Posts Tagged ‘pop art’

Celebrating 20 years of painting

December 26th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Well you’re in your little room, and you’re working on something good.
But if it’s really good, you’re gonna need a bigger room.
And when you’re in the bigger room, you might not know what to do.
You might have to think of how you got started, sitting in your little room.

— The White Stripes, “Little Room”

Twenty years ago this week, I painted my first painting. The experience of making that first work is something that I shall vividly remember. While I have made hundreds of paintings in the decades since, no other artistic experience I’ve had can quite match the feeling of adventure and freedom I felt when I was first starting out.

scramp king by grant wiggins
Scramp King, my first painting, which I painted in late December 1994.

Back then, I was a senior-year English major who wrote poetry and considering a career as an English teacher. Despite my stated ambitions, I found myself spending countless hours in the art section of my school’s library, transfixed by one art history book after another.

One title stood out: Andy Warhol: A Retrospective. I couldn’t put that book down! I had fallen in love with Warhol’s early advertising paintings — of household appliances of vacuums, drills, and refrigerators depicted in newspaper ads. In these seemingly unfinished portraits on canvas, everyday products were exalted.

Before returning home for Christmas break, I took out a loan for the Warhol retrospective catalog. I consulted that book continuously throughout vacation, each time feeling emboldened to start my own journey as a painter.

One night following Christmas, I took the plunge into making art. With images of Warhol’s paintings and a painting idea of my own glowing in my brain, I wandered into my mom’s art studio, tore the shrinkwrap from a pre-stretched canvas, grabbed some tubes of acrylic paint and a brush, and embarked upon realizing an idea for a painting that I had carried with me for more than a year: the wrapper of a 3M Scotch Brite sponge. Thing is, this new painting wouldn’t say Scotch Brite. I wanted it to say Scramp King! This was to be a portrait of a product that could exist only in a parallel universe!

scotch brite scouring pad by 3m
In the mid-1990s, Scotch Brite scouring sponges looked something like this. A wrapper that looked similar to this provided the source of inspiration for Scramp King.

Where did Scramp King come from? In the summer of 1993, I worked as a groundskeeper at an apartment complex. One project was to wash tenants’ front doors with Scotch Brite scouring sponges. (Man, were they abrasive! I scratched the heck out of quite a few doors!) In the process of removing dirt (and paint), the word “scramp king” jumped from a sponge’s wrapper into my brain, after I misread the packaging out of the corner of my eye.

That first painting seemed like such a transgressive act. It wasn’t the subject matter that was transgressive. It’s that I was a literature major who had never taken a studio art class — just a few art history classes. To me, painting is what studio art majors did! I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be painting. And yet, there I was, painting (straight out of tubes!) and working my way through a painting. I was taking a step toward becoming who I am.

Back at school, my friends told me they actually thought my painting was cool, and encouraged me to keep painting. Slowly, over time, I did just that. My confidence grew. But I never did take a studio art class. (Perhaps it shows!)

Reflecting upon what I have learned over the past two decades, a few lessons stand out. If I could go back in time and give myself advice, I’d probably tell myself the following five things:

1. If you want to make art, then make art! It’s that simple! You don’t need anyone’s permission or approval. Just make.

2. Never allow anyone talk you out of giving yourself to your art. I can’t tell you how important learning this lesson has been. People very close to me tried to convince me that devoting myself to my art was a kind of a selfish waste of time, that I’d struggle financially if I were to devote my life to making art. I was told I’d never make a living at it, and I’d be better off focusing on a career that made money. Unfortunately, at pivotal times, I listened to these people. But guess what? They were all wrong! The naysayers could never understand the bliss of having a great idea for a new painting, then finding a path to realizing it.

3. Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Creative successes may come along — especially when you least expect them — and your visual agenda might be validated by a curator, gallery owner, or collector now and then. It’s nice to be recognized. But whatever happens, don’t believe your own hype! Stay humble. You’re only as good as your next painting.

