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Home FEATURES Artist Interviews Riley McFerrin Interview

Riley McFerrin Interview
Monday, 18 April 2005 07:37
A great SF based artist working on wood. I first met Riley after seeing a group show that he was involved in, at the short-lived Army St Art Space around 1997-8. I got a chance today to catch up with him out at his Hunter Point Studio to talk about art, woodworking, and The Frank. - Anthony Skirvin

Standard Stuff First

Name? Riley McFerrin
Born? July 18, 1975
Grew up where? Long Beach, CA
Moved to Sf? Summer of ‘97
Artschool? University of Oregon
Domestic Partner? The best children’s book designer ever, Sara Gillingham (wife)

So you have your third solo coming up at the Bucheon. What’s this show all about?
Basically after having become infatuated with wood working via construction job sites, I couldn’t stop thinking about wood, trees, lumber jacks, forests, old school wood working tools etc. This led to a thought process about nature and where materials come from. Because of modern technology, we get stuff completely differently then those before us. This started to make me sad.

Like strip-mining?
I think strip-mining sucks. Mostly, I get bummed out about reading about how loggers used to chop and whipsaw trees into lumber by hand. Now, massive diesel machineries split trees in half with the ease of a steel claw. There is no beauty in that. Technology, in general, has cut man off from nature.

Is that why you don’t have a website?
No, I just don’t know how to type

Seriously?
Seriously, I still pay my mom and sister to type book reports for me.

Recycled goods and Natural materials seem to play an important role in your artwork. Is that nichs nichs or octknee’oct?
I don’t know what those words mean, but I think nichs nichs? Yeah, I really like weathered materials, like rust, stains, dirt and other examples of the ‘elements’ taking their toll on things man has made.

You are a craftsman by trade. How does that reflect in your art works?
I learnt to painting and design in school only to realize that it’s wack. If you want to see real craftsmanship become a tradesmen’s apprentice. I don’t feel like I am very good, but wood and woodworking has become a never-ending source of entertainment & education for me. Tile setting is pretty tough too.

So I am not going to see you strolling down the aisles of Ikea?
Their wooden furniture is pretty much crap….it hardly lasts the drive home from Emeryville. So even though it’s super cheap and looks alright, it’s really just a lot more landfill. The thing that blows me away….. a five dollar lamp? How can they pull that off? I don’t want to know.

What’s your take on dickies (the mini turtlenecks)?
Dickies are rockin, I could just never find the right time of day to wear one, but in clothing related news, Gem sweater be thine is hardcore.

What’s the story on that Letter Press over there?
I got into letterpress printing in school after another student saw me trying to write text on a painting. I was carving letters into a wood panel. He saw the connection between this and the letterpress. It’s the tactile quality of lead type and the de-bossing on paper that I love…..I’ve using it ever since.

Using it for what?
Basically, I print small jobs, artsy post cards, and a few fine art books. Although binding really kills me. Anyway, the bay area is really a hub for letterpress printing, in the last 5 years or so a lot of small presses companies have started up. Tons of well-printed ephemera are pretty available now. It puts a smile on my face, but in a way it, saddens me too.

Art is a three-letter word, but if it were a four-letter word, what would it be?
Bung

People can find beauty in many different things, what do you find beautiful?
When a grad-all full of sheetrock in pacific heights turns the corner to sharp and single handily wipes out a Land Rover, a Benz and a Mini Cooper in a clean sweep.

What is the difference between doing a solo show and a group show?
Group shows are cool, but the one thing that has always bothered me is the lack of continuity from work to work. If the work is cohesive and flows together, it can almost feel like a solo show, and I’m into that. With a solo shows, You are able to create an entire environment, from the small details to massive installations. Where, hopefully there is a relationship from painting to painting--to sculpture--to entire space.

I saw this installation a while back where you had hooked up all your paintings to some kind of pulley timer thingy, what was all that about?
A couple years ago, I did this installation where all the paintings were attached to the ceiling with rope. Using block & tackle and some really simple rigging, every once in awhile, a car wench that was hidden in the wall would make the paintings slide up and down on the gallery walls. I always dug the idea of having some loud obnoxious piece of machinery controlling the movement of fine art. It’s MECHANICAL.

Mechanical like a coo coo clock?
In a way. The first big project I did on a letterpress was a UNIBOMBER inspired book called “the mechanical”. The press and the ludite ideals of antiquated technology inspired this concept of trying to keep things simpler. More mechanical I guess? So my brother, Grady(http://www.gmillustration.com/), and I have created this fictitious collective called “the Mechanical”. I think we pretend that anything we do falls under this umbrella, like the Fluxus or something……its crap.

Is Grady nichs nichs or octknee’oct?
Once again, I think the first word you said. But yeah, Grady is one my favorite illustrators and artists around. It bummed me out when he moved out to Brooklyn last year. We used to live and work on art together, but whatever…… As far as I’m concerned Brooklyn is played out. (Insert laugh track here)

Facial Hair Configuration?
I’m lazy. I don’t shave and can’t grow a real beard. It ends up looking like patchy pubic hair on my chin and jaw.

Yeah those red patches on your grill are very distracting... You said something about using old school hand tools earlier. What importance does that have on your work?
I have been learning so much about hand tools and extinct wood working processes…..it’s crazy. You read about a hand-powered technique, like surfacing a board with a bench plane. It used to take hours and hours, now it can be done in a matter of seconds. To me that’s crazy……. We’ve lost that connection to the material. We don’t have that respect. Old tools, to me, symbolize that respect.

What’s your take on THE FRANK?
‘Fat frank’!!! ----I found ten (10’x10”) posts from some burned out restaurant on Market St. The misses had nothing to do with this, but I paid these two tweekers 20 bucks to help me dumpster dive/ load’m into my van. The one tweeker salvages copper wire to make these little chair sculptures, he’s legit. Anyway, drove the sticks to my studio and I realized that I had no place to store them. Ended up given ‘Fat Frank’ fifty bucks to store’m next to his old pig farm by the shipyard, till the show.

I ran into ‘Fat Frank’ one month later to find out they were gone……… This jackass hawked my timbers for crack dough. Long story short, you can trust some tweekers, just not fat ones.

Anything that I left out that you want to add?
No

RileyMcferrin@hotmail.com

Interviewed by Anthony Skirvin on Sept3th 2004 whilst consuming a cheeseburger {moscomment}

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