Hamilton Poe There is a value to having feelings and to having intuitions that aren’t finite, that aren't known.
By Mary Truong September 14th, 2020
Hamilton Poe takes pains to be an unindebted artist, and a consequence of this attitude is a certain frivolity in his work. Poe readily admits to “just making what I find interesting,” and that manifests into a variety of forms, ranging from a cross-country road trip, to a bike frame converted into a metal doorstop, to a carving of stacked chairs. Poe’s works often flout viewers’ expectations of art objects, but this falls in line with Poe’s insistence on being unindebted— he feels no need to create “luxury goods” for an art market, to perform to the expectations of an art audience, or even to conform to his past artistic self. Though Poe’s work isn’t necessarily uninhibited, the more unconventional works tend to feel loose and experimental.
The lack of consistency in Poe’s practice makes interpreting his work a difficult task, and Poe is hardly forthcoming in explaining meaning in his art. He often alludes to conceptual art, but he only intimates at large themes. Despite his furtiveness in discussing symbolic meaning, Poe is apt to describe the physical process of materializing an artwork: how to extrude a bike frame into a metal doorstop; how to use phone numbers to determine a destination for a road trip; how to make a series of oil paintings that all mimic one another. In the last project, Poe would copy the preceding painting’s palette into a new painting and would repeat this process for several “generations.” He portrays the work as a process-oriented piece about losing immediate artistic choice through making manual reproductions, but it takes effort for him to reveal that the paintings were created with his father’s paints. With this new information, the project becomes charged with meaning about intergenerational memory, tradition, and inheritance.
“I would be remiss to say that there aren’t inherent contradictions in everything that I say.”
It’s curious to try to understand why Poe would withhold such information from viewers, especially when he admits that the conceptual nature of his work alienates viewers and is “a hard thing to overcome.” Perhaps Poe’s actions can be attributed to his unwillingness to be “indebted”— is it possible that Poe wants his work to stand by itself, detached from the context of him as an artist so that it can only be understood through its physical materialization? I hesitate to push this point. Poe creates a variety of work: some that are intentional; some that simply happen; some that rely on an academic philosophy of aesthetics to be understood; some that are accessible to people outside the high art world context; some that include him, and some that do not.
“There is a value to having feelings and to having intuitions that aren’t finite, that aren’t known, that can change and morph, and that you can be accepting of what they are.”
Poe jokes, “So, I guess what I do in the art world is tell you about art.” It’s an offhand quip, but it’s true. In a disparate practice, how can he describe who he is as an artist without vague gestures to art? The vagueness is a form of distortion, reminiscent of how Poe describes the process of drawing: “a charged representation… to take one reality and try to convert it to this fake.” It is unreasonable to expect Poe to contain himself with any representation; neither a two-hour conversation nor an examination of Poe’s artistic practice can accurately portray him. As Poe says, “the problem is, most of us don’t fit into boxes outright. The nature of how we exist in the world is a queer one.”
“Every one of them is different, but also, every one of them is also completely the same.”
When discussing artistic influences, Poe brings up Allan McCollum’s collection works: a single work may consist of hundreds of plaster sculptures, each slightly variant from one another. Poe says, “they’re all completely the same and completely different at the same time.” This influence underscores the multiplicity that Poe understands and enacts within himself. To Poe, there is an art world of MFAs, and an art world within galleries, and an art world walking around his neighborhood block. All these art worlds are contained within the larger world that can also be considered art. Likewise, there is the artist Poe that curates, and an artist Poe that facilitates others' works, and an artist Poe that executes projects, and an artist Poe that talks about art. All these Poes are contained within the singular man. The variation is loose and dizzying, and at times, contradictory, but Poe’s acceptance of all this is what allows him to make so many works so freely.
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