In fall of 2011 I came across the work of Anthony Romero at an exhibition at The Comfort Station entitled, Dealing with New Demands. Organized by ‘The Happiness Project’ the exhibition was essentially a one-day performance by curator Jennifer Mills acting as an art dealer in an “affordable art gallery’ showcasing artwork by 11 local artists. I purchased the entire series of Anthony’s illustrations and got to take them home immediately that night – being able to see the empty walls where artwork once was put into perspective just how important community supported art really is [no joke.]
Before I left I had a chance to meet Anthony and thank him for the artwork. Below is a brief interview we did based on that encounter and because I wanted to learn more about his art making practice.
Nicolette Caldwell: When did you decide you wanted to be an artist? What was that process like?
Anthony Romero: How did I come to make visual art and performance? I’m making a small distinction here only because the kind of artist that I imagined myself becoming and the kind of artist I am, are two different things. I was raised in the theater. I went to theater camps, took private lessons, spent time in conservatories and eventually earned a theater scholarship to attend university.
Two years into my undergraduate work, I was working for a local company, spending every weekend on, behind, or beside the stage. I completely burnt myself out. So, I quit. I left university. I made music, spent time with friends, worked and after a few years found myself too aimless to excuse and decided to return to university.
Once back there I met a woman by the name of Erina Duganne. She was teaching a course called ‘Issues in Contemporary Art’ and it was in that class that I decided that what I wanted to do was dedicate my life to this thing, in any way that I could. So, I moved into the Art History department and was mentored by older artists outside of the university. I finished my B.A. in Art History in May of 2009 and moved to Chicago in August of that year to begin my MFA at SAIC.
NC: Tell me a little bit about your most recent work.
AR: Most recently I been talking with and working collaboratively with artists Jillian Soto, Joshua Rios, Dorian McKaie and Karen Faith. The largest of these collaborative projects is an Artist-in-Research residency at threewalls that has been awarded to myself and Jillian Soto. Working under the name, Escape Group, which includes ourselves and any number of past and future collaborators, we will be working to complete a performance based research project that takes the shape of installation, spatial and audio interventions, and a lecture series. We will be working out of threewalls for five weeks in March and April.
In my solo work I have been working on a series of dances based on Jerzy Grotwoski’s 1963 production of Doctor Faustus. This new performance will have its Chicago premiere at the Hyde Park Art Center in March as part of The Open Space Project and Dance Films Kino. Writing has also become increasingly important to my process and I have some pieces coming out in print over the next few months.
NC: How do you think your work has evolved over the last few years? Do you see it changing in the future?
AR: The last few years have seen the work get tighter. I suppose that’s the natural way, the process standardizes itself and becomes more and more methodical. How to keep this from happening? How to keep oneself moving, that for me is the question.
NC: You live in Chicago now. What has it been like working as an artist in Chicago? If you have shown your work elsewhere was the experience different?
AR: I have been in Chicago for two years. The work I’ve made in Chicago has been at various times and to different degrees influenced by my mentors and colleagues at The School of the Art Institute. The last two years have been a period of rapid growth and exploration for me, and I have comfortably settled into a practice that embraces collaboration, activity or movement, evasion, and a kind of retracing of what I would call ‘artistic precedents’.
Chicago has treated me very well. I’ve had the privilege of being supported by and working with some of the most inspiring and engaging artists I know. Chicago has also allowed me to create a network of support that extends to NY and beyond. I am very grateful for all of this.
NC: A while back I purchased a series of Keith Haring illustrations from you. Could you tell me a little more about where the idea came from to make “replicas” of his work? Have you threaded this similar concept into other work that you have made?
AR: Something that happens very often in the work is the promotion of an active dialogue between myself and an artist who has been canonized to some extent for dealing with an idea; I hesitate to say issue that I am currently in the midst of thinking about. With Keith Haring what was developing was an idea about authorship and a kind of yearned for commodification. By this I mean, if we think of Haring’s earlier graffiti-like works as being indicative of a territorial impulse to mark one’s surroundings with a name, your name, his name, a thing which exists as kind of ultimate gesture of ownership within the art world especially, but also in our society at large due to the relationship between a signature and the owning of property. We can think of land, slave, etc as being part of this kind of transaction.
More than this we can also consider something like a notary as being the ultimate expression of the authorial gesture, a notary is one who literally has the power to imbue a thing with significance based on a kind of signature. This is a kind of bureaucratic graffiti. When I think of Haring’s trajectory, I think of him as moving from this kind of individualistic wrestling of territory and authorship to a more factory like approach to pop and consumerism. This move is especially evident in the store and later works, which emphasize the brand of Haring. In a way, by the end, it makes no difference whose hand makes the mark only that the image remain intact, that it be easily recognizable as a Haring.
In terms of what is happening in my work as whole, these ideas of ownership, territory, authorship, etc. are part of what I am thinking of as a culture of reenactment in our society as a whole. Different in process to something like commodification, which relives an experience as an “empty” event/object/experience which denies the agency of those participating, reenactment capitalizes on agency of those retracing the previous course and can as a result be suggested as giving authority back over to the individual.
I will be performing in March at the Hyde Park Art Center as part of Dance Film Kino and The Open Space Project’s festival of new dance works. The piece that I will premier does something very similar in that in takes Jerzy Gozinsky’s notes to a 1963 production of Faust and uses them as a blueprint to choreograph a movement based performance.
NC: How has both performance and visual art manifested for you. Is there any separation between the two or do you channel both of those creative practices synonymously to one another? Is one more influential than the other?
AR: This is a very complicated question for me. There is a separation between the two, but for me this separation is a result of working and living in Chicago. I do occasionally feel a pressure to choose a mode of production, this is not an internal pressure but an external one based on resources and institutional support. As an artist I am engaged in a wide array of activity, dance, performance, theater, collage, painting, installation, video, etc. For me these divisions, even as they exist on a material or medium level only serve in helping to arrive at a reasonable conclusion to what is attempting to be expressed and in fact most of the time, the thing dictates itself. A sculpture tells you what it wants or needs, as do images, as does the body, etc. Most often a sculpture will tell you it’d rather be an image, or vice versa.
NC: What does success mean to you as an artist?
AR: I recently read the following:
“The hunter and gatherer gives little thought for the morrow, getting his feed fresh, from day to day, with the ready assurance of someone who has come to terms with the world around him. And this is exactly what the hunter does. He knows the world he lives in as few others do, and he lives in sympathy with it rather than trying to dominate it. He is the best of conservationists, knowing exactly how much he can take from where at any given time. His nomadic pattern is geared to this knowledge, and what appears to others to be a precarious existence probably affords the hunter a much greater sense of security than is felt, say, by many farmers. For the farmer the results of a year’s work may be destroyed overnight, whereas the most the hunter can lose is what he can replace tomorrow.”
I am actively searching for what my success might mean. I have yet to safely settle on a long-term goal. Goals being how one measures success. For now I feel grateful to be working with the people and institutions that I am.
For more information about Anthony Romero’s performance check out his Vimeo page.