The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 22: RENDEZVOUS WITH qi peng: Lane Twitchell, Artist

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Lane Twitchell: Heavensent (Sundowner), 2008, acrylic on cut paper mounted on Plexiglas over acrylic, 48 by 48 inches. Courtesy of Lane Twitchell.

Lane Twitchell, who originated from Utah, has been a very successful Brooklyn artist whose investigation of history through the formalism of painting combined with papercutting has caught the eyes of many patrons. As a current Utah conceptual artist who is a displaced New Yorker, the character of qi peng becomes a foil for Twitchell in regards to mutual artistic concerns as conceptual artists; his sense of irony and brilliant emotional detachment combined with intellectual sharpness has made him one of the most intriguing figures to discuss art-related matters with.

Lately the artist has been working on a series of fifteen mixed media pieces entitled “Transformations Window” to be completed by 2010. With his rather literary-sounding titles and rather colorful abstractions that combine symmetrical figuration with negative space, Twitchell has a dark sense of humor that one can appreciate in the context of Mormon culture and its critique, American history, a morality play, a huge dose of Cormac McCarthy darkness, and a willingness to deconstruct religious fervor and rapture. After all, contemporary art is a form of intellectual exercise within the framework of a near-religious devotion shared by many.

If you have any questions about Twitchell’s artwork, feel free to contact Mr. Twitchell at lanetwitchell@gmail.com.

After a considerable amount of difficulty, now here is our feature presentation of this late-night rendezvous:

qi peng: Being born in Salt Lake City, what memories do you have of Utah? How did your family life and culture influence your ultimate decision to enter the contemporary art world? Considering that you received your BFA at the University of Utah (which graduated Paul McCarthy as well), did you feel that school prepared you for entering the East Coast arts community? Which professors were most influential on the early development of your work?

Lane Twitchell: Well, Salt Lake is about as suburban as it gets. So I guess that’s clung to me. The suburbs are a place with no “Art” (MTV being the best suburban art.)

Paul McCarthy actually graduated from San Francisco art institute I think. But I enjoyed my time at the University of Utah Art Department. All those old white guys were fun. It was really more of a trade school education for me. Kind of like something from another time.

The Mac hadn’t completely taken over graphic design, so we did all these old school assignments with protractors and Rapidiograph pens and such. It was fun.

So graphic design and then figure drawing, lots of it. That was basically my BFA. It was good.

Utah has very little contact with this whole contentious mass known as “the artworld.” In a way it was good, but also, I feel like I’m always catching up. But that’s probably not a bad thing.

qi peng: Your first major solo exhibition was at the Park Gallery in Salt Lake City. In what ways was it a crucial show as a springboard for your future projects? What were the subjects and themes of these earlier pieces and how did they lead to the current paper-making style which you are known for?

Lane Twitchell: That’s a funny question. I wouldn’t really call my improvisational BFA exhibition “major” but thanks.

Basically I showed all the work I’d done at the U. I even had my brother install the proper track lighting in that little basement gallery.

The thing that is funny about that is how these old school “comping” techniques used the same skill set as the cut paper things, (“doily deals” I sometimes call them) I make now. Cutting paper really carefully and glueing it to a substrate.

But everything I showed was a commercial kind of project. Letterheads, business cards, event invitations, that sort of thing.

However, going even further back in Salt Lake Art history. When I was a freshman at the U in 1987 I did a show of my work at the University Union gallery. It used to be just outside the Union Ballroom. And that show traveled to The Blue Mouse! The Blue Mouse was this old porn-theater turned art movie theater that was in the basement next to the Cosmic Aeroplane on 2nd South.

Showing there, at age 18. THAT was my first “Major” exhibition!

qi peng: What is your personal and/or cultural relationship with the LDS (Mormon) Church? In what ways is the culture embedded within the themes of your artwork? In what ways do you attempt to deconstruct the myths and beliefs of the LDS world? Do you feel that the doctrine in the church can be separated from the actual culture? What differences do you see in the LDS culture in Utah versus that in the New York City area? How is that dichotomy mirrored within your artwork? How do you manage to balance family life with time for studio work and planning?

Lane Twitchell: Well, working one’s way out of Mormonism can be challenging. And not everyone wants to.

The artist Edward Ruscha has talked about the influence of his Roman Catholic upbringing on his art. He often ends his comments with a note about a strict Catholic School and the hypocrisy he found.

I’ve touched enough on my Mormon roots elsewhere, and I’m at the end of that part of my life so I only want to touch on Ruscha’s comment and would change the word “hypocrisy” to “naivete.”

