A Success on His Own Terms: A Studio Visit with Rupert Goldsworthy
Artist and writer Rupert Goldsworthy, who is known to artcritical readers for his interviews with Inka Essenhigh and others, has shows this month (January 2012) at Ritter/Zamet in London where he is exhibiting collaborative paintings made with Mark Stewart of the Pop Group, and in Mexico City where he is in a group show at Massimo Audiello. His recent New York solo show took place in October at Illuminated Metropolis Gallery in Chelsea where he is also curating a group show in February.
SHARON MA What is your methodology for making an artwork?
RUPERT GOLDSWORTHY I like to highlight incongruity, juxtapose ideas that seem mutually exclusive. I think a lot about medium and scale and display and audience. Usually I start off with an object or a design that I find unique, it just turns me on, and I want to understand it more, so I reproduce it or I hybridize it in some way. That unlocks its mystery for me.
SHARON MA What drives you to make the work that you do?
RUPERT GOLDSWORTHY I can never paint something that doesn’t hypnotize me. My heart isn’t in it. When I make films or perform, it’s usually similar. A fascinating object or document starts me off. Maybe just a scrap in the street on a lamp-post or a line from a song, something ephemeral, something that has a beauty, a history, a poetry, a sadness to it– something elusive that I want to spotlight and commemorate.
SHARON MA You are always doing something or going somewhere. How do you manage multiple projects in different countries?
RUPERT GOLDSWORTHY I come from London, and have lived between NYC and Berlin since the late 1980s. All three cities have thriving art scenes. So I have slowly done a lot of projects between those places. I have family and work and friends there and I can earn a living in all three.
I only ever do one project at a time and I don’t juggle things. Patience is key.
SHARON MA Who are the contemporary artists you identify with, either through their personalities or artwork?
RUPERT GOLDSWORTHY I admire the mavericks and the succinct. I identify with the grassroots East Village artist-run galleries or early Soho artists more than this current moment.
Félix González-Torres was a brilliant, funny person to be around and studying with him remains inspiring. Warhol I never met but the work is great, plus he built a circle of people around him, he nurtured a scene, and created an open system, not a hierarchy. He didn’t seem a snob.
I find it hard to separate the personality from the work. The handling of the career is often as interesting to me as the work itself. I’m interested in the idea of retaining one’s integrity both socially and artistically.
I like the subject matter of Bruce LaBruce and Johan Grimonprez and I know them personally a bit. I admire painters like Inka Essenhigh and Marilyn Minter.
I always think about the work of Hans Haacke and Art & Language because what they did remains better than what most people later have achieved in that field.
SHARON MA I read that you are also a curator, how do you come up with a theme for an exhibition?
RUPERT GOLDSWORTHY You have to find a topic that’s hot, a bit edgy, but also that you personally love and know a huge amount about. You have to extend the dialog.
SHARON MA What do you look for when choosing works to show?
RUPERT GOLDSWORTHY Because I began as an artist myself, I only like to show artists who can do something that I can’t do, usually technically or conceptually. That’s part of the exchange for me. I show their work because I am a fan. If I know I could make the work easily myself, I don’t want to show it.
SHARON MA What do you put out that is related to the exhibition, and how do you show it?
RUPERT GOLDSWORTHY These days I list in magazines and on facebook and make online PDF catalogs. I also write press releases and sometimes make printed catalogs.
SHARON MA I remember how you said that we should keep an eye on galleries that show works similar to our own, how does one approach a gallery, if at all?
RUPERT GOLDSWORTHY I would never suggest approaching a dealer cold, it’s better to dialog with an artist you meet who shows at the gallery and whose work you like. Then follow up and ask them if they think their dealer or a curator might like it. I think if you are doing something good, people will find you. Artists define things: they are always the first to see a new good artist. Your peers create a critical mass.
SHARON MA As a working artist, what do you stress as key elements to being successful in the art world?
RUPERT GOLDSWORTHY Being generous and open to dialog and making yourself aware of what a lot of other emerging artists are doing. Also understanding marketing clearly.
Success in the art world is really about being a success on your own terms– being a compassionate person and acting with great personal integrity. Some of the best artists are great teachers, great community activists and/or doing amazing stuff that is not centered on any commercial/institutional-success paradigm. Being in the Whitney Biennial is clearly not the central thing, because that fame can be very fleeting. It’s more important that you make great work and really parent it into the world in a cool and ethical way.