April Street

Artist, LA / Downtown // June 2013
I went through a lot of change in my approach to making art for myself. To be honest, I became confident in my voice again, and when I asked myself, 'What the fuck am I doing this for?'— this work became my answer to that.

There is a simple fact about art that is often forgotten these days— nothing beats the experience of actually standing in front of it, really being there with it. And some art, such as April’s, proves just how stirring a work can be when viewed up close and personal. I can’t remember exactly how, but Klea found April’s work early on in our research for the WESTERN EDGE trip. We oohed and awed while looking at her paintings online, staring at the flesh-like folds of fabric, the rich irregular smudges of color, and the unexpected sense of movement in her work. We wondered about the titles that seemed to tell a whole story in one brief sentence. We talked about the extended outlines of her paintings, and the gravitational push and pull of the fabric. We grew increasingly more excited and curious. We desperately hoped she would say yes to a studio visit. Lucky for us she did… because even as good as April’s work looks on her website, there was no way a computer screen could prepare me for how arresting it is in person. April  was a bit of a surprise, too— based on her work, we had assumed she would be intense, maybe even dramatic. But instead she was giggly, and warm and spoke with an endearing Appalachian drawl. It’s a funny thing when the person behind the work is quite different than what you’d expect because it makes you remember how multifaceted we all are, and how certain aspects of our personalities or thoughts are often obscured or only channeled in distinct, singular ways.

April’s paintings are sculptural in nature, mostly consisting of twisted or draped hosiery fabric stretched and pinned across canvases. Occasionally, recognizable objects are placed under the fabric veils to create purposeful protrusions, and other paintings are sometimes spun into ropes ending in cast bronze knots or tied like nets and arranged to resemble bows and arrows. Almost all of the paintings begin with a performative act that no one is allowed to witness. April wraps herself in hosiery and moves across pools of paint on canvas, creating creases and smears of color while reenacting the positions her body has made while sleeping (which she records.)

The most compelling aspect of April’s work is that it’s fraught with high-stakes emotion. Her palette and draping technique reference the body and bring a physical tension to the work while simultaneously eliciting raw-edged feelings; a secret ache, anxiety, or awe comes creeping in and catches you off guard. A shared vulnerability is created between you and the painting, visceral reactions churn beneath the surface of your composure, and the swathes of smeared colors across the skin-like hosiery somehow resemble the mess of blood, guts, and bone that we all are. Like any other protective layer, the veils of fabric in April’s paintings simultaneously hide and reveal; by deliberately obscuring elements of the work, something very private and personal is both professed and acknowledged. Even if we can’t fully unravel the works’ secrets, we are clued in that they are there.

How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
My current work is about a fictional familial construct within the idea of building a form as a stand in for emotive attachments between the paintings, objects, and a viewer. I invite complications. I make objects of action that acknowledge the identity shifts and role-play that occur when one takes their art from private to public, adapting to another stage.

The idea of labor and the hiding of it to posture oneself as part of a certain class or click is an interesting dilemma. My friend told me once that he wanted to go to the tanning bed before he went back to London in January because people would think he was rich and just got back from holiday. He thought it would also help him pick up a date, I love that… haha. My portraits hide the labor of the canvas painting, alluding to this idea of the individual who dresses herself/himself to blend into a different economic scene, higher or lower, to feed a particular social longing.

What mediums do you work with?
I use hosiery and acrylic paint, bathing suit lining, cast bronze, papier-mâché, and wood to evoke ideas of skin, duration, labor, and adaptation. My process begins with a performative act you aren’t allowed to witness. I wrap myself in hosiery materials to enact a series of body positions (which I record while I sleep) into pools of paint on canvas. The impression made by this act is rinsed away while the paint is still wet and then the memory of the gesture is repainted. The result is intuitive mark making to describe my ideal fantasy of what happened in the original. What begins with a private performance ends with the psychological construction of public portrait. Posturing, social awkwardness, and sexual identity are all tied up in the paintings’ reactions to each other.

We all have these personal histories that we don’t always readily offer to each other, and when you are in public or meet new people you decide how much to give. Similarly my work takes on aspects of the private and public— the initial performative act done behind closed doors creates a history that adds to each piece and it doesn’t matter that a viewer knows the specifics of it. A lot of the time and labor that goes into the work isn’t necessarily made obvious, instead it’s often purposely concealed. My paintings deal with this suspension of disbelief, they extend from eccentric abstraction to explore portraiture through hosiery, paint, and process.