American culture tends to be isolationist and innocent. Detached from history in a way that is charming and dangerous. It is possible in this, the “New World” to believe and hope for some really outlandish ideas.

I hope my work embodies the best of American innocence: the ability to dream. But is founded on something larger, international, and rational: the ability to communicate.

I am no longer a Mormon.

I am a humanist.

qi peng: When you attended the School of Visual Arts, was your education there a shift from the one that you experienced back in Utah? Which professors there influenced what you were pursuing there? What do you think would be the most memorable story from that era?

Lane Twitchell: Without a doubt my most memorable story from that period of my life was in my second year of graduate school. I was so broke I didn’t want to spend $1.25 on the subway to get home from the Upper West Side. So I hitched a ride on the back of a garbage truck.

This was around 2 o’clock in the morning. And with no traffic, that truck was able to go about 50 miles an hour down Broadway.

It was a really intense experience and a truly stupid thing to do.

Graduate School was a great experience and I’m honored to be teaching at The School of Visual Arts today.

It’s a great institution that has been a home to artists for over 50 years now. It’s an unusual school, very trade or commercially oriented. Cartoonists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers. But it ws right for me.

It was the only one I applied to, and probably the only one where my background really made sense. It gave me a foot hold in New York and allowed me to become who I am today.

I will always be grateful to have met Marshall Arisman when he visited the University of Utah my first semester there in September of 1986.

qi peng: Your first major solo exhibition in New York City was “State of the Union” at the Deitch Projects. What was it like to be able to work with a prominent venue? Did you feel that the relationship with the gallery lead into new explorations and directions within your paper-cutting works?

Lane Twitchell: My association with Jeffery Deitch and his gallery Deitch Projects is the most important thing to have happened to me in New York City.

Jeffery runs a gallery that is very high profile and very intense.

Two of the great things Jeffery did for me, in addition to showing and selling my work, was to set me up with a studio visit with the critic Dave Hickey. I recently wrote about this experience here: http://www.greatwhatsit.com/archives/4926.

And then spending time with me himself. Most young artists never realize how important the artist/dealer relationship is. The conversation between an artist and a dealer is really one of the most important things an artist has.

And finally, Deitch Projects allowed me to begin the process of a public conversation about these objects I make. I might be a little naive in this regard, but I don’t think most artists really “understand” their own work. I think most artists are working from hunches and instinct. The critical conversation around ones’ work, with friends, dealers, critics, curators and good collectors is essential to getting the work to develop.

qi peng: Which artists and art movements would be the most influential on your artwork, particularly the most recent series? How do you feel that the exploding growth of contemporary art vocabularies help to put your artwork within a new context? Who are your favorite artists?

Lane Twitchell: In graduate school my two favorite artists were Mark Tansey and Fred Tommeselli.

I tend to like work that looks time consuming to make. I’m honored to be friends with artists like Kurt Kauper and Benjamin Edwards.

But I also admire work that, while not time consuming per se seems to have some intelligence in its design like Morris Louis.

There are so many terrific artists around. And the explosion in the market has provided opportunities for so many.

In fact the artworld has gotten so big and diverse that one can feel quite isolated by the range of approaches available to artists today.

My favorite artists list is a revolving door.

qi peng: What is life like in Brooklyn? Does it differ a lot in terms of culture from the high-paced universe of the Chelsea gallery system? How do you think that the poor economy has influenced what projects artists are pursuing today? With the recent closure of many fine Chelsea galleries (e.g. Guild & Greyshkul, Cohan and Leslie, Oliver Kamm 5BE, etc.), is it more difficult to work as an artist within the New York area?

Lane Twitchell: I really have no idea how other artists are doing. I know that I’m glad to be working on a Public Art Commission right now.

Chelsea is great. Lots of people complain about it, it’s industrial nature and general unattactiveness, but I kind of like that.

New York is so crazy about efficiency. All the business of a particular type always group together here. Art is no different.

Working as an artist is almost impossible at anytime. Good or bad.

qi peng: What differences have you experienced between working with exhibition spaces within the New York area versus that of the non-New York venues (e.g. Washington D.C.)? Is there a major difference between the way people interact with the art and respond emotionally/philosophically to it?

Lane Twitchell: New York has an intensity and a seriousness to it’s art culture that is certainly unrivaled in the States.

I’m sure they take things very seriously in London and Berlin too.

The stakes are just so high in Manhattan. Being an artist is impossible and running a gallery in Manhattan is impossible too.

Annie Gawlak, whom I worked with in Washington is great. But her business is in a political town, so the audience is much smaller, and the pace is much more relaxed.

