Via email and on the occasion of his solo exhibition But We’re Getting Off the Subject in PC–G’s Hunt-Cavanagh Gallery, Will Hutnick talked with me, Emily Hurley, PC–G communications intern and PC English major/Art History minor. An alum of Providence College’s Studio Art program, Hutnick is an artist whose immersive installations act as room-sized versions of his collaged paintings. With a body of work that also includes drawing, printmaking, murals and more, Hutnick is an artist who enthusiastically celebrates color and the playful re-use of materials and abstractly personal histories.
Emily Hurley: You received your Bachelor of Arts at Providence College in 2007. What programs or classes influenced you most during your time here?
Will Hutnick: During my senior year at PC in a painting course I had a small studio all to myself to paint and work in, and that independent time and research really helped to shape my practice. I’ve always been pretty disciplined and focused, but that complete independence and space for experimentation was really refreshing and terrifying. That was probably the first time that my work started to delve away from representational still-lives into abstraction. I also think that the art history courses that I took at Providence, in particular contemporary art history classes led by Deborah Johnson, really helped me to expand my vocabulary and look at art and its context in a new way. It wasn’t just about seeing what was out there and what had been done before, but trying to understand certain decisions and perceptions.
Hurley: The first words that pop into my head when I see your exhibition at PC–G are playful and emotive. Would you use these words to describe your art?
I definitely think that there is something playful about the work and my exhibition at PC–G. I’m sure it has something to do with my interest in maps, mazes, puzzles and childhood games—Tetris floats around in my head constantly. I’m also a musician—I play the cello—so there is something “performative” about the exhibition as well, like it’s choreographed, which is a different sensibility than being “curated”. I think this playfulness that the exhibition exudes is a great way to engage with audiences, and it provides an entryway that isn’t intimidating but approachable and welcome. And then when folks spend a little more time after entering the exhibition, they can go to “wait, what exactly am I seeing anyways? Where am I? What’s happening?”
Hurley It’s my understanding that PC–G curator Jamilee Lacy invited you back on to do this exhibition not only for the College’s Centennial but on the 10th anniversary of your graduation from PC. How has it felt to be back on campus?
It feels great to be back at PC! It’s been a while. Yes, I graduated in 2007, but haven’t been back to PC since a reunion in 2009. It’s funny, there are some places on campus, particularly by the Art and Art History Department, that haven’t changed an inch; so it was a weird feeling to walk back into classrooms and hallways and instantly get transported to 10 years ago; kind of a surreal experience to immediately go back in time and have it appear like nothing has changed one bit. And to then remind yourself, wait a second, I’m not a current student, I’m 31, this isn’t real! It’s funny the tricks the mind plays with sensory-based memories.
On another note, I’m really grateful to Jamilee and the rest of the Art and Art History Department and Providence College. PC is such a supportive environment, and I feel really honored to have been given this amazing opportunity.
Hurley: Looking at your entire oeuvre, one notices bold color palettes. To your mind, what role does color play in the installation at PC–G?
Color is an important element in my work. I’m always trying to find and/or uncover different and unexpected color relationships. For a while the work was taking on a “camouflage-like vibe” with various shades of the same color within a single work, which I think contributes to the sense of the work being organically grown and conjured up with natural forces, almost like a cloud shifting, or finding the hidden image in one of those Magic-Eye posters.
I find it really exciting when another color that is incongruous to the rest of the work finds its way in – that dissonance, that discord is something I find necessary and weird and irking. As far as my exhibition at PC–G is concerned, each work on clear mylar, which are kind of like “mobiles,” are composed of pieces of painted tape from my studio walls, past paintings and installations. It was really important that once I got into the space to install the exhibition that I listened to what the works and the overall show wanted. I decided to draw on the walls with only black and gray and silver to not only echo some of the marks and shapes found throughout the hanging works, but to contrast the vibrant color inherent in the works.
Hurley: Can you explain the relationship between the different “mobiles”?
All of the hanging mobiles were created in the last few years as indirect works; by indirect I mean that they, for the most part, existed, and originated, as functional tools to transport tape from one project/installation/room to the next. When an installation was ready to take down, I simply needed a means to move the tape from one surface back to my studio, so that’s where this work stemmed from, from functional and practical concerns. Thus, a lot of the works are very similar in color and shape and composition because they are “from” the same projects/spaces. It was really nice to see them all in a single space, something I’ve never had the chance of doing before. It was really interesting because it also collapsed some notions of space and time; I felt like a time-traveler!
