The following is a recent interview with Ferris Plock, whose new work will be the focus of the upcoming show “Carry On” at Shooting Gallery, running from October 6th-November 3rd 2012. In it Plock takes a moment to talk with us about the reception of his artwork in Tokyo, Japan, monster Victorian houses in Miami, the significance of the gold-leaf halos behind so many of his characters and much more. Follow the the jump for the full interview and rsvp for tomorrow night’s opening here.
The characters of traditional Ukiyo-e or ‘Floating World’ paintings are of entertainment figures who exist outside of the mundane world, such as sumo wrestlers and kabuki stars. By focusing on the figures from our contemporary canon of popular culture, are you accomplishing a similar objective in your
So many of my favorite ukiyo-e prints were made for the pop stars of the day. Kabuki actors were pop culture icons. The characters created for the Kabuki prints often were representations of real actors. The actors could be easily recognized from the prints made for their shows. The prints were also mass produced and made available to the general public. I feel like the equivalent to these figures in my life are the iconic figures from my childhood cartoons, comic books and children’s
Some of your figures are almost totemic in appearance: where the benign faces of familiar cartoons belie the more intense features of samurai who wear them like costumes. What are you exploring through this contrast?
Living in the city I feel like I put all sorts of different masks on for all sorts of different occasions. I feel like the animal heads or the animal masks you see on some of my characters reflect that notion. The emotion on the outside is not always the emotion I am feeling on the inside.
Have you ever presented your work to a Japanese audience? How have people from this culture responded to your interpretation of Ukiyo-e art?
My wife and I had an exhibition of work in Tokyo, Japan in 2010 and I really wanted to flush out sketches that I had been making for years. I asked a few of my Japanese friends if they thought it would offensive if a gaijin were to paint these images. Everybody was super enthusiastic and loved the sketches. The opening in Tokyo was amazing too and people were so respectful and curious to hear my personal story about Ukiyo-e art.
The degree of patterning and detail in your work appears to make it very process oriented. What type of headspace is evoked when working on the more minute aspects of your painting?
I go elsewhere and paint. It’s hard to describe. I start with very basic blocked out colors and then build on top of them while always working from sketches. My headspace is often on how the patterns and their growth is often the most component to the pieces for me. I like to push myself to try new things each time with the patterns.
Have you considered transferring your pop characters and ornamentation to another historical genre? I can envision your figures and style in other iconographic contexts.
I am going to be working on series of Roman soldiers for a restaurant and I am also building some monster Victorian houses for Miami this year. I think I will always return to the Japanese style because I think it speaks to me.
How has collaborating with your wife, Kelly Tunstall, in the duo Kefe, expanded your work as an individual artist?
My wife has taught me so much it is hard to sit here and try to quantify it. She has taught me patience, process, method. she has taught me how to use materials, brushes, she has encouraged me to find my voice and has constantly pushed me to try new things with my work. Also, to have a sounding voice and to have somebody that can be brutally honest and trustworthy… that’s rare and pretty darn precious.
Do you consider your figures as existing within a connected narrative? Do you ever come up with personalized stories for them?
I always build a narrative for every show I make. I think it’s crucial for me to tell a story with my work and not just paint a pretty picture. That being said, I do give my characters life in my mind and want to make sure they look good. I often am reminded by my wife that I don’t need to worry about how heavy something is in a painting, I somehow place human restraints on my characters when I’m not being careful.
Some of your new paintings display characters that are adorned with gold leaf halos, imbuing them with a somewhat pious quality. Where does this feature come from?
The halos are on placed on characters who are transitioning from one state to another. The halos symbolize the religious family I was born into and had to come to terms with. As a child, my family had this strange metamorphosis of sorts where everyone of us kind of fell out of our Christian belief system. I feel like our family turned to music for the core of household spirituality. I know it sounds crazy and corny but music really became the soul of our household. In these paintings you swill see the figures holding things dear to them in their arms as their personal totems and icons. Traditionally, icons are staring at the viewer and I chose to have each of these characters distracted and searching…listening. So they are traditional pious characters who are transitioning to another form of spirituality.