Bobby Haulotte - Painting and Installation
I currently reside in Kansas City, MO. Kansas City has a renowned art school, Kansas City Art Institute where it is alumni to Chicago artists Richard Hull and Nick Cave, and deceased artists, Robert Rauchenberg and Robert Morris. Unfortunately, the highest degree they offer is a 4 year undergraduate degree, an MFA is not offered. It is also home to Kemper Museum, a contemporary art museum, where I interned during the summer of 2015. The Nelson-Atkins is also a must see offering countless collections of modern and contemporary art and free general admission. This pandemic, with the current stay-at-home order, left me seeking contemporary artists online.
Bobby Haulotte graduated from Kansas City Art Institute in 2018 resides in Kansas City where he makes his works of art. His acute use of color caught my attention. His paintings are humorous yet anxious, references real world yet otherworldly. I wanted to know more about his process, decision making, and future plans.
Tell me about your process- How do you start your painting? How much do you plan before you start?
The works tend to start with a photograph of some sort, usually either an interesting architectural arrangement I find walking around or a kind of theatrical still life set up in my studio. I bring the image into photoshop and play around with it there for a while, changing colors, erasing some areas, and adding in bits of other photos found online. Those digital drawings then act as a sort of simplified and malleable blueprint for the paintings. As I work on the painting things tend to translate differently and there is a back and forth relationship between the drawing and painting as they change and respond to each other. Sometimes the digital drawings look pretty similar to the final paintings but other times the paintings take on a life of their own and depart from the drawings quite a bit.
Your reference to Fauvism is apparent. Your painting, “Patio Door” for example, it reminded me of The Open Window by Matisse. Both appear flattened and the window in your painting seems to be the same depth as the background. If my observation is right, what is it that draws you to Fauvism?
It’s funny, when I first started studying painting in community college, my professor saw a connection and had me research Fauvism. It’s not something that I consciously think of as often in my recent work, but I think that early influence definitely drew my attention to representational painting using highly saturated colors. I also think the tension between the flatness of the surface and the representational space of the image found in a lot of Fauvist work is something I often consider while painting.
You incorporate gridded patterns in some of your paintings. Rosalind Krauss published her writing, Modernist Grid in 1979. One of her sentences stuck with me. “The grid’s mythic power is that it makes us able to think we are dealing with materialism (or sometimes science or logic) while at the same time it provides us with a release into belief (or illusion, or fiction).” Do you think of your work in this way?
Yeah I believe so, I try to work in a way in which the surface of my paintings presents itself as the material substrate for a range of marks which together create the illusion of an image. The grid entered my work more prominently during a time when I was looking at a lot of postmodern art and theory, and using the Modernist grid as a way to create images that called attention to the flat material qualities of the painting while simultaneously signifying the world outside the artwork was very interesting to me. I think Peter Halley’s use of the grid to structure compositions which signify social relations as diagrams and his more representational uses such as the barred windows really influenced the way I think of the surface as a place to arrange information in a way that subverts more Modernist readings of the grid with representation, signification, and illusion while maintaining the image as a material object. For me, this was also influenced by the ways we interact with the expanding range of materials images are made up of which present themselves as more or less mediated.
You make references to specific objects- adidas sneaker, Mcdonald’s cup, squirt soda. They are balanced with non-specific objects such as a potted plant and books without titles. What relationally was your thought process when you painted them?
In a lot of the works, especially the more recent still life paintings, I try to use the composition of a single image as a structure where I can apply a wide range of representational methods. The objects in the image are more or less recognizable depending on the representational strategies used in hopes that the overall image is something constructed by a collaboration of looking and thinking, rather than instantly presenting itself as a coherent image. This becomes a way to think about the surface and to highlight the way images in general are complex and dynamic objects mediated and created in the context of various motivations, social constructs, and materials rather than objective representations. I try to collage together these different kinds of context and imagery in a way that reflects the constantly shifting context of images especially online, where context can change very rapidly.
I think a lot of your paintings can reflect our current situation with the pandemic. You depict mundane objects like we are all seeing while staying home and we are all stuck indoors and your color palette parallels with the anxiety we are all feeling. We are all looking out the window wondering when this is going to be over. Have you had an “oh shit” moment with your works? Haha
I hadn’t really considered that until just now but I could see those parallels, I feel there has always been a sense of visual anxiety in my work that might feel more pertinent now. A part of the reason for that may be that even before this current situation I have viewed the world as being in a crisis with looming threats such as climate change, rising inequality, and the expansion of digital surveillance. I can see some reflections of this current situation in the still life works where mundane objects are used to create more spectacular arrangements in that there seem to be similarities to the ways those of us able to stay home are reimagining our domestic spaces to entertain ourselves and accommodate activities usually done elsewhere. The highly saturated colors also seem relevant with the increased amount of screentime I’ve personally experienced as screens become a more prominent mediator of social interaction.
Looking at some of your works, they can be described as painterly with hard edged geometric abstraction. How did you arrive with this interesting combination?
For quite some time I was making very traditional representational paintings without using any of the more hard edge techniques and then for a while got into only making abstract works where everything was taped off and hard edged to create different kinds of Op Art effects. I was getting very interested in color theory and the science of perception and for a while the masked edges were a kind of practical way to introduce fluorescent colors and explore perceptual color mixing by layering stripes of color to create moire patterns. Eventually I wanted to explore representational imagery again using the expanded language of colors and marks I was using in the earlier abstract pieces. Bringing the different types of painting together felt a little awkward at first, but working with the tensions between these strategies became a big part of my work, and is something I continue to explore as I introduce new tools, materials, and strategies.
How do you think the Kansas City art scene is different from other cities?
It’s hard to say just because I haven’t really been a part of art scenes outside of Kansas City but I’ve really enjoyed being a part of it here. There aren’t a ton of art spaces here and it’s been a bummer to watch some of these spaces vanish or downsize recently but it appears to have motivated a lot of artists here to start their own DIY projects and shows which is exciting.
Which artists have you looked at lately?
I look at a ton of artists on instagram constantly but most of my favorite works lately have been more involved in film, photography, and documentary than painting. Recently I’ve been very interested in artists that are exploring relationships between images, technology, and structures of power like Hito Steyerl, Forensic Architecture, Trevor Paglen, and Zach Blas. I also love looking at and talking about the work some of my friends here in Kansas City make, Kylie McConnell and Cullen Miller especially have changed the ways I think about images and materials.
What do have you set in terms of exhibitions/residencies in the future?
It’s hard to say if it is all set in stone at the moment due to the global pandemic and everything but I have a solo exhibition “Is This Still Life?” scheduled to open at the Kansas City Artists Coalition in September and I’m working on plans for an installation that will be part of a group show called “In Crystalized Time” in Seattle, WA in early 2021. I was working on some DIY projects and collaborations with friends here in KC as well which are on hold for now but I’m excited to get back to work on those once it’s safe. There is also a really fun drawing fundraiser for Front/Space, a local artist-run space, called “Hot Hands” that is postponed for now but will hopefully be rescheduled before too long.
Bobby Haulotte Info