4. Make art for yourself. For me, the true test of a work is whether I’m able to live with it on a daily basis. That said, making art with other people in mind doesn’t work for me. The applause or indifference of others is irrelevant. And don’t hope for others to like your work. If comrades or critics don’t like something you make, so be it. When you make art for yourself, the conversation surrounding the finished work is a separate matter. If something good happens, it’s bonus-round material.

5. Don’t compare yourself to other artists. And don’t compare your situation to that of other artists. As Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” We sometimes read about artists who have ascended to international fame and fortune, or sell their work for ridiculous sums. Don’t let their success discount your self-opinion. Just because another artist seems to be “successful,” that doesn’t mean you can’t be, too. Keep believing in your gift. When in doubt, revisit point #4 above.

But ultimately, when I look back on 20 years of painting, I feel gratitude. I am grateful for having had the time, space, and gift of health to be able to make what I’ve made. I am grateful to my mom for allowing me to “borrow” her art supplies during Christmas break 1994, and to my sister who taught me how to mix paint. I am grateful to all of the fellow artists, friends, loved ones, collectors, and curators who have believed in my talent, and have supported me over time.

Being an artist can be a crazy calling to have. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Here’s to 20 more years!

— Grant Wiggins


The Story Behind My New Painting, ‘Stop Static (Before It Stops You)’

March 9th, 2014 | No Comments

What could the conveyance of visual energy, a magpie sampling aesthetic, and reclaimed stretcher bars possibly have in common? These are all things I have been thinking about as I have produced my newest painting, Stop Static (Before It Stops You).

grant wiggins - stop static before it stops you
Stop Static (Before It Stops You). Acrylic on canvas. 30 by 24 inches (76 x 61 centimeters). Commenced on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 25, 2014. Deemed complete on the afternoon of Saturday, March 8, 2014.


The primary inspiration — my starting point — for this painting is a simple box of Bounce fabric softener, an everyday object with a design that has captured my imagination for years. I love Bounce’s logotype, especially its double outlines and undulating, interlocking shapes. You may note how the lower left curve in the logotype’s “B” forms the striped motif in the upper right quadrant of the composition. What’s more, the fluorescent orange halftone pattern in the painting echoes the halftone on the box, shown below.

bounce fabric softener
A box of Bounce: What started everything for this painting.


In honor of the inspiration for this painting, I originally considered naming this piece Bounce Rate. This title could have been a nod to my experience in web content consulting. “Bounce rate” is a metric of web visitors who leave a site within five seconds of arriving; they “bounce,” in effect. Yet, I wanted to push this idea further, so I searched for figures of speech involving the word “bounce.” While that proved fruitless, I soon stumbled upon a Bounce fabric softener ad campaign from the 1990s, which had the memorable tagline “Bounce Stops Static Before Static Stops You.”

Conveying visual energy

Considering this tagline at length, and reflecting further upon what this painting represents to me, I adjusted the painting’s title again, to Stop Static (Before It Stops You). The reworked phrase sounds more like a suggestion — to keep oneself from staying still, and continue to move forward, to keep growing. The painting can serve as a visual reminder to avoid falling into ruts in day-to-day life.

I found that the new title had much in common with a central idea that I have been developing about my paintings, as a whole — that they are conveyances of visual energy. This idea came to me when one of my patrons wrote to me about some of my framed prints, which he displays in his office:

Every day [the prints] inspire me to try to pretend to be the kind of person who approaches the world with the energy and color jumping out of those little squares.

What immediately struck me about this sentence is the word energy. This is what my paintings are all about! The experience of feeling energy is what I want my paintings — especially my maximal paintings — to embody. Energy is what I want to convey through my work.

A sampling aesthetic: Merging my favorite graphical motifs

Without question, this painting is very much an homage to — and an energetic collision involving — graphical elements that fascinate me.

In addition to Bounce-inspired stripes and a classic halftone pattern (I have always loved halftones, and can never get enough of them), Stop Static also incorporates a heraldic vair ancient pattern (found in the upper left corner of the painting), and stripes of decreasing widths (another favorite motif).

