Whats in Your Studio, Rodney Graham?

Rodney Graham is sometimes referred to as a “post-medium” artist, though “any medium” might be a more sensible description of his restless, inquisitive, and often difficult work. Since first coming to attention as one of the Vancouver photoconceptualists—alongside Jeff Wall and Ian Wallace—Graham has greatly expanded his art's reach. Nowadays an exhibition of his work could present any number of mediums: photography, film, performance, sculpture, installation, music, text, and even things that there really isn’t any easy category for. His pieces vary enormously in appearance and subject matter, but a recurrent theme concerning the presentation and perception of art and its place in the broader culture helps them cohere into a comprehensive body of work.

Graham also has a penchant for role playing—which could, he admits, come out of his other job as a rock ’n’ roll musician (now solo, he once played guitar in the punk band UJ3RKS). In his latest show, “Wet on Wet—My Late Early Styles,” which opens this week at the Lisson Gallery, he returns to the guise of an alter ego known as the “gifted amateur.” In the work pictured above, this enthusiastic but unschooled artist is seen in the act of painting. Last week, Graham told ARTINFO about his alter ego’s studio as he was installing the show.

Rodney, who is the gifted amateur?

He’s a fictional character: a professional in the midst of a midlife crisis who has just discovered art. He saw a 1962 Morris Louis exhibition at the Andre Emmerich Gallery and decided, “I’m going to give this a shot. Any idiot could do it.” At first, I was going to call him "the aficionado."

And he’s set up a studio in his living room?

Yeah, except he wouldn’t even think of it as a studio, really. The work is a compulsive thing he just decided to do. He went out and got some canvas and a stretcher, then got up in the morning, had a coffee and some cigarettes, and started working in his pajamas. He’s dripping house paint. He’s just letting the paint flow down the canvas.

Just like Morris Louis.

I’m not the craziest Morris Louis fan, but I’m interested in how he used a suburban home as a studio. He painted in a little dining alcove off the living room. 

Tell me about the gifted amateur’s living room.

It’s a bit of a fantasy of males my age: The guy has a kind of Playboy Mansion bachelor pad. I looked at a lot of interiors in Architectural Digest. I wanted it to look like an upper-middle-class, West Vancouver adaptation of Richard Neutra-like architecture—a house built into the mountainside. And I wanted it to look like a decorator did it all. There’s no trace in the decor of any prior interest in art. The interest is a sudden explosion; there are art books piled up all over the place.

What would he say is the most important thing in his studio?

Probably his music. At the time, in '62, that sound system with a built-in reel-to-reel would have been fairly high-tech. He listens to music while he paints. He’s playing some jazz. Maybe his favorite Thelonious Monk record.