Will Hutnick (b.1985, Manhasset, NY) received his M.F.A. from Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, NY) and his B.A. from Providence College (Providence, RI). Recent exhibitions include YOU’RE A GHOST at The Java Project (Brooklyn, solo), Deep End at The Wassaic Project & Maxon Mills (Wassaic, NY), Private Eyes | Grey Sunsets at Circuit 12 Contemporary (Dallas, TX), New Work City at Momenta Art (Brooklyn), The Flat Files: Year Two at TSA (Brooklyn) and Will Hutnick: He Chutes He Scores at The Center for Contemporary Art (Bedminster, NJ, solo). Recent curatorial projects include Instant Vacation, Oracle, STAR GAZER/ANCIENT LIGHT, GAME GENIE, The
Wanderers and treasure trove at Trestle Projects (where he is currently the Curator in Residence), Future Folk: Pt. 1 & 2 at Brooklyn Fire Proof and LaunchPad, ONE and DONE at LaunchPad, and Spin? Art. at Loft 594 (all Brooklyn). His work has been featured in New American Paintings, Beautiful/Decay and Whitehot Magazine’s “Best Artists List for 2013”. Hutnick has been an Artist in Residence at Yaddo (Saratoga Springs, NY), The Wassaic Project (Wassaic, NY), Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT), through 4heads on Governors Island (Governors Island, NY) and has upcoming residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (Amherst, VA) and Millay Colony for the Arts (Austerlitz, NY). He lives and works in Brooklyn.
I am interested in the phenomenon of facilitating work to occur. Through the use of mixed media and repurposed collage my work explores an “other”, undefined space that exists between our familiarity: a maze of self-similar patterns, underlying deviations, systems of recursion, objects in transition. My work asks questions pertaining to impermanence and failure by addressing this inherent network that is mathematical, functional, and driven by chance. The work is simultaneously object and remnant, an archive, a glimpse.
You are one of the resident curators at Trestle Projects in Brooklyn—how did you become interested in curation and what keeps you engaged with the role? Does that role affect your practice as an artist?
I started curating exhibitions a few years ago as a way to be more proactive. I wanted to get more involved and more in control and not just wait for opportunities to arise. I was frustrated and disappointed with some of the work that was being shown elsewhere, so why not just start organizing my own shows? It was kind of that simple.
It’s really exciting to develop and foster relationships between other artists and form different connections that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent. Polly Shindler and I (co-curator at Trestle Projects) developed an ongoing database of “dream artists” that we would like to work with at some point, so when we’re gearing up for another exhibition at Trestle Projects, we usually go back to that list and try to uncover conversations among artists. That’s the best part. I love making studio visits and meeting new artists; it’s refreshing and it usually reinvigorates me to go back to the studio and work on my own stuff.
You are part of a large group of Bushwick artists and a thriving art scene in Brooklyn. Can you talk about the importance of community for artists and how it affects your life and career?
I think that it’s very important to get involved and be an active presence in your art community—whether it’s going to artists’ studios, attending openings, talks, or visiting your local friendly bartender at The Narrows (hint hint). Everyone is just trying to make it work and the more supportive we can be for each other, the better. For a while my studio mates and I were hosting a monthly crit night, which was a great way to get people to see each other’s work and encourage more in‐depth conversations about contemporary art that seem to be lacking post grad school. I love what Christopher Stout is doing with Bushwick Art Crit Group (a monthly event at Brooklyn Fire Proof showcasing Bushwick‐based artists). He’s great at strengthening ties within the community and introducing the public to under‐represented artists.
Do you have any advice for emerging artists who would like to become more involved with galleries and exhibit their work? Do you think it is essential for artists to live in bigger cities in order to network?
It definitely helps to get your work out there by going to some openings and artist studios and meeting new people, as opposed to just sending cold emails to spaces about showing your work—THAT’S kind of the worst. I don’t think it has that much to do with “networking” as it has to do with being positive and making good work and putting yourself out there. I’m a firm believer that if you’re making great work then your studio will send out tractor beams to encourage other people to come visit.
