image courtesy of Morgan Lehman Gallery
Sourcing inspiration from 15th Century German map making and Indian miniature paintings, Andrew Schoultz’s frenetic imagery depicts an ephemeral history bound to repeat itself. In his mixed-media works, notions of war, spirituality and sociopolitical imperialism are reoccurring themes, which shrewdly parallel an equally repetitive contemporary pursuit of accumulation and power. Intricate line work, painting, metal leaf and collage twist and undulate under Schoultz’s meticulous hand, ranging from intimately sized wall works to staggering murals and installations. While his illustrated world seems one of chaos and frenzy, Schoultz also implies a sense of alluring fantasy and whimsy – a crossroads vaguely familiar to the modern world. The artist is also featured in the two-person exhibition, “Images in Dialogue: Paul Klee and Andrew Schoultz” opening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on August 13, 2011.
Andrew Schoultz interview with Glasschord visual editor Noah Post:
Noah Post: Whatsup Andrew, Happy 4th of July. How’d you celebrate the holiday?
Andrew Schoultz: I celebrated the 4th with a bunch of friends on my friend Kevin Taylor’s roof here in San Francisco. We have a big awesome group of friends out here who are mostly artists and musicians, and so it was fun just to hang out all together. We are all pretty busy people so it is rare that all of us would really be in the same place at the same time. I guess, for the most part, we did all the things you might expect one to do typically on the 4th of July. Barbecue, drink cheap beer, watch fireworks, etc. I would not say I really celebrate the holiday particularly, but I will say it is cool to get together with friends and hang out all together. It seems to happen a lot easier on holidays, where people do not have work or maybe aren’t as obligated as usual.
NP: Seeing your work in person, I am reminded of the feeling I get when examining a dollar bill. The dense overlapping patterns and hidden symbols. There is a similarly clever political/religious agenda that seeps its way out of the fragmented landscape. Are you inspired by the strange design of American cash?
AS: I am inspired by American currency as well as all currency from around the world. I especially love a lot of the old currency that is no longer in circulation. It seems like sort of historic relics of economies of the past. A good reminder, that economic systems fail, and countries (at least in name) disappear. This fascination began with looking at American currency. There are so many intense symbols that decorate it. There is the pyramid with the all-seeing eye on top, which is supposed to somehow mean “a democracy will always be a work in progress,” but ironically feels like it relates more to the way in which the American economic system was built. Trickle-down economics; a system built on many that favors only a few. You will also find the scales of justice (a key component of the American system), as well as a bald eagle clutching in one claw a grip of arrows (weapons), and in the other claw an olive branch (a symbol of peace). This is just to name a few things. I immediately became very intrigued about what i may find on other countries’ currencies and began to collect it on my travels abroad. It was very interesting. For example, in Indonesia, the 1000 rupiah bill (Indonesian equivalent to the American 1$ bill) has the very intimidating image of a man with a giant machete on it. This seemed so crazy to me. I started to gather tons of this currency any way I could, and began to incorporate all these currencies into my work through collage as well as paintings directly on bills. It makes perfect sense to address the topic of globalization, and the greater global economy by using this in my work.
NP: If the U.S. currency was to get a new look, I would probably call you first. If you were to re-design the $20 bill, what would you change about it? Who would be a good replacement for Andrew Jackson? Would the White House stay on the back?
AS: Wow! That would be quite a crazy task. I cannot imagine that the American government would ever give me autonomy in deciding who or what symbols would decorate this new bill. At the moment the only people or things that come to mind are completely jokes.
NP: I like that gold leaf is treated like an enemy invader in your work. It is creeping over the walls and menacing the flags. It’s a funny juxtaposition. Tell me about the brick-based installation work. You have built gold walls being destroyed by army Tanks. Is this a way of bringing the street-art into the gallery?
AS: I would not say this is a way of bringing street art in to the gallery at all. I am interested in creating a theatrical and stage-like environment with my installations. I like the idea of putting a viewer right in the middle of a piece of art so they, in a sense, become a part of the piece while they are viewing it. I think the impact of this approach is very powerful. The whole idea of a military tank driving through a gold brick wall relates very literally to what most of my work has been about in the past few years. This being the shift of the global economy and the rise of China, and the East, as the new economic leader of the world. The tank I fabricated actually was designed after a Chinese tank. I depicted this tank in the installation driving through a gigantic gold brick wall, which in this context, acts as a symbol of the American economy. The idea and actuality of our American dollars being backed by gold is preposterous and abstract at best. What are our dollars backed by? So for me, to have this Chinese tank just driving down this symbol of our economy seems so powerful and painfully relevant in this day and age of a failing economy, astronomical trade deficits, and extreme outsourcing. We also are in the midst of an absolutely insane debt crisis, most of which is owned by China. This seems like a topic that is also being ignored by a majority of the American public even though it will be an imminent catastrophe of the future. This is not to say I take on a nationalistic stance or subscribe to a pro-America agenda to say the least. I have many problems with our own system of government as well. However, the idea of a dictatorship style, pro-censorship, militaristic government with absolutely no regard for human rights becoming the leader of the world is a fucking insane scary one indeed. I took an interest in the American flag back in 2008 around the time of the end of the Bush era and the beginning of Obama. I made many pieces with the symbol of the US flag playing a major role in them. Last year I began purchasing actual flags with the intent of stretching them on stretcher bars and making paintings on them, as well as covering them with imitation gold leaf. I ordered these flags from a company simply called “The united States Flag Store” who was selling military grade flags. When I received them I was very surprised to find a certificate in each flag, stating that they were “Made in China”. I thought this to be very sad and alarming. At this point, what isn’t being outsourced to China??? Everything is being produced there now for a fraction of the cost it would take to be done here in our own country, with absolutely no labor laws or minimum wage.
