.artist talk: William LaChance
* It’s all a function of color relationships
written Monica De Vidi
With a distinctive visual language, American artist William Lachance creates stories of ideas, places and people through paintings, sculptures, murals and design objects, all characterized by a signature style that have received the attention of critics and the wider public.
Lachance reads the world as a combination of vivid colors and graphic compositions and transmits a strength that is able to draw the audience to a superior meaning, such as with the St. Louis basketball courts, a project that demonstrates the social role of public art nowadays.
We had the
chance to talk
with the artist,
looking at recent
projects + digging
into the definition
of his work.
Your artistic path moved from figurative to abstract during the years. Can you describe your evolution?
Although my work started out as representational, I’ve always seen it as abstract. The world for me really is color relationships. When we see form and the space and the light that go along with that, it’s all a function of color relationships, so when you think of it that way, everything is two dimensional and inherently abstract and the formal characteristic are more like psychological notions. When I was painting figures and landscapes, in addition to the recognizable imagery, I always and simultaneously cultivated an abstract identity that would compete with the pictorial identity. I think all good painting tends to work that way, drawing energy from the simultaneity of disparate elements existing in the same space.
Critics and art historians classify different voices of contemporary culture. Do you think it ́s important nowadays to be defined by them?
As trends emerge and persist, I do think it’s valuable to identify and classify, at the very least as a way of marking culture. Despite the cacophonous digital culture, we live in, aesthetic hierarchies or tendencies do emerge and it’s important to recognize that, maybe more important than ever. Critics and curators ideally see this bigger picture and place artists in appropriate contexts with one another. At the same time, I recognize the value of critics discussing artists’ work on their own terms.
Let ́s talk about your series of basketball courts in St Louis. How did it feel to interact with your native town?
For the Kinloch Park Basketball Courts’ mural called “Garden for Kinloch” that I created with the LA based non-profit “Project Backboard”, I designed several paintings on loose canvas that I later transformed into a singular composition by sewing these elements together. By doing so, I hoped to achieve something that felt fresh and energetic, several simple paintings forming one large composition. The execution of the mural took just a week with several members of the community helping to roll out paint. The town of Kinloch was very responsive to the mural which was such a great surprise. Public art can be a difficult thing to agree on, so I didn’t want to make something figurative because that implies a narrative, either didactic or political. It was really rewarding to produce such a large painting and simply experience color on that scale, a truly color field painting in that it occupies your entire field of vision when standing in the middle of it. Since the mural’s completion, there have been more initiatives aimed at improving the city and I’d like to think the court has something to do with that. Not only is the court well-used for playing basketball since the renovation, but other social gatherings, such as giant pop-up roller skating parties or family reunions have taken place there. Young rap artists are shooting videos on the court. It has restored my faith in art!
Where does your visual language come from? How can design, graffiti, and murals co-exist? And how do your techniques adapt to different environments?
To me, painting and design are both the practice of communicating an image or idea. I think there used to be a gulf between fine and applied art technologically and psychologically, but it’s not such a large gulf anymore. Artists’ collaborations with designers, fashion designers, industrial designers broaden the audience. It requires artists to get over the 20th-century conceit that everything we do is sacred, but at the same time we lose the stigma of “selling out” and that opens a lot of opportunities in the marketplace. When I was teaching college, this was something I always included in my curriculum because it is still taboo and doesn’t appear in texts, the monetizing fine art practice.
What are the criteria for your compositions? What is the meaning of your colors?
The color choices differ depending on the materials, there’s meaning in the materials.
In terms of my compositions, the thing I always try and achieve is time, the way music or theatre or dance has time. Of course, painting technically doesn’t enjoy this luxury so I try and make compositions that move the eye around and create a unique narrative experience for the viewer. The colors themselves deploy a lot of color theory to create space, so they’re formal abstractions in the sense that chroma, value and hue are used in a way to create form. In addition to the nuts and bolts stuff, I also crib color combinations from all sorts of popular sources, such us logos, signs, automobiles and athletic teams to name a few. It imbues the paintings with an ambiguous yet familiar quality that I really like.
Black is really omnipresent in your work, what does it represent?
I use a lot of black in my work and it performs multiple tasks. Black, being cool in temperature and dark in value has the characteristic of receding, so when you are drawing the contour of a shape, you’re automatically creating pictorial space by virtue of the color black. In my sculptural abstract pieces, I cut up panel and reassemble it. That creates gaps between the components that read as black lines but are really the absence of material. These seams create a linear composition and establish a unity among all the pieces. This allows me to get away with a broader range of color, mark making and materials. There’s an implied relationship to the whole that wouldn’t exist without the black seams.
What’s your relationship with your audience?
When I’m designing murals or installations such as the booth for Expo Chicago with BEERS LONDON, I think of how the colors and forms can act as stage sets, so they are larger, simpler and really come together visually once they’re populated with viewers. The same with the basketball courts: an important consideration for me was imaging the brightly colored streetwear that the athletes would wear when playing on the court and designing the courts accordingly to create dynamic color relationships.
Do you have a team of people helping you? And how is your studio organized?
I’ve got a studio that allows me to adapt to different projects. There’s lots of floor space, so I have different ‘stations’. There are woodworking tools for the sculptural pieces, a sewing area and flat files and drafting tables for flat work and paper. When I’m putting together the sewn pieces, I can lay out a bunch of canvases on the floor and figure out compositions from a ladder. The building itself is a former corner tavern that dates to the 1930s, the old stamped copper ceilings are intact, but the walls have all been removed, so it’s open and there’s plywood floors; there’s a nice blend of old and new. I don’t have assistants or interns. I’ve considered it but I fear sacrificing the privacy would impact my process.
Can you tell us something about your future projects?
2019 will be a busy year – I’m working on a residential mural for the fashion designer Mira Mikati for her home in London and we’re also discussing a large public work in Beirut. A couple of art fairs: Urban Art Fair in Paris with Galerie 42b and Art Market San Francisco with Madison Gallery. I will also be having a solo exhibition at Madison Gallery in San Diego, California, in August and another solo exhibition at Haw Contemporary in Kansas City, Missouri, in December.
all works (c) William LaChance