Blair Thurman was kind enough to walk us around his first exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. His painted wood shapes crystallize many of his most personal stories and obsessions, chilhood delights and adult concerns. We were eager to have access to his keys to fully appreciate the mystery behind his dazzling sculptures.
What would you say is of utmost importance in your work?
One thing about my work is that I always try to make it about me. I try to make it personal, make it my own and connect it to my past.
Would childhood be the main inspiration?
Childhood is just a way to get to ownership and get to something that’s personal. When you look back to your childhood, it’s fairly personal, it’s who you are before you went to school. What were you thinking about when you were 11, 8 or even 5? Those are important things about yourself. That’s not to say you’re not yourself when you’re thirty. But when you’re twenty-five you study something. And I didn’t want to base it on my twenty or twenty-five, I wanted to own the idea. So it’s really an obsession with ownership.
This piece looks like a Greek sauna temple.
That’s the temple of the body. I tried to make it look cadaver skinned because “Temple of the Body” is a joke for middle aged people -- my age. Once you get overweight and kind of fat like me, you get the urge to go feel young again. It’s weird because you destroy your life with a sex mania. I never fell into that. I’m never going to be be the fit guy. I’m going to be the fat guy. It’s weird, I’ve had four or five friends who have done this very same thing. They start exercising to get in shape, then two years later, they’re divorced and get a young girlfriend, they have a weird tan and think they can be young again.
"I try to make it personal, make it my own and connect it to my past."
Tell us about your interest for totems, or totemic art.
It may also be an admiration of folk art. If you go to the museum of Natural History, you can see that the people were really putting themselves into the animals and it’s almost a mystical result.
Also, as we move forward through time, there are more layers of art production, so its even more important to have some kind of a theory. You can’t lie to yourself, but you have to trick yourself into that frame of mind, that theory. A theory that you can believe, with you being the artist, is very important, so you have to ask yourself: “can I believe in this theory?”
Could you tell us about your Business Cards Paintings?
For example, you have those paintings that look like this [draws on a napkin]:
It said "Blair Thurman" on my business card. In the old days when you would make those, you would make them at a Xerox place, then put them on a sheet of paper and cut them up. And so that’s how I got this shape, this hole in the paper. I thought "oh, I kind of like that shape," and since it’s my business card it implies my ownership, since you can say "that’s my business." You don’t own anything more than you own your business card. For example, when you do these paintings, you end up with pieces of wood that look with holes. I make paintings from paintings.
Would this apply to this piece as well?
Yes, that one is a business card painting. What I liked about that painting is that the points look like little banners, in the race and in used car shops. I like them because they look like small scale beautiful points, little banners or teeth or something like that.
This painting is probably the biggest one in the show.
That’s a business card painting, the original is a small blue version of this. I made a giant one because I wanted a really large painting of the show and for there to be a wide range of scale.
This painting looks more like a car body.
That one looks like the Bat Mobile. That’s Batman’s face there. I really like the Bat Mobile as a car and it has a lot of associations for me. I called it “Dynamic Friend” because Batman and Robin are the dynamic duo. If you look at one of your favorite friends, an actual friend acts upon you. It’s sort of a melancholy thing because it represents that we were once together. It’s a sad romantic sort of thing.
"A dynamic friend is a friend who acts upon you."
So you load geometrical forms with meaning?
Exactly. It’s not so much minimal. As it is loaded with nostalgic minimal [laughs]. It’s pretty crazy. The funny thing now, is that people like it. The few guys that collect this work a lot, understand it. They don’t know anything about the background but they like the final result.
Was Steven Parrino's work a big influence on you?
When I met Steven Parrino I was struck by his work, I thought it was so beautiful and deeply underappreciated. We met in ’88. Let me just see if I can do this right [start drawing on a napkin]:
His paintings had these voids in them. He would use words like voids as if he was punching out the painting. He would used French words like “annulation” to describe his paintings. What I realized when I looked at his annulation, I saw that this was the part on his motorcycle. It was part of the belt. Here’s the rear sprocket, here’s the fan belt that was in front of the engine… Anyway, what I saw was this tremendous speed because the shapes he chose. Again, back to the theory, what made him feel Avant-Garde was that he was painting art that was supposed to represent the end of painting. The point is that the theory got him to a point where he could feel comfortable trying to make these.
By end of painting, does this mean the end of physical painting, the void contained by the end of the painting?
Yes. This thing that was so essential for me, I was all this inside edge.