Friday, July 24, 2009

INTERVIEW: Burlington painter Isaac Wasuck

by Marc Awodey

Last week I received a cryptic e-mail from Isaac Wasuck, trying to get me to visit his exhibition at Penny Clues’ Cafe in Burlington. He said “for years i've gone through the seven days and read your art reviews. i usually/always find you reviewing the two same types of art” which he later described as mundane landscapes and safe abstractions. Isaac challenged me to get out of my “comfort zone.” Well, I sent this young whippersnapper a nice reply, outlining my biases - such as “a focus of formalism over narrative,” and suggested he find someone to write about his show for Vermont Art Zine. Then after actually seeing his show I decided - what the heck! Let’s do an e-mail interview. If this format works I hope VAZ can interview other Vermont artists in the future...

VAZ: Isaac, you received your BFA in 1999, and have shown and worked widely since, before resettling in Vermont. Has your work evolved over the last ten years, and is the “real world” very different than academe for you?

Isaac: my work has been changing slowly over the past ten years, moving from portraits with bolder colors to pieces involving skeletal elements and more textured space. art school is a bizarre little bubble, and yes, very different from the “real world”. only about four percent of people out here in the “real world” seem to really care at all about art.

VAZ: In our initial communication you expressed a certain amount of frustration in not being able to get an informed, critical response to your shows. What sort of feedback have you been able to get? Is there a circle of artists who you can engage in discussion? Do you think there’s a broad need to better engage the public in contemporary art issues?

Isaac: over the years i have had a few reviews of works and shows. in the burlington area i have not really found a group of peers to chat with about art- all the interesting ones are usually too busy or just hidden away, creating work. however, nowadays, you can get feedback, engage in dialog and even challenges on the internet if you search it out. the saatchi gallery had an interesting competition a couple years ago, with people uploading more contemporary work, and then being judged in a rating system by fellow artists and viewers, eventually narrowing down the pieces until they found a winner. it was an interesting and democratic way to get a gauge on some people’s preferences and feedback in the art world.

VAZ: Your iconography of bones, graffiti stencil references, flat spaces, and a limited palette are interesting - and I also see contemporary pop imagery at play. What influences do you feel you have? How do they differ from a comfort zone of "safe abstractions" or typical Vermont landscapes?

Isaac: i pull inspiration from a wide, deep pool of visual stimuli. my reference library is ceiling high with textbooks, art books, fashion magazines, and other assorted visual inspiration. my constant travel and extremely varied work choices have also helped to inspire some of my pieces. i also take inspiration from such artists as lucian freud, odd nerdrum, komar and melamid, and manet. my work, i hope, is a bit different than “safe abstractions” or typical landscapes. i try to create something a bit bolder, something that doesn’t just sink into the background of a room, or work that creates some dialog, and maybe even makes

some viewers uncomfortable. i generally don’t have a set idea when starting a new piece. my work is more of exploration, generally formed by building up and destruction, mainly from sanding away previous layers and painting new layers upon those; constantly building more depth, hopefully in both physicality and profundity. hopefully showing the viewer and me something new.

VAZ: In several of your works androgynous looking figures appear. You also use the traditional pinks and pale blues as markers of identity. Where does that aspect of your work come from?

Isaac: my figures have changed over the years- gradually losing their hair, then the entire back of the head, becoming an androgynous shell of sorts. the use of flat pinks and baby blue may have come about as my own counter point to my figures becoming more androgynous. i’m always looking for a balance in my life and work, and feel that the two “typical’ gender-defining colors are a good juxtaposition to my sexless figures.

VAZ: On your web site you say you'd like to be “a contender in the 'art world'.” What does that mean to you? Do you think you can do it from Burlington, Vermont?

Isaac: i think most importantly, i want my work to stand the test of time and perhaps, to inspire some people out there. yes, i know that’s asking a lot with all the art being produced now, but i have faith. as far as staying in the burlington area and “making it”, at this point in history, yes, i think you can make it from basically any corner of the globe- as long as you get yourself a motivated rep. i’m working on that one...


Thanks Isaac! And you now have permission to bug me and your shows anytime.