Space is the Place: Interview with Chandler Wigton
Much of Durango-based artist Chandler Wigton’s (NAP #105) work deals with the subconscious and conscious imagination as a site for exploration. Guided by intuition and a desire to better understand science and appreciate its many mysteries, Wigton draws on a multi-disciplinary approach for inspiration. Many abstract concepts associated with outer space and its creation including the big bang, wormholes, and time are key themes in his work that serve as a backdrop for contextualizing other more internalized subjects such as language, the body and geography to better situate oneself within that larger, contemplative existential setting. At times, his work reveals a tendency to become map-like or diagrammatic, and in that sense, they become tools for better illuminating the objects and phenomenon they represent. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his work. – Claude Smith, Albuquerque/Santa Fe Contributor
Claude Smith: You seem particularly interested with the great mysteries of the world–including everything from time travel, ancient history, to space, the universe and language. Your process strikes me as very explorative and perhaps could be described as a sort of “intuitive science.” Can you talk a little about your inspirations?
Chandler Wigton: My inspirations come from a wide variety of different sources that at first glance might seem incompatible with each other, but in fact intertwine and overlap quite beautifully. I get a lot from people that aren’t visual artists; writers and scientists like Italo Calvino, Loren Eiseley, Carl Sagan, and Joseph Campbell. In fact, as a kid growing up, I was obsessed with Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking and made a real effort to read as much as I could about the universe. In retrospect, I think I was attracted to the way Einstein used thought experiments to make some of his greatest discoveries. It was his ability to think so abstractly and so creatively that has continued to inspire me as an adult. All that being said, I am indebted to, and interested in, art history and a long list of artists. I try to keep a frame of reference where one thing isn’t privileged over another, but instead maintain a view where Abstract Expressionism, Italian Renaissance painting, Dada, and ancient Anasazi artifacts can live side by side, illuminating one another in different ways. I owe a lot to artists like Klee, Twombly, Kandinsky, Hilma af Klint, Pablo Amaringo, William Wiley, Charles Ross…the list goes on. Lately, I have been letting my own past work inspire the new work, as well as trying to let the unexpected play a role. Inspiration can come from the most unforeseen places.
CS: In a prior conversation you mentioned that while living in Italy, you found the experience of learning a new language quite isolating at times, not to mention challenging. Is there a correlation in which language and text emerge as a primary consideration in your work as a result of that experience?
CW: I spent my first year of graduate school living and working in Rome. During that time I was so engrossed with my work that I didn’t make a concerted effort to learn Italian. That linguistic isolation, along with the psychological pressures of graduate school, affected my work in a profound way. Up until that point I had used text in a lot of my work in a more narrative, story-telling type way. Even if the textual elements were poetic or cryptic at times, they were still legible. There was a shift where language became much more of an abstraction to me, and also something that was holding me back. Possibly there was an inherent desire to transcend that isolation through my work, I can’t say for sure. But, I do think that art should help facilitate deep connections between people, across the vast expanses of culture, language, and time.
CS: Generally speaking, your work retains a raw immediacy that one might associate with drawing or other intuitive processes in which the subconscious or imagination take over. What kind of role does drawing play in your practice?
CW: Drawing is central to my practice. Drawing is extremely difficult to define because it can be so many different things. Like you said, it really has to do with immediacy, and the use of whatever materials that allow that immediacy to be possible, which for me includes collage. Generally, I work quickly and produce a lot. I’ll have ideas for works that are in the back of my head in some dark, hidden corner and I will use the immediacy of drawing to try and get those ideas down on paper, most of the time changing them substantially from the original thought. Which, by the way, has become such a huge part of my process; the free flow of thoughts and the relinquishing of some control. A lot of times I’ll make a painting based off a drawing and it will totally change. I’m not sure if it changes for better or for worse as of yet, but there is a significant transformation that takes place, which at the moment, is important to me. It’s this back and forth between immediacy and refinement.
Chandler Wigton | Bottomless, 2012, mixed media on paper, 22 x 30 inches; image courtesy the artist
CS: In your statement for New American Paintings, you mention trying to make sense of the intersection at which your scientific understanding of the world and personal spiritual exploration converge. What kinds of contradictions do you encounter? Do you embrace those dualities?
CW: Fundamentally my work isn’t about science, which is fairly obvious to anyone that looks at it. But I like to talk about science, and the greater mysteries science has unlocked for us to behold, as much as I like talking about art. What I was trying to get at in my statement was that a purely scientific worldview has a lot of shortcomings. That without reverence and some sort of spiritual connection to life, science and technology can be destructive. That’s where art and artists come in. But you’re right, this way of thinking does set up a duality that I’ve struggled with for quite some time now. Because it always comes back to the question of what is my role in all this? What is the proper way to live? For me, art is the foundation for whatever life is going to hand me. It was Einstein that said somewhere that reverence and awe for the cosmos is the wellspring for all true art and science, and I believe that.
CS: Having relocated to Durango, CO after finishing your MFA at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, do you feel like that move has influenced your work in any way?
CW: Well, I’m originally from Durango and I was fortunate enough to get a studio tech job in the art department of my alma mater immediately after graduate school. I’m very familiar with the landscape, and I have a lot of family and friends here, which is great. It’s a place that has had a big impact on my life. Coming back, I’ve noticed a lot of changes both from the town, and from myself. It’s a great place to live and make art but a tough place to show art and meet other artists. I have a lot of mixed emotions right now. I will always associate Durango with home, but I’m also wondering what else is out there for me. My experience at Tyler School of Art was great. It was a real eye opener and I got to meet and work with a lot of amazing faculty and fellow grad students that had wildly different backgrounds from myself.
CS: Where do you see your practice headed?
CW: At the moment, I am consciously trying to move more and more toward abstraction. There are so many converging and diverging paths and ideas in my work that sometimes it becomes hard to make a decision. I don’t want to force anything. It feels like there’s a good ebb and flow with my work right now and I like that. I hope the work will continue to become more and more complex as time goes on, not necessarily in form, but in concept. I also don’t want to feel bound to one medium or another. If I can better express my ideas through sculpture or writing then so be it, but it has to come gradually. Ultimately I want to feel as free and untethered as possible in the studio, allowing my imagination free reign, whatever the final product may look like in the end.
Chandler Wigton received a BA in painting in 2008 from Fort Lewis College in Durango, and a MFA in painting in 2013 from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA. Wigton has shown work in Colorado, New Mexico, Italy, and Philadelphia, and has appeared in numerous publications including New American Paintings and Studio Visit Magazine. He currently lives and works in Durango and is the Technical Assistant/Studio Coordinator in the art department at Fort Lewis College.
Claude Smith is an arts administrator and educator living and working in Albuquerque, NM