January 9, 2012


Sam Schonzeit is an artist, teacher and architect living and working in Marfa, Texas.  This interview was compiled from a series of emails with the artist.  Because of the diversity of Schonzeit’s work and interests, as well as the rapidity of change in the material, formal, and conceptual components that define his work, this interview documents only one particular moment in Schonzeit’s practice, a moment I am sure he has already digested and transformed into new work.

This interview focuses mainly on Schonzeit’s postcards and attempts to explore some of the various threads of this body of work.  To fully explore all the elements of Schonzeit’s practice in an interview would require, not only a much longer interview, but also a much stranger interview.  This I hope we will accomplish in the future, but for now, here is a portion of the whole. 

How do you describe the type of art that you make?

I like this. Thanks for asking.

I do several types of work and I am not sure if any of them are really art. Not that I really have a tremendously good idea of what constitutes art or even more what makes good art if there is such a thing.

Simply, when people ask me what kind of work I make I say I paint with spray paint or I make concrete lamps or I make postcards. Or I have a subscription art service.

I wonder if the postcards are art works because they have a function. I feel I design them in a way. But they evolve and I experiment with them. Can art have function like that? I guess. I also like to think of the art as being accessible both in terms of content and price. Accessible art. Art for people. The people. I like to think of the postcards circulating through the postal system and the postal workers seeing it. I don’t know if that happens. Then I like thinking that the postcards start out here and then someone buys one and sends it through the audience of the postal system and then someone gets it and then puts it on their fridge. OR maybe they throw it away but that’s less interesting to me.

Sometimes I say I am interested in gradients. But now with the new paint I am interested in solid colors.

With the subscription cards (and by the way I may not “describe the type of art that [I] make”, I mean this might be the first time) I am continuing in two vanes that I have worked in in the past or have been working on in the recent past. The idea of a postcard ,which is nice because it is small and thus fast and easily stored and cheap to make and can function as a tool (a communication tool). The tool aspect means to me I can say its a postcard and not art if I am feeling bashful. But also this is a message in a bottle project similar to my “Would you like to Receive a Daily Picture of Me at Work” project which I did 3-4 years ago when I was working in an architecture firm Austin. The project was some sort of odd attempt at communication, which I did through email. Sort of from the isolation of the office. This sense of displacement there.

So now I am sending out cards to people who subscribe. From this little island of a desert town. Each unique. Each month I work in a different theme. Last month was food in plastic boxes, the month before was wood and linoleum facades, and the first month was experiments with spray paint and text that spoke to the mundane quality of the mail. Someone asked me what the concept was behind sending food in clear plastic boxes. I said I didn’t know. Its fun! Its a bit of a prank a bit of see if you can get away with it. A bit of see if it will go through and see how it comes out the other side and what will people do with the food once they receive it. Will they add milk to the lucky charms? pop the popcorn? chew the gum?

The daily picture project was free accepting a book that I sold with the first 100 photos and a an interview I did with Mike Wachs in MEW. This postcard project people actually have to pay for the service. Which I think is fine. I think people should pay for art. I think artists should be supported because they are an important part of society. I don’t think artists need to be tremendously wealthy in the same way I don’t think anyone needs to be tremendously wealthy but they should be able to survive and do their work. So I think this project is a nice way for people to support an artist and get art that is made specifically for them (in a way).

I want to ask you about the formal features of your postcards.  You work within the particular constraints of the size of a traditional rectangular postcard (approximately 3.5 x 5.5 inches).  Three particular interests stand out in my mind: color, line, and text.  Why these particular features? 

I think that these concerns have very little to do with the postcard and more to do with my general interests. With the gradient spray paint cards the postcard sort of facilitated that exploration because the gradients were easier to execute in a small place. But maybe that is the answer to your next question. Why am I interested in these sort of boiled down forms. Color to me is in a way the antidote to line. Spray paint the mess to the inked line or the pencil line drawn with a straight edge. I feel like shape came later with these sort of arbitrary forms created by spraying a lot of paint in one spot and letting the air determine the resultant shape. Air as a medium. Always liked that in cooking air could be an ingredient.

