Hello Adam, we are so glad to have you on De:Formal. Can you start with telling us a bit about your background and your art practice?
I was born in a suburb of Houston, TX in 1985. I completed my first serious artwork at 8 years old. I was trained to paint traditionally from observation, focusing mainly on still lifes and landscapes. I moved to Kansas City in 2005 for my bachelor studies, where I originally went for Painting, but ended up transferring to the Interdisciplinary Arts department. There I began to experiment with video, sound, and installation. After completing my BFA in 2008, I moved to NYC where I worked as an artist assistant while continuing to develop my own practice on the side, mostly video. In 2010, I moved to Zürich, for my master studies. During that 3 year period, I used 1 year to run a project space out of my studio (www.theheadquarters.org). That period allowed me to re-evaluate the direction I want to take, and my work became more installation oriented than it was previously. Upon completing my MFA, I was a founding member of the project space Taylor Macklin (www.taylormacklin.com), and received a year residency in Paris, where I would ultimately get inspired to include painting in my practice once again. Now my work is a bit all over the place in terms of approaches and subjects, which is good. I feel free to take risks.
Your site specific projects are composed of incredibly sleek objects that are also playful and spontaneous. Can you walk us through your planning and making process when creating a new project?
First off, whenever feasible, I make new work for each exhibition, whether solo or group. Sometimes from one project to the next there will be a clear connection, like the dog and the silhouette in ‘Ouroboros’ with the silhouettes and dog from the ‘Hair of the Dog’ exhibition in Bologna. Other times there's apparently no connection, like the melted candle paintings from ‘Icarus’ and the serpentine works from ‘Built like a memory’. Whether the link comes through heavily on the surface or subtly under the radar, my goal is consistent freshness.
As far as process goes, it all depends. I frequently begin with an idea I’ve been brainstorming. But oftentimes things get kicked off with a material I’d like to explore or revisit. Contextual and practical details are a crucial aspect of how the work comes to form. I always consider the space (location, physical display area), time (deadline, duration of show), budget, etc. All of these factors are weighing in as I calculate how I want to engage the viewer.
Then I typically start researching the necessary tools or materials. I’ll meditate on how I see things materializing and start writing text (for myself) about my intentions for the theme, individual works, and so forth. Put together some sketches and tests. Since I work from home, I’ll complete as much as I possibly can of the piece(s) before I send things to the space, and finally go there to put things together. It’s not unusual to have a lot of the production happening on-site. So I try to give my self as much possibilities and flexibility for executing the final product. Lots of trial and error, with room for happy accidents. It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle every time. However, not all of the pieces are necessary, and there isn’t only one solution.
You received your Bachelors in Fine Arts from Kansas City Art Institute in 2008 and moved to Switzerland for the MFA program at Zürcher Hochschule der Künste in 2010. What are the differences in art education between the USA and Switzerland in your own experience? Does the education system shape the art industry differently in the two countries?
There was a huge difference! I had always expected the BFA to be more laid back and the MFA to be more intense. Although it was quite the opposite.
Interdisciplinary Arts at Kansas City was rigorous. This was a special program that admitted only 3 to 4 students each year, and each had access to the other departments’ facilities (painting, sculpture, ceramics, video, etc.). Weekly theory readings and discussions, research presentations, critical reports on exhibitions around town, meetings with teachers and outside visitors, keeping a log of studio hours (where it was meant to have a minimum of 20 hours/ week, excluding class time and other studio electives), those were turned in each month. There were 3 critiques every semester (first to talk about what you want to do, second was a progress report, and third was final feedback on the semester). A final 1 hour lecture on our own practice for each senior. All of that was just for 1 class, which didn’t account for the workload of Art History, Philosophy, Creative Writing, and other studio courses. It was challenging, but great! The emphasis on discipline across the board had a powerful impact on my organization with time management, preparation, and work ethic. Although I’m pretty burnt out on the theory side since then.
My MFA was far more independent, all the responsibility was on the individual. There were a couple weeks of class/ workshops per semester. Each person had to set up the mandatory minimum of 2 meetings with faculty or visitors each semester. And then there were only 2 critiques during my 3 years, and one final presentation of work and defense of a discursive text. Aside from having to be able to read and understand German, it was a fairly casual structure. It also allowed me to take a step back from my work for a year to do Headquarters for a year, which I mentioned earlier. It felt like a studio residency with only a handful of requirements.
