TREVOR GUTHRIE: TRANSCENDENCE IN THE MONOCHROME
Recently I sent a portrait picture taken of me to Trevor Guthrie, after he suggested he could make a likeness of it as a drawing. What was revealed a month or so later on social media was unexpected! My initial sense was that of shock. Trevor Guthrie manages his charcoal drawings in larger than life representations formally inspired by photographs. His mastering of this art phenomenon goes beyond recreating of an image from photograph to drawing; process for articulating the charcoal drawing is evident in nuance of the finished image, making it almost transformative and transcendental. Glancing through his collection of drawings I am witness to moments in history, examples of terror and tragedy, portraiture and landscapes, all rendered in stream of brilliant light; showcasing darkness which frames each image in enlightened beauty.
Kofi Forson: You’re coming to New York in March for Scope Art Fair. What has been your affiliation with Scope in the past?
Trevor Guthrie: I have shown at Scope Miami three times. This will be my first time doing a solo booth with Scope in New York so I am looking forward to it.
Forson: Please if you can express the importance of premiering work at Scope, having a solo booth and history of Scope in the seasonal art fair calendar.
Guthrie: Having a solo booth is to the advantage of the art. It gives the viewer a slightly wider context to the work. Art fairs from my point of view are not always an ideal setting as the audience is inundated with hundreds of wildly different works. Often quieter or nuanced work can be lost in the noise.
Forson: How have you benefited from the New York art market? Has it been good to you?
Guthrie: I have many collectors in New York, yes. The echo in New York is always astounding. I never get tired of showing in New York. I feel like a rockstar every time I show there. Showing in Switzerland is also great and it is certainly a highly educated audience and from a sales point of view, also rewarding but the audience is rather reserved with their feedback. It’s a cultural thing I guess. Nothing tops exhibiting in New York however. To be shown there in such a massive pool of talent is still totally mind blowing for me.
Forson: Perhaps you can talk about your early days exhibiting in New York. What do you remember most about the art scene, the city, reaction to your work?
Guthrie: My first show in New York was with an artist’s collective which Noah Becker and I co-founded in Canada years ago. I got the first taste of what it means to have a large and dedicated audience in the art center of the world. The reaction was and has been, tremendous on all accounts. One really can’t measure New York with other cities, the vast art going public is incomparable.
Forson: I remember your piece; “I’d Fuck Me”, was featured in a show curated by Savannah Spirit; “Hotter Than July: Eat Your Art Out”. It was all the rage; the suspense of overt sexual narcissism.
Was it or is it a tribute to post-post-modern egoism, nature of the sex adventurist; be it porno or bachelorhood? Perhaps a “sexual-semiotic-selfie”?
Guthrie: “Terms of Endearment”, 2011 was first exhibited as part of a solo show in Zurich, from the series “The Leon Battista Alberti Suite”. Today in 2019 in this post #metoo era, the meaning has perhaps changed. Does the sexual adventurist still exist? Today, the social media-spawned-outrage-culture has made people weary of getting out there and risking what used to be normal advances on the opposite sex. Not that bad behavior should ever be tolerated now or in the past.
I put the piece out there as a mirror; it’s really not about me and definitely not a “sexual-semiotic-selfie” at all. Also, the piece is from a line in Silence of the Lambs, adding perhaps another substratum of meaning.
Forson: Looking at your drawings I’m immediately drawn to its photographic quality. How can you best explain the process with which you touch on perfection in making these charcoal drawings?
Guthrie: Well I don’t aspire at all to any sort of photo-realism or hyper-realism. Sure, the work looks photographic when viewed on a small screen but when one sees the work live, my choppy handwork reveals itself. I attempt to make the work fall together at a certain viewing distance. I work from a print-out of the source material which is often manipulated or composed on the computer. The rest is just old school scaled up drawing with charcoal sticks from hand.
Forson: Your subject matter ranges from still life to landscape, portraiture and figurative art.
What about these genres allow you the inspiration to best express yourself?
Guthrie: I am open to use any genre that I find interesting at the moment, I never really think about “inspiration” too much. It’s more of editing many ideas out until one is left with something one can justify making and adding to one’s oeuvre . With landscape it’s merely a stage for whatever story or agenda I am attempting to reveal. I approach still life in the same manner; using props to suggest cloaked meanings, riddles, insider jokes if you will. Portraiture is something I rarely find worth doing. It is really not in my wheelhouse. It must be a sitter of tremendous character before I will even think about it. – like the recent portrait of you I did. There are thousands of amateurs out there vastly more skilled than myself at portraits. Unfortunately for them, they all mistake seduction of technique for art.
Forson: Thematically you deal with isolation, both in its form within nature and humanistic depiction.
What about nature do you sense that feeling for loss and desperation? How is this relevant in the human person?
Guthrie: My feeling of loss and desperation is never found outdoors in nature. Isolation and feelings of doom are all born in my head, in the studio, before a blank canvas.