But with shape the first cards were my car cutouts and those were really all about shape.

I don’t think of the text cards as TEXT. I think of them as some vague expression of something. The postcards were mostly the sentiments of imagined tourists. Which I have been here. They are my musings filtered through the people I serve in the restaurant. So maybe that something is the discoveries of the tourist but the tourist has some of the insight gained by living in the place they are encountering for the first time.

I mean yes I am concerned with all of these elements of art. And sort of like one of those compartmentalized plates I am keeping my food separate. Recently though I have been doing larger works that combine line and color. I guess I think of them as separate disciplines. Sometimes I can put one on top of the other.

Does the size constraint of the postcard have a particular effect on your stylistic decisions?

With regard to gradients as I said above it is a facilitator. I believe I have only ever heard of constraints being freeing. I mean I have always found them freeing. Deciding on a format means one less thing to consider. Also for a person with considerable little patience the card allows me to finish things quickly. The format allows me both to keep it simple and to be complex but with the knowledge that I will be able to complete it.

With the text pieces it helps to know that I have this very limited space to say what it is that I want to say.

Have you found one mode more interesting then others?

The spray paint I think has been the most interesting in terms of technique. I have noticed a real progression and there are different modes of application and different materials that I have had to learn how to use.

Also the written cards because they seem to take on this personality that I didn’t really know that I possessed. As I said before, like a tourist who arrives somewhere for the first time but has this knowledge of place somehow. Who is that narrator? Also thinking about space in those pieces and punchlines almost. Japanese ink wash of literature. Big distances little indicators fill in space.

The line drawings are more meditative more compulsive. More Obsessive. I almost do them to settle my mind. I found the few furniture cards I did to be interesting and don’t really know why I haven’t done more of those. I mean I did thirty of them on that one sheet but I am not separating them. those were funny because again it was about this supreme simplicity of representation. That a rug for example is indicated with 4 lines. Funny.

Also funny those hole cards.

Have you seen a progression in style or interest from your first postcard works (perhaps, the cut out circle?) to the spray paint based and text works?

Well I have gone from 140lb water color paper to bristol board. I have started using tape in my spray paint cards and there playing a little more with the picture postcard trope. This idea of a framed image. And then to begin focusing on the frame as opposed to the content within. I think its interesting to be amassing these stylistic tools. And then to see how I will use them. I have done many more of the spray paint cards than any of the others so it makes sense that they have had the most meandering path.

Is there anything about the format that you find frustrating, or things that you’d like to do with the postcard, but now realize it can only be done in another format or media?

I like that if I find the format frustrating that I can change the format and still call it a postcard like how Gilbert and George called all of there performances “sculptures” which i love. I think everything can be a postcard. I have been exploring that a little bit with my postcard of the month subscriptions where in June I sent out transparent boxes of foods.  That’s one side of it.

The other side is if there is something that I want to do and it won’t fit on a postcard than I will just put it on something else.

I guess I also find it a little frustrating that I get bitten by this sort of cowardice and whoredom that accompanies creating something that is a commodity. This idea that I want everyone to have one and price them as expensive postcards as opposed to inexpensive art works means that in certain instances I think that the work is incredibly undervalued. Once the cards become 5.5″ square I can sell them for much more. But then they don’t fit in a rack and I need to find a different venue.


August 1, 2010


Steve Roden is a visual and sound artist from Los Angeles. his work includes painting, drawing, sculpture, film/video, sound installation, and performance. This interview took place towards the end of Roden’s residency at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. I have added the links as a contextual tool, but they are not necessary or essential to the interview. Before getting to the interview I want to share a beautiful song that Roden played during a talk he gave at the Marfa Book Co.
In the village of Kapkater, Kenya in the early 1950’s, members of the Kipsigi tribe came across a few 78 records of Jimmie Rodgers music. Convinced that the sounds could not have come from a human, the voice was attributed to a centaur-like spirit named the Chemirocha. This song is played on a pentonic wishbone lyre with vocals by some Kipsigis women. More versions of Chemirocha, can be found through the South African Music Archive Project.
Listen: Chemirocha

You work in a variety of media, sound, painting, sculpture, artists’ books, how do you see these media as related or different, particularly in terms of practice?

