Interview: Gary Logan
Luca Curci talks with Gary Logan during THE BODY LANGUAGE 2021, at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
Gary Logan was born on the island of Trinidad in 1970 and was raised in the United States. He attended Boston University where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts in Painting. During his time in Massachusetts, he also developed a career in education while initiating his artistic profession. He later relocated to New York and New Jersey, where he was employed as an art educator in various public schools. Logan subsequently lived in São Paulo, Brazil for three years, where he advanced his art career while exploring Brazil’s diverse landscape and culture. He currently resides in Miami, Florida and devotes his time to painting, teaching, and directing a visual arts program at a school for the arts. Along with his individual and group exhibitions in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, São Paulo, South Florida, and St. Louis, his artwork has been highlighted in periodicals such as All the Art, Bostonia Magazine, and the literary journals, Callaloo and Agni. In 1999, he was awarded The Phillip Guston Prize along with poet Eric McHenry for their artist collaboration featured in Agni.
Luca Curci – Which subject are you working on?
Gary Logan – As my artwork has developed over the years, I’ve come to realize that I am drawn to a number of different subjects and don’t consider myself to be a “purist” stylistically or thematically. My creativity gains influence from numerous sources, and I try to avoid limiting myself to any singular, sustained, artistic investigation or subject matter. With that said, my work fluctuates between at least three intersecting and recurring themes that are inherent to my work. First of all, I am obsessed with landscape imagery as my primary subject matter and often use it to create emotionally expressive images meant to remind us of our relationship to the Earth and particularly the ecological devastation that our activities have caused. Likewise, as a Black and gay man, I am deeply invested in issues of human subjugation and the ways in which topics like slavery, colonization, and homophobia continues to impact People of African Descent and LGBTQ individuals. Hence, my work explores our intricate biological, psychological, and spiritual “inner landscapes”. My most recent collages shed light on scientific theories such as of epigenetics, dark matter, and the impact of the current pandemic. As a result, I have been producing images that feature enigmatic landscapes that are teeming with organic forms reminiscent to atoms, cells, and microorganisms. Ultimately, my work is about intersectionality, and it weaves together a number of sublime, emotionally charged, and provocative subject matter.
LC – How did you get to your current artistic practice?
GL – My initial point of inspiration often comes from observing and documenting the landscapes and organic features of various places that I have lived in or traveled to. Photographs of volcanic field in Iceland, a tar lake in Trinidad and Tobago (my island of birth), or melanocytes cells from the human body cover the walls of my studio. Many of these images are then fused with a specific topic or theme that resonates with me emotionally. My aim is to then make poignantly expressive statements about our existence in relation to our planet or to each other. I see that the means in which we greedily “conquer”, consume, and destroy and our planet, is terribly similar to the ways in which some cultures have been enslaved, colonize or oppressed – for the sake of capital gain, power, or warped notions of superiority. Dominant cultures have raped the land and committed genocide in the name of religion, war, and notions of racial superiority. Hence, I want my work to highlight the perilous tenets of patriarchy and identify it as a primary culprit for environment destruction and human oppression. I want my work to reveal the inequities of the past, strive for healing in the present, and reimagine a more stable and balanced future.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it like your medium of expression?
GL – Art has played a number of significant roles in my life. Psychologically and emotionally, art has been essential for my self-expression and self-preservation as it allows me to exorcize feelings of anxiety, fear, pathos, and anger. For instance, I have had to contend with heavy emotions as a Black and gay man, and I have become increasingly more anxious about the future of life on this planet. Art provides space for me to voice my truth in regard to identity, human conflict and the devastation occurring on this planet; in this way, my work is both therapeutic and cathartic. My hope is that by sharing my truth, other individuals will be able to gain enough awareness to fight for the sanctity of our planet and equity for all human beings.
LC – How do you feel when you see your work completed?