Which isn’t to say Annie isn’t a serious art person. She is, and a very good one, it’s just her overhead is much lower. And all the big East Coast collectors buy work, and perhaps even see work, primarily in Manhattan.

qi peng: In what ways does Indonesian puppet art, specifically wayang golek, influence your paper-cutting work? In what ways does Mormon handicraft, such as quilting, influence your work? In what ways does elements from nature, particularly snowflake designs, influence your work? In what ways does architecture, particularly cathedral stained glass windows, influence your work? Are there any other things which are subtle influences I have not mentioned above?

Lane Twitchell: None of those things inspired my work.

I was interested in expansion or growth. Something little getting bigger. And I still am.

All of those things sit in the background of what I do. And I think that’s part of the works strength. But I don’t really look at those kinds of objects or images more than i would look at photographs or paintings.

qi peng: What accounts for your choice of unusual materials such as urethane or Plexiglas within your mixed media works? How does this relate to your overall studio practice? Are there any other types of materials that you hope to be able to use in your future pieces?

Lane Twitchell: It all evolved as a way of preserving a cut piece of paper.

I’m excited that my current project involves laser cut film, automotive paint and glass.

We’re installing these works in the walls of a building.

qi peng: Within your cut paper works, in what ways have the pieces undergone evolution in style, approach, or underlying concepts? Is there a shift in the color palette that you use in them? How do you title your works based on the driving concept? Noticing that you enjoy a rather literary use of odd words such as “heavensent,” are these words related to the reading of scripture or obscure theological texts?

Lane Twitchell: These cut paper works have evolved in lots of ways. They began as a way of depicting a kind of replicating landscape, like modern suburban development. From that I’ve figured out ways to use the positive/negative quality of cut paper for various representational ends that touch on that original idea about growth, or the American idea of expansion.

The Heavensent series takes its name from the widely held popular idea that this nation is somehow “divinely” pre-disposed to exist. The United States has always been isolationist, and I think we are feeling the consequences of that.

I have been guilty of hermeticism in some of my production. That came about as a consequence of my fascination with my religious ancestry and the process of unwinding those myths. But in the end, I think that kind of willful obscurity is limiting to an artist. To make something meaningful on a broad level one has to reach beyond the particulars of ones provincial upbringing.

qi peng: What are some of the recent projects that you are working on currently? I just noted that there is a “Transformation Windows” series that you were starting on during 2008, to be part of fourteen others to be featured in 2010. What is this new series about?

Lane Twitchell: This is a series of laminated windows that are to be installed in the Emergency Intake Center of the New York City Department of Homeless Services.

They are a series of 15 windows which depict animals in various sites around the city. We hope they’ll add some visual delight to an otherwise distressing urban environment.

qi peng: Do you have any advice for young emerging artists from BFA or MFA programs who are graduating from their program? Any pitfalls for them to avoid as they search for a way to enter the formal gallery system? I have a few rather ambitious friends who are going to be finishing up the MFA program here at the University of Utah program. Do you have any advice for them as they try to make it into the bigger New York or Los Angeles markets?

Lane Twitchell: you have to want it, probably more than you want anything else.

and then, you have to keep wanting it.

qi peng: On your website, you feature a quote which goes, “I’m not just talking about one person, I’m talking about everybody. I’m talking about form, I’m talking about content, I’m talking about interrelationships. I’m talking about God, the Devil, Hell, Heaven! Do you understand! Finally!” What is the cultural context of this quote by Dale Harding in the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest movie? How does the sound bite add to the forcefulness of this quote? How does this motto relate to the underlying irony and bittersweet humor of your cut paper?

Lane Twitchell: it has to do with seeing, or depicting, everything at once.

as in a “visionary” sense. be it insanity, drug induced or religious hysteria.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the studio work?

Lane Twitchell: I have no hobbies.

I have no “spare” time. (qi peng rewinds the tape…)

No that was kind of bitchy.

I have a son. That’ll keep you busy. (and very nervous about making money.)

And I love riding my bike around Brooklyn. And my wife is an amazing cook. And I wish I’d gone to bartending school and become a Semolier.

qi peng: Are there any places which you would like to travel someday to? Which places would you find inspiring to see?

Lane Twitchell: The East I guess.

Rome is amazing of course. Paris too.

Rio sounds fun.

And we have some good friends that could take us to the Australian Outback, deep, hundreds of miles in, if we ever get around to it.

But basically, I’m so happy to like in New York, I don’t really think about traveling that much.

“to live in . . .”

qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans here?

Lane Twitchell: sounds good.

thanks for your interest.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 1:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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