Wrestling with Painting: Steven Frost

Steven Frost, An Audience & Lines to Speak, 2011 | Foam padding, pleather, straight pins, thread, 48 x 82 x 3 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Last Friday in Chicago, once crowds had abandoned the aisles of endless booths at the Art Chicago and NEXT fairs, the biggest opening in the city was the annual Thesis Exhibition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. (And as someone who was there last year, it's safe to admit the crowd this year had reached unparalleled size, making the crowd at Merchandise Mart look like a knitting circle.) The scale of the 2011 SAIC Thesis Show, and the number of MFA grads itself, had grown so immensely this year that, for the first time, two sites were necessary to exhibit all the work.

With our new MFA Annual currently on newsstands, we've had our eye on young MFA candidates for a while, and I was excited to take in some new work. Standing out from the pack were a group of artists (including Jesse Butcher, David R. Harper, Ivan Lozano, and Soo Shin) whose sparse — and spacious — group installation, The World is Not a Calm Place, was, in fact, a much-needed calm from the storm. Featured in the center, Steven Frost's installation of sculptural, fiber-based objects revealed subtle painterly qualities through the use of black sequins, pleather, and everyday materials.

Also featured at Swimming Pool Project Space in the GOFFO section at NEXT that weekend, Frost and I spoke this week about his practice, Lucha Libre, sequins, and BDSM (oh, and painting). More after the jump!

Evan J. Garza, Editor-at-Large

Steven Frost, Successful Tributes, 2011 | Folding chair, acrylic screen printing ink, plastic fringe, pins, yarn, sequins, pleather, 18 x 38 x 6 inches. Courtesy the artist.

EJG: It was great meeting you in Chicago. I was excited to see your thesis show at SAIC. When I walked around that corner, without knowing very much about your work at all, it became really clear that through these materials there was definitely a conversation about painterly devices, painterly characteristics.  Tell me a little about the work on view there.  
SF: Most of it came out of my experience last fall working on a movie project with a filmmaker, and he asked me to design some costumes for a film that he was making. I came across this guy who was a Lucha Libre costume-maker, and I ended up hiring him to make a couple masks for me, and then through having conversations about pleather and spandex. Then I started hiring him to make them for me for fun, and then had this weird collaboration…

After that I started reading more about wrestling, and thinking a little more about that in my work, and also wanting to take a lot of the work I’d been doing that still worked with a language directly coming out of painting. I was thinking more about that element of the spectacle, or the element of being engrossed by the materiality, to make that clearer to the viewer.

That work is really a combination of different kind of aspects of arenas of masculinity and queer action, some of the devices on the wall reference strange kind of BDSM devices or they could reference contemporary language of… devices that also [function as] objects and wall based works that have the potential to be tools…

Steven Frost, Monument for Jorge, 2010 | Lycra, poly-cotton, acrylic screen-print, rope, eyelets, wood, 23 x 78 x 18 inches. Courtesy the artist.

What is it about Lucha Libre culture that you find really formative for your work?
There’s always this discussion around my work, "you use pleather and sequins and these cheap materials, so you’re work must be about elevating these cheap materials." And I think that’s a conversation that I’ve had in the past that I’ve been interested in, but in Lucha culture, the costumes are always made from these sort of… they have all this innate value in them, and they use cheap materials, but within that context they have value.

So I guess I was thinking about, in relation to Lucha culture, engaging with that materiality of the object that has declared value, unapologetic for being cheap; thinking as a strategy. There are all these different kinds of Mariachi wrestlers, and versions of boxers, and all these ways in which cultural icons that get completely cannibalized in Lucha without any apologies for it. That’s something that I’m interested in as a strategy for making work.

Steven Frost, Monument for Eugne Sandow, 2010 | Lycra, poly-cotton, acrylic screenprint, plastic fringe, 23 x 78 x 4 inches. Courtesy the artist.

The thing that is really clear in your work is the sort of “objectness” of each piece, the sculptural quality they each have. Since you’re having a conversation about painterly qualities, are you drawn to painters whose work has a kind of objectness to it?
Yeah, I think that Sterling Ruby is a kind of influence. He’s a painter that makes these objects. I guess the work that I’m drawn to— If you think about the idea of where’s the surface, things that permeate the surface, and things that aren’t surface, as far as painting goes and that sort of conversation.

I’m using paint and using a silkscreen to apply it. The towel, I used a couple layers of undercoat in silver, and an overcoat of gold and using a lot of acrylic painting materials mixed different media… And the chair as well, there’s a lot of paint used to create a lot of texture.

Steven Frost, The Same is True of Man, 2011 | Towel, acrylic screen printing ink, plastic fringe, metal grommets, 17 x 28 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Has there been any response to your thesis show? Have you been offered any opportunities to show?
I have a solo show in July in Nashville at a gallery called COOP, an artist curated space. And then I have a show in September or October at Pleasant Plains Workshop in DC. I think the show in Nashvile is going to be a larger installation based on the work in my thesis show… I think I’m going to stay in Chicago for a few years, but then I think I'll move to L.A.

My partner and I are thinking about doing the same.
That’s what everyone here is talking about. No one’s thinking about moving to New York. Everyone’s like, “Let’s move to L.A.!” ...When I go to New York, the shows I go to in Chelsea, I feel like I'm guaranteed to like that work, and I know who those artists are. I've seen them before, I've read about them. I don't make a lot of discoveries. But when I'm in L.A. and I'm in Culver City, I just feel like the work is much more fucking weird. My boyfriend lives out there, so I go out there a lot. It would be great to be out there.

Steven Frost
's work is currently featured in the Sullivan Galleries at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) as part of the 2011 Thesis Exhibition, on view through May 20.

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