Interview: Paul Chatem

Back in May I reviewed Paul Chatem’s latest solo show “Island of the Colorblind”, and ever since then I had the plan to interview Paul and get a deeper look into his working process, what inspires him, and how he deal with being colorblind. Of course it took a lot longer than I thought to get this interview going, but luckily for me Samantha Levin came to rescue and helped out with the interview, coming up with some great questions and acquiring the images you see below. So this is the very first dual-interview here on the Creep Machine, and I think it worked out very well. Perhaps we will see more in the future. Make sure to click the “read more” for the full interview.

Creep: In order to create this latest series of interactive works, you learned an entirely new skill: clock making. This has given your works an extremely unique element to them, and added audience participation. Did you have any other ideas to create interactivity aside from the clock style works of art?

Paul Chatem: I’ve read a bit about clock making as well as gear ratios. Clock making is more complicated than what I’m doing. I’m just using the basics of gears or cogs to create a kinetic aspect to my paintings. At this point the movement in the gears has been pretty simple, there’s still a lot of things I need to learn so I can take it to the next level.

Samantha Levin: You’ve only just started showing these clockwork paintings in 2010.  How long have you been contemplating this phase of your work?

Paul: The idea started showing up in my sketchbooks around 2001 but I didn’t have the tools or the skills to execute them until 2009. In that time I worked many different jobs making props and sets for movies and television where I learned varied skills which I’ve been trying to include into my work.

Creep: The idea of encouraging the patrons to participate and interact with the works is unique, and I hope it catches on even more, What was your goal in having the viewers become an active participant?

Paul: The art scene has gotten really crowded over the years. I started to feel jaded about the whole thing, going to art shows where hardly anyone spent more than a couple of seconds looking at the art. I wanted to do something that drew people in and made them want to spend time in front of my work.

Creep:Over time your works have become more energetic and random with the textures and brushwork. The beautiful line-work is still there, but now there is this amazing texture that dances through the works. What has helped to create this slight change in style, and will we see more of a change in texture?

Paul: The construction aspect of the gear pieces dictated the change in painting style.There were certain techniques that I used to use that don’t work with the limitations of the frame and the gear axles. Along with that, I try to approach every show with a fresh eye. Some shows were based on sketches and  narratives figured out before any painting happened, others evolved completely organically, building panels and putting paint down without any preconception. I’m sure things will keep changing. I don’t want people to know exactly what to expect when they go to one of my exhibitions other than that I’m going to present the best I can with the time, money and energy that I have.

Samantha: I love your use of Ishihara colorblind plates!  They are oddly playful additions to your work, but also very curious since you happen to be color blind. I assume you can’t actually see the color variations in these elements of your own artworks.  Can you talk a bit about the methods you use to achieve color and the meaning the color plates hold in your work?

Paul: I’m Red/Green colorblind, so certain colors become difficult to distinguish from each other. I remember seeing the Ishihara colorblind plates from childhood. With this last show I really wanted to push my color use outside of my comfort zone, so to address my own color perception seemed like an obvious approach. While painting my versions of the plates I mixed up two different colors on my palette that were the same value, painted a number or symbol on a neutral background than filled in the rest of the field with the other color. In the end I couldn’t see what I painted first.

Creep: In your last two solo shows, you displayed ink drawings along with the paintings. Is drawing and sketching a regular part of your working process, and will this be a regular addition to your shows?

Paul: Drawing is the most important thing in my art. I may or may not keep exhibiting ink work, but you can see the importance of it in the line work in my paintings. When I first started to take art seriously it was all about black and white ink work. Painting was difficult for me because I lacked the confidence with my color choices, but when I got over those insecurities painting became a lot more freeing than the limitations of lines on paper. I will definitely always work on ink  drawings whether people buy it or not.

Samantha: Your work documents the lives of the human underbelly:  The underprivileged, the down and out and the underground.  While your bio states you grew up witnessing the gap between the rich and the poor, what sent your interests away from the wealthy side of life?

Paul: There’s a lot to that but some of the key points are: I grew up in a suburban community in between a wealthy town and a town with a seedy history. Like many creative people I grew up feeling like an outcast. I spent more time hiking around the hills over my house than I did socializing with other kids. In those hills I discovered ruins of old hunting cabins, sanitariums and mines. This made me curious about why things disappear. As I got older and my exploring took me to Hollywood and Downtown to seedy punk rock clubs, I witnessed a lot of depravity and social unrest. I was a senior in High School when the LA riots happened and that really brought out the worst in people on both sides. I’ve spent a lot of time with people from both sides of the track as more of a witness that a participant and the stories I’ve heard and read have lead me to tell the stories I do.

Samantha: Tell me more about hobo culture.  Have you ever hopped on a train yourself?  If not, would you?

Paul: I’ve never hopped a train myself, that’s “illegal”. My interest in Hobo culture started with old country and blues songs. Specifically stories and songs from the depression. While I was going to college in Kansas City I met people that rode trains to go from town to town for fun.  When I moved back to Los Angeles I met a lot of homeless kids who would ride the train from the Northwest to Southern California for the winter. Over the years I’ve stayed friends with several people who use trains as a way to get around.

Samantha: What are your ambitions for your work?  What do you dream of doing with it?

Paul: I just want to keep evolving as a painter as well as a wood worker. I’m hoping to have the opportunity to make larger more complicated work. We’ll see what happens.

Creep: When we talked at your last show, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be surprised to see that you have pushed the interactivity to the level that allows you to move the gallery around the patrons. Can you give us a hint as to what the future will hold for your works?

Paul: Coming up next is a two man show entitled “Oil and Water” with Mike Davis at the C.A.V.E. Gallery, October 14, 2011. Then I’m planning another show at The Shooting Gallery in April, 2012 as well as a solo show in Hamburg Germany at the Feinkunst Krueger Gallery later that year. I’ve been working more spontaneous lately, trying to let things evolve naturally. I’m going to try to make my mechanical paintings more complicated as well as work on some more detailed flat paintings and ink drawings. It all depends on time, money and energy. I’m going to keep trying to do the best I can with every opportunity that is given to me.

Thanks to Paul for taking the time to answer these questions, and thanks to Samantha Levin for teaming up with me and making sure this interview actually happened.
For more of Paul’s work head on over to his homepage

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