Whiting: Most often it is from a drawing so the vision is already articulated in a drawing. I have a little brief sketch or drawing that I did when I really wasn’t thinking that much, the drawing is the thing that I refer to. I don’t have an image of the character until I do a drawing of it. Generally all ideas come from pictures, like a figurative thing that I draw on paper and I look at and say “oh, that looks kind of like an elephant and then I render it. The name, the character, the idea, the narrative, all that stuff comes after, it is on recognition of it, it is not about a picture that fits a narrative. It is more about, oh you see something and that looks like this, a troll or something like that and then you make it. I also refer to the drawing to the point where I leave the ambiguous part of the drawing in there, I don’t try to round it off and try and make it more like the character, I just let it be the way it is.
Mimi: What was the first art project you did as a child that you can remember?
Whiting: That is an easy one. I’m sure I did lot’s of scribbles and drawings in preschool and kindergarten and all that stuff, but the most important, the coolest thing was this. I was a kid, I was living in Seattle, I was a kid of about, and I was probably thirteen or fourteen, maybe even twelve. We moved to Seattle when I was twelve. I was really into the Oregon Trail for some reason I loved Conestoga wagons, the prairie schooner with the big wheel in the back, maybe it came from watching westerns or something like that. I loved that little wagon with the canvas canopy, big wheels, drawn by two horses, having a family being self contained in that and going across the prairie without a road, that for me was just this fantastic thing and I loved it. I made a balsa wood model of it, probably a foot long, my sister was a horse collector, so she had those statue horses, you know, those plastic ones. I basically made it to scale to fit the horses, so it had the yoke, the T and this kind of harness, the wheels turned and the yoke went back and forth and I used coat hangers for the rims. My mom was so into it she sewed me a canopy out of cotton, so I had the little draw strings and I’d pull it in the front. The connection for me was kind of a foreshadowing of a sculpture that I made much later, a couple of years ago “The Bovine” which was this giant sculpture, it ended up being called the bovine because it was the cow, that was sort of an animal parallel, the cow, it was also basically a camper wagon. I did not remember making that Conestoga wagon until I was on the way down to this award ceremony in Tacoma. I was trying to come up with a story about how my parents were so supportive of my art making, they always have been, but I couldn’t come up with the perfect little story to reinforce it, then I remembered that piece, the Conestoga wagon, you know like having your mother help you make your little art project and it was a totally, it wasn’t a contest, it wasn’t a competitive thing. I wanted to make this thing and she helped me make it. I could take that and leap thirty or forty years and I’m making this giant camper but it is the same kind of thing, a self contained unit, it has all the utensils and where they would go. Too long a story to explain all the connections but that’s the first thing that I remember making. I was also really into drawing Spider Man; I was a huge Spider Man collector.
Mimi: Why Spider Man?
Whiting: You ask any Spider Man fan, why? That is kind of an obvious question. He is really the only super hero amongst that whole set that was kind of a fall guy, he had a really tough public life, he was a geek and he was made fun of by the other kids and he was really fallible. Peter Parker was kind of a nerd. It is definably a good question because he stands out; the human side of his dual character is very superhuman, he is always lovelorn, he had financial problems, he’s barely keeping it together, he’s an orphan, he’s haunted by this memory that is responsible for his uncle Ben’s death.
Mimi: So he is an underdog
Whiting: That is an understatement, he is also conflicted. His super hero status, you know he invented the stuff, he has powers and stuff but he had it in his suit it is tricky. It is not like he could fly around and do all this super hero stuff. He is out there and suddenly out of web fluid.
Mimi: He is vulnerable
Whiting: Totally vulnerable and he is funny and he is really sweet. I used to go through and copy certain Spiderman drawings and I invented my own super hero based on my own Spider Man. I was really into drawing cars and superheroes. That predated but the most significant memory was the wagon.
Mimi: Now what inspires you to work, or what motivates you to make art?
Whiting: There is no one thing; I really don’t need any motivation at this point because I have so much stuff to do. For me the easiest answer would be, oh you have a show in November, so instantaneously, I go ok, I’m going to make art for it.
Mimi: Do you enjoy it still?
Whiting: Oh yeah, totally, but is does get… I am doing this commission, I have never done public art, I’ve never done a commission of this size before. A commission has a timeline, it has a deadline, and it has a budget.
