Q&A: Anthony Campuzano

Philadelphia-based artist Anthony Campuzano’s first museum solo exhibition, Touch Sensitive (2009) was organized at ICA by curator Kate Kraczon, and he has contributed to public programming at ICA ever since. Right now, you can see his film installation Forecast (1998/2013) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. ICA intern Gina DeCagna interviewed Campuzano about his multifaceted practice.
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Anthony Campuzano at the entrance to his Philadelphia Museum of Art installation, Forecast (1998/2013), and beside a Roy Lichtenstein painting; Lichtenstein”s autograph in Campuzano”s notebook. Photos: Tiffany Yoon.

ICA: You currently have an installation, Forecast, 1998/2013, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You’ve been interested in creating something with weather forecasts since your thesis show at Tyler School of Art back in 2000. What does this piece mean to you? As someone who has worked mostly in drawing and painting, how does the mechanism of film affect your technique of appropriating ubiquitous texts and images?

Anthony Campuzano: I participated in children’s theater at Summer Stage at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center (Tina Fey directed me in a play) and I had real dreams (more like daydreams) of being in Hollywood in someway. Theater faded away, and writing poetry and short stories replaced it, then painting and sculpture, etc. When I was a student at Tyler in the late 1990s, I took two film courses: one was the history of comedic film with Ruth Perlmutter and the other was on documentary film with Jeanne Allen. Also, my best friend, Christopher Smith, was a Temple film student and through him I was exposed to films of the French New Wave and the experimental films of Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage.
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I made the collage Forecast when I was a student at Tyler in 1998 and even though the film wasn’t made until 2013, I always intended it to be a film. Forecast involves repetition, cropping, editing, color, and varying textures and marks which are all hallmarks of my drawings.

Another influence on the development of Forecast was my past work in high school as a clerk at a newsstand in a train terminal. During my shift, I would place various newspapers and magazines along the counter, and I would read via glimpses of articles in publications such as The New York Post, Vogue, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The National Enquirer, Harpers, Esquire, and many more. This practice involved a way of reading that is more like looking and helped me understand words and ideas as landscapes or pictures.

ICA: You’ve become a key contemporary artist in Philadelphia. Aside from your current piece at the PMA, you’ve produced colorful multi-faceted programming at ICA and a solo show, Touch Sensitive (2009), and have exhibited and curated at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery. What’s your latest activity in the city? Why do you choose to work here?

AC: I grew up just outside West Philadelphia in Lansdowne and attended schools both there and in the city. After graduating from Tyler in 2000, I attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and moved to New York City at the end of the summer. I had no intention of ever moving back to Philadelphia but life sometimes makes plans for you. I saw a lot of great art during my time in New York, made friends, was in love at times, and experienced some tragedy. I witnessed a murder in the spring of 2001, and coupled with the World Trade Center attacks later that year and loss of employment, I became very depressed. I eventually moved back to Philadelphia in late 2003. In 2004, I was in my first show at Fleisher/Ollman here in Philadelphia and in 2005, I had a White Room exhibition at White Columns in New York. It is late 2015, and I have been exhibiting consistently for ten years—something I don’t think I would have accomplished if I had stayed in New York. In Philadelphia, I have been able to give the work time for reflection at its own speed. I continually visit New York and would be lying if I said I didn’t want to live there again, but as an artist, it is important to know what you require in order to articulate yourself. I require time and freedom which I have in abundance in Philadelphia.

In regards to recent projects here in Philadelphia, I had a solo show at Fleisher/Ollman called Slow Movies last fall. I also had work in a group show called Framing Fraktur at the Free Library (curated by former ICA Director Judith Tannenbaum) this past spring.
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Image from Slow Movies exhibition (2014). Courtesy the artist and Fleisher/Ollman Gallery.

ICA: So much of your work is found poetry presented and rearticulated in evocatively colorful and new visual ways. Can you talk about your process? What draws you to certain lines of text, and once you’ve been hooked on certain words or phrases, how do you decide to reproduce them in a different context through your unique lens?

AC: When asked how I approach the work, I often respond with the following:
A: What’s the story?
B: Do these colors work?

It is a simplification, for sure, but correct. Once I begin a drawing, it is a mix of improvisation and rules. I rarely use water to dilute my materials and the drawings are built up in methodical layers. Small marks create a ground that text or other shapes react against. I work intuitively, yet the amount of text or other elements dictate the layout of the drawing. I often repeat or run text backwards to complicate the design. I often use borders and other motifs to guide, constrain, or emphasize the text.

I learned to read by staring at the back of my father’s newspaper. I often tried to tell him the conclusion of a story he may have only just begun. I stare a lot. I read a lot. I stay up late and talk and watch and listen. I am a very social person and enjoy going to exhibitions and parties and such. I gather for long periods of time. Everything does not enter my work, however. I have a very private, reflective, and solitary side. I think and stare deeply inside and attempt to isolate the things that have attached or attracted themselves to me—or I to them. I have this deep love of contemplative abstract art. I also care very strongly about symbolism and the structure of self. I know this may be starting to veer into the abstract, but it is real.
Christopher Knowles, Untitled, 2012

Christopher Knowles, Untitled, 2012, archival marker on canvas, 24 x 18 inches. Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

ICA: What are your thoughts on the current Christopher Knowles exhibition at ICA? You seem to see text as comprised of unique visual signs, symbols, and patterning (as opposed to traditional modes of reading).

AC: I am really excited about the Christopher Knowles exhibition. It is excellent. I became familiar with his work around 2008 through Matthew Higgs at White Columns. However, prior to the exhibition at ICA, I was only familiar with Knowles’s typings. It is so exciting to see the full range of expressions that are included in the show.

Text, like objects, can act pictorially and tell stories. When I make pictures, there is an intent to be precise, and yet, to join that with an intuitive expressive element. This may seem off topic but I always say I am a Braque man as opposed to a Picasso man. The reason being that Picasso took beautiful things and took them apart in order to understand them, while Braque took disorganized things and attempted to put them together in order to understand them. I traffic in scraps and fragments that if isolated and/or orchestrated can tell the whole story.
Summer Studio Class

A Summer Studio class led by Anthony Campuzano (2009).

ICA: You helped to organize ICA’s Life Drawing Studio (2014) program, as well as Summer Studio (2009), which makes me interested in the experimental and experiential drawing practices that you facilitated, and the way that you have brought the studio into the space of the museum. What is the relationship, for you, between what you’re playing with in the studio and the way you exhibit works in galleries?

AC: I often follow or precede a gallery exhibition of my work with a project of the likes of Summer Studio, Life Drawing Studio, or a book. These types of projects have not exactly influenced the way I exhibit the work in galleries, but they have impacted the way I make the work. A sense of clarity and purpose is acquired through these projects and helps me prepare or move on from a body of work. I often notice that in every show I do, there is one work that is something that I needed to resolve from the last show, then there is the bulk of the work, and a piece that is something that leads to the next place. In other words, you find a way into and out of a body of work. These types of projects of a participatory nature—whether organizing music or film events, curating, writing—have become a crucial aspect of my practice. They have become a way to recalibrate, recharge, and also challenge myself. It is important to be in the world, to engage, and to be part of art in many ways.
ICA@50: Life Drawing Studio (Sarah McEneaney)

Drawing of Anthony Campuzano in “Life Drawing Studio,” 2014, by Sarah McEneaney.