Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Interview: Anthony Pontius

[image, "a successful hunt", courtesy of the artist and 31Grand]

Tony has long been one of my favorite emerging figurative painters and in my opinion the best painter to come out of Herron School of Art in the last decade or more. I guess I have known him since 95' when he and I started our first year at Herron. Aside from having many of the same classes and professors it turned out we shared the same birth day (well, minus two years for myself) along with some coincidental familial parallels, in other words, we line in a strange and small world. While Tony is no longer living and working in Indy, I have been keeping up with him and his work since he left for grad school. Being represented locally by Ruschman Art Gallery, I keep my fingers crossed for another solo show of his work to appear in town. I sadly missed his first solo show in NY at 31Grand in Brooklyn which wrapped up little over a week or so ago. One of my favorite bloggers, James Wagner took notice of his show as did ArtCal. As his work has been absent from our scene for awhile, I thought we would take this opportunity to interview him and hopefully introduce some of our local readers, curators and collectors to his work. Enjoy.

1. Age? Location? Artistic education?

brooklyn,ny 11211
m.f.a. university of kansas 04'
b.f.a. the herron school of art and design 00'

2. Describe what you took away from art school, the work you were doing in those days and how did you transition into the work you are doing today.

wow i can think of a hundred things that still haunt me about art school, but i think you probably want the scoop on the effects that those experiences have had on my work... the most important thing that i still carry with me is the need to continually ask myself "what else can you do"...when i first started, i knew little about painting but i knew that was what i was going to do...then i was amazed that i had an interest in many different areas of study. i engulfed myself with art history, printmaking, sculpture, history, philosophy and psychology... i realized that i was attracted to and found that i had abilities to so many other fields... towards the end i just started putting together the information that i had gathered into a painting format... i think that the work is very similar to what i am doing now i just did not realize what i know about it now... i was trying to paint in as many ways that i could... and trying to ignite the content through those quests... i have found that i continue to use a very similar methodology... i just keep asking myself what other way can you do this? how else can you paint this?, why does witchcraft excite me and how does that creep into my work?... i should add that i really think that art school has never left me at all... i have spent the past 13 years in higher education of the artistic persuasion and from student to teacher i have found that the experience is similar to working on a painting... you begin rough, refine, deconstruct and begin all over again until you walk away with something that looks like you understand what has happened... then you really examine it with naive eyes and start the process all over again....

3. How did you end up in Brooklyn?

funny story... i had to choose between two m.f.a. programs that offered two different but equally rich educations... instead of going to hunter college i chose to move to lawrence and go to ku... i had an opportunity to teach there and that was my main goal... it saddened me to leave my closest friends and the bright lights for kansas but i always knew that i could move to new york in the future... i did not want to deal with the cost and the distraction of the city... i wanted the quiet and focus of a smaller department with not a whole lot of social activity going on... i did not want to work crap jobs to get rent and then maybe if i had the time i could paint... i just wanted to paint, so thats what i did... i taught and and i painted, that opened opportunities for me on both levels... i taught at ku for a year and at the lawrence art center for two years... i began showing all over the midwest at universities and galleries... it was just perfect... i left lawrence for des moines, iowa... i landed an artist in residence position at the des moines art center... that place is an oasis in the midwest! there they provided me with a great atmosphere to teach and to paint... i began showing all across the country and then my first international show happened when i was there... the most important thing that happened there was the teaching that i was doing also involved an outreach program that worked with the community of des moines... i worked with a great deal of kids who were "at-risk"... i despise that word because it sounds like a disease or something negative... i worked with so many different groups of kids and found that the kids were not "at-risk" but simply not given an "opportunity"... that experience allowed me to see the role that artist have within the community... last year i was biding for a tenure track position and on a 5 week vacation in new york... i was surrounded by my friends, new experiences and a larger community that had opportunities everywhere.... i realized that i wanted to be a part of the greater picture... so i went back to iowa to finish the summer semester... a month and a half later i got rid of everything i owned... flew to new york and the rest is history...

4. What is painting for you?

painting is relative to any history... it is defined and informed by past layers meshed together with what is to come. its funny because it forms a whole that is challenged by the cyclic nature of the process... painting is a constant state of flux.

[image, "trumpets of triumph", courtesy of the artist and 31Grand]

5. How much time do you spend painting a work?

i never really just make one painting at a time... i usually spend about 5 months working on 10-15 paintings...

6. Most of your paintings tend to be of a small or moderate scale, was this born out of a necessity (that of available space or cost of materials) or simply out of preference?

the size of my work has always been an issue... even in undergrad i wrestled with what scale was best for me. most of the time working smaller always felt best because of the detail of the work... but the thing that always crosses my mind is that i have always pictured art being 4"x5" or 8"x10" because those are the sizes of all the paintings that i studied in books... its silly but its true!... lately i try to mix up the sizes, and over the past few years i have gotten larger... my studio now is the smallest that i have ever had and the last show has the largest work i have done in it! i think that it is about practicality of the situation...

7. How did you get involved with 31Grand?

31Grand was one of those weird chance situations that i still do not believe! in 05' i was asked to participate in a group show in new york... i went out for the opening and brought packets with the intention of trying my luck with the chelsea galleries... the last night my friend and i were bumming around his neighborhood and we walked past 31grand and he said we should go in here you will like it... i knew immediately that i wanted to show there... i asked the gallery person if they accepted packets and she kinda looked at me in a way that i knew was a real interest in my query... so i ran to my pals house and grabbed the packet handed it to her and was so nervous that i bolted out of the door... a week later i was back in iowa, she called me and asked me if i would participate in a group show that summer... she said that she popped the disk in and saw the first image, and then ran down the street looking for me! i am so grateful for the magic, fantasy and unreal things that happen in this world!