I’m kind of torn about the idea that you have to live in a bigger city in order to meet new people and “network”. Yes, being in Brooklyn and NY is great because I can visit artists’ studios whenever I have time and see shows; and if I didn’t go to Pratt a few years ago I wouldn’t be immersed in it right now. But, New York is also crazy expensive. I recently went to Philly to check out Grizzly Grizzly (I’m doing an installation for an upcoming group show—Spin, Dazzle, Fade—opening in July) and visited some artist studios (awesome new work by Aubrey Levinthal, Clint Jukkala and Rebekah Callaghan) and was blown away with Aubrey’s studio. Like I wanted to cry how beautiful her space is. (Side note: her new work is super good, particularly a small painting of a veggie burger). I don’t want to go on a rant about how much artists have to pay in rent in order to physically be in Brooklyn, but seeing her space really got me thinking that it might not be that essential to be in Brooklyn. Or maybe Philly just brainwashed me a little bit. But I think it might be time to make a move and look elsewhere; find a location so that your studio practice thrives. That’s essentially what it comes down to—your work.
I think that one of the most important things for emerging artists is to just make work. Be confident and experiment and take risks and then when your work is ready to be shown, it’ll happen. I read a recent interview with Jason Karolak in Hyperallergic in which he emphasized that “SOMETHING has to be at stake”. I’ve been thinking about that a lot; getting to an uncomfortable place in your work is a great spot to be in, a spot filled with potential and surprise. I think that more artists should make things that they’re not quite sure of. I constantly think about how I can make my work weirder.
Can you describe your working routine? Do you have a daily studio practice? What is the most important part of maintaining a successful studio practice?
I try to get to the studio 4 – 5 times a week. It gets difficult because I also tend bar a few nights a week (at The Narrows in Bushwick and at The Pines in Gowanus). But I try to stay positive and be grateful for the time that I have at the studio. I think that in order to maintain a healthy studio practice you just have to go—make the time to physically be there and just work. Get out of your head. I find that when I’m at my most busiest in life I’m able to be crazy productive at the studio because I know that I only have a few hours, so I better not waste it on Instagram.
Can you give us some insight into your process? How do you begin? Do you keep a sketchbook/does drawing play a part in your work?
I usually don’t have that much of a plan (at all) before I start working (I don’t make sketches or draw at all, except for some of the recent installations), so it’s usually important for me to make a mess and then just see what happens, let things be—almost as if I’m an observer in my own space. It’s about responding to the work and having a conversation, and being open. I find myself constantly asking (to the work) “where do you want to go? What are you trying to say?” I like to create a balance where I can work on a single painting for hours and then just fuck it up in the course of a minute right before I leave the studio—I sometimes refer to that as “graffiti‐ing” my own work. Some of the best—and unexpected—things develop when you can let a painting fail. Give it up, and then completely go for it.
I started working mostly on paper a few years ago as a way to not treat the surface/object so preciously (also because of my speed) and am currently trying to apply that mindset to new works on canvas. I’m focusing on working slower as well. I recently completed some 70 x 60” works on canvas that I’m super pumped about, and hope to continue to work in that scale. I usually work on multiple paintings at a time (through varying degrees/forms/processes related to mono‐printing) and like how different marks inform and connect to other works. Some shapes become the pseudo‐mirror image of passages/marks in other paintings, which are then echoed in another work, and so forth. I think of “Russian nesting dolls” in relation to my work and practice.
Much of your work is site‐specific and installation based. Can you talk about how the process for creating that work differs from your paintings as objects? What is the importance of documentation for those pieces?
