An interview with Jackie Hoving and Norm Paris
Johannes DeYoung, Founding Editor, Lookie-Lookie
Johannes DeYoung: As artists, you have your own separate practices; however, you currently share a studio and you’ve collaboratively curated a couple of shows together at TSA New York. Are there themes or conversations that resonate between your works, or that find expression thru your collaborative activities?
Norm Paris: Because Jackie and I have such separate creative endeavors, and we are juggling obligations as parents, I think the collaborative curatorial practice has given us a chance to connect on purely creative terms. In some ways the curation becomes a crossing point for our interests, which lately seems to center on a sort of nexus between personal and public memory. I mean, we have plenty of individual interests that don’t necessarily converge, but our curatorial endeavors seem to be located at the point on the Venn diagram where the circles overlap. But she will connect with a concept in a very different way than I will, and so we often come up with unexpected pairings of artists - where the artworks might have stark differences but all have a relationship to the same core exhibition parameters. It is an exciting way to work because of this serendipity, and the way that we can challenge the other to get out of a set head-space or evaluative method.
Parenthood is a huge collaborative subject as well. This is obviously true in the traditional “we make decisions together, blah blah blah” way, but there’s a more happenstance and less scripted kind of collaboration that happens in a family… I have this portable ongoing project that I work on both at home and at the studio - where I draw, paint, cut apart, or work on top of old sports cards. When my then three-year-old daughter saw me working at home one day she wanted to help, and so I gave her a few cards. The first thing she did was take a huge glob of paint and completely trowell it over the object with her overloaded brush. And it was the best brush stroke - eradicated the image. And then she looked over at me as I was daintily applying paint to a picture of a baseball player, she said “Why are you just covering the person, Daddy? That isn’t very beautiful.” It has to be one of my favorite critiques I have received. I mean, she was right! And so I have used her painted cards in my installations. It has influenced the way I think about that project. At times there really isn’t a separation between art and life in that Arthur Danto sort of way.
Jackie Hoving: We work pretty fluidly back and forth with our ideas. I like what Norm was saying about there being not much separation between our family and art life. Our first curatorial project Night Flight was born out of many, many conversations that continued on a late night flight to Cleveland. While our daughter was sleeping on my lap we were discussing the show, and it was tentatively titled Night Light. At that moment I looked out the window of the plane and the title “Night Flight” came to mind. From there it opened a whole new door into our show, with the pop culture reference to the 80’s TV show by the same name. The title was very much in line with our shared interest in comics, music, and the poetic inspiration found in the nighttime. At moments like that I feel like we are collaborating as curators and finding a way to fit it all into our busy lives.
Past Continuous was also born out of our shared interest in pop culture: an emphasis on personal histories, collective past histories, and where the two meet. The initial inspiration for that show actually came from a Roky Erickson song titled If You Have Ghosts. The “ghost” in this case being the thing from your past that is still with you today. Then Norm had the idea to reference this grammatical term (“Past Continuous”) and it fit perfectly. It is exciting to have these connections and find the inspiration for curation in our daily conversations. Then we get to bring artists together who inevitably expand the conversation - it makes our art family feel larger.
JD: How did you come to collaborate as curators?
NP: Curating shows is a big part of our programming at Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York, but it isn’t something I have wanted to do by myself. I’m actually sort of sick of the solitary nature of studio practice. Enough of that! I liked the idea of bouncing ideas off of someone else that I trust, and our intellectual and creative sensibilities can be leveraged against one another productively. I tend to mull over concepts and ideas, turning them around in my head again and again. Jackie knows what she thinks, has an incredible aesthetic eye, and she is able to embrace her intuition in a way that is extremely helpful when it is time to make decisions. We are both social people who are at times needlessly hermit-like, and so it is refreshing to get out of our studios to work with other artists and discuss their ideas.
JH: When we decided to become co-members at TSA we did not realize we would also become co-curators. It was an experiment that really worked for us. We met at the Yale Norfolk Summer School of Art many years ago and our relationship was born out of a shared artistic interest. One of my favorite things to do with Norm is go do studio visits or go to galleries. We spent part of our honeymoon at the Venice Biennale. It just felt like a natural continuation of our relationship to curate shows.