When I first started exhibiting work, actually even before that, during graduate school, I only painted. I didn’t make drawings or works on paper, as I felt like drawings were essentially cheaper paintings to sell. Unless I could approach paper in a way that was different than the way that I could approach canvas or wood with paint, it just didn’t seem to me rigorous enough. It’s a ridiculous thing to think now. I think of an artist like Rodin, where the works he did on paper are more compelling to me in many ways than his sculpture. Some of my favorite works, period, are paper and also I have always responded to small, delicate somewhat insignificant feeling things, which tend to be things on paper. For whatever reason I felt like I could only really work on painting. It was just a form of discipline. At home, I would work with sound, but for a while I didn’t understand its relationship to my visual work. I felt like I was a painter who sometimes made music, even though I can’t play an instrument or read music and I was using stones and weird tape recorders. In a way the music was freer than painting because I didn’t go to school for music. I had no baggage, my heroes I could never touch so I never felt overwhelmed by them. With painting, the relationship to history through study and also through a lifetime of looking at things is overwhelming at times. I’m not concerned with originality but just to feel like you’re at least treading your own water, creating your own small territory within something larger. I think it’s a delicate balance to be influenced by someone or to be conversing with someone and a lot of my work is about conversing with someone. I have this 8 mm camera that my parents gave me when I was maybe 11. My father worked a bit in commercials and was a cameraman around the time I was born. I wanted to use the camera because he had given it me when I was a child and he’s not alive so I thought, “I want to make a film,” and there was no hesitancy in that, which is hilarious because my relationship to film is very strong, but I didn’t feel like I was competing with a film director and I didn’t even feel like I was competing with someone like Brakhage because I was just a painter with a little super-8 camera. It kind of became about permission, and so I made a film. I kept the camera every day with me for a year. I shot ten seconds of sunlight or shadow, some kind of natural light phenomenon. Certainly, there were days that I didn’t film, but the idea was that I would have to think about making work everyday, I would have to make work everyday and I would have to be looking attentively everyday. These things are so funny to me because it was a ridiculous thing to do in so many ways, but when I finished that film I accepted film as part of my practice, because I committed to it and it offered something that sound and painting couldn’t offer me. It was time-based but it was silent, it existed on the wall but it wasn’t static and it was abstract but not through anything other than looking. I was in love with early Bauhaus and Surrealist films, so it certainly took cues from those things. It’s a quite beautiful a film made up of images of things in the world; but it was also somewhat naïve, and I think it was more of a conversation than a realized work because it was the first I’d done in that medium. I still think it’s a strong work, but I think it’s more of a question of being particularly aware of film daily, for a year. It was a first step.

Where does your text-based work fit in with these various mediums?

