Immersive Studio Visit

Todd Monaghan

Amy Gahyun Lee | December 5, 2017

Todd Monaghan

Upper West of Manhattan
New York City

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On the 16th of November, Eazel visited the cozy studio of New York based artist, Todd Monaghan, located on the Upper Westside of Manhattan Island in NYC. We interviewed Todd as our team scanned his studio in VR.

Amy Gahyun Lee (AL): Please tell us about your studio.

Todd Monaghan (TM): My studio is located on the “Upper” Upper Westside of Manhattan Island in New York city. I have been working out of this studio since my oldest son was born in 1991, so for the better part of 26 years.

AL: How much time will you spend at your studio during any given workday?

TM: Most days I am in the studio from around 9 am to 6 pm but that depends on what projects I am working on and what else is going on in my life. I have been building an artists' retreat in Sullivan County in Upstate New York on weekends over the last five years so that is where I am when not in the studio.

AL: Tell me more about this artists' retreat.

TM: My partner Afsana Khundkar, and I have been working on the artist retreat for the better part of 5 years now. The first trip was to visit a friend of ours, who had a place in Sullivan County. That first year we took our boys up to Lake George further upstate. We spent the night, woke up the next morning and high tailed it to our own private woods in Sullivan County. That first summer all we had was the Volkswagen Passat and a couple 2 man tents. We started by clearing the Forrest enough so we could work. We bought a small 12' x 24' barn shed and promptly began converting it into a livable house. Over the years that shed has been converted into a full on house with proper windows, doors, insulation, electricity and heat.

Throughout our time up in our retreat, we have always had a fire pit where we cooked on and used it to stay warm. It has evolved over the years. Over time I built a stone wall behind the pit, and then a roof to protect it from the elements. The premise behind the entire retreat has always been to reuse and re-purpose materials. The fire pit evolved into a "fire room" or kitchen complete with a wood burning stove. We got windows from the city both donated and recycled from various Dumpster dives. The fire room now has wrap around windows, a metal roof and a nice porch off the back of it.

I recently built a "Water Closet" building. This building houses our shower (which by the way has a bathtub which was also hauled up from downtown by my oldest son and I) and our compost toilet. This is the heart of the retreat. We purchased a shipping crate to house my artwork and tools. The newest building is a second cabin which I am currently customizing and making livable (insulation, windows, electric, hardwood floors). This is an ongoing process but we hope to be able to have guests by this spring.

Installation view at Garner Arts Center, New York, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist

AL: You have been living and working in New York City since 1987, and according to your interview with Emorywire in 2016, you described New York as your one true home. What does this city mean to you?

TM: New York City is a place that I, as well as most other transplants, came to reinvent themselves. The city can be very unforgiving and yet at the same time it is very supportive. Everything is available here and it is a true microcosm of the rest of the world. I like that about this city. When I first arrived in Times Square all those years ago it felt so big, so overwhelming with all the people and traffic. Now it feels like a small place. Granted it is changing so quickly yet I feel connected to all its little neighborhoods from my Upper Westside neighborhood to Chinatown and everywhere in between.

AL: As an artist working at the center of New York's vibrant art scene, how would you describe the experience to people living abroad? Tell us something noteworthy about what those who comprise New York's art scene have been focusing as of late?

TM: When you go out, whether that be to a gallery opening downtown or an event at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), you run into the same "usual suspects". It’s a small community, a tight, knit community. And I guess I would say the art scene here is focused on nowadays where things are going next, what is "original language" and what is "derivative." These are issues that come up again and again with the backdrop of what will happen next with respect to "brick and mortar" galleries and where will the online world take us next. I am very excited to be participating in your platform as I think you guys are at the cutting edge with where things are going.

Slice of Life, 2016, Gesso, ink and egg shells on canvas, 71 x 57 inch
Courtesy of the artist

AL: Tell us about some of your recent interests and how they relate to your artistic process.

