SAUL CHERNICK’S DRAWINGS ARE WHIMSICAL, ROMANTIC, AND JUST A LITTLE BIT GOTHIC. AS HIS FIRST SOLO NEW YORK SHOW AT MAX PROTECHT CAME TO AN END, THE FINE ARTIST TALKED TO DIRTY ABOUT WHAT INFORMS AND INFLUENCES HIS PRACTICE.
EDITED by Kirsten Matthew / PHOTOGRAPHY Paul Bruno
DIRTY: WHERE & WHEN WERE YOU BORN? WHAT'S YOUR SIGN?
SAUL CHERNICK: I was born in New York City in March of 1975, which makes me a Pisces.
D: WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
SC: Suburban New Jersey not far from the city.
D: ARE YOU AN ONLY CHILD?
SC: I have an older brother. He's also very creative.
D: WERE YOU AN OUTWARDLY CREATIVE CHILD?
SC: Yes, I loved drawing and making things. My mother is an artist and she was very encouraging. There was lots of exposure to museums and access to great materials, but more importantly, I grew up watching her work, which gave me a very clear picture of what it is to maintain a real artistic practice.
D: WHAT WAS THE FIRST ARTIST / WORK OF ART THAT MADE AN IMPRESSION ON YOU?
SC: There's no single or definitive first influence. We see so much before we have the tools to process it all. Sometimes our influences can be entirely unconscious and we only come to recognize them after the fact. I was making art way before I got serious about it, way before I came to think of myself as an artist. I was in high school when I began consciously studying and looking for examples to inspire and emulate. As a teenager I spent a lot of time at MoMA. I was completely taken with with Modern art, and ironically, very disinterested in anything pre-Modern such as the Gothic and Renaissance works that presently inform my work.
D: WHAT WAS YOUR MAJOR AT RISD?
SC: I studied printmaking. I was attracted to it because I liked the versatility of the mark-making, there's so many things you can do with prints.
D: WERE / ARE YOUR PARENTS SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR DECISION TO PURSUE FINE ART?
SC: My folks have been immensely supportive of my career choice, and I'm very grateful for that. It's been a great advantage because being an artist in this society is already an uphill struggle as it is. There are so many practical challenges and discouraging moments along the road, adding family strife on top makes it that much harder.
D: YOUR CURRENT SHOW AT MAX PROTETCH, BORROWED FROM THE CHARNEL HOUSE SHOWED A LARGE PANORAMIC DRAWING FROM OBSERVATION, OUTDOORS AT THE GREENWOOD CEMETERY IN BROOKLYN. TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW THIS CHOICE OF LANDSCAPE FOR DRAWING INFLUENCED YOUR WORK.
SC: I'd been wanting to draw outside for a while. Drawing en plain air seemed like a lot of fun and a great way to get out of the studio, but it also seemed ridiculous and painfully outmoded. I asked myself "can I find a way to make observational landscape drawing feel fresh and relevant to a contemporary audience?" It became a challenge too attractive to resist. I chose Green-Wood Cemetery because being there feels other-worldly and dreamlike, though it's in the middle of Brooklyn, you can forget you're in the city. Being there almost feels like being outside of time. A cemetery seemed like the perfect place to ask: Is drawing en plein air dead?"
D: WHAT MEDIUMS DID YOU WORK IN EXACTLY FOR THESE PIECES? (IT SEEMS THAT PRINTMAKING OR EVEN CURRENCY CAN BE A POSSIBLE INFLUENCE IN THE STYLE OF THESE PIECES.)
SC: The drawings in this show were all ink and/or watercolor, but they are like sonnets dedicated to the virtues of Gothic and Renaissance prints. Printmaking brought the graphic line to new heights of inventiveness and refinement. Printed images, where the subject matter is translated into patterned line represent a marriage between art and technology. Along with tapestry, these are the precursors to pixelation but unlike pixelation the prints are far more idiosyncratic and human.
D: WHAT ABOUT THE PAST INSPIRES YOU / YOUR WORK?