Since both contexts were small in relation to the coastal cities in the States or the larger Euro cities (Paris, Berlin, London, Milan), the ways in which the schools shaped the art scenes is a little tough to say. Kansas City had a communal vibe, a bit hippy/ punk, very DIY. The art scene at the time seemed isolated from NYC and LA, or even Chicago. So opportunities to live off one's work was limited to say the least. Work in the art field was scarce, because there were so few artists you could assist or galleries you could handle work for to make money locally. So I suppose people would work at cafes, restaurants, the school, or maybe one of the two museums after graduating. Or you make work that’s collector friendly, and there’s no certainty in that if you want to stay in Kansas City, because the market is so tiny.
Zurich is another story. Despite its size, it has a disproportionate influence on the art world. In Switzerland there's a lot more opportunity, with a more general attention to culture than in the States. One’s able to apply for support and residencies at the city, canton (state), and national levels. There’s also an insane amount of great institutions (historical to contemporary), young and established galleries, as well as project spaces. All condensed into a country that takes only a couple hours to cross. It doesn’t hurt that Switzerland is basically in the center of Europe. It’s easy to get to the other big European cities with little hassle. It feels very connected, while also being withdrawn.
I should also point out that the prevalence of the internet and social media in 2019 is a game changer. It wasn’t like it is now during my Kansas City period. These days artists can use those tools to get in touch with peers, be up to date with what’s going on elsewhere, and put their stuff online. The web platforms have a lot of significance in terms exposure and geographical flexibility.
What roles do design and aesthetics play in your work? Are they something you pay extra attention to? Why, and in what way?
While I love the various fields of design - industrial, architectural, fashion, and graphic, I can’t say it’s a direct motivator. On the bright side of design, in contrast to art, it seems like there’s an objective creative solution given the purpose of the product (chair, building, garment, book) through the creator’s voice. I actually had intended to be a graphic designer, but couldn’t handle the notion of responsibility to the client. Too much compromise.
Anyhow, aesthetics play a huge role for me. Having a solid concept is one thing, but I always want a strong form to complement it. When I say solid concept, I mean an effective idea, not necessarily highly intellectual one. Same with strong form, it could be the elegance of a simple gesture, doesn’t have to be high end production. And it’s possible to have one without the other, too. But I aim to collapse concept and form.
What are you working on these days? Are there any upcoming shows you would like us to know?
Things are a little calmer now. Nothing specific to promote. At the moment, there are only 2 collaborative projects with Louisa planned for later in the year. So I’m finally starting to work on a loosely narrative based video that I have wanted to do for years. Not sure how it will come together or what I’ll do with it in the end, but I think it’s a good time to take a short breather from the relentlessness of everything up to this point.
We enjoy the “ah-hah” moments throughout your work that can only be discovered by looking closely. What do details mean to you in art and how do you balance the general idea with its details?
When I’m visiting exhibitions, particularly the ones I find captivating, I’m looking for the details. Obviously, I’ll be searching within the content for why it speaks to me, but I’m additionally looking for how it’s executed. For example, if there’s a rather straightforward painting show that I’m quite into, I take in the painting for what it is or what it’s expressing, but then I want to see how the material is handled. What does the brush work looks like? Does the paint carry over the edges? How is it stretched and hung? In the case, of a good exhibition, I’ll let it influence my future decision making. For bad exhibitions, I reflect on why it’s not communicating to me or why it’s ineffective. It shows me what I want to avoid.
I appreciate effortlessness as much as I do the labor intensive. I like when there’s something taxing to work with that results in something so simple, while at other times something that’s fairly easy manipulate can yield a complex result. So if the viewer can look at my work and enjoy the simplicity in the execution or the exhausting demand, I’m cool with both. However, I don’t really come at it with details in mind, I just want to find the most engaging way to transmit the thought/ idea/ feeling. I like to think that the ah-hah moments are an outcome of successful transmission.
The collaborations between you and artist Louisa Gagliardi are sometimes extra playful. Can you tell us a bit about Gagliardi, how did your first collaboration come about, and your experience working with them?