Yet, the “star” graphical element is a rising diamond pattern — called “diamond haze,” I believe — by Diane von Furstenberg. For years I have admired this pattern, and have wanted to incorporate it into a composition.

von Furstenberg’s current exhibition at the Wilshire May Company Building in Los Angeles, The Journey of a Dress, has offered a perfect occasion to do so. The diamond haze pattern can be found on many of von Furstenberg’s signature wrap dresses. It also adds a visual rhythm to the walls and the floors of the exhibition. This is a classic and timeless pattern. It’s so perfect that I wish I had developed it myself. Bringing it into my work — much like sampling in music — is a way of paying tribute.

Although this painting is very much an amalgam of my favorite things, in terms of graphic motifs, ultimately I believe that this painting asks to be seen on its own terms, free of the context I just offered. There is no narrative to be had here. There is nothing to get. This painting affords a purely visual experience — and I hope it’s an energizing one, at that.

The role of “reclaimed” stretcher bars

The stretcher bars supporting this canvas are literally more than 15 years old (from the late 1990s), and recall a time when I was first learning how to paint. The bars were originally part of a pre-stretched canvas that I acquired from a store. (I haven’t purchase pre-stretched canvas in years! So much has changed.)

The painting I attempted to make on the pre-stretched canvas never got anywhere. I abandoned it, and left it in my dad’s house, where I stored many of my early works, along with my mom’s paintings.

In attempt to clear out his house, my dad recently returned to me several half-finished canvases and untouched canvas panels. What is this?, I thought, when he handed me one canvas after another. It was so hard to look at my early work! It’s awful stuff, to be honest. I struggled mightily to paint back then, and it’s evident in my brushwork.

Back at my studio, seeing this pile of old, half-finished pieces every day was a drain on my energy. Taking the canvases off the bars and rolling them up helped clear my mind.

Left with the bare stretcher bars, I realized that I had an opportunity to start over — returning to the past, building upon the past, and being reminded of how far I’ve come in 15 years. What’s more, I could make this new painting at an out-of-pocket cost of zero, using canvas, gesso, and paint that I already had in inventory. In effect, I had nothing to lose!

In the end, it was a joy to make this painting, and I hope this enjoyment comes through in my work. There were several times along the way, as I painted this piece, when I reflected on how thankful I am to be able to paint. Painting really does give me pleasure. It’s often not easy work, at all, but the rewards are profound.


‘A Show of Hands’ at Tucson Museum of Art

September 20th, 2013 | No Comments

a show of hands at tucson museum of art

My 2005 neo-pop painting, Hands, will be on view throughout this fall and early winter at the Tucson Museum of Art, in the exhibition A Show of Hands.

As one might expect, this show will bring together works of art — paintings, photography, works on paper, and sculptures — that explore the metaphorical potential of hands. A partial list of artists included in this exhibition includes Fernand L├ęger, Alice Briggs, Enrique Chagoya, Robert Colescott, Dan Collins, Bailey Doogan, Enrique Martinez Celaya, Christopher Pelley, Craig Smith, Buffie Saint-Marie, and others, including yours truly.

Looking back, I consider Hands a transitional painting in the evolution of my work, for it’s one of my last true pop art paintings. Following the tried-and-true path of painting what one knows, Hands is a mash-up of packaging elements from household products — including Reynolds aluminum foil, instructional illustrations on the back of a noodle packet, and the bubbles found on a box of cleaning product.

Bringing these elements together, this painting could just as easily be titled “The Pure Products of America Go Crazy” — the great opening line from the poem “To Elsie” by William Carlos Williams. It seems to ask, what if everyday products were to go haywire, in a hallucinatory way? Perhaps this painting pokes fun at the gimmickry of consumerism, and perhaps it also points the way to an imagined world where everyday products could be completely unpredictable.

This marks my sixth time exhibiting at Tucson Museum of Art over the past 10 years. In addition to participating in the 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009 editions of the Arizona Biennial, I also showed in Thanks for Being with Us: Contemporary Art from the Douglas Nielsen Collection, in 2010.

A Show of Hands opens September 21, 2013 and will remain on view through February 9, 2014. More details at tucsonmuseumofart.org.