anthony hawley is a visual artist based in lincoln, nebraska. we met back in 2013, through an art show i curated (text + message), featuring some of anthony’s work. at the time, he was in the art practice mfa program at sva with my friends tribble mancenido. anthony and i reconnected a few weeks ago and chatted about his recent installation, loculus, hybrid creativity, and the role of family life on his work. one of the many things i find inspiring about anthony: he doesn’t apologize for working in so many different mediums, instead he believes they inform each other.
more about anthony below:
cultureisland: tell us more about you.
anthony hawley: i grew up in newburyport, massachusetts, about 45 minutes north of boston. when we were there it was very much still a fishing town, a port town, a little rough around the edges. now it’s not at all. my dad is a painter and we lived in a lot of spaces that could accommodate big paintings—an old firehouse; the chemtron building (an old chemical plant and warehouse where we lived on the top floor); an old ballroom dancehall that was converted to a loft and studio space where my parents still live. i spent a lot of time in these studio spaces, especially when i was younger, and there were always amazing and odd things there. for instance, we took a lot of stuff from the chemtron building to the newer space; stuff that was just left—huge earthenware; glassware that looked like it was straight out of a mad scientists lair; an old oscilloscope! strange outsized and outmoded items that let the imagination run wild. when i was younger i also did a lot of studio chores. but i couldn’t get out of newburyport fast enough! when i was in high school and middle school it felt like a ‘good old boys’ town run by a gaggle of old conservative men. obviously memory is selective so take this with a grain of salt, but what my mind sees when it thinks about that town is a huge conservative gaggle on the one hand and then a few stray, weird figures on the other who were total anomalies—my dad had a friend named sam who was a tuna fisherman who lived in a van; and there was fran(k) who was a photographer who began as a male and transitioned to a female when his girlfriend died. these are only tiny drops in a bigger memory pool, but i think figures like this meant a lot much later—i wrote stories about these people and now they represent this kind of in-between state that is at the heart of what i do.
cultureisland: what is your artistic process?
anthony hawley: when i am in the studio i always work on a lot of things at once. i might have a group of paintings going along with small daily drawings, a larger project with several media components that takes awhile to plan, along with video or performance sketches. usually an idea, or a feeling, or a material interests me and i try to generate work around that. then i hone in on what hits at that the most. i take notes all the time—sometimes to get the work moving and often during the day. i read different things and sometimes watch movies too. but i try to focus all this work around that feeling or idea i’m after. so it’s not just work to pass the time, but it’s loose and there’s always room for spontaneity and the unexpected. it’s like this: i’m inside a big gelatinous thing that i’m trying to move somewhere. i have a sense of where we’re going but it’s a little difficult to steer and sometimes i just have to trust. sometimes we pick up strangers along the way. sometimes they stay with us and sometimes they exit. sometimes they leave something in the blob because we really need it for the final destination. then we arrive and i crawl outside.
cultureisland: tell us more about your recent installation work, loculus.
anthony hawley: i started this work at the very end of 2012. i got interested in this word “loculus” because of its multiple meanings. in latin, the word “loculus” means “little place.” in the ancient world, a “loculus” was an architectural niche that housed a dead body--a chamber or cell in a catacomb. but “loculus” also refers to the ovary in a plant and to the satchel carried by roman soldiers and to a 14-piece puzzle that’s like a tangram. i loved the idea of making a sculpture that could be all of these definitions at once. a place to house the dead and dead or buried things; a place to produce or reproduce things; a kit; a puzzle to be played with and solved. i was trying to make a work that felt really alive with different media, a real hybrid, and this seemed like a way to do that. a burial chamber, an ovary, a satchel, a puzzle: they’re all containers and that overlap allowed me to combine video, performance, drawing, and sculptural materials into a single work. the shapeshifting let me work in various formants simultaneously. then larger show this year that opened expanded on that. there are a group of drawings that i think of as little loculi. and then the whole space becomes a kind of chamber. i think it all has to do with mapping the body and self, mapping the different selves and stories we travel through and how we care for those.
cultureisland: how does hybridism play a part in your work?
anthony hawley: it plays a huge part! i think for years i felt like i had to apologize for making different kinds of work. i had to apologize for being a writer and a visual artist and for having a huge array of interests. but now i have come to own that. sometimes less is more, yes, fine; but sometimes more is more. now i find ways to keep all those interests close and in contact with each other. this way they infect each other. i constantly move between them. i don’t know why painting has to be separate from video or why that has to be separate from making strands of bead necklaces with texts. i move between these things because sometimes a video might entail a kind of thinking that’s inherently different from painting thinking, but i am very interested in the kind of process and actions that emerge when these modes are combined, or even when they start slipping into each other. the most exciting work to me feels uncertain in what exactly it is.
cultureisland: your family is like its own little art collective; how does your wife, a violinist, and your daughters play a part in your art?
anthony hawley: well let’s start with the fact that as i’m trying to answer these questions i have one daughter banging on the piano and the other running around playing a pitch pipe. ha. but no joke, i always have to fight for airwaves. i have been married to my wife, a professional violinist, for almost 13 years and since we have known each other we’ve always had to negotiate space and time. in a very practical way that helps us build a very clear work ethic, especially with two children: you can either get swallowed up and lose the work or you just let art and life be a thing and find a balance. but that seems like a minor issue at this point because we’ve been doing it so long and it’s just what we do. we are very close and each other’s first “editors.” a few years ago we started to collaborate, which was amazing. we want to do a lot more of that, but it’s also challenging because we each have our own careers too. the ladies (daughters) are a huge influence. they talk about my work, what i’m making, wander in and out of the studio etc. also i like to play with what we think of as “good” or “bad” in taste and i like to bring things in from their world to mine—like bead letters that kids use to make charm bracelets and necklaces or hand-crocheted stuff. i don’t want to rule that out. my daughters became central figures in a big video i was working on too: “fehlerdiagnose/fault diagnosis.”
cultureisland: what effect has teaching had on your own work?
anthony hawley: i currently teach in the art department at the university of nebraska-lincoln. i teach drawing, color theory, foundations, and upper level painting and drawing and hybrid courses. also a senior capstone course. well every course pushes my work. for instance, color theory. i had no idea what i was doing when i first taught color because i’d never really taken a traditional art class in my life! but i had been teaching writing and lit classes for 13 years so i just threw myself in whole hog. it wasn’t like a particular “theory” influenced my work; just being in color so deeply. but for me the studio and the teaching very much inform each other and they have to in order to work. i always want to push what my work can do and likewise i want to push a class can do, what art teaching can do. i think some of our ways of teaching art and thinking about art school are a bit tired and we need to start envisioning what art school may or may not be for the present moment.
cultureisland: what are some of your own words to live by?
anthony hawley: “living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. the moment you know how, you begin to die a little. the artist never entirely knows. we guess. we may be wrong, but we take leap after leap into the dark.” – agnes de mille
“when in doubt add french techno.”