by Austin English
Jeff Ladouceur rarely draws a figure purely at rest or totally alone. His characters tension bends them toward what (or who) is around them. Is it anxiety that shapes them? I expect that Ladouceur wouldn't agree to that with a straight face - but a strength of his art is that he wouldn't dismiss deep themes either. His drawings occupy the gray area that true art inhabits: his work is deep fun. The drawings are rooted in the viewer's vague notion of the rubberiest cartoon world that, actually - when you go back to look at the source - never approached being this elastic. But pulsating in the center of this perfect "Terry Toons" episode is someone making highly personal art - Ladouceur's characters buckle in front of us as they stretch out because they speak the language of the heart.
Ladouceur is currently putting the final touches on drawings for a solo show that opens May 31st at Zieher-Smith Gallery (516 W. 20th Street in Manhattan.) He's also raising funds to produce his own art book, viewable here. While Ladoucuer is primarily known as an artist who shows in galleries, he says of art books that "perhaps the greatest way to share the work, and to make the most amount of images and ideas available and affordable to the most people, is to publish a handsome volume that people can hold,view and enjoy at their leisure." I asked Ladouceur about this and other questions relating to his work and art in general.
Austin English: You've said online that that experiencing work in book format is important to you - but as you launch this book project, you're making work for a solo gallery show. You've spoken a little bit about how artbooks move you, but I'd be interested to know the importance for you of seeing art in person. Can you talk about what excites you when you see an art show?
Ladouceur: Sure. I love anything that not only grabs me, but also holds me there, that brings me in close and speaks its own language to me. Anything that speaks in layers and hits me on multiple levels, like I'm being nourished. Often to me these shows may feel like I have walked into a book and it demands intimate engagement.The show may reflect this bookish intimacy with the actual objects and work within it, theres works on paper, clusters of images, small scale iconic images, objects in vitrines. But of course the art can take any form, like large sculpture, video, string, painting, sound ect. I love any art that has you activated and creates a two way communication. I like it when the work seems to be a living thing.
English: We were talking earlier about artists going through transitional phases in their work, shifting from an established style to something new, and how the art looks during the bridge. Can you talk a little bit about how you look at your own art and how new images and tones come into it?
Ladouceur: Oh lordy - I may be on that bridge between? It often feels this way. This may all be in my mind but it is such a weird zone, certain changes are only perceived by oneself and I often feel like I am in transition. There's visions - and there is what's actually being rendered. One can feel shifts within oneself, long before any change appears in the work. There is how one perceives ones own work as its coming down the mind- pipes and then theres the actuality of grappling the thing when it falls into your hands. I guess a lot of it happens there, just trying to make it live. Wrassling (sic) it in a foggy manner. At times you seem to be in control, its smooth and you know the drill and at other times you are struggling for this thing. You have to take care of this thing - just keep it alive. Any evolution seems to be up to some other force and you have to wade through it. You are its portal, its parent, just be there so it can pop into the world. Hopefully then you can also take the oars, take the higher reigns and weave things towards new realms, where fresh inklings are pulling you and that feels really good, you've turned a corner and you can see new land, new shapes and it feels healthier again.
English: You mentioned that you sometimes make crude little doodles and when people see them, they're surprised to know that you made them. While your work has an extremely high level of craft, you also embrace work with completely different approaches. Is there something particular about strong craft that appeals to you? When you draw are you trying to attain more control or do you think about including the more mark-making doodles in some way?
Ladouceur: Well there are crude ghost-shapes under the apparent craft of my finished work, the stuff that is shown and what most folks are familiar with. I dash certain things out in the initial stages to spite my fussy self and to just get it going and to get it done. I leave some parts kind of wonky, it's great, that balance. I pearl over awkward bits like an oyster to smoothe it all out but I still see my work as awkward and I dig work that is both awkward and graceful. But yeah, I love a lot of so-called crude work too. In my day to day log-book drawing, things are much more loose, scribbled, layered. They look more like Arshile Gorky than Goya. I have a drawing style that developed out of something inside me and I wonder how it may soon change or evolve. But I love any work that is alive and I have no strict love for 'craft'. I do appreciate lushness but that can take many forms. I just appreciate work that translates peoples own inner worlds, feelings and perceptions. All methods of work (hopefully), are a personal way to soothe and also activate the very mind of the creator so that the work can actually come through. Its all tied together in a way but yeah - it would be nice to see some rough forms leak into the finished works at some point. Maybe I will finally start making paintings again to conjure that balance.