JD: Do you find much overlap or influence between your separate studio practices?
JH: There is definite overlap in how we approach and conceptualize our own work, but our process and work practice are very different. My drawings and paintings are often inspired by fleeting experiences with people - sometimes even random occurrences that stick with me. There’s an idea about some other sensory experience I think. Norm’s also inspired by people in his work, but his people are further away (at least physically). But he has an intensity about it. He loves to set up a complex situation in the studio and spend long days there, sometimes enlisting help from friends or assistants. I tend to work in intense spurts with my headphones on and the world melts away. But I think he has influenced my attention span with my drawings. Where I may have helped Norm speed up at times, he has helped me slow down a little bit.
NP: Our creative work seems pretty distinct, and we have rarely shared a studio until this year. But there’s overlap and I have been able to glean a lot from Jackie. She has always helped me cut to the chase in my work; Jackie can come in and make large-scale moves that dramatically change the outlook of a piece. We actually talk a lot about efficiency. And not being neurotic. Jackie has helped me value my own intuitive decision-making in a way that has opened up possibilities...and is exceedingly more fun than playing some intellectual chess game that noone actually cares about. Just seeing someone work rapidly - finding visual connections and meanings that go beyond any literary idea - has been an influence on me.
So it’s good that our methods are so different because we can gain something that may be missing in our own work. I guess I am influenced by somewhat obscure popular figures, imagining their monuments, and messing with their mementos. Jackie has a more dream-like recollection of her sources, tapping into a personal unmediated experience - at least that’s how I interpret a lot of the psychedelic phenomena in her drawings and paintings. Her embrace of more immediate optical experiences via drawing and color has helped me find a new terrain in my recent stuff.
JD: I’m especially interested to know what’s a day in the life of your studio practice. I guess I’m asking from personal interest, because I know that sharing a studio can have a big impact on an artist’s practice.
NP: As I mentioned before, we only started sharing a studio recently, and we tend to work in shifts because of our daughter. We both have projects that happen outside the studio, which helps because our lives can be a bit fractured between jobs, commute, and care-taking - small blocks of time add up, so we’ll do work at the house or on the train. In reference to your question: “A day in the life of our studio practice” has become “life messily merged with studio practice”.
I enjoy the occasional days when we are both able to be there at the same time. When we spend a day together I am often chatting her up while she is just trying to put her headphones on and ignore me! I like to talk while I work - I like having a little bit of chaos around me.
NP: It is funny sharing a studio. A few months ago I had a visit with a curator and had the urge to say “You see all this beautiful color? My work is the other stuff.” I was only half-joking, although I think her color is beginning to rub off on me in some of the work I am currently making.
JH: Yeah, I am more of a loner in the studio! That being said, when I get stuck it is amazing to have Norm around. He is insightful, knowledgeable and tough when I need it. We are that for each other. Every so often we’ll give each other the business: saying the hard thing that needs to be said about the other’s work. And we live with the temporary awkwardness that results from that. It sucks to hear about the thing in your art that isn’t working, but we need to be honest or we are wasting our time. And there isn’t much time to waste in our current situation.
JD: On the surface, your works are stylistically distinct; however, there seem to be common themes beneath the surface. For one, there’s an interest in representation — or a line where representation meets abstraction. I wonder if you can speak to that.
JH: We both totally walk that line, but I’m not sure either of us are really concerned with the specifics of abstraction and representation. That merger is a byproduct of our respective processes. I start some of my days in the studio with a representational idea and it ends with abstracted marks inspired by weather patterns. Some days true architectural structure is formed out of a cloud. I go where the work takes me.
NP: Yeah our work is pretty distinct. But as I mentioned before we have in some subtle way moved a bit towards the other’s territory. Jackie is making these trippy yet structural abstracted graphite portraits that become unexpectedly articulated. I’m using color and paint in a way that is way more playful than in the past.