Louisa is my partner, so we share everything from a romantic basis to a professional basis. We also live together and both work from home. This means we have a constant dialog, including things we’re developing in our practices. Since we’re practically always together as a couple, that’s what we decided to designate as the name for our collaborative practice - Couple (www.couple.work)
‘Private Views’ was the first true collaboration, working on the same pieces, as one author with one vision. ‘Private Views’ was a series of 4 paintings on the excessively large tags of women’s thongs, for a group show at Hole of The Fox, Antwerp in 2016. The paintings were different landscapes corresponding to the colors of the panties and were hung on 3D prints of the Nefertiti bust. Thus connecting the dots between nature, the female form, and the commodity.
We treat the collaboration as a chance to have fun, and do things we might not normally do within our individual outputs. Naturally, there’s plenty of back and forth, with some disagreements, but the experience is always a welcomed challenge. Louisa tends to be hands on, while I tend to be cerebral. I feel like the Couple work is a little more loose, in a good way, than what we’d do on our own.
Can you tell us more about the Pisces series?
Firstly, here’s a link to the full documentation so everyone can see what I’m referring to - https://www.ofluxo.net/pisces-by-adam-cruces-at-galeria-fran-reus/
‘Pisces’ was a solo exhibition that took place in Palma de Mallorca from September through December of 2019. It was inspired by the coastal lifestyle, exploring leisure in relation to the landscape. Highlighting the positive and negative sides. The body of work incorporated items associated with the beach - vacation, recreation, and nautical wildlife. Beneath the surface, the work touches on damage as a repercussion of consumption, as well as beauty in destruction. It may be worth noting that Pisces is my sign, though I don’t personally buy into Astrology.
The black axe sculpture carries the aggressive nature of birds that scavenge seaside areas, juxtaposing a manmade object (hatchet) with nature (feathers), while also being inspired by Modernist sculptures like Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, plus Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space. Further sculptural works included a plastic six pack ring of cigarettes and Oreo sleeve of keyhole sand dollars. Their gist is vacationer carelessness of disposability through consumption, alongside the collection of souvenirs.
As for the wall works, there are two figures wearing sport sunglasses over gravel-covered masks, clothed in Baja Hoodies. Sort of like tribal surfers meet grim reapers. Then the keyhole sand dollars make a second appearance in a painting. In this case, the sand dollars practically become weaponized, producing slits in the white canvas, similar to Lucio Fontana’s spacial concepts. A canvas of the same size appears to be an abstraction, like a tan textile covered with brown greasy fingerprints. Upon closer inspection one can identify the material enveloping the canvas - various sizes of bandages, indicative of damage/ healing. In addition, there is a small white round canvas that has crankbait lures of different colors circling the outer edge, essentially mimicking the pisces sign through found objects. Another painting, called ‘Luck’, is a surface made of tiles that has bird shit realistically painted on it. There was an interventional work involving six red surfboard fins evenly spaced at the base of a wall, suggest red waves or red shark fins. Lastly, there was a translucent 3D printed flounder on top of pedestal, with a base consisting of beer cans. On the corner of this piece there was a long straw going from the flounder’s mouth in to the only open beer can at the bottom of the pedestal, like it was drinking.
Regularly, I prefer not to break down work in that way. Feels reductive, leaving less room for the audience to produce their own takeaways. But that’s a quick and dirty run-through of what was on my mind.
Do you have any bad habits? How do they affect your work?
Professionally, I can be a bit of a control freak, in a manner that only affects me in regards to editing and compromising. Taking out certain elements or pieces in an exhibition is tricky when I’ve invested so much time and energy into each component. But it’s about trying to create the best possible experience to convey what’s being expressed. As they say, if you want to make an omelette, you’ve got to break some eggs.
Privately, I grind my teeth in my sleep. Since I’m unconscious there’s not much to be done about that, aside from wearing a mouthguard. On second thought, maybe that top bad habit carries into my personal life as well, but I try to minimize it.
Is there anything else you world like to share with us? Any fun facts our readers can learn about you?
Only thing that comes to mind for sharing is For Seasons (www.forseasons.ch). It’s a casual, very small, collection-oriented project that Louisa and I started on a wall in our living room in January 2018. For each of the 4 seasons in the year we invite a different artist to contribute a response.