NP: In the past you have made many amazing street murals and now have many gallery shows. The gallery world can seem a bit closed off. Do you miss the reaction of the public audience?
AS: I am far from done with doing public murals or public art for that matter. I am actually supposed to be doing a mural in Miami this year for Art Basal. I would say the audience of the public is probably the most diverse audience you can address with art, and probably my favorite audience. People who would never walk in a gallery or a museum are exposed to your art, which to me is awesome. However, I did murals and street painting for over ten years and started to feel pretty limited/bored in what was possible with it. I was being offered a lot more opportunities in galleries and museums and was really interested in exploring what was possible. There are a lot more possibilities, with having things be fragile, ephemeral, and interactive indoors. Not everything has to be nailed down, so to speak.
NP: What is the significance of the billowing cloud shapes that invade your drawings?
AS: The billowing cloud shapes have been present for a while, but more recently they have appeared in much more repetition. I guess the vibe I am trying to capture with them is that which feels like something is collapsing, toppling, and or falling apart. A good comparison would be when a building collapses or is torn down and it creates this giant cloud of spinning smoke puffs, that is so intense that it makes it hard to see through it. An obvious comparison would be when the towers fell on 9/11 or after a military attack on a city.
NP: Where do you get the “News” from? And what pisses you off about the current Media coverage of our never-ending war in Iraq/Afghanistan?
AS: I get news from a variety of newspapers, magazines, blogs, radio stations, and TV stations – many different outlets. I will confess to being an NPR junky for many years, but recently I have taken a hiatus from it. I think the only way to really get even close to the real story is to sift through a multitude of sources and read between the lines and try to find any vague common threads that connect. This can be quite a laborious task. In this day and age of information where everyone (trained and untrained) is a blogger, writer, or journalist it becomes almost impossible to decipher fact from fiction. There are so many eyes on the world recording and reporting what is going on and also the resources and outlets now exist to get it out there in seconds. I wonder and am very interested in how this will affect the way history is recorded. I guess the thing that pisses me off the most about the media coverage of the wars, is the way everything is always presented in such a black and white manner. The middle-ground and grey areas of the discussion, a majority of the time, are never thoroughly discussed, investigated or even taken seriously. It seems as though the US is in quite a pickle with all of these wars. From what I can see it is really hard to see a way out of it.
NP: I got anxious seeing your show in NYC last week. At first I was fully enveloped in the craft and complexity of the drawing. And then my head started to spin. I became overwhelmed with the fact that America is not actually changing, violence is at full throttle and I am in a New York bubble. It seems like you take a lot in, make a system out of it, and churn it back out in a new language (that is actually based on an old language). Does your artistic process help you stay calm about the current political situation?
AS: That is a very good description of the process I go throw with making my work, and am actually impressed to hear it described so perfect in one sentence. In terms of the New York bubble, I will also confess to living for many years in a San Francisco bubble. As an artist I think it is your responsibility and very important to be aware of what is going on everywhere, including that space that exists between the two coasts. Both of the times that George W. Bush was elected I was amazed that he won or even came close to winning for that matter, because I was so engulfed by the liberal bubble here in San Francisco. But really, if I was aware at that time of the overall tone of the Midwest at the time, it would have come as absolutely no surprise. I would say being an artist and making things definitely helps with feeling at least somewhat sane about all of this, but in general I have learned that it helps to not think about it all the time, and to definitely not let it infiltrate every part of your life. I did for many years. I walked around pissed and was not a happy person. This is no way to live.
NP: When you are not making artwork, What keeps you sane?
AS: I like to hang out with my girlfriend, (soon-to-be wife), Hilary Pecis. She is an amazing artist and very inspiring. She supports me in everything i do. I also enjoy hanging out with my friends. I am very into music as well and see quite a few shows. In San Francisco we are lucky. We have a lot of great local bands and great venues, so most bands that I want to see will come through town. Some great local bands that play quite frequently here are The Fresh and Only’s, Two Gallants, Sic Alps, Silian Rail, and Exrays to name a few. I recently saw this band from Ireland that I had never heard of called Adebisi Shank that just completely blew me away. It led to discovering a whole entire music scene going on in Belfast that I had no idea about. It’s so amazing to go to a show and see an opening band that you never heard of that just kills it. It’s the way I used to discover new bands when I was growing up and seems like a borderline extinct thing in the age of the internet. Experience something live first… who would have thought…
NP: I heard you are having a museum exhibit in San Francisco in August. What’s up with this show?
AS: Yes. I am having a show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). I am very excited about it. It is titled “Artists in Dialogue: Andrew Schoultz and Paul Klee”. It opens August 13th 2011. The curator, John Zarobell, selected me as a contemporary artist, whose work he felt has a relationship and is in dialogue with the work of Paul Klee. He saw some connections, and after engulfing myself in the work of Klee, it really feels like it makes a lot of sense. Basically the SFMOMA has around 200 Klee works in its collection. With this exhibition, I worked with curator John Zarobell to select 19 Paul Klee works from the collection. I then created around 10 works of my own, while keeping in mind the selection of the 19 Klee works we had selected. The result, theoretically, is that the works I created would be in dialogue with the works of Klee and perhaps viewing the works side-by-side would create some kind of a new entry point and conversation for a viewer about both of our works. Ideally, it would be awesome for someone to see my work differently next to his, and his work differently next to mine. I am very honored to have my work put in context with one of the most important artists of the past 100 years, and also to work with John Zarobell on this exhibition. I will also be in the upcoming show “Ultrasonic VI” at Mark Moore gallery in Los Angeles which I am very excited about. I will be presenting an 11-foot by 24-foot work on paper there.