I’ll use nature as stage and insert a single figure or object into my scenes which function as less autobiography and more as avatars for vast numbers of folk in the industrialized west who are suffering from electronic isolation, loneliness, despair and deteriorating real-life social skills. Ironically, all these sicknesses of the soul were born out of apps which were supposed to bring humanity closer. How will humanity evolve with these untested and suspiciously toxic innovations?
Forson: There’s a heightened sense of beauty and shock.
Does this have to do with your personal experience with enlightenment? Are you at a point in life where you have transformed from light to dark or dark to light?
It’s almost evident in your work; that sense of experience and maturity.
Guthrie: I am at a point in life where the nuanced grey tones of life’s mysteries are revealing themselves – however, that I might be more aware of them does not in any way mean that I understand them. Clarity or enlightenment might come at any age I suppose. For the artist, it is just a matter of intent and skill to transcribe them in a way that is interesting. Experience is a series of doors that one knows not to open again because what’s behind them is no longer interesting. In that regard I am enjoying the process of life. I may have less time left but I am much more efficient with what I do with it. I no longer feel the need to run around like a panicked hen.
Forson: Narrative line within these drawings seemingly stem from someone who had an adventurous childhood. Tell me about your childhood growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Guthrie: Endless summer holidays in the 70`s when kids had pocket knives and nobody freaked out. Fishing on a river with my older brother with no parents around. Riding our bikes 10 miles to shabby campgrounds and running out of food because a bear stole our cache (could have been raccoons). Playing “kick the can” or “hounds & hares” with the neighbor kids ’till way after dark. Riding mini bikes or going to the go-kart track when we had money. Building rickety tree forts or floating rafts made of rotten timber in the local pond that would sink 5 feet out. Walking the mile to school every day in every weather (we were never dropped off at school. Not once in my life). Shoveling out the driveway when it snowed. Playing outside in winter when it was -20°. We had all the freedom and we survived without our parents hovering over us like they do these days.
Forson: You studied at Victoria College of Art. What were roles of mentors in your upbringing? Did composition come naturally to you? Please name some of the artists who inspired and continue to inspire your work?
Guthrie: My time in art school was mostly squandered on learning how to look at art & how to paint when had I known what I know now, I would have been busy learning the business. But the Bohemian life style seduced me and I am what I am today. Of course the bohemian is no longer tolerated these days. It’s all about marketing, Instagram, money, fame, spread sheets, speculation, hype and unqualified rich collectors defining taste. I mostly taught myself how to paint by copying the old masters like Caravaggio, Velasquez and Holbein. It was the bar I aspired to. I learned old master techniques from a crazy Romanian painter after finishing art school. Contemporary artists I enjoy looking at these days (even if they don’t really fit in my wheelhouse) are Peter Doig, Tilo Baumgaertel, Neo Rauch, Adrian Genie, Louise Bourgeois, Cecily Brown, Berlinde De Bruyckere Lisa Yuskavage, Elisabeth Peyton.. to name a few. There are many.
Forson: Level of consumerism and art was made evident in the 1980s Warhol/New York art scene. Certainly that is mine, perhaps your experience with drama and hustle in the art world.
How have you manifested to where we are with social media and technology?
Guthrie: “Social media is the greatest invention in history because it has given everyone on the planet a platform to communicate freely. Social media is the worst invention in human history because it has given everyone on the planet a platform to communicate freely”. -Trevor Guthrie
Before Zuckerberg started tweaking our “experience” with algorithms at the behest of advertisers and partisan interests, Facebook was actually a marvelous communication tool which made discovery and engagement with unsung talents and ideas a regular occurrence. Instagram has taken over for the visual but one is still confined to whatever echo chamber Zuckerberg has found fit for us to dwell in. How it all evolves is an unknown.
Forson: How important is marketing, business of making and promoting art to the influence from and means of affecting popular culture?
Guthrie: I suppose marketing and promotion are vital for branding but all this is really outside of my magisteria. I really don’t have the time or resources for it. I should hope the parties representing my work are hard at it because I really am not terribly interested in investing the time required to go “viral” or whatever is required to become famous. I read somewhere art students are better off investing 100k into a PR firm rather than blowing it on an MFA.
Forson: You are a family man; currently making your home in Zurich, Switzerland.
Does making art become an escape? How do you maintain the heart and loving manner of bringing up family and channeling ideas as an artist, day by day, moment to moment?
Guthrie: I never really escape or even desire to – as a father, family is omnipresent and top priority. Nevertheless I do have all the time I need in the studio and my family gives me all the encouragement and support that an artist could hope for. I am lucky to have the time flexibility for my children and to be involved with their upbringing, not all fathers have the luxury of time with their kids.
SCOPE NEW YORK 2019 March 7 – 10
Cover Photo: Portrait of the Artist as Mr. Potato Head (The Doldrums), 2016 charcoal on paper 55 x 50 in