Q&A: Gregory Euclide
The following was written by Kirsten Incorvaia for My Love For You Is a Stampede of Horses, a blog by Meighan O'Toole cataloging low brow and contemporary art, and originally posted on August 17. Gregory Euclide is based in Minneapolis and was featured in editions #83, #71, & #53 of New American Paintings. You can read more about Euclide's work on My Love For You... as well as his blog.
Names can be very telling of one’s personality and even their tomorrow, which seemed to ring true for Gregory Euclide. When he was a boy, a loved one gave him a plaque engraved with the meaning of his name: “The Watchful One.” As an adult, Gregory’s observations span from city life to rural country and the fine art scene to high school classrooms. Flat surfaces are not enough for Euclide to relay his findings, which manifest themselves in an assemblage of paint, moss, dirt, paper, styrofoam, and beyond. His unconventional landscapes are so realistic that they actual require watering.
Do Gregory’s natural renditions critique human destruction? What happens when precious living matter decays right off the surface of his paintings? These are the questions we presented Euclide with, and he shared an intelligent, compelling interview in response.
Growing up in Wisconsin, how did you relate to nature? What woods and fields did you play in, how often did you go there, where did your imagination take you?
We lived out in the country surrounded by farm fields. There were ponds, gravel pits, dumps, farms and abandoned barns. It was a pretty amazing landscape to grow up in. Of course, as a kid I was not thinking about this stuff the way I am now. My parents left a majority of the yard grow natural, so there was a large area of tall grass. When other people moved into the subdivision they did the same. This left great fields for wandering and the property lines were blurred. I would walk the fields and go into the 50 foot forests that separated the farm fields almost every day. I used to bury Ball Jars containing maps of the forts I had created. I was always thrilled to see what had happen to the ink when I dug them up years later.
Living in Minneapolis, how often do you get into nature as an adult?
My partner and I just moved out of the city and I have never been happier. We have four acres of land which is populated by Cedar trees, a little river and a pond. I get into the yard every day. Some days I get largely distracted and spend an entire day out there. I get most of my materials from the land and many of my ideas have come from just walking around and thinking about what I have just read in relation to what I am seeing.
A few years back, your work took a substantial turn from one-dimensional landscape paintings to incorporating relief/sculpture/installations. Where is the work going next?
It keeps evolving, that is for sure, because the ideas keep evolving. I know a tiny fraction of what could be known about land, land use and the history of Landscape. The work keeps evolving because I am not concerned with sales. Yes, I would like to sell work and I try to make works available to people who respond to the ideas, but it is not my primary focus.
The David B. Smith Gallery has been one of the greatest assets in the progress of my work. David understands and allows these ideas to unfold in his public space. For instance, we just executed a project titled Giving It Back where I decreased the size of his gallery by one cubic foot - giving one foot back to the public sphere. I don’t know how many people are going to want to have me come and do the same to their house... and pay for it. But that is what I am talking about, the strength of having someone like David on your side is that they give you a forum to sell work and also make works they are never intended to sell.
Most galleries who contact me are like “We want 20 flat works for the next show” because they know those works sell. Personally, Flat work is dead and lifeless. It is all in your head. One has to project themselves into the work. That is now how we experience the world. I like making work that involves the body. I’m not ready to live on a computer screen yet, I still acknowledge that I have a human body.
How does the moss, fertilizer, and other organic material in your work decay, morph, or grow over time?
I have made works that were more like gardens. One has to take care of the artwork like a plant and there is a level of commitment there that, to be honest, most people don’t have. If they have to have someone come over to their house when they are on vacation to “water their Euclide” it holds them responsible for owning art. I have also frequently included organic things from the land around my house or from locations.
When I was in France this past year we were walking down a beach and Jennifer was laughing at me because I didn’t have enough pockets for all the Styrofoam that I was collecting as we were walking. When it is in the works that are for sale, I have to take great pains to make sure that it is secure for when they get shipped. But again, this is organic material... that is kind of the reason I use it. It is a stark contrast to art materials and the art world in general.
The world decays. We can try to live forever, but we get old and break down. Why can’t art ever comment on that fact in an intelligent way... other than trying to be 100% archival. I understand it is an investment and people want to feel secure about that. That is why I love seeing tiny bits of moss that have fallen to the bottom of the frames. It’s not going to destroy the work to have a tiny bit of moss shaken loose, but it really nicely illustrates the contrast between organic and synthetic... and since I am addressing that with respects to the land... it makes a great tie-in to the art world and the process of making art. Some people don’t get it. They want their statements about decay to be clean and nicely placed in a frame.
By mixing foam, paint, and plastic with remnants of nature, do you critique humankind’s negligence of the environment?
I simply am showing what land is today. One can not escape the synthetic materials in the land. And one can not escape the synthetic Landscape either. There is no Natural. People go into the rolling hills of farmlands and feel it is so natural and they get all nostalgic about it. THAT is what replaced the prairie and the oak savanna.
Tell us about the process behind your “captures:” sculptures created by spilling colored paint over the earth.
I spill out some art material on the land and it let it dry there. Then I dig it up from the land and build a picturesque landscape on top of it. The material from the land where it was extracted from is captured in the bottom of the art material. Actual land, art and the art making process, Landscape. All in layers. A growth of an idealism, built up in layers, culminating in our modern concept of Nature.
It’s rare to find work today that excludes animals and human forms. Why do you leave figures out of your landscapes?
Human is totally there. That is who the work is for. That is who created the need for artistic views of land. Everything about the work screams HUMAN to me. I don’t put their physical representation in the works because they are written all over the land already.
Which artists, musicians, books, and movies influence your conceptual and aesthetic choices?
Books... Jennifer Price, Malcolm Andrews, Ann Bermingham, W. J. T. Mitchell, Max Oelschalaeger, Denis E. Cosgrove. Music... Anything on Miasmah Records, Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto And lately it is hard for me not to love all the beach sound coming around again. Wild Nothing, Beach Fossils, Toro y Moi, Woods, Best Coast, Panda Bear, Small Black, Girls, Le Loup, and on and on forever.
What do you enjoy about teaching high school students? What do they teach you?
Teaching is a huge source of joy in my life. I feel like I am giving something back to the world. It is very different than making art. For the most part people who look at my artwork are really into the art scene - from collectors to hipsters. But with high school students you get a great variety of minds. These are the people who are going to grow up and shape the communities of the future. I do my best to make them think a little more about the world - to look a little deeper behind things - to not just float along. Dealing with the politics of American high schools, school boards and the public part of public education can be enough to want to get out all together but in my classroom it is a mix of life lessons and motivation. As far as the students go, I really like this age of student because I like that they don’t think they know it all yet.
What does your name mean, and where does it come from?
Euclide is French Belgian I think. I am not sure what it means. My Godparent or something like that, gave me a little plaque when I was young that said “Gregory : The watchful one.” While I rejected most everything else about my religious upbringing, I do like the idea that I am “the watchful one.”
In a January interview, you offered to plant a tree with a personalized message for any readers who contacted you. How many trees did you plant? Is this a continuous project?
I planted 12 trees with personalized notes attached. I need to take photos of the trees and send them to the people yet because one person was concerned I never did it. I reassured them that I had, but had been really busy since that interview and had not gotten around to sending out emails. I could continue it.. but I really wish people would go out and do it themselves. I like the idea of plants being planted in public spaces without the permission of city. It is a useful sort of eco-graffiti to combat the so-called public spaces that are paved over with baseball fields and golf courses. There are thousands of neglected spaces in each neighborhood that could be the future location of an Oak, Maple or Cedar.