I’m kind of a hoarder and save all the pieces of tape left over from the creation/destruction of former paintings and works on paper. AND save every little painting scrap and torn piece of paper that I’ve (mostly ever) encountered. So the installations are usually composed of these remnants and recycled elements. I like knowing that certain pieces of tape/paper were created from X painting a few years ago, and then found their way into an installation, and then on my studio walls, maybe a collage, and then back into an installation. I think about ideas about time and impermanence, so it’s important to create work that is fluid and shifts form (or in the paintings, appears to). The work becomes about the experience and the environment that is created—not created, but discovered. They’re like portals to another dimension or windows to an in-between, undefined space; little glimpses of something already there, possibly trying to burst out, or things not yet there.
I recently had a solo show at The Java Project in Brooklyn called YOU’RE A GHOST and completed an installation that became equal parts a river / melting tree / the aftermath of a centrifuge / something Ghostbusters related / the inside of a cave. I’ve been thinking more about geology and rock formations and how natural processes of decay are indicative of passages of time.
I’m unfortunately guilty about not documenting the installations as well as I should, especially because they’ll only be in a certain configuration for a limited period of time and then will just have to exist (before being part of a new project) as still images on a computer screen. (I thankfully got some great images of YOU’RE A GHOST). I am thinking more about the documentation of a work being a work in and of itself; that the documentation is just another piece of the puzzle, another trace. There’s a performative element to the installations that I want to further explore.
You recently returned from a residency at Yaddo and have attended a number of other residencies in the past. In your experience, what are some of the primary benefits residencies offer for artists?
The most important thing that a residency offers is time. I’m usually running around in a million different directions each week (in real life), so to have a chunk of time that is just devoted to your practice and making work is really incredible and special. My only responsibility at Yaddo was to not be late for dinner. I was able to go for a run each day and then have twelve (plus) hours to paint in the studio. Residencies also provide the freedom to get out of your comfort zone a little bit, because you’re in a new environment, a clean studio (my studio is usually crazy messy), and therefore a fresh start. Each residency has been a great opportunity to meet other working artists (and writers and composers), and I’ve been very inspired and lucky to work around so many talented individuals. It all goes back to one’s community and support system! (And when else would I have the chance to net a bat besides living in a mansion at Yaddo?)
Do you think the internet and social media affect those of us who identify as artists and makers? Can you describe how you feel about the role of social media in the life and career of an artist?
Social media is the best and the WORST: one on hand, I can’t get enough of Instagram (I use it as a tool to find new artists for Trestle Projects and to document works/shows that I’ve seen) and Facebook is a solid way to be informed about events and openings. So I think that social media has an active role to play in the lives of artists in terms of promoting your work and discovering new artists. For example, our last exhibition at Trestle Projects—Oracle—featured Kati Gegenheimer and Charlotte Hallberg (they’re both amazing, take a look), and Polly and I discovered Kati somewhere in the trenches of the internet; maybe Tumblr, but I can’t quite recall. So it’s definitely important to use social media if it’s beneficial to your practice and to help (emphasis on only HELP TO, not rely on) to get your stuff out there, but it can also be a HUGE waste of time (that doesn’t stop me from following numerous dogs on Instagram though; I’m in love with a Jack Russell from the UK named Ginny).
Are there a few artists that you are looking at currently?
Let’s see, I’ll only name a few because I could go on for a while. Shara Hughes’ solo show at American Contemporary a few months back was the best show that I’ve seen in a while. Her new work is super loose and playful and breaks up space in an exciting and wonky way. And in no particular order: Andres Carranza, Paul Wackers, Joanne Greenbaum, Kati Gegenheimer, Ryann Slauson, Jonathan Apgar, Kerstin Bratsch (awesome big works on paper, best thing about that boring Forever Now at MOMA), Jenna Ransom, Denise Treizman and Ben Edmiston. That was definitely more than a few.
What do you listen to while you work? Any music or podcasts we should check out?
I’m currently listening to the new albums by Sufjan Stevens, Belle and Sebastian and Vampire Weekend, and like to throw in a TLC or The Strokes or Fleetwood Mac playlist every once in a while. And by every once in a while I mean all the time.
Anything else you would like to share?
Thanks for this opportunity and for asking such great questions!
Thank you for taking the time to share your work and talk with us!
To find out more about Will and his work, check out his website!