Hurley: You recently did another show, You’re a Ghost, with The Java Project in Brooklyn. This exhibition differs from But We’re Getting Off the Subject in medium, style, and subject matter, yet there are characteristics that would suggest an important relationship between the two exhibitions. Would you say that some of your art pieces connect with each other, and that there are parallels between past and current exhibitions?
Most definitely. I think that all of the work relates to one another, that each work is a different iteration or skewed perspective from a past work. The other day I was in the studio and looked at a painting I was working on, which I had been working on for a few months, if not close to a year, and thought that it looked JUST like a painting I did a few years ago. And my first thought was: “Am I just making the same thing over and over again?”. It was a very Truman Show/Groundhog Day experience. But I think that conceptually all of the work is connected, even if some formal means have changed over the past few years and differ from work to work. There has always been a strong interest in topographical maps and spaces that are “in-between”, filled with potential yet might exist yet. I’ve been thinking more and more about the physicality of the paintings and how important that some of the shapes in the works read as natural elements, whether that is rocks, caves, forms of decay, artifacts, relics, etc.
Hurley: What is the most challenging part about being a mixed media artist?
I think it’s really exciting to not be limited to one material or medium, to have the freedom and to allow myself to explore and experiment and listen to a work to find out what it needs or wants to be. I (unsuccessfully) experimented with some video while I was getting my Master of Fine Arts at Pratt in 2011, and it would be great to have some videos or photos find their way into my practice at some point again in the future. I’m interested in different forms of documentation and ideas about documentation and archival means, especially when those archives are not secondary/tangential means but considerations throughout the process. So we’ll see what physical forms the next show will take on!
Hurley: Tell me about your background in art: what inspired you to become an artist and why did you choose to pursue art at Providence College. And specifically, why were you drawn to PC?
I remember always drawing and coloring as a kid; I always had this desire to create. I think those impulses to create and search for meaning in the world translates into a creative pursuit, that through my art I’m attempting to grapple with how I fit into the world and how I see things, and what that means. I was drawn to PC because of its strong community and friendly environment. I visited the campus when I was in high school (and my older cousin was a freshman) and immediately felt a sense of camaraderie and belonging. I’m also kind of a nerd and I knew that PC would be a challenge academic-wise. I was actually pumped for PC’s liberal arts education and multidisciplinary approach to learning.
Hurley: What’s next? Do you have any upcoming shows or projects?
I recently got accepted into the flat file program at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, a great artist-run gallery located in Brooklyn (and in Chicago, where PC–G curator Jamilee Lacy will send an exhibition of Providence artists’ work in December), so I will participate in an upcoming group exhibition at TSA. My current project is playing in the pit orchestra for the musical Dogfight at a local theater in Poughkeepsie, which opens this weekend! I’m also working on one or two curatorial proposals for potential exhibitions in early 2017, which I’m having a field day researching and collecting info. I started curating more in the past few years, and recently joined the art collective and gallery space Ortega y Gasset Projects in Brooklyn. OyG is a great group of folks and I’m lucky to be a part of it. I think it’s really important to be active and I really enjoy giving other artists a platform to show their work, and to challenge them to find something new in their own work. Besides that, I’m thrilled to get back into the studio and see what happens.
Will Hutnick: But We’re Getting Off the Subject is on view in PC-G’s Hunt-Cavanagh Gallery August 24 – October 10, 2016.
Will Hutnick is an artist and curator based in Wassaic, New York. His work has been exhibited in solo, two-person and group exhibitions at DEMO Project in Springfield, Illinois; SPRING/BREAK Art Show in New York; Ground Floor Gallery, The Java Project, Momenta Art and TSA, all in Brooklyn; Grizzly Grizzly in Philadelphia; Circuit 12 Contemporary in Dallas; and The Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster, New Jersey. Hutnick has curated numerous exhibitions at Ortega y Gasset Projects, SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Trestle Projects, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn Fire Proof, Loft 594 and LaunchPad, all in Brooklyn or New York City. His work has been featured in New American Paintings, Maake Magazine, LVL3 Media, Beautiful/Decay and Whitehot Magazine’s “Best Artists List for 2013”. Hutnick has been an artist in residence at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York; The Wassaic Project in Wassaic, New York; Vermont Studio Center in Johnson; 4heads on Governors Island in New York; and he recently completed a year-long curatorial residency at Trestle Projects in Brooklyn. He is a member of Ortega y Gasset Projects, an artist-run curatorial collective and exhibition space in Brooklyn, and is currently the Residency Director at The Wassaic Project. Hutnick holds a Master of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute and his Bachelor of Arts from Providence College, where he majored in Studio Art.