“Slow Burn” is a group show featuring new works from Carlos Valencia, Trent Bryant and Othelo Gervacio at Three Kings Studio, in Brooklyn. The show is an exhibition of highly tactical and time-consuming works, utilizing different techniques and mediums such as ink wash, watercolor, graphite and chainstitch embroidery.
We spoke to each artist about their imagery, their dedication to the technique, and how they love to pour hours into making art. Go see for yourself. The show runs until May 29th, 2015.
How did you get interested in chainstitch embroidery?
When I was eighteen I moved to New York and began an apprenticeship at Doubleday and Cartwright, and the in-house clothing brand No Mas NYC. Both are heavily sports inspired creative entities. At the time, we were buying up tons of sports reference and memorabila from eBay, thrift stores, etc. trying to build this archive of sport. That’s where I first crossed paths with chainstitch. Almost everything we were buying was embellished with this, no matter if it was a patch, varsity jacket, or weird fan flag, it was all chainstitching. This is pretty mush due to the vintage nature of this stuff: before 1960 there were only a few ways to embroider. Since then, the modern embroidery machine has taken its place and the chainstitch machines have slowly been phased out, now a rare item of machinery. I suppose that’s really where my interest was sparked and the idea of art resurgence first started forming. From there I spent the next 18 months trying to find a chainstitch machine.
“The idea of spending A LOT of time on something is starting to be lost in the digital era.”
What does this show mean to you, on an artistic level?
I’m not sure what this exactly means to me, but I’m glad the other guys have the same time-intensive process to their work. The idea of spending A LOT of time on something is starting to be lost (or just seen as crazy) in the digital era, so I’m glad the three of us are on the same page. Yeah, we spend a lot of time at home.
My shit takes forever… and ever. I think the pieces took between fifteen and sixty hours of labor each. However, I really feel that’s the most important part of the process and I wouldn’t want to do it faster. The time to make something correct is super important to me. There’s not a fast way to get to that conclusion, at least not for me. I need to process. Also, I only make one of each piece, so after things are done, they’re done.
Why is your machine, which is a hundred years old, you favorite tool to achieve your work?
I like working with this machine for historical reasons, or maybe legacy reasons you could say. After looking for a year and a half, one finally popped up on Craigslist, in the Bronx, with a title that read “must sell tonight.” Kinda sketch, but whatever. A friend drove me up there and we bought the machine and the bucket of parts it came with. The seller mentioned the machine was once owned by a man named Leatherman, who was responsible for making a majority of the South Bronx gang and terriorty jackets of the 1980s. After the 80s, the machine was sold to an unnamed, major New York museum where it remained until one day it “left.” All this has been motivation for me to continue the machine history.
Could you tell us about your selection of pieces for this show: what items/concept or Americana are you particularly interested in?
Some pieces get a little closer to the traditional word Americana, while others play more with current American culture. Look, I’m from Florida, and not the clean, tourist part. Rather, the middle, the part where people drive around Chevy Astrovans filled with live meth labs, chain-smoking cigarettes with all the windows up. A lot of my work uses the verbiage Combee Road [Polk County, FL]. It’s the underbelly, the white trash, the People of Walmart, if you will. That’s what I like to play with from a visual and conceptual point of view.
Do you have any particular reference in terms of a master of chainstitch embroidery?
I don’t think so, at least no names come to mind, it’s more in the work. I have vintage chainstitch pieces from the ‘20s and ‘30s that I value and respect a lot, but I don’t know who specially made them. I wish I did. I talk a lot with these old ladies online in the Mid West. The machines have been passed down in their families. They still use the machines for personal projects and are much more knowledgeable and skilled than I am. We trade photos back and forth, in the hope to share and inspire different techniques and sourcing resources. You know, we bond.
Where does your interest in graphite come from?
I started using graphite because it was an accessible medium for me. It didn’t require paying out money for equipment and space. I started out in printmaking and was attracted to the monochrome and graphic nature of that work, I naturally progressed to graphite when I became more interested in the unique nature of hand drawn pieces while maintaining those graphic elements.
As much as I am attracted to the monochrome it is also one of the main constraints of graphite. In addition to the limitations of the grey scale it is not a very forgiving medium when it comes to imperfections and errors.
How many hours can you spend on a single piece?
It depends on the work, the size and the image itself. I regularly spend over forty hours per piece but can also complete an image in one day. I treat it like a job: 8 hours a day.
“Sometimes I wish I could press a button and print something out but that would be a whole different artwork.”
How would you describe your approach: on the verge of fine arts and humor?
A lot of my work has serious intent but I don’t necessarily want to just present a mirror to the dark and macabre. These are images from popular culture, by taking them out of context and showing them in a humorous light it makes them more approachable to me.
Today there is a lot of “instant” art (internet art and conceptual art). Is this show an attempt to recall that some art cannot be achieved without time?
Time is relative. My work is laborious and taking the time to create is necessary for what I do. Sometimes I wish I could press a button and print something out but that would be a whole different artwork. And I enjoy the process of drawing. I am not opposed to instant art, it just happens that my work is time-consuming.
Where does your interest in watercolor and ink wash on paper come from?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. Some of the earliest drawings I can remember making are from when my father was out to sea on his 6-month navy tours. I was still in grade school. I used to draw portraits of my family members—the funniest ones were of my sister and grandmother whom I used to draw without arms and with very distressed faces. At the time they were “The Man,” hindering me from doing the things I really wanted to do: you know, jumping off the top of the monkey bars and watching YO MTV Raps.
I first started experimenting with watercolor in high school, but it wasn’t until I assisted Scott Campbell (for 4 years) that I started to really pick up on it and learn some tricks of the trade.
“I’m not that morbid, I promise.”
How long can you spend on a single piece?
Somewhere around forty to fifty hours on a single piece depending on the size and density of the subject matter.
You curated this show. What is the idea behind it: slow process or a new take on Americana?
We all three work in our respective mediums but practice the same kind of patience and slow process, so the “Slow Burn” is something we can all relate to. It’s literally like waiting for the paint to dry, or for the water to boil, but multiply that by 10 hours.
Are flowers and skulls you subjects of predilection?
A fair amount of my work does involve skulls and flowers, yes. I’ve always drawn skulls. I don’t really know why. I’m not that morbid, I promise. But what I aim for in my aesthetic and the emotion I want people to feel when they see my work lies in a place where beauty meets tragedy and where reality is distorted and deconstructed. Sometimes skulls and roses best tell that story.
How do you know Trent and Carlos, why did they come to your mind for this show?
Carlos, I’ve known for almost 10 years. I first saw his work at The Journal Gallery years back and have always been a fan. We kind of share some of the same humor in our work and of course again, both know how it is to work on a piece for so long to a point where you’re halfway through and don’t even want to finish it anymore! [Laughs.]
Trent, I met a few years back through work. I later learned of what he was doing with the chain-stitch machine and was amazed. After he explained the process and painstaking hours involved, I wanted him to join the lineup as well.
Lead image: “Adored 1” by Othelo Gervacio.