YHBHS Interview
K e n W e a t h e r s b y

"I’m wary of the idea of perfection"

perfect (per-fekt)
accurate, exact, or correct in every detail: a perfect copy.

161 The Neutral (smpl) 2008


Ken Weathersby's work dabbles in doubles, architectural tensions, and subtle contradictions. There is a certain pleasure in his visible wooden canvas supports. His practice is transparent, from the photographic documentation to the ability to hang his canvases on either side. The final works appear to convey ease, though any "maker" can see these are carefully and detailed constructions that require careful planning!

To think about Ken's work is to imagine buildings in collapse or perhaps being rebuilt.
His work has been a huge influence for me, and for this blog, and I honestly couldn't be more thrilled to post this interview. Thank you Ken....


On some levels, your work is about balance and beauty. On the other hand it appears to be about control, and a desire to be in a "perfected absence." Is there a balance between these two states of thinking? What crosses your mind when you are making work?

I am attracted by your phrase “perfected absence”, although I’m wary of the idea of perfection… but certainly an absence, or a negation. If the thing can sort of collapse into nothing, not do anything that it doesn’t also take away, be made, but also be effaced, then I am interested in that. This sort of compression or self-cancelling quality relates to the physical questioning of the surface of the painting vs. the body and back of the painting-- the painting burrowing in on itself, or presenting then negating itself. I suppose that implies a kind of balance understood as symmetry.

177 (gothic marxism) 2010

I first became infatuated with your work from reading your site, and looking at images of your work being put together. How important is the process in your work? Can you describe the process of making these complicated works?

The first part of the process is an idea, these strange little ideas that come as I’m going to sleep or driving, or watching a film, and I do quick notes and sketches on 4” x 6” cards. They are usually something simple and in a way perverse. It might be something like: “a painting with two backs and no front”. Lots of these little thoughts come up, more than I can follow through with, but for the ones that I will realize, it is then about working out all the considerations of how would such a thing look and how would it be made. I am always trying to keep it simple but it almost invariably becomes complex, convoluted. I think the later steps in this process, all the building and finessing of materials, must be important to me, but I don’t like the idea of process being made into an end in its self.

2006 acrylic on canvas with inset canvases 30" x 40"


At the same time dealing with real materials, how they interact, simple problems of how to make something hold together—all that is very engaging and not insignificant. Making this weird thing that arose as an idea exist in the real world leads me think in different ways and find out all kinds of little things about wood and glue and cutting metal and layering. My engagement with it has something to do with focused attention, patience and foreseeing contingencies, related to engineering-type thinking I associate with my father. A lot of it is re-inventing the wheel, but I don’t care about the craft of it abstractly, only as it pertains to my needs, yet that can be thoroughly engaging. Often I end up photographing stages of these little technical steps, just because they are surprising to me, and I think they look interesting when I step back from them.

163 (d & g) 2009
32" x 41"
Two-sided painting. It can hang with either side (above, or next image) visible.


Your work blurs the line between sculpture and painting. The work you so graciously donated to the LACE auction could be viewed from the front and back. I found myself wanting others to see it from both sides. Do you work both sides of the canvas and supports on purpose, or is this a byproduct of the design? Have you ever considered showing your works so that your audience can see both sides?

Since I deal with the real space of painting, people seem to wonder about the relationship to sculpture. Sometimes I do allow the both sides of the painting to be seen in some way. Like in the paintings 153 (c & a), or 163 (d & g), the painting is paired with another part that, in a way, shows what is hidden, or almost shows it. But it remains about painting, not sculpture.

For me it all comes out of the given aspects of painting as a tradition, as a medium and as a set of conventions. Paintings are generally, normally considered one-sided, visual, they have parts meant to be seen (the colored paint, seen from the front) and parts not meant to be seen (the back of the linen or canvas, the staples, the wood stretchers, etc.) Things I’m doing seem to work in relation to that. It’s not that I want to emphasize the idea of the importance of painting, or celebrate the tradition (I find that boring). It’s more that it’s just this medium and set of conventions I’m intimate with. I’ve looked at paintings and made paintings for a while now, and I can use that familiarity to create kind of suspended or unresolved situations. Seeing the back of a painting or being denied access to an image or part of an image in a painting is one thing. If I was making sculpture it wouldn’t be the same since we know that all sides of sculpture are usually intended to be seen, and there are always parts of it that can’t be seen from a particular view. I think my paintings would be boring as sculptures; the element of wrongness would be taken away.

179 (twnR)

179 (twnR - detail) 2010

The last few paintings I've made 178 (hLLL), 179 (twnL) and its mate, 179 (twnR), are moving into the space in between the paint and the linen. The wood structure, instead of being a support for the fabric, has actually in this case snuck in between and opened up a space, but to me it’s a space that’s not there, or is there, but isn’t real, because it’s not supposed to be there in the language of painting, which is what this whole object is made of. So after all of this dealing with materials and talk of things about artistic conventions, that’s a part of what I’m after, that no-space space. To me it’s close to what I find excitingly expressed in other mediums, too.

For an example from film, there is the place that is there but not there in the back of the movie studio in David Lynch’s “Inland Empire”, a whole world one can go into, but it doesn’t exist.


151 2007 151(above) is a two-sided painting
and can hang with either side toward the wall.

What do the titles of your paintings reference?

My titles are mostly meant to be functional rather than expressive, as a way of keeping track of the work, and having something to call it, but then a certain expressiveness sneaks back in. They are numbered in the sequence in which they are made. The letters in parentheses are more of a private marker, since I can't always keep all the numbers straight even in my own mind for paintings I may have done several years ago. The letters refer to private nicknames. The titles develop out of both public function and a private function, and there's an aspect of transparency and of something that's more hidden, I guess, as in the paintings visually.

176 (ocg) 2010

The grid. The square. They continue to populate your work! Why are you attracted to the grid (the square)?

I think I arrive, and re-arrive there in a negative way. It’s partly about what it offers visually as a pattern, but also a lot about what it is not. First, I just need something to mark the front of the canvas as “front”, since that distinction between the differing roles of the sides of the object matters to me. Along with that there are the optical phenomena that emerge from the painted part of my paintings-- moiré patterns, after images, etc. start a suggestion of a spatial dimension that departs from the surface perceptually (while the physicality of the thing as a whole denies that possibility). As loaded iconographically as geometric patterns can be for historical reasons, in some ways they still offer an idea of neutrality. In a literal sense it's the simplest most uninflected way I can think of to mark the surface as painted without evoking expressive gesture, or an undesired representational space, or any number of other things.

What artist do you draw from, and are inspired by?

I look at everything. Siennese Renaissance painting has been very important to me, especially Giovanni Di Paolo. The whole trajectory of minimalism has been of interest. I studied with George Ortman as a graduate student. He was an important artist at the very beginning of that movement as a pivotal influence for Donald Judd.

Ortman did a lot in his paintings with the relationship between the visual and the object quality of painting, things that took years to emerge as something I could see as an influence in my own work. I look at all the painting going on around me, too many things to name. I’m into Chris Ware’s graphic novels right now, their slowness, formal inventiveness and difficulty. I read his book “Jimmy Corrigan” recently. I’m also looking a lot at film. My wife Michele Alpern (also an artist) has a background in studying film. She’s taught me a lot, and we’ve continued to explore that together.

Just lately I’ve been crazy about the films of Chantal Akerman. A painting idea that keeps popping up in my sketchbooks lately came somehow from watching one of her films from the 70's, Hotel Monterrey.

thank you ken!

YHBHS Interview
K e n W e a t h e r s b y

go to Ken's blog here for updates regarding shows
and works in progress....