Image by Jessica Bell.
Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
I’m not really from anywhere. I was born in Maine but my family moved soon after, living in various places sometimes as briefly as a year and sometimes longer, so I never feel “from” somewhere, but I’m glad we ended up in Canada. Now I live in Vancouver BC.
Which is your favorite drawing in the series and why?
I can’t answer that because honestly I love them all equally. Each drawing is a bit of a shock, to tell the truth. They explode under my hand like fireworks. I never know what’s going to happen and every single time I can’t really believe what I’ve managed to do. That’s the nature of working in tandem with an apparatus – it’s like a prosthetic, or scuba gear, something that takes you places you never thought you could go.
How did the Drawing Machine come to be?
All of my work is quite formal and reserved, so when I realized I wanted to draw I didn’t want to make expressive marks on the paper. I wanted to use repetition and automatism but not anything seeming to be quasi-spiritual or surrealistic. Other artists have made Rube-Goldberg-like machines before that actually drew by themselves. But I wanted something elegant and simple, and I wanted to be the one holding the pen. I was putting a stylus to a record – I think it was Led Zeppelin – when it hit me.
Oh yes. It took many, many tries and many wobbly failures before I got the hang of it. It takes a lot of muscle control and concentration to get it right, and an ability to make fast and sure color choices. Also, only about seventy per cent of the drawing is made on the machine. The rest is in the careful blending of inks and adding circles by hand.
Your work (old and new) is striking in its precision, symmetry and detail. Do you struggle to make your art, which is made by hand, look truly perfect?
Yes I do. I’m powerfully attracted to symmetry because it makes me feel whole and stable. There were a group of artists in California in the 1960s and 70s who called themselves “finish fetishists” - they made resin sculptures and enameled paintings not to express emotion or political views but to make an object solely for its own luscious sake, and I feel a kinship with those guys. It’s the opposite of craft, and points to a stubborn resistance to sentiment. I suppose “utopian” is the best way to describe my work. It strives for perfection without ever really being perfect.
Do you think you'll build other types of creative hardware?
I’d love to create a wave-forming action somehow. I have no idea how that might be done but I’m already thinking about it. I’m also starting to draw on a giant rotating drum. The result is a retina-blazing series of perfect stripes. I can’t wait to debut those ones!