The Interview: John Boone talks about his "Hands" paintings

December 2, 2015


The purpose of this interview is to get John Boone to talk about his recent “Hands” paintings. How did you begin this series?

John Boone:

The series began by collecting idioms with hands, fingers or thumbs or anything about hands in their phrases. This was a method I used for making work for several years, collect, arrange, tweak, tweak, tweak. But it struck me that I had more here than just a collection of idioms, I had dramas.

Q: Can you tell me how this came about?

JB: Among the idioms was the common structure for phrasing simultaneous opposites, “on the one hand this and on the other hand that.” At some point I realized this could be an armature, a structure from which to hang the other idioms.

Q: But you called them dramas …

JB: Yes, they do describe polarities, opposites, incongruities where two opposites co-exist in the same space. There is a natural tension with this approach almost like boxing where there are two fighters in a ring both trying to prevail, or light and dark, or right and wrong, or vague this along with vague that.

Q: Is this why you have chosen to emphasize one over the other by the use of strong color so one idiom seems like it is the dominate one?

JB: Because one is featured more than another does not mean it is the winner, it just means it is a barker. The quieter idiom could be the stronger.

Q: Your paintings want to engage the viewer as a partner in the drama, is this part of your intention?

JB: Essentially I am a conceptual artist who paints. Considering idioms for my work I choose ones which have been current for a long time, this means there is wide distribution in the minds of those who would engage with it. The wonderful feature about idioms is that people with a reasonable grasp of English have all these expressions in the back of their heads. My work is knocking on their noodles and seeing if I can get them to play along.

Q: Lets back up here just a bit. You have been using a digital alphabet for over 20 years and, since you became a text artist, this has been your typeface. Why not Helvetica?

JB: Helvetica is terrific and has been used by many artists. But it does not spell future. The digital alphabet I use I designed many years ago because I wanted an ingredient in my work to say technology, precision as well as be un-Helvetica. It needed to be strong yet light, crystilline yet weightless, energetic yet reflective. I use this typeface in all my studio work.

Q: From a distance the digital look says the painting was machine made. Do you want it to say that?

JB: Absolutely. It is one of those perceptual hurdles a viewer needs to handle before they realize the painting is hand made. Several years ago, I had a show at a college and was answering questions from students and I told them it was made by hand and a young student from the back of the room told me I was a liar and the work was obviously machine made!

Q: What is your attraction to the machine?

JB: The illusion is that they are empirical, neutral, factual and incorruptible. Machines are the new window through which we see the world. They dictate the pace of life. The machines we are using today are communication devices.

Also, my interest is in machine precision verses the mentally imprecise. The precise is carrying the messages of imprecise states of being.

Q: What about neon, video, message readers, they have a technical look and are capable of showing things in a new light?

JB: At this point these other more technical media have been used very well by other artists, the messages readers and Jenny Holtzer for example, or the silkscreen with Warhol and Rauschenberg or neon and Keith Sonnier. These artists own these media.

Q: What about Ed Ruscha?

JB: He is the guy who made text art attractive. His multiple graphic approaches show how an artist can use specific typefaces to emphasize the character of word(s). Or not, Ruscha has used many approaches to his text work including no text. My approach is the opposite, all of my text goes into the digital type. It is a voice, a radio station, a filter through which the world is packaged. My typeface takes the idiom out of all other contexts and puts it into a digital world.

Q: Lets go back to your Hands project. How large a project is this?

JB: As of today I have completed 18 but the project will be about 75 total.

Q: Why so many?

JB: Because I think it is worth it. Also, I have been working on this project part-time and in secret for about 8 years before I made one “Hand” painting. There was extensive collecting, arranging and tweaking. In this case I think volume is necessary, to make one is good but to make 75 really expands this discussion particularly as the Hands group is a collection of dramas for engaging in simultaneously points of view.

Q: Is there something particular you are trying to convey with this group of work?

JB: Well, I think, like any artist, I am setting up experiences which ask something of a viewer to complete, to question, to perceive, to comprehend and to retain.

Q: Can you tell me why you are a text only artist, no imagery, and why not set these things up and print them in either a book form or posters?

JB: First, there is imagery, it is the imagery of the art direction of the text, it looks that way because … Second, I like the hand made one of a kind. This does not mean I have rejected some form of multiple as means of distribution. I think doing books, prints, multiples and posters will be part of what happens next.

There is a practical side to being an artist who works with exclusively with text and, in my opinion, a piece of art lives if someone carries it in their head. But I also want the text to trigger spin in the room. Really, I work with prompts.

© John Boone, 2015

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