Artist Interview: Rico Gatson

In his latest solo show, The Promise of Light, artist Rico Gatson pays visual tribute to a decades-long history of Black migration from the south to California, partly interpreted through his own family’s journey. Gatson’s show is currently on view at the Ronald Feldman gallery in New York through May 18, 2013.

D&B: As a multidisciplinary artist, how do you determine what medium to use for your message?
RG: I tend to work in all media at once because that is what makes the most sense to me. It is about having experiences in multiple materials in order to provide a form for the ideas.

The Promise of Light, 2013
1 channel video projection
run time: 6 minutes

Was “The Promise of Light” show the first time you worked with photography?
This was not the first time I used digital imagery in work. It’s been part of my process for over 12 years. I’ve worked with both digital photography and video as another way of expressing ideas.

How do photographic images inspire your paintings?
The photographic imagery functions as a source of inspiration to develop an image and is a jumping off point for much of the work, including collage, digital images, in addition to the painting.

Family #3, 2013

unique inkjet print on paper
21 1/2 x 21 1/2 inches

Can you talk about the meaning behind the rainbow-colored, light flare effect on the three “Family” photographs in your show?

The prismatic light is beautiful and functions as a veil, transforming the black-and-white source image, rendering it anew.

Was this the first time you incorporated your family into your work? Did you have any reservations?
I’ve incorporated aspects of family in my work for many years in different ways, but this is the first time I’ve used actual family photographs as a source material.

Magic Stick #15, 2013
paint on wood 

90 3/8 x 49 7/8 x 15 inches

Why did you decide to do a piece about Obama? How does he figure into the underlying narrative of Black migration within the USA?
I’ve done several pieces on Obama in recent years. He represents both an ideal and the culmination of a journey. I’m interested in examining this notion in the work.

Recently I had a professor tell me that the role of an artist is not to fill in the gaps of history. Do you agree? How do you think your work operates within past and future histories?
Yes, I agree that the role of an artist is not to fill in the gaps. I use historical information as a source for generating work, but, ultimately, how the work operates within history is not determined by me. The methods and concepts I employ in my work place me within a certain context, determined by time.

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  1. 1
    Peter Morgan

    I especially like the 'Promise of Light' photo.

    The artist can definitely fill in historical gaps, as well as to help bring vividly to life historical periods. There are lots of examples of historical novels in which the author takes factual events and speculates or projects what may have taken place. Visual images, often made centuries later, help interpret poems that have themselves helped understand historical events. One can argue about the artists interpretation, but we'd be the poorer if we were to exclude gaps in history from art.

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