Will Montgomery: Redraw After Erasing
When did you first get into art?
WM: Well my dad was an art history major and he is an architect now, so he would always take me into his office and I would play with his colored pencils. It was an important part of my life up through high school and I got super serious about it junior year. Art has always been present, I see a lot of artists our age have always had it in their life which I think is so cool.
Yeah, people just gravitate towards something and know from an early age this is what they are supposed to be doing.
WM: Yeah totally. I remember I would always ask him if it was alright if I wanted to be an artist. He’d say okay but that I wouldn’t make any money.
Did having a knowledge of art history shape what art you liked and what art you created?
WM: I was always drawn to Andy Warhol and Pop Art. As I grew up more and came into my sexuality I did more resarch into the queer elements of the art world like Rauschenberg and people like that.
Did you try to emulate their style with your own pieces?
WM: I would emulate it in a way, but it was also seeing queer artists doing things that felt explicitly queer and that I noticed I was already doing in my own practice. Rauschenberg would combine paintings with collages that were really inspirational to me, especially with the way he combined texture and random materials. I loved maximalism in everything I was making so it was validation of sorts and I also appreciated the queer history behind it.
Did having a queer connection make you more comfrotable in the art setting?
WM: Definitely, the more I learn there’s a wealth of information relating to queer identity throughout art and the more I learn the more I realize how many movements and ideas were rooted in queer artistic practices.
What do you think about the conception that art used to be mainly for white straight men because you think that a lot of it is rooted in queer culture?
WM: You can’t deny that the majority of artists that have been lifted up by the fine art world are white men and there are so many artists that weren’t white men that did not get the representation they deserved. Hopefully that is coming to an end, but I also think that a lot of the art world washed away a lot of the queer identity that was part of art history. I’m not crazy about Rauschenberg, but to go back to him again, a lot of his work only started selling when galleries promoting his work as being completely random instead of relating to queer identity. They would promote the shows as if the work had no relation to anything and that they were completely abstract instead of about gayness. I think it’s partly about the people that have been raised up unconditionally as opposed to those who sacrificed their identities in order to reach a certain level.
How do you bring queer culture into your art?
WM: I like to capture the world around me, I guess who doesn’t, but it is an up close and personal style. I like to work with my queer friends and share queer experiences and bring that together. I am still learning a lot and I am still taking paintings classes. I am not really set in my style right now, it is always changing, but I draw inspiration from what has come before and what’s around me.
What materials do you like to use?
WM: I like to paint a lot, but I am really into ceramics right now. I’m combining ceramics with paintings and silkscreen a lot. I’m trying to bring stuff together.
Ceramics and silkscreen sounds super cool, I’ve never heard of that before. What’s the process like?
WM: Yeah I was getting super into it before COVID. You use underglaze instead of ink and you print directly onto the greenware. When you fire it the bitmap will come through in the glaze. My ceramics teacher brought it to my attention because he knew I was really into printmaking as well. It’s a great marriage of those two words.
With printmaking do you mainly use silkscreen?
WM: Yeah I predominantly use silkscreen. I love the visual narrative of stuff like comic strips, but more to a fine art level. I like to tell a story in paintings.
What about Warhol specially interests you? I know that he was queer, but it didn’t come through visually as a part of his work.
WM: I think that a part of that comes through the erasure of his queer identity. I talk to people that didn't even know he was gay. He was one of so few hugely famous artists that were making it while being fully out. I think it isn’t mentioned because his work wasn’t explicitly gay, even though he had a lot of early drawings of nude men. Even in his less explicit work, queer identity is present. A lot of that has been forgotten I feel like.
Do you feel like in order for a queer artist to contribute to queer art as a whole that the work has to deal with queer issues?
WM: Definitely not. I would say that any work made by a queer artist is important because wether or not it relates to queer issues it relates from that perspective. Sexual identity relates to everything in life because it colors our perceptions of the world in a certain way. That’s important to preserve and have someone else's experience to tap into.
So you said that you also work with other friends who are also queer. Do you feel like you have a similar mindset and outlook?
WM: Definitely, I love working with other queer artists. I feel like there is a baseline of understanding from being queer no matter what you indentify as. You’ll have someone shit on you for it at some point and that can give you a good baseline understanding of each other. I feel like it creates a safe space of collaboration where you know that you're not gonna have to worry about what you are bringing to the table will be seen through an undesirable stereotype.
It is a very inclusive safe space off the bat.
WM: Yeah it's very important to create a great collaborative space with someone because you already have that connection.
Is collabing something that you like to do a lot?
WM: Totally, I really like to work with my friends who specialize in different mediums like fashion or photography and see what we can do together. That is really important to me in art because it can be so lonely sometimes, and you can get the best work by compromising with another person and pushing yourself further than you usually would go.
Is your work a lot different when you collaborate versus on your own?
WM: Yeah, I would say that I would put myself out of my comfort zone more and push myself harder because at the end there is another person who wants the project to succeed. It’s harder to settle when there is another person holding me accountable.
Would you take some of the things you learned with collaborations and incorporate into your individual practice?
WM: Oh yeah. I have never really been that interested in ceramics and a friend of mine who is the queen of ceramics showed me her process and then I brought it into my own practice. It’s always evolving.
Do you think having an openness and not needing to focus on painting allows you to express more?
WM: Yes, I had never even tried sculpture until I got to college. If I had to choose a specific medium to start off with I would have never been exposed to new materials that I really love to work with.
Are there any other materials you want to work more with in the future?
WM: I want to get more into soft sculpture and textiles. It is rooted in queer history and in the women’s movement, there’s so much rich history to go off of and work with.
Does certain fabric work better for what you want to do with projects?
WM: I’m hoping to combine fabric with printmaking. I’ve been dying my own fabric and stuff, so there is still a learning curve with what will take the dye.
Would that be more for soft sculpture or shirt design?
WM: Printing on shirts is definitely fun, but I’m thinking more down the soft sculpture tapestry avenue.
Does being in New York allow you to see other artists who have experimented with multiple and different mediums and get exposed to all the different things you can do?
WM: Even more especially being in New York within my program I get a lot of inspiration and motivation from the other kids in my program. With the soft sculpture I’m working with a friend on a tapestry soft sculpture project who is so incredible, and I’m so excited to work with and learn from.
Do you have a plan yet for the collaboration?
WM: We are in the concept zone still, but we are going to do felt and I’ve never done felt before.
Is trial and error a big part of your process?
WM: When it comes to print or fabrics or any physical materials besides painting it is just playing around with it and seeing how they respond. Trying something just to see what happens.
Are you very loose with the end result?
WM: I go in with a plan, but it never goes the way I want because I realize that something else might look cool and the whole thing changes for the better. The work always changes completely by the end from my original concept, no matter how much I plan.
So do you think that NYC is very queer accepting?
WM: I think the city is very accepting, but I think that there can be way more queer spaces. A really big goal of mine is to create a queer collective or gallery space. It is something that I have always wanted to have for myself, so I want to make it for others. I know they already exist in many capacities, but I want to foster more situations where queer artists can be together and a community environment.
When would you want to start working on that project?
WM: I was hoping to plan a little art fair/show that was going to take place this summer, but obviously couldn’t do that because of COVID. As soon as restrictions are lifted I would like to put a show on and start growing a community.
Check out Will's work!