Neoteric Art: In the 1970s you were involved with performance art that combined sculpture with theater. Please discuss…also discuss your transition to painting.
Tom Gehrig: While attending Mills College in Oakland, California (1971-73) as a graduate student in Fine Arts, I began experimenting with the notion of combining objects that I create and “perform”. It seemed a natural segue from the process art pieces that I had done prior to that. My mentor there was composer Robert Ashley, who influenced me greatly. We were blurring the boundaries of music, art and theater. One piece from that period was a futile attempt to walk down a creek on campus, blindfolded holding a crutch. I was (and still am) very much influenced by the work of Samuel Beckett. These early pieces were then expanded upon in 1974-78, to include even more theatrical events, but always utilizing objects that I build. Along with the objects were sound, projected film and even a musician (Paul Robinson). By 1979 I had ceased to perform these works because I thought that I didn’t wish to go down the path to larger, more intricate performances. Rather, I started drawing and painting again, which I missed. A bright moment was visiting the Tate Gallery in London in 1977, where I gazed at Turner & Constable and melted into their aesthetic.
NA: Discuss your work/thought processes when creating a new work.
TG: I keep a Moleskin notebook to capture things that I see and feel. I say feel, because I’m very much interested in communicating my feelings. I might be walking or driving or even sleeping, when something pops in. I make note of it and these things eventually find their way into my work. They usually strike me as odd and funny. Which plays into my desire to embrace the mysterious.
NA: A lot of your paintings are surrounded by a mixed media background. Please discuss.
TG: After I finish the painting, I create an extended background that can include words, diagrams, celestial charts, mathematical equations, photos…this will be created on a computer and the output is then mounted on to plastic, to give it a rigid surface. Then I’ll paint on that as well. An interesting dichotomy takes place. The painting is one reality and the background is something else entirely…but becomes a part of the whole. Objects depicted in the painting are sometimes connected to items in the background. I also include the title of the work on this background, giving it yet another layer of meaning.
NA: Who have been your influences for your own work?
TG: I’ll list a few: The works of Samuel Beckett and poets like Michael McClure and Paul Blackburn. The music of Robert Ashley, Lou Harrison & Terry Riley. The paintings of William Keith and George Inness. Turner & Constable. Bas Jan Ader, Bruce Nauman and Richard Long. And I never tire of learning more about Robert Smithson.
NA: Where do you see your work taking you in the future?
TG: Lately I’ve been thinking about creating sculptures like some of the things that I paint. For instance, “Replica of Ursa Major” and some of the “Temporary Monuments”. But I will continue to paint, because when the ideas hit, I want to record them…painting gives me the medium to clarify what I’m thinking about.
NA: What has been your favorite gallery or museum exhibition that you attended in the last few years?
TG: I’ll begin with Bruce Nauman’s early work shown at the U.C. Art Museum in Berkeley, CA. Anselm Kieffer blew me away at SFMOMA. Joseph Cornell’s show at SFMOMA and Robert Smithson at the Whitney…”Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island”. What a joy!