English: The show you're working on now is for a gallery space that you're familiar with. Do you think at all about the space where the work will be seen, or do you just concentrate on the images?
Ladouceur: Yes, it's at ZieherSmith. Andrea and Scott are awesome, I love them. This will be my fourth show with them and my first show in the new space on 20th st. I am only now starting to consider the space. I used to just work in a frantic way until the last second and throw the work at the gallery - "Here! just put it up! However you like !". Now I will work in a frantic way until the last second whilst thinking about the space. It's more of an ingredient in my mind than it used to be. Of course, this show will be a fairly 'traditional' art exhibition with works on paper in frames on the wall etc. But I can now foresee infinite future possibilities now that my mind has clicked into thinking about the spaces finally.
English: You mentioned once that you make visual notes of ideas and then incorporate them into the work later. Typically, how long does an image develop for you? How many stages, from the initial idea to the finished piece, do you go through? Do you do a lot of visual editing as you draw or is it more that once you sit down, you know what you want and how to get there?
Ladouceur: Yeah. I live amongst visual notes. Its a seeding thing and a weeding thing, like many artists or writers or whatever-ers I suppose. Batches of images and forms and ideas are always emerging at different speeds. Scraps, notes, piles. Many ideas pop up instantly while keeping the hand moving. Like just running the hand over soil and it activates them. At other times they arrive in fragments and evolve. Many images appear again and again. Some disappear and pop up once more, years later - they were never forgotten. Ideas turn up again and say "ok, how about now?" and these ideas finally make it into the work. It's funny though one can get so overly familiar with ones own realm, it can get stale and warped. Right now I would kind of like to plow forth and clear away - hone. Perhaps I should now keep less notes and work straight away on projects, that might hone the visions. I could get more done that way, maybe.
English: I asked you earlier about whether doing this book project and finishing up work for your show was a lot to take on at once and you explained that for now you want to be doing as much as possible. Do you have a vision for the future of your art? Are there formats and ideas that might surprise people who follow what you do closely?
Ladouceur: Right now it feels essential to bring it on, to take action and make projects happen. I want to always have things rolling and get all my ideas out, so I dont get bogged with them. Work and movement are necessary right now. I feel like I need to plow through this stuff and share it. I need to get to a new place.The work is the map right now and the vehicle. I want to make books as often as I have shows, they inform one another in my mind. If I can reflect on my work in these two contexts, I can propel it forward in the way I wish to. I am still not nearly as productive as I want to be. Also I feel I can do better, do more. I recently had this urge right in the middle of working on a show to start a fundraising campaign to publish a hardcover book of my images. I just didnt feel like waiting or contacting publishers. I wanted to experiment with publishing and get this thing done as soon as possible and on my own in a sense. But also with the help of people, from a community of friends, artists or strangers. I love the book as an art object, as it has this undeniable extra accessibility factor. As a vehicle for art, a book can reach the healthiest array and widest cross-section of people. As for future visions of my work, sure, I have plenty! I would like to expand the work and the form of it. I would like to make more sculpture and work on larger scale images. As for surprises...? Maybe I shan't say.
English: I know you love living in New York---can you talk a little bit about what day to day life and making art in NYC means to you?
Ladouceur: I love this town, though I often miss trees and mountains and water and wooden houses with porches. But yes I love NY. I walk everywhere. NY is good walkin' and theres a good spirit here I swear. There is an amazing batch of interwoven communities in NY. Hardworking souls who are making things and going for it. I don't think "going for it" is essential, but maybe at some point it is. I love small town hiders too, people making what they make, thats where I'm from. Right now though I'm inspired by the earnest folks that have made it clear that they are "sworn to the quest" in a certain way. That seems to have something to do with the energy here and the very town itself and if you need to get away theres always upstate. WM
Austin English is an artist, small-press publisher and sometime journalist and curator. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NYview all articles from this author