It’s the same kind of thing. Literature has always been enormous for me and I was not a reader as a kid. I took a class in art school, I mean we had to take an English class and the teacher was fantastic. It was Bernard Cooper. I mean, I didn’t know who Bernard Cooper was; he might have been anyone then, but he made us read and write and I was not much of a writer and I was not much of a reader. He assigned us Calvino, Kafka, and some other things that I don’t remember liking that much, but he gave us totally wacky writing assignments. It wasn’t that I didn’t read at all, but I was reading things that were connected to the visual arts. Discovering Baudelaire through Manet. Discovering Surrealists through painting I liked. So I was interested in experimental fiction, but I had no context for it. The year after that year in school, I did my third year as an undergraduate in Paris and I don’t speak French and I didn’t speak French then and I’m not the most social person in the world. I’d go to school and work and then I would leave school, go to museums, and listen to music, mostly. So on day I went to a bookstore and I bought Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin because I had watched the Fassbinder film when I was younger and it was one of the most profound experiences I had probably ever had up to that point with a piece of art. So I decided to try to read the book and I loved it. It opened up a whole world to me. 26 years later, I still love a lot of German and Austrian writing from 1880 to 1920, and by the time I got to grad school I was reading mostly that kind of stuff. Hermann Broch and Robert Musil, Robert Walser and Rilke. In grad school we were reading Baudrillard and talking about the simulacra and I was still reading for the 400th time Letters to a Young Poet. I was doing work based on Rimbaud, the poems about vowels. And so, as much as my painting interests were Arthur Dove, Albert Pinkham Ryder, and contemporary folks like Brice Marden. There was really no place for me in an institution that was rigorous about going to Disney Land to mock it as a simulated experience. So when I had to write a thesis, it was supposed to be academic, researched and heavily critical, which I can be but I wasn’t interested in academic criticism at all. I decided to write my thesis about the idea of walking and wandering. There were a couple people who were sympathetic. I got some Zen things and some John Dewey things and I was completely obsessed with this book of letters between Schoenberg and Kandinsky. Schoenberg painted, and I think he and Strindberg are the two most underrated Sunday painters of all time. Kandinsky really loved music and wrote about sound. They conversed about each other’s mediums a lot. So my thesis was a piece of fiction about two people coming down from different mountains and passing on this path. Basically the walking part was Richard Long and the other sources and the conversation that they had was basically from this book of letters. You know, I got my ass kicked, but that experience got me thinking about possibly trying to write. Before that, writing had been this one thing that I could never think of approaching because of the writers I admired. How do you deal with someone like Hesse or Thomas Mann? But once I got out of grad school in 1989, I had this idea that I should try and write a novel, so I spent an hour every morning writing a novel. Which was terrible. But the activity was wonderful. The discipline was incredible (and eventually led to the idea of making the film once a day for a year). I also tried to write some poetry based on all the Spanish words I could remember from grammar school as my toolkit. A couple months ago I found them and I realized that they were the beginning of the writing that I’m doing now. I didn’t have a Spanish dictionary. I don’t really speak Spanish. But there were a significant amount of words that I remembered. So the systems that I now use to generate visual work, really evolved out this early attempt to write. I had tried making paintings using systems as far back as graduate school, but the entire process was unresolved. I did a series of paintings in school based on Rimbaud’s Ophelia poem, trying to make a painting for every word. But it didn’t work, and I was forcing things, which made the process and the work feel a bit artificial. It felt too art-like and I was pretty anti the whole idea of feeling like I was making art. I wanted to feel like I was making something I needed to make. And that still carries through. I was reading Agnes Martin’s writings at that time. That was another thing in school that I was getting my butt kicked for. And I was interested in Cage. And Cage, until he was older never copped to the fact that personal taste was a big part of what he was doing. And in a lot of ways the chance systems allowed him to work without intellectual discourse, but going through the material and pulling things intuitively. Some people look at Albers paintings and think it’s just about control, but those paintings clearly come out of a love. It’s this idea of rules equaling freedom. If you limit yourself, how can you articulate something within that framework that doesn’t allow you your repetitive comfort zone.

Considering Cage as an influence, was Ouilpo a literary influence?