GL – I am a perfectionist by nature, and it can take months for me to complete a work of art. Many of my paintings and mixed-media collages are often heavily textured because of the many times that I rework my compositions and transform the surfaces. Along with the themes that I depict, I also want the viewer to see the active process by which my works were developed. Therefore, the building-up of form, scraping of painting, incisions, and sutures are all integral parts of my compositions. When all of the elements of art and principles of design are in alignment, and an image that I have been struggling with is finally able to deftly communicate its message, then I ultimately feel an immense degree of pride and accomplishment.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
GL – As with many professions, being an artist has its periods of success and moments of struggle. I am thankful that over the years I have been able to continue creating art while also working as an art educator. There have been moments when my teaching responsibilities frustratingly drew me away from my studio practice, but I am happy to say that I have been devoted to my artwork and have consistently found ways to keep creating and exhibiting. The current pandemic has taken a heavy toll on humanity as well as on the artworld. Nonetheless, as difficult as last year’s period of lockdown was, it provided me with concentrated time to retreat to my studio. While exploring many of the themes that have been inspiring my art for years, I also began incorporated various aspects of this devastating pandemic and the negative impact that it was particularly having on marginalized communities in America. The Black Lives Matter protests and the recurring images of police brutality inevitably bled into my artwork as well. During this difficult time, my work consequently became my primary means to make sense of this extremely traumatic, perilous, and poignant time. Like many other people contending with this pandemic, I was forced to face the realities that life is finite, and nothing is guaranteed. I was deeply humbled that nature, once again, reminded us that we are not invincible as a species. Fortunately, my studio was my refuge during these periods of contemplation and in the midst of all of this turmoil. Most of all, I needed to create in order to regain some degree of solace and stability during all this uncertainty. I’ve fortunately been able to take some time to focus exclusively on my artwork and to continue embracing my creativity and artistic aspirations. My hope is that life will return to normal soon, we will gain a better understanding and respect for the power of nature, and that I will continue to gain opportunities to share my artist insights.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this festival? How did it inspire you?
GL – The exhibition concept of the THE BODY LANGUAGE was timely and intriguing. The body as subject matter has been a significant theme since our early human ancestors began making art. So, at a time when our bodies have been under assault and many have perished from COVID-19, it is especially commendable that the ITSLIQUID organization has taken the time to celebrate and embrace the human body during a period of dire uncertainty. For me personally, I was excited to submit work to this exhibition. After a year of heighten racial conflict and protests, I was deeply moved that two of the pieces that were chosen for this exhibition dealt with the complex terrain of race and resolution. With the recognition that my work has received, I am even more inspired and motivated to continue telling the truth about these provocative and often volatile subjects.
The art world has been making greater strides toward diversity and inclusion within art spaces, and I am thankful that my work was able to be featured along with a myriad of other impressive artists who were also making powerful commentary on the human body and the array of themes inherent to our humanity.
LC – Can you explain something about the performance you held in our exhibition?
GL – In relation to my images in the exhibition, here are some notes pertaining to the themes of each piece: “Négritude” explores the physical, racial, and ideological concept of blackness, while overtly celebrating Black people and African Diaspora. The term was conceived and embraced by two prominent Afro-Caribbean intellectuals: the writer, poet, and politician Aimé Césare and the writer, psychiatrist, and political philosopher Frantz Fanon. Both intellectuals were originally from Martinique and are regarded as the founders of the Négritude Movement, a movement defined as a means of cultivating Black consciousness and racial pride amongst African People and individuals belonging to the African Diaspora. Hence, this monochromatic, mixed media image delves into the physical and ideological construct of blackness, while simultaneously being a bold affirmation of Black identity and a recognition of the devastating realities of racial oppression. The composition reads as a shimmering, bountiful black landscape populated by a myriad of dark, cell-like formations made from silicone, acrylic paint, and various acrylic based mediums. The surface texture composed of varied, sculptural forms was inspired by magnified images of melanocyte skin cells and melanin pigments, as well as black volcanic rock formations. The effulgent, metallic sheen of the piece suggests that it is has the properties of strength and durability (like metal), while also being malleable and even