And so my work has become topically abstract at times - some of that has to do with Jackie - although I tend to create a sort of conceptual apparatus that leads me into that abstraction. Making a crate for a monument that doesn’t exist, or coating over a cast of Michael Jordan and then cutting apart the thing to reveal a geode-like abstracted landscape inside. There is either a conceptual or material procedure that necessitates a level of abstraction. At least that is how I think about it when I realize how far afield I am from my supposed sources.
JD: Scale factors significantly. Can you elaborate about how you approach that aspect of your works?
NP: For a long time I have had this tendency to make things that were either miniaturized or monumental. Lately I’ve made these large crate-like sculptures and then the pocket-sized cards. I find that there is a kind of psychic drama when an idea is writ large or very small. Or when a large idea is rendered as physically small in size. Somehow both scales speak to the way a memory might flicker in the brain. Figures can feel larger than life or on the brink of being forgotten.
NP: But I also just think some of the scale change is happenstance. After periods of making huge sculptures I am often just ready to do something that is less cumbersome. And also logistical concerns are real - especially in New York. Space, time, and money necessarily impact what we do. If I had the time and money to make a 50 foot tall bronze sculpture of Roky Erickson or Earnest Byner, I probably would do that (although maybe its best for everyone if that doesn’t happen). So instead I make speculative drawings that imagine the fabrication of monumental forms. Its wish fulfillment, with a hint of self-deprecation.
JH: I hash out a lot of my ideas on a small scale but love to work bigger. My larger portraits may seem inviting but are always threatening to break apart into mental landscapes. I don’t really want them to feel relatable or real. The wallpaper installations are similar in this way - the found material of the wallpaper landscape has a certain premise that is undercut and fractured. I think “sizing up” can allow me to play those games in a more interactive and complicated way. But the smaller drawings are so immediate. Really at either scale I am looking for a dreamlike relationship between the viewer and the work.
JD: You just curated a really fantastic show at TSA New York. I was so impressed to see uncommon works represented in the show by artists whose work is otherwise very familiar to me. Mickalene Thomas, for one, contributed a series of cast sculptures that were completely new to me, but very much situated in the material vernacular that’s often depicted in her other works. John Lehr’s photographs interestingly felt like the most abstract paintings in the exhibition; yet, they are factually photographic representations of material surfaces. Do you find reflections of yourselves and your own studio interests in your curatorial endeavors? I suspect that curating can be enormously revealing.
JH: I mentioned earlier that curating is like creating an extended artistic family, but it also creates a sort of family of ideas that help to push the boundaries of our studio work. The conversations that happen between pieces in the gallery can anticipate the thoughts that happen in my head about my own work.
One of my favorite pieces in the show was Mickalene Thomas’s bronze Coolpix camera - “Untitled (Camera)” - it was an object to document memories, now cast in bronze, never to make a photographic memory again. The material talks about the permanence of things. John Lehr, on the other hand, is using a real camera to make photographs of moments that seem fleeting. Both of these artist are dealing with memory, representation, and abstraction - finding a space where all of those ideas can meet.
JH: In my own work I am thinking of memory in terms of painterly mark. This idea of trying to hold onto a memory, and the more you try to hold onto it the more it gets away from you - that is reflected in my painting process, where one mark obscures or destroys another.
NP: I see curating as a covert part of my larger practice. It’s somewhere in between research and creating some sort of meta-artwork. Night Flight (2014) was a show that really combined my interest in pop (as Jackie mentioned the show was based on the cult-favorite USA late-night program of the same name) and Jackie’s poetic sensibility (the optics of night, the moon, mystery, etc). The merger of our sensibilities led us to an interesting set of decisions. And Johannes, your Ego Loser video which was in that show was emblematic of this merger between popular influences and poetic responses.