I didn’t know much about that, but of course it’s in there. It’s pulling from a lot of different things. There are a lot of Fluxus scores and works that were influential, more towards the process than the outcome. There is a lot of conceptual art— the Robert Morris’s blind drawings, Thomas Marioni’s drum brush drawings, these things where a score should yield action, not a poetic result, yet a poetic result is achieved in spite of the action. That has always been difficult for people to grasp within my own work. They want the work to relate to that history, yet I’m not making crisp minimal drawings, I’m making seriously wonky painter’s paintings. Traditionally, this kind of conceptual work is much more connected to object that generate rigidity or sparseness. There are times when I’d rather make a Tom Marioni drum brush drawing than my own work, but I can’t force the work to be a certain way simply because I feel sympathy with that work. I’m basically setting up a performance system. Even with the work I’ve been doing in Marfa, I looked at this text by Judd and I took the vowel structure of that text and I used the vowel structure as a score. All of the work follows the same pattern but none of the works look the same. Most of the work that I like from that time period, has a clear connection between what was done, how it was done, and what it looks like. I have no interest in doing that myself because those works now exist in history the ideas behind them are as important as the objects, but I have no interest what-so-ever in anyone being interested in my ideas at the expense of being interested in the objects I make. Conceptual art’s history places the idea at the top of the ladder, and the object near the bottom, for me it is the opposite. I feel like good ideas are overrated. I would like people to be able to ignore my ideas, to approach the things I make on their own terms. I don’t want the work to have to fulfill my intentions. This is why I think someone like Agnes Martin is so interesting, because I want to get to a place where the things that I’m initially dealing with intellectually suddenly go away, so i can really be immersed in what I’m making. If we looked at a painting from four years ago I could have said, “every mark in this painting is connected to this score and I could show you where and how.” Now, I’m less interested in that, and it seems much more of a risk to allow the process of making to include moments when I break away from the score because the conversation should allow me to step into the visual field before me, as well as returning to the score – it should be a conversation more than a set of rules. If you had a metal frame and built a sculpture on top of it, that frame would still be there no matter what you placed upon it. Even if you couldn’t see the form, it’s still the foundation of the thing that you’ve built. A lot of people talk about painting as a discipline. The only other thing people talk about in that way is probably sports or spiritual activity. In all three, every time you sit down to do something you are trying to learn something new. You are trying to go to a higher place than you were before. To certain artists that means doing the same thing every time and still feeling like there is something new in it. For me, it’s making something that seems unfamiliar and disconnected from the last one.

Do you use process throughout all of your works?

In the early 90’s, I showed a bit with a gallery for maybe six years and then left. At that time my work was essentially paintings covered with letters. I took a biography of Goethe and notated the first letter on every page and made a painting that used all of those letters on its surface as an image, and that’s how I was using systems at the time. It was arbitrary. It was mostly about taking things out of context. And after two solo shows it seemed a good moment to leave the gallery even though I didn’t have any where else to go and I knew I wouldn’t have an exhibition for probably three or four years. But people were starting to know me as this guy who paints letters, and i realized that my relationship to my sources were not really deep enough. I was spending time with them, and I pulled forms them and exploited them in a way, but i was only scratching the surface. I ended up working on three projects for a year, but I didn’t paint. One was a sculpture that was 490 objects based on all the known land formations on the moon circa 1900. To determine the height and materials of each sculpture, I used the vowel structure of each name, taking cues from Rimbaud – if a vowel could equal a color, couldn’t it also equal a material or a measurement? At the same time I was reading this book by Hesse called “Wandering” which is a series of poems and prose related to his walking through the Alps. It’s not a great book, but there are about 4 or 5 pages about trees that I think are the best thing ever written about trees. Earlier in my painting life I painted that entire text on a canvas. I wanted to go back to it as I had used that text to generate several works. I ended up buying 26 different green colored pencils, different brands, anything that was a variation so I could have 26. Each pencil was a stand in for a letter of the alphabet. I read the text slower than i was ever able to before. For the word “the” I would see the “t” and go through my colored pencils until i found the corresponding “t” pencil, and made a mark in that color on a piece of lined notebook paper. Each drawing follows the letter stream of one page of text.

The other important thing was this book of Swedish poetry by Par Lagerkvist. I found it in a used bookstore and opened it up only to realize that it was only in Swedish. I thought for a long time that I would use it for a painting, but as these other activities were going on I realized that my connection to the object or source material was getting more developed. On a whim I picked up the book one morning and started reading it out-loud. I wondered what the Swedish words could be, but of course even though I was able to speak them, I had no idea what they meant. I had read all of Lagerkvist’s novels in English, so I knew the landscape of the work, so I didn’t want to create a dictionary for every word and then end up with non-sense poems. I actually wanted the book to teach me to write. So I started to play. Some words like “valda” sounded like “fallen” and so I could just write that word down. Some words I could never find a good equivalent for, and if I couldn’t find an intuitive word I would use the spelling of the word and an old dictionary to try and find an English word that started with the same three letters.