Mimi: It has expectation as well
Whiting: Yes, so I jump into this thing saying I could do all this stuff that I proposed. I’m learning how to do things really fast. Lacking any deadline I would still make art. There are certain things I like to do more than others, I always like the drawing aspect of it, I look at the drawings and think, oh I’m going to make a plaster relief out of that, I’m going to make a really crazy painting out of that and that sort of launches me into it, so I am never at a loss for something to do cause I have sketch books full of drawings that I have never done anything with, literally I have tens of them that I can just flip through. Pick up a book, look at it and say, I’ve never made that, yes it might be a couple years old, it might be a little dusty but if you switch mediums or the time that has gone by since then, things have changed in my mind so I see it maybe in a more constructionist way or maybe in a more abstract way. I see it; maybe I will switch the materials around so it is still interesting to me.
Mimi: So it is fresh because you are changing mediums
Whiting: Yes, I take this figure drawing class every Monday night for fun, for relaxation I go and we drink beer and there is a model. I am usually not good but I draw the model, when I am done with that using the momentum of the drawing I start to do my own little weird drawings on the same page and I have a whole bunch of those that are really recent in the last six months but I have been so busy doing other stuff that those things have been piling up. Like three shows that I want to make that are in my head are waiting for me to get to them, hoping that someone else doesn’t do them first.
Mimi: Never enough time.
Whiting: Definitely never enough time.
Mimi: How much do you work in the day?
Whiting: It depends, I think I max out, I think I get exhausted at about eight now. It is like a ramp, the closer I get to the end of the working period the closer to a show or in this instance a commission, obviously the pressure gets more. I start showing up a little bit earlier every day and staying a little bit later. So normally my ideal day would be read the paper and drink coffee from nine to ten and then walk the dog and I’m here by tenish and I work until six and that includes a forty five minute lunch.
Mimi: A regular work day.
Whiting: Yes, I like really regular hours, I like working in the morning. I’m not one of those night owls that works through the night, there are artists that work sort of on the back side, a lot of really great artists and sometimes I wonder, I’m not taking advantage of, there is something night offers, like Philip Guston is a big night worker. Some artists start at eight, they go have dinner, then they get in their studio and then they work form nine or ten at night and then they work until five in the morning and then they go to bed. I just like being up in the day and having regular hours.
Mimi: Do you think that the viewer understands your work the way you would like them to?
Whiting: I think for the most part, you don’t find out, you never talk to the people that don’t understand it or don’t appreciate it or don’t like it. Most people will see what you are doing and they take off, or they turn around and walk away, no one ever comes up and say’s “oh god, I hate that thing “or I don’t understand that thing. So you only end up corresponding with or talking with people that see it, they go “I know what that is! I have one of those in my neighborhood “So, I do hear from people that have that instant recognition and they come up and tell me “oh my god, I know what that is “I know it is true, I know it happens but I don’t know the other side of it, you don’t really hear the other side of it, people that go “ oh whatever “ I am sure there is lots of them. When I see something in my sketch book or my drawings that is something that I want to make something from, I am already filtering out some of the stuff that would be less recognizable because I see something and it is semi recognizable and it is because of a TV show or a cartoon or it looks like a mail box or it looks like something almost everyone has seen. I am already acting as the first step in the filter choosing things that would probably be more recognizable because that’s what makes me like them or that is what makes me laugh about them. I am not making work from ambiguous or ambivalent things; you know there are tons of those things just like abstract stuff. I have zillions of drawings that are all kind of the same just like figurative, they don’t really say anything, they don’t have a name, the thing is eventually if you look at drawings really like a name will float to the top and that is why I think you like it, why someone else will connect with it, they go “that is”
Mimi: They relate to it in a particular way
Whiting: Yes. I am sort of an average person in a lot of ways. I consume a lot of the same pop culture that a lot of people have and you know, I have lived in neighborhoods that are sort of urban, I think the stuff that I recognize is the same stuff a lot of people will recognize.
Mimi: Does making art make you happy or do you feel like you are exhuming something when you are working?
Whiting: Exhuming like taking something up from the dead?
Mimi: No, like demons?
Whiting: I am not like that kind of a person or artist at all, I mean I think that would be a great advantage, if you have negative things in you, work them out and get rid of them, exorcise them. The best thing about making art is sort of the autonomy that you have; it is like seeing your life like an open book. You end up having an overall perspective on things that is really liberating, really wide open, you can do anything with your time, you can do anything with your life, you can do anything with your mind, you can make stuff and you can go to museums and see things and understand other art in the way this was made rather than see it in a art historical term, you can see it in a art making kind of a way. I think the best thing about being an artist is the hours and the freedom to do and to respond, I mean it is sort of a utopian idea, you get to make whatever you want and someone whether you get to show it or buy it they are interested in it, I mean that is sort of ridiculous. I am not going to put people down that have regular jobs, I am sure there is just as much gratification in being an architect or a doctor or construction worker, I mean there is a lot of people I’m sure that love what they do and they can express themselves and they are free in a way but an art career is sort of like, it not event like an open highway it is like an open sea, it is like anywhere you go, as long as you can reinforce it and make it good you can almost do anything in that way, not that you are going to succeed. I think it is an insane thing. I do get really happy when every once in while I’m coming in: I say “am so glad I get to do this today!”But sometimes I come in and think this is scary, I’m lost and there is no one to turn to there is definitely a dark side to it.