TM: Since spending my time up in the mountains I guess you could say my interest have turned to the night sky and the expansiveness of the universe. One of the first things I noticed upon arriving up in the mountains were the stars that would come out on a clear night. It was so breathtaking, and overwhelming as it made me feel so small and yet so connected to the universe. It is inspiring to be re-connected to nature and all of its wonder. The birds (especially owls and turkeys) and deer, bears, skunks are exciting to look at and hear at night. I think in my recent work I am looking at the incredible expansiveness of the universe and how it is a mirror for the smallest parts of ourselves. In the black & white series I am most interested in minimalism. Boiling down my "seeing" practice to its core elements and creating a more expansive feeling in the work.

AL: What inspires you most to create? Is there one thing in particular?

TM: I guess what inspires me most in my creative practice is making myself a channel for the creative force that inspires and motivates me. The latest piece I just finished, a black and white diptych entitled "Cattail" is a continuation of my black and white totem series. A minimal look at the totem as every man and his place in the universe. As you look at this expansive diptych piece you will be draw in different directions and hopefully see faces and spirits that you might not have seen upon your first glancing at the work.

AL: I'd like to talk more about your painting. Your explanation of the different ways you approach painting resonated with me. It would seem you're interested in reinventing the practice of painting by combining conventional and unconventional materials to explore the story that exists within painting as a mode of expression. What are you focusing on when you paint?

TM: When I am painting, I am focused on letting my intellectual "thinking" mind take a break and allow my subconscious mind take over. I am focused on "seeing" from a non-linear point of view. I am interested in finding things in the work and in the "accidents" that happen along the way. I am interest in what may seem random and how these random acts can inform the overall whole of the work. It is fascinating to me how images can appear and how they can grow and change if I can get out of my own way and experiment. You have to be willing to let go of all expectations and results in order to open yourself up to this kind of inspiration.

AL: The two words that captured my attention when I read your biography were ‘chance’ and ‘experimentation’. I really believe these two elements are definitely important for creators and they bring richer stories to their work, ultimately enriching the resulting creations. Can you explain what these two words mean to you and your art?

TM: Chance and Experimentation are the cornerstone of what I do. Chance has to be nurtured. It is that little accidental spilling of paint at the edge of the canvas that grows into a mark you wouldn't have made yourself. It is working within the unexpected and seeing where it might take you even if this wasn't the direction you had originally thought you'd go. It is the courage to take this direction even though it might result in something you might not necessarily have wanted. Experimentation is mixing colors or playing with a new tool or a new material. It is allowing yourself to make mistakes. It is letting go of "expectation" and embracing "allowing".

American Beauty, 2000, Oil and egg shells on canvas, 48 x 72 inch
Courtesy of the artist

AL: Compared to your early paintings like Shri Mona Lisa, and American Beauty, I can see that your paintings have become more abstract as time has gone on. Perhaps your experimentation with and recent approach to how you work with paint has driven this change. How are you developing the images in your work?

TM: The Shri Mona Lisa and American Beauty where both experimental in their day. Shri Mona Lisa was painted entirely on a picture collage. This piece was a jumping off point for me. If you see the piece you would see that the only piece of the collage is at the base of the energy vortex. I was finally painting something I revolted against for a long time. When I was a carver as a kid, the painting process of making a decoy was the part I liked the least. It's funny how things work out isn't it? My mother is also a painter.  American Beauty was also an experimentation commissioned by my brother. He asked me to make him a flag that embraced the earth tones. He wanted it to be thick. Hence the early experimentation with layering canvas and using the left-over egg shells from my early oil tempera work.

Celestial Sky, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 70 inch
Courtesy of the artist

AL: What do you ultimately want to convey through your works?

TM: Ultimately, I would like people to feel a certain openness when looking at the work. I would like people to be able to discover things in the work, new things each and every time they look at a piece. Whether it be a collage or a large black and white painting, I would like them to see things and discover things with each and every new glance.

Todd Monaghan's page on Eazel

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