You would examine how that felt with the text and how you felt about it?

Yes and I was also trying to look at his rhyming structure. Those three things are actually the three most significant things I did in terms of altering my entire practice. In all these I was allowing something else to direct me. When I had worked with systems before these three pieces, I was directing everything and I was interested in Cage and I was playing with chance, but it wasn’t rigorous enough and it wasn’t going anywhere. All of these things seemed like seeds. The writing in way was the most exciting because it was something I didn’t know how to approach.

Do you find it difficult to move through mediums over long periods of time?

I think moving through mediums provides some clarity for me. I have friends who don’t understand why I spend time on sound; they think I should just be painting. I know sound artists that think I should just focus on sound. These practices are not connected on the surface, the drawings don’t look like the paintings, the sculpture doesn’t look the drawings or the paintings, the sound work is much more minimal than the other things I do, but there is a very strong conceptual umbrella over everything. For me, painting is like the sun and all these other things are the planets that float around it.

So then, would you say that painting is therefore your primary practice?

I would say it’s what I’ve done the longest; it’s what I do consistently. The funniest thing is that every time I’ve had a great shift in my painting it has come from stepping away from painting and working in another medium.

What is your ideal presentation for your works of translation?

In my dream world they would editioned objects. That’s why I make CD’s as well. I design every aspect of them. To me they are a continuation of artists’ publications. They come out of that history. I started making records partially because Dubuffet made records as much as I’m interested in Cage and the whole history of experimental and avant-garde music. The permission came to me from Dubuffet and people like Kaprow. A lot of visual artists have made record objects, and that history is of great interest to me.

The poster for your show at the Locker Plant in Marfa, Texas as part of your residency with Chinati Foundation is a photograph of an opening to a notebook of yours. On the notebook is notational structure that resembles a musical score. Do you ever display objects like this?

In this instance, this is my work journal. There are writings in there that I would consider publishing, but not as a facsimile. I’m leery of pointing back to myself. I don’t want to be the center. I want to offer something to people where meaning can be built by their experience.

I would love to do a book of writings that are essentially related to my work. I write constantly about my work. Since I came to Marfa I have been writing a lot about the idea of site-specificity. I’ve been struggling with the idea that in my own work, the video and sound works are the only aspects of my work that I really think about as being site-specific. I didn’t want to come to Marfa and make paintings that I could have made at home. When I left Los Angeles I was reading about Robert Irwin and then when I arrived in Marfa I received the Chinati packet with the Judd text. I wanted to use what they were talking about not towards the final experience, but towards the idea of making. How can site-specific be a term used towards the process of making something. I’ve been writing a pretty long text about that. Those things I hope I would get an opportunity to publish. When I write about the work, there is not only the ability to organize thoughts, but to have a kind of freedom to write things that would be more difficult to speak – and I can talk about the work in a more esoteric way.

What do you think is the ideal display for your work? Im sure this changes based on medium, but are there any general features of display that are very important to you?

My shows have become more complex in regards to medium. Now a body of work could include paintings, sculpture, drawings, a sound work and maybe a film or video component. My dealer in LA just moved to a new space with two huge rooms, where her last space was four smaller rooms. The three shows I had in that space, were as follows: paintings were in the center room, drawings were in the back room, sculpture and sound were in different rooms. When my last show as reviewed, the writer was positive about the work, but did not like the arrangements of the work. She thought I had done a disservice to the work by separating the pieces by medium. I have always tried to protect the paintings. If there is sound in the room with the paintings, the paintings become part of a soundtrack, etc. A few months later I did an interview with the same reviewer and we talked for a long time about the installation of the work. Through the conversation I realized that I’d been stubborn about the display, and that the works could converse with each other towards something quite exciting. So, the ideal presentation might be all of these things co-existing. But, it depends on how much individuality the works need. I would not want to compromise a single work’s voice just to make the whole arrangement of works more exciting.

