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In the Studio with Logan T. Sibrel

Logan T. Sibrel explores through his practice multiple perspectives, spaces, and bodies converging to convey narratives around intimacy, desperation and power struggle. We met with Logan to tell us more about growing up in Santa Claus, Indiana, how he's been staying creative, and catalysts for creating artwork.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?
 

I’ve honestly only just begun to start using this term to describe myself. This has to do with the fact that it’s common, in NYC anyway, to hear this term used very loosely, and it’s usually  people referring to themselves. Often they’re usually not doing a great deal of art-making. I  always referred to myself as a painter, because that felt more quantifiable.  

That said, I have been making things for as long as I can remember. Drawing and painting  have always been very much a part of my identity. I realized very early on that they were my  ticket to getting the attention that I craved, and making things allowed me to feel like I’d also earned said attention.  

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?

I grew up in a very small town in Southern Indiana called Santa Claus. It’s decorated, more or less, for Christmas year-round. I grew up in a German-American, Catholic household and spent a lot of time outdoors. Being from a town like that, I learned pretty early on how to cope with boredom. I’d say I also  recognized the value in being bored, as it can really get your imagination going. You don’t have all the  extra chatter to sift through to get to your thoughts.  

My parents were always supportive of me pursuing the life of an artist, and never really tried to persuade me to  pursue a different career path, in spite of Bob Ross being the only example of a successful artist we had  any real awareness of, collectively. I’m very grateful for them being supportive, even if it was against their  better judgement.  

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how lucky I was to meet my best friend Ian and his family at a very  early age. Ian’s mother is from Kerala in India, and grew up in Malaysia, and she definitely fostered a lot  of my curiosity about the world. I spent a lot of time at their house, which felt like a real cultural hub in an  area which was (no offense, Santa Claus) a bit of a dry zone culturally. They traveled a lot, and I  experienced a lot of my cultural firsts with them. I’m pretty sure theirs was also the first home I entered  which housed an actual—not school project—painting.  

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience?

My experience was fairly traditional in terms of education. I went to Indiana University for my  undergraduate degree, and to Parsons immediately after for my MFA.  

The BFA Painting program at IU was great. At the time I had a lot of frustrations with how stuffy and old school it could feel. But that frustration, paired with how seriously the faculty seemed to consider 

everyone’s work, were exactly what I actually needed at that time. A young artist needs to form an idea of  what it is they’re trying to push against and why. There are quite enough rebels-without-causes in the  world.  

I have mixed feelings about my experience at Parsons, and sometimes I wish I would’ve waited a bit  longer to head to grad school. Any disappointment I felt probably stems largely from my motivation for  going to grad school, being that I wanted an excuse to move to NYC or somewhere in Europe. I did have  some great studio visits with heroes of mine, and my thesis advisor, Andrea Geyer, was that perfect mix of  supportive and challenging that you need before you’re off to figure things out on your own.  

What’s the message of your work? Are there themes/narratives/purpose?

I’m still figuring out how to answer this, because I think a lot of my motivation for making things comes  from a place of not knowing. Even when I’m making a simple portrait of a friend, lover, etc. I’m usually  trying to figure out something about them and just need to sit with an image of them for a while. I noticed, for example, that if I reference my partner, it’s usually right after a big fight. I think it’s a way for me to re-calibrate.  

While there is an ebb and flow with regard to overtly sexual content in my work, I stay committed to the  context of my work being quite queer. I’m not interested in speaking on anyone’s behalf or really  explaining anything to a straight crowd—the work definitely has a lot to do with my own lived experiences,  or it documents my specific thoughts around someone or something. I think it’s easy to miss the mark when an artist tries to work in broad strokes—some of the best, most relatable, work comes from people  making very specific works under very specific circumstances. As a viewer, I don’t need a maker to hold  my hand or make everything totally clear to me. I go to art to get lost. I think if you want everything to be  totally clear, you’re better off with a nonfiction book or a lecture.  

Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic?  

The majority of my ideas start from overhearing something out of context (I’m a chronic eavesdropper),  finding a photo by chance and I think “this has potential”, or hearing a song and getting a feeling that I  want to translate into a drawing or a painting.  

I don’t find looking at other paintings particularly generative, aside from seeing a show and getting painter  envy and feeling like I need to rush home to the studio.  

My aesthetic has been influenced a lot by having grown up around a limited amount of artistic influences.  More and more, I see people like Norman Rockwell in my work, the compositions from the stained glass  windows I stared at every Sunday, and a visual vocabulary lifted from the record covers of albums I grew up loving. I almost always reference some sort of photographic source, so a flatness and a washed out  look have also been constants. 

