The True and the Beautiful: an Interview with Ted Kincaid
Talley Dunn Galley recently held its first exhibition of new work by Dallas-based artist Ted Kincaid. Called The Terrible Truth/ The Beautiful Lie, the exhibition showcased five bodies of work in which Kincaid explores the veracity of the photographic image. I had the opportunity to interview the artist over email last week. My questions (in italics) and his answers follow.
Q: You received your MFA from the University of Kentucky and your BFA from Texas Tech University. Would you mind briefly discussing your experience at each school? With whom did you study, and how did they influence your subsequent pursuits?
A: I was fortunate to study with Rick Dingus, Lynwood Kreneck, Ken Dixon and James Hannah during my time at Tech. Since I was a photography major and printmaking minor, all four of these mentors influenced my direction, drive, work ethic and aesthetic development in different yet complementary ways.
Q: I’m interested in your creative process. Would you please divulge how you go about drawing a photograph? Are there source images? And if so, how do you choose them?
A: When I initially began this current body of work, I had just finished the CLOUD series, where I tried to take an actual photographic image as far from its original appearance without adding or taking anything away from it, essentially concocting an incredibly unreal image purely out of factual materials from a photographic image. My work has always concerned questioning the veracity of the photographic image, and that trajectory has eventually led me to pushing a photographic image to its most un-photographic edges.
With this recent body of work ,I tried approaching the same idea from the opposite angle; attempting to produce a plausibly photographic image completely from non-photographic sources. In the beginning, the images were digitally drawn from scratch using a mouse, stylus and pad. The scenes were never based on a specific place, but rather a mood. When needed, I referenced actual photographic images of trees, mountains, etc. to aid my drawing, but initially, no actual photograph ever made it into my photography.
I began adding photographic sources back into my work with the Moons, which were cobbled together from the pits and stains of the concrete floor of my studio. It was a challenge I made to myself, really, to see if I could replicate as closely as possible, the surface and features of the moon.
This all led to the current body of work in the exhibition at Talley Dunn Gallery. I was much more Machiavellian in my approach this time, and used both photographic and non-photographic sources I generated in a much more lyrical and fluid manner. The trees are constructed from about 150 different photographs of trees I took over the last two years, taking individual bits and pieces of branches, trunks and leaves and assembling them, Frankenstein-like, into a totally new tree. The ships were digitally drawn, directly from actual ships, and given a texture and patina that made them appear photographic.
Had I approached this work purely with paint, no one would have questioned the process, sources or motivation. But approaching this work with a photographic aesthetic – having the look of a photograph, printing the work as a photograph, presenting the work as a photograph without it being a true photograph, makes the viewer an active participant in questioning what is real and what is not.
Q: The subject matter of your recent work—from ships at sea to landscapes to possible moons—appears more “photographic” than what came before, which had a lot in common with printmaking, placing a high emphasis on repetition and varied color combination. Of course these elements still feature in your work, but to a lesser extent. What instigated the transition?
A : I felt that I had pushed the concept with the clouds about as far as it could go. Conceptually, I wanted the work to move back more to a direct reference to photography, particularly to the earliest origins and aesthetics of the photographic image.
Q: In reference to your ships at sea series, you said, “To me this work is, in a very backwards way, incredibly optimistic. Because—this work demonstrates the moment in a situation when nature is in control, and you’re out of control.” Can you talk a little more about these feelings?
A: It might not be optimistic to some, but to me personally, nature reasserting itself over every attempt we have made to subjugate and control it is incredibly optimistic.
Q: From your 2011 exhibition walk-through at the Arthur Roger Gallery: “I was influenced by the documentary photographers from the middle of the 1800s, particularly Carlton Watson, William Henry Jackson and Timothy O’Sullivan.” What about the works of these photographers originally appealed to you? And how would you say your photographs function in relation or contrast to theirs?
A: I have always been fascinated by the early history of photography. The aesthetics and imagery are what drew me to study it in the first place.
Q: You mentioned that Watson, Jackson and Sullivan did not view themselves as photographers. In your opinion, what is the difference between a photographer, an artist and an art photographer?
A: I said that these photographers never viewed themselves as artists. These men were documenters, and there work served a very different purpose when it was created than how it is currently held in esteem. The lines that you are asking about between photographer, artist and art photographer are so blurry that figures flow from one classification to another as history progresses, much as a painter creating a work for a cathedral alter or commissioned portrait. Watkins, Jackson, O’Sullivan, as well as Karl Blossfeldt and Eugene Atget all produced bodies of work that served to classify and to document, however the aesthetic and style they employed influenced greatly the development of photography as an art form, whether subsequent figures embraced these elements or fought against them. These works remain relevant aesthetically for very different reasons than those for which they were originally intended.