Mike Rader is working through avoidance. His body of work spans field and medium. A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Rader presently lives and works in New York, NY.
JOHANNES DEYOUNG: What are you waiting for?
MIKE RADER: For me, I think the question is more of a why. Why are you waiting? What, feels more like an implication that there is open road not yet chosen. Why, is more of a slippery topic.
JD: Is it a question of timing or motivation? Or both?
MR: The fuel for my motivations can be elusive. Often I am propelled in a certain direction as a way to avoid difficulties that might lie behind another choice. For instance, I heavily threw myself into work while I was at an artist residency in China. Not that I wouldn’t have pursued an itch but the intensity in which I did seemed to be a direct result from avoiding strong feelings I had about being away from home. The work became a coping mechanism, a way to avoid an acceptance. This type of self guided sleight of hand might be why some of us got into art in the first place. (Laughter...) An early avoidance of the prescribed reality.
Sometimes timing comes into play when I am gaining momentum to launch into a new project. You can liken it to a slingshot. The shot first needs to be pulled back against resistance, then it gets hurled through space when the target is in site and the timing to strike is right. For example, I recently did a bunch of self portrait projects (tape, mustache, stockings). These were a way to keep moving in the studio when I was short on time to jump into a more involved project. The portraits were a closer and more accessible target that I could quickly strike. Now I see them as a way of avoiding a larger project for fear of not being mentally and physically ready for a deeper dive. Sometimes, in the best case scenario, my avoidance creates stronger work than I expected.
JD: Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin demonstrated great timing with a point. I’m thinking about well crafted sentences with great punctuation. How do you consider sentence structure?
MR: As far as timing goes? I sometimes edit film while thinking of moments as a comma or a period or an exclamation point. Although, you are talking to the wrong person about well crafted sentences. I’m a visual person that often has to attach words to things after completion.
In relation to Chaplin and Keaton, they always pulled that slingshot back as far as possible so that they could hit you with the most force and then they would chase down the rock and hit you with it again and again.(laughter...) I often feel they do this on the down beat, it makes you hold your breath for that extra second.
JD: That’s comedic grammar - I want to know how you define the beat? Where do you find rhythm between the gags, and what’s heaving under the surface?
MR: Their gags often let the air out of what is heaving under the surface, the laugh comes with an exhale until that underbelly is full again and another laugh opens up the valve. They are always trying to retain their dignity and humanity against the current of modern life. The beat is measured by the recovery vs the resistance.
JD: Like athletic comedics. Do you think about resistance training in the studio? Or is that life? MR: Ha. Oh shit. I hope I’m not doing this shit to myself on purpose. No, it’s life.
JD: Didn’t you once nail your foot to the floor?
MR: You’re speaking about my reaction to the resistance, my dialogue with it. I suppose I will go to necessary lengths to articulate my thoughts. If I had an easier way I might choose it. It’s no different than painting long into the night without sleep.
JD: You have a background in painting - where did things turn for you? Much of your current work is time-based or spatial - I mean, in the sense of set-pieces, or room-scale installation.
MR: My MFA was in printmaking but I was making paintings/sculptures when the turn happened. It was after a screening of Chaplin’s Gold Rush at Anthology Film Archives. I left there blown away by his craft and set out to make paintings of all the characters in the film. These paintings existed in my physical space where you could walk around them. I started seeing the parallels between his character’s quests in the film and my own. I thought this might serve better as a film so I bought a cheap camera on Craigslist and started thinking about it as a film. When I’m making work I choose the medium to suit my interest/ideas. I don’t choose a medium and think now what can I do with this medium?
JD: I’ve always admired Chester Gould’s rogues gallery, from the early Dick Tracy comics. Some of your tape portraits take me there. Characters like The Mole, Wormy, and Oodles represent physical manifestations of some inner depravity. I’d love to know how you think about self-portraiture, as a subject.
MR: Those drawings are so great! May I reach those heights of Wormy and Oodles. The self portraits I do come together fast, almost a knee jerk reaction to something. A moment of silliness and then I make a hard left and follow that trail. I just happen to be the person in the studio so I become the subject. I do them in a flurry or when I have a moment. Less thinking and more doing. This speed lends itself to the honesty of the image.
JD: In one of your tape portrait videos, there’s a chromatic shift that happens that happens near the end. It’s funny. I know it’s coming, but I’m surprised every time I see it. Do you know the moment I’m describing?
MR: Yes, the flip flop in the fourth stanza. The role between the color fields and the backdrop of the portraits become reversed which confuses the subjects culpability. It creates the possibility of a paradox in the narrative, a chicken or egg question.
JD: It’s also really interesting to see the tape portraits in sequence with color fields. The color changes create afterimages - in fact, that’s how the work ends. It makes me think we should all be so lucky.
MR: Ha! Yes, you found me out. A romantic. An indelible mark in a field. Sound like a gravesite.