The latest show, Past Continuous, was an attempt to deal with the past in a way that was super immediate. The show’s title was taken from the grammatical tense that refers to an action that occurred in the past but was never actually completed. (“She was running” rather than “She ran”). This specific concept is something I am constantly thinking about in the studio - reconstructing a figure or a memory, or the memory of a popular figure via drawing and sculpture. And so all the artists in the show were re-animating their materials and their sources, but in ways that are totally different than my own creative process. For example, Matt Bollinger creates animations from his drawings and Kara Rooney performs collaboratively with her sculptures; these are really different processes from my own, however I do find common ground in a larger creative sense.
What you said about unlikely artworks from artists is part of the fun of it for me. Sometimes what an artist considers to be a “minor” artwork is actually the best thing for the show. Doing the studio visit, having a dialogue with other artists, or working with gallerists and curators to find works that are less known...this is the fun part of curating. Its when static curatorial ideas get animated by the real work of real artists. And so concepts change in response to that dialogue, and get much more subtle at that point.
JD: With titles like Night Flight and Past Continuous, I get the sense that you’re mid-marathon… where are you running?
JH: I feel like we will be mid-marathon forever. I say that because I don’t want to see a finish line. I enjoy the long process that we are working within. Curating shows with Norm is something I love to do and I am happy that it will continue into the future. We had thought about doing different versions of Night Flight in other cities. Kind of like episodes of a show. There are some other projects we are considering but are not quite ready to talk about them yet. I like this question because I do feel like we are at a jumping off point.
NP: I think I’m with Jackie on this. I’m not sure I want to run anywhere directly – I want to expand the Venn diagram that I was talking about earlier. I’d like to widen my frame of reference by working with other artists that aren’t yet familiar to me, not even for future shows but just for the sake of widening our map. Beyond looking ahead to future programming at Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York, working in the studio, and teaching, we happen to be moving apartments and figuring out a new school for our kid. It’s a busy time. I have been thinking about how our frame of reference continues to change, not only personally but also because of the grim political and cultural dynamics of the day.
I’d like to think that our work as artists, teachers, curators, and people is one big interrelated thing. For me it is less confusing to see it that way. And when I don’t partition myself into fragments I find that there’s more of a chance to find inspiration in unexpected places.
Norm Paris was born in Cleveland, Ohio and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. His work can be seen in Points of Entry at SCOTTY in Berlin and was recently included in Fractured Body, a group show at University of the Arts in Tirana, Albania. Paris has had solo exhibitions at The Proposition, New York, NY and Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York. His work has been featured in exhibitions at Transmitter Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, Secret Dungeon, Brooklyn, NY, Monya Rowe Gallery, New York, NY, Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles, Ca, the Rochester Contemporary Art Center, Rochester, New York, and The Print Center in Philadelphia, PA, among other venues. His work has been included in museum exhibitions at The Jewish Museum, New York, NY, The Museum of Drawings in Laholm, Sweden, the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York, NY, and the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC. Norm was a 2015-16 resident at the Sharpe Walentas Studio Program, New York, NY and has previously taken part in the Triangle Artist Workshop in New York and the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT. His work is part of numerous collections including The Jewish Museum, New York, NY and the West Collection, Oaks, PA. Norm is an Associate Professor at Rhode Island School of Design and has previously taught at the Yale School of Art and at the Yale Norfolk Summer School of Art in Norfolk, CT. He is a founding member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York. Norm received his B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design and his M.F.A. from the Yale School of Art.
Jackie Hoving grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her work is currently included in Points of Entry at SCOTTY in Berlin and was also featured in the group exhibition Prime Matter at the Drawing Museum in Laholm, Sweden. She has had solo exhibitions at Ripon College, Ripon, WI, Rebekah Templeton Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, and The Philadelphia International Airport, Philadelphia, PA, among other venues. Her work has been included in curated shows at The Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx, NY, Storefront Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, Yes Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, Vaudeville Park, Brooklyn, NY, the Armoury Gallery in Milwaukee, WI, and at the Artist Run Satellite Show, Miami, Fl. She is a founding member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York. Hoving was awarded the Leeway Foundation Grant and attended residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Ox-bow. Jackie is currently a critic at the Pratt Institute and previously taught at the Rhode Island School of Design. She received her B.F.A from Tyler School of Art and her M.F.A. from Indiana University.