Whitehot Magazine

Michael Scoggins and Alex Gingrow: Three Questions, Two Artists, One Airport Bar

Michael Scoggins, The Drippy One, mixed media on paper


Two Artists, One Airport Bar

Setting: The Old Dutch Bar in the Aruba airport, mid-day. 

The table top is sticky and is set with red plastic flowers in a dime store vase. There is a bottle of Corona in front of Alex and a can of Balashi in front of Michael. Dubstep beats an incessant rhythm in the background and pre-season football is muted on an old television set in the corner. Sun-wearied travelers dot the bar: a late-40’s Atlanta-dressed woman flirts with a crusty man one stool away from her. She is drinking Michelob Ultra from a straw and gnawing seductively on a stick of beef jerky. Her voice is nightclub hoarse.

Alex Gingrow: Are you ready to do this interview?

Michael Scoggins: Let’s do it.

Alex: I’ve been trying to do this all week and you haven’t wanted to do it.

Michael: I’ve been on vacation. It’s been hard to get motivated.

Alex: Have you been too drunk?

Michael: Maybe a little bit of that as well, but once again, on vacation.

Alex: True. So, let’s start this way: describe, if you will, how you explain my work to people.

Michael: Your current body of work, or in general?

Alex: Sure.

Michael: Current body? (Alex disassociates and looks out the airport window to a view of the aqua green Caribbean waters and the distant landfill pluming a toxic black cloud over the desert island landscape.) Okay. The way I describe your current body of work to people is, first off about the longevity and endurance of it. Um, how it’s a years’ long process, and then I get more descriptive. I call them drawings and paintings, where you’re making meticulous mark-making.  And then I describe the actual physical appearance, which, you know, is a day to day calendar, like a tear-away desk calendar, basically. A desktop calendar. Where you are creating your own narrative about your life. I describe this as an extremely personal series as compared to your past work. It’s gotten much more about you and your day to day life and it’s also, it’s also…I’ve lost my train of thought…

Alex: (laughs) Okay, move on.

Michael: No, no. It’s meticulous, it’s also extremely personal, where you’re creating your own narrative and discussing your own work and then I go basically and talk about how poetic it is, because I think you’re very poetic in your writing, where, you know, a lot of the stuff I do is just kind of like brute force, kind of straight forward. You’re much more…you’re a much better writer, and it just kind of flows and it’s very…it’s very dirty but it’s also very pretty at the same time, because I think you do have a way with words. A wordsmith!

(An unattended child runs screaming through the bar. Alex and Michael look around to make sure that his parents are relatively nearby. They are. The child makes another screaming loop as the parents stare blankly at their individual iPads.)

Michael: Alright, well, how do you explain my work to people?

(A phone rings behind the bar.)

Alex: Ahh, when people ask me what you do I usually say that you make really large notebook paper and they look at me really funny. And then I say, imagine a sheet of notebook paper that’s about six feet by four feet large. And it usually has anything, the subject matter is usually…it oscillates between the very personal, the very political, everything from childlike innocence to really personal, dark places, and your topics bounce around between all those different things.

Michael Scoggins, I can't Breathe, mixed media on paper

Humph. It’s hard to describe someone else’s work.

Alex: It is.

Michael: Especially with what we both do, I think. The so-called elevator pitch, which is a term that I hate, but it’s really difficult to sum it up quickly in just a few sentences.

Alex: But everybody needs that. They have to be able to say it quickly.

Michael: Yeah, no, I agree. It’s a hard thing to do and I think a lot of artists…you know, we’ve both been doing it for a while and we’ve kind of honed our skills at this, for the most part.

Alex: Most people suck at it.

Michael: Yeah.

Alex: Including us.

Michael: Well, not always. Sometimes it’s good.

Alex: Sometimes. Aight, so, you have three questions and I have three questions.

Michael: Yes.

Alex: So, my first question for you, Michael: how do you feel you balance your work and your home life?

Michael: Hmm…that’s a good question.

Alex: I know.

Michael: That’s a very hard question to answer actually because I feel, I feel like I…

Alex: And, and I just want to interject here. Men are not usually asked this question.

Michael: Yeah, that’s true.

Alex: Women often are. But I’m asking you.

Michael: Umm, I feel like I do a fairly decent job. I think home life is…it’s, it’s hard to describe because I think, you know, with the career path we’ve chosen it all kind of blends, so home life and studio life are just kind of one in the same for me sometimes.

Alex: True.

Michael Scoggins (L) and Alex Gingrow (R)

Michael: But I do feel like I do probably spend too many hours in the studio sometimes…

(The waitress approaches and, seeing that Michael and Alex are in the midst of a conversation with an audio recorder, catches Alex’s eye and motions to their beers.)

