The first time I encountered the work of Duke Riley was on Rockaway Beach in Queens 10 years ago. He had won third prize in a sandcastle contest for his sculpture of a white castle adorned with shells, seaweed and other natural materials he had collected near Dead Horse Bay.
The artist’s new exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum uses objects washed up by the sea in the same way, but this time with a less ephemeral effect.
In “Death to the living: Long live the garbage cans,“Riley transforms the trash he picked up on northeast beaches into contemporary versions of traditional maritime craftsmanship, like hyper-detailed artwork on washed plastic bottles and toothbrushes reminiscent of scrimshaw carvings. .
The contemporary works, which speak to the harms of pollution and single-use plastics, are displayed alongside historic scrimshaws, which have also been devastating to the environment. The works are displayed in the period rooms of the Jan Martense Schenck and Nicholas Schenck houses, which date from around 1675 and 1775 respectively.
We spoke with Riley about the importance of taking risks in art, and why having a view of the water is a must for her studio.
What is the most essential object in your studio and why can’t you do without it?
The tiles I use for the Erika [mosaic] are tiles that I’ve salvaged over the years from construction dumpsters because people ripped them off when renovating buildings. I also had a lot when Bergen Tile on Flatbush Avenue closed in 2008.
What is the studio task on your calendar this week that you are most looking forward to?
Now that we’re spending a lot of time in the studio, we’re putting energy into thinking about resale royalties for artists. It’s actually possible that it’s happening now, and it’s imperative that it happens. Apart from that, we worked on the construction of the dovecote. So far we have added stained glass, new shingles and corbels. This week we are adding solar panels. I’m also adding solar panels to my boat to get it ready for tattooing this summer.
What atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?
I can work through music, silence, books on tape or just news depending on the type of work I do. Different stimulation is required for each type of work I do. I’m extremely dyslexic, so listening to audiobooks and the news is one of the best ways for me to stay informed.
Who are your favorite artists, curators or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
I try to avoid social media as much as possible, so I like conservatives who like me, I guess? The best thinkers can be found drinking in dive bars in the middle of the day. I paid the most attention to Mel Chin, Marc Dion, Mary Mattingly, Dread ScottCaldonia Curry (Swoon), and Hank WillisThomas.
When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get out of it?
I never really felt stuck when preparing for a show. When I feel like I’m exhausting the drawing, I move on to video work. When I’m exhausted from video, I move on to scrimshaw making or a sculptural project.
What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you despise the most?
I admire when artists fully engage in the work and take risks. As Oscar Wilde said, “An idea that is not dangerous is absolutely unworthy of being called an idea.” »
What images or objects do you look at while you work? Share your view from behind the canvas or your desk, where you spend the most time.
Almost all the time I’ve worked in New York, whether it’s using a boat as a studio in Red Hook or here in the Navy Yard, I’ve been able to see the water from where I’m working. I would say that is more important to me than the size of the space or whether the heater is working.
What is the last exhibition you saw that marked you and why?
The last exhibitions that I saw and that marked me are Robin Frohardt‘s “Plastic bag shop” and Faith Ringgold‘s show at the New Museum. I am eager to Charles Gainesthe project The American Manifesto finally comes to fruition this month and Azza El Siddiqueopening of the show at Helena Anrather gallery in September.
What made you choose this studio over others?
I first came to this studio in 2016 when we were looking for places to fly at night and it’s right in front of where the project took place. While there I met Marc Agger who runs the Brooklyn Fish Transfer. We both have this connection to the seafood industry and the Massachusetts coast. He is also very passionate about art and we quickly became friends. I was getting fired from my Red Hook studio and he offered me a long-term artist residency at Agger Fish. The building we are in was actually once used for building submarines during WWII, so it looked like it was meant to be.
Describe the space in three adjectives.
Freezing cold, hot, sometimes pleasant!
How does the studio environment influence your way of working?
During the summer, I try to spend as much time as possible outside the studio. The studio is on the top floor of a building without insulation. Instead, I used a small boat as a floating studio throughout the summer where I made the majority of the scrimshaw bottles. I worked this way for many years. Working on the boat, completely surrounded by water, and making the pieces as they were originally created has definitely had an impact on the work and how I feel about the act of creating.
“Death to the living: long live the garbageis on display at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, from June 17, 2022 to April 23, 2023.
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