Cabin fever hits especially hard when the sun’s shining and the birds are out there rubbing it in. Are we the only ones weirdly relieved when it’s raining these days? FOMO is just one of the many emotions we’re experiencing, but we’re working on ways around it. For instance, since the usual spring exhibition openings and art shows are on pause, we’re sniffing out alternative ways to transport ourselves in the company of cool art. (Keep an eye on our evolving guide to Armchair Art Appreciation.) Today, let’s take you on an artist-led journey that doesn’t require 6 feet of distance: an NYC studio tour with painter, collagist and curator William Crump.
It’s clear from the pics that Crump keeps an impressively tidy work space—good motivation for your WFH arrangement. There’s also a confident embrace of color at play. Crump’s not one to shy away from clashing, unusual, or counterintuitive color relationships, as you might have guessed looking at his 20x200 editions. The abstract paintings on display in these photos, for instance, are complexly layered in dense swirls, streaks, and dabs of color against inky black. Small, but intensely rich canvases in various stages of completion. (We spy the original Sorcerer!) Another takeaway from his studio tour? Surround yourself with books that feed your creativity.
Then of course we got Crump’s feedback on a flurry of questions. Among the subjects covered: practicing patience with the creative process, and the power he sees in painting as an inexhaustible source of inspiration. (Both potentially pertinent in our isolated present!) And there’s also talk of “that one pair of paint-splattered jeans” most painters have, and the reggae music that’s on heavy rotation while he’s in work mode. Get a taste of his Q+A below. — Team 20x200
Where's your studio?
I currently have a live/work space in Gramercy near Union Sq. After some changes last year I’ve settled in and begun to make new work again. The light in this space is just right. Over the years I seem to have grown used to living and working in the same space. There can be limitations to that as well. Lately, I’ve been feeling the pull to paint in oils again and also needing to scale up in my work. There are things I love and appreciate about painting in acrylic and gouache, however, there is a quality that is unique to oils that is hard to replicate in other mediums.
What's your favorite tool in the studio?
There are a few tools that I apply to my paintings each time. Some techniques require specific methods, mediums or brushes. Sometimes it’s just patience and gravity. I use different widths of pallet knives in making these works. I like to let the paint sit on the surface and I play with the drying time before altering or displacing the direction of the paint. Mainly that happens by letting it drip and flow against the knife. During that process I will cut through in the opposing direction, often pushing and pulling the paint until I get what I want.
What do you wear when working in the studio?
Like most other painters I have that one pair of paint-splattered jeans that I’ve come to think of as my uniform. An old pair of vans and a t-shirt too.
What's on your in-studio playlist?
Studio One Reggae is always in heavy rotation. Strauss, WQXR is on when I just want something in the background. Miles Davis and others at night. I tend to stay away from podcasts and audiobooks now while working. I’ve learned to avoid distractions and I do my best to focus on what’s in front of me, but music is a necessity.
What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
In the mornings I step out and clear my head before sitting down to create. I usually walk out and get a coffee and think about my approach to the work I want to make that day. It’s also beneficial for me to look at work that inspires me. Some sort of ritual in it. I spoke to a friend about this process and it is something like refilling the well. This way of starting works best for me. Kind of like building momentum.
What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
Slow and steady. No other way. My painting can be immediate in its energy and process, but I still take my time and have to find infinite patience to get what I want. For every piece that works there are countless times I scrape off the paint and start over. I find working at night is best. There is a rhythm and pace to it that allows me to give over to the process and not be worried about finishing to rush off somewhere.
You've worked extensively in both collage and painting. Are there particular media or materials you're eager to explore more?
That’s a good question. I’m not certain of the answer. For the most part, I’ve already explored a lot of different mediums and I always come back to painting. It is the most challenging yet satisfying medium to work in. Over the years, it changes as I change. There is always something new to discover. Making collage has been rewarding too. It takes time and has its boundaries, but it can be surprising in the way it comes together. Recently, I’ve started to work in collage after setting it down for a time. I’m approaching it with fresh eyes again.
Right now I’m working on a project for a friend who is starting a company called Stable West (stablewest.com). It’s an equestrian line and their branding is centered around the spirit of the horse. Their vision is to rethink and revisit the way that equestrian culture looks and feels. I’m happy to have some small part in it and it has motivated me to open myself up again to that medium.
What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
It sounds funny, but procrastination can also be a healthy part of the creative process in my case. It’s something like a way of circling things before they begin. I go around and around it, I hover over my work and build up my energy and drive well before I dive in and start. The trick is to not talk myself out of it. That is the time to mentally commit and open my mind to the work and where I want it to go.
Whens, Hows & Whys
When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how’d you get there?
That’s just something I’ve always known. There was never a time when that wasn’t the case. There is no road map for it when you are young. Over time I learned there is an idea about being an artist that is basically a myth. Living and surviving as an artist in this city is an immense challenge. There is no one right way to do so. I think along the way I learned that it is about the work. Not ego or fame or money. None of that matters. Just commit to your practice and to moving your work forward. Trends, successes, failures will all come and go, but through it all keep working and taking risks. In the end that is what matters to me.
How do you get over creative blocks?
There was a little while over this past year where I didn’t have a block, but rather I didn’t feel any joy in making work and so I stepped back from making anything. It took some time for that to pass and for that desire to return. I’d never experienced that before so I had to just accept it. It finally gave way to a stronger sense of self and a new determination. When a creative block does occur I find that in some ways just starting small can change that. For example, prepping the panels I paint on, choosing the color palette I want to use or setting it all out in front of me and sitting with it. Reminding myself that those pieces won’t make themselves and to dig deep and get busy.
Like most artists, inspiration helps. I’ve been looking at the Nabis painters, Bonnard, Vuillard, etc. Light, color, space, nature was all at play in those paintings, blending what was real and imagined. I find that inspiring. Talking to friends, going to galleries, openings, and museums are always helpful in overcoming a block. It is beneficial to have a broader perspective of art and history too. Looking through the lens of art history I’m able to step back from any sort of neurosis and concerns about my place in the art world. This allows me to just make something and be true to what interests me.
What do you like best about 20x200?
I think 20x200 appeals to me in a way other sites that sell art don’t because Jen has built a model on making work affordable and inclusive. When I buy something from 20x200 I know that the artist will benefit, but I also keep in mind that this site is doing what it set out to do, which is to bridge artists and collectors. It doesn’t belong to any one group of collectors or one art scene. The site features a wide variety of viewpoints. I feel lucky to be a part of it and to be able to collect from here too. The quality and care that goes into these pieces is apparent when you see the prints.
Which artists' 20x200 collections do you most covet (and why)?
My favorite piece is my Cecily Brown print. It’s no longer available, but I am thrilled to have it. I bought both Lawrence Weiner prints too. Some favorite standouts include Jennifer Sanchez, Negar Ahkami, Laura Plageman, Sean Greene, Sakai Hoitsu, Ian Baguskas, Donald Pettit, Lindsey Warren, Gary Petersen, Kojima zu, Marcy Palmer, E.A. Séguy, Jack Delano, Rachel Ruysch, and Taca Zhijie Sui among others.
Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space?
An artist needs a space of their own so that you can allow for creativity to flow, ideas to form, a place to just be. Triumphs and failures are all a part of it. Let that happen. Don’t let anything be so precious that it stops you from trying. Isolation in a studio is healthy for creation but can lead to frustration and doubt too. Learn that it’s okay to let people in and to make room for critiques (not criticism) from your fellow artists. This is something that ultimately strengthens your process if you are willing to listen. When I would paint with my daughter in the same room I thought I’d never get used to it. She would always want to be sitting on my lap and taking over. It was a wonderful and frustrating adventure at the time, and I learned that I could paint and have her nearby. It took some mental fortitude, but in the end, it taught me that I could work without being completely isolated. A designated space/studio is paramount. Don’t feel selfish for needing that. Just remember that you already are an artist. You don’t need to wear different hats. You can be all of the things you are at once. Accepting that will take some of the pressure off in the studio and in life.
The 411 on William Crump
William Crump received his BFA from Ringling School of Art and Design in 1994. He currently lives and works in New York. In 2014 he joined TSA Gallery in Brooklyn, which serves as curatorial platform for artists. He is currently represented by Station Independent Projects in New York. In 2014 William was selected for The Artist Pension Trust. His work has been exhibited throughout the US and Europe. Forthcoming curatorial projects will be held at TSA Gallery in Brooklyn and Station Independent Projects in New York.