Alex (to the waitress): Yeah, please, can we get one of each? Thank you.

Michael: I feel like I do spend too many hours in the studio and, you know, recently moving my studio to Greenpoint, closer to home, where I can walk back and forth more quickly than, say, travelling out to Bushwick on a daily basis has helped…

Alex: Yeah, but you still don’t come home for dinner often enough.

Michael: No, I do miss dinner a lot but I kind of get in a rhythm later in the day and that’s just how my process works.

Alex: That’s true.

Michael: So, it’s hard. But I do feel like I’ve gotten better. But it is difficult to balance the two. It’s definitely a matter of trying to find the time for both and you just feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day. Constantly.

Alex: Yeah, but do you feel like you have a good balance?

Michael:  I feel it’s good but could be better. Is that fair?

Alex:  Sure, it’s your answer.

Michael(laughs) Okay. Nice.

Alex:  Your turn.

Michael:  My turn, so we’ve been curating shows and we’ve been doing residencies together.

Alex: We’ve curated UH show.

Michael(correcting self) We’ve curated UH show (mimicking Alex’s Southern accent, which grows thicker the more she drinks), but we’ve also done several residencies together and our practices are very separate from one another. But we’ve been doing these things together more recently and I just wanted to ask you how you felt about those? How has your practice maybe changed, studio and otherwise?

Alex:  I don’t think it’s changed my practice necessarily. Like you said, we do have very separate studio practices. I think more than anything it’s just really nice to have a partner in crime to do these things with, and it’s nice to be able to retreat into my studio and to know, for example, that you knock on the door when you come into my studio and I call you to let you know if I’m coming over to your studio. It’s nice to have this really fluid partnership in all aspects of our lives, but also to know that we each have a room of our own. I think one strengthens the other. To know that we each have our own retreat space makes the time that we have together all that more solid and strong. And then at the same time, when we have that space alone we know that we’re not always completely shut off from the other, that there are these other things that we do together and have together.

Michael:  Hmm, ok.

Michael Scoggins, One Trick Pony, mixed media on paper

Alex:  So I think it’s important to have both aspects but I think both of those components make the other one stronger.

Michael:  Can I follow up with my second question? This kind of leads into it.

Alex:  Yeah, I guess so. That fucks up the order.

Michael:  It does fuck up the order, but that’s ok. What do you think of the term “art couple?”

Alex:  (makes retching sound)

Michael:  Yeah, it’s kind of gross but I think….

Alex:  It makes me really mad, actually.

Michael:  Yeah, I know and we’ve talked about this before.

(Waitress drops off another round of drinks)

Alex:  (To waitress) Mmmmm, thank you very much.

Michael: (To waitress) Yes, thank you so much.

Michael:  We do have very separate practices, but at the same time, both being artists, we can understand each other’s practice. Say if one of us was a doctor and the other was an artist, I think there’s such a disparaging difference between those types of lifestyles that it could cause problems. I think artists should date each other. There’s obviously this question of competition, but if it’s a healthy competition and done for the right reasons, I think it’s ok.

Alex Gingrow, 01.01.13 (detail), graphite, ink and acrylic on paper, 15 x 15 inches, 2013

Alex:  Yeah, I don’t like the term though because it insinuates dependency and I think that’s one of the strengths of, particularly, of our relationship. I think in most artists’ relationships there’s often a strong sense of independence.

Michael:  I think it could be seen as leaning on one another, maybe riding coattails or something like that from one person to the other or…

Alex:  I think you’d be hard pressed to find two artists who are partners who would call themselves an “art couple.”

Michael: Yeah.

Alex:  I think it’s an easy way for outside people to not have to think too hard about two separate personalities. Because we do have two very different, separate personalities. So it’s a little insulting but I don’t think anyone means any harm by it, but it’s too cutsie a box to put anybody in.

Michael:  For the record, I hate the term too. I was just curious.

Alex(coyly) Whatever, you want my coupling.

(Michael rolls his eyes and shakes his head in playful exasperation.)

Alex:  Alright, my second question then. What is your favorite collaborative project that you and I have done together? (Loud chatter from the tipsy table behind Michael and Alex.) Between…no, I’m not even going to extrapolate. What’s your favorite collaborative thing you and I have ever done together?

Michael: As far as residencies or projects?

Alex:  It’s up to you.