SC: A few years back I'd been making these drawings that simply weren't working. They'd have a single object or figure isolated floating in front of a blank background, usually white. Formally they worked but they felt too predictable and formulaic. They relied too much on a reductionist, modernist aesthetic. You can see this sort of strategy applied everywhere today from magazine adds to high end galleries, and to me it feels egregiously overused. I started looking at Northern Renaissance art because it seemed to represent an anathema to all this--a way out. When you look at a Dürer print or a Breugel drawing, they're packed with visual information, teeming with it, bubbling over with it--it's everything and the kitchen sink. They're dense. They're complex. Most of all they're compressed, they force you to do a lot of work to untangle them. They reward looking as much as they reward thinking. This is where my interest in the past started. The more I look, the more questions I have, the more curious I become.
D: HOW LABOR INTENSIVE ARE YOUR DRAWINGS?
SC: Very. But it's not just about technique for the sake of mastery alone. It's about developing the technology of the hand in the digital age. It's about finding clarity and specificity through decisiveness and precision of thought.
D: WHERE IS THE WORK GOING NEXT? WHAT WILL YOU BE EXPLORING NEXT?
SC: My recent show was really helpful in allowing me to understand on the macro level what I've been doing. It revealed large thematic connections between works and presented me with new questions. The long cemetery drawing has made me want to play with the extreme horizontal format more but it's hard to say where it will lead. I also want to see what will happen if the work becomes more abstracted in terms of the mark-making. That means playing with the scale of the marks so that they read as flatter and more graphic in some areas and more dimensional in others. I would also like the subject matter itself to become more abstracted and ambiguous but I'm not sure how to do this. Not knowing if I can pull it off makes it interesting.
D: WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON HISTORY AS RECORDED VS, HISTORY AS IT HAPPENED?
SC: Our understanding of history recorded as well as how it happened are each limited by subjective perception. Two people at the same event can experience it very differently from one another, which is the first layer of distortion. History recorded however adds an additional layer of distortion in that it situates events into a larger context. That context is inevitably shaped by an agenda whether it be political, personal or otherwise.
D: WHY DO YOU THINK POWERS OF THE PAST HAVE TRIED TO CONTROL HOW HISTORY IS RECORDED / DEPICTED?
SC: Controlling the narrative of the past is a way of securing power for the future--you get to frame all the arguments that way. You unseat the dominance of the past when you reframe the issues.
D: DO YOU HAVE A 9-5?
SC: I freelance as a teaching artist, it's part-time work. Finding a healthy balance between job work and studio work is never easy. I enjoy teaching, it's challenging, it sharpens my thinking, it adds texture to my life but when it eclipses my studio practice it stops being fun.
D: DESCRIBE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR.
SC: I'm funnier in person than I am in writing. My humor tends to skew dark. I really enjoy the graffiti on subway posters, especially when people get all clever n' shit.
D: WHAT DO YOU LISTEN TO WHEN YOU ARE WORKING?
SC: Generally speaking it's very eclectic but I've been on a nostalgia kick for the 80's for a good long stretch now. I guess it's an infectious trend. In the studio it's a lot of NPR, I also like listening to a lot of old timey Gospel from the 30's and 40's on through the 70's. The music is so complex and powerful. If you want to understand the American landscape of music, you got to start with Gospel, you hear it echoed in everything that follows.
D: ASIDE FROM DRAWING, DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER CREATIVE OUTLETS?
SC: I've really gotten into making mixes for the classes I teach. They usually involve silly themes and sillier music, they're super fun to make. I've been mulling over doing a mix using songs about the days of the week. Turns out Thursday's not very popular with songwriters. I'm not saying they don't exist but off the top of your head name one song about Thursday?
D: DO YOU SPEAK ANY OTHER LANGUAGES?
SC: Hebrew, poorly.
D: CREATIVE INSPIRATIONS?
SC: These days I just try and keep my eyes open everywhere I go. There's always something to find if you have your antenna up.
D: TELL US SOMETHING NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT YOU.
SC: I admire people who invent their own signature style and stick with it for the rest of their lives. Warhol with his wig, Tammy Faye Baker with her mascara, Mr.T, Dolly Parton, Richard Simmons, etc. You can't contrive to pull it off it has to just come through you organically. There's a realness there, the mask winds up revealing more than the face.
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