Mimi: There is no map
Whiting: No, there is no hot line, you can’t pick up the phone and go help, you know, I don’t know where I am on this, you have other artist friends and they can come and do a studio visit, you can get emotional re-enforcements but often you get your artist friends and they come over and lead you astray, they say” oh, I know what you should do!” They may be right about what you could do as a problem solving idea but you might not have time for it and it will totally disrupt what you are doing.
Mimi: Right, because in the end it is your decision
Whiting: Yes, you have drawn a line and you are supposed to stick to this line. A lot of art making, some of the trouble is that art, like I was saying before is such a wide open plane that you can go along a line in a certain way and all of a sudden, it is like hiking on a trail, all of a sudden there will be a little fork that goes off this way and you say, oh God, I could do that and you see another one and you see another one and at some point you have to trust that the initial impulse, you just have to keep going or you know, rewind the tape, I can try and do them all but it’s really tricky sometimes when you run out of time.
Mimi: How do you go about translating a drawing into a sculpture? How do you decide on materials? And on scale?
Whiting: I think all those questions are all bound into one when you look at the drawing. I look at the drawing and I see it as, there it is! It is on the wall, it is two feet tall and made of plaster, somehow the way the drawing is rendered it’s saying that the first choice would be a relief sculpture and it would be like two inches deep and twenty four inches tall.
Mimi: So you know almost immediately
Whiting: Yes, I don’t do a lot of calculations in that way.
Every once in a while I will do a drawing and say, oh this could be life size, I mean life size for me would be human size, six feet, between six and seven feet, that would be a figure and otherwise it is sort of a mockup or a three dimensional sketch where you do a sculpture where you can see some of the relief but it is only this deep and it sits on the wall and it is sort of one of those kitschy things that you have in a house. If the drawing looks like something important and is loaded and the name is a narrative of it and it is speaking to you, maybe that is worth more time, make it bigger, make it 3-D. If you feel ambivalent about it, if you think it is cute or funny or a one liner, then spend two days on it and just make it, then you could put it up on your wall and after a year re-make it again and make it bigger. The idea, if the idea sticks with you, that means you are already filtering out the stuff you think is OK but the stuff that is really important which comes with a narrative speak to you, those are the ones that keep coming back and those are the ones that you want to develop. I am not an abstract artist but I read an article a couple of days ago in the New Yorker, there is this new abstraction show at the Modern right now, just the whole dilemma about how relevant true abstraction is or what it is by definition, you know Picasso was famously anti–abstraction, even though he abstracted everything to the point sometimes you could barely tell what it is but when you boil it all down it is kind of hard to get to the bottom of. Abstraction is the root of so much modern art, cubism and everything but if you go all the way out, maybe there is a line for me, I don’t know.
Mimi: I want to talk a little about the music as well, so, do you prefer one to the other?
Whiting: I do.
Mimi: Which one do you prefer?
Whiting: I shouldn’t even say, it sounds like sour grapes or something. Music for me is more rewarding and more of a frontier. I guess I like it better, it is a group, even though I write on my own and I write my own lyrics, they are kind of personal and self-contained. In the band I present the song, I just start playing and my drummer and bass player write their own parts and occasionally they will chip in as far as the way we are actually going to compose it and construct the song but generally I just bring my part, they bring their parts and we play live.
Mimi: Do you practice first?
Whiting: Yes, we practice and then we play it. A lot of my music endeavors have been compromised by how much time I have to put into art. I have never made a dime off music so music is something that I do when I can and I am always waiting for that time in the sun when I have some money in the bank and no art breathing down my neck and I can spend six months making a record and go on tour and do all that stuff, it always seems to be running like one of those mechanical rabbits, it is frustrating. Playing live, I discovered when you sing and perform in public there is a release that happens, you were talking about the release of the demons and stuff, I don’t really have the demons but when I sing in public on stage with my band there is something that happens, it is like going to church in a way, you are opening up and you are sort of confessing and exposing and you are celebrating, all these things that come into it that I don’t really have working in the art studio. Art for me is much more like work.