Your draping technique and use of hosiery has been a fairly recent development in your work— what prompted that shift?
A lot of things coincided for me in the lead up to my new work and the hosiery pieces; I had a major personal loss in 2009. Through this period of mourning I was questioning everything around me and eventually I woke up… I went through a lot of change in my approach to making art for myself. To be honest, I became confident in my voice again, and when I asked myself, What the fuck am I doing this for?— this work became my answer to that.

Also during this time, 2011, I had a show Rosamund Felsen Gallery. The paintings in this show brought out a preoccupation I had with proximity of an artist to a work. I was questioning how deep can you get into it like a method actor, and whether through a process you can create an energy that could live inside the work afterwards when the process is over. So here I began to use my body to move paint around the canvas. I wanted this work to be made in this physically difficult and intimate way but look mechanically made, almost photographic. I was also interested in the way I grew up looking at nature up close in the Appalachian Mountains as opposed to seeing it at a distance in the expanse of the West. In the end, this work was really my homage to the light and space movement in LA and Rosamund’s history with LA art. I was especially looking at Paul McCarthy’s early action/Gutai inspired work at that time because of his affiliation with her gallery.

After that show, is when I started diving into the gestures becoming portraits and the relationships that are built between each individual painting as one idea is the offspring of another in the studio. I think of the hosiery as both the author of the gestures but also when I put it back on top of paintings it is like a protective covering that readies the paintings for the public. Using the hosiery as a stand in for skin and also using it and my body as the brushes that make the paint gestures seemed natural and progressed towards the psychologically charged role play I began in my first show with Carter & Citizen, Portraits and Ropes in 2012. The ropes (spun paintings) and mechanisms for defense (gold leaf bow and arrow and nets) came next.

The materials you employ and manipulate hint at the deep intimacy of familial and romantic relationships, but tension is present too— can you tell us more about this interplay?
I began as a sculptor and a figurative painter, I have love/hate relationships with painting and that provides its own kind of tension. I use beauty and romantic attachments in my work because I want to be in that fully, but reality always knifes you just a little…so that is there too. I think a lot about fragility of human bonding.

What are you presently inspired by— are there particular things you are reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
Yvonne Rainer: The Mind is a Muscle by Catherine Wood, I can’t believe I hadn’t already read this.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
I am a studio artist and process based. I go to work everyday there. My dad is a coal miner and my mother a nurse and they gave me a strong work ethic. I would rather work in my studio than be on vacation.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I am really excited about writing a play in collaboration with a friend, but better not get into it yet. Maybe it will come together with my show at Carter & Citizen in January.

Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?
There is such a cultural discontent with the body— why can’t it last, this will make it look better, stop aging, this pill will erase what hurts, this advertisement will make it eat more, that is my image of perfection…I also feel a lot of artists, like myself, are interested right now in labor and craft in opposition to everything being mass manufactured. I don’t want a large disconnect between the maker and the object, I want there to be an intimate exchange between myself, my work, and a viewer.

We all have a common current of economic uncertainty and dissatisfaction with time to deal with, it’s hard to find an individual voice when things seem too large to manage. I feel that when everything around me is chaotic, my own physicality becomes my most important instrument for change.

An exploration and deconstruction of the picture plane, using stand-ins for the body to evoke a psychological marker in time is a common thread with many other artists in LA right now.

Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
Simon Starling, Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Eva Hesse, of course… There are too many LA artists who inspire me and who are also my friends so I won’t get too into that in order not to leave anyone out. I just got turned on to Markus Schinwald‘s leg pieces and I’m in love with those right now.

Although it is probably not obvious in my work, I am influenced by the pictures generation, Jack Goldstein and Sarah Charlesworth. I don’t work with the image in the way they did, but I think that way within the realm of what I am doing with my painting. The ideas of peeling away at an advertisement and the emotional trickery used in them to make us desire, especially the use of sexuality to provoke connections is something I am conscious of in making visual work. In the studio right now with the new armature/skin on skin pieces there are more obvious underlying elements of these tricks. I am interested in the psychological workings of being an artist and dealing with this overwhelming visual culture, just in LA, in this moment. How can I give form to an action and a psychological state that is constantly changing? Imagery moves in and out of us so fast with the Internet… we have that to deal with as image makers.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
At Carter and Citizen my second solo show is set for January 2014.

On June 29th, from 1-5pm I will be drawing in the Monster Drawing Rally; it’s a fundraiser for Outpost@Armory and will be at Armory Center for the Arts.

I also have an upcoming group show, Managing Modality, at Post in LA. Artists I’m showing with include Veronica Duarte, Evan Everest, and Eben Goff. The show is one day only, on July 17, 2013.

To see more of April’s work: