From now until September 10, you can visit an exciting exhibit at the Washington Pavilion called Spatial Play by Steven Stradley. Stradley’s work seeks to highlight the mundane aspects of art galleries that are not meant as artwork, but necessary for the building. Outlets, fire alarms, as well as the layout of the room are all emphasized by Stradley’s art, which is custom-made for each gallery it is displayed in. The works are an example of art that literally jump right off the page. They travel across walls, floors, and ceilings, showing off the interesting layout of the Corner Gallery where the exhibit is housed. Stradley’s work showcases the idea of provisional painting, where a work is intentionally left in an incomplete stage. According to Stradley, his work “parallels [the] shifting experience and uncertainty of being human.”
Stradley was raised in Utah, and got his Bachelors of Fine Arts in painting and art education from Utah State University before achieving a Masters of Fine Arts in painting at Michigan State University. The works in this show were made in Utah, before being transported to the Pavilion.
After viewing this fascinating and unusual exhibit, I had some questions for Stradley, which he was kind enough to answer.
Q: I know you made many of the pieces in the exhibit to fit the specific measurements of the Corner Gallery. Do you ever worry that you’ll get to a gallery, and your work won’t fit?
Stradley: This has happened before. I showed up to install a site-specific piece, and found that I had made part of it 11 inches too short. A major part of being an artist, for me, deals with visual problem solving. This extends into the gallery space during installation and presentation. I had to construct a segment that would fit into the gap that I needed filled in order to complete the install. Each show has some unique aspect that has to be addressed once in situ[ation], making the work both site specific, but also site reactive.
Q: What do you enjoy about highlighting the mundane architectural elements of galleries?
Stradley: Museums and galleries take great precautions to not create visual tangents within the exhibition spaces when installing art. I find this kind of institutional convention to be a ripe place for a kind of critique of how spaces, and art objects, are thought about and canonized. Staying out of the corners, idealized centering of each work, proper spacing, lighting, and distance from fixtures are always traditionally considered. I am acknowledging the whole space by drawing attention to these aspects of the gallery that are ignored in the ideal canon of installation practices. I, also, see art as an experiential entity that can activate greater personal perception. The art becomes part of the overall understanding for the space, and vice versa.
Q: Were your paintings done prior to you organizing this exhibit, and then put together into each piece? Or did you paint them with this exhibit in mind?
Stradley: A little of both methods were used for this exhibition. Remnant and Reclamation are composed mainly of older work that has been reconstructed into new work. Reclamation is made specifically for the Corner Gallery space and uses found signage, repurposed work, and new elements that were created just for this exhibition. Intersection stems from the group of architectural fixtures on the wall, and is site-specific. Much of the other work is site reactive, meaning that it wasn’t created specifically for this exhibition, but is presented in response to the gallery space.
Many (all) of Stradley’s works are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. They play with unusual materials, and are placed in ways that are very nontypical for art gallery displays. They gave me more questions than answers. Luckily, Stradley had the answers.
Q: What was your thinking behind using twine to partially conceal some of your paintings in Isolation Chamber?
Stradley: The free standing wall on the gallery was a difficult feature for me to think about in this exhibition. I went through an iteration of various ideas before arriving at Isolation Chamber. My thought here is to create a visual barrier that distances the viewer from a more intimate view of the paintings contained within. For me, painting is a very physical and personal thing that I want to approach and encounter from close range. I’m usually the one that museum security has to ask to step back from the paintings, because I am so closely observing mark making, and the materiality of the medium. I like the kind of artificial tension created by the twine that at once activates the gallery space, while creating distance from the “main focus” of traditional exhibitions, the painting. I suppose that I am striving to create a kind of frustrated desire on the part of the viewer by locking them out from a closer view of the painted objects, though the allure and glow of the string creates a diversion that activates the peripheral and architectural space.
Q: The dried paint on the doorframe in Residue is such a fun touch. Where did you get that idea?
Stradley: The studio is a place for me to reflect on what makes up a painting practice. Frequently, I find that peripheral occurrences in the studio are equally, if not more, compelling than the work I am making. Much of my work plays off of this idea of the peripheral or secondary event. Residue is this kind of event, composed of all the extra paint that was on my palette from making the other work for this installation. In a way, it is a table of contents of color that ties all the other work together. I also thought that it would bridge my exhibition to the Everist Gallery by slightly interrupting that space, creating a line of color. I am also highlighting, and even defacing the corner, by putting paint scraping directly onto the clean gallery architecture.
I left the exhibit feeling like I had a new understanding of what art galleries could look like. Of course, they can look like anything, but there seems to be a common formula that you’ll find at most galleries and museums. If you visit a lot of these places, you become so use to that formula, that it’s hard to imagine an exhibit that doesn’t follow it. That’s one of my favorite aspects of Spatial Play. It will throw your preconceived ideas about what art galleries look like out the window.
Q: How do you hope people will feel during and after viewing Spatial Play?
Stradley: My work investigates the nature and modern histories of painting, and places it in contemporary contexts. I hope that the audience will reevaluate what painting is, or can be, upon seeing the exhibition.
Spatial Play by Steven Stradley can be seen at the Washington Pavilion until September 10, 2016. It is located in the Corner Gallery, and all of the works in the exhibit are for sale. More information on the exhibit, and the Washington Pavilion can be found by visiting www.washingtonpavilion.org. To learn more about Steven Stradley, please visit www.stevenstradley.com.