We have an exciting Studio Sunday interview this week with Curtis Anthony Bozif! He is a Chicago based artist who has a solo exhibition of new works currently on view at the Evanston Art Center. The show opened on August 17th and will run through September 22nd.
We are pleased to have featured you in one of our previous issues, but you've got some new things going on now to share. How has your work developed in the last few years? What are you creating now?
I think my work has undergone a kind of distilling since last we spoke. A simple observation would be that the paintings have become more monochromatic and less compositional; more textured and less graphic. I’m focused on building surfaces and less concerned with what I’d call picture making. To this end, I’ve been using a lot of metallic and iridescent colors. They have a sheen to them that accentuates the texture and surface of a painting; its physicality. Metallic and iridescent colors shimmer. This causes the appearance of a painting to change relative to where you’re standing when you look at it. As you move around, the angle at which the surface absorbs or reflects light changes; the color shifts. A certain part of a painting may be obscured by a bright reflection while another part may appear to fall into shadow. In a sense, this kind of painting is hard to see. It’s hard to know.
What kind of studio space are you working in? What is important for you to have in it?
My wife and I recently moved into a new place here in Chicago. I now have a whole room dedicated to my studio. Definitely the most important thing for me to have in it is space. Because I make relatively large paintings, I need to be able to step back and see the whole thing at once. I also need to be able to move around and see it from different distances and from different perspectives. When a painting gives me trouble, this has always proved helpful; looking at it from a different perspective. Sometimes the hardest way to see a painting is to look at it head on.
Another thing that’s important is light. For me, this has always been the most frustrating part about setting up a new working environment. Balancing natural light with artificial, the temperature of the light, the intensity, and where to position the lights to reduce glare, I still haven’t figured it out. I‘ve never be completely happy with the light in any of my studios.
One last thing I’ll mention is my old CD player. It’s a simple stereo boombox I got when I was in high school. I’ve had it with me in all my studios. At the Kansas City Art Institute, Northwestern, and the string of different places I’ve had since then. I think music is important to a lot of painters because painting is a solitary activity that requires a lot of time and attention. Having something to listen to can help prevent loneliness, help you pass the time, and help you to focus. Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Steve Reich, Ingram Marshall, Third Coast Percussion, and the soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, composed and performed by Ernst Reijseger. I think of the repetition and layering that is so characteristic of this kind of music as analogues to the repetitive mark-making and layering in my paintings. This has helped me to think about my process in some interesting new ways.
How do you maintain a consistent schedule with your creative practice? Do you have certain habits or routines that you follow?
The first thing to mention is I have a nine-to-five job. Any consistent schedule, unfortunately, has to be worked around that. In his book, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, David Lynch recounts Bushnell Keeler’s expression: “If you want to get one hour of good painting in you have to have four hours of uninterrupted time.” Like Lynch, I agree with this statement, but the exact times, one or four hours, doesn’t really matter. The point is that excess time is essential. It’s essential for play and for accident and for chance, but sadly, uninterrupted time is very difficult to make happen.
So weekends are precious to me; I’m usually up by seven. I’ll make a pot of coffee and read for an hour or two before I start painting. Research has always been an important aspect to my studio practice and reading is a big part of that. For instance, I just completed a series of paintings inspired by the Great Lakes. Over the course of making this work I read dozens of books on the subject. In my research I discovered an author named Jerry Dennis. He’s based out of Traverse City, Michigan and has written extensively about the Great Lakes. I found I had a strong affinity for the way he often approached the lakes, which is to say, on a geological time scale. I was so taken by his writing that I reached out to him and we developed a correspondence and that’s been really rewarding. In a way that’s not easy to describe, I’ve always thought of painting as a way of thinking; a way of knowing, but so too is poetry, music, history, and science. Learning how people who work in other disciplines approach—and ultimately come to know—the same things you’re dealing with in your own work can help to develop a more complete and nuanced understanding of those very things and, of course, your work.