8. Your paintings are quite elaborate in terms of imagery, color, use of paint, layers, mark making and narrative. How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?

i would say i want to evoke a thought or an idea that seems to need an answer... the answer though never comes to mind, in turn new questions arise. the need for a solution fades with the freshness of those new thoughts. this is relevant to how i perceive life. the paintings cause me to examine all aspects of life, whether it is good/bad or ugly/beautiful, and accept it as a part of my experience. i would say i paint histories. these things are murky layers of concise moments that can only now be interpreted as a union. just like life, the paintings are in flux, moving from
just on the tip of your tongue to the "ah ha" part of the brain...

[image, "severely stumped and stoophead", courtesy of the artist and 31Grand]

9. What sort of viewing experience would you like your audience to have when confronted with your work?

i want people to have an experience that makes them feel nostalgic yet in tune with the communal whole... i want them not to feel like they need to have specific or
special information to access the image... i want them to revisit as much as possible...

10. Could you describe your process of creating a new piece.

i am always in my mind flashing images that blur into another and then form new images as the initial images begin to interact with the new ones... my process begins there... i then make drawings and then those drawings interact in my head again... i try to remember them as i begin working on a painting... lately i have been only working on panel ... i use a pva size to seal the panel its clear so it allows the dark color of the wood to show through... then i use thinned down versions of gesso as a rough ground... that process creates starting points for the images in my head... i react to what is there and begin to work with image or landscape or graffiti or what ever else needs to be exposed... the process continues this way until i feel that there is a balance between all of the parts...

11. What is your interest in the distortions, spills, stains, splatters, scribbles, and scarification that accompany the otherwise pristine quality of your paintings?

there are two reasons that i am interested in the scars, distortions, splatters ect... the first is that it reminds me of life... life is a series of scrapes, scribbles, and moments of clarity... the second is that after teaching for nine years that i found myself learning how to work with and learn so many materials and techniques. in order to be an effective teaching i had to know what the student wants to learn.... that process allowed me to realize that i have the ability to paint in so many ways... i just try to put them all together... again its similar to life, painting is not one style or another it is a series of experiences layered together...

12. How important are the titles of paintings for you? How do they interact with the images?

the titles grow as the paintings do... they facilitate the viewer into choosing this door or that door inside of their minds.... i like the play of language. it is similar to painting in the fact that it utilizes our aporias... again the titles do not clarify anything though, they only are meant to suggest.

13. What would you say is the primary influence in your work?

the primary influence of my work is simply life.

14. Anything exciting coming up in your future?

lots of exciting stuff coming up!

july- group show at roq la rue seattle

september- 4 person show @ Feinkunst Krüger in hamburg, germany with heiko muller, femke heimstra and a hero of mine fred stonehouse. we are all also going to be featured in ROJO art mag together.

october- group show @ last rites new york city

january- art dorks show in pheonix

april 09- solo show at roq la rue seattle

april 10'- solo show at thinkspace gallery los angeles

my myspace is the best place to catch all of the latest: http://www.myspace.com/theyankeeandthetzar

15. And finally, any advice to the young artists out there struggling to make good paintings?

this is corny but true...my advise is that if you are not struggling you are not painting... the best thing to do is to keep working and keep challenging yourself... don't focus on a particular style or movement focus on what you really want to do... focus on presentation and professionalism... apply to shows, and residencies constantly... i just sent out packets last week for shows that are not until 2011... most importantly trust yourself...

[image, "the ill-fated march of a plouged jogger", courtesy of the artist and 31Grand]

8 Responses to “Interview: Anthony Pontius”

chris said...
June 4, 2008 at 10:21 AM

12.28 is my brother's birthday, my father in law's birthday and my old roomie's birthday (http://mwcapacity.wordpress.com/2008/05/22/robert-mccann/). What is going on at the end of March? Someone should check with the Kinsey....

Great interview!

Richard McCoy said...
June 5, 2008 at 9:32 AM

Well, I have no connection to this date, but I still think it's a good interview.

Do you think you'll be doing more of this kind of thing, Scott?

I hope so.

Scott said...
June 5, 2008 at 11:52 AM


I do hope to continue with more interviews similar to this one along with some studio visits with artists where I will simply let some photos of their studios, work and surroundings tell the story. Time dependant, I would like to do this monthly or more.

Anyone have a couple names you would like to see and hear more from, let me know and I will put them on my short list.

chris said...
June 5, 2008 at 7:30 PM

david russick.
david cunningham.
tina newberry.

Richard McCoy said...
June 5, 2008 at 9:00 PM

I'd like to see how Mark Pack makes his paintings.

M Ruschman said...
June 26, 2008 at 4:14 PM


Great interview. Hope you continue this as a series.

Anonymous said...
November 2, 2008 at 9:11 PM

wonder if he connects with his family as much as his paintings

Gretchen said...
January 17, 2011 at 8:02 AM

Okay, okay, so I know this article is old as the hills...
My friend Tony Capps sent me a message telling me how he saw Tony Pontius in a book... who knows where; it was a long winded sentence he sent me. So, today I come to work and decide to google TP, and here I am. An article written about him, and Scott wrote it! Two for the price of one!
While I'm sitting at home sewing baby blankets and handbags, you two are doing what we really wanted to do...but you know I wasn't set up for that rock and roll lifestyle.
Scott, if you are reading this, call me for Korean again soon....

All Rights Reserved OnTheCusp.org | Blogger Template by Bloggermint