Hello! This is Jackson and welcome to the 24th interview for my interview blog, 3 Art Questions With Jackson. This interview is different because it is the first time I have interviewed a man. And it's Russ White! He's great! I love his art and he has been very nice to me, he came to an opening for a show I had at Frameworks Gallery with Susan Solomon. I hope you like the interview! Thank you for reading!
Jackson: How did you decide that you wanted to be an artist? What inspired you?
Russ: I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I had a big gallon-sized ziplock bag full of markers and pencils and pens that I would bring with me on family trips — never left home without my “drawing stuff.” I was inspired by comic books especially, first Ninja Turtles and superheroes, later the weirder stuff like Dan Clowes and Evan Dorkin. In high school I was inspired by punk and hip hop albums and started making collages nonstop, cutting up local newspapers and old National Geographics (which I also brought along on family vacations). In college I got really into found object sculpture and fell in love with making things in a woodshop. Once I started working in an actual woodshop after college, standing on a concrete floor over a tablesaw seemed less fun after a while, so I got back into drawing. Full circle. So I guess I never decided to be an artist, it’s just always been a part of my life. Going full-time with an art career, in addition to other freelance work, was a whole other calculation, based on the blind faith that if other people could make an art career work, surely I could figure it out, too. Plus Minnesota is a great place to find an audience and a funding infrastructure. And my wife kicked me in the butt and told me to go for it.
Jackson: I really like how you make different kinds of art. How do you get your ideas?
Russ: Thanks! I try to find the medium that best represents each idea. Sometimes an image works best as a drawing, other times it could be a sculpture or a screenprint or a photograph. I’ve collected a lot of skills in all the oddjobs I’ve worked over the years, and it’s fun getting to put so many to use.
But as for where the ideas come from, that’s one of my favorite questions. The short answer is “my brain” or “current events” or something like that. But the long answer is that creative people have both a muscle and an antenna for ideas, and they work together. There’s a great book by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic, in which she talks about ideas as these things that float around, looking for an antenna, and if you get an idea but don’t use it, eventually it will move on to someone else. She started writing a novel once, a love story set in the Amazon, but eventually she abandoned it. A year later, in a chance meeting with another writer, she found out that person was working on a new novel: a love story set in the Amazon.
I’ve had that happen several times as well, where ideas I’ve had but not worked on or developed have shown up in other people’s work. Maybe it’s a shared visual culture inspiring great minds to think alike, I don’t know. But sometimes an idea will just arrive, show up out of nowhere almost fully formed, like you just picked up a signal on your antenna.
Most of the time it’s more like a wrestling match. The ideas usually come from practice, from working that muscle of thinking a certain way, of drawing a certain way, of following a train of thought over a long period of time. I also think the stronger your muscle, the higher your antenna will go. Chuck Close famously said, “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up to work.” He’s right, it really is about putting in the hours. But I also like what Maynard from Tool had to say: “If you don’t believe in magic, your artwork probably sucks.”
Jackson: If you could meet any artist living or dead, who would it be and why?
Russ: Oh, that’s a tough one. So many great artists out there. I’m tempted to say Marcel Duchamp because he changed the course of art forever, more so than anyone in the 20th century. Or maybe Lee Bontecou, one of my favorite sculptors, who walked away from her career when the galleries didn’t respect her new direction. One time in college I almost got to meet Winston Smith, the punk collage artist for the Dead Kennedys, but I was too nervous at the time to meet one of my heroes. I think I’ll say Philip Guston, just because I love his work and I bet he was a lot of fun to hang out with, which is really my main criterion.