vulnerable, as suggested by each of the inflated cellular forms. The dark orbs are in a state of constant movement, transformation, explosion, and implosion; some are perfectly and beautifully formed, while others appear deflated and damaged. Collectively, the multi-textured composition is symbolic of the diversity, commonalities, tribulations, and triumphs shared by many people of African Descent. Overall, this piece challenges the viewer to simply embrace the sheer beauty of the color black, despite all the negative and often racist connotations attributed to the color and especially to Black people. The work “Black Mass” is a visceral and sublimely dark image that documents the assault and destruction of Black bodies within societies haunted by racism. The metallic black piece heaves and undulates with organic matter reminiscent to embryonic forms, viscera, and lifeless bodies. At its core, the image was influenced by the recent theory of epigenetics; the study of how our environment and even our behaviors can impact and modify the way our genes function. Hence, “Black Mass” questions how enslavement and subsequent periods of racial brutality may have negatively impacted the gene structure of enslaved and colonized people, as well as how these genes might have been transferred to the descendants of marginalized peoples. Likewise, “Black Mass” pays homage to all people of African descent who have lost their lives as a result of racial oppression and violence. The piece was conceived at the height of the Black Lives Matter Protests in the United States and in various countries around the world, and it symbolizes the meeting en masse of people from diverse backgrounds who dared to unify and protest against racism and police brutality during the advent of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Concurrently, the image also addresses the disproportionate number of Black People who have died since the onset of the pandemic particularly in the United States and as a result of various facets related to systemic racism. Therefore, the composition functions as an abstracted, struggling mass of people, as much as a representation of a lethal virus (like racism), that is morphing and mutating as it obliterates life. “Black Mass” is a vigil to the destruction of Black bodies and a bold statement on the collective power of unified peoples confronting injustice. “Pink Chromosome”: human sexuality and gender are influenced by a number of complex genetic and environmental forces. Hence, “Pink Chromosome” addresses the diverse terrain of biological sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender fluidity. The flesh-colored composition, replete with organic, amorphous shapes, and sensuous, fluid linearity is suggestive of microscopic cells and fetal development, as well as the symmetrical structures of the brain and sex organs. There are no defined boundaries for the ambiguous, pink lifeform that is seemingly mutating at the center of the composition; its edges blend and merge with its surroundings as it unfurls like an alluring orchid. The piece is meant to be boldly expressive and visually lurid in an attempt to confront the outdated, patriarchal, and oppressive notions of human sexuality that enforce gender-based conformity. At a time when the binary constructs of sexuality are being challenged, expanded, and redefined, “Pink Chromosome” entices the viewer to take a closer look at the diverse possibilities and beautiful complexity inherent to human sexuality and gender.
LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
GL – It has been an absolute pleasure to participate in THE BODY LANGUAGE 2021. From the images and videos that I saw, I have been continuously impressed by the quality and diversity of work featured in this exhibition. My only regret was that I was not able to attend the opening and other exhibition festivities due to a recent relocation in the USA and travel restrictions related to the pandemic. This organization is providing a great service to the visual art community, and I was touched that the ITSLIQUID Group has been determined to make sure art continues to thrive despite these dismal times.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
GL – I really enjoyed working with your organization. I have traveled to Italy a few times, so I was delighted to encounter the same degree of warmth and friendliness that I have experienced during my past trips and interactions with many Italians! I was especially impressed by the professionalism and level of organization that I encountered with each email or phone call. Dealing with international shipping of artwork can be extremely challenging and frustrating, however working and communicating with the staff at ITSLIQUID made the process much more tolerable.
LC – What are your suggestions about our services? Is there something more we can provide to artists?
GL – As an artist of color, I simply ask that your organization continue to find ways to present diverse groups of artists in your exhibitions. As you know, there are many talented artists from various cultures and ethnicities who historically have not had the privilege of having their work recognized and exhibited. I believe that art can provide that space for open dialogs about differences and can provide resolutions for cultural/racial discord. Please continue doing your part to ensure that the artworld can look much more like the world at large, and that impressive talent can be recognized, respected, and represented regardless of individual or cultural differences.