Art Exhibit: I'm Painting, I'm Painting Again
The paintings of local artist Stephen Boocks will be on display at the 9605 Medical Center Drive building (Building III) from Sept. 8 through Nov. 10. The exhibit, “I’m Painting, I’m Painting Again," is free and open to the public. Boocks says the title comes from a Talking Heads song from the 1970s. Hopkins Happenings asked Boocks about himself and the exhibit.
Hopkins Happenings: Tell us about yourself.
Boocks: I was born and raised in southeastern Virginia. I spent most of my first 40 years in the Hampton Roads area except for the 1984-85 academic year when I attended the Corcoran. I graduated from Old Dominion University in Norfolk with a BFA and minor in English. I met my wife, who was also at ODU. Interestingly, the Norfolk area is a sort of a transient Navy town, but we were both born and raised in the area without any connection to the Navy. I moved to the metro DC area in 2005, the day before my 40th birthday.
Hopkins Happenings: How’d you get into art and decide to become an artist?
Boocks: I don't know if I could pinpoint a time. It now seems like I was always involved, but there is plenty of evidence I was much more into sports as a kid. Some time in my early teens, art and music began to take the place of sports. I'd credit, or perhaps blame, two people for me becoming a painter. First, my mom was always very supportive. We would go to the Chrysler Museum frequently and any other local things we would find, such as outdoor art festivals like the massive Boardwalk Art Show in Virginia Beach. I was always drawn to more modern/contemporary art, so I quickly moved from imitating Monet to doing Pollock-esque drip paintings. As I entered my sophomore year of high school I encountered a dynamo of a teacher - Robin Clair (Partin). I came to understand she was quite a respected name in the region with a painting in the collection of the Chrysler. She was always pushing me to experiment. So as a junior in high school, I was building and stretching 6-foot canvases, attaching plaster gauze to the canvas, and then applying a mixture of gesso and plaster casting stone as well as dry plaster just to form the ground.
Hopkins Happenings: What kind of art do you do?
Boocks: The short answer is I am a painter making geometric abstractions. The work is based on patterns and systems used somewhat like musician Brian Eno does in his music. He has a piece where specific notes are played at defined intervals such as a "G" will play every 12 seconds, an "A" every 9 seconds, then he lets it play out. So I may say each row of a grid painting gets five orange squares, two yellow squares, and then I mark those off fairly randomly and see what happens.
Hopkins Happenings: How do you weave together your interests in art and music?
Boocks: They have been the twin pillars of interest for me since I was a teen. I was around 15 when I started making serious paintings and that is also when I started my first band. At different points I would spend time on music rather than painting, including a long period from about 1996-2006. When I started painting again, I was painting objects but not in any sort of real space. These paintings did not seek to attach any meaning to these objects but rather used them as basic compositional elements. I thought of these works like composing music, placing the note in just the right place. Since there was not any content attached to the objects, I finally decided to simply paint shapes. After working with dashes and ellipses, I settled on dots to create the system patterns. Some of these paintings were composed the same way I was thinking about music but a few have been used as actual scores for musical works. Working with the music program Logic, there is a way to enter the notes using a grid-based piano roll. For these works, the pattern on the painting was entered into the program to create the piece of music. I attached small speaker drivers to the back of the canvases, allowing the painting and music to come together as an integrated piece.
The names of my paintings are typically taken from lyrics from music I listen to. I just select some lyric that feels right with the painting. My hope is the title may be a jumping off point for viewers and a fun bit of recognition for anyone who knows where a title comes from.
Hopkins Happenings: What is your approach for creating a work of art? What is your inspiration?
Boocks: I'm not a fan of the word inspiration. I guess one could argue that music is my inspiration, but I have always viewed painting as work. I don't think I was one of those kids with obvious natural art-making abilities, but I liked drawing and painting and I managed to get pretty good at it. I try to work pretty regularly. Even though I would like to spend days on end in the studio, I usually have to get a lot done in a short period of time. So it is more about work than inspiration. Some of the best work comes when I have no idea what I am going to do but start working anyway. I create systems/patterns for the paintings then play them out on the canvas. Usually I will overlay additional systems until I get the painting looking the way I want to. Since I may choose to paint a horizontal pattern over a previous vertical one, it is not always easy to tell there are actual systems at work. Just like a musician playing a wrong note, I sometimes flub the pattern, placing too many or too few of an element in a row or column on the grid. Most of the time I like these mistakes and roll with them.