Eric Sneathen is a poet who recently completed his MFA in Creative Writing at UC Davis.
This interview is a discussion based on these four pieces, they are arranged in order of reference So, the leftmost one is referred to as the first one and so on. For full information about these pieces click here.
Eric: Ahhh, there's my voice, perfect, so my background being in poetry, my questions are again a little bit closer to my own art from, thinking about storytelling and narrative and I'm curious especially difference here between the first and the forth from the second and third. And how your considering these discrete figurative representation which are not necessarily laying out an explicit story but are nevertheless indicating some kind of livable experience and how figuration plays into either composition or the content of your work. However you want to take that question.
Thomas: Mostly the figurative aspects of these earliest pieces are residuals from my previous work, because my previous work focused interior spaces set on a similar curve like the first one, where everything is curved in the same direction. So, I'm not really using them so much for narrative as I'm for trying to transition into – using them as objects to try to analyze form. Its more like me trying to investigate formal qualities. I'm not so much focused on the figurative objects as figures but as the forms that they carry.
E: Well, as a follow up to that, then how would you, considering you have a human body in this first one, verses the second one, in which I might see some specific figures, but really it seems more abstract, kind of like a dreamscape or maybe even a hellscape. I'm curious what the mood was there for you and was this more liberatory for you? Or experimental? And what is the transition there?
T: Whoa, I guess – the transition between the two – I was very much interested in ideas of movement. And I was trying to think about what objects as forms could I use to better analyze formal aspects. So this second one has a river in the lower third and then on the left is trees lining that river curving around this black sun which is radiating. I focused on a few main focal points within the picture plane that things move around or are influenced by. I first decided on my subject and format, a landscape and decided that within this landscape I'll have two or three focal points and figure out how to fit this landscape into my discussion of formal qualities. I'm also using the rule of thirds – so the bottom third – thats where the white point in the river is and where it goes around the bend. Then at the top third that where the sun is. So, the transition, I wasn't really analyzing any compositional stuff in the first one. My thinking was centered around how do I get this picture plane to be coherent, directed by on singular force. And the second one is based on multiple forces – as well as the third piece. So thats basically what it is. Yea, and then I said to myself – ok, I like what I can do with those trees by using the repetition of flowing lines. I carried that into the next one which is a canyon with a river. So then I asked myself - what would happen if the moved the sun, or the focal point into the corner? From this second one I realized that I could achieve the effect I wanted when there were darker and more well defined forms surrounding a point of influence, so I decided to try one that effected empty space.
E: So, again, I don't know anything about art. So I'm glad to be here participating.
T: We're not going to put that in.
E: Perfect, great, am I supposed to know something about art?
T: No, the interview is just supposed to be with another artist, regardless of medium.
E: Well, ok, I'm not a visual artist. Do need to stop talking about this? - I'm a visual artist - hahaha
T: I just have to transcribe all this
E: Oh god – alright, so why are you so interested in perspective? Why is that your question across this series that you've been working on for a year? Or what about this continues to engage you – that motors you from project to project?
T: Perspective – Its just me trying to see everything, or mimic how a viewer would look at a landscape. So, the foreground is viewed as below the viewer, the middle ground is seen at eye-level and the background is above. This is also why I produce them in such a large vertical format – to mimic the process of viewing an actual landscape. This is drawn from my brief encounters with ancient Chinese painting. I've also found that this perspective is conducive to my efforts of trying to create a connected picture plane. Moving away from my previous timidity which lead me to work on one section at a time. I've found that sectioning off makes the work seem as if it is a collection of smaller works, cut and pasted onto the different format, their forms are not really in the type of visual conversation that I would like them to be in. So, I'm trying to get all of the forms to interact with their surroundings, to give a sense of balance, as if they belong there – not out of place – to create a unified picture plane.
