Greely Myatt | Interview & Studio Visit
What do you think about the term “Southern Art”?
GM: I don’t think about that term until I hear someone else say it and then it depends on the context. Without a context I don’t know how to think of it. But generally I think it is a way to frame art made in the Southern United States. Of course, at this point in history art made in the South is varied. However sometimes there is an expected subject matter or style. It’s OK when used to locate work, but sometimes it seems to be condescending. You know a bit slow and stupid.
Having said that, I am an artist that lives and works in the Southern US and my work has been influenced by my life experiences, so “the Southern” has played a role in the development of my work. But so have Arte Povera and Post-Minimal work, neither of which are thought of as “Southern Art”.
I live in a global village, as do all artists today. We have Internet and mail and television and jet airplanes that allow us to experience all kinds of stimuli.
You have been making quilts for a long time now. Has your thinking about their relationship to Southern culture shifted over the years?
GM: I guess the short answer is no, I have never thought that quilts were distinctly Southern. Quilts come from all over the world. I should also say that my use of quilts grew out of a desire to use some small pieces of wood that had been left from a project. I realized that I could enliven a surface with patterns made of small pieces. Of course this is how quilts are made and it then made sense to research quilt patterns for a variety of patterns. My initial intention was not to make a quilt. These patterns can also be found on floors of palaces, government buildings or other institutions around the world. My thinking about quilts has changed as I have continued to use patterns derived from traditional quilts, and I have made pieces that have direct references to quilts. Never limited to the South though.
Do you think about them in relationship to domesticity?
GM: Somewhat, but as I say my initial intention was not to make a quilt. The subsequent research, lead me to see the domesticity aspects of quilts as well as rugs, tablecloths, washboards, furniture and numerous other objects that I have incorporated in my work.
You have said in the past that your process for
putting together a show begins with the title. Can you talk about the title WhatNots (and gewgaws)?
GM: The titles are always important in my work, be it individual pieces, or entire shows. This particular title came from a piece I was working on and was then expanded from there to address a variety of objects that make up the show. I also wanted to poke a little fun at how pretentious we get with art.
Your last show at David Lusk Gallery Nashville felt entirely different from WhatNots (and gegaws). The main thing that jumps out is the absence of your signature speech bubble. Can you talk about the shift from that show to this one, and your transition away from the speech bubble?
GM: Well I don’t like making the same things over and over, even though I do like to take something and flip it as many ways as possible. With the speech bubbles, I had worked with them for a while and had shown them extensively. In fact a show of them will open next week in Atlanta at Sandler Hudson Gallery. So they are not gone, just none in this show. The pieces in this show are somewhat of a return to earlier work and in fact some of these pieces were made concurrently with the speech bubbles. I want to keep the work changing so that I don’t get predictable.
I am intrigued by the dark nature of the light bulbs in this show. Light bulbs have long been a part of your work. Why did you choose to move away from light in this piece?
GM: The first use of the light bulbs grew out of an interest in some of Phillip Guston’s late work. They were kind of dumb objects and never reached their goal of actually illuminating anything. Most of my light bulb pieces were carved of wood or stone, some were cast in bronze – all materials that are dense and solid. Most did not incorporate actual light. In fact part of my interest was that they did not function as providers of light, but cast shadows. The exceptions were the Shades, which used actual bulbs – burned out ones servied as shades for one “good” bulb.