Lunches With Artists, interviews by Gyun Hur, are sponsored by Tin Drum Cafe. Tin Drum is a fast casual, pan-Asian restaurant based in Atlanta. With 12 locations throughout the city, and surrounding metro areas, they aim to serve fast and fresh food fit for pedestrians and kings. Lunches With Artists = a series of lunches + conversations with artists.
“My studio… does not have any windows.” Drew spoke about his studio as he was hustling to gather wood panels and stands to make a pseudo table for our lunch, picked up from a Thai restaurant close by in Brooklyn. “And I never had a meal in my studio— as you can see, it’s pretty rough.”
I met Drew Conrad for first time this past July while doing a residency in New York. He has shown at Get This! Gallery over the past years, and recently had his debut solo show in NYC with Fitzroy Gallery, Ain’t Dead Yet. His sculptural installations appear as ambitious, mysterious, and dark. These constructed and then destroyed structures demanded a specific narrative understanding from me.
We spent a few hours eating noodles and rice together in his studio, and conversed regarding his recent series of works, upcoming show Backwater Blues at Get This! Gallery, living in NYC as an artist, construction of history, places, memories, and much more. A few days ago, I visited Get This! Gallery to shoot a few photos of Conrad’s show. The works, now transported into a white space, were breathing very differently from Conrad’s dark studio in Brooklyn. His works were incredibly photogenic. The standing sculptures’ dark, almost haunting, hues were sort of eminating against cold white gallery walls, and the warm bulb lights were dancing around the sculptures as if seductive lyrics.
Gyun Hur: Drew, thank you so much for opening up your studio to me! Your structures are looking so fantastic. This series of constructed, fragmented sculptures are for the upcoming solo show with Get This! Gallery here in Atlanta, Backwater Blues, and also a continuation of your last solo show with Fitzroy Gallery, NYC, Ain’t Dead Yet. There seems to be a poetry in your exhibition titles, and knowing that these form a continual series, they intrigue me. The constructed houses are worn out, old, with a strange sense of history to them. Could you tell me a little more about your current work regarding these structures? Is site of the gallery (NYC to Atlanta) changing your approach, context of work?
Drew Conrad: I sometimes feel like finding the proper title for a show is one of the most arduous tasks. It takes me a lot of eraser marks and rejected phrases in finding the perfect verbage to encapsulate a show. In regards to my current work, Ain’t Dead Yet and Backwater Blues represent a continuing series that is based upon decaying architectural, interior and exterior spaces which manifest in the form of a fragmented house.
The context of work has slightly shifted from Ain’t Dead Yet to Backwater Blues, but I wouldn’t say it has been dictated by the changing of show locations. I do understand that my work has a ‘southern’ tone to it and heading south will only magnify that more, but the new body of work really stems from a direct response to the previous work shown at Fitzroy. Ain’t Dead Yet had vitality through blinking arrow signs, record collections, sound looped megaphones, and even a marquee photo of Elvis at his final encore. Backwater Blues is me taking a slightly more somber approach. Gone are the blinking lights and sound pieces. Elvis has returned, but in the form of his grave sight at Graceland and the chandeliers sit heavy on the floor rather than suspended from the sculptures. The sculptures in Backwater Blues are essentially the missing companion pieces for many in the former show. The two shows still feel one in the same within the aspects of construction and the overall handling of materials, but focus on different themes and moods.
GH: There is a sense of constructed history. What are some of your choices of materials and process? Specific items, like picture frames, are placed to provoke certain visual codes, memories. They are brilliantly beautiful and old and new and nostalgic all simultaneously.
DC: The sculptures are created from completely new materials, consisting of wood, fabric, lighting fixtures, and household oddities which are then deteriorated and destroyed through multiple methods, so this idea of constructed history is an undeniable part of my process. I fabricate every part of the history and aging in the sculptures, from the rust on the nails to the dirt on floor. It is truly is a filthy job that in the end gives me complete control over the visual experience rather than relying on reclaimed lumber and items which are already imbedded with their own past. In regards to photos and other items that find their way into my pieces, they are culled from wide range of sources. They serve as signifiers to overall themes within the work. Some are more direct than others. Taxidermy might introduce the general idea of the exotic, while a grouping of paintings, Blue Boy and Pinkie, might lead to more art referential explorations and can be directly tied to my childhood. All the sculptures are built with that constructed history in mind, culled specifically from my experiences and past, and the American historical landscape. Ideas of the dust bowl, the Gilded Age, the Deep South, and current pop culture all surface within these pieces. They are a bricolage of items made to evoke the exploration of memory, nostalgia, and Americana.
GH: You have been here in NYC for about 10 years now. Coming out of the University of Georgia, staying in Atlanta a bit, could you tell me a little bit about your decision to move up to NYC, a journey of standing on your own feet as an artist in that city? And, how it is for you to coming back to Atlanta with a body of work that shows so much of your growth and ambition?
DC: I have one of the age-old cliché stories of moving to New York to become an artist. It begins with graduate school and ends with sobering up to focus on my art career. And yes, there was a lot of getting lost in the downtown nightlife in between. It wasn’t until about three years ago that I decided to focus on putting my art career first. I had this overwhelming urge to create something bigger than myself—something that would at least make me feel like I gave it my all, even if the art world never noticed. It was pretty much a self-imposed do or die situation.
I got a studio in Brooklyn and took that phrase “something bigger” quite literally, and so I started building a 12-foot tall sculpture, which became Dwelling No. 1. It was the first free standing large scale sculpture I had ever built. Once I finished it I knew I couldn’t stop and all the sculptures that would follow would ended up becoming the show Ain’t Dead Yet, hence the title. Over the course of these ten years, I’ve been represented by Get This! Gallery in Atlanta. I have had the fortune of being the inaugural solo show in the two previous locations, and now I will be returning for a third solo show, once again, in a new space. I am happy to return to Atlanta after a few years of hiatus.
Tin Drum believes in the Arts. We have a passion for the creators, and the work itself. We hope to fuel the minds and stomachs of the art community of Atlanta via our relationships with Living Walls, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center and individual artists. Through Gyun Hur, and Lunches with Artists, we have been able be a part of a very important dialog surrounding the process and inspiration for art in Atlanta. We look forward to bringing more food to the table and watching our hometown art community grow.
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