Can you discuss some of the work that youve completed during your stay in Marfa?

What I’ve finished are some paintings, some drawings, some sculpture and a little sound piece. With the paintings I used something visual in the Locker Plant to generate a large part of the overall composition. For the sculpture I used wood that the last artist in residence had left behind, and gave to me. There are five pieces of wood. I was already going to use the vowel structure of Judd’s text when i realized the second longest piece of wood was already painted black. The second largest amount of letters in the text is “A” corresponds to black in Rimbaud’s vowel color system, so I had to use it. The drawings feel like I am working on experiments, willing to go wherever they take me. Some of them I would frame and hang in my house and some of them I would be reluctant to show to anyone. I’m going to hang them all in the space. I think it’s important to be able to embrace as well as deviate from the source.

What do you mean by source? The material? Referential material?

It depends. Usually whatever the system is built from. The paintings are built from this Judd text, but that doesn’t mean there is an image of his sculpture in the center of the painting. A number of things came together to determine the visual form and its process of making. The ceiling is a grid, which is where a lot of the imagery came from, but I didn’t sit down and think, “I want to make some geometric grid paintings and I will use this Judd text to generate them.” It’s more like, you start to converse with this thing and suggests a building process and you try to let the source somehow influence your decisions and actions, as well as the forms that are being made.

When I got to Marfa I really wanted to think about the site, it’s history, the conversation around it. I wanted all of these things to come into play. Otherwise I could have just continues what I was working on at home. This work is the next step. There have been two major shifts in my work up to this point. One of them was that time when I stopped painting for a year. This clearly feels like the third big shift. My last show was the most exciting body of work I’ve ever made, but a year and a half later, I see that show as the culmination of something that I worked on for eight or nine years and over the past year I’ve been trying to find a way to step into new territory. My whole practice is built around denying myself any kind of comfort zone so that when something becomes familiar or routine, I pull the rug out from under myself. My time in Marfa has been an unbelievably important first step towards whatever the next step will be.


(all text about the work by Steve Roden)

the paintings were made using small sections of a 12 page classical music score. the letter equivalents of the musical notes determined numbers which then became a score for actions, images, marks, etc.

when rain is like sun and sun is like rain…
72″ x 72 “, oil and acrylic on linen, 2008



2000- present

an “intuitive translation” of valda dikter by par lagerkvist


For more information on Roden’s work please see his excellent website:

Roden also keeps a blog called Airform Archives:

(some of my favorites are Roden’s posts on concrete poetry)

May 11, 2010


In early March, British artist Mark Tallowin exhibited three works in a show he titled “Bowling Ball Request.”  The pieces were conceived and created during Mark’s few month stay in Marfa, Texas.  The exhibition took place on the second floor of the Masonic Lodge in downtown Marfa off of Highland Avenue.  The following is a short interview with Mark about these pieces, a what, how, and why if you will.

Tell me about your show titled “Bowling Ball Request,” installed on the second floor of the Masonic Lodge in Marfa, Texas.

Its been very last minute, that’s my main thought. We only got the go-ahead on the venue a week and a half before the opening, everything that’s been made has happened since then.

Saying that, in a way this show is two years old, or at least it’s name is. Two years ago I was trying to track down a couple of bowling balls to make a sculptural idea I’d just stolen from a friend. So I made a quick poster asking anyone if they knew of any bowling balls around Marfa; I made my “bowling ball request”. A fair few people didn’t even notice the small print on top of the black ink and thought it must have been a poster for some kind of show. But magically the next morning I had a couple of bowling balls waiting for me on my door-step. I realized soon after that I was actually more into the weird wording of “bowling ball request” than the sculpture itself. I gave up on making the thing and let my mate keep her idea.