Who and what are your greatest influences? 

Currently, and no particular order: Meg Remy (U.S. Girls), Kathleen Hanna, Kim Gordon, Kurt Vonnegut,  James Baldwin, Pier Paolo Pasolini, David Wojnarowicz (more his writing than his visuals, sorry), Luigi  Pirandello, David Lynch, Diamanda Galás, and Sascha Schneider.  

The majority of my influences are musical and literary. I like a lot of painters, but I’ve never understood  translating painting influences into painting.  

Generally I’m attracted to cultural figures with a good sense of humor who make dead serious work. I love  work where humor and seriousness aren’t seen as mutually exclusive.  

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

I’m always searching for how to replicate a tone or a feeling—I almost never totally plan out a painting ahead of time. I will often start with a bank of reference images I’ve found or taken. Ones that give me this  buzzing feeling, like I’m onto something.  

I can be a little doom and gloom, but I try to always explore that with some humor. I can be heavy-handed  and maybe even vulgar, but I’m always trying to slip in some other nugget, mostly out of a contrarian impulse. If I think that a work is going to be read as sexy or erotic, I’m compelled to slip in something very unsexy-style-tender, or sad or gross. Or if I’m making a simple, pretty still life, I have to slip in something fucked up. The impulse is to never totally give a viewer what they want. Sometimes what people actually  need is to not always get their way.  

A very good, straight, childhood friend was looking at some of my paintings recently and said something along the lines of, “Wow, this painting is so sad, I almost forgot it was of multiple men engaging in a sex  act”. 

That’s basically where I’m aiming to land in everything I do. 

What events in your life have mobilized change in your practice/aesthetic? How has your art  evolved? Do you stick to one medium? Do you experiment? Do you see any parameters to your  work?  

I noticed a real shift in my visual work when I started recording and playing music live. I have a band called Sister Pact with a very talented guitarist, Omar Afzaal. The band is by no means huge, and has almost no potential for mass appeal, and I’m totally okay with that. It’s been a catch-all for any ideas I  have which are ill-suited to painting.  

I say this caused a shift because I was very frustrated for many years about the limitations of my medium,  but allowing ideas to take form in various media has allowed me to zero in on what is really working in the paintings.  

There’s definitely an experimental impulse in everything that I do, but the catch is that I need parameters  in order to get the wheels turning. So, sussing out where an idea belongs is very important in my practice.  

The worst feeling is when I’m told or understand that I can do whatever I want. My mind goes blank. Even if I have free rein, I need to convince myself there are some rules.  

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

It’s laughable how simple it is to create the right conditions, and how I never seem to learn to maintain  said conditions. I need to have eaten something. I need a good, long playlist. I need something to drink and access to (sorry, Mom) nicotine.  

Because I’m basically a figurative painter, and I think probably because of some Midwestern work ethic is at play, I need to have felt like a painting was difficult for me to pull off, and I need to feel like any sources  I’ve referenced have been rendered, more of less, adequately. I know that these criteria are basically bullshit, and these are not my metrics for what make anyone else’s work good, but so it goes.

What are your goals for the future? (Projects, collaborations)

This, if it ever happens, would likely be very far in the future, but I keep thinking that I’d like to write a play  with any number of my very talented friends. I’m very into the idea of designing sets, costumes, etc. I  have no idea what it would be about.  

I’ve been helping on a project (I’m not sure if I’m allowed to discuss in much detail yet) with my friend Meg Remy of U.S. Girls. She’s a brilliant artist, writer, and musician based in Toronto. I started out as a huge fan of hers and we’ve become friends over the years. I have total faith in her as a creator, and I’m thrilled  to be working on this project. I look forward to doing more with her in the future.  

I’ve been living and working in New York for over eleven years now, and I’m grateful for my network here,  but I’ve always wanted to live abroad. It’s a [boring] goal of mine to have that experience, and there are some signs that that might be artistically/professionally viable in the near future. I’m totally in love with Berlin, and many dear friends and colleagues are there, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a potential  resettlement there. 

How have you been staying creative during the pandemic?

My studio is in my building, downstairs from my apartment. I feel so lucky to have this setup during the  pandemic. Making work is what I do for fun, so this period has been a very low-stakes “just try it out”  period for me. It also finally quit/got laid off (it’s a grey area) from my day job of nine years, so I’m officially just an artist now. This is both exciting and terrifying. I don’t have time to overthink things ‘cause I’ve got bills to pay and a dog to feed.

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