Michael:  I would say…I think the most eye-opening experience was probably when we went to Miami and did Fountainhead together. It was the first time we actually had to share a studio, god forbid. I was nervous and I think you were as well and we were living and working in very close quarters 24/7 and I went into it with a lot of anxiety but it turned out to be probably one of the best experiences we’ve had, I believe. I feel like we bonded and it made us even closer. So I walked away from that experience feeling a lot stronger about not only my personal practice but also our relationship. (The loudspeaker announces boarding procedures from the gate next to the bar.)

Alex Gingrow, 02.10.13, graphite, ink, and acrylic on paper, 15 x 15 inches, 2014

:  I would agree. Yeah. Your turn.

Michael: Let’s see…let’s talk about New York. We’ve lived in New York for almost…almost ten years at this point, or we’re coming up on that…

Alex: Yeah.

Michael: And I feel like, I don’t know, we’ve both been kind of…we’ve both had our eyes looking away. How do you think that’s going to affect us? I’m kind of nervous about the whole idea of maybe leaving New York at some point. Is it going to be beneficial long term, or is it going to hurt short term…I don’t know. I have a lot of questions about it in my head and I thought I’d ask you for this interview: is New York necessary for us?

Alex: Uh, I kinda don’t like to think about its necessity. For me, it’s a matter of how much I love New York, and Brooklyn in particular, versus my longing for space and greenery. So, it’s not a matter of career viability for me. I like to hear crickets at night, I like to look at stars. I would like to water the plants without running into a rat with turds the size of Texas. (Alex shudders with recollection.) So, I don’t know, I feel like I could ever fully leave, though. I feel like I would always want to have at least a toe in New York, because it was the place I wanted to be my entire life and even after being there for ten years, there are days when I’m just walking down the street, even just down Manhattan Ave, and I look around and think, “Goddamn, I love this place.” I love the people, I love the dirt, I love the attitude, I love the diversity, I love the life. I love New York and I will always love it. Even if we were to move far away, I would always have to come back and would want to come back and feel like I was home. I feel like it’s home.

Michael: Mmm hmm. It’s become home, for sure.

 (A voice comes on the loudspeaker and announces the beginning of the boarding process)

Alex: New York is the place I’ve lived the longest besides having grown up in Tennessee. So it’s the place that I call home and I FEEL like it’s home. So it’s…you know, I don’t…I do miss space every now and again. I would like to be able to make an absolute mess in my studio and not have to fret about whether or not we’ll get our security deposit back. I would like to walk outside naked if I want to.

(A waitress approaches the table with plates of sandwiches.)

Alex: Hi! Oh, we didn’t order anything.

Michael: No, we didn’t order.

Alex: Not us. Thank you.

Alex (back to Michael): So, I don’t know, we’ll see. I’m also trying to not fret about it. I kind of have this really…whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen and we’ll make the best of it no matter where we are. But if our heart’s in New York, we’ll never totally leave it.

Michael: I agree.

Alex: You want my last question?

Michael: Sure, alright.

Gingrow and Scoggins in the snow.

Alex: Aight. What do you appreciate the most about our art life together? As in, what would you miss the most if I got, like, sucked up by quicksand in the middle of the desert?

Michael: Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Alex: I know, we don’t have any trips to the desert planned.

Michael: No trips to the desert. This is probably the closest to the desert as we’re gonna be.

Alex: That’s true. And here there are only giant iguanas.

Michael: I, uhh…

Alex: Fucking dinosaurs.

Michael: Dragons.

Alex: Dragons. Dragon dinosaurs.

Michael: I would miss your curt honesty with my practice and my work. I trust you fully as far as talking about things, like I can bring you in and I have no bones about you telling me something is a piece of shit. And I trust your opinion wholeheartedly, and I listen to it, and I take your advice to heart. If I didn’t have that I think I would be making a lot more bad art than I do.

Alex: Shit. (coyly ribbing)

Michael: Huh? (doesn’t get the playful insult)

Alex: (Chortles.)

Michael: It’s true! So, I respect your opinion and your mind and your ability when it comes to art and art-making wholeheartedly.

Alex: Aww, thanks.

Michael: No, it’s true. It’s from the heart. And I wouldn’t be the artist that I am today without you in my life and I would be really sad.

Alex: That’s so sweet. Ditto, Bubba.

Michael: Mmm hmm.

Alex: Aight. Is that all?

Michael: I think that’s it. We’ve gotta get on an airplane soon.

(We hear the microphone move and become muffled.)

Alex (distractedly under her breath): How do I make it stop?

Alex and Michael pay the bill and begin boarding the plane amongst the hoards of honeymooners now with a weeks’ worth of sunscreen dulling their diamonds and seven days’ worth of sand scratches on their previously pristine platinum wedding bands. WM




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