Mimi: Also a little lonelier
Whiting: Yes, totally, but art has always connected me to people, other artists, my dealer, my art friends. I could have assistants in here, I could have it a little less lonely but music by its nature, you are performing you are in front of people, I drink beer when I am playing music and I hang out with friends, go to bars and that is sort of the lifestyle, a pretty nice life, I have not done it much but touring, that is what I would like to do.
Mimi: Do you like the process of recording or do you like playing out more?
Whiting: I like both, I like it all. I can’t say I have been real active in the last couple of years because I have been making art so much. I have two records worth of material that has been sitting on tape for the last several years ready to record. I hate to admit it but my New Year’s resolution four years in a row is the same resolution, get the record out. So this is 2013 and I hope to get it out this year but we will see.
Mimi: Are you happy with your accomplishments?
Whiting: I don’t know about that accomplishments thing. I think that I meet people who that think I have accomplished things, x, y and z but it is hard for me to see that. I feel fortunate right now because I am sort of on the payroll right now for this project. I am sort of a legitimately a professional artist right now which is hard to get to for a lot of my friends and Seattle is not a very generous city when it comes to supporting it’s artists, it doesn’t have the market, I am not accusing anyone in particular but is a small market. A lot of talented people are trying to make a go of it and there isn’t enough money to support a lot of gallery’s, so it is a tricky business. I am really fortunate to be able to make art full time. I will not sit back and say or I have done x, y and z, I’ve gotten some awards and some grants but I feel like I am still in the trenches right now, work and make stuff. I’m in debt right now, so it is not like I’ve gotten to this other side of the rainbow, that cracks me up when I meet people that think I am at this point, I go if I am there, where are you? Where is Seattle? I don’t want to sound bitter, I am satisfied but I think people think I have arrived at some place but I am mostly nose down working.
Mimi: If you could live in any part of the world and work on art and music, where would that be?
Whiting: Probably London, I have been to New York, I still would like to go back there at some point but that wouldn’t be a new experience. I would love to go to London. I always wanted to live in London. Obviously great rock and roll music scene there and the art scene like second to none also London is highly civilized, it is civilized and also has a stodginess to it also for an American it is also exotic, they drive on the other side of the road. I just think it would be a great place to go for a year but it is super expensive right now. I am going to New Orleans in the spring for three weeks for an art residency that will be great, that will be super exotic, it will be warm and it won’t be raining, it will be cheaper and sexy. New Orleans is almost like being in another country. I think some people would like to go to some place like Rome or someplace that has the history but I am really an art museum type artist, I really don’t want to go to Fiji and do the Paul Gauguin thing, which is totally not my thing. I’d rather be in a place that is where there are other serious contemporary artists, I can go to the museums and go to the Tate and see modern shows and that would be the best,
Mimi: What is up and coming?
Whiting: I am working on this wicker sculpture until probably until the end of March and then hopefully I will get it done, I’ll take that to the foundry and then I will pass it off to the foundry and then it is their responsibility to turn it into metal then once that is done, I come back to Oregon and go to New Orleans for three weeks and make work for a group show in L. A., I have a group show in L. A. in the end of June not L.A. but the Orange County Museum which is going to be really exciting, I have a really big wall that I am responsible for so when this is done I have two months to make and fill a forty foot wall and that is insane! Then I come back. I am up for the challenge, when I come back from that I have a solo show at the Hattie Ford museum in Salem. 2013 is pretty much wiped out unless I can get ahead and do some recording, make some stuff happen with the band but, we will see, I squeeze in shows.
Mimi: Whiting, Thank you very much
Mimi: It was a pleasure to talk to you
Whiting: Thank you for coming over, thank you for the cake
Mimi: You’re welcome
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 Tablespoon of unsweetened, cocoa powder
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1-2 oz. red food coloring
- 1 teaspoon of white distilled vinegar
- ½ cup of prepared plain hot coffee
- Preheat oven to 325.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the sugar and vegetable oil.
- Mix in the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and red food coloring until combined.
- Stir in the coffee and white vinegar.
- Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients a little at time, mixing after each addition, just until combined.
- Generously grease and flour two round cake pans with butter and flour.
- Pour the batter evenly into each pan.
- Bake in the middle rack for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not over bake as cake will continue to cook as it cools.
- Let cool on a cooling rack until the pan are warm to the touch.
- Slide a knife or offset spatula around the inside of the pans to loosen the cake from the pan.
- Remove the cakes from the pan and let them cool.
- Frost the cake with cream cheese frosting when the cakes have cooled completely.
- Make your favorite cream cheese frosting. I use a very good quality butter , orange zest and Mexican vanilla to add complexity of flavor