E: I was recently in conversation with a fellow poet who is talking about line-breaks as maybe being the last thing you can talk about in regards to poetry – that that's the last unique thing. What you're describing, your fascination with perspective, I'm thinking – yea – the visual arts and perspective, the kind of collusion that happens here is – I hesitate to use the word natural, but it seems obvious – and maybe ends up being The perpetual question of representing things visually. Which got me thinking – is is possible to take an aesthetic approach to art where your talking about tasting it, or feeling it, or something in that vien. - which is not really where I want to go next, but I'm wondering what is left then for drawing, especially for someone who is gesturing towards a more abstract vision, rather than someone who has something to prove in terms of “look at this radical content” - you know – more radical form or experimental form that you seem to be considering. So, I'm generally curious – are you laughing? -
T: No, no, I didn't do anything, I'm not laughing. (I wasn't)
E: Ok, great, well, I'm curious, where do you start? You have this giant piece of paper, what is it that allows you to enter the process of making something and what is the initial catalyst for “I want to start here” and I'm wondering if that some way that that then ties into how it is successful or how it fails, or how you know that it's at a close. So, beginning and ending of your making practice.
T: I normally begin with a smaller sketch or a series of smaller sketches which are much quicker, using graphite and an eraser. I do this so I can try and visualize what it will look like on a larger scale and so that I can see it all at once, instead of this 8' tall piece of paper and not knowing what it's going to look like from farther away. And of course things change in the process of transferring the image. So, on the large scale, my process normally starts with laying out the points of influence and just drawing brief descriptor lines to denote how an object is going to curve. And where the points of influence intersect and I decide what the transition is going to look like, if it's going to be subtle, where they might warp into some other direction or is it going to be a clear transition from form to form where there's no influence occurring. Once I get that laid out, I take a step back and I look at it. And then I just start – somewhere. I normally begin standing on the ground and enter the middle of the picture plane. So for example with the first one with a human figure. I start at one point of influence filling in the basic variations of value. I don't finish one area and move onto the next area, I try to build everything up at once. It helps to hold the unity of the piece. And then, how do I know when I'm done? I guess it's ultimately when I take a step back and I don't really see anywhere that's a problem for me. - which is not really an answer. I also work on pushing and pulling different areas into the foreground or background. I work on this with almost every single area of the work, asking myself: what would this look like if this area was well defined with harsh sharp lines here, then I look at it and how it interacts with it's surroundings. Then I might want it to recede into the background, then I blur it out. I'm constantly pushing and pulling different forms to the front or the back. And this process doesn't necessarily follow the radiation of the focal points. So, an example – with the second piece, the tree trunks in the lower left… I also try to use various compositional conventions, I might sharpen or dull the definition, or create a movement of value based on the rule of thirds or diagonals, these usually run counter to the focal points. I avoid harsh horizontal and vertical movements because it throws off the radiating movement from the focal points.
E: Well I guess I was looking for - that was a beautiful technical, formal response, I guess – but I'm looking for a more foofy, cheesy answer of why is it this rather than anything else. Where does the idea come from for putting charcoal to paper? You say you build it up, like the first one you built up from the figure - why did you choose that figure rather than a different one and I'm wondering again, is there some sort of beginning and ending there. I'm curious as to what compels you to make things also; this is an extenuation of that question also. Why do you make things, what hope do you have for making things. Why is this particular investigation worthy of your time? I love the response that artists feel a compulsion to make things and that's what makes you an artist. I'm wondering if that in some ways is too easy or simple or if that's a group dynamic that you fall into?
T: I start with a sketch based on forms, seeing how they interact within the picture plane, from there I try to fit some type of representational object into the framework. There's no particular reason for choosing one carrier of form over another, it's normally which ever comes into my mind first based on what I want that form to convey or how I want it to interact within it's field(s). So, in the first one, with the smoke, I used it because I could get that flowing, elusive quality conducive to motion that I wanted. What compels me to make art?
E: hahaha, just a small question.
T: Art is a way for me to clear my mind of everything else, my sole focus is on the picture plane that I have complete control over. A way to de-stress.
E: So, you do feel that you have complete control over it? That interests me because you keep talking about certain rules and conventions regarding composition that you're trying to adhere to or struggle against.
T: I do perceive that I have control over it, because I'm trying to investigate things like – Why are these compositional arrangements conventions, such as: why is there such a thing as “the rule of thirds”? There must be some visual trigger or something that's pleasing about this compositional arrangement something that enhances the unity of the whole, otherwise it wouldn't be a considered a rule. Yea, art is basically just a way for me to de-stress.