So when this Texas show started getting thought about, I figured that I’ve already got a decent title for it and a good poster too. The reason this poster is so plain is that I really didn’t have any details to put on it yet, I didn’t know how or what or where things were going to work out. But some people were already excited about the whole thing so I figured if I make the poster first then things have got to work out. I tend to have to make things difficult for myself to get anything at all done, and it all worked out because a certain Fairy Godmother worked her magic and got an amazing place for the show.

What about the works themselves? What exactly are you exhibiting?

I made three glass paintings, and placed one on each of the three little platforms, which were up against the walls in the Lodge. The platforms were all of different heights, but the pieces were each cut to differing sizes, so that when they were lent back against their supporting wall, they would reach the same vertical point up the wall; the first ridge of the wooden dado rail.

They’re text paintings more than anything else: the word pairings came before the glass. EGGS HEMINGWAY was the first I decided upon. Strangely enough some people read it as ‘Eccs Hemingway’ and started off down an ‘Ecce Homo’ track, not something I was expecting. They’re a pair of words that come together in a very particular way. I’m unsure if either term takes precedence over the other in this arrangement, if Hemingway belongs to the Egg’s or if the Egg’s are Hemingways.  A friend of mine who saw the show said (roughly, and with astonishing hand gestures) “Mark Listen, I can see that this thing has something do with the breakfast of Mister Hemingway, like Eggs Benedict, that sort of thing, but is it also his Heuvos, his ‘Egg’s’? The Balls of Hemmingway?”

I wanted to make two more sets of word pairings for the remaining two pictures. When my brain ran into a brick wall trying to track down the kind of words I was after: tight words, not fussy, nothing Street and nothing exotic or technical enough to let anyone feel smug that they know it; I resorted to the scrabble word tables. It was just a way to keep moving and keep the options open having already discounted so many.  To make myself understood before I muddy the waters; this work has got next to nothing to do with scrabble, not anything much to do with four letter expletives and absolutely nothing to do with the Masonic tradition. I guess Barney’s killed that for the rest of us. Blind luck and happy coincidence is what led to these pieces ending up in this particular place.

INK DENT, this was the next overlap I wound up with. I was working with things like ‘Nap Tank’ and ‘Loop Tank’ until I heard that Ian Hamilton Finley had cracked it earlier and better with his own two-word poem “Neck Tank”. So I had to console myself with INK DENT, trying to work out why it feels so strange in you head and in your mouth. I think its because neither word lets itself be acted upon directly by the other word – Ink can’t be Dented and Ink can’t really Dent. So you start groping around for a third term to fill the gap; A third thing to get involved in the tryst– a needle, some kind of flesh, something new to impress yourself on; a third term to get Inked up and Dented.

THE WOE BOLT was the last one and a little different than the others on account of it having an extra word involved. I am not sure if I even count ‘The’ as a word in this case, I stuck it in front to weld Woe and Bolt into a single (thought two-headed) lump. The ‘The’ is more a declaration of the cohabitation of Woe and Bolt. I needed them to remain solid if they were going to be treated as a duo.  If Ink Dent is an occasional threesome, Woe Bolt is a forced marriage.

The paintings themselves are a mix of acid etch and paint on glass. A few other things too– black board paint, silicone sealant, hi-vis reflective ground glass, Colgate toothpaste. I wanted to maintain a real distinction between the text and the other graphic content. Literally, if the text is on the front of the glass, the lines are on the back and vice versa. There’s also a kind of laughable separation within these paintings, a kind of aesthetic apartheid, a split forced between the precisely cut wording and the wobbly brackets in front or behind of them. I’m really suspicious about sloppy writing. It just seems some really limp legacy we’re stuck with from the punk days. As if writing anything in your worst scrawl proves how little you give a fuck about everything, despite the linen canvas and silken gallerist. To my mind its better to work out what it is you care about, and what you truly hate, and work from there.

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