Rob Pruitt Explores His Psychosis in Multiple Personalities
In his first New York show in 4 years, Rob Pruitt is getting introspective with Multiple Personalities at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise opening Saturday September 13th. Allowing a look at his own subconscious, Pruitt is presenting a series of work he made while in therapy. From gradient “Suicide Paintings” to couches covered in intimate doodles, it’s a refreshing change to see honesty, and a sense of humor in such personal work. We speak to the artist about the change in his work after turning 50, his influences, and the real benefits of therapy as an artist.
This new show seems to come from an entirely different direction than your previous work. How did the change come about and what do you hope to show with Multiple Personalities?
I turned 50 this year on May 17. I’ve always tried to avoid making a big deal about milestone birthdays but this time I caved to being reflective about things. I thought about how I had been making and showing art for 25 years. A lot of it has been all over the place but guided by a sort of visual/social anthropology – gathering and collecting visual facts to prove certain agendas and ideas that I was interested in and compelled by. I feel as if for the past 25 years my artmaking choices have been completely schizophrenic. Sure, there are lots of panda paintings but everything else is all over the place. I’d been making whatever came into my mind without any editing.
I was starting to feel that I wanted to speak less about things in the world around me and more of my own interior world – what goes on in my head.
Rob Pruitt, Untitled, 2013, marker on couch, Courtesy Gavin Brown’s enterprise
What are the main themes behind the show?
There are a few different ways to interpret show’s title and themes. For starters, one component of the show is plywood panels and Ikea loveseats which have been covered by thousands of doodles made by my studio assistants over the years. They represent the unfiltered, uncensored thoughts, ideas, and talents of many different personalities.
The second part of the show has more to do with the inner workings of my brain, my psychological and emotional life. There are lots of cat sculptures in the show—I love the way cats lick themselves, grooming themselves with their own tongues. My cat, which I had for 17 years, just recently died. I always thought that the way he licked himself was sort of like a paint brush touching a canvas, so I tried to impart that sense by painting these cat sculptures with oil paint. I was also thinking about the psychic connection that many people think they have with their pets—the belief that their cats know how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking—so I’ve placed the
cats in front of abstract paintings based on drawings made during my weekly visits to my therapist to suggest this narrative that they might understand this indecipherable language I’m presenting through abstraction.
Then there are the Suicide Paintings. I can’t say they have nothing to do with literal attempts at taking one’s own life—I’ve had moments in my past where I’ve contemplated it—but I actually consider the paintings to be more about exit doors in social situations. For instance at an art opening I might get a lot of social anxiety and I’m always conscious of where the exit doors are within the space that I’m in so that I can flee immediately if I need to. These paintings began to serve that metaphor or even a meditative function – to be able to look at the painting and think about a way to another place.
You did some of the work during therapy sessions. Did this change your process or the type of work you were making?
Initially the drawings made during therapy sessions weren’t about my work, but when I accumulated several notebooks I thought it might be interesting to translate them into paintings. Sometimes my thoughts really become more fluid if I’m partially distracted at the same time so it began as an effort to speak more freely during therapy sessions. It’s similar to how I’ve been taking notebooks into darkened movie theaters for years. Having an escapist experience and tapping into that other world seems to unclog parts of my brain and allow my consciousness to flow freely. Even if I’m paying close attention to the movie, the things I jot down are generally unrelated.
Do you feel art is therapeutic?
About as much as I think anything is therapeutic—sports, sex, cooking… It can be if you want/need/like it to be. For me, therapy is therapeutic.
What are you obsessed with right now?
French kitchen equipment—even if I don’t buy it but I’ll spend hours on the internet browsing.
Can you talk a little bit about your eBay store? What made you want to sell objects like this online?
This is not why I started the store (or reflect my philosophy on it) but after having sold things on it for several months I began to think about Warhol’s Time Capsules. He would keep boxes next to his desk and fill them with party invitations, books, catalogs, music—generally any odds and ends that he was sent—and when each box was full he would tape it up and send it to storage. It’s a very similar impulse for me with the eBay store. When I organized 101 Art Ideas You can do yourself 12 or so years ago there were several ideas of how to make an automatic autobiography (e.g. save and frame all of your credit card statements). It’s a way of surveying one’s own life. I feel like by listing something on eBay every day which is mine but I no longer want or need I can tell an interesting story about the evolution of my own material desires.
How do you choose the items you sell? What is the difference between selling these things on eBay and selling them in a gallery setting?
They’re not art. It’s just my junk. There’s a little bit of playing on my minor-celebrity which would put some objects in the category of collectibles (like buying Beyoncé’s toothbrush or something like that). Every item purchased comes with a 8×10 glossy print suitable for framing, but I don’t think of each individual thing being sold as an artwork. I think of the accumulation, which will be turned into a book, as an artwork.
In the art world or beyond, what is there too much of and too little of?
There’s too much waste. Too much pollution. Too much stuff being thrown away. I can’t think of anything there’s too little of, it just has to be reorganized and redistributed, because the distribution of really great things is so uneven. We have enough stuff, it just has to be spread around better. We could take a lot of iPads and musical instruments and paint and paint brushes over to kids who don’t have those things. In that sense there are some kids who grow up with too few great opportunities.
What is your WILD Wish?
I’d really like to design a line of bedsheets and then sleep on them.
On view at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, September 13 – October 25.