Interview by Cora Lewis, with Strada artist Quinn Wilke.
Strada: How would you describe your background in art? What made you become an artist?
QW: I think I’ve always been drawing in some manner. When I was very young, my older brother and I would draw for hours with these miscellaneous colored pencils. He would always make these crazy characters, and I thought it was just the coolest – so I started doing that on my own and fell in love with it. Since then, art-making has become very much a part of me and informed where I went to high school and college. Attending Laguardia High school in New York led me to meet some of my dearest friends, and most talented people I know. In high school I thought what I wanted to do was something in the animation field, but during my gap year I started working closely with my mentor, Isabella Bustamante, and ended up finding a deep appreciation for art history and painting. I’ve been painting ever since. I do think that the initial influence of wanting to create stories and characters always followed me – just now translated in a different medium.
Strada: How would you characterize your own work?
QW: These characters' reflective and symbolic figuration are based on the organization of visual culture's design, circulation, and consumption with relation to an underlying value system: the aestheticization of image-making and its relationship to a new, algorithmic language being born. The figures become an object to adorn with excess (or lack thereof). They fight wars, bare their teeth, wear brilliantly colored kandi; they live within the four corners of a stretched-tight canvas. Niche internet subculture, fantasy, androgyny, and references towards early-Renaissance ideas greatly influence my work. To me, it is constructed like stages, a map, or an image. Combining a visual culture's consumption of images with tangible art-making, I think, is a physical reaction and the best way I can try and bridge my own experience growing up and consuming in an oversaturated image market. A plea for sincerity, for making meaning, humor, and light-heartedness are integral in my paintings.
Strada: Are there any particular ideas in the art world that interest you the most right now? And how do you think the internet and technology are changing art?
QW: The relationship between tech and art is super fascinating to me. In the sense that there's been the advancement of a new relationship, or a new type of language being born between information and communication. Lev Manovich’s Cultural Analytics discusses this. The interaction of data representations of cultural phenomena differ from things like paintings, photography, literature, epic poems, etc. in that they’re modular. In a computational environment, data is a representation of an algorithm that can impose constraints on how and what is represented. That's powerful. I think painting itself is connected to an imperial substrate as well – I don't mean this in a laudatory way, but I think that it can expose something about how we organize ourselves and these systems of power. Art can illuminate that. It’s been interesting to see the intersection between the ubiquitous accessibility of the internet and its relationship to the historical value of painting. Some other texts I've been reading are Cornelia Bratner’s New Visualities of space and place. The influences in my own work (to name a few) are from painters like Jin Meyerson, Janiva Ellis, Austin Lee, Julien Nguyen, Marlene Dumas, and Sanya Kantarovsky. Yoshitaka Amano's Final Fantasy illustrations are beautiful – game design in general. I also love to keep up with internet artists on platforms like Tumblr, Deviantart, and Instagram. Pre-Raphaelite artists too. They were an odd group – works from Edward Burne Jones and Simeon Solomon especially. The spiritual aspect of both that group and ideas from early Renaissance paintings are deeply influential.
Strada: Do you have any peers whose work you particularly admire or you share qualities with?
QW: Many of my own peers are also huge inspirations to me. Ondine Hudson is a
musician and a dear friend. Her EP “Baby Teeth” is a nostalgic masterpiece! Soul Lee and Kehari Hutchinson are two incredible performance artists/dancers. Some peers who are sculptors include Isolina Minjeong Alva’s with their “Little Woogies’’ and Henry Newman's conceptual work. Augustina Wang's paintings and Layal Srouji’s wearable fibers that archive tones of Palestinian land are beautiful. Ameya Marie Okamoto’s 3D nail art, I could name so many more!
Strada: What kinds of materials do you use? Has that changed over time?
QW: Most of the work I’ve done recently has been oil paint on canvas or woodblock. Oil is a super flexible medium, and there are a lot of techniques to play with. I’ve tried using acrylic paint in the past, and honestly was not that good at it.
Strada: What's your daily practice like?
QW: A lot of my practice is quite random. Since I'm still in school, I try to find time to paint whenever possible. If not, I'll try and draw or write in my sketchbook. Because my current painting space is in Brooklyn, and I’m currently living in Washington Heights, much of my time is spent on the subway. I’ve grown up spending hours going between boroughs so it's become almost therapeutic. I think it's liberating to be in a transitional state, “unburdened by the obligation of the freedom of choice”, to quote Karissa
Strada: What are your ambitions for your work and yourself?
QW: I would love to start making really huge paintings. I’m also looking at expanding the mediums I use – gouache, egg tempera, and ink has been something I’ve been eyeing. And digital art! Or a way to combine traditional and digital media – some sort of autonomous method, like an airbrush.