Coffee and reading wake me up and help me to focus, after that, I’m ready to paint. I try and make this a quick and painless transition. It’s important to me to be able to walk into my studio, grab my tools, and immediately get to work. Here, I’d like to quote Lynch again. In the same book as before he writes: “It’s crucial to have a setup. [...] So that at any given moment when you get an idea that you have the place and the tools to make it happen. If you don’t have a setup there are many times when you get the inspiration, the idea, but you have no tools, no place to put it together and the idea just sits there and festers. Over time it will go away. You didn’t fulfil it and that’s just a heartache.” Today, there are so many distractions vying for our attention, there’s so much noise, to have the time and space to dedicate to your work and where you can focus, and what Lynch calls a “setup”, is so important.
What is one piece of creative or business advice that you would give to your younger self? Is there a quote or mantra that is especially meaningful to you right now?
I would tell my younger self to ignore, or mostly ignore, his grad school professors. It’s important that what you’re doing is enjoyable. I’m talking about the physical act of making art. What you do with your hands and eyes when you make art, is it enjoyable? What you do with your body, do you like doing that? It’s something that rarely gets discussed in art school. For example, when I was at Northwestern, I started making video art and my professors responded positively to it, but looking at the world through a camera, staring at a screen, and clicking a mouse all day made me really depressed. I ultimately stopped making art.
Similarly, I’d tell my younger self to think hard about the sustainability of his studio practice. By that I mean: is what you’re doing, are the ideas you’re engaging with, are they generative? Do they foster a healthy curiosity? Or, are you backing yourself into an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual deadend? If making the art you’re making is no longer enjoyable, or healthy, if it’s just paralysis, dread, and boredom that you feel upon entering your studio, then you should probably be doing something else.
Finally, you have a show coming up - can you tell us about the details and any other events you have lined up for the rest of 2019?
My solo show, Great Lakes, at the Evanston Art Center, runs from August 17th to September 22nd. As I alluded to earlier, this work is the culmination of a year long effort—through research and careful observation—to engage with the Great Lakes and to translate these experiences into the paintings.
One way I’ve tried to do this is by thinking about the lakes in terms of their scale. By scale I mean their size relative to the human body; their time relative to human time. People often try and describe the Great Lakes by listing a bunch of figures like: they contain one fifth of the surface liquid freshwater on the planet. This sounds like a lot, but of all the water on the planet, only two and a half percent is freshwater. So what does one fifth of two and a half percent mean? It means that the freshwater in the Great Lakes, as a natural resource, is both abundant and exceedingly rare. Similarly, we think of the Great Lakes as being very old; melt water from the end of the last ice age, but this melt occurred just 12,500 years ago, while the last ice age lasted almost a 100,000 years and the earth, it’s over 4.5 billion years old. On a geological time scale, the Great Lakes, like human beings, just appeared. Reconciling these time scales is impossible. If painting is a way of knowing, these paintings have been a way for me to know the Great Lakes, but to know the Great Lakes can often times feel like an exercise in abstract thinking.
One of the ways I’ve tried to translate the irreconcilability of these scales is by making relatively large paintings built of dense layers of minutely-sized, seemingly random marks across their entire surface. It’s my hope that this kind of scale and intensity suggests a vast, infinite space, and unknowable depth. As I mentioned the last time we spoke, I’ll often employ sticks in lieu of paint brushes when I’m working. This technique, along with embedding different materials like sand and iron filings into my paints, creates a highly textured surface that can often times feel more natural than human made; like the surface of a rock face. Layers of thin glazes and metallic and iridescent paints enhance these textures by catching the light, they shimmer, obscuring the image, and for this reason these paintings can be hard to see. I’m interested in the tension between the depth created by these layers and the flatness that’s emphasized by the sheen of the iridescent surface. You have to negotiate the way the light is interacting with the surface in order to see past it, to go deeper. It’s not unlike looking at water.