds of years of struggle to change those stereotypes.

Comment by san

So delighted to read the comment by “san”, these works reminded me of college students who decided to go “street” in order to make a rap video…
Otherwise in a sea of really great artists ..painterly, opinionated, colorists, master draftsmen, shockingly good……completely ignored while we hunt for the next Basquiat faster than the artist can develop and hopefully run him good and hard so that he’s dead before 40 and we can really make some money.

Comment by Kone

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