Today we share an interview with Andy Moore, one of six artists that make up the exhibtion The Tip of My Tongue, on view at Weinberg/Newton Gallery from January 26 - March 17, 2018.
The Tip of My Tongue is organized in partnership with the Chicago Literacy Alliance and aims to draw out the complexities of language as a tool not only for communication but also for connection, discovery, and growth. This group exhibition takes an expansive approach to the theme of literacy as it explores the many issues caught up in the web of words we each navigate, from notions of identity and belonging, to autonomy and self-expression. Through sound, color, book arts, and text, this group of works by six Chicago-based artists provides access points to a multiplicity of voices, ideas, viewpoints, and conversations.
ICANNOTWIN, 2014-2018, Clay, acrylic paint, pen, correction tape, aluminum foil, pre-fabricated blank book
Weinberg/Newton Gallery: Can you tell us about your creative process? You’ve mentioned that you conduct your studio practice on the on the train (specifically the Purple/Red lines). I’m fascinated by this. What is it about this environment that puts you into your artistic headspace?
Andy Moore: It is a horrible place to work! The jostling and lack of privacy require constant work-arounds. But I am in a relationship and we have kids…we require a lot of time together to stay close. I don’t know how I’d do it if I was off secluded in a traditional studio. I hate imagining myself hunched over, shielding the book from people’s eyes, furiously cross-hatching, but my objective is to make art books to the best of my ability. It is more important than my ego. Maybe it is more accurate to say I give up some short-term ego goals like being seen as a balanced, solid human being, for that one long term ego goal.
WNG: How did you come to start working with the book as a form?
AM: I began making books with the idea that I could reach people within my class, via a mass production model. I guess I am lower middle class. Anyway, I was inspired by things like zines, graphic novels, and free newspapers. So far, I have failed at that original goal as I have been making one-of-a-kind objects. They are sculptures and paintings as much as books, but that was the basic idea and it set me off on this trajectory. Book art was also extremely attractive to me because it was practical. I can take a book just about anywhere, work on it just about anywhere. And I am a hybrid writer/artist. The book form was not all that much of a leap.
Snowflake, 2013-2018, Ink wash, pen correction tape, acrylic paint, cotton balls, glue, paper towel, canvas, pre-fabricated blank books
WNG: In researching your work I kept coming back to this concept of cognitive literacy, which I interpreted as a desire to reach a profound level of self-understanding through critical introspection. Can you talk about the element of selfhood in your books?
AM: When I began the first book, John’s Luv, I was very conscious that I could not conceive a story that was not already present in the world. Even the ideologies that seemed central to my identity at that time were uncomfortably close to an act of convenience. Who I thought I was in some way depended upon chance. Who I met, which ideas I was introduced to, were all beyond my control. One thing that seemed solid was my attraction to art whose purported purpose was to uncover aspects of the subconscious. And also, certain kinds of abstraction that I felt gave form to inchoate aspects of experience. It was easy to decide to make this my artistic aim as well. The best thing about it is that there was always a surprise at the end. I was thrilled when something was made plain in the deep sense. I was always free to choose any art strategy or style as long as it helped me in these tiny incremental revelations. Most of all it gave me license to be intensely introspective. It seemed reasonable to assume most everything branched from one’s psyche. One’s experience of gender, race, sexuality, class, etc. One’s politics. And I found as I went along it was harder to fool myself. Harder to be fueled by destructive energy...I mean, in general. I am still very capable of being thoughtless and give in to assumptions. Still, I am more alert. I came into this world swimming in my community’s belief systems. It is near impossible to not internalize things, some good, some awful. So, the books presented an opportunity to go through it all with a fine-tooth comb.
WNG: The visuals described (either through drawing or text) are often very mundane, relatable, everyday experiences -- dissonance with a boss, poor communication with a partner, the weight of parenthood, etc. What motivates you to dive further into these kinds of subjects?
AM: My hope is that I will connect with a reader through our shared experience of the mundane. My experiences are almost all mundane, so it would be dishonest to try to exclude it. I try to respect it by basing many of my stories in it. Sometimes I feel despair at how unremarkable my experience is, but I also suspect a great deal of foolishness can come about in trying to escape from it. Existence itself is profound and to my mind does not need dressing up. It's just our ability to reconigze it as such that needs to be sharpened. Simply sitting with someone and being present is the foundation for meaning, at least as I conceive it. Finding someone who will stay with you when you have a real conflict is an almost unimaginable gift, and also, I guess, pretty mundane. Maybe art is my alchemic effort to turn the leaden experience of standing in line at Jewel/Osco, with my half n half and my english muffins, into a golden one.
John's Luv, 2003-2018, Fabric, wood, watercolor, marker, pen, correction tape, enamel, black paper, acrylic paint, pre-fabricated blank book
WNG: Whether the stories depicted in the work are directly drawn from real life or not, the journalistic quality gives us, the viewers, a sense of voyeuristic titillation. How would you say you utilize this vulnerability in your work?
AM: This question stimulated my defenses initially, so I guess it was a good question to ask me, I might not have enough time in this interview to arrive at a satisfactory answer, so I want to state this all is provisional. For whatever reason I think my art should function without regard to power. I should not be making political calculations, choosing which stories to pick-up or put down based on how they position me in terms of power dynamics. I guess politics can’t be completely escaped, so I should probably revise that by saying I want to avoid the pursuit of short-term political safety to the sacrifice of truth, specifically the truth of my vulnerability. The vulnerable aspect of my experience undeniably holds a lot of power. It animates much of my story telling. Maybe my sense of vulnerability uncomfortably relates to the male identity I’ve cobbled together, and so as a result, I am stuck ruminating. Like I am trying to figure it all out on the page. Maybe it is broader than that. It seems there is a strong cultural resistance to feelings of vulnerability that goes beyond gender constructions. People seem to go to great lengths to avoid occupying those feeling states. Admitting they exist...vulnerability and weakness kind of collapse into one another as concepts. It is a disease, a virus. But it could be a mistake to concentrate on its presence in my work. As if it was something specific to my work and not a more a general reality of existence, something we all share. It is too easy to then isolate the books and cast them off as irrelevant. Like I was imposing my neurosis upon the reader. Maybe it is the master who avoids feelings of vulnerability by a series of switches and substitutions, leaving others to carry the burden.
It could also be that honesty holds the more prominent role in my motivations and vulnerability is just a byproduct of that honesty. After all, I explore more than vulnerability in my books. But maybe honesty is not the primary thing either, but itself a byproduct of some other drive. Maybe I want a real understanding of myself and see honesty as a necessary tool in the acquisition of self-knowledge. I want some understanding of this life, and to some degree a bit of context, cosmic or otherwise...
Baker College Prep students viewing John's Luv during a workshop at Weinberg/Newton Gallery
WNG: You’ve worked on some of these books over the course of many years. John’s Luv, for example took about 15 years to become what it is now. What is it like to spend so much time with one piece? How does your perception of it change over time?
AM: What is it like? I guess freeing in a strange way. The changes are incremental, so to a degree I am blind to them. It is hard to lift up my method as an example for others. It seems tied to who I am. I do the best with what I have been given. I am near deaf and depend on hearing aids to hear at all. Group settings, especially if there are a number of people in a large, open room, are particularly difficult for me. I find myself among all these people and simultaneously profoundly separate. Recently I took part in Judith Brotman’s Reading Project at the gallery. She selected several readers to read aloud to a group. Each of us was to select a passage that had significant and personal meaning. After it got underway I found I could not hear what was read. I could hear people’s voices but could not differentiate the sounds well enough to piece them together into words. Each time a new voice spoke I would renew my effort to take in their content. Always I had the same result. At best I could make out a few words in a minute. Mostly I heard fragments. I always tried as I am teasingly close to comprehension. When all the other readers had finished, and it was my turn, I felt primed for release. All that I have experienced as someone with profound hearing loss was summed up in those preceding moments of the reading project. All the awful alienation. All the wanting and frustration and guilt. As I read my passage, a piece by Viktor Frankl, each word punched at my composure, squeezing my heart with my own voice, saying words that had sustained me. It was as if he addressed my particular condition directly, which of course is not true, but is. I think this is due to the power of Frankl’s broadly applicable ideas on meaning. Anyway, afterwards, as I talked to other readers, I lied frequently, pretending I had reciprocated the same gift they had given me. It was not true. I had read my part, which they heard, but I had not returned the favor of receiving a message. I felt like a child.
So to return to your question, I believe I can work longer at a solitary pursuit than would be average, largely because social interactions frequently contain a bit of pain for me, no matter how much I need and desire them. I choose to go inward in my explorations because outward trajectories put me at a disadvantage, some of which have nothing to do with my hearing but are amplified by it. I must organize my chaotic feelings, dealing with the loss, more than would be required of me, I’m sure, if I was otherwise put together. Each day I attempt to transform all this into a peculiar achievement as I sit down to work at my books. I have been near deaf for about 15 years.
WNG: Are there any brand-new projects in the works?
AM: I have been making easel paintings as well as continuing with two new books. When I was a young artist, my art heroes were the early modernists. The degenerate anti-fascists in particular. It seems fitting to return to easel painting in our present time. I am a bit worried about how my new books will be received, should I have an opportunity to show them. As I always am…
I am thankful to the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to exhibit my art alongside the work of Judith Brotman, Kirsten Leenaars, Huong Ngo, Udita Upadhyaya and North Branch Projects. I have not experienced a gallery remotely like Weinberg/Newton Gallery. It has been transformative.