If Van Gogh in his day, had fallen upon the misfortune of losing three of his sketchbooks, likely he would have cut his losses, sulked and moved on. Poor Van Gogh would not have had scans or high-res images of the lost artwork. Nor could he import those images into Photoshop and manipulate them into patterns, change scale, and print on various mediums from paper to fabric. He couldn’t have gone online and reached out to his network with music videos and awesome prizes to raise enough money to paint huge canvases of the images from memory then rent a truck to travel cross country with the re-imaged artwork in tow. Whatever potential for greatness lived in those sketchbooks would have been gone forever. Had Van Gogh lived today he might have seen fame before he passed away.
Much like Mr. Vincent Van Gogh, Issac Arvold refers to himself as a painter in the traditional sense. However, everything about his upcoming show, Second Hand Emotion, opening this weekend at CO Exhibition, suggests that Isaac is much more than a traditional painter. What is most visionary about him is his understanding of the experientality of art. If you follow Isaac on any social media outlet, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, You Tube, or Instagram, etc… you might have already realized that Isaac’s show started months ago. The art of now is undeniably something that happens in time, less a collection of objects and more a memory of events. Documentation is all that remains of a temporary exhibit experience in a world where high paying art buyers are few and far between. Museums are already full of artifacts and technology supports more creative producers than there are collectors. What sets an artist apart in today’s world is their ability to see the possibilities beyond the object they create. Second Hand Emotion suggests that Isaac embraces this idea, but is also incredibly inspired by it.
I chatted with Isaac via Skype, fittingly, a few days before the opening of his show….
I’m friends with you on Facebook and I follow you on Instagram and Twitter. As a result I feel distantly connected to this exhibit that you’ve been working on for the last few months, because you have been continually posting images and bits about your process and journey. Has this been deliberate as a means of getting people interested in your show, or is there more there for you?
Considering how much time people spend on computer screens, the traditional handbill is kind of dead. Technology allows us to create a new handbill. It’s about adapting and changing. I enjoy playing around with it and yes, sometimes it can consume you, but I’m just trying to have fun with it. I think that we live in an age where to it’s hard to convince people to look at something that isn’t moving. We need constant reminders, or maybe that’s just my perception because I forget things all the time. But lately, documentation has become almost as important as the work itself.
So you haven’t been documenting simply to promote the show through social media. In a sense it’s served as an outlet for sharing bits of your documentation as you keep an ongoing record of your progress?
Yea, if I am going to do this much work, I’m going to want this documentation in 5 years, I might want it in 2 years. You just never know what avenues it can lead to. I already know I want my next exploration to involve making weird art videos etc… to see how far I can take an idea through video. But, at the same time I’ll admit I am probably over-documenting things because I lost my sketchbooks and I’m probably over-sensitive. Maybe I’m paranoid? I might just be that too, who knows.
There is certainly some validation in sharing content online. It feels comforting to put something out to the social media universe and not only get feedback but preserve it somehow in cyberspace. Are you affected by the reactions to bits that you’ve shared about your yet to be completed exhibit?
To certain things, yes and some things, no. I made four short video clips leading up to the show. Some of them had a couple hundred views and some of them had 50 views. I could care less if anyone sees them or not. I think its fun to play around and not be bound by anything…
Of course it’s fun in theory… but artists are sensitive people. Let’s say you post an image of a work in progress and you don’t get any “likes” or positive feedback. How much does putting yourself out there affect your confidence as an artist?
Not at all. Like any artist I get self-conscious or worry about how things are going to be perceived, but then I come to the conclusion that I’m just going to do me, and that’s okay. I want people to have a good time. I want people to come and look at art. Of course, the end goal is to sell it and I would love for this to be my full time job but really, I just want people to be interested in seeing it. I haven’t shown art in 2 years and I feel like despite a lot of traveling and moving, it’s still me but I’ve grown and changed. I’m excited to share it.
Let’s get to the sketchbooks…. which is where this all started. Tell me what was in the infamous lost sketchbooks.
One of the books I brought on every single tour that I did with Rhymesayers. A majority of those tours were with Atmosphere and Brother Ali. I filled that book with sketches during my downtime. Sitting and drawing on the road, a lot of fun stuff came out. The other 2 sketchbooks were from when I moved to New York. A lot of the material had to do with ending my relationship of 6 years, which resulted in drawing real things. All three of the books were no bullshit sketchbooks. There were no doodles in between…. every page was a well thought-out, completed piece. No erased edges or unfinished drawings, they were like picture books front to back, fully finished.
Three precious books filled with the visual journal of your life’s trials and tribulations. Sounds valuable… how did they end up getting lost?
I got home one day in NYC after hanging out with this new girl at the dog park, and they were gone. Basically, I must have left my bag with the books on the side of the road or the top of the cab when I put some paper down for my dog to sit on in the car. It was crazy, it happened so fast. They were just gone.
But luckily, you somehow had the books documented. What did that entail? Scans? Images? Why did you document them to begin with?
I’ve always documented my work. On my YouTube page, I have time lapse videos posted since 2006. I’ve always been into sharing the process of creation. After finishing a painting I always take a photo of it. With regard to my sketchbooks, I had just bought a new camera and happened to snapshot all of the pages instead of scanning them in. The experience of losing the books has confirmed the need for it. Now I’m faced with how far I take it without being neurotic and crazy about it. Does everything need to be documented? What needs to go out there into the universe and what is just documented for my sake?
So we’re full circle back at social media and sharing content online. What’s becoming clear to me is that your exhibit is really not just about the end product. It’s been about the journey and about the process and really, your “showing” of this work has been ongoing and will culminate in an exhibit in a gallery. So when how did the content of the books lead to the idea for a gallery show?
I had no intentions of doing anything with the sketchbook drawings until they were lost. I was so bummed out. I didn’t go to the studio for a month because I was so down about it. It was stupid, now that I look back on it. People lose shit all the time.
I sense a turning point coming on…
It was sad and I was a bum for a month, so I definitely took my time but eventually I was like…. life is still good. You’re not that tortured. I felt inspired to do something since in reality I didn’t lose it completely, I had it documented.
It makes me think of the classic saying: “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” right? Essentially what was just sketchbooks, when lost, revealed their potential to be something more. So why did you decide to do something with it in Minneapolis instead of New York?
I would love to show it in New York but I wanted to have this be a catalyst and an example of what’s possible. In Minneapolis, I am blessed with a network of amazing people that support me, and friends who are talented. In Minneapolis, people gather around to bring each other up, so it seemed like the right place for this to happen.
You definitely reached out to your network to make this happen, how did it all end up coming together…. from the Kickstarter campaign to raise money to bringing in various collaborative aspects of the show.
Everything came down to the cost of renting a truck and getting things made and printed. Kickstarter seemed like a viable way to make it happen and I had a network of people who were willing to put it out in the universe and see what would happen.
It constantly evolved and progressed. I didn’t set out originally to make video installations and custom shoes and everything else that it became. I said I wanted to make something out of this work and then one thing led to another. I thought one of the designs might make a really cool fabric. My sister happens to do upholstery work and she got a couch from a Minneapolis public school auction from an old teacher’s lounge. So we got fabric made to upholster the couch. Crystal Quinn and Luisa Fernanda Garcia-Gomez are doing some incredible things with custom shoes, so I asked if they would be interested in a collaboration using the leftover fabric. I also have my sister and Nicole Mills-Novoa creating cupcakes that have my illustrations on the frosting.
It sounds like you set no boundaries, people can see, feel and even eat your art. The process of resurrecting the sketchbooks has really become a catalyst for creativity and collaboration in various forms.
Yea, my roommate Maria Juranic filled and edited the videos with me, and BK1, Nick Collis, and Eric Anderson gave me original music. Marijuana Deathsquads also contributed some music. It’s awesome to come back to a network of people who are willing to help out. Why not celebrate each other’s talents? Everyone I’ve asked to contribute, I respect in realms even outside art. I want work with them so why be bound by limitations? If I have an idea why not try to make it be feasible instead of just thinking, “that would be cool.” We live in a time where if you can think it, you can do it. This show has inspired so many ideas about how I can make more art. Being an artist is about finding ways to evolve and push forward. I’m not the same person I was 5 years ago and I hope that my art evolves because I have as an individual.
It’s apparent to me that your art has aesthetically evolved. Especially with this exhibit, I can see a new flavor in your work… a bit subdued, maybe darker but it still carries your playful lightness. There’s certainly a heavier weight, where is this coming from?
Touring has been one of the greatest experiences of my life but I lost a little bit of my rhythm with making art because I’d be gone for a month or two and then home for a month. Moving to NYC also changed my rhythm, I was out of a studio space for a year, which hadn’t happened to me in 10 years. Once I got in a space, my relationship ended. I finally decided to settle down and not worry about anything but making art and that’s when it all started to come out. There’s always been a dark side to my art and I see myself as a kid, so those elements are still in the illustrative base of my art. But with this batch there’s been life changes and growing up. I don’t know, maybe the heaviness is just because I’m a sad person on the inside. Maybe sometimes the feelings inside hurt the other feelings inside. I’m not sure.
Having all that work in front of you at CO right now as a complete body of work, how do you feel about it, does it feel true to where you are as an artist?
I could work on these paintings for another year, but I think that happens with any painter, you just continue to find those picky details. It is nice to come to a spot where you can stop. I’m happy with it. I have 54 paintings. Two of them are 6x8 ft and a completely different style, more detailed and colorful. Two are 4x8 ft and there are 48 smaller paintings. There is also installation, we built a shanty-town tattoo booth with some voyeur holes where Jon and Zack from Uptown Tattoo will be doing free tattoos at the opening. I masonited one of the walls so I could do some more on-site painting. But, as far as the body of work, I’m proud of it. I can find flaws and look for things I would change, but you always do that as an artist.
The final exhibit includes various mediums, large scale and small scale work, fabrics, installations, collaborations, cupcakes, videos, tattoo artists, etc. In recreating the content from the sketchbooks you’ve created a whole inspired empire. Do you think that losing the notebooks in some way has given you this freedom to explore?
Losing the sketchbooks was the best thing ever. It got me out of a rut. It put me in the mindset of ‘just make more… you can always make more.’ The funny thing is that now I’m hoping to lose it again. I hope that I can get rid of it, ironic because I was so devastated the first time that I needed to recreate it. Now I’m recreating it to lose it again…. because hopefully it sells, and of course it will eventually be de-installed. Once it is all done, I’ll be left again with just documentation.
I’m sure summing this whole journey up into a title had to be tough. What inspired the title “Second Hand Emotion”?
Initially I came in to CO and told Wes, Kate, Joe and everybody that as cheesy as it sounds I was thinking about calling it “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” It was a bit obvious though, having to do with the love of traveling, the love from relationships, losing the sketchbooks. So Wes suggested the second line of that song, “what’s love but a second hand emotion.” Second Hand Emotion had a nice ring, fitting since it’s the second time I’m recreating these drawings. It’s about resurrecting them, about relationships, new beginnings and a second breath of air for all of this work. And if you take the acronym: S.H.E. it’s perfect because a lot of this came from “she”…in terms of my ex.
You’re two days away from opening a rather ambitious show what will go down as “Isaac Arvold: Second Hand Emotion.” Are you feeling ready for it?
When you say 2 days I get freaked out but it’ll come together. Basically everything is ready to go despite a lot of moving parts, everything seems to be falling into place.
You seem to be handling a high-pressure producer/promoter/curator/artist role well.
You should see me when I try to sleep.
Are you getting any sleep?
I go through waves. It’s hard to turn off my brain. I have notes everywhere and I keep thinking this would be a good idea… or next time I should do this or that. When do you quit? When do you turn off? I forgot to email someone something….
It’s all awesome though. I’m embracing it and feeling like a lucky guy.
Second Hand Emotion opens at CO Exhibitions on April